Tuesday, March 23, 2010

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

William Lovell

Book Five

William Lovell to Rosa


When one stays in the theater for a short time after the end of the play, the curtain rises again; a few pieces of bunting hang on the bare walls; swords and armaments lie scattered about the floor; the diligent stagehands extinguish and collect the lights; some poor player still treads the length and breadth of the boards with a tragic gait and cannot forget his part; it is in this pitiful aspect that life now appears to me, Rosa. People are nothing to me but bad actors—paragons of virtue or merry andrews, [swooning] lovers or tender fathers; it goes without saying that to the end they play their roles as wretchedly as only the members of a provincial touring company can. I myself am but a supernumerary in this band of actors, and the others contemn me in their turn as I contemn them.

Why are our souls wracked by the crashing of skyscraping waves, and then so suddenly afterwards by the doldrums of spiritual inertia? Just like the oozy, algae-coated beach at ebb tide. Oh, that I might again yearn for this mass of blood to be stirred by tempests, by emotions that rip the tears out of their sunken prison, by sighs and pain, by anguish and sensual lust, so that I might reenter the circle of common humanity that I now behold and contemn from such [an impassable] distance.

Every hour I miss Willy and his old, good-natured countenance; he was so glad that he was going to see his homeland again. How willingly man chains himself to memories and lifeless objects and takes every hill and home-grown tree for a friend and benefactor!

Rosaline’s mother is satisfied, and everything needful involving her has been taken care of; I believe that she will not live long and hence will not be long dependent upon my support; she was very frail when I saw her. Human existence flickers and trembles before my eyes like the threads of a weaver’s loom, an engine of eternal alteration and fleeting movement in every which direction—and likewise an engine of the eternal tedium of the daily grind!

Edward Burton to William Lovell


My dear friend—thus must I always address you, however thoroughly you turn your back on me. Unlike you, I cannot renounce my former life in order to seek out a new one in the wilderness; I am a man only because I was once a child, and all of my attitudes and memories belong together as though comprising a single whole. Oh, William, return to us; be childlike, gay, and innocent again; cast off these glittering sophistries that are but fetters in disguise.

Ah, it befits me to speak in solemn tones imbued with profound sorrow, for what news have I to confide to you! Your father is no more; grief and sickness have finally put an end to his tenuous existence, which was, so to speak, hanging by but a single thread. Ah, William, I find it impossible to tell you everything that I am thinking. With tears streaming from my eyes, I sealed the paper that I am forwarding to you as an enclosure. Honor it well, for it bears your father’s last pen-strokes; he must have often thought of you at length and yearned for your presence during his hours of solitude. My father is now also ill, and I am kept very busy in tending to him; oh, my friend, when we fear that anyone whom we have known so well may separate himself from us for good, and depart to an unknown country, and subsequently even become a stranger to us—oh, then we redouble our love and solicitude; we forget ourselves and for that very reason we also forget many of the things for which we formerly took him to task.

Amalie Wilmont is married to your friend Mortimer. I do not know how you will take this news; I often feel like a melancholy spectator who disgustedly anticipates the conclusion of the play, who sees how everything has gone the wrong way, that the principal characters will never appear, that the merry high-jinks are over and done with—at length, the curtain will fall, and with it our joys, our sympathies, our life, everything we ever had!

Enclosure in the preceding letter

The greatest of man’s follies is that of making plans for the future, and yet therein does life consist: one should never count on anything, for the future never corresponds to our expectations when it becomes the present; and we ourselves, together with our most intimately [cherished] sentiments, are as subject to change as is everything that surrounds us. Do I not now regret what used to give me joy? Ah, my son, if I could now clasp you in my arms, how happy I would be at having awoken from my dream!

How [quickly] everything that once kept me on my feet is now giving way! My hands tremble, my memory is beginning to fail me, and all ideas of fair complexion are evaporating like the fumes of an episode of drunkenness. My whole life is like a dark chasm into which I [long ago] tumbled, on [whose floor] I subsequently lay unconscious, and up whose dank walls I am now laboriously clambering towards the light.

No, I cannot fear death, which is drawing ever nearer to me with each passing hour; I look forward to it with an unwavering gaze, indeed with a kind of longing. Just as no gladsome timbre can be heard above the sluggishly solemn ecclesiastical clamor of the chorale, so no sound is audible to me save that of melancholy, which unremittingly plays its never-ending dirge inside my head. All of my thoughts are oriented towards the grave; sunrise and sunset, all phenomena of nature, are messengers summoning me thither. I cannot comprehend the change that has taken place within me; many things appear to me in a rejuvenated aspect; indeed, I have been transformed back into a child, and I am now exiting life through that same rose-colored door through which I entered it. And so my entire life has really only been a circle, whereas I always supposed that it was moving forward along a straight line. The world with all of its pleasures and miseries lies behind me like a broad mountain-range obscured by fog; I see distinctly before me only the valley in which I am destined to find peace. Black winding-sheets—creased with deep, rigid folds and fluttering in the breeze—graves, and skeletons, all hover before my gaze without frightening me as they used to do: is not everything in the surrounding world with which we so earnestly preoccupy ourselves but trumpery and tomfoolery? Just as we tour and survey the ruins of ancient palaces, so should we contemplate the human skeletal structure with the eyes of an artist, and marvel at the magnificent work of art whose foundation and load-bearing walls, so to speak, in all of their sheer nakedness, lie therein concealed from us—contemplate the skeleton alongside the living man, in other words, as we would the lines and whorls of a sketch alongside a finished painting. We set aside our body like an old suit of clothes; flowers, grasses, and insects nourish themselves on our material substance, just as we wheedle our own existence out of the vegetable kingdom, but the soul soars heavenward and from on high equanimously beholds the dissolution of its corporeal integument.
Oh, if only I could afford this reckless youth--I mean you, my dear son--so much as a glimpse into the world as I see it now with its maelstrom of aimless confusion! The artist often imparts a wondrous illumination to our soul even when he composes his painting out of the most familiar and often-seen objects, in that he augments it with a peculiar use of color and certain other fortuitous elements so that his tableau ends up embodying an [entirely] new and wondrous meaning. But ordinary language has, I feel, no words for my emotions and ideas; I might be obliged to write a kind of poem in order to draw you any deeper into my atmosphere, inasmuch as it is possible that whatever is properly good and reasonable will inevitably make for a good poem, because whatever satisfies a person completely must needs preoccupy both his emotions and his understanding. Clear logical propositions set forth successively in the most painstaking fashion leave the better part of the human mind unoccupied, and yet nobody is by this means either changed or improved. But if I could with a thousand concave mirrors set down for you the image of the world as I see it, you would not find it worth the trouble to live or to despise so profoundly all that ordinary men call gaiety and joie de vivre. Nothing makes me more serious than a happy face, than those high holidays of human existence when one celebrates them properly and forces oneself to lay aside all of one’s routine preoccupations; but new clothes likewise fall out of fashion, and are contemptuously flung into a corner. Time imperceptibly flows on and on, drop by drop, and then everything is done with and void, vanished and scattered into the wind, so that man looks all around himself as though drunk, and cannot conceive whither everything that was once in his power, that he sincerely believed to be securely fastened to his heart, has escaped. A farmer was married here in the village today; the wedding procession passed by my house, and I was obliged from a window to wish the couple good fortune; indeed, the joy-besotted pair would not leave me in peace until I allowed myself to be carried to their dwelling and to take some part in the bustle, in the preparations that had been weeks in the making, and that were now finally, finally being put to use and consumed. For both newlyweds this day was the most momentous day since the world began; they are of the opinion that this day marks the beginning of a new epoch in European history, that every living soul is aware of their marriage and envies them; they give themselves over to tumultuous joy and raucous laughter—ah!—and do not reflect that all sensations, happy and sad alike, are gathered together in us but as in a reservoir [of finite volume], that this ability of theirs to be happy will have vanished in a few hours, and that they will then famish in a wasteland of prosaic futility, and go begging for the [brief] minutes of happiness that they now squander [in the thousands]. When you are sweating in the fields, and sighing under the yoke of poverty, ah then you will very quickly forget this day; your children will cease to delight you as they did on the day of their birth with the gradual emergence of the hardships that you will have to suffer on their account; the smartly-knotted silk tassels on your bed will become old and unrecognizable, and what was [sewn and] pinned up with such assiduous delicacy by the bride only yesterday will be torn down and given to the children as playthings; the freshly whitewashed front room will be blackened by the smoke of the lamp and the fireplace; your smooth faces will be [roughened by] wrinkles, discord, and squabbles; illness and misfortune will dam up the stream of your life, which now seems to flow so dazzlingly and smoothly. Ah, William, today I thought back on that happy day that united me with your mother; how everything has changed, and nothing in me bears the slightest resemblance to the Walter Lovell I was on that day. A raw wind is blowing hither from across the forest; the half-unglued wallpaper is rustling and clattering in the next room; the rain is beating against the window. And yet, William, if I had only helped you in the planning of your wedding; ah, I would certainly have been weak enough to forget everything, and to believe in the simplicity of the human heart, [to believe that] nature exempted us [human beings] from the severity of her dispensation, and that everything would remain so golden and auspicious [for ever]. And is this on the other hand not perchance the summit of human wisdom? Must I not extrapolate from my own center all the circles that surround me?

I always intend to begin a letter to you, and I take up my pen and write a good many words; and while I am writing I forget about you. Then the thought of you suddenly comes back to me, and so the whole letter is interrupted by chance, and I can’t find the thread of it again. In this fashion I have already filled several sheets of paper, but I have looked for them in vain. When I close my eyes, I converse with you and report to you on all of my cares and afflictions. I find nothing to laugh at in this, for what else are our letters good for? Perhaps in another life distant thoughts will meet through a speedier and nobler medium than speech and lifeless text; perhaps then we will own outright and from the beginning what we have now acquired only in fee; perhaps then there will dawn on us the awareness that all men and women—all of them—both desired and possessed the good, but that their gross and ungainly exteriors were [simply] not supple enough; and consequently I judge that even now you are not estranged from me, William. This thought both soothes and cheers me.

No reply from you! Not a sound from that distant country! How often I look at myself; how often my soul stretches out within me as if trying to reach across [the Channel] for you. I remember quite a number of fairy tales from my childhood, and am capable of thinking for hours on end about that little magic hat that transports a person from one place to another in the blink of an eye; [if I had that hat] then I would be able to see you and fly into your arms. But it is wrong of you not to write to me; what have I done to deserve this of you? Can you still be implacably angry at your father on account of that one particular letter? I have already begged your forgiveness, and I am willing to do so yet again.

I am no longer frightened by the descriptions of battles that used to terrify my imagination so much. Here one man falls on the right, there another one falls on the left; whizzing bullets pulverize entire limbs; heads and blood-spattered arms lie all around, and the soldier marches steadfastly towards certain peril; he looks neither at his comrade on his left nor at his fallen brother on his right; he [firmly] sets his foot on the corpse that lies directly in front of him. I cannot marvel at such courage; for do any of us behave otherwise in ordinary [civilian] life? Our friends perish left and right, and we boldly press on straight ahead as though death can never overtake us; we do not shrink from the [sight of] the poison that has already dispatched our close acquaintances Messrs So-and-so and Such-and-such. We have only our own plans and schemes in view, and—ah—we fail to observe that time is creeping up on us and imperceptibly transforming us into ashes and dust. Oh, woe betide the vanity of men! Happy is he who escapes from the vortex that involves all in its incessant rotation! The summit of human wisdom consists in refusing to offer any sacrifice to this detestable idol, into whose fiery arms, like Moloch’s, all of our children are consigned. Ah, William, in this life dying alone is the only occupation worthy of dedicated pursuit.

Ah, to be sure, man could be much improved if he gave due regard at all times to the shortness of the span of life [allotted to him]. How lovingly would we embrace everything, how warmly would we clasp the hand of every object in our vicinity, if only we were always thinking: “Ah, this created entity, too, will presently fall into ruin, and you will not know what has become of it; it yearns for your love; oh, grant it that love while it is still visible to you.” My father now stands before me and admonishes me for all the grief that I so often caused him without reason; for how unreceptive my heart was to him on so many occasions. At the side of his coffin, like now, I vividly felt how much [of a son] I could have been to him. You, too, William, will one day sigh after me into the wind, and ask my grave whether I have truly and wholeheartedly forgiven you; therefore, my beloved son, let no sighs of regret well up in your breast; ah, admittedly, I have at many times been angry with you; but all of that—all of it—is in the past, and my heart is now filled with unalloyed love.

