Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XI. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER XI. - 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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Hersilia to Wilhelm.
“Everyone has for many years upbraided me with being a strange whimsical girl. If it is the case, I am so without any fault of my own. People have had to be patient with me; and now I need to have patience with myself, and with my imagination, which brings father and son sometimes together, sometimes alternately backwards and forwards before my eyes. I seem to myself like an innocent Alkmene, who is perpetually haunted by two beings who personate each other.
“I have much to say to you, and yet I write to you, it seems, only when I have an adventure to relate; all the rest, too, is adventure-like, it is true, but not an adventure. So now for that of to-day.
“I am sitting under the tall lime-trees, and am just finishing a letter-case, a very pretty one, without knowing for certain who is to have it—father or son—but certainly one of the two. A young pedlar comes up to me with small baskets and boxes; he modestly legitimates himself by a permit from the bailiff allowing him to hawk goods upon the estate. I examine his small wares down to the endless trifles that nobody wants, and everybody buys from a childish impulse to possess and to spend. The boy seems to look at me attentively. Fine black, somewhat cunning eyes, well-marked eyebrows, profuse locks, sparkling rows of teeth—enough, you understand me, something of the oriental.
“He makes a great many inquiries in reference to the persons composing the family, to whom he would at any rate venture to offer something; by all sorts of manœuvres he manages to get me to name myself to him. ‘Hersilia,’ he says shyly, ‘will Hersilia excuse me if I discharge a commission?’ I looked at him in astonishment. He draws forth the smallest little slate enclosed in a white frame, such as are made in the mountains for the first childish attempts at writing. I take it, see that it is written upon, and read the inscription, neatly cut in with a sharp pencil: Felix loves Hersilia. The equerry is coming soon.
“I am dumfoundered, I ponder in astonishment on what I hold in my hand, see before my eyes; and chiefly on this, that destiny will prove itself almost more extraordinary than I am myself. ‘What does this mean?’ I say to myself, and the little rogue is more than ever present to me; nay, it seems as if his image would drill itself into my eyes.
“Then I begin to ask questions, and receive strange, unsatisfactory answers. I examine, and arrive at nothing. I think, and cannot properly collect my thoughts. At length, from talking and counter-talking, I gather thus much, that the young dealer had also passed through the Pedagogic province, and acquired the confidence of my young adorer, who having bought a slate had written the inscription upon it, and promised him the best recompenses for a word or two in reply. He then handed me a similar slate, several of which he disclosed in his pack, and likewise a pencil, and at the same time insisted and begged in so friendly a manner, that I took both, thought, thought again, and not being able to excogitate anything, wrote, Hersilia greets Felix, and hopes the equerry is well.
“I considered what I had written, and felt vexed at its clumsy expression. Neither tenderness, nor inspiration, nor wit; mere embarrassment: and why? I was standing before a boy, and writing to a boy: ought that to deprive me of my composure? I verily believe that I sighed, and was just on the point of wiping out what I had written, but he took it so gracefully out of my hand, asked me for something or other with which to cover it carefully; and so it happened that I—though I know not how it happened—put the little slate into the letter-case, wound the string round it, and handed it, fastened up, to the boy, who took it gracefully, and bowing deeply, lingered a moment, so that I just had time to press my purse into his hand, and blamed myself for not having given him enough. He ran off at a pretty good pace, and when I looked after him had already disappeared, I do not rightly understand how.
“Now it is past, I am already back on the ordinary, everyday level, and scarcely believe in the apparition. Do I not hold the slate in my hand? It is only too charming, the writing quite beautifully and carefully traced; I believe I should have kissed it if I had not been afraid of obliterating the writing.
“I have taken a little time after writing the above; but whatever I think about this, too, will always avail nothing. Most certainly there was something mysterious about the figure, the like of which are now-a-days indispensable in fiction; must they then encounter us in real life too? Agreeable and suspicious, foreign-looking, yet inspiring confidence; why did he go away too before the puzzle was solved? Why had I not sufficient presence of mind civilly to detain him?
“After a pause I again take pen in hand to pursue my confessions. The decided, constant affection of a boy ripening into youth might be flattering to me, but then it occurred to me that, at this age, it is nothing uncommon to be attached to older women. Indeed there is a mysterious inclination in younger men for older women. At another time, when it did not concern myself, I would have laughed over it, and maliciously declared it to be a reminiscence of the tender age of nursing and sucking-babyhood from which they were scarcely emancipated. Now it vexes me to think of the matter like this; I reduce the good Felix to infancy, and yet I do not find myself in an advantageous position either. Alas! what a difference it makes whether one is judging one’s self or other people!”