Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), p. 26 (Letter of 4 May 1771)


Werther, writing to his friend after his arrival in Wetzlar:

For the rest, I feel most contented here. Solitude is precious balm to my heart in these paradisic parts; and the abundance of this youthful season gives warmth to a heart that is oft atremble with horror. Every tree, every hedgerow is a posy of blossoms, and one could wish to be a cockchafer, floating in a sea of wonderful scents and finding all one's nourishment there.

The town itself is disagreeable, but on the other hand there is an inexpressible natural beauty all around. It was this that moved the late Count von M. to lay out a garden on one of these hills, which slope against each other in the most delightful and various of ways and form the prettiest of valleys. The garden is a simple one, and the moment one enters it one feels that it was designed not by some scientific gardener but by a feeling heart intending to take pleasure here. I have already shed many a tear for the count, in the tumbledown little summerhouse that was his favourite spot and now is mine too. Soon I shall be master of the garden; in these few days the gardener has already become attached to me, and he will not have cause to regret it.

Young Werther takes particular pleasure in a piece of sculpted nature--a garden laid out not to look too carefully arranged, but artificial none the less. One could make "garden" analogous with the typical novel of sensibility, particularly those that attempt to give the appearance of sincerity by claiming themselves as real letters collected after the fact, such as Werther itself. The dead Count's artwork--his garden--draws tears from Werther, its sensibilious "reader," like the novel itself aims to do, by expressing the designs of a "feeling heart."

Take note also of nature's role (and solitude's) in soothing the feeling soul too much beset by the "horrors" of civilization.


Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography