Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1786)
Oil painting by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
From the blood which flowed from the chair, it could be inferred that he had committed the rash act sitting at his bureau, and that he afterward fell upon the floor. He was found lying on his back near the window. He was in full-dress costume.
The house, the neighbourhood, and the whole town were immediately in commotion. Albert arrived. They had laid Werther on the bed: his head was bound up, and the paleness of death was upon his face. His limbs were motionless; but he still breathed, at one time strongly, then weaker — his death was momently expected.
He had drunk only one glass of the wine. “Emilia Galotti” lay open upon his bureau.
I shall say nothing of Albert’s distress, or of Charlotte’s grief.
The old steward hastened to the house immediately upon hearing the news: he embraced his dying friend amid a flood of tears. His eldest boys soon followed him on foot. In speechless sorrow they threw themselves on their knees by the bedside, and kissed his hands and face. The eldest, who was his favourite, hung over him till he expired; and even then he was removed by force. At twelve o’clock Werther breathed his last. The presence of the steward, and the precautions he had adopted, prevented a disturbance; and that night, at the hour of eleven, he caused the body to be interred in the place which Werther had selected for himself.
The steward and his sons followed the corpse to the grave. Albert was unable to accompany them. Charlotte’s life was despaired of. The body was carried by labourers. No priest attended.
(Translation by R.D. Boylan)
This epistolary novel was an early bestseller, brought its 25-year-old author early fame and caused major tear shedding.
A writer from the German Democratic Republic published a 20th-century version of the story in 1972.