Heiligenstadt Testament

For my brothers Carl and ...... Beethoven,

O you my fellow-men, who take me or denounce me for morose, crabbed, or misanthropical, how you do me wrong! you know not the secret cause of what seems thus to you. My heart and my disposition were from childhood up inclined to the tender feeling of goodwill, I was always minded to perform even great actions; but only consider that for six years past I have fallen into an incurable condition, aggravated by senseless physicians, year after year deceived in the hope of recovery, and in the end compelled to contemplate a lasting malady, the cure of which may take years or even prove impossible. Born with a fiery lively temperament, inclined even for the amusements of society, I was early forced to isolate myself, to lead a solitary life. If now and again I tried for once to give the go-by to all of this, O how rudely was I repulsed by the redoubled mournful experience of my defective hearing; but not yet could I bring myself to say to people ‘Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf.’ O how should I then bring myself to admit the weakness of a sense which I once possessed in the greatest perfection, a perfection such as few assuredly of my profession have yet possessed it in – O I cannot do it! forgive me then, if you see me shrink away when I would fain mingle among you. Double pain does my misfortune give me, in making me misunderstood. Recreation in human society, the more delicate passages of conversation, confidential outpourings, none of these are for me; all alone, almost only so much as the sheerest necessity demands can I bring myself to venture into society; I must live like an exile; if I venture into company a burning dread falls on me, the dreadful risk of letting my condition be perceived. So it was these last six months which I passed in the country, being ordered by my sensible physician to spare my hearing as much as possible. He fell in with what has now become almost my natural disposition, though sometimes, carried away by the craving for society, I let myself be misled into it; but what humiliation when someone stood by me and heard a flute in the distance, and I heard nothing, or when someone heard the herd-boy singing, and I again heard nothing. Such occurrences brought me nigh to despair, a little more and I had put an end to my own life – only it, my art, held me back. O it seemed to me impossible to quit the world until I had produced all I felt it in me to produce; and so I reprieved this wretched life – truly wretched, a body so sensitive that a change of any rapidity may alter my state from very good to very bad. Patience – that’s the word, she it is I must take for my guide; I have done so – lasting I hope shall be my resolve to endure, till it please the inexorable Parcæ to sever the thread. It may be things will go better, may be not; I am prepared – already in my twenty-eighth year forced – to turn philosopher: it is not easy, for an artist harder than for anyone. O God, Thou seest into my inward part, Thou art acquainted with it, Thou knowest that love to man and the inclination to beneficence dwell therein. O my fellow-men, when hereafter you read this, think that you have done me wrong; and the unfortunate, let him console himself by finding a companion in misfortune, who, despite all natural obstacles, has yet done everything in his power to take rank amongst good artists and good men. – You, my brothers Carl and ......, as soon as I am dead, if Professor Schmidt is still alive, beg him in my name to describe my illness, and append this present document to his account in order that the world may at least as far as possible be reconciled with me after my death. – At the same time I appoint you both heirs to my little fortune (if so it may be styled); divide it fairly, and agree and help one another; what you have done against me has been, you well know, long since forgiven. You, brother Carl, I especially thank for the attachment you have shown me in this latter time. My wish is that you may have a better life with fewer cares than I have had; exhort your children to virtue, that alone can give happiness – not money, I speak from experience; that it was which upheld me even in misery, to that and to my art my thanks are due, that I did not end my life by suicide. – Farewell, and love each other. I send thanks to all my friends, especially Prince Lichnowski and Professor Schmidt. I want Prince L’s instruments to remain in the safe keeping of one of you, but don’t let there be any strife between you about it; only whenever they can help you to something more useful, sell them by all means. How glad am I if even under the sod I can be of use to you – so may it prove! With joy I hasten to meet death face to face. If he come before I have had opportunity to unfold all my artistic capabilities, he will, despite my hard fate, yet come too soon, and I no doubt should wish him later; but even then I am content; does he not free me from a state of ceaseless suffering? Come when thou wilt, I shall face thee with courage. Farewell, and do not quite forget me in death, I have deserved it of you, who in my life had often thought for you, for your happiness; may it be yours!

Ludwig van Beethoven

6th October, 1802


For my brothers Carl and ......
to read and to execute after my death.

Heiligenstadt, 10th October, 1802.
So I take leave of thee - sad leave. Yes, the beloved hope that I brought here with me – at least in some degree to be cured – that hope must now altogether desert me. As the autumn leaves fall withered, so this hope too is for me withered up; almost as I came here, I go away. Even the lofty courage, which often in the lovely summer days animated me, has vanished. O Providence, let for once a pure day of joy be mine – so long already is true joy’s inward resonance a stranger to me. O when, O when, O God, can I in the temple of Nature and of Humanity feel it once again. Never? No – O that were too cruel!

Translation from Sir George Grove