Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE BURGHERS. - Goethe's Works, vol. 1 (Poems)
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THE BURGHERS. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 1 (Poems) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 1.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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THUS did the prudent son escape from the hot conversation,
But the father continu’d precisely as he had begun it:—
“What is not in a man can never come out of him, surely!
Never, I fear, shall I see fulfill’d my dearest of wishes,
That my son should be unlike his father, but better.
What would be the fate of a house or a town, if its inmates
Did not all take pride in preserving, renewing, improving,
As we are taught by the age, and by the wisdom of strangers?
Man is not born to spring out of the ground, just like a mere mushroom,
And to rot away soon in the very place that produc’d him!
Leaving behind him no trace of what he has done in his lifetime.
One can judge by the look of a house of the taste of its master,
As on ent’ring a town, one can judge the authorities’ fitness.
For where the towers and walls are falling, where in the ditches
Dirt is collected, and dirt in every street is seen lying,
Where the stones come out of their groove, and are not replac’d there,
Where the beams are rotting, and vainly the houses are waiting
New supports; that town is sure to be wretchedly manag’d.
For where order and cleanliness reign not supreme in high places,
Then to dirt and delay the citizens soon get accustom’d,
Just as the beggar’s accustom’d to wear his clothes full of tatters.
Therefore I often have wish’d that Hermann would start on his travels
Ere he’s much older, and visit at any rate Strasburg and Frankfort,
And that pleasant town, Mannheim, so evenly built and so cheerful.
He who has seen such large and cleanly cities rests never
Till his own native town, however small, he sees better’d.
Do not all strangers who visit us praise our well-mended gateways,
And the well-whited tower, the church so neatly repair’d too?
Do not all praise our pavements? Our well-arrang’d cover’d-in conduits,
Always well furnish’d with water, utility blending with safety,
So that a fire, whenever it happens, is straightway extinguish’d,—
Is not this the result of that conflagration so dreadful?
Six times in Council I superintended the town’s works, receiving
Hearty thanks and assistance from every well-dispos’d burgher.
How I design’d, follow’d up and insur’d the completion of measures
Worthy men had projected, and afterwards left all unfinish’d!
Finally, every man in the Council took pleasure in working.
All put forth their exertions, and now they have finally settled
That new highway to make, which will join our town with the mainroad.
But I am greatly afraid that the young generation won’t act thus;
Some on the one hand think only of pleasure and trumpery dresses,
Others won’t stir out of doors, and pass all their time by the fireside,
And our Hermann, I fear, will always be one of this last sort.”
Forthwith to him replied the excellent sensible mother:—
“Father, you’re always unjust whenever you speak of your son, and
That is the least likely way to obtain your wishes’ fulfilment;
For we cannot fashion our children after our fancy.
We must have them and love them, as God has given them to us,
Bring them up for the best, and let each do as he listeth.
One has one kind of gift, another possesses another,
Each one employs them, and each in turn in his separate fashion
Good and happy becomes. My Hermann shall not be upbraided,
For I know that he well deserves the wealth he’ll inherit;
He’ll be an excellent landlord, a pattern to burghers and peasants,
And, as I clearly foresee, by no means the last in the Council.
But with your blame and reproaches, you daily dishearten him sadly,
As you have done just now, and make the poor fellow unhappy.”
Then she left the apartment, and after her son hasten’d quickly,
Hoping somewhere to find him, and with her words of affection
Gladden his heart, for he, the excellent son, well deserv’d it.
Smilingly, when she had clos’d the door, continu’d the father:—
“What a wonderful race of people are women and children!
All of them fain would do whatever pleases their fancy,
And we’re only allow’d to praise them and flatter them freely.
Once for all there’s truth in the ancient proverb which tells us:
He who moves not forward, goes backward! a capital saying!”
Speaking with much circumspection, the druggist made answer as follows:—
“What you say, good neighbor, is certainly true, and my plan is
Always to think of improvement, provided though new, ’tis not costly.
But what avails it in truth, unless one has plenty of money,
Active and fussy to be, improving both inside and outside?
Sadly confin’d are the means of a burgher; e’en when he knows it,
Little that’s good he is able to do, his purse is too narrow,
And the sum wanted too great; and so he is always prevented.
I have had plenty of schemes! but then I was terribly frighten’d
At the expense, especially during a time of such danger.
Long had my house smil’d upon me, deck’d out in modish exterior;
Long had my windows with large panes of glass resplendently glitter’d.
Who can compete with a merchant, however, who, rolling in riches,
Also knows the manner in which what is best can be purchas’d?
Only look at the house up yonder, the new one! how handsome
Looks the stucco of those white scrolls on the green-color’d panels!
Large are the plates of the windows; how shining and brilliant the panes are,
Quite eclipsing the rest of the houses that stand in the market!
Yet at the time of the fire, our two were by far the most handsome,
Mine at the sign of the Angel, and yours at the old Golden Lion.
Then my garden was famous throughout the whole country, and strangers
Used to stop as they pass’d and peep through my red-color’d palings
At my beggars of stone, and at my dwarfs, which were painted.
He to whom I gave coffee inside my beautiful grotto,
Which, alas! is now cover’d with dust and tumbling to pieces,
Used to rejoice in the color’d glimmering light of the mussels,
Rang’d in natural order around it, and connoisseurs even
Used with dazzl’d eyes to gaze at the spars and the coral.
Then, in the drawing-room, people look’d with delight on the painting,
Where the prim ladies and gentlemen walk’d in the garden demurely,
And with pointed fingers presented the flowers, and held them.
Ah, if only such things were now to be seen! Little care I
Now to go out; for everything needs to be alter’d and tasteful,
As it is call’d; and white are the benches of wood and the palings;
All things are simple and plain; and neither carving nor gilding
Now are employ’d, and foreign timber is now all the fashion.
I should be only too pleas’d to possess some novelty also,
So as to march with the times, and my household furniture alter.
But we all are afraid to make the least alteration,
For who is able to pay the present charges of workmen?
Lately a fancy possess’d me, the angel Michael, whose figure
Hangs up over my shop, to treat to a new coat of gilding,
And the terrible Dragon, who round his feet is entwining;
But I have left him all brown; as he is; for the cost quite alarm’d me.”