The Sorrows ofYoung Werther
the pistol. “It is not loaded,” said I. “And even if not,” he answered with impatience, “what can you mean? I cannot comprehend how a man can be so mad as to shoot himself, and the bare idea of it shocks me.”
“But why should any one,” said I, “in speaking of an action, venture to pronounce it mad or wise, or good or bad? What is the meaning of all this? Have you carefully studied the secret motives of our actions? Do you under- stand—can you explain the causes which occasion them, and make them inevitable? If you can, you will be less hasty with your decision.”
“But you will allow,” said Albert; “that some actions are criminal, let them spring from whatever motives they may.” I granted it, and shrugged my shoulders.
“But still, my good friend,” I continued, “there are some exceptions here too. Theft is a crime; but the man who com- mits it from extreme poverty, with no design but to save his family from perishing, is he an object of pity, or of punish- ment? Who shall throw the first stone at a husband, who, in the heat of just resentment, sacrifices his faithless wife and her perfidious seducer? or at the young maiden, who, in her weak
hour of rapture, forgets herself in the impetuous joys of love? Even our laws, cold and cruel as they are, relent in such cases, and withhold their punishment.”
“That is quite another thing,” said Albert; “because a man under the influence of violent passion loses all power of re- flection, and is regarded as intoxicated or insane.”
“Oh! you people of sound understandings,” I replied, smil- ing, “are ever ready to exclaim ‘Extravagance, and madness, and intoxication!’ You moral men are so calm and so sub- dued! You abhor the drunken man, and detest the extrava- gant; you pass by, like the Levite, and thank God, like the Pharisee, that you are not like one of them. I have been more than once intoxicated, my passions have always bordered on extravagance: I am not ashamed to confess it; for I have learned, by my own experience, that all extraordinary men, who have accomplished great and astonishing actions, have ever been decried by the world as drunken or insane. And in private life, too, is it not intolerable that no one can undertake the execu- tion of a noble or generous deed, without giving rise to the exclamation that the doer is intoxicated or mad? Shame upon you, ye sages!”