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Chapter 15
"Such was the history of my beloved cottagers. It impressed me deeply. I learned, from
the views of social life which it developed, to admire their virtues and to deprecate the
vices of mankind.
"As yet I looked upon crime as a distant evil, benevolence and generosity were ever
present before me, inciting within me a desire to become an actor in the busy scene where
so many admirable qualities were called forth and displayed. But in giving an account of
the progress of my intellect, I must not omit a circumstance which occurred in the
beginning of the month of August of the same year.
"One night during my accustomed visit to the neighbouring wood where I collected my
own food and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on the ground a leathern
portmanteau containing several articles of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the
prize and returned with it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the
language, the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise
Lost, a volume of Plutarch's Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter. The possession of these
treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind
upon these histories, whilst my friends were employed in their ordinary occupations.
"I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity
of new images and feelings, that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently
sunk me into the lowest dejection. In the Sorrows of Werter, besides the interest of its
simple and affecting story, so many opinions are canvassed and so many lights thrown
upon what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects that I found in it a never-ending
source of speculation and astonishment. The gentle and domestic manners it described,
combined with lofty sentiments and feelings, which had for their object something out of
self, accorded well with my experience among my protectors and with the wants which
were forever alive in my own bosom. But I thought Werter himself a more divine being
than I had ever beheld or imagined; his character contained no pretension, but it sank
deep. The disquisitions upon death and suicide were calculated to fill me with wonder. I
did not pretend to enter into the merits of the case, yet I inclined towards the opinions of
the hero, whose extinction I wept, without precisely understanding it.
"As I read, however, I applied much personally to my own feelings and condition. I
found myself similar yet at the same time strangely unlike to the beings concerning
whom I read and to whose conversation I was a listener. I sympathized with and partly
understood them, but I was unformed in mind; I was dependent on none and related to
none. "The path of my departure was free," and there was none to lament my
annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who
was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions
continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.