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BOOK II. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 4 (Recreations of the German Emigrants, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 4: W. Meister’s Apprenticeship.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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Whoever strives in our sight with vehement force to reach an object, be it one that we praise or that we blame, may count on exciting an interest in our minds; but when once the matter is decided we turn our eyes away from him; whatever once lies finished and done can no longer at all fix our attention, especially if we at first prophesied an evil issue to the undertaking.
Therefore we shall not try to entertain our readers with any circumstantial account of the grief and desperation into which the ill-fated Wilhelm was cast when he saw his hopes so unexpectedly and instantaneously ruined. On the contrary, we shall even pass over several years, and again take up our friend, where we hope to find him in some sort of activity and comfort. First, however, we must shortly set forth a few matters necessary for maintaining the connection of our narrative.
The pestilence, or a malignant fever, rages with more fierceness and speedier effect if the frame which it attacks was before healthy and full of vigor; and in like manner, when a luckless unlooked-for fate overtook the wretched Wilhelm, his whole being in a moment was laid waste. As when by chance, in the preparation of some artificial firework, any part of the composition kindles before its time, and the skilfully bored and loaded barrels, which, arranged and burning after a settled plan, would have painted in the air a magnificently varying series of flaming images, now hissing and roaring, promiscuously explode with a confused and dangerous crash; so, in our hero’s case, did happiness and hope, pleasure and joys, realities and dreams, clash together with destructive tumult, all at once, in his bosom. In such desolate moments the friend that has hastened to deliverance stands fixed in astonishment; and for him who suffers it is a benefit that sense forsakes him.
Days of pain, unmixed, ever-returning and purposely renewed, succeeded next; still even these are to be regarded as a grace from nature. In such hours Wilhelm had not yet quite lost his mistress; his pains were indefatigable struggles still to hold fast the happiness that was gliding from his soul; again to luxuriate in thought on the possibility of it; to procure a brief after-life for his joys that had departed forever. Thus one may look upon a body as not utterly dead while the putrefaction lasts, while the forces that in vain seek to work by their old appointment still labor in dissevering the particles of that frame which they once animated; and not till all is disunited and inert, till we see the whole moldered down into indifferent dust—not till then does there rise in us the mournful vacant sentiment of death; death, not to be recalled save by the breath of Him that lives forever.
In a temper so new, so entire, so full of love, there was much to tear asunder, to desolate, to kill; and even the healing force of youth gave nourishment and violence to the power of sorrow. The stroke had extended to the roots of his whole existence. Werner, by necessity his confidant, attacked the hated passion itself with fire and sword, resolutely zealous to search into the monster’s inmost life. The opportunity was lucky, the evidence at hand, and many were the histories and narratives with which he backed it out. With such unrelenting vehemence did he make his advances, leaving his friend not even the respite of the smallest momentary self-deception, but treading down every lurking-place in which he might have saved himself from desperation, that nature, not inclined to let her darling perish utterly, visited him with sickness, to make an outlet for him on the other side.
A violent fever, with its train of consequences, medicines, overstraining and exhaustion, besides the unwearied attentions of his family, the love of his brothers and sisters, which first becomes truly sensible in times of distress and want, were so many fresh occupations to his mind, and thus formed a kind of painful entertainment. It was not till he grew better—in other words till his strength was exhausted—that Wilhelm first looked down with horror into the gloomy abyss of a barren misery, as one looks down into the hollow crater of an extinguished volcano.
He now bitterly reproached himself that after so great a loss he could yet enjoy one painless, restful, indifferent moment. He despised his own heart, and longed for the balm of tears and lamentation.
To awaken these again within him, he would recall to memory the scenes of his bygone happiness. He would paint them to his fancy in the liveliest colors, transport himself again into the days when they were real; and when standing on the highest elevation he could reach, when the sunshine of past times again seemed to animate his limbs and heave his bosom, he would look back into the fearful chasm, would feast his eye on its dismembering depth, then plunge down into its horrors, and thus force from nature the bitterest pains. With such repeated cruelty did he tear himself in pieces; for youth, which is so rich in undeveloped force, knows not what it squanders when to the anguish which a loss occasions it adds so many sorrows of its own producing, as if it meant then first to give the right value to what is gone forever. He likewise felt so convinced that his present loss was the sole, the first, the last which he ever could experience in life, that he turned away from every consolation which aimed at showing that his sorrows might be less than endless.
Accustomed in this way to torment himself, he now also attacked what still remained to him, what next to love, and along with it, had given him the highest joys and hopes, his talent as a poet and actor, with spiteful criticisms on every side. In his labors he could see nothing but a shallow imitation of prescribed forms, without intrinsic worth; he looked on them as stiff school-exercises, destitute of any spark of nature, truth, or inspiration. His poems now appeared nothing more than a monotonous arrangement of syllables, in which the most trite emotions and thoughts were dragged along and kept together by a miserable rhyme. And thus did he also deprive himself of every expectation, every pleasure, which, on this quarter at least, might have aided the recovery of his peace.
With his theatric talent it fared no better. He blamed himself for not having sooner detected the vanity on which alone this pretension had been founded. His figure, his gait, his movements, his mode of declamation, were severally taxed; he decisively renounced every species of advantage or merit that might have raised him above the common run of men, and so doing he increased his mute despair to the highest pitch. For, if it is hard to give up a woman’s love, no less painful is the task to part from the fellowship of the Muses, to declare ourselves forever undeserving to be of their community; and to forego the fairest and most immediate kind of approbation, what is openly bestowed on our person, our voice and our demeanor.
Thus then our friend had long ago entirely resigned himself, and set about devoting his powers with the greatest zeal to the business of trade. To the surprise of friends, and to the great contentment of his father, no one was now more diligent than Wilhelm, on the exchange or in the counting-house, in the saleroom or the warehouses; correspondence and calculations, all that was intrusted to his charge, he attended to and managed with the greatest diligence and zeal. Not in truth with that warm diligence which to the busy man is its own reward, when he follows with constancy and order the employment he was born for; but with the silent diligence of duty, which has the best principle for its foundation, which is nourished by conviction, and rewarded by conscience; yet, which oft, even when the clearest testimony of our minds is crowning it with approbation, can scarcely repress a struggling sigh.
In this manner he had lived for a time, assiduously busied, and at last persuaded that his former hard trial had been ordained by fate for the best. He felt glad at having thus been timefully, though somewhat harshly warned about the proper path of life; while many are constrained to expiate more heavily, and at a later age, the misconceptions into which their youthful inexperience has betrayed them. For each man commonly defends himself as long as possible from casting out the idols which he worships in his soul, from acknowledging a master error, and admitting any truth which brings him to despair.
Determined as he was to abandon his dearest projects, some time was still necessary to convince him fully of his misfortune. At last, however, he had so completely succeeded by irrefragable reasons in annihilating every hope of love, of poetical performance, or stage-representation, that he took courage to obliterate entirely all the traces of his folly, all that could in any way remind him of it. For this purpose he had lit a fire in his chamber one cool evening, and brought out a little chest of relics, among which were multitudes of small articles that, in memorable moments, he had begged or stolen from Mariana. Each withered flower brought to his mind the time when it bloomed fresh among her hair; each little note the happy hour to which it had invited him; each ribbon-knot the lovely resting-place of his head, her beautiful bosom. So occupied, was it not to be expected that each emotion, which he thought long since quite dead, should again begin to move? Was it not to be expected that the passion, over which, when separated from his mistress, he had gained the victory, should in the presence of these memorials again gather strength? We first observe how dreary and disagreeable an overclouded day is when a single sunbeam pierces through, and offers to us the exhilarating splendor of a serene hour.
Accordingly, it was not without disturbance that he saw these relics, long preserved as sacred, fade away from before him in smoke and flame. Sometimes he shuddered and hesitated in his task; he had still a pearl necklace and a flowered neckerchief in his hands, when he resolved to quicken the decaying fire with the poetical attempts of his youth.
Till now he had carefully laid up whatever had proceeded from his pen, since the earliest unfolding of his mind. His papers yet lay tied up in a bundle at the bottom of the chest, where he had packed them, purposing to take them with him in his elopement. How altogether different were his feelings now in opening them, and his feelings then in tying them together!
If we happen, under certain circumstances, to have written and sealed and despatched a letter to a friend, which, however, does not find him, but is brought back to us, and we open it at the distance of some considerable time, a singular emotion is produced in us on breaking up our own seal, and conversing with our altered self as with a third person. A similar and deep feeling seized our friend, as he now opened this packet, and threw the scattered leaves into the fire; which was flaming fiercely with its offerings, when Werner entered, expressed his wonder at the blaze, and asked what was the matter.
“I am now giving proof,” said Wilhelm, “that I am serious in abandoning a trade for which I was not born.” And with these words he cast the second packet likewise into the fire. Werner made a motion to prevent him; but the business was already done.
“I cannot see how thou should’st bring thyself to such extremities,” said Werner. “Why must these labors, because they are not excellent, be annihilated?”
“Because either a poem is excellent, or it should not be allowed to exist. Because each man, who has no gift for producing first-rate works, should entirely abstain from the pursuit of art, and seriously guard himself against every deception on that subject. For it must be owned, that in all men there is a certain vague desire to imitate whatever is presented to them; and such desires do not prove at all that we possess the force within us necessary for succeeding in these enterprises. Look at boys, how, whenever any rope-dancers have been visiting the town, they go scrambling up and down, and balancing on all the planks and beams within their reach, till some other charm calls them off to other sports, for which perhaps they are as little suited. Hast thou never marked it in the circle of our friends? No sooner does a dilettante introduce himself to notice than numbers of them set themselves to learn playing on his instrument. How many wander back and forward on this bootless way! Happy they who soon detect the chasm that lies between their wishes and their powers!”
Werner contradicted this opinion; their discussion became lively, and Wilhelm could not without emotion employ against his friend the arguments with which he had already so frequently tormented himself. Werner maintained that it was not reasonable wholly to relinquish a pursuit for which a man had some propensity and talent, merely because he never could succeed in it to full perfection. There were many vacant hours, he said, which might be filled up by it; and then by-and-by some result might be produced which would yield a certain satisfaction to himself and others.
Wilhelm, who in this matter was of quite a different opinion, here interrupted him, and said with great vivacity:
“How immensely, dear friend, do you err in believing that a work, the first presentation of which is to fill the whole soul, can be produced in broken hours scraped together from other extraneous employment! No, the poet must live wholly for himself, wholly in the objects that delight him. Heaven has furnished him internally with precious gifts; he carries in his bosom a treasure that is ever of itself increasing; he must also live with this treasure, undisturbed from without, in that still blessedness which the rich seek in vain to purchase with their accumulated stores. Look at men, how they struggle after happiness and satisfaction! Their wishes, their toil, their gold, are ever hunting restlessly; and after what? After that which the poet has received from nature,—the right enjoyment of the world; the feeling of himself in others; the harmonious conjunction of many things that will seldom exist together.
“What is it that keeps men in continual discontent and agitation? It is, that they cannot make realities correspond with their conceptions, that enjoyment steals away from among their hands, that the wished-for comes too late, and nothing reached and acquired produces on the heart the effect which their longing for it at a distance led them to anticipate. Now fate has exalted the poet above all this, as if he were a god. He views the conflicting tumult of the passions; sees families and kingdoms raging in aimless commotion; sees those inexplicable enigmas of misunderstanding, which frequently a single monosyllable would suffice to explain, occasioning convulsions unutterably baleful. He has a fellow-feeling of the mournful and the joyful in the fate of all human beings. When the man of the world is devoting his days to wasting melancholy for some deep disappointment; or, in the ebullience of joy, is going out to meet his happy destiny, the lightly-moved and all-conceiving spirit of the poet steps forth, like the sun from night to day, and with soft transitions tunes his heart to joy or woe. From his heart, his native soil, springs up the lovely flower of wisdom; and if others, while waking, dream, and are pained with fantastic delusions from their every sense, he passes the dream of life like one awake, and the strangest of incidents is to him but a part both of the past and of the future. And thus the poet is at once a teacher, a prophet, a friend of gods and men. How! thou would’st have him descend from his height to some paltry occupation? He who is fashioned like the bird to hover round the world, to nestle on the lofty summits, to feed on buds and fruits, exchanging gayly one bough for another, he ought also to work at the plough like an ox; like a dog to train himself to the harness and draught; or perhaps, tied up in a chain, to guard a farm-yard by his barking!”
Werner, it may well be supposed, had listened with the greatest surprise. “All true,” he rejoined, “if men were but made like birds, and though they neither spun nor weaved could yet spend peaceful days in perpetual enjoyment; if, at the approach of winter, they could as easily betake themselves to distant regions, could retire before scarcity, and fortify themselves against frost.”
“Poets have lived so,” exclaimed Wilhelm, “in times when true nobleness was better reverenced; and so should they ever live. Sufficiently provided for within, they had need of little from without; the gift of communicating lofty emotions and glorious images to men, in melodies and words that charmed the ear, and fixed themselves inseparably on whatever objects they referred to, of old enraptured the world, and served the gifted as a rich inheritance. At the courts of kings, at the tables of the great, beneath the windows of the fair, the sound of them was heard, while the ear and the soul were shut to all beside; and men felt as we do when delight comes over us, and we stop with rapture if among the dingles we are crossing the voice of the nightingale starts out touching and strong. They found a home in every habitation of the world, and the lowliness of their condition but exalted them the more. The hero listened to their songs; and the conqueror of the earth did reverence to a poet, for he felt that without poets his own wild and vast existence would pass away like a whirlwind and be forgotten forever. The lover wished that he could feel his longings and his joys so variedly and so harmoniously as the poet’s inspired lips had skill to show them forth; and even the rich man could not of himself discern such costliness in his idol grandeurs, as when they were presented to him shining in the splendor of the poet’s spirit, sensible to all worth, and exalting all. Nay, if thou wilt have it, who but the poet was it that first formed gods for us; that exalted us to them, and brought them down to us?”
“My friend,” said Werner, after some reflection, “it has often grieved me that thou should’st strive by force to banish from thy soul what thou feelest so vividly. I am greatly mistaken if it were not better for thee in some degree to yield to these propensities, than to waste thyself by the contradictions of so hard a piece of self-denial, and with the enjoyment of this one guiltless pleasure to renounce the enjoyment of all others.”
