Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: WILHELM TO NATALIA. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER III.: WILHELM TO NATALIA. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 5: W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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WILHELM TO NATALIA.
“I have just ended a pleasant half wondrous story, which I have written down for thee from the lips of an excellent man. If it is not entirely in his own words—if here and there I have expressed my own feelings in the place of his, this is quite natural, in view of the relationship I have here felt with him. Is not that veneration for his wife like that which I feel for you? And has not even the meeting of these two lovers some likeness to our own? But, that he is happy enough in walking along by the side of the beast that carries its double burden of beauty; that in the evening he can, with his family following, enter through the old convent gates, and that he is inseparable from his beloved and from his children;—all this I may be allowed to envy him in secret. On the other hand, I must not complain of my own fate, since I have promised you to be silent and to suffer, as you also have undertaken to do.
“I have to pass over many beautiful features of the common life of these virtuous and happy people; for how could everything be written? A few days I have spent pleasantly, but the third already warns me to bethink me of my further travels.
“To-day I had a little dispute with Felix, for he wanted almost to compel me to transgress one of the good intentions which I have promised you to keep. Now it is just a defect, a misfortune, a fatality with me, that, before I am aware of it, the company increases around me, and I charge myself with a fresh burden, under which I afterwards have to toil and to drag myself along. Now, during my travels, we must have no third person as a constant companion. We wish and intend to be and to remain two only, and it has but just now seemed as if a new, and not exactly pleasing connection was likely to be formed.
“A poor, merry little youngster had joined the children of the house, with whom Felix had been enjoying these days in play, who allowed himself to be used or abused just as the game required, and who very soon won the favor of Felix. From various expressions I noticed already that the latter had chosen a playmate for the next journey. The boy is known here in the neighborhood; he is tolerated everywhere on account of his merriness, and occasionally receives gratuities. But he did not please me, and I begged the master of the house to send him away. This was accordingly done, but Felix was vexed about it, and there was a little scene.
“On this occasion I made a discovery which pleased me. In a corner of the chapel, or ball, there stood a box of stones, which Felix—who since our wandering through the mountain had become exceedingly fond of stones—eagerly pulled out and examined. Among them were some fine, striking specimens. Our host said that the child might pick out for himself any he liked: that these stones were what remained over from a large quantity which a stranger had sent from here a short time before. He called him Montan,* and you can fancy how glad I was to hear this name, under which one of our best friends, to whom we owe so much, is travelling. As I inquired as to time and circumstances, I may hope soon to meet with him in my travels.”
The news that Montan was in the neighborhood had made Wilhelm thoughtful. He considered that it ought not to be left merely to chance whether he should see such a worthy friend again, and therefore he inquired of his host whether it was not known in what direction this traveller had bent his way. No one had any more exact knowledge of this, and Wilhelm had already determined to pursue his route according to the first plan, when Felix exclaimed, “If father were not so obstinate, we should soon find Montan.”
“In what manner?” asked Wilhelm.
Felix answered: “Little Fitz said yesterday that he would most likely follow up the gentleman who had the pretty stones with him, and knew so much about them too.”
After some discussion Wilhelm at last resolved to make the attempt, and in so doing to give all the more attention to the suspicious boy. He was soon found, and when he understood what was intended, he brought a mallet and iron, and a very powerful hammer, together with a bag, and, in this miner-like equipment, ran merrily in front.
The road led sideways up the mountain again. The children ran leaping together from rock to rock, over stock and stone, and brook and stream, without following any direct path. Fitz, glancing now to his right and now to his left, pushed quickly upwards. As Wilhelm, and particularly the loaded carrier, could not follow so quickly, the boys retraced the road several times forwards and backwards, singing and whistling. The forms of certain strange trees aroused the attention of Felix, who, moreover, now made for the first time the acquaintance of the larches and stone-pines, and was attracted by the wonderful gentians. And thus the difficult travelling from place to place did not lack entertainment.
Little Fitz suddenly stood still and listened. He beckoned to the others to come.
“Do you hear the knocking?” said he. “It is the sound of a hammer striking the rock.”
“We hear it,” said the others.
“It is Montan,” said he, “or someone who can give us news of him.”
As they followed the sound, which was repeated at intervals, they struck a clearing in the forest, and beheld a steep, lofty, naked rock, towering above everything, leaving even the tall forests under it. On the summit they descried a person. He stood at too great a distance to be recognized. The children at once commenced to clamber up the rugged paths. Wilhelm followed with some difficulty, nay, danger: for in ascending a rock, the first one goes more safely, because he feels his way for himself; the one that follows only sees where the former has got to, but not how. The boys soon reached the top, and Wilhelm heard a loud shout of joy.
“It is Jarno!” Felix called out to his father, and Jarno at once stepped forward to a steep place, reached his hand to his friend, and pulled him up to the top. They embraced and welcomed each other with rapture under the open canopy of heaven.
But they had scarcely let each other go when Wilhelm was seized with giddiness, not so much on his own behalf, as because he saw the children hanging over the fearful precipice. Jarno noticed it, and told them all to sit down at once.
“Nothing is more natural,” said he, “than to feel giddy before any great sight, upon which we come unexpectedly, and so feel at the same time our littleness and our greatness. But then, generally speaking, there is no true enjoyment except where one must at first feel giddy.”
“Are those below these the big mountains which we have crossed?” asked Felix. “How little they look! And here,” he continued, loosening a little piece of stone from the top, “here is the cats’-gold again; it seems to be everywhere!”
