Letter I

Letter I

Julius to Raphael. October.

You are gone, Raphael—and the beauty of nature departs: the sere and yellow leaves fall from the trees, while a thick autumn fog hangs suspended like a bier over the lifeless fields. Solitary, I wander through the melancholy country. I call aloud your name, and am irritated that my Raphael does not answer me.

I had received your last embrace. The mournful sound of the carriage wheels that bore you away had at length died upon my ear. In happier moments I had just succeeded in raising a tumulus over the joys of the past, but now again you stand up before me, as your departed spirit, in these regions, and you accompany me to each favorite haunt and pleasant walk. These rocks I have climbed by your side: by your side have my eyes wandered over this immense landscape. In the dark sanctuary of this beech-grove we first conceived the bold ideal of our friendship. It was here that we unfolded the genealogical tree of the soul, and that we found that Julius was so closely related to Raphael. Not a spring, not a thicket, or a hill exists in this region where some memory of departed happiness does not come to destroy my repose. All things combine to prevent my recovery. Wherever I go, I repeat the painful scene of our separation.

What have you done to me, Raphael? What am I become? Man of dangerous power! would that I had never known or never lost you! Hasten back; come on the wings of friendship, or the tender plant, your nursling, shall have perished. How could you, endowed with such tender feelings, venture to leave the work you had begun, but still so incomplete. The foundations that your proud wisdom tried to establish in my brain and heart are tottering; all the splendid palaces which you erected are crumbling, and the worm crushed to earth is writhing under the ruins.

Happy, heavenly time, when I groped through life, with bandaged eyes, like a drunken man,—when all my knowledge and my wishes were confined to the narrow horizon of my childhood's teachings! Blessed time, when a cheerful sunset raised no higher aspiration in my soul than the wish of a fine day on the morrow; when nothing reminded me of the world save the newspaper; nothing spoke of eternity save the passing bell; only ghost-stories brought to mind the thought of death and judgment; when I trembled at the thought of the devil, and was proportionately drawn to the Godhead! I felt and was happy. Raphael has taught me to think I am on the way to regret that I was ever created.

Creation? No, that is only a sound lacking all meaning, which my reason cannot receive. There was a time when I knew nothing, when no one knew me: accordingly, it is usual to say, I was not. That time is past: therefore it is usual to say that I was created. But also of the millions who existed centuries ago nothing more is now known, and yet men are wont to say, they are. On what do we found the right to grant the beginning and to deny the end? It is assumed that the cessation of thinking beings contradicts Infinite Goodness. Did, then, Infinite Goodness cone first into being at the creation of the world? If there was a period when there were no spirits, Infinite Goodness must have been imperative for a whole eternity. If the fabric of the universe is a perfection of the Creator, He, therefore, lacked a perfection before the creation of the world. But an assumption like this contradicts the idea of perfect goodness, therefore there is no creation. To what have I arrived, Raphael? Terrible fallacy of my conclusions! I give up the Creator as soon as I believe in a God. Wherefore do I require a God, if I suffice without the Creator?

You have robbed me of the thought that gave me peace. You have taught me to despise where I prayed before. A thousand things were venerable in my sight till your dismal wisdom stripped off the veil from them. I saw a crowd of people streaming to church, I heard their enthusiastic devotion poured forth in a common act of prayer and praise; twice did I stand beside a deathbed, and saw—wonderful power of religion!—the hope of heaven triumphant over the terror of annihilation, and the serene light of joy beaming from the eyes of those departing.

"Surely that doctrine must be divine," I exclaimed, "which is acknowledged by the best among men, which triumphs and comforts so wondrously!" Your cold-blooded wisdom extinguished my enthusiasm. You affirmed that an equal number of devotees streamed formerly round the Irmensaeule and to Jupiter's temple; an equal number of votaries, with like exultation, ascended the stake kindled in honor of Brahma. "Can the very feeling," you added, "which you found so detestable in heathenism prove the truth of your doctrine?"

You proceeded to say: "Trust nothing but your own reason. There is nothing holy, save truth." I have obeyed you: I have sacrificed all my opinions, I have set fire to all my ships when I landed on this island, and I have destroyed all my hopes of return. Never can I become reconciled to a doctrine which I joyfully welcomed once. My reason is now all to me—my only warrant for God, virtue, and immortality. Woe to me if I catch this, my only witness, in a contradiction! if my esteem for its conclusions diminishes! if a broken vessel in my brain diverts its action! My happiness is henceforth intrusted to the harmonious action of my sensorium: woe to me if the strings of this instrument give a false note in the critical moments of my life—if my convictions vary with my pulsations!