30 August 2009

persons quite unstable

He arrived, and found to his surprise, not the honourable lady, but the giddy girl, in the room. She had received him with a certain dignified openness of manner, which she had of late been practising, and so constrained him likewise to be courteous.
  At first she rallied him in general on the good fortune which pursued him everywhere, and which, as she could not but see, had led him hither in the present case. Then she delicately set before him the treatment with which of late he had afflicted her; she blamed and upbraided herself; confessed that she had but too well deserved such punishment; described with the greatest candour what she called her former situation; adding, that she would despise herself, if she were not capable of altering, and making herself worthy of his friendship.
  Wilhelm was struck with this oration. He had too little knowledge of the world to understand that persons quite unstable, and incapable of all improvement, frequently accuse themselves in the bitterest manner, confessing and deploring their faults with extreme ingenuousness, though they possess not the smallest power within them to retire from that course, along which the irresistible tendency of their nature is dragging them forward. Accordingly, he could not find in his heart to behave inexorably to the graceful sinner: he entered into conversation, and learned from her the project of a singular disguisement, wherewith it was intended to surprise the countess.

Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship Vol. 1 (231-32)