I have looked down into the valley of death, and now all of the beings of this world are staggering vacuously and prosaically into and out of my gaze. They are all specters that do not even know each other, such that when one of them passes by another and utters a few empty words to him, the latter responds by making some unintelligible gesture. How fallow has everything since seemed to me, and how chaotically confused it all is, like the turbid and indiscernible shadows of an old-fashioned painting. I can hardly recall what happened even yesterday; my soul wanders through the landscape of futurity; I contemplate myself as I would a stranger, and yearn for the moment of my death.

I miss nothing in the world other than you, William; I take in at a glance my entire life and all of my experiences as though looking over a kind of register. Our mighty desires, our delight and despair, come into being only because we have ourselves and the tiny dot of our lives on which we stand too much in view; with regard to our petty misfortunes we do not reflect that at the moments in question thousands upon thousands of people are more wretched than we are; that our neighbor is rejoicing in our sorrow, and that perhaps in his gaiety the headwaters of future afflictions are already welling up. Nothing makes any difference to me now; only my frail paternal heart still longs for you. You are ill, my son; of that there can be no doubt; otherwise you would be standing before me now.

My heart labors with difficulty—only reluctantly does it tell its final, arduous beats; the cold hand of death has touched it, and robbed it of its vital strength. Daylight is fading. Farewell.
William Lovell to Edward Burton
To be sure: everything is passing away and vanishing, and I am the deluded spectator of this farce. So my father is dead and Amalie married? Well, much good may it do them—that is all I can say to this news. Is it not so, and must it not be so? The fools who tear their hair at a necessary event whose occurrence is inherent in the [very] nature of things! There could be no death without life [or] life without death. Let everything that was once precious and dear to me perish, for what is there in this world that we have the right to term our [exclusive and permanent] possession?

O, you humans with your exalted principles, those pillars on which you support yourselves while contemning the so-called weaker humans that surround you! But what, after all, is this exalted reason of yours, this fortitude you boast of [so brazenly]? It is all merely cowardice, for you have no confidence in yourselves and your emotions; or, rather, you have no emotions; all human instinct in you has been extinguished, and you make do with mere wretched formulas that you have laboriously contrived in order to hide your nakedness!

Which is the nobler man—he who invariably acts in accordance with the emotion that animates and takes hold of him at any given moment, that impels him like a god within his breast, and who walks without looking back in lily-livered timorousness; or he who merely gropes for some principle according to which he will be obliged to act because he would find it too burdensome to be free, and who is therefore not even worthy of liberty? Man is ennobled only when he is virtuous through the agency of silent, unconscious motives, just as a beast obtains its health and nutriment instinctively, and as a plant grows from an internal impulse and involuntarily.

Human beings invent principles [of conduct] only in order to keep sweeping life lazily and conveniently ahead of them, and to have it always in view in its entirety. They have at some moment of their lives vividly felt that no thought or image can remain fixed and immovable in our minds, that oftentimes there sets in a sensation of flux that demolishes and [levels] what has often taken many long and arduous years to build; for this reason they have strived to devise something to hold their emotions together like an iron clamp; they have broken the better part of their lute-strings in order to keep the full range of tones in their memories, that they may never be caught unawares or perplexed by some [unaccounted-for] sound. But happy is he who forsakes this barren path on which he must feel himself debased, who is horrified by none of his own thoughts or emotions, who hoists aloft all of the sails of his spirit, and lets his colors flutter in the wind [at full mast]; he alone is permitted to become acquainted with himself and with the hidden wonder[s] of his heart; he discovers a thousand contradictions within himself; all tones sound within him, and out of their totality he fashions a rich harmony that is admittedly unintelligible to vulgar ears; he gathers together all of his thousands of curious experiences in order ultimately to rest contented with his own essence.

I have perused the pages from my father’s hand with [all due filial] piety; his voice sounds like that of an invisible spirit standing on the opposite bank of a broad river; in his transfigured state he paraphrastically says exactly what I was maintaining only a moment ago.

O ye paragons of nobility and perfect [grace]! Ye who condescendingly gaze down from the transfigured [ether of the] heavens, and who for all that resemble the fallen angels to a T! Why have you not written to me a single syllable regarding my father’s loss of his lawsuit? The suit is lost, and my father and Amalie are lost to me as well! And yet you could not refrain from informing me of your father’s illness, because the prospect of your own imminent and unlimited freedom was too near the forefront of your thoughts; throughout this passage, your pen was guided by a secret feeling of delight; you will never be able to deny that to me if you are honest. But in order to secure your vindication in your own eyes, your principles enjoin you to nurse the invalid, to express to him the tender love of an affectionate son—to be sure, you can hardly do more than this—and then you [will] bemoan his death, and what a splendid human being you are! Oh, away with these principles, with all like-sounding balderdash! [They are but] masks destined to the concealment of self-interest, and contrived for the self-beautification of vanity. Oh, believe me: a man understands people in general if he understands himself. And I can hardly blame you for this self-interest [of yours], this secret feeling of delight; only I am vexed that you are trying so willfully to conceal everything, and to gloss over [it] with varnish of such a lustrous sheen. You have been withdrawing yourself from me since our opinions began to diverge, and perhaps you only ever originally became friends with me because my vanity was of a similar character to yours.

Do you still remember the day on which our mutual acquaintance first began blossoming into a so-called friendship? We were taking a walk together; it was a beautiful day, and we were climbing that hill on which there are some dread-inspiring and chaotically-disposed ruins of an ancient castle. You clambered ahead of me with youthful aplomb in order to surpass me in point of intrepidity, and my emulousness increased [in time] with your dexterity. We stood at the top of the hill and gazed enraptured down at the romantically rural prospect; I had admired you[r progress on the way up], but that was not enough for you; you now stationed yourself on the outermost point of a protruding, eroded rock; so that, standing directly behind you as I was, I felt giddy. I saw you suspended in the open air, and I was seized by an incomprehensible desire to push you off the tip of the rock and into the depths below; the more I tried to resist this craving, the more powerful it grew; finally, in order to subdue myself, I pulled you back with main force and clasped you to my breast and wept aloud; you wept with me, because you thought my tears were simply proofs of my affection, of my anxiety on your account; and thus were you bound [in loyalty] to me by a simple, terrible misperception. Would that I had confessed my desire to you; you would have spurned me and called me a reprobate; at that very moment you would have become my enemy. But now I am confessing this desire to you because you insist so incessantly on the strictest regard for truth. I cannot calculate how this letter in its entirety will be reflected in the downscaling mirror of your soul. Anyone who knows himself even a little better will regard men as monsters [of colossal size].
Mortimer to Edward Burton
Roger Place in Hampshire
Amalie's voice and my own are united in beseeching you and your sister to come spend a few days with us here. Ah, my dear friend, do follow my example: first fall in love, and then get married; I wholeheartedly feel that this is the finest epoch [of life] that a human being can experience. One may say what one likes of the pleasures of philosophy and of the exquisite sensations vouchsafed us by the study of the fair sciences [="die schönen Wissenschaften," i.e., the fine arts? or boxing? (DR)]; there will always be moments in life in which a person feels all around him the void generated by such pursuits, [feels] how slight is the connection between all of his preoccupations and his true self. But when two souls are mutually bound, and each of them understands the other better with each passing day, and draws the knot ever tighter; when one even descries new flaws [in the other person], and yet thereby perceives how intimately these are conjoined with [her] excellences--oh, then one feels that one is securely shackled to this earth on which one formerly dwelt merely as a tourist and a foreigner. The tree that is already on the point of withering, and that the gardener now suddenly replants in fertile soil, so that its roots stretch out with renewed vigor and press through the earth; this tree must feel rather as I do now compared with the way I felt in my former condition of independence, when I still took an interest only in myself.

Smile at me nevertheless [if you will]; what harm does it do me? Call me a dreamer, and I will thank you for it. Show me the man who at bottom is not dreaming when he feels joyful and happy.

I know full well that, not being much in the way of an amorous fanatic, I shall speak in somewhat colder terms than now even a few months hence; but that will be simply because I will have got somewhat used to my happiness by then, not because I shall feel it any less deeply. Ah, we prefer to give over the entire investigation, however much of a natural human tendency it may be to dissect one’s sentiments in spite of their refractoriness thereunto.

That most people deplorably mistake their sensuality for unadorned love and for the image of divinity is certain, and once upon a time it even furnished me with an occasion for many a flash of wit; but the time is now past when I could not conceive of a man of superior parts who was capable of synthesizing two sensations, and even of thereby being ennobled. I believe that when a man permanently ceases to be annoyed by this synthesis, he is in possession of the fairest perfection that one can obtain; he is in a state that is superior in equal measure to the vileness of sensual lust and the tedious, insipid overrefinement of sentimental tenderness.

On the day of our arrival, my country seat welcomed us with the fairest weather, which has hardly changed since then. I am studiously conning the art of enjoying the charms of country living and of a beauteous monotony that looks downright tedious from a distance, but only because it does not accost the eye like a Christmas tree garlanded with pleasures; but the silent, gentle delight that suffuses our heart unbeknownst even to the object of our love—this delight, unprofaned by words or chatter, is truly the purest joy on this earth. Surely Candaules did not feel happy while he lacked a witness to his happiness; in most cases, such tumultuously pompous bliss is merely vanity; we are only happy so that others will envy us our happiness. Away with all that, and away with all declamations on it!

Come and see me and my little circumambient paradise for yourself; the coveting of an ever-increasing number of possessions, the frowardness of rebellion against restrictions that are both ever so beneficial and ever so necessary to us—these are the vices that drive every man out of the paradise that he could otherwise enjoy undisturbed; ah, and no sooner has he crossed its happy border than an angel with a flaming sword places himself athwart the path behind him and bars him from ever returning. Our former bliss then seems so paltry, as though forested by leafless trees and withered shrubbery. Farewell; you see what a poet I have turned into.
Amalie Wilmont to Emily Burton

Roger Place

My dear friend,

I am extraordinarily gay and healthy here; I wish that you were staying with us here and enjoying the fresh air and the pleasant surroundings. Come as soon as you can. I am strongly tempted to describe to you my local habitation, for I always like to chatter when I feel as completely happy [as I do now].

In front of our house is a broad avenue lined with beautiful trees; it slopes downhill for a good distance, until you lose yourself in an agreeable little wood; amid the trees we take our morning tea, and then we go for a walk. On the other side of the house we enjoy a lovely and wide prospect overlooking all of the fields and meadows that lie there looking as fresh and green as if they had been poured [/molded] into place; I am already familiar with all of the villages in the neighborhood, and as far as my eye can see I feel at home.

Near our dwelling there is also a very fine garden with ponds and pretty little streams, everything is so nice and naturally lovely, not all crammed with rocks or with those dark and scary pathways that wind uphill and down, and that only make one anxious and tired, and that one oftentimes can’t find one’s way out of; no, this garden looks like something straight out of the life of a happy person: dark lanes with tall trees whose tops arch together like the roof of a church, [and] that stand there like those fair [but] serious days when he thinks about his future beyond the grave, clusters of flowers stirred by one gust of wind after another, and blue and red butterflies with their bright wings prowl around, presenting the image of his whimsical hours, in which one cheerful thought presses against another without there being any kind of a connection between them; tiny shrubs that lie scattered all around like those merry days on which one rejoices in the next day beforehand, so near is it that one can effortlessly set one’s eyes upon it along with many of its neighbors.

And then there are such people here! I go to church on Sunday with the most devout regularity, which I could never do in the stuffy metropolis. There I felt as though I were wandering from one prison to another. But here everything, even the way people pray to God and thank Him, is much more natural; here one can really believe in those old tales of saintly piety, of man’s exalted love of God and of his fellow man. Oh, my dear friend! I feel that day by day I am becoming a far better person here than the one I used to be; I am learning how to become better acquainted with people, and I am coming to love them more. To be sure, I was quite lonesome here the first few days, being so far away from my parents and my brother as I was; the whole place seemed to me like a kind of wilderness. Mortimer, who is very well traveled, and who can no longer remember what it is like to treasure the house that one was born in, laughed at me, and this feeling of sadness completely vanished very soon afterwards.

What cheers me most of all is that I now often have the opportunity to comfort many poor people, and to make them happy for a few days. Ah how often in London I suffered at the sight of human poverty through the window of a warm room, and wanted to help and could not! I often made a donation of everything I had, and was sincerely ashamed when I tallied up the cost of my superfluous jewelry, tapestries [i.e., “Tapeten”=some sort of embroidered shawls? (DR)], lace and other such trifles that I could have completely dispensed with. I often wept when I had nothing more to give away, and childishly estimated how much I would do if someday by some windfall I became richer. Now all images of destitution have been hidden from my gaze, and I imagine that all the poor people have been comforted and live in luxurious ease, because I no longer see them. Here I have a freer hand, because I am allowed to do more in the way of charity, and I encounter fewer objects of my compassion. It is the most wonderful feeling to have once again set the mind of a poor man at ease for a day that used to lie before him like a long stretch of desert that he was obliged to traverse as best he could. But men are such peculiar creatures! My Mortimer is not the sternest of them, and yet many times in matters of charity he seems positively heartless. The other day I had a proper quarrel with him. For the previous few weeks a poor Frenchwoman had been prowling about here; she seemed to be from a good bourgeois family and had plenty to tell about her parents, who had died when she was very young, and about numerous hardships that she had subsequently endured. I am willing to believe that much of it was made up; but is an unfortunate soul any less deserving of our sympathy because he is unwilling to reveal to every stranger the failings that have made him so unfortunate? I put myself in the woman’s place, and wanted to take her into my service, but Mortimer was opposed to it, and genuinely on no better grounds than that she was incomparably ugly and one-eyed besides; he said that he could never trust such a creature. Can you imagine it, dear Emily?: simply because she was ugly [Italics mine (DR)]! But I did not allow myself a moment’s peace until my little whim had got the upper hand, and so now Mlle. Dupuis, or Charlotte, as we also call her, is now a charwoman in my household. How often would we injure other people if we regarded every physiognomy that displeased us as that of a strange and odious creature! But I must leave off my chattering; farewell, my dear friend.

Edward Burton to Mortimer


I envy you your peaceful, unexacting happiness, and wish I could be a witness to it; but my father’s illness, which grows more alarming with each passing day, annihilates all such plans and projects. His cantankerousness combined with his frailty, the grudge that he has [borne and] flung against the entire world, completely spoils my mood; all the while I willingly put up with this infirmity of the old man and regard it all merely as a necessary externalization of his illness. But on top of all this a letter from Lovell has so thoroughly robbed my heart of its vivacity, its energy, that in the very core of my being I feel besieged by a thousand sentiments of which until now I was entirely ignorant. I am becoming newly aware of a monstrous misperception that has accompanied me throughout my entire life, that is dawning on me now for the first time in the plenitude of its grisliness; I feel that I have heretofore been living in solitude, and mistaking my shadow for my friend, and loving it [as a friend]; are any of us then secure from this self-deception, such that we [can avoid] bequeathing our sentiments [in their entirety] to other people, and consequently interpreting ourselves only through them? I am enclosing Lovell's letter for you; until now I could picture him quite vividly in every letter he wrote; I saw in my mind[’s eye] his youthful recklessness united with remorse and deep-seated ennui, as he struck up his harp yet again, and played it louder than ever before, and wrote to me in an ever-more poetic strain for the sake of deafening himself; I visualized every one of his gestures and facial expressions, and accordingly I never took any of it as seriously as it presented itself on paper. But suddenly Lovell has become completely alien to me; he has, so to speak, unmasked himself completely, and appears before me now in his natural shape: this misanthropy, this self-loathing—oh, tell me, could you ever manage to feel well-disposed towards such a person? I cannot possibly indite a reply to this letter; and what, I sincerely ask myself, would even be the point of replying to it, inasmuch as it has severed me from William entirely and eternally? A woman who has loved her husband cannot contemplate her bill of divorce with a more profound feeling [of loss] than the one provoked in me by the sight of this letter. I am full of sorrow and uneasiness; fare well indeed; kindest regards to your wife.

William Lovell to Rosa


You are right, Rosa, that the unfamiliar and strange very often lies nearer to us than we commonly think; indeed, that it is often exactly identical to the familiar, but that it appears in a different connection in one place than in another. A moment ago I had Balder’s letter in front of me, and I was comparing it with a few ideas that my father had written down shortly before his death, and I find that both of them say in paraphrase what I amazingly had already often thought but never expressed. Men’s most heterogeneous opinions, between which permanently enormous chasms seem to gape, ultimately converge at the [stratum of] emotion; only words, the outer garments of the soul, cause them to seem different. Our bravest thoughts, our most impudent doubts, which eradicate everything, and as it were, glide through a colossal void, through a country that they themselves have depopulated, ultimately bow down under the weight of an emotion that has been cultivated [to maturity] by the forsaken wasteland. The various human thought-systems are but haphazardly[-fashioned] works of art that each artist initially composes along such-and-such lines and subsequently smartens up with a flourish here and there as he sees fit. Just as one person likes tragedy, the next comedy, the next lyric poetry, the next dramatic poetry, so one person makes stoicism, the next Epicureanism, his own; but these are but the facades of humanity; emotion is man himself, emotion is the soul, the spirit of this spirit, philosophy is its letter--lifeless scribbling if man does not rise above all philosophies and systems, even the system of systemlessness. This emotion overthrows doubt and certainty alike; it neither seeks nor requires any words, but rather gratifies itself through itself, and the person who has arrived at this point will revert to any kind of faith, for emotion and faith are one; thus, even the wildest free spirit will turn religious in the end; indeed, he may even become what men commonly term a dreamer [Italics mine (DR)], which is as much as to say, according to the expressive limits of the term, one who thinks nothing [IM (DR)]. The same belief is imposed time and again on one human soul after another; it appears to vary from one imposition to the next only because it is deformed by the crude and bumbling medium of language. And when none of our emotions is capable of referring us to reality, of corresponding precisely to actual objects, [we] will doubtless be more extensively governed than before by our proclivity for the marvelous. The consciousness of our soul and the profound and ardent desire for immortality, the emotion that impels us into distant and unknown regions such that we cannot even conceive of a state of non-existence, these emotions argue most vociferously and sincerely in favor of the existence of the soul, and in favor of its permanence. But if I now wished to adduce this most conclusive of proofs in favor of the existence of ghosts, of the reality of the most monstrous miracles and horrors? And here I set the question aside, whither it is setting itself in any case. And what then do we term a miracle? With this term people designate what is merely unusual, not what is intrinsically miraculous; for at many moments I am overcome by a genuine horror of some tree or animal or even of myself. Who are these strange shapes that surround me and treat me with such untoward familiarity? My eyes have been accustomed to the sight of them since childhood, and my senses have trustingly clung to their forms; but [what] if I cancel this acquaintanceship and picture them to myself anew, as fresh discoveries? And who am I myself? Who is the being that speaks forth from within me? Who is the ineffable entity that directs the motion of my limbs? I often encounter my arm as I would that of a stranger; recently, as I was trying to ponder some question or other, I recoiled violently upon suddenly feeling my cold hand against my fevered brow. I recall from my childhood that the vastness of nature, with its distant mountain prospects, with its vaulted azure skies, with its thousands of animated objects, is capable of seizing us with a sensation as powerful as any form of horror; at such times the spirit of nature skims along [the surface of] our spirit and palpates it with curious emotions; the swaying trees speak in intelligible tones to us, and it is as if the whole canvas is on the point of curling up, and the being that lies beneath the mass [of images] and animates them emerges [into the open] and reveals its naked self; we dare not watch for the great moment, but rather fly from it without looking back, and cling fast to any one of the thousand trifles that interest us in our quotidian hours. I often think that the vestments of material objects are on the point of flying off as though caught in the grip of a tempestuous gust of wind, and [then] my spirit [swoons and] falls unconscious to the ground, and the quotidian resumes its former perch. We are imprisoned within ourselves, and restrained within our prison by chains; perchance death [will] rend asunder our fetters, and [at long last] the human soul will be born.

But tell me, Rosa: why have these thoughts eluded me if they were residing within me all along? Why did I not understand Balder’s words at the time [I first read them] if my soul was silently echoing them all the while, in keeping with its utterance of these very same words in his presence long before? Why are we so often strangers even to ourselves, and why is the next-door neighbor within us so far away? We oftentimes peer into ourselves as through a downscaling mirror that makes the hand I am holding up in front of me a thousand times smaller and cuts me down to size by as much as a hundred feet.

Rosa to William Lovell


I cannot answer your question, my dear friend, in such a way as to put you at ease with my reply. Thoughts and sensations revolve within the human [organism] like two circles that share a single tangent point; in our relation to this point we know better than to distinguish between an idea and an emotion, and consequently, we regard ourselves as perfect. Then the circles begin to describe broader compasses, and we fancy ourselves even more intelligent because we known well enough to tell them apart. Man is himself such a puzzling being that he either devotes not a moment’s contemplation to himself, or is obliged to make self-contemplation his main course of study; anyone who would maintain a mean between these two extremes perforce feels restless and unhappy. I often ponder the progress of my ideas, and only become ever more deeply lost in this labyrinth the longer I ponder. This much is certain: that we ordinarily have the present moment too much in view, and therefore disregard the entirety of our previous life; our present sensations devour all our previous ones, and the idea of the moment makes all preceding ones appear in our eyes no longer as ideas but rather as childishly, amateurishly, hastily-drafted sketches. It is for this reason that we so often deny our deepest conviction[s]; and like a murderer anxiously covering the still half-living corpse of his victim with earth, we wantonly bury sensations that are struggling within us to rise to the level of consciousness. Oh, if only we could discover a telescope that would allow us to peer into the profound firmament of our soul, and to observe the galaxies of intimation that never draw anywhere near our actual mind; instead, the sun within us obscures them without allowing us to say, “Now something is happening!”
Dreams are perhaps our highest form of philosophy; we find their denouements unintelligible and lacuna-ridden perhaps because we do not comprehend how reason and emotion [are] united in them. What I only laughed at half a year ago now strikes me as worthy of outright veneration, while I am oftentimes inclined to smile at what seemed of grave importance to me back then. There is nothing solid within us, dear William; when our diet is changed, we change into different people; we are earnest or merry depending on whether our blood flows briskly or sluggishly; if none of these phenomena depended at all upon any law in force either within or without us, how invariably worthless would be the results! But oftentimes an event that seems contingent and external was in truth a long-plotted internal necessity; and thus man may perhaps be likened to the tragedies of your countryman Shakespeare, wherein, as you yourself have said, the conclusion seems to depend on the sudden eventuation of a chance incident that is actually implied in all of its combinations by the first lines of the play, and is therefore a necessity.
We always survey only the point of our life on which we are presently standing; and all of our thoughts, sensations, and actions are indigenous only to this point; each person stands in a different place; all attitudes refract in different directions, and pursue a straight trajectory only within the person in whom they reside; this is why we intend to be indulgent if nothing else, and not chastise and pass judgment on our neighbor, who appears curiously foreshortened to us from our own standpoint.
William Lovell to Rosa


Surely nothing is finer than to come to know oneself with exactitude; and if, my dear friend, one observes oneself with unflagging diligence, why should one not be able to bring this observation up to a certain standard of mechanical proficiency as we have done in our attention to so many other objects of an apparently purely spiritual nature?; such that in the end the formerly uncertain and fugitive objects of our perception become fixed and well-defined within the scope of the steadier gaze we have acquired in the meantime? For some time now I have been struck by a thousand matters dating from the remotest past, and arising from the most confused states of mind, matters that I formerly either did not reflect on at all or could not explain to myself so clearly. Perhaps one is continually climbing higher; in the course of this ascent, what we regard as our essence seems ever more contingent, [such that] we draw ever nearer to our true self the more we lose sight of our present self. At times when I am sitting and brooding in the twilight, I feel in my heart a kind of soaring sensation, an emotion that overwhelms and terrifies me but that at the same time is so silently and blissfully soothing; I then reach as if with one hand after the memory [of this sensation] in order to preserve it for myself. And yet curiously, Rosa, it is inside me, and each time it vanishes completely so that I cannot get hold of it. All of my thoughts, all of my recollections and intuitions, are at my command, but this is an emotion that is subtler and more spiritual than the rest; but what is it, and whence does it come, and whither does it go, when it is no longer residing within me? Must this state of affairs within us be likened to sunlight in a glass flask, which comes and goes with the drifting of the clouds?

Precisely how do [other] things stand in relation to our whims? Who knows what it is that rules and directs us, what spirit that dwells outside of us and [yet] almightily and irresistibly reaches into us. I recall many days from my childhood when I felt compelled to say the most ghastly and horrifying things, when instead of praying silently as I usually did, I cursed God with the most abominable imprecations and wept at my cursing, and yet when the compulsion was especially irresistible I could hardly refrain from murdering my playmates, and I often forced myself to go to sleep simply to keep myself from killing them. Now, Rosa, in those days I was assuredly [still] innocent and uncorrupted, and yet this hideousness was indigenous to me—what was it that impelled me [thus] and dug into my heart with its grisly hand? My will and my sentiments bristled at it, and yet I had this selfsame state [of being] to thank for a genuinely ardent access of sensual lust.

Oh, we really should go to school properly when we are children, and learn what we have so willingly unlearned and subsequently in our vain futility termed the formation of our soul. It is as if a brief, residual glimmer of an earlier existence shines into our tender childhood years, [like] the reflection [off a lustrous surface], significant and yet inscrutable; it is wafted hither like a succession of musical tones permeated by the driving wind—tones that sound individually and that one nonetheless perceives as a unity. As a child I once dreamt that the whole world was perishing, and that all of the colossal masses [of earth] were dissolving into individual tones that echoed through the void, and flitted round each other, and intertwined, and passed through each other. By and by, these sonorous tones sank into the depths, and then a marvelous medley rang out; soon thereafter, a deep and hollow timbre broke through, like a ray of vivid color amid a swath of white streaks that sang out boldly in the upper ranges like a chorus of soprano sunbeams and then subsided into a lullabying maternal register. I harkened to this most marvelous concert, which suffused me in the midst of this colossal void with an overwhelming sensation of vertigo, so that by and by I heard nothing more, and I sank into a deep and dreamless slumber.

I know that this is nonsense to most people, but perhaps a much deeper meaning might be searched for in this intimation of truth (for such are all of these frolics of the fancy), if my powers of observation were as acute as the meaning begotten by this apparition, if I did not cling too firmly as I do to wretched terrestrial phenomena, and if I were not continually thrusting new images into the space separating my eyes from the object to be observed, in short: if I could compose a commentary on myself by the light of just such heavenly insight, while dreaming just such a dream.

Charles Wilmont to Emily Burton

Roger Place

Do not be alarmed—for heaven’s sake, don’t, my dearest friend—when you open this letter and notice the signature; rather, read it through to the end and act as though you did not know from whom it came; at least be bemused enough [here at the start] to keep yourself reading on silently and to postpone your recovery from your bewilderment to the last sentence. Listen to me against your will, just as I am obliged to think of you unceasingly against mine. And yet what shall I say to you? My pen and my head [are] at a standstill; I enjoy not a moment’s peace; I am impelled to keep moving hither and thither, and an unknown power exhorts me to write to you—well, all right: I am sitting here, and I literally cannot think of a single syllable to append to the beginning that I have already written.

My thoughts wander from east to west and from south to north, and go off to and come back from all points of the compass, like the termites in this wooden block of a head of mine; and all of them move so sluggishly and laboriously; I wonder what new systems and inventions, what infinite calculations and solutions to algebraic conundrums, they will carry in their train; and when I inspect them at the sentry-gate, [I find that] this one is hauling your portrait, this one a lame sonnet, that one an affected sigh, this one an anecdote you told [me] who knows when—and oh, can[’t] you manage to bring me anything better [than this]? I am putting away everything until blessed winter, when I hope to be rejuvenated by the seasonal solitude. Ah, what a bittersweet rejuvenation!

Oftentimes I wish all of the people who invented unhappiness and our whole damned human condition would go hang themselves! Must we actually go through this shabby, dreary world behaving as if we would have expected to win [the grand prize in the lottery] if only someone had shown us [beforehand] the blackened field where trees of incomparable majesty once stood? Throughout the world this has been a bad harvest year for happiness; the corn has been supplanted by weeds—which, to be sure, have flowers of their own—and none of the farmhands cares to take notice of it; and what is worse, if [perchance] someone here and there [dares] shrug his shoulders when the [“]majestic crops[” are mentioned], he is declared a field-thief and hunted down by hounds and chased by [oaths and] curses.

I traveled hither from London in search of greater peace of mind, and I am now more ill at ease than ever. Oh, Emily, forgive the brusque tone of my letter; forgive the entire letter; ah, forgive me for being so indescribably devoted to you.

We talk of you and of your dear brother every day; we compensate ourselves as best we can for your absence by telling copious tales about you; but alas! The more you are spoken of the more often I think of you, and hence the more [keenly] feel how far away you are.
We plant and sow in the garden, and everyone has a green thumb. My sister is becoming quite a farmer’s wife, and lives among her shrubs and flowers, and tends each one of them with maternal solicitude; meanwhile I go searching from one end of the garden to the other, in the field, and in the adjacent woods for a something whose identity even I am unaware of; I labor [alternately] to forget you and to call to mind your living image.

Night is falling, and my dejection increases the lower the sun sinks; oh [grant me] but one request, my dearest friend, if you have read this letter through to the end: vouchsafe me some tiny fragment of a reply, be it even a single word enclosed in a letter to my sister, so that I may but boast that I have from your hand something that is addressed solely and uniquely to me.

I am hastily sealing and dispatching the letter.

Emily Burton to Charles Wilmont

I have an all too settled feeling that I ought not to write; nevertheless, exactly like you, I am doing it against my will [IM (DR)]. My dear, strange friend, why do you wantonly make your life so unsettled and joyless? If I could bring you round to seeing that you are wrong, I should not in the slightest mind writing a much longer letter; but I believe that what I [would] tell you you could tell yourself just as well—indeed, better; hence, my wise counsel is superfluous. It is of course a commonplace that people are never as they should and could be; and yet if you will only try to refute this commonplace through your actions, you will find that it is much easier than is generally supposed. When I spoke to you in person, you were often good-natured enough to acknowledge that I was right and to act as though you had been convinced; but I wager that right now, when I cannot see you, you are shrugging your shoulders at me. That is the way men are; their friendship is [all] gallantry, and this gallantry forbids them from being frank [with us], because they think that we are so foolish and weak that we can tolerate nothing but flattery and compliments.

My father is very frail, and I am very worried about him; this affliction has robbed me of all good humor.

See how generous I am! You asked for only a few words, and I am sending you an entire letter, and one with a moral subject at that. Present my compliments to your dear sister, and fare very well indeed.

Willy to his brother Thomas


Dear brother, our dear England now already strikes me as being quite close, so far off was it during my first trip [abroad]. I am once again in Paris, and the rest of my journey just seems like a dream to me. Ah, dear brother, I found it all very strange when I was traveling through the same places and rocky mountains that I had driven through with my Master Lovell; I was often so lost in my own thoughts that I believed that I was still traveling with him, and at those times I was as trusting and [behende] with the Frenchman as with my own master. Then I would get really sad when I saw his foreign face by bright candlelight, and I would feel downright homesick for my master, even if he [didn’t] love me anymore.

Don’t make fun of me, dear brother, for rejoicing so much about seeing you again; I can’t complain any more than you can when old people behave like children; it is, moreover, not my case at all; and I chatter on uselessly so much only because I can’t find the right words for what I want to tell you. But people are so curiously rigged up! I still can’t ever come to terms with speaking and writing at all; out of my mouth slip a thousand words that I would rather not have said, and these are the useless words that I can’t put to any better use than anyone else can; but the true and genuine words sit locked up inside me and refuse to be set free. What’s more foolish is that oftentimes I could bring out a mouthful of something that actually made sense, but at those times it’s as if I’m almost embarrassed to be as clever as other people, and I talk dumb instead just to rid myself of the hassle. I believe, Thomas, that there are more such people like me, and that the total number of stupid people isn’t as big as people tend to think; for this reason, I have always behaved with proper respect towards every simple person, because I always guess that that tatty overcoat he’s wearing is lined with something fancy.

As soon as I get home and visit you, I want to tell you [all] about my trip. Because at the end of the day, that is my one and only pleasure, which I have been looking forward to for a long time.

Here in Paris I feel truly at home, because everything is still very familiar to me, and everything is still exactly the same as it was when I was here the last time. It is a mad world that God has seen fit for us to live in, and it could certainly be better if all people thought of themselves just as laborers in the vineyard; but all of them want to eat, and lots of them don’t do anything at all except spoil the grapes [out of spite], and bother other people who are trying to work; and the upshot of this is that they run the whole vineyard and enforce law and order [in it].

The more people scramble to get to the top, the more they forget that they are after all only human; then they stop recognizing their poor brothers and sisters, and God [too]. The fear of God dwells only in poor and humble people who have it as a real privilege and a kind of compensation, because they have to suffer a lot of evil on this earth; in their position they don’t have the choice of being ashamed of their fear of the Lord; it is their only property and best income. I am thinking about all of these things because when I was here last time I wrote to you that even then I didn’t like it here. This time round I’m not going to any plays, but I can’t say I miss them at all. If only the people who weep so readily at a princess who can’t marry her beau only knew how much and worse misery there is in the world! But they don’t wish to trouble themselves about that, and it doesn’t bother anyone, because the poor people aren’t as clean and can’t fit themselves out with such fine speeches.

God bless you and keep you healthy, for in a few weeks I will be at your side!

Willy, Your Brother

Book Six

William Lovell to Rosa

I was inordinately heated by the conversation we had yesterday, and I went home feeling as though I were drunk. There awakened within me so many distant memories that coursed repeatedly and incessantly through my bosom. It is often as though the puzzle within us is on the point of solving itself, as if we are suddenly about to discover the one thing to which all of our curious sensations and experiences can purposively be applied. The night enfolded me in a hundred shudders; the diaphanous moonlit sky arched like a crystal above me, and reflected the curious sensations like shadows back on to this world beneath it. Rosaline’s melancholy figure was among these particolored shadows; she walked alongside me, and disappeared into the mazy darkness of every tree, and then reappeared, standing before me, in the clear moonlight; nature in its entirety hung on every side of me like tapestries richly embroidered with curious faces. On these tapestries the past and the future were depicted in the strangest fashion; I received, as it were, a foretaste of a heap of sad and gay sensations.

I [find myself] often wondering why I perceive things in this way and no other, and why I am especially drawn to this question, which certainly would never occur to me when I was in any other state of mind. Of all notions that can take us unawares, that of our own individuality is the queerest.

I am exceedingly eager finally to meet the marvelous man of whom we have been speaking almost daily. I can very clearly picture to myself a person who has an unlimited dominion over all the hearts [and minds] that surround him; but it must be a highly interesting course of study to become better acquainted with such a person, to perceive in one’s own self the method by which he seizes hold of our ideas and emotions, and thereby as it were to hoist oneself up to [his level], while we learn how he influences us and he comprehends how he can influence us [more powerfully]. I desire to make his acquaintance, and yet I dread our first interview. You have certainly been much too forward in acting as my spokesman, and he perhaps finds [/will find] me simple and tactless, for when I still had some degree of respect for all people I found it easier to keep company with them—and my manners were more relaxed—than now, when I contemn the majority of them. When I see a man of [superior] understanding for the first time, I am easily embarrassed; I feel so distant from him; my peculiar manner[isms], the aforesaid thoughts that I am obliged not only to think, but also to rearrange to suit his conceptions, perplexes [sic] me; and through the effort to make myself properly intelligible to him and to bring him nearer to me, I become ever more distant from him, especially if I still casually perceive that he is trying to humor me. I wish one could always [in such cases] study a few introductory remarks along the lines of those ordinary but serviceable prefaces that one needs in order to understand certain authors.

Rosa to William Lovell

Your apprehensions, my dear friend, are unfounded: the man of whom we have been speaking is not one of those clever types who lug about the fragments of their reason so clumsily, and manipulate it so ineptly, that one derives from their elucidations not enjoyment, but only conceptual disorder and resultant [ideas] that stand out as freakishly foreign acquisitions amid the [native Spartan] furniture of our brain. This man will find it effortless to call to mind all ideas, even the most far-fetched ones, and to convert them into his own; for him there is no such thing as a strange soul, and for this reason he treats none of them with that contempt that we so often become aware of with such profound and sincere reluctance in other individuals of supposedly superior understanding. Your fears will most likely be allayed when I tell you that he perhaps already knows you better than you think; and lest your acquaintance be tainted from the beginning by that disagreeable ceremoniousness wherein, perversely enough, one attempts by way of fixed and quasi-dramaturgical formulas to arrive at a state of mutual familiarity, you should encounter him when you are out on a walk, this evening, during a visit to the ruins on the far side of the Porta Capena.

William Lovell to Rosa

Oh my friend, what a curious night I have had! It hung like a series of concealed mirrors in the interior of my soul; today the curtain has been lifted, and I behold myself in an altered shape, along with a thousand extraordinary objects clustered round me.

I am still perpetually unable to regain consciousness or my peace of mind; I am still perpetually oblivious of what I am thinking or writing; I am still lying [suspended] as if in a dream, and I fix my eyes on the paper and on the words written there [to try] to wake myself up.

On another occasion, tomorrow, I plan to tell you if I am somewhat calmer. I am throwing myself into bed in order to hide myself from the horror that is stalking me.

William Lovell to Rosa

I sent you a message, and from my messenger I am, alas, obliged to hear that you have yet again left for Tivoli; I would have been extremely pleased to speak with you and solicit your aid and counsel.

I have slept but little tonight, and in my sleep I have been pursued by unpleasant dreams. Ah, my friend, I cannot possibly tell you everything that I have thought and perceived, I feel as though yesterday evening marked the beginning of an epoch encompassing the entirety of my life from then onwards; I have been approached by many an intimation, and a thousand uncertainties have affiliated themselves more intimately with my intrinsic nature.I went to the far side of the Porta Capena. The last glimmer of twilight sparkled in the diaphanous moss that hangs among the buildings; on every side everything was clumped together in large masses, and the shadows advanced towards me from the east in ever-increasing size; I wandered among the ruins in silent amazement and preparatory dread, and thought about my father and Rosaline, and about that [bygone] age when those architectural remnants [had been] stately country houses. Oh, I am calm enough today to describe everything to you in prolix detail; my paper is illuminated by the clear light of morning, and I am delineating for you my sensations of yesterday as I would do some mere poetic fiction.
Ah, is not everything bygone merely fabrication and poetry? The present is but a dream; the past, a set of tenebrous memories from within the dream; [and] the future is a world of shadows that we can call to mind only with great difficulty.

In Rosaline’s windows no candle burned; no lute-tones sounded through the night; no shadows ranged about the greensward. I could not forbear approaching the abandoned house and stretching my arms out towards the desolated building; I could not comprehend why the cottage was now uninhabited; all the contents of my memory were so uncertain and yet so haunting; I fled the house with all speed, and the world lay there so arid and extinguished; I heard human footfalls whose muffled reverberation was [decidedly] unedifying amid the solitude; birds with their seductive songs, and rustling trees—all [of the objects] around me, all [of them], seemed to have been painstakingly brought together to interrupt the sepulchral silence. Every tone had shed its characteristically enchanting and inspiring timbre, every object the significance that reconciles our heated imagination to it. The hills loomed over [me] like burial mounds; the entire human race struck me as being [particularly] wretched and pitiable, as if they had already walked into their graves, and were sinking ever more deeply into them, and crying for help, and plaintively stretching their hands out; but no passer-by paid any attention to them, and no one took any pity on the poor forsaken creatures. No twilight-and-sunrise vied for ascendancy on my horizon; winged, melancholy night brooded tirelessly above me; and ah, I was incapable of weeping and sobbing, I could not dissolve my ardent[ly] arid sorrow into tears and tones; no flower of self-pity sprang up in my heart to revive me with its poetic fragrance; no golden mirage came to the aid of my exhausted senses; I felt as though I were locked up in prison with a million [other] wretches; the walls surrounded us, barren and cold; ah, I did not believe that I was the only outcast, and for this [very] reason I was incapable of consoling myself.

I had forgotten for whom I was waiting, when a hideous—no, only a familiar (IM [DR]) shape came walking towards [me]. My fear was approaching me in visible form, and I was thrilled with terror to the very core of my being. Why must I speak here in the cant of childish imaginings to which I myself cannot give credence? Why must I behave like a boy when I am taken unawares by a curious incident, or even by a not-so-curious one? And yet: it seems to me quite possible that my father was acquainted with this wonderful Andrea whom I have now set my eyes on for the third time with genuine horror and in ever-closer relation to myself.

I do not know what I may have said; I am equally ignorant of what he said, and what happened around me. As if all of my strangest dreams were being realized, as if I were then on the point of awakening to life in its most authentic form; as if all of nature were suddenly taking hold of me, and every tree and every star were sending me hints by way of mysterious signs; as if every imponderable [link] of the chains that have restrained us for so long were on the point of being torn loose—thus, Rosa—oh, I have no words for this emotion—just like a criminal who suddenly perceives that he is caught in the self-contradictions of his alibi, and whose words are now freezing on his lips: thus did I feel in my innermost self.

Instinct [though] I was with the keenest dread, I spoke boldly, nay, audaciously, as though I were drunk; the old man seemed surprised. I said a thousand things that I had never before thought, and that even then, at the moment I was saying them, I was only half thinking; I was only dimly and vaguely conscious, and there was no [longer] any strange man standing in my presence; I was addressing only myself, and the thoughts floated through my mind like clouds, lights, and shadows; they resounded in my soul like marvelous notes sung by exotic, seductive birds; my spirit was curiously illuminated, as though by the interpenetrative fabrics woven by the moonlight and the glow of sunrise in their mutual struggle.

We paced up and down, and I listened to him speak like a distant waterfall, like enigmatic thunder that amid the sunshine in the distance aspired to the vaulted heavens. We quitted the ruins, and I followed him in silence to his house.
A persistent pallor illumined his ancient, emaciated countenance, whose every crease and wrinkle spoke in its own, peculiar accent. Each of the sensations that tormented me could have been likened to the sudden juxtaposition of one’s own, familiar, youthful brother with an elderly version of himself. He was becoming such a familiar figure to me, and yet he remained so strange to me; I was obliged both to love him and to hate him; oh, how I should have liked to strangle him simply in order to break free of the struggle and of my doubts. And yet I knew him, and his image had been deeply imprinted on my fancy since my boyhood!
Living is an irksome business: incessant doubt and fear, pain and anxiety, [and] the whole host of [our] memories all pursue us through sylvan labyrinths, wherein we expect [to encounter] some eldritch and horrible monstrosity in every darkened pathway, in every new twist of the road; we lack the time to reflect and look ahead, we lack the breath to complain—until we tumble down, and all [manner of] hideous creatures simultaneously pounce on us and tear their exhausted quarry to pieces. Until [we] wake up [we] call our fantasies dreams, our existence life.
I stepped up to the [front] window. A small lawn and Rosaline’s cottage [were] directly in front of me; I distinctly saw the swaying mallows in the little garden, and the crimson moon rising, and immediately peered through the window of her chamber, and did not [see] her. The old man must have often seen me here, he surrounded me like a [disembodied] spirit; in his presence I was unashamed; to the contrary, I looked him [directly and ever] so dispassionately in the eye. Then I flew with my thoughts to Rosaline, and saw her sit down and silently and purposelessly pluck the strings of her lute; I consoled her for her own death and beheld her smiling a bitter smile; then I heard my father’s voice calling for me in the same tones he had cajoled me with when I was a child; I heard the barking of that [great] big dog, the most loyal friend of my boyhood—and then everything vanished, and I [found myself] sitting face-to-face with the amiable, melancholy old Andrea and his meditative eyes.
And now I am sitting here alone, and yet I still see him sitting there in my extra chair. I shall see him again, and he will fade away; and so shall I, and no one will give another thought to either of us.
Bianca to Lovell


Is it really possible for you to forget me so completely? Our merry gatherings have lost their soul on account of your absence, and every pleasure is mute and sits forsaken in a corner. Do you not think back at all on our holy bacchanalias and on the tumultuous gaiety that enraptured us so wildly and divinely? Do you prefer your gloomy daydreams and empty meditations to the girl who loves you so tenderly[?] At least share your time with us tonight, which we have set aside for all manner of fun, and let me know of your decision in a couple of words that you may entrust to my messenger.

I am coming.

Wm. Lovell
Rosa to Andrea Cosimo


The fact that my journey hither is a kind of exile weighs ever more heavily on my heart the longer I am away from Rome. [To think] that I am obliged to forgo your company at this moment of all moments! At a time when I feel myself impelled ever more powerfully towards you; when, as it were, the wings of my soul are spreading to press me all the more closely to your heart. For some time now you have been showering me with new ideas and emotions, and within me there has opened up a new world, a theater on whose stage the most marvelous scenes are constantly changing. I regard my life since that remarkable evening as having begun afresh; [on that evening] there was forged a pathway to your soul that I ache to continue pursuing. But why do you spurn me and deem me unworthy of your further trust? Am I permitted to harbor the suspicion that you are devoting yourself more tenderly to young Lovell? What more can you desire of him now that his father is dead? May I not occasionally indulge myself in a spell of silent brooding over your plans, and more than occasionally encounter [therein] a [very] real [streak of] capriciousness and an expansive and seemingly useless [jumble of] machinery? But I will hold my peace so as not to incur your displeasure.

Andrea Cosimo to Rosa


Things can and shall not be otherwise than they are; leave the conception and direction of my plans to me, lest you should be even more bemused by them. What does it matter to you if I choose to fill my hours, and occupy my mind after my own fashion, with some ingeniously contrived mechanical toy? If I observe in what a peculiar fashion one soul can influence another? You have certainly idled away plenty of nights on cards and dice; permit me then to use human beings in the designing of my own game of chance, my own seriously laughable version of lotto, and, as it were, to bring into play their disembodied souls before my eyes, and lead their reason and emotions along behind me like chained monkeys—and then thank me for employing you as a friend rather than as a plaything.

William Lovell to Rosa


You ask me how I am living. I have for some time been under the impression that I cannot live without you. I have always depended on you for the opportunity of unbosoming myself to you of my every thought and emotion. I often feel as though my heart has sprouted wings that are carrying me ever higher, and that I shall presently lose sight entirely of the earth and its miseries.
I now see old Andrea every day; I have never before contemplated [another] human being in this attitude of elevated admiration; I have, moreover, never encountered a soul who so united in himself all of the excellences that are ordinarily [discovered] only one at a time. My memory assures me of the curious fact that a long time ago I recoiled from the sight of him, and yet occasionally a dark and haunting episode of recollection still seems to be on the point of surfacing from the depths [of my mind]. Oh, Rosa, if only at many an hour one could conceal oneself from oneself! Ah what is not capable of saddening us, and attacking us with shooting pains of emotion, given how naked and defenseless we all are? The more one would like to love [other] people, the more one is inclined to doubt whether they even deserve it; every ethos passes through our bosom wearing a mask; who has the ability to distinguish the noble ethos from the ignoble one?
A while ago now Andrea had promised to take me to [a meeting of] a society of men who have gathered around him as around a hub, and [who] thus constitute a kind of school; I ached to make their acquaintance. Yesterday I was introduced to them. Many a phenomenon passed through my sensorium at this time; [for one], the suspicion that Andrea was the head of some kind of secret society, inasmuch as it is said that our age is besotted with a mania for doing things in this queer and secretive fashion. I had read a great deal about absurd and fantastic ceremonies even in [ordinary] books, and all of it had struck me as being in the extremity of bad taste; accordingly, I braced myself, so to speak, for [a succession of elaborate] solemnities and initiation rites, and as I accompanied Andrea to the place of meeting, I felt very acutely that none [of the stimuli] that ordinarily set our fancy in motion so readily would have any effect on me [that night]. I felt a mixture of astonishment and shame as I was led without further ado into a house and then into a spacious hall wherein the company were already assembled. I had armed myself for [an encounter with] the fantastic, but now I was besieged by a [most] solemn horror as each of them in a [perfectly] straightforward manner offered me his hand and greeted me as his friend and brother. I stood transfixed among them as I had done while contemplating one of Raphael’s larger paintings for the first time, for I had never before seen so many faces of such strong character in juxtaposition, or heard conversation of such calm intellectual fertility in a large company.