“It is found far and wide,” replied Jarno; “and since you are curious about such things, take notice that at present you are sitting upon the oldest mountain range, on the earliest form of stone, in the world.”
“Was not the world made all at once, then?” asked Felix.
“Scarcely,” replied Montan; “good things require time.”
“Then down there there is another sort of stone,” said Felix, “and then again another, and others again, forever,” pointing from the nearest mountains towards the more distant ones, and so to the plains below.
It was a very fine day, and Jarno pointed out in detail the splendid view. Here and there stood several other summits like that upon which they were. A mountain in the middle distance seemed to vie with it, but still was far from reaching the same height. Farther off it was less and less mountainous; yet strangely prominent forms still showed themselves. Lastly, in the distance even the lakes and rivers became discernible, and a fertile region seemed to spread itself out like a sea. If the eye was brought back again it penetrated into fearful depths, traversed by roaring cataracts, depending one upon the other in labyrinthine confusion.
Felix was never weary of asking questions, and Jarno was accommodating enough in answering every question for him: in which, however, Wilhelm thought that he noticed that the teacher was not altogether truthful and sincere. Therefore, when the restless boys had clambered farther away, he said to his friend:
“You have not spoken to the child about these things as you speak with yourself about them.”
“That is rather a burdensome demand,” answered Jarno; “one does not always speak even to one’s self as one thinks, and it is our duty to tell others only what they can comprehend. Man understands nothing but what is proportionate to him. The best thing one can do, is to keep children in the present—to give them a name or a description. In any case they ask soon enough for the reasons.”
“They are not to be blamed for that,” answered Wilhelm. “The complicated nature of objects confuses everybody, and instead of dissecting them it is more convenient to ask quickly, Whence? and whither?”
“And yet,” continued Jarno, “as children only see objects superficially, one can only speak to them superficially about their origin and purpose.”
“Most people,” answered Wilhelm, “remain for their whole life in this condition, and do not reach that glorious epoch, in which the intelligible becomes commonplace and foolish to us.”
“One may indeed call it glorious,” replied Jarno; “for it is a middle state between desperation and deification.”
“Let us keep to the boy, who is now my chief anxiety,” said Wilhelm. “Now he has acquired an interest in minerals since we have been travelling. Can you not impart to me just enough to satisfy him at least for a time?”
“That will not do,” said Jarno; “in every new intellectual sphere one has first to commence like a child again, throw a passionate interest into the matter, and rejoice first in the outward husk before one has the happiness of reaching the kernel.”
“Then tell me,” answered Wilhelm, “how have you arrived at this knowledge and insight?—for it is still not so long since we parted from one another!”
“My friend,” replied Jarno, “we had to resign ourselves, if not for always, at least for a long time. The first thing that under such circumstances occurs to a brave man, is to commence a new life. New objects are not enough for him; these are only good as a distraction; he demands a new whole, and at once places himself in the centre of it.”
“But why,” interrupted Wilheim, “just this passing strange, this most solitary of all prepossessions?”
“Just for this reason,” exclaimed Jarno: “because it is hermit-like! I would avoid men. We cannot help them, and they hinder us from helping ourselves. If they are happy one must leave them alone in their vanity; if they are unhappy one must save them without injuring this vanity; and no one ever asks whether you are happy or unhappy.”
“But things are not yet quite so bad with them,” replied Wilhelm, laughing.
“I will not rob you of your happiness,” said Jarno. “Only journey onward, thou second Diogenes! Let not your little lamp be extinguished in broad daylight! Yonder, below, there lies a new world before you; but I will wager it goes on just like the old one behind us. If you cannot mate yourself and pay debts, you are of no use among them.”
“However,” replied Wilhelm, “they seem to me more amusing than those stubborn rocks of yours.”
“Not at all,” replied Jarno, “for the latter are at least incomprehensible.”
“You are trying to evade,” said Wilhelm, “for it is not in your way to deal with things which leave no hope of being comprehended. Be sincere, and tell me what you have found in this cold, stern hobby of yours?”
“That is difficult to tell of any hobby, particularly of this one.”
Then he reflected for a moment, and said:
“Letters may be fine things, and yet they are insufficient to express sounds: we cannot dispense with sounds, and yet they are a long way from sufficient to enable mind, properly so called, to be expressed aloud. In the end, we cleave to letters and to sound, and are no better off than if we had renounced them altogether: what we communicate, and what is imparted to us, is always only of the most commonplace, by no means worth the trouble.”
“You want to evade me,” said his friend; “for what has that to do with these rocks and pinnacles?”
“But suppose,” replied the other, “that I treated these very rents and fissures as if they were letters: sought to decipher them, fashion them into words, and learned to read them off-hand: would you have anything against that?”
“No, but it seems to me an extensive alphabet.”
“More limited than you think: one has only to learn it like any other one. Nature possesses only one writing, and I have no need to drag along with a number of scrawls. Here I have no occasion to fear—as may happen after I have been long and lovingly poring over a parchment—that an acute critic will come and assure me that everything is only interpolated.”
“And yet even here,” replied his friend, laughing, “your methods of reading are contested.”
“Even for that very reason,” said the other, “I do not talk with anybody about it; and with you too, just because I love you, I will no longer exchange and barter the wretched trash of empty words.”
[* ] A name supposed to be assumed by Jarno. See “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.”