The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther Glossary


An English country dance. Famous pieces composed according to this dance form are Bach's English Suites.


Charles Batteux (1713-1780) was a leading Catholic philosopher of the eighteenth century. He wrote famously on aesthetics, arguing that one can evaluate poetry according to the taste and precision of its expression. Werther, one can assume, finds Batteux a pedantic bore.


A small two-wheeled carriage with a folding top.


A precursor to the piano, the clavichord is a small keyboard instrument in which metal strings are struck with metal blades known as tangents. The sound of this instrument is soft and delicate, somewhat like a toy piano. Almost all baroque and classical keyboard music can be played on a clavichord, and much of this music was composed on one.


Salgar's bereaved lover in Ossian. He has killed Salgar's brother in battle.


Any French dance based on English folk dances where ladies and gentlemen face each other in two lines. Contredanse can also mean a piece of music meant to be danced to in this fashion.

de Piles

Roger de Piles (1636-1709) was the pseudonym of Francois Tortebat. He was a French art critic of the seventeenth century.


A small book, about the size of a trade paperback.

Emilia Galotti

One of Lessing's best-known plays, which first appeared in 1772. The title character is a beautiful middle class woman whose chastity is under siege by a nobleman; she has her father kill her rather than endure disgrace. This tale of bourgeoisie tragedy (and assisted suicide, in Galotti's case) has some parallels with Werther's. One of the models for Werther, Goethe's young acquaintance Jeruselum, committed suicide with Emilia Galotti open on his writing desk.

en passant

French for "in passing."


Johann August Ernesti (1707-1781) was a Dutch theologian, philologist and editor of Greek classics. Werther is alluding to his edition of Homer, published 1759-1764.


Ossian's father in Gaelic myth.

Francis I

(1708-1765). The Holy Roman Emperor and the Grand Duke of Tuscany.


Christian Gottlob Heyne (1729-1812) was a German classicist and archaeologist. Werther has no interest in his learned approach to the sublime.


An official German administrative position. Ironically, perhaps, given Werther's distaste for titles and trappings, Goethe himself is the most famous man ever to have held this position.


The legendary ancient Greek poet to whom the Iliad and Odyssey are ascribed. During the first half of Werther, Homer is Werther's favorite (one might say only) poet.

in qualitate

Latin. Literally, "in quality," meaning in this context, "among people of quality."


A German resort with natural springs.


Benjamin Kennicott (misspelled in the text) (1718-1783) was an English theologian and Hebrew scholar.


Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803) was a German poet with a religious temperament. Klopstock anticipated and inspired the Romantic sensibility. The "ode" alluded to is "Wingolf" (1767), a rewriting of Klopstock's 1747 ode, "To My Friend". Lotte's allusion to this ode suggests that she sees her connection with Werther as one of exalted friendship.


Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) was a German poet. He composed odes and epics in the style of Klopstock. Following the publication of Werther, Lavater and Goethe became good friends, though Goethe later broke off their friendship, accusing Lavater of vanity and superstition. Lavater is chiefly known today for his work in physiognomy, the science of distinguishing faces.


Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) was a renowned German playwright and theorist. He was the first German playwright to champion the bourgeoisie as a worthy subject of literature.


A descendant of the tribe of Levi. Werther seems to use this term to refer to the Pharisees, a sect of Judaism much maligned in the gospels. They are known for their pride and self-righteousness (see Matthew 9:11, Luke 7:39, 18:11,12).

linden trees

Large, shady deciduous trees. Linden trees have a special place in German folklore - and thus in the Romantic imagination. They are associated with melancholy, death and mystery.


Johann David Michaelis (1717-1791) was a German biblical scholar.

Miss Jenny

Werther's catch-all term for an average young woman.


A bouquet


A legendary Gaelic poet, son of Fingal. James MacPherson, a Scottish poet, published many poems of Ossian claiming to have translated them from ancient Gaelic; it later turned out that he had composed them himself. Goethe treats Ossian as though the MacPherson controversy does not exist.


A champion knight.


In the Odyssey, Penelope is Odysseus' faithful wife. She resists the pressure of countless suitors to remarry while her husband is lost at sea; meanwhile, these suitors slaughter the beasts of her household and stage an endless feast at her expense.

pro forma

A Latin phrase meaning "as a matter of form."

raree show

A peep show played by mechanized figures in a small, often coin-operated theater.


In Goethe's translation of Ossian, the deceased lover of Colma.


A mythical figure who, in Ossian, holds a feast where bards contest.


Johann Salomo Semler (1725-1791) was a seminal German biblical commentator and church historian.

Sulzer's "Theory"

Johann Georg Sulzer (1720-1779) was an Enlightenment philosopher of Mathematics. His "theory" refers to his work on electricity. (It is apropos for Werther, so concerned with the storms of nature, to belittle an Enlightenment theorist's attempts to explain the science behind storms.)

The Vicar of Wakefield

A novel by the Irish author, Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774). Goldsmith was one of Goethe's (as well as Werther's and Lotte's) favorite authors. The novel depicts the trials and tribulations of a provincial vicar, celebrating above all the joys of family.

Ullin, Ryno, Alpin, Minona

The "bards of song" in Ossian.


R & J Wetstein was an eighteenth-century publishing house.


Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) was a German archaeologist. He admired the harmony and quiet grandeur of Greek and Roman sculpture.


John Wood, the Elder (1704-1754) was an English architect. His son, John Wood, the Younger, was also a famous architect. Many of Wood's buildings feature the symbolism of Freemasonry, a famous brotherhood that espouses Enlightenment ideals.