Letter Dated March 21, 1817

Weimar, 21 March, 1817

My Dearest Charlotte,
As always, your latest letter delighted my heart. Your lovely face and figure stood so vividly before my inner eye, that I almost addressed you aloud!
Before resuming our previous conversation however, I must tell you of a most extraordinary encounter. You know how much I enjoy my solitary walks in the Harz Forest. It is a welcome time of relaxation, necessary after my many obligations and meetings at Court. The other day I was so absorbed in contemplation that I completely lost track of the time. The sun had already set and darkness was approaching rapidly when I finally came back to my senses and decided to leave the woods immediately, so as to take advantage of the little remaining daylight for my walk home.
Imagine my surprise upon finding another solitary wanderer at the edge of the forest -- a man rather peculiarly dressed, with a decidedly odd hairstyle, and wearing the most outlandish spectacles you have ever seen.
Thinking he might have lost his way and be in need of directions, I deemed it best to address him with:
"Good evening, Sir! Pray, might I be of assistance?"
He turned around and gave me a long, speculative look. His somber facial expression changed ever so slightly to what may just pass as a smile:
"Worthy Sir,"
he replied in an accent unfamiliar to me,
"I’ll have to stretch your credulity beyond its limits, and there’s no one else but you I’d take such a risk with. You’re Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, I take it?"
Dear Charlotte, you know that my books have brought me a certain fame, and you will not take me to be unduly conceited when I confess no great surprise at being thus recognized by a stranger. A slight nod of my head confirmed my identity.
"It’s easier to tell you where I come from," he continued, strongly emphasizing 'where'.
"You have heard of settlers in America: I’m one of them. But as to the time... What year is it exactly, by the way?"
"We count the year 1817. Please explain yourself, Sir. Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?"
"My name is Loren Eiseley. I teach natural history at an American university".
He seemed visibly shaken.
"So far it is easy, but I have to tell you that I was -- will be -- born in the year of 1907 -- what do you make of that!"
My dear Charlotte, I will spare you a description of my shock and disbelief, of his lengthy speech which finally convinced me that he was telling the truth. Suffice it to say that I completely trust his veracity.

I find in Herr Eiseley a most agreeable companion and have invited him to be my guest while he is staying. It is true that one might suspect Dr. Eiseley of being a melancholic. But you know me well enough to understand that I prefer his disposition to the many narrow-minded, empty-headed fools who manage to say absolutely nothing while talking incessantly. Eiseley is a solitary, quiet man, not inclined to waste his time with idle society.
"Since boyhood I have been charmed by the unexpected and the beautiful ",
he declared; revealing a disposition similar to my own. He has the sensitivity of the true artist, weaving the unique and the universal of a given moment into a poetic, illuminating tapestry that makes one see with new eyes and hear with fresh ears. A storyteller who paints with words, who perceives the essential behind appearances. He is seriously and deeply concerned about the future -- of our culture, of the earth, of the many creatures who are part of her, including us humans. His view of the underlying unity of a living, creative universe is not unlike my own. In the 20th century, such a view seems even more unpopular than it is today, however.
"Modern man... has come to look upon nature as a thing outside himself -- an object to be manipulated or discarded at will",
he told me about his own time, our future.
"It is his technology and its vocabulary that makes his primary world... A reconciliation of this world view with one that holds nature sacred seems to be necessary if humanity is to survive. The obstacles, however, are great ".

I will write more about our conversations. The power of human imagination is so much greater than we realize! Knowing of my admiration for Shakespeare, Eiseley quoted from Macbeth:

It hath been taught us from the primal state
That he which is was wished until he were.

With loving thoughts,
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Go to Goethe's Letter II
Go to Eiseley's First Journal Entry; Second Journal Entry
Back to Main Page