On taking in my surroundings a bit more attentively, I soon descried several people with whom I was already acquainted, people who had reveled through whole nights with me, or sat up with me till dawn at the gaming table. You yourself are of course acquainted with the whimsical Francesco, who has amused us so often with his sallies of jocularity, but in this company it was impossible for me to laugh at him, or to demand any joking on his part, so grave and venerable was his aspect as he sat among the rest of them, many of whom were attending to his utterance with keen concentration. Adriano, whose simplicity has afforded us so much amusement, had gathered a large circle around himself, and spoke with great enthusiasm and no less understanding; I could not tire of listening to him, [or] of marveling at how mistaken I had been in him until then. I felt as though I had been suddenly transported into the company of departed spirits who in death had cast off all terrestrial [attributes], and who [would have been] unrecognizable even to their [own] brothers. All of them treated old Andrea with the most emphatic respect; they all bowed down before him as before a higher being, and the awe [inspired in me by] my old friend increased accordingly.

It was as though in the silence of the night we were hailed by deeper thoughts and more serious meditations [than those encountered in the daytime], for with each passing hour the company became more solemn, the topics of their conversation more elevated. I have never lingered in any temple in an attitude of such devotion; in no book have I yet discovered such ideas as those that pervaded me [there]. At such moments [we] forget [our] previous existence entirely, and the present alone is distinguishable in our soul. I shall never forget this night.
We dispersed at the very break of day. A scarlet incandescence was spreading upwards and across the horizon and dyeing the rooftops and treetops; the fresh morning air and the clear sky contrasted strangely with the nocturnal darkness of the [meeting] room. Flocks of birds flitted through the air and made notes of merriment; almost all the inhabitants of the city were still asleep, and our footfalls echoed downhill along the streets. Early morning has always been for me the image of a happy and busy life; the air is invigorated and shares its vigor with us; the marvelous scarlet of sunrise bursts forth in a jet of recollection [from the] dawn of childhood and cascades back down into our life and our quotidian sensations like a streak of red trembling athwart the iron [window-]bars of a prison [cell] wherein a [lonely] captive sighs for his liberty.

William Lovell to Rosa

When I meditate [as I often do] on Andrea, and silently lose myself in my own thoughts [about him], I come close at many moments to regarding him as a superhuman being of alien origin; I have silently [and privately] elaborated many a marvelous daydream that I should be ashamed to recount to you in such a cold-blooded [medium as this], however strongly these dreams may have captivated my fancy. He often obtrudes upon my ecstasies in an ineffable fashion that imparts significance to them and places them in a clearer light.

The other day his discourse put me into an unusually solemn mood; he spoke of my late father and [launched into] an impeccable imitation of his voice and facial expressions. I was moved, and he continued; indeed, he spoke endlessly in my father’s accent, and [even threw in] a few of the characteristic phrases that I had heard my father utter on countless occasions. I started in surprise, because I had begun to believe that my father was actually present; I asked him whether he had known him, and he swore that he had not; I was transported back to my childhood and stared steadily at the wall so as not to be disabused of my illusion. Suddenly [and as quickly] as a flash of lightning, a shadow passed across the wall [and chased away this vision]; the entirety [of its surface was now occupied by] my father’s features; I recognized him and he was gone; he was echoed by strange tones that I had apparently never heard before; the entire room grew dark, and old Andrea kept sitting there impassively at my side, as if he had noticed none of this.

A powerful shudder forcibly contracted my soul; all of my nerves were twitching violently, and my entire organism was convulsed with terror, as if I had thoughtlessly knocked at the entrance to some strange new world, and the gates had swung open, annihilating me [by] letting fall on me a thousand emotions [whose weight] an ordinary human being is too weak to withstand. Andrea now seemed to me to be a kind of porter to this unfamiliar house, a kind of medium between all things intelligible and all things unintelligible. Perhaps there is a single solution to all the puzzles both within and without us, perhaps our emotions and our fancy are connected by an infinite number of levers to this solution, from which our reason skittishly recoils; in the end all illusions [will] vanish if we attain a summit that to the rest of the world seems the highest and most absurd of illusions. My soul is being revisited by Balder and his visions—oh, Rosa, what is madness and what is reason? The entirety of the sensible world is suspended all around us like [a series of] curtains [embroidered] with fugitive colors and counterfeit images; what lies behind them we do not know, and we call the space that we regard as a void the land of dreams and ecstatic hallucinations; no one is bold enough to approach the curtains and raise them, to look behind the scenes and thereby demolish the artwork fashioned by our five corporeal senses—but if—oh, Rosa, I am not suffering from any sort of giddiness; everything is crystal-clear in my mind, and I simply cannot find the right words; but I have no inclination to look for them anyhow. You will likewise be familiar with these emotions, and for everything else you will pardon me.
Rosa to William Lovell
Many of your thoughts on Andrea seem to me like transcriptions from the soul[:] in his presence I always feel as though I am in proximity to a superterrestrial being. I, too, have been confronted by many things that I cannot explain to myself in any fashion. When I was here with him in Tivoli recently, we were together almost every day, and our conversation touched exquisitely on the topic of superstition and the curious world before which our spirit so often stands, and to which it desperately craves admittance. My fancy became more and more heated with each passing day, all of my preceding doubts [gradually] disburdened themselves of their gravity; you can well imagine what a peculiar impression your letter, the letter in which you spoke with such incessant fervor about Rosaline, must have made on me then. One fine evening we were rambling on the far side of the gate; our conversation was becoming ever more serious and for that reason I forgot all about my return to the cramped and disagreeable city. Meanwhile, it had grown dark, and we parted company. All of my notions were confused; the darkness was growing ever thicker and I seemed to be getting no closer to the city. I looked for a new route because I thought that I had lost my way, and thus I became ever more uncertain. My solitude and the sepulchral silence all around me disquieted me somewhat; I strained my eyes to try to make out [even the faintest trace of light] from the city, but in vain. At length, I perceived that I was climbing a hill, and shortly thereafter I found myself at its summit, next to the Chiesa di Santo Giorgio. The wind trembled against the windows and whistled through the ruins lying opposite them; I thought I heard someone walking inside the church and I was not mistaken: with reverberant footsteps two men whom I did not recognize emerged from the vault and asked me what I was looking for. Their unfamiliar figures, the solemn tone of their voices, and the tiny covered lantern that illuminated only me along with the one [of them who was holding it], made me shudder. I timorously inquired the way back to the city, and [the man with the lantern] asked to conduct me as far as the gate; the other one promised to wait [for him] at the church.
The little lantern sparingly lighted our way, and trees and bushes clad in a diaphanous verdure slipped past us; my escort was silent, and I followed him as though in a dream. Now we were near the gate, and the man with the lantern was standing still; we briefly took our leave of each other, and a bright beam of light fell across his face. [The sight of this face made me] wince, for it was the pallid visage of a corpse; its eyes were wide open and bulging, its lips wan and twisted into a grimace as if by rigor mortis; I thought I was looking at a ghost, and a few moments later I became even more deeply frightened upon recognizing [in these] features those of Andrea. Now he turned round and [began] heading back; I remained standing as if transfixed, and at last gave out a loud and half-demented cry of “Andrea!” At that selfsame moment the figure and the light vanished; and stunned and trembling, I entered the city.

But what a start I was given when Andrea met me at my own front doorstep and asked me where I had [been detained] for so long[!] I could but [mutter] a few words to him, and all night long I lay in an alternately waxing and waning fever.

And was it not, I fearfully reflect, the spitting image of our Andrea that the unfortunate Balder so often described in the exaltations of his fancy? And yet he had never seen him. Who knows whether he is not present all around me now while I am writing this letter, and is not privy to every thought that I think?
William Lovell to Rosa

My heart has become Aeolus’s cave, wherein all the tempests of the earth roar in a chaotic chorus and furiously strive to break free of their chains. Oh, let me understand this Andrea, and I will rest content, and I will forget everything else.

Is not the world a goodly prison wherein we all sit like wretched convicts and anxiously await our death sentence? Oh, how lucky are those reprobates who can forget themselves and their fate in cards or wine, in a wench or some tedious book!

But finally, at length, the dark day closes in. It cannot fail to do so. All preceding days were but preliminaries to the final, [single,] terrible day. At last the weird sister[s have] discovered the place where [they] will tear the thread. Oh, woe is us, Rosa, that we were [ever] born!

Oh, what a plaintive fool! With all of its feeble might the poor beast balks at entering the stall in which the butcher’s knife awaits him. Time, that pitiless torturer, drags you in; the door slams behind you, and you stand alone under the hands of your killer.

What can man wish for and accomplish? What do his toiling and striving amount to?

Oh, if only we could wander into a foreign country, a different country; if only we could emerge from the condition of slavery to which our humanity binds us!

We are restrained to within the most horribly narrow compass, and our chain keeps getting shorter. With a whoosh, all [our] illusory pleasures spread their wings, and an instant [later they] have flown away. The finery of life goes out of fashion and falls away in rags and tatters; all infirmities become manifest.

I stand alone; I am [even] my own torture[er] and executioner; in the distance I hear the rattling of the chains of the other prisoners. Our prison is guarded by terrors. None of the guards will take bribes; they stand there [as] impervious as iron and [as] still [as statues].

I have heard the cry from the opposite bank; I have taken [this] curious hint, and the boat is already hastening across to fetch me; I have my sins in my hand, and I pay for my passage with them. The waves are roaring; the boat is rocking; the rudder is creaking; and presently I am setting foot on that somber, foreign soil, and in couples [=“doppelter Vereinigung” (literally: “twofold union”) (DR)] all of my sorrows are coming to meet me.

Yesterday I was with Andrea and his circle. They spoke chaotically and sat in terraced rows, like earthenware sculptures. I found them all a strange and sorry sight; for all of them, even for the marvelous Andrea, I felt a deep sense of pity. They were [so] serious and solemn, and I felt as though I [absolutely] had to laugh. It is lamentable that [every trace of] our so-called sense of fun can be chased away from our countenance by [mere] thoughts and mental images.
I reached out and touched the person sitting nearest to me, and it was like sticking my hand into the kingdom of destruction, and I [became] a link of this chain that was rusting to pieces. I was now part and parcel of the crowd, and I found myself a strange and sorry sight, just like the rest of them.

All eyes were unwaveringly fixed on the wall; in all of them the image of death was reflected. The candles burned more faintly; the curtains rustled mysteriously; the blood in my veins [alternately/simultaneously] simmered and congealed.

Sounds entered my ear imbued with a curious significance, [they] traversed my senses like arabesques; I expected the arrival of some strange apparition and languished for a monstrous one. And I forgot to look behind me, and I stood alone among my friends, as in a forest of withered trees.

Shadows descended upon us from on high and sank into the earth. Jets of mist stood like columns [along the walls of] the room; dawn flitted in and out like a curtain. My soul forgot itself and became a picture of its surroundings.
Everything was circulating and undulating in violent confusion; like some freak of nature being summoned back to its embryonic state, the mass struggled against itself. It drew closer and resembled a [moving] statue shaped out of fog, [rushed] past me like a whistling breeze—and, oh, Rosaline!
It was her in her entirety, as she had appeared in life. She cast a glance at me; and it met my eyes like a knife, my heart like a mountain. I struggled against this profoundly convincing hallucination, and I was pulled along by it [anyway]; with a loud cry I lunged after her dress and hit my head on the wall.

I was not frightened; I was not surprised, nor did I wake up. Everything surrounded me like an array of alien elements; I saw my friends again; I heard the trees and water again: the entire millwork of the quotidian world with all of its characteristic motions.

Andrea and the rest of the company were silent and cold, but they were standing far, far below me; I recognized them all and did not understand them; I came back home and was [no longer] among them.

Somebody opened the window; the air of morning rushed in; the sky was like a sheet of marble painted in a variety of colors; the walls of the world as always extended in every direction, [and] were [encrusted] with their curious vegetation; and a [violent] sensation of the prosaic attacked my heart like a savage beast.

Where does that hallucination I saw earlier today reside, that I might make my way to it/her [the hallucination/Rosaline]? Where do the curious emotions [I felt earlier] roam, that I might mingle with them?—that I might awaken from this dream and dream a different and even longer-lasting one!

Clouds are floating away and returning; the curious light of dawn is turning into daylight. Thus will [the day of life] pass within this heart [of mine]. What a pity that I can already sense this!

William Lovell to Rosa

How everything is beckoning me ever more assuredly to those horrors that I would flee! How I am pursued and oppressed [by them], and yet the terrible void within me remains unfilled! How futilely I am swimming about in an ocean; no ship, no shore, as far as the eye can see; the savage sea stretches before me, and a fog descends all around me in derisive mimicry of land, and then vanishes.

Banks of fog [mark the limit] of our ken, and of everything our soul fancies that it possesses; doubt uproots the wheat along with the weeds; and in the fallow field there [subsequently] sprout up new species of plants whose colors make a fairer and more lustrous showing than [those of their predecessors]. Man must think and for that very reason believe, sleep, and, accordingly, dream.

The change of the seasons lays waste to rocks and mountains; the eternal pillars of the earth are eroded by rain showers, man by the circulation of his blood, a worm of death within him that eats away at him from the inside outwards. Every thing is an image and a counter-image at the same time; it explains itself, and one ought never to ask, “How does this phenomenon relate to that one?” The spirit of inquiry is that original sin that we inherited from our first fallen parents.

Everything that I used to term my emotions lies slaughtered and lifeless all around me, a brutally dismantled plaything of my unripe youth, the shattered magic lantern with which I frittered away my time.

I often say the name of Amalie or Rosaline to myself, in [hopes of] bringing everything back to life again as if with a magic word, but even the memory [of it] has faded, and when I look down on my entire life it is like gazing at a mowed field of stubble; a dreary autumn is approaching at a leisurely pace; the fog is thickening, and the last gleam of sunlight is dying out on the distant hilltops.

At many moments I should like to leave this place and go in quest of a curious nature with its wonders, climb precipitous rocks, and crawl down into vertiginous chasms, lose myself in caves, and hear the muffled roar of subterranean waters; I should like to visit the curious jungles of India, and draw water from the river whose name in the fairy tales of my boyhood was already enough to [quicken my pulse]; I should like to survive [mighty] tempests at sea and visit the pyramids of Egypt; oh, Rosa, whither [to bear] this insatiability? And would it not follow me even to Hades and in Elysium?

And am I not learning and experiencing here at Rome? Am I not fulfilled by this profound and wonderful life whose wonder increases with each passing hour? Whither from here? The raiment of the entire earth is cold and scanty--Oh, Balder, I should like to go in quest of you in the depths of mountain ranges in order to learn from you and live with you.
My soul is tying itself ever more intimately to Andrea; I understand him as much as two people who are always thinking one thing and saying quite another can understand each other; in every body the soul resides like a poor victim of torture in Phalaris's bull: it would like to express its sorrow and misery, and the notes [of its plaint] are transformed into matter for the mirth of the surrounding crowd.
But I am quite forgetting what I originally intended to write about. On account of words one forgets oneself and everything else; we speak seldom of ourselves, but rather, for the most part, only of how we could speak of ourselves; every letter is a disquisition chock-full of lies and superscribed by a false title, and so I should be quite happy to keep on chattering if my emotions were not disturbing me so much and impelling me to recount a curious incident.
It was the day before yesterday, when I was on the Corso, wandering round aimlessly amid the press and throng of the Carnival; the roar of carts and people, the hubbub, the thousand-fold deformities of the human body, and finally the light of the lamps put me into an agreeable state of intoxication; in the evening I drove to the festino, where many [parties of] maskers, augmented by new acquaintances, were reconvening.

A feminine figure repeatedly strolled past me. I had several times already heard the rustle of her silk dress, and I now began paying closer attention to her. It was as though she had quite deliberately singled me out in preference to all the other maskers and desired my acquaintance.

We approached each other by way of the customary formulas, and I found it remarkably easy to be downright boorish; gradually there began to form near us a small crowd of people in assorted fancy dress costumes who all found me uncommonly witty.

I soon [found myself] pursuing the masked stranger through the most tightly-packed crowds; I accompanied her when she went into one of the [side-]rooms to refresh herself with some gelato.
Here I saw in sharper outline her fair form, along with her slender arms; I begged and entreated her, but she would not at any price remove her mask.

I lost sight of her again in the assembly room, whose din and tumult were extremely repugnant to me after the momentary peace, the silent luminescence of the [smaller] chamber. I went outside intending to find my carriage [and leave]. To my surprise, I discovered [my] masked stranger [waiting for me] at [its] door; she could not find her own carriage; I offered her [a ride in] mine, and she did not reject the offer.

Now we were alone in the carriage, and I availed myself of all of my eloquence in [trying to] persuade her to remove the disfiguring mask. At last she did so with a detached demeanor—and oh!—my hair is standing on end [once again at the thought of it]—Rosaline was sitting beside me!

She cast a menacing glance at me, and like a loud peal of thunder it resonated against the interior of the carriage. Now I heard nothing but the clattering of the wheels, like a distant cascade—next morning, I found myself back in my bedchamber.

My hand still trembles when I think about this episode; and yet it is firmly in the past, and now I even doubt whether it happened at all. But now I hardly [even] know what I am thinking and doing.

Andrea Cosimo to William Lovell


Admittedly, my dear William, we are deceived by everything both within and without ourselves, but for that very reason we should also be incapable of being taken in by anything. Where then are the torments about which I am obliged to hear so much talk, which create for us our errors, our skepticism, the first sunbeam of our reason? They are [nothing more or less than] time, which in [pursuing] its course through the great wide world also passes through our hearts, and changes everything there in a wondrous fashion. Change is the only medium through which we observe time, and because we have the ability to think, we also have the ability to produce thoughts of great heterogeneity. Precisely because [pursuing] a train of thought tires us and ultimately ceases to interest us, one train of thought necessitates another of a different type; and man typically terms this [substitution] a change in his character and his soul, because he always takes himself much too seriously and is fond of decking himself out from head to toe in lights, such that one cannot even see him properly for all the glare. Can then the entity that we term our soul truly change? Does it have [parts or] limbs that [can be] torn from it or [re]joined to it? Does it alter itself with the addition of a new part? Oh, my friend, we vary the pens with which we write; the soul varies its playthings, thoughts, which are entirely independent of it and [amount to] but a more refined form of sensual play.
All that we know within ourselves is sensuality; thither lead all footprints that we detect in the uninhabited desert; we are led back to this cave and this cave alone time and again, so very curiously is the road inclined to meander. Only in sensuality can we comprehend ourselves, and it governs and orders the web that we perpetually believe is set in motion by our mind. All plans and designs know themselves to be founded entirely upon this [phenomenon]; in this corporeal world [of ours] I myself am my principal and ultimate goal, for the body arranges everything solely for [the benefit] of its own [bodily self]; it discovers nothing but other bodies in its path, and [the idea that it should be] united with the mind is beyond our powers of comprehension. The soul is situated deep in the obscurity of the background and lives alone in spacious quarters like an incarcerated angel; it is no more connected to the body and its manifold divisions than is the convict to the city in which he resides as a prisoner; one would just as soon believe that all of this city’s streets with their surrounding gates and spires had been built for the enjoyment of this prisoner [as that the body existed for the sake of the soul].
What then can I do for my soul, which dwells within me like an unsolved puzzle, which leaves the greatest discretion to the visible human person, inasmuch as it cannot control it? This person is: this is its crime and its virtue; its existence is its [own] reward and punishment, and who has not long felt this in his bones? I have no inclination either to condemn or to deify anyone; the whole [of humanity] comprises a single train clad in a single livery, a train each of whose members is as unrecognizable and worthy in my eyes as the next, a funeral procession that files past on its way up the mountain and vanishes behind a dark wood.

In order to give themselves an air of importance, these contemptible machines have devised titles and distinctions of rank, which are like so many pitiful, parti-colored [merit] badges; but the rabble have a high regard for them.

What is left to us, William, if we would outlaw all [of these] empty titles? [Precious little room], to be sure, for philosophizing and extolling virtue and inveighing against vice, but all the more room for living.

The senses blaze a shorter and straighter trail in that direction than does the moody understanding; for emotion is the steward of our machine, its chief superintendent, who transmits to the aged and pedantic understanding everything [the understanding is acquainted with and subsequently] treats of in its own peculiarly longwinded fashion. The emotions and the understanding are two mutually parallel tightrope-walkers who are constantly imitating each other’s tricks; each of them contemns the other and wishes to outdo him.

If we are not merely machines, then the soul [may as well] forthwith tear itself free of everything that holds it in such tiresome captivity; [whereupon] it will [cease] to make distinctions and draw conclusions, to form intuitions and beliefs; and fly off in impetuous haste to its uncharted native land, where it will be able to perdure and exert itself in untrammeled [purity].

Perhaps the circus artistes have even already vouchsafed a few extraordinary individuals a knowledge of their art, and a glimpse into their own innermost and most hidden depths. But nature resists with all her might, [for these] are curious prodigies that recoil in horror from themselves; the seams are torn apart, the mind peers into existence and the objective world directly, without the senses and without the intermediary mirror of the understanding, and the body is racked by violent convulsions.

Balder to William Lovell

Today the sun is shining amiably, and I am thinking of your name, because it is like the azure of the sky. Just now I thought I heard you walking behind me in the bushes, and I looked round. But it was only the wind climbing into the trees and plucking a few mature leaves, which he set aside as food for the earth, his mother. Now I still have one piece of paper left on my writing tablet, and I intend to use it to talk to you: perhaps someday some man who can carry it to you will turn up.

Varied are the brook’s small lunges
But it flows both fast and sure,
Without rest and past all cure,
And into depths it loathly plunges,
Depths abysmal and obscure.

So too flows man’s lifelong river,
Love, dance, wine does it deliver:
Waves of pleasing melody
That must yield to silence pure.

Ever are the stars descending,
Ever does the sun arise,
Red it seaward marks day’s ending,
Red it soars into the skies.

’Tis not so with man’s brief clamber,
For its pleasures cease apace,
Send him to the tomb’s dark chamber
Where he lies in death’s embrace.

Thus am I now compelled to imitate a certain sound that is rising and falling like a waterfall in my soul. People often visit me here in my solitary sylvan dwelling, and they say loudly enough for me to hear them that I am a prophet sent by God. These worthy people mean well, but they get this idea of theirs mostly from my beard, which [entirely] against my will has become quite long.
The sun is gaily playing among the boughs below it, and I see how every beast quite gladly and willingly is entrapped by its golden net. The whole of nature is enraptured, and the birds of the forest are warbling long and beauteous melodies, and the trees are joining in with their venerably sonorous roar, and everything around me is trembling and ringing like the strings of a harp, and unbeknownst to myself, I am inwardly singing [too].

Aged heroes, gray and weary
Trustingly my friendship seek;
Priests pray raptly, and with fury
Roars the ancient ocean Greek.
Circe’s weaver’s chairs are howling;
Old Charybdis wildly boils;
Pan awakes; the woods are growling;
Hunters swarm to savage soils.
Mounted jousters swiftly caper
To and fro in vigorous sport,
And Ariosto puts on paper
Wondrous lines of skilled report
Of Rodomante, singing calls
Orlando and his passion brave,
Then breaks off and silent falls,
Devoured by the open grave,
Wherein poesy with its rhymes now ceases
Solace to the wretch to bring;
The unstrung harp now lies in pieces;
Calmness drear fills everything.

I still reflect that we often talked about all the things that I now see every day in reality.
All of those people are not dead, but merely beclouded; they come when I call them, and comport themselves in a brotherly manner towards me.
Do you still think about me from time to time, as I think about you and your foolery? A new life of tranquility has dawned for me; I do not know how to say how genuinely happy I am. A different and quieter sort of soul has taken lodgings within me, and assumed a more wholesome dominion over me.
I do not know which mountain forest I am living in, for I no longer ask for names. The view from my dwelling is strange and yet beautiful. Tall rock faces and elms and poplars are grimly stationed on all sides, and ivy dangles thickly [in] colossal tresses along the sheer walls. Everything around me here is instinct with vitality and friendship; the trees salute me when I wake up, the scarlet and purple sky above me withdraws, and its parti-colored lights toy with me and tease me. Ah, my friend, when one becomes better acquainted with plants and flowers, one discovers that they are very different from the entities one imagined them to be; that they are cleverer than people think, and also stronger than one would suppose. Human knowledge is aware of only a portion of their secret power.

Flowers are our bosom friends,
Plants our virtual next of kin,
And we blindly for our ends
Commit towards them the worst of sins.

Our minds towards thought’s strong force do bend
Flowers towards the source of light,
And when the night and dew descend
The flower’s petals fade from sight.
As man dozes off to sleep,
Flowers in themselves do keep.

Butterflies descend in throngs,
Humming here and humming there,
Humming all their lazy songs,
Only to go buzz elsewhere.

And when the sunrise trims the sky
The flower wakes and claims to’ve dreamed;
It does not know that butterlies
Round its head the nightlong streamed.

Oh, what [a wonder] people would behold at night if they could suddenly awaken in [the middle of] their dreams. The dream stands before them and knows when the person is no longer sleeping; this mundane imposture is on the lookout for the first hint [of waking consciousness], which sends it scurrying back to its hideout. But I was once ill and saw it all with my own eyes, and held it in these very hands with which I am now writing; I do not even know why; in those days I put up a proper fight against every miracle [I met with], and laughed at other people.

The birds and the trees, the hills and the rocks, are also different from man’s fanciful notions of them. It is all too extensive; otherwise I could write to you a good deal on this subject here, and yet it would be of no use to you or to anyone else, for only someone who already knows it can understand me. That is the way it is with anything worthwhile.

[For] in a crag here I have discovered a person who can see everything that I see. To think how willingly clever people retire from the world! But in solitude the soul thinks and feels differently; it is [no longer] interrupted by disorderly twittering and rumbling. In the open spaces of nature everything is kindred to the soul and tuned to a single pitch; the soul willingly joins in every song and is the echo and unstinting precentor of my every thought; the tiniest of birds is capable of luring an enormous amount of reason into my head. This person is deaf and cannot hear me speak, but what need has man of speech? Speech is useless and a curious invention. It was invented for the purpose of lying, not for that of telling the truth, for otherwise it would be better and more intelligible than it is; the vicious liar, for whom being intelligible is too much trouble, can contrive to accomplish anything with speech.
We live together like brothers, and he has [many] quite brilliant flashes of insight. The world seems different to each of us, as it does to people everywhere; and yet [the art of understanding the world] is so perfectly modest and simple.

I also keep some doves, which have been completely tamed and yet have retained their natural courage and intelligence. I learnt a great deal from them when they used to nod often amongst themselves and coo and oftentimes signify to each other their derision of mankind. These birds and the lambs who dine with me are the best and most innocent creatures in the world, and if they knew you they would salute you. You need only undertake the journey [hither] in order to live here with me.

Of the great things I know I can and may write nothing to you. It is a secret only because you would not understand it.

To call God God yet without knowing
Him with all one’s heart’s fair showing
Is mortal sin.
Round me choirs of ghosts are hanging,
Full audibly their voices clanging
In counsel’s din.
“Let all mankind abide in silence
Until they’re slain by time’s slow violence,”
My ear subsumes;
“What hope you to bequeath the ages?
This thirst for wisdom but presages
Both death and tomb!”

And so I prefer to leave off here, lest I cause myself any displeasure.

Farewell, William; thus I write here in my mountains. The bushes are beckoning me to come to them and have a word with them, for they all think highly of me; I must now give my roses water to drink, and then I must visit the ailing poplar, which has been bent by the wind. I do it entirely willingly, but I have also made it a rule for myself; I assist them in many matters, and the flowers and trees here would take it very much to heart if I should ever leave.

The lambs are puzzled because I am writing, which they have never seen me do. The innocent beasts can speak only after their own fashion, and that is very much just as well.

Fare very well; I intend to give this paper to [the next] stranger [I see].

William Lovell to Rosa


Whither must I turn with my thoughts and sensations? Everywhere I am a stranger to myself, and everywhere I discover a wondrous connection with my ideas. The highest pitch of pain and agony flows back into the gentle euphony of joy; the contemptible stands ennobled and nobility falls to the ground, as on the bottom of the ocean jewels and precious objects shine amidst the slime and next to putrefied skeletons.

’Midst savage ruins strewn asunder
Sparkles hidden treasure dear;
The glitter of the distant plunder
Coaxes me more ever near.

And at my back the ruins crumble,
And round me forms a narrow grave;
The world and day alike do tumble;
The flames of candles die unsaved.

On heedless walls the hand strikes trembling;
The subterranean wanderer calls
For light and help, but never-ending
Darkness on his ear instead falls.

He hammers on the walls of stone,
Impelled by his desire to live;
But such imprisonment in bone
Unjust desire to know must give.

Then from a fissure far to seek
A gleam of azure ogles me;
I crawl up to the craggy peak
And grope with pleasure plain to see.

And Lo! It is the golden seam
That lured me hither at the first;
I crave no more the tinsel's gleam
That duped me hither at the first.

The spirit craves the slender band
That fetters it with tender art,
As if it feels its fatherland
Resides within its silent heart.

Remote is that mysterious place;
A stray on savage Tauris’s strands,
He kneels and begs in vain for grace;
The priestess’s bloody knife descends!

 But ‘mid this terror blossom flowers,
Flowers that glow with crimson sheen
The mortal shades ‘neath which he cowers
Vouchsafe him gleams of sumptuous mien.

Does all inhere in sensual pleasure?
Does every tone sound in its choir?
Do myriad currents one stream measure,
All pilgrims but one shrine desire?

The realm of darkness opens peeking   
I, wand’ring, penetrate this land
I shan’t find soon the thing I’m seeking
And every wonder understand.

The realm’s dark gates are grimly gaping
Held ope by watchmen black and dour
From such escorts there’s no escaping
As I set out on my tour!

The more I’m seized by savage worry,
The higher madness lifts my head;
The louder is the tempests’ fury,
The more my bosom heaves with dread.

Thus ardently I greet the danger
That ever nearer towards me creeps,
To earthly life I’m now a stranger
Prepared to dwell in spiritual deeps.

All of my thoughts of wild confection
All terrors that I’ve ever felt
The darkest night’s drear recollection
The blackest hours in which I’ve dwelt
Unite yourselves with all my pleasures
Rage all of you, encircle me
Round sorrow’s boon entwine your measures
Surge round me like the savage sea
That sunrise may in the background be reflected
May horrors and terrors be my home,
By madness be I e’er more swiftly directed
Within the gates of hell be restricted
From doubts may the Furies alone let me roam!

Just read attentively Balder’s wonderful letter, which resounds in our direction like the song of a bird from foreign parts that has lost his way.

Willy to his brother Thomas

Dear brother!

So I have only just now finally and actually seen you, and now once again I’m in the opposite position, and sitting and thinking again about you here in Kensea, where, according to the will of my dear late master, I have to live as a steward until my Master William gets back from Italy. My, but how fleeting is time, and the life of man too! It’s no different than if we were those pictures at the shooting-range that the riflemen shoot at over and over again: one hardly sees them before they’re gone.
Here I’m now living quite peacefully and cut off from the whole world. I often think of our worthy old Master Lovell, who is now dead as well, and about everything that I have experienced during my lifetime. I have well and truly arrived at a state of peace, and I feel as though I have been silently grieving in silence ever since. This is the very same house that I entered as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young lad, when everything in the world seemed to me so splendid and majestic; I kept thinking to myself, “Hey, Willy! You are young; how much good fortune is yet in store for you, you bright-eyed stripling!” Back then I also wrote you a long and really high-spirited letter, because I prided myself not a little on the shiny tresses [that I wore pinned] to my coat; my blood was so heated that I actually felt that the world had been created simply for my pleasure. And now, dear brother, when I think of how many difficult illnesses I have endured, of how often you have fared so badly that I couldn’t help crying, of all that our worthy Master Lovell suffered, of how when you come down to it the two of us have seen very little, of how I have lived here and there in the company of greatness, and of how I am now as a decrepit old man crossing the very threshold that I leapt over as a young lad—oh, my dear brother, I can’t tell you what a curious mood it puts me in.
I should like to say that back then I was just disguised as a young man, or only acting young, so unnatural does it seem to me now. Master Mortimer and his wife have driven here once, and he visited me while he was here. He is jolly and healthy, and real friendly towards me on top of that.

I am diligently going to church, and in my thoughts I am sticking by God more than ever. Everything else is just vain and transitory.

The garden here is much wilder than it used to be, and with the gardener I can’t manage to put it back in order; the blessed weeds have crept in everywhere and put down deep roots; the two of us do what we can, but it never seems to be of any use.

Stay healthy, dear brother, so that we can see each other once again before we die; but die we must in the end; there’s no point in fighting against it, and then we’ll gently and peaceably pass into the presence of the Lord.
Thomas to his brother Willy


Your letters, dear Willy, are nowadays always too pious by half for my liking. It’s certainly true that a man can get a little withdrawn from earthly life in your [sic] old age, and it’s certainly right and proper for him to do that, but everything, Willy, has its ends and limits. We are in the world to work, and to do something, and a man might lose all courage for that, if he were only ever of a mind to think about the transitoriness of things; that’s why I oftentimes imagine that many of the things I’m doing and making are going to last for ever, and then I feel just fine about everything.

What you write to me about your garden I am much of a mind to believe, because there’s a good chance you and the gardener don’t know a thing about gardening. What’s more, such work requires lots of laborers and gardening prentices, as you’ll have noticed even here in my garden at Bondly; nature likes running wild like nobody’s business, and that’s why you have to fight against it day and night.

Old Master Burton is really seriously ill, and I think he’s already been summoned to the grave. The tenants are all delighted, and his children are the only people that I see weeping. It’s their duty as children; otherwise he hasn’t had an easy time getting a tear out of anyone but himself; perhaps he’ll find religion yet in these last hours of his, I heartily hope so. We all have desperately high hopes of his son, and I even think [once he’s in charge] my garden will take on a whole new look. For all my expertise, I’ve had nothing but bad luck until now; the old lady at Waterhall let her garden run almost completely wild, and old Master Burton has no taste at all in these things, and you really shouldn’t contradict him even once about anything at all if you don’t want to get on his bad side. As old as I am, I’m still glad to hear experts from other places praise the garden and the skill of the gardener, and the son, the young master, has already talked to me a good deal about it. This here garden is bound to be praised loudly and widely; people will travel from a long way away to see it. You see, Willy, even in my old age I’m still dreaming about stacking up honors; I don’t act all dejected like you. Farewell, and just try to stay healthy.

Andrea Cosimo to William Lovell


Has your vagrant, fretful soul now finally been put to rest? Your savage skepticism has disintegrated, and you will be capable once again of contemplating yourself and the world more dispassionately. I have done everything that I could do for you.
William Lovell to Andrea Cosimo

I thank you for having finally led me out of those involute labyrinths back into the light of day, for my soul was pining away [in them]. But now everything unsettled and excursive in my mind is arrayed as on threads that converge at a central point. You have convinced me of the reality of a marvelous world, and contentment has been imparted to everything within me; all ideas and sensations have regained their natural places, and harmony with myself has been established.

Mortimer to Edward Burton

Roger Place

I have not had any news from you, my dear friend, in a long time, and I can hardly avoid falling prey to the apprehension that you too are ill. It would seem that there has been no improvement in your father’s condition, for you would surely not have denied me all news of such an event.
I am more satisfied than ever with the monotony of country life; it seems to me pure wrongheadedness in people to quest so sedulously for happiness; it is rare that anything substantive is meant by that word, and its questers tend to trace the most marvelous circles round their object. Amalia [sic] is every bit as gay and healthy as I am, and I rather fancy that she is growing more cheerful with each passing day.

I have acclimatized myself to the idea of keeping a proper household; and my wife and I have yet to have a quarrel apart from a couple of entirely amicable little spats that arose in connection with an ill-favored woman whom Amalia has taken into her service out of the pure kindness of her heart. This creature has for all the world the aspect of an enchanted fairy; for my part, I have never read a description of anything more hideous in any fairy tale; I find her physiognomy rebarbative in the highest degree; it is not my fault if I also cannot help thinking of her as a curst shrew.

Fare very well, and write back to me soon.
Edward Burton to Mortimer


I was unable to write to you until now, my dear friend, because I was too much occupied and distracted by my father’s illness, which worsened with each passing day. You may have surmised from the previous sentence that he is no more, and this news was destined to be the contents of my letter. Yes, Mortimer, he has at last surmounted all of the afflictions that tormented him, and I too am more at peace. With great difficulty was his soul brought to part from [his] body, which yet could no longer restrain it; I cannot forbear weeping afresh each time I am palpably struck by the thought that he is no more. In his final hours he was quite friendly and affectionate towards me; he would have gladly made his peace with anyone in the world then, and he often spoke of his late enemy Lovell with great tenderness of feeling. Before his death, though, he burned a great number of papers that he read closely with a tearful eye.

Fare very well and happily; I shall visit you in a few days to distract myself. The funeral is tomorrow.


Translation © 2010 by Douglas Robertson