“Shall I confess it,” said the other, “and wilt thou not laugh at me if I acknowledge that these ideas pursue me constantly; that, let me fly them as I will, when I explore my heart I find all my early wishes yet rooted there firmly, nay, more firmly than ever? Yet what now remains for me, wretched that I am? Ah! whoever should have told me that the arms of my spirit, with which I was grasping at infinity, and hoping with certainty to clasp something great and glorious, would so soon be crushed and smote in pieces; whoever should have told me this would have brought me to despair. And yet now, when judgment has been passed against me; now when she, that was to be as my divinity to guide me to my wishes, is gone forever, what remains but that I yield up my soul to the bitterest woes? Oh, my brother! I will not deceive you: in my secret purposes she was as the hook on which the ladder of my hopes was fixed: See! With daring aim the mounting adventurer hovers in the air; the iron breaks, and he lies broken and dismembered on the earth. No, there is no hope, no comfort for me more! I will not,” he cried out, springing to his feet, “leave a single fragment of these wretched papers from the flames.” He then seized one or two packets of them, tore them up, and threw them into the fire. Werner endeavored to restrain him, but in vain. “Let me alone!” cried Wilhelm; “what should these miserable leaves do here? To me they give neither pleasant recollections nor pleasant hopes. Shall they remain behind to vex me to the end of my life? Shall they perhaps one day serve the world for a jest, instead of awakening sympathy and horror? Woe to me! my doom is woe! Now I comprehend the wailings of the poets, of the wretched whom necessity has rendered wise. How long did I look upon myself as invulnerable and invincible; and alas! I am now made to see that a deep and early sorrow can never heal, can never pass away; I feel that I shall take it with me to my grave. No! not a day of my life shall escape this anguish, which at last must crush me down; and her image too shall stay with me, shall live and die with me, the image of the worthless—oh, my friend! if I must speak the feeling of my heart—the perhaps not altogether worthless! Her situation, the crookedness of her destiny, have a thousand times excused her in my mind. I have been too cruel; you steeled me in your own cold unrelenting harshness; you held my wavering senses captive, and hindered me from doing for myself and her what I owed to both. Who knows to what a state I may have brought her; my conscience by degrees presents to me, in all its heaviness, in what helplessness, in what despair I may have left her. Was it not possible that she might clear herself? Was it not possible? How many misconceptions throw the world into perplexity; how many circumstances may extort forgiveness for the greatest fault! Often do I figure her as sitting by herself in silence, leaning on her elbows. ‘This,’ she says, ‘is the faith, the love he swore to me! With this hard stroke to end the delicious life which made us one!’ ” He broke out into a stream of tears, while he threw himself down with his face upon the table, and wetted the remaining papers with his weeping.
Werner stood beside him in the deepest perplexity. He had not anticipated this fierce ebullition of feeling. More than once he had tried to interrupt his friend, more than once to lead the conversation elsewhere, but in vain; the current was too strong for him. It remained that long-suffering friendship should again take up her office. Werner allowed the first shock of sorrow to pass over, while by his silent presence he testified a pure and honest sympathy. And thus they both remained that evening: Wilhelm sunk in the dull feeling of old sorrows; and the other terrified at this new outbreaking of a passion, which he thought his prudent counsels and keen persuasion had long since mastered and destroyed.
After such relapses, Wilhelm usually applied himself to business and activity with augmented ardor; and he found it the best means to escape the labyrinth into which he had again been tempted to enter. His attractive way of treating strangers, the ease with which he carried on a correspondence in any living language, more and more increased the hopes of his father and his trading friends; and comforted them in their sorrow for his sickness, the origin of which had not been known, and for the pause which had thus interrupted their plan. They determined a second time on Wilhelm’s setting out to travel; and we now find him on horseback, with his saddle-bags behind him, exhilarated by the motion and the free air, approaching the mountains, where he had some affairs to settle.
He winded slowly on his path, through dales and over hills, with a feeling of the greatest satisfaction. Overhanging cliffs, roaring brooks, moss-grown rocky walls, deep precipices, he here saw for the first time; yet his earliest dreams of youth had wandered among such regions. In these scenes, he felt his age renewed; all the sorrows he had undergone were obliterated from his soul; with unbroken cheerfulness he repeated to himself passages of various poems, particularly of the Pastor Fido, which, in these solitary places, flocked in crowds into his mind. He also recollected many pieces of his own songs, and recited them with a peculiar contentment. He peopled the world which lay before him with all the forms of the past; and each step into the future was to him full of augury of important operations and remarkable events.
Several men, who came behind him in succession, and saluted him as they passed by to continue their hasty way into the mountains, by steep footpaths, sometimes interrupted his thoughts without attracting his attention to themselves. At last a communicative traveller joined him, and explained the reason of this general pilgrimage.
“At Hochdorf,” he said, “there is a play to be acted to-night, and the whole neighborhood is gathering to see it.”
“How!” cried Wilhelm. “In these solitary hills, among these impenetrable forests, has theatric art sought out a place, and built herself a temple? And I am journeying to her festivities!”
“You will wonder more,” said the other, “when you learn by whom the piece is to be played. There is in the place a large manufactory which employs many people. The proprietor, who lives, so to speak, remote from all human society, can find no better means of entertaining his workmen during winter than allowing them to act plays. He suffers no cards among them, and wishes also to withdraw them from all coarse rustic practices. Thus they pass the long evenings; and to-day, being the old gentleman’s birthday, they are giving a particular festival in honor of him.”
Wilhelm came to Hochdorf, where he was to pass the night, and alighted at the manufactory, the proprietor of which stood as a debtor in his list.
When he gave his name the old man cried in a glad surprise: “Ay, sir, are you the son of that worthy man to whom I owe so many thanks; so long have owed money? Your good father has had so much patience with me, I should be a knave if I did not pay you speedily and cheerfully. You come at the proper time to see that I am fully in earnest about it.”
He then called out his wife, who seemed no less delighted than himself to see the youth: she declared that he was very like his father, and lamented that, having such a multitude of guests already in the house, she could not lodge him for the night.
The account was clear, and quickly settled; Wilhelm put the roll of gold into his pocket, and wished that all his other business might go on as smoothly. At last the play-hour came: they now waited for nothing but the coming of the head forester, who at length also arrived; entered with a few hunters, and was received with the greatest reverence.
The company was then led into the playhouse, formed out of a barn that lay close upon the garden. Without any extraordinary taste, both seats and stage were yet decked out in a cheerful and pretty way. One of the painters employed in the manufactory had formerly worked as an understrapper at the Prince’s theatre; he had now represented woods and streets and chambers, somewhat rudely, it is true, yet so as to be recognized for such. The piece itself they had borrowed from a strolling company, and shaped it aright according to their own ideas. As it was, it did not fail to yield some entertainment. The plot of two lovers wishing to carry off a girl from her guardian, and mutually from one another, produced a great variety of interesting situations. Being the first play our friend had witnessed for so long a time, it suggested several reflections to him. It was full of action, but without any true delineation of character. It pleased and delighted. Such are always the beginnings of the scenic art. The rude man is contented if he see but something going on; the man of more refinement must be made to feel; the man entirely refined desires to reflect.
The players he would willingly have helped here and there, for a very little would have made them greatly better.
His silent meditations were somewhat broken in upon by the tobacco-smoke, which now began to rise in great and greater copiousness. Soon after the commencement of the piece the head forester had lit his pipe; by and by others took the same liberty. The large dogs too, which followed these gentlemen, introduced themselves in no pleasant style. At first they had been bolted out; but soon finding the back-door passage, they entered on the stage, ran against the actors, and at last, jumping over the orchestra, joined their masters, who had taken up the front seats in the pit.
For afterpiece an opera was given. A portrait, representing the old gentleman in his bridegroom dress, stood upon an altar, hung with garlands. All the players paid their reverence to it in the most submissive postures. The youngest child came forward dressed in white, and made a speech in verse; by which the whole family, and even the head forester himself, whom it brought in mind of his own children, were melted into tears. So ended the piece; and Wilhelm could not help stepping on the stage to have a closer view of the actresses, to praise them for their good performance, and give them a little counsel for the future.
The remaining business, which our friend in the following days had to transact in various quarters of the hill-country, was not all so pleasant, or so easy to conclude with satisfaction. Many of his creditors entreated for delay, many were uncourteous, many lied. In conformity with his instructions he had some of them to sue at law; he was thus obliged to seek out advocates, and give instructions to them, to appear before judges, and to go through many other sorry duties of the same sort.
His case was hardly bettered when people chanced to incline showing some attentions to him. He found very few that could in any way instruct him; few with whom he could hope to establish a useful commercial correspondence. Unhappily, moreover, the weather now grew rainy, and travelling on horseback in this district came to be attended with insufferable difficulties. He therefore thanked his stars on again getting near the level country; and at the foot of the mountains, looking out into a fertile and beautiful plain, intersected by a smooth-flowing river, and seeing a cheerful little town lying on its banks all glittering in the sunshine, he resolved, though without any special business in the place, to pass a day or two there, that he might refresh both himself and his horse, which the bad roads had considerably injured.
On alighting at an inn, upon the marketplace, he found matters going on very joyously, at least very stirringly. A great company of rope-dancers, leapers and jugglers, having a strong man along with them, had just arrived with their wives and children, and while preparing for a grand exhibition they kept up a perpetual racket. They first quarrelled with the landlord, then with one another; and if their contention was intolerable, the expressions of their satisfaction were infinitely more so. Undetermined whether he should go or stay, he was standing in the door looking at some workmen who had just begun to erect a stage in the middle of the square.
A girl, with roses and other flowers for sale, coming by, held out her basket to him, and he purchased a beautiful nosegay, which, like one that had a taste for these things, he tied up in a different fashion, and was looking at it with a satisfied air, when the window of another inn on the opposite side of the square flew up, and a handsome young lady looked out from it. Notwithstanding the distance, he observed that her face was animated by a pleasant cheerfulness; her fair hair fell carelessly streaming about her neck; she seemed to be looking at the stranger. In a short time afterwards a boy with a white jacket and a barber’s apron on came out from the door of her house towards Wilhelm, saluted him, and said, “The lady at the window bids me ask if you will favor her with a share of your beautiful flowers.” “They are all at her service,” answered Wilhelm, giving the nosegay to this nimble messenger, and making a bow to the fair one, which she returned with a friendly courtesy, and then withdrew from the window.
Amused with this small adventure, he was going up-stairs to his chamber, when a young creature sprang against him, and attracted his attention. A short silk waistcoat with slashed Spanish sleeves, tight trousers with puffs, looked very pretty on the child. Its long black hair was curled, and wound in locks and plaits about the head. He looked at the figure with astonishment, and could not determine whether to take it for a boy or a girl. However, he decided for the latter; and as the child ran by he took her up in his arms, bade her good-day, and asked her to whom she belonged, though he easily perceived that she must be a member of the vaulting and dancing company lately arrived. She viewed him with a dark sharp side-look, as she pushed herself out of his arms, and ran into the kitchen without making any answer.
On coming up-stairs he found in the large parlor two men practising the small sword, or seeming rather to make trial which was the better fencer. One of them plainly enough belonged to the vaulting company, the other had a somewhat less savage aspect. Wilhelm looked at them, and had reason to admire them both; and as the black-bearded, sturdy contender soon afterwards forsook the place of action, the other with extreme complaisance offered Wilhelm the rapier.
“If you want to take a scholar under your inspection,” said our friend, “I am well content to risk a few passes with you.”
Accordingly they fought together; and although the stranger greatly overmatched his new competitor, he politely kept declaring that it all depended upon practice; in fact, Wilhelm, inferior as he was, had made it evident that he had got his first instructions from a good, solid, thoroughpaced German fencing-master.
Their entertainment was disturbed by the uproar with which the parti-colored brotherhood issued from the inn, to make proclamation of the show, and awaken a desire to see their art, throughout the town. Preceded by a drum, the manager advanced on horseback; he was followed by a female dancer mounted on a corresponding hack, and holding a child before her, all bedizened with ribbons and spangles. Next came the remainder of the troop on foot; some of them carrying children on their shoulders in dangerous postures, yet smoothly and lightly; among these the young, dark, black-haired figure again attracted Wilhelm’s notice.
Pickleherring ran gayly up and down the crowding multitude, distributing his hand-bills with much practical fun; here smacking the lips of a girl, there breeching a boy, and awakening generally among the people an invincible desire to know more of him.
On the painted flags the manifold science of the company was visibly delineated; particularly of a Monsieur Narciss and the Demoiselle Landrinette; both of whom, being main characters, had prudently kept back from the procession, thereby to acquire a more dignified consideration, and excite a greater curiosity.
During the procession Wilhelm’s fair neighbor had again appeared at the window; and he did not fail to inquire about her of his new companion. This person, whom, for the present, we shall call Laertes, offered to take Wilhelm over and introduce him. “I and the lady,” said he, laughing, “are two fragments of an acting company that made shipwreck here a short while ago. The pleasantness of the place has induced us to stay in it, and consume our little stock of cash in peace, while one of our friends is out seeking some situation for himself and us.”
Lacrtes immediately accompanied his new acquaintance to Philina’s door; where he left him for a moment, and ran to a shop hard by for a few sweetmeats. “I am sure you will thank me,” said he on returning, “for procuring you so pleasant an acquaintance.”
The lady came out from her room in a pair of tight little slippers with high heels, to give them welcome. She had thrown a black mantle over her, above a white négligé, not indeed scrupulously clean, but which, for that very reason, gave her a more frank and domestic air. Her short dress did not hide a pair of the prettiest feet and ankles in the world.
“You are welcome,” she cried to Wilhelm, “and I thank you for your charming flowers.” She led him into her chamber with the one hand, pressing the nosegay to her breast with the other. Being all seated, and got into a pleasant train of general talk, to which she had the art of giving a delightful turn, Laertes threw a handful of gingerbread-nuts into her lap, and she immediately began to eat them.
“Look what a child this young gallant is!” she said: “he wants to persuade you that I am fond of such confectionery; and it is himself that cannot live without licking his lips over something of the kind.”
“Let us confess,” replied Laertes, “that in this point, as in others, you and I go hand in hand. For example,” he continued, “the weather is delightful to-day: what if we should take a drive into the country, and eat our dinner at the Mill?”
“With all my heart,” said Philina; “we must give our new acquaintance some diversion.”
Laertes sprang out, for he never walked; and Wilhelm motioned to return for a minute to his lodgings, to have his hair put in order; for at present it was all dishevelled with riding. “You can do it here!” she said; then called her little servant, and constrained Wilhelm in the politest manner to lay off his coat, to throw her powder-mantle over him, and to have his head dressed in her presence. “We must lose no time,” said she: “who knows how short a while we may all be together?”
The boy, out of sulkiness and ill-nature more than want of skill, went on but indifferently with his task; he pulled the hair with his implements, and seemed as if he would not soon be done. Philina more than once reproved him for his blunders, and at last sharply packed him off, and chased him to the door. She then undertook the business herself, and frizzled Wilhelm’s locks with great dexterity and grace; though she too appeared to be in no exceeding haste, but found always this and that to improve and put to rights; while at the same time she could not help touching his knees with hers, and holding her nosegay and bosom so near his lips that he was strongly tempted more than once to imprint a kiss on it.
When Wilhelm had cleaned his brow with a little powder-knife, she said to him: “Put it in your pocket, and think of me when you see it.” It was a pretty knife; the haft, of inlaid steel, had these friendly words wrought on it, Think of me. Wilhelm put it up, and thanked her, begging permission at the same time to make her a little present in return.
At last they were in readiness. Laertes had brought round the coach, and they commenced a very gay excursion. To every beggar Philina threw out money from the window, giving along with it a merry and friendly word.
Scarcely had they reached the Mill, and ordered dinner, when a strain of music struck up before the house. It was some miners singing various pretty songs, and accompanying their clear and shrill voices with a cithern and triangle. In a short while the gathering crowd had formed a ring about them; and our company nodded approbation to them from the windows. Observing this attention they expanded their circle, and seemed making preparation for their grandest piece. After some pause, a miner stepped forward with a mattock in his hand; and while the others played a serious tune he set himself to represent the action of digging.
Ere long a peasant came from among the crowd, and by pantomimic threats let the former know that he must cease and remove. Our company were greatly surprised at this; they did not discover that the peasant was a miner in disguise till he opened his mouth, and in a sort of recitative, rebuked the other for daring to meddle with his field. The latter did not lose his composure of mind, but began to inform the husbandman about his right to break ground there, giving him withal some primary conceptions of mineralogy. The peasant, not being master of his foreign terminology, asked all manner of silly questions; whereat the spectators, as themselves more knowing, set up many a hearty laugh. The miner endeavored to instruct him; and showed him the advantage which, in the long-run, would reach even him, if the deep-lying treasures of the land were dug out from their secret beds. The peasant, who at first had threatened his instructor with blows, was gradually pacified, and they parted good friends at last; though it was the miner chiefly that got out of this contention with honor.
“In this little dialogue,” said Wilhelm, when seated at table, “we have a lively proof how useful the theatre might be to all ranks; what advantage even the State might procure from it, if the occupations, trades and undertakings of men were brought upon the stage and presented on their praiseworthy side, in that point of view in which the State itself should honor and protect them. As matters stand we exhibit only the ridiculous side of men; the comic poet is, as it were, but a spiteful tax-gatherer, who keeps a watchful eye over the errors of his fellow-subjects, and seems gratified when he can fix any charge upon them. Might it not be a worthy and pleasing task for a statesman to survey the natural and reciprocal influence of all classes on each other, and to guide some poet, gifted with sufficient humor, in such labors as these? In this way, I am persuaded, many very entertaining, both agreeable and useful pieces, might be executed.”
“So far,” said Laertes, “as I, in wandering about the world, have been able to observe, statesmen are accustomed merely to forbid, to hinder, to refuse; but very rarely to invite, to further, to reward. They let all things go along, till some mischief happens; then they get into a rage, and lay about them.”
“A truce with State and statesmen!” said Philina; “I cannot form a notion of statesmen except in periwigs; and a periwig, wear it who will, always gives my fingers a spasmodic motion; I could like to pluck it off the venerable gentleman, to skip up and down the room with it, and laugh at the baldhead.”
So, with a few lively songs, which she could sing very beautifully, Philina cut short their conversation; and urged them to a quick return homewards, that they might arrive in time for seeing the performance of the rope-dancers in the evening. On the road back she continued her lavish generosity, in a style of gayety reaching to extravagance; for, at last, every coin belonging to herself or her companions being spent, she threw her straw hat from the window to a girl, and her neckerchief to an old woman, who asked her for alms.
Philma invited both of her attendants to her own apartments; because, she said, the spectacle could be seen more conveniently from her windows than from theirs.
On arriving, they found the stage set up, and the background decked with suspended carpets. The swing-boards were already fastened, the slack-rope fixed to posts, the tightrope bound over trestles. The square was moderately filled with people, and the windows with spectators of some quality.
Pickleherring, with a few insipidities, at which the lookers-on are generally kind enough to laugh, first prepared the meeting to attention and good humor. Some children, whose bodies were made to exhibit the strangest contortions, awakened astonishment or horror; and Wilhelm could not, without the deepest sympathy, see the child he had at the first glance felt an interest in, go through her fantastic positions with considerable difficulty. But the merry tumblers soon changed the feeling into that of lively satisfaction, when they first singly, then in rows, and at last all together, vaulted up into the air, making somersets backwards and forwards. A loud clapping of hands and a strong huzza echoed from the whole assembly.
The general attention was next directed to quite a different object. The children in succession had to mount the rope; the learners first, that by practising they might prolong the spectacle, and show the difficulties of the art more clearly. Some men and full-grown women likewise exhibited their skill to moderate advantage; but still there was no Monsieur Narciss, no Demoiselle Landrinette.
At last this worthy pair came forth; they issued from a kind of tent with red spread curtains; and, by their agreeable forms and glittering decorations, fulfilled the hitherto increasing hopes of the spectators. He, a hearty knave, of middle stature, with black eyes and a strong head of hair; she, formed with not inferior symmetry, exhibited themselves successively upon the rope, with delicate movements, leaping, and singular postures. Her airy lightness; his audacity; the exactitude with which they both performed their feats of art raised the universal satisfaction higher at every step and spring. The stateliness with which they bore themselves, the seeming attentions of the rest to them, gave them the appearance of king and queen of the whole troop, and all held them worthy of the rank.
The animation of the people extended itself to the spectators at the windows; the ladies looked incessantly at Narciss, the gentlemen at Landrinette. The populace hurrahed, the more cultivated public could not keep from clapping of the hands; Pickleherring now could scarcely raise a laugh. A few, however, slunk away when some members of the troop began to press through the crowd with their tin plates to collect money.
“They have made their purpose good, I imagine,” said Wilhelm to Philina, who was leaning over the window beside him. “I admire the ingenuity with which they have turned to advantage even the meanest parts of their performance: out of the unskilfulness of their children, and exquisiteness of their chief actors, they have made up a whole which at first excited our attention, and then gave us very fine entertainment.”
The people by degrees dispersed, and the square had again become empty, while Philina and Laertes were disputing about the forms and the skill of Narciss and Landrinette, and rallying each other on the subject at great length. Wilhelm noticed the wonderful child standing on the street near some other children at play; he showed her to Philina, who, in her lively way, immediately called and beckoned to the little one, and, this not succeeding, tripped singing down stairs, and led her up by the hand.
“Here is the enigma,” said she, as she brought her to the door. The child stood upon the threshold, as if she meant again to run off; laid her right hand on her breast, the left on her brow, and bowed deeply. “Fear nothing, my little dear,” said Wilhelm, rising and going towards her. She viewed him with a doubting look, and came a few steps nearer.
“What is thy name?” he asked. “They call me Mignon.” “How old art thou?” “No one has counted.” “Who was thy father?” “The Great Devil is dead.”
“Well! this is singular enough,” said Philina. They asked her a few more questions; she gave her answers in a kind of broken German, and with a strangely solemn manner, every time laying her hands on her breast and brow, and bowing deeply.
Wilhelm could not satisfy himself with looking at her. His eyes and his heart were irresistibly attracted by the mysterious condition of this being. He reckoned her about twelve or thirteen years of age; her body was well formed, only her limbs gave promise of a stronger growth, or else announced a stunted one. Her countenance was not regular, but striking; her brow full of mystery; her nose extremely beautiful; her mouth, although it seemed too closely shut for one of her age, and though she often threw it to a side, had yet an air of frankness, and was very lovely. Her brownish complexion could scarcely be discerned through the paint. This form stamped itself deeply in Wilhelm’s soul; he kept looking at her earnestly, and forgot the present scene in the multitude of his reflections. Philina waked him from his half-dream by holding out the remainder of her sweetmeats to the child, and giving her a sign to go away. She made her little bow as formerly, and darted like lightning through the door.
As the time drew on when our new friends had to part for the evening, they planned a fresh excursion for the morrow. They purposed now to have their dinner at a neighboring Jägerhaus. Before taking leave of Laertes, Wilhelm said many things in Philina’s praise, to which the other made only brief and careless answers.
Next morning, having once more exercised themselves in fencing for an hour, they went over to Philina’s lodging, towards which they had seen their expected coach passing by. But how surprised was Wilhelm when the coach seemed altogether to have vanished; and how much more so when Philina was not to be found at home! She had placed herself in the carriage, they were told, with a couple of strangers who had come that morning, and was gone with them. Wilhelm had been promising himself some pleasant entertainment from her company, and could not hide his irritation. Laertes, on the other hand, but laughed at it, and cried: “I love her for this: it looks so like herself! Let us, however, go directly to the Jägerhaus: be Philina where she pleases, we will not lose our promenade on her account.”
As Wilhelm, while they walked, continued censuring the inconsistency of such conduct, Laertes said: “I cannot reckon it inconsistent so long as one keeps faithful to his character. If this Philina plans you anything, or promises you anything, she does it under the tacit condition that it shall be quite convenient for her to fulfil her plan, to keep her promise. She gives willingly; but you must ever hold yourself in readiness to return her gifts.”
“That seems a singular character,” said Wilhelm.
“Anything but singular; only she is not a hypocrite. I like her on that account. Yes, I am her friend, because she represents the sex so truly, which I have so much cause to hate. To me she is another genuine Eve, the great mother of womankind; so are they all, only they will not all confess it.”
With abundance of such talk, in which Laertes very vehemently exhibited his spleen against the fair sex, without, however, giving any cause for it, they arrived at the forest; into which Wilhelm entered in no joyful mood, the speeches of Laertes having again revived in him the memory of his relation to Mariana. Not far from a shady well, among some old and noble trees, they found Philina sitting by herself at a stone table. Seeing them she struck up a merry song; and, when Laertes asked for her companions, she cried out: “I have already cozened them, I have already had my laugh at them, and sent them a travelling, as they deserved. By the way hither I had put to proof their liberality; and finding that they were a couple of your close-fisted gentry, I immediately determined to have amends of them. On arriving at the inn they asked the waiter what was to be had. He, with his customary glibness of tongue, reckoned over all that could be found in the house, and more than could be found. I noticed their perplexity; they looked at one another, stammered, and inquired about the cost. ‘What is the use of all this studying?’ said I; ‘the table is the lady’s business; allow me to manage it.’ I immediately began ordering a most unconscionable dinner, for which many necessary articles would require to be sent for from the neighborhood. The waiter, of whom, by a wry mouth or two, I had made a confidant, at last helped me out; and so, by the image of a sumptuous feast, we tortured them to such a degree that they fairly determined on having a walk in the forest, from which I imagine we shall look with clear eyes if we see them come back. I have laughed a quarter of an hour for my own behoof; I shall laugh forever when I think of the looks they had.” At table, Laertes told of similar adventures: they got into the track of recounting ludicrous stories, mistakes and dexterous cheats.
A young man, of their acquaintance from the town, came gliding through the wood with a book in his hand; he sat down by them, and began praising the beauty of the place. He directed their attention to the murmuring of the brook, to the waving of the boughs, to the checkered lights and shadows, and the music of the birds. Philina commenced a little song of the cuckoo, which did not seem at all to exhilarate the man of taste: he very soon made his compliments and went on.
“Oh, that I might never hear more of nature, and scenes of nature!” cried Philina, so soon as he was gone: “there is nothing in the world more intolerable than to hear people reckon up the pleasures you enjoy. When the day is bright you go to walk, as to dance when you hear a tune played. But who would think a moment on the music or the weather? It is the dancer that interests us, not the violin; and to look upon a pair of bright black eyes is the life of a pair of blue ones. But what on earth have we to do with wells, and brooks, and old rotten lindens?” She was sitting opposite to Wilhelm; and while speaking so she looked into his eyes with a glance which he could not hinder from piercing at least to the very door of his heart.
“You are right,” replied he, not without embarrassment; “man is ever the most interesting object to man, and perhaps should be the only one that interests. Whatever else surrounds us is but the element in which we live, or else the instrument which we employ. The more we devote ourselves to such things, the more we attend to and feel concern in them, the weaker will our sense of our own dignity become, the weaker our feelings for society. Men who put a great value on gardens, buildings, clothes, ornaments, or any other sort of property, grow less social and pleasant; they lose sight of their brethren, whom very few can succeed in collecting about them and entertaining. Have you not observed it on the stage? A good actor makes us very soon forget the awkwardness and meanness of paltry decorations; but a splendid theatre is the very thing which first makes us truly feel the want of proper actors.”
After dinner Philina sat down among the long overshaded grass, and commanded both her friends to fetch her flowers in great quantities. She wreathed a complete garland, and put it round her head: it made her look extremely charming. The flowers were still sufficient for another; this too she plaited, while both the young men sat beside her. When at last, amid infinite mirth and sportfulness, it was completed, she pressed it on Wilhelm’s head with the greatest dignity, and shifted the posture of it more than once till it seemed to her properly adjusted. “And I. it appears, must go empty,” said Laertes.
“Not by any means; you shall not have reason to complain,” replied Philina, taking off the garland from her own head and putting it on his.
“If we were rivals,” said Laertes, “we might now dispute very warmly which of us stood higher in thy favor.”
“And the more fools you,” said she, while she bent herself towards him, and offered him her lips to kiss; and then immediately turned round, threw her arm about Wilhelm, and bestowed a kind salute on him also. “Which of them tastes best?” said she, archly.
“Surprisingly!” exclaimed Laertes: “it seems as if nothing else had ever such a tang of wormwood in it.”
“As little wormwood,” she replied, “as any gift that a man may enjoy without envy and without conceit. But now,” cried she, “I should like to have an hour’s dancing, and after that we must look to our vaulters.”
Accordingly they went into the house, and there found music in readiness. Philina was a beautiful dancer; she animated both her companions. Nor was Wilhelm without skill; but he wanted careful practice—a defect which his two friends voluntarily took charge of remedying.
In these amusements the time passed on insensibly; it was already late when they returned. The rope-dancers had commenced their operations. A multitude of people had again assembled in the square; and our friends, on alighting, were struck by the appearance of a tumult in the crowd, occasioned by a throng of men rushing towards the door of the inn, which Wilhelm had now turned his face to. He sprang forward to see what it was; and pressing through the people he was struck with horror to observe the master of the rope-dancing company dragging poor Mignon by the hair out of the house, and unmercifully beating her little body with the handle of a whip.
Wilhelm darted on the man like lightning, and seized him by the collar. “Quit the child!” he cried in a furious tone, “or one of us shall never leave this spot;” and, so speaking, he grasped the fellow by the throat with a force which only rage could have lent him. The showman, on the point of choking, let go the child, and endeavored to defend himself against his new assailant. But some people, who had felt compassion for Mignon, yet had not dared to begin a quarrel for her, now laid hold of the rope-dancer, wrenched his whip away, and threatened him with great fierceness and abuse. Being now reduced to the weapons of his mouth, he began bullying and cursing horribly: the lazy, worthless urchin, he said, would not do her duty; refused to perform the egg-dance, which he had promised to the public; he would beat her to death, and no one should hinder him. He tried to get loose and seek the child, who had crept away among the crowd. Wilhelm held him back, and said sternly: “You shall neither see nor touch her, till you have explained before a magistrate where you stole her. I will pursue you to every extremity; you shall not escape me.” These words, which Wilhelm uttered in heat, without thought or purpose, out of some vague feeling, or, if you will, out of inspiration, soon brought the raging showman to composure. “What have I to do with the useless brat?” cried he. “Pay me what her clothes cost, and make of her what you please; we shall settle it to-night.” And, being liberated, he made haste to resume his interrupted operations, and to calm the irritation of the public by some striking displays of his craft.
So soon as all was still again, Wilhelm commenced a search for Mignon, whom, however, he could nowhere find. Some said they had seen her on the street, others on the roofs of the adjoining houses; but, after seeking unsuccessfully in all quarters, he was forced to content himself, and wait to see if she would not again turn up of herself.
In the meantime, Narciss had come into the house, and Wilhelm set to question him about the birthplace and history of the child. Monsieur Narciss knew nothing about these things; for he had not long been in the company: but in return he recited, with much volubility and levity, various particulars of his own fortune. Upon Wilhelm’s wishing him joy of the great approbation he had gained, Narciss expressed himself as if exceedingly indifferent on that point. “People laugh at us,” he said, “and admire our feats of skill; but their admiration does nothing for us. The master has to pay us, and may raise the funds where he pleases.” He then took his leave, and was setting off in great haste.
At the question, Whither he was bent so fast? the dog gave a smile, and admitted that his figure and talents had acquired for him a more solid species of favor than the huzzaing of the multitude. He had been invited by some young ladies, who desired much to become acquainted with him, and he was afraid it would be midnight before he could get all his visits over. He proceeded with the greatest candor to detail his adventures; he would have given the names of his patronesses, their streets and houses, had not Wilhelm waived such indiscretion, and politely dismissed him.
Laertes had meanwhile been entertaining Landrinette: he declared that she was fully worthy to be and to remain a woman.
Our friend next proceeded to his bargain with the showman for Mignon. Thirty crowns was the price set upon her; and for this sum the black-bearded hot Italian entirely surrendered all his claims: but of her history, or parentage, he would discover nothing; only that she had fallen into his hands at the death of his brother, who, by reason of his admirable skill, had usually been named the Great Devil.
Next morning was chiefly spent in searching for the child. It was in vain that they rummaged every hole and corner of the house and neighborhood: the child had vanished, and Wilhelm was afraid she might have leaped into some pool of water, or destroyed herself in some other way.
Philina’s charms could not dissipate his inquietude; he passed a dreary thoughtful day. Nor at evening could the utmost efforts of the tumblers and dancers, exerting all their powers to gratify the public, divert the current of his thoughts, or clear away the clouds from his mind.
By the concourse of people flocking from all places round, the numbers had greatly increased on this occasion; the general approbation was like a snowball rolling itself into a monstrous size. The feat of leaping over swords, and through the cask with paper ends, made a great sensation. The Strong Man, too, produced a universal feeling of mingled astonishment and horror, when he laid his head and feet on a couple of separate stools, and then allowed some sturdy smiths to place a stithy on the unsupported part of his body, and hammer a horseshoe till it was completely made by means of it.
The Hercules’ Strength, as they called it, was a no less wonderful affair. A row of men stood up; then another row upon their shoulders; then women and young lads, supported in like manner on the second row; so that finally a living pyramid was formed, the peak being ornamented by a child, placed on its head, and dressed out in the shape of a ball and weather-vane. Such a sight, never witnessed in those parts before, gave a worthy termination to the whole performance. Narciss and Landrinette were then borne in litters, on the shoulders of the rest, along the chief streets of the town, amid the triumphant shouts of the people. Ribbons, nosegays, silks, were thrown upon them; all pressed to get a sight of them. Each thought himself happy if he could behold them, and be honored with a look of theirs.
“What actor, what author, nay, what man of any class, would not regard himself as on the summit of his wishes, could he, by a noble saying or a worthy action, produce so universal an impression? What a precious emotion would it give, if one could disseminate generous, exalted, manly feelings with electric force and speed, and rouse assembled thousands into such rapture, as these people, by their bodily alertness, have done! If one could communicate to thronging multitudes a fellow-feeling in all that belongs to man, by the portraying of happiness and misery, of wisdom and folly, nay, of absurdity and silliness; could kindle and thrill their inmost souls, and set their stagnant nature into movement, free, vehement and pure!” So said our friend; and as neither Laertes nor Philina showed any disposition to take part in such a strain, he entertained himself with these darling speculations, walking up and down the streets till late at night, and again pursuing, with all the force and vivacity of a liberated imagination, his old desire to have all that was good and noble and great embodied and shown forth by the theatric art.
Next morning, the rope-dancers, not without much parade and bustle, having gone away, Mignon immediately appeared, and came into the parlor as Wilhelm and Laertes were busy fencing. “Where hast thou been hid?” said Wilhelm in a friendly tone. “Thou hast given us a deal of anxiety.” The child looked at him, and answered nothing. “Thou art ours now,” cried Laertes, “we have bought thee.” “For how much?” inquired the child quite coolly. “For a hundred ducats,” said the other; “pay them again, and thou art free.” “Is that very much?” she asked. “Oh, yes! thou must now be a good child.” “I will try,” she said.
From that moment she observed strictly what services the waiter had to do for both her friends: and after the next day, she would not any more let him enter the room. She persisted in doing everything herself; and accordingly went through her duties, slowly indeed, and sometimes awkwardly, yet completely and with the greatest care.
She was frequently observed going to a basin of water, and washing her face with such diligence and violence that she almost wore the skin from her cheeks; till Laertes, by dint of questions and reproofs, learned that she was striving by all means to get the paint from her skin; and that, in her zealous endeavors towards this object, she had mistaken the redness produced by rubbing for the most obdurate dye. They set her right on this point, and she ceased her efforts; after which, having come again to her natural state, she exhibited a fine brown complexion, beautiful, though sparingly intermingled with red.
The siren charms of Philina, the mysterious presence of the child, produced more impression on our friend than he liked to confess; he passed several days in that strange society, endeavoring to elude self-reproaches by a diligent practice of fencing and dancing—accomplishments which he believed might not again be put within his reach so conveniently.
It was with great surprise, and not without a certain satisfaction, that he one day observed Herr Melina and his wife alight at the inn. After the first glad salutation, they inquired about “the lady-manager and the other actors;” and learned, with astonishment and terror, that the lady-manager had long since gone away, and her actors, to a very few, dispersed themselves about the country.
This couple, subsequently to their marriage, in which, as we know, our friend did his best to serve them, had been travelling about in various quarters, seeking an engagement, without finding any; and had at last been directed to this little town by some persons who met them on their journey, and said there was a good theatre in the place.
Melina by no means pleased the lively Laertes, when introduced to him, any more than his wife did Philina. Both heartily wished to be rid of these new-comers; and Wilhelm could inspire them with no favorable feelings on the subject, though he more than once assured them that the Melinas were very worthy people.
Indeed, the previous merry life of our three adventurers was interfered with by this extension of their society, in more ways than one. Melina had taken up his quarters in the inn where Philina stayed, and he very soon began a system of cheapening and higgling. He would have better lodging, more sumptuous diet, and readier attendance, for a smaller charge. In a short while, the landlord and waiter showed very rueful looks; for whereas the others, to get pleasantly along, had expressed no discontent with anything, and paid instantly, that they might avoid thinking longer of payment, Melina now insisted on regulating every meal, and investigating its contents beforehand; a species of service for which Philina named him, without scruple, a ruminating animal.
Yet more did the merry girl hate Melina’s wife. Frau Melina was a young woman not without culture, but wofully defective in soul and spirit. She could declaim not badly, and kept declaiming constantly; but it was easy to observe that her performances were little more than recitations of words. She labored a few detached passages, but never could express the feeling of the whole. Withal, however, she was seldom disagreeable to any one, especially to men. On the contrary, people who enjoyed her acquaintance commonly ascribed to her a fine understanding; for she was what might be called a kind of spiritual chameleon, or taker-on.* Any friend whose favor she had need of, she could flatter with peculiar adroitness; could give in to his ideas so long as she could understand them; and, when they went beyond her own horizon, could hail with ecstasy such new and brilliant visions. She understood well when to speak and when to keep silence; and, though her disposition was not spiteful, she could spy out with great expertness where another’s weak side lay.
Melina, in the meantime, had been making strict inquiry about the wrecks of the late theatrical establishment. The wardrobe, as well as decorations, had been pawned with some traders; and a notary had been empowered, under certain conditions, to dispose of them by sale, should purchasers occur. Melina wished to see this ware; and he took Wilhelm with him. No sooner was the room opened than our friend felt towards its contents a kind of inclination, which he would not confess to himself. Sad as was the state of the blotched and tarnished decorations; little showy as the Turkish and Pagan garments, the old farce-coats for men and women, the cowls for enchanters, priests and Jews, might be, he was not able to exclude the feeling, that the happiest moments of his life had been spent in a similar magazine of frippery. Could Melina have seen into his heart, he would have urged him more pressingly to lay out a sum of money in liberating these scattered fragments, in furbishing them up, and again combining them into a beautiful whole. “What a happy man could I be,” cried Melina, “had I but two hundred crowns, to get into my hands, for a beginning, these fundamental necessaries of a theatre! How soon should I get up a little playhouse that would draw contributions from the town and neighborhood, and maintain us all!” Wilhelm was silent. They left these treasures of the stage to be again locked up, and both went away in a reflective mood.
Thenceforth Melina talked of nothing else but projects and plans for setting up a theatre, and gaining profit by it. He tried to interest Philina and Laertes in his schemes; and proposals were made to Wilhelm about advancing money, and taking them as his security. On this occasion, Wilhelm first clearly perceived that he was lingering too long here: he excused himself, and set about making preparations for departure.
In the meantime, Mignon’s form and manner of existence was growing more attractive to him every day. In her whole system of proceedings there was something very singular. She never walked up or down the stairs, but jumped. She would spring along by the railing, and before you were aware would be sitting quietly above on the landing. Wilhelm had observed, also, that she had a different sort of salutation for each individual. For himself, it had of late been with her arms crossed upon her breast. Often for the whole day she was mute. At times she answered various questions more freely, yet always strangely; so that you could not determine whether it was caused by shrewd sense, or ignorance of the language; for she spoke in broken German, interlaced with French and Italian. In Wilhelm’s service she was indefatigable, and up before the sun. On the other hand, she vanished early in the evening, went to sleep in a little room upon the bare floor, and could not by any means be induced to take a bed or even a palliasse. He often found her washing herself. Her clothes, too, were kept scrupulously clean, though nearly all about her was quilted two or three plies thick. Wilhelm was moreover told that she went every morning early to hear mass. He followed her on one occasion, and saw her kneeling down with a rosary in a corner of the church, and praying devoutly. She did not observe him; and he returned home, forming many a conjecture about this appearance, yet unable to arrive at any probable conclusion.
A new application from Melina for a sum of money to redeem the often-mentioned stage-apparatus, caused Wilhelm to think more seriously than ever about setting off. He proposed writing to his people, who for a long time had heard no tidings of him, by the very earliest post. He accordingly commenced a letter to Werner; and had advanced a considerable way with the history of his adventures, in recounting which he had more than once unintentionally swerved a little from the truth, when, to his vexation and surprise, he observed, upon the back of his sheet, some verses which he had been copying from his album for Madam Melina. Out of humor at this mistake, he tore the paper in pieces, and put off repeating his confession till the next post-day.
Our party was now again collected; and Philina, who always kept a sharp lookout on every horse or carriage that passed by, exclaimed, with great eagerness: “Our Pedant! Here comes our dearest Pedant! Who the deuce is it he has with him?” Speaking thus, she beckoned at the window, and the vehicle drew up.
A woful-looking genius, whom, by his shabby coat of grayish brown, and his ill-conditioned lower garments, you must have taken for some unprosperous preceptor, of the sort that moulder in our universities, now descended from the carriage, and, taking off his hat to salute Philina, discovered an ill-powdered but yet very stiff periwig, while Philina threw a hundred kisses of the hand towards him.
As Philina’s chief enjoyment lay in loving one class of men, and being loved by them, so there was a second and hardly inferior satisfaction, wherewith she entertained herself is frequently as possible; and this consisted in hoodwinking and passing jokes upon the other class, whom at such moments she happened not to love; all which she could accomplish in a very sprightly style.
Amid the flourish which she made in receiving this old friend, no attention was bestowed upon the rest who followed him. Yet among the party were an oldish man and two young girls, whom Wilhelm thought he knew. Accordingly it turned out that he had often seen them all, some years ago, in a company then playing in his native town. The daughters had grown since that period; the old man was little altered. He commonly enacted those good-hearted boisterous old gentlemen, whom the German theatre is never without, and whom, in common life, one also frequently enough falls in with. For as it is the character of our countrymen to do good, and cause it, without pomp or circumstance, so they seldom consider that there is likewise a mode of doing what is right with grace and dignity; more frequently, indeed, they yield to the spirit of contradiction, and fall into the error of deforming their dearest virtue by a surly mode of putting it in practice.
Such parts our actor could play very well; and he played them so often and exclusively that he had himself taken up the same turn of proceeding in his ordinary life.
On recognizing him, Wilhelm was seized with a strong commotion: he recollected how often he had seen this man on the stage with his beloved Mariana: he still heard him scolding, still heard the small soothing voice, with which in many characters she had to meet his rugged temper.
The first anxious question put to the strangers, Whether they had heard of any situation in their travels? was answered, alas, with No; and to complete the information it was further added, that all the companies they had fallen in with were not only supplied with actors, but many of them were afraid lest, on account of the approaching war, they should be forced to separate. Old Boisterous, with his daughters, moved by spleen and love of change, had given up an advantageous engagement; then meeting with the Pedant by the way, they had hired a carriage to come hither; where, as they found, good counsel was still dear, needful to have, and difficult to get.
The time while the rest were talking very keenly of their circumstances Wilhelm spent in thought. He longed to speak in private with the old man; he wished and feared to hear of Mariana, and felt himself in the greatest disquietude.
The pretty looks of the stranger damsels could not call him from his dream; but a war of words which now arose awakened his attention. It was Friedrich, the fair-haired boy, who used to attend Philina, stubbornly refusing on this occasion to cover the table and bring up dinner. “I engaged to serve you,” he cried; “but not to wait on everybody.” They fell into a hot contest. Philina insisted that he should do his duty; and as he obstinately refused, she told him plainly he might go about his business.
“You think, perhaps, I cannot leave you!” cried he, sturdily; then went to pack up his bundle, and soon hastily quitted the house.
“Go, Mignon,” said Philina, “and get us what we want: tell the waiter, and help him to attend us.”
Mignon came before Wilhelm, and asked in her laconic way: “Shall I? May I?” To which Wilhelm answered: “Do all that the lady bids thee, child.”
She accordingly took charge of everything, and waited on the guests the whole evening, with the utmost carefulness. After dinner Wilhelm proposed to have a walk with the old man alone. Succeeding in this, after many questions about his late wanderings, the conversation turned upon the former company, and Wilhelm hazarded a question touching Mariana.
“Do not speak to me of that despicable creature,” cried the old man; “I have sworn to think of her no more.” Terrified at this speech, Wilhelm felt still more embarrassed, as the old man proceeded to vituperate her fickleness and wantonness. Most gladly would our friend have broken off the conversation; but now it was impossible: he was obliged to undergo the whole tumultuous effusions of this strange old gentleman.
“I am ashamed,” continued he, “that I felt such a friendship for her. Yet had you known the girl better you would excuse me. She was so pretty, so natural and good, so pleasing, in every sense so tolerable, I could never have supposed that ingratitude and impudence were to prove the chief features of her character.”
Wilhelm had nerved himself to hear the worst of her; when all at once he observed, with astonishment, that the old man’s tones grew milder, his voice faltered, and he took out his handkerchief to dry the tears, which at last began to trickle down his cheeks.
“What is the matter with you?” cried Wilhelm. “What is it that suddenly so changes the current of your feelings? Conceal it not from me. I take a deeper interest in the fate of this girl than you suppose. Only tell me all.”
“I have not much to say,” replied the old man, again taking up his earnest angry tone. “I have suffered more from her than I shall ever forgive. She had always a kind of trust in me. I loved her as my own daughter; indeed, while my wife lived, I had formed a resolution to take the creature to my own house, and save her from the hands of that old crone, from whose guidance I boded no good. But my wife died, and the project went to nothing.
“About the end of our stay in your native town, it is not quite three years ago, I noticed a visible sadness about her. I questioned her, but she evaded me. At last we set out on our journey. She travelled in the same coach with me; and I soon observed, what she herself did not long deny, that she was with child, and suffering the greatest terror lest our manager might turn her off. In fact, in a short while he did make the discovery, immediately threw up her contract, which at any rate was only for six weeks, paid off her arrears, and, in spite of all entreaties, left her behind in the miserable inn of a little village.
“Devil take all wanton jilts!” cried the old man, with a splenetic tone, “and especially this one, that has spoiled me so many hours of my life! Why should I keep talking how I myself took charge of her, what I did for her, what I spent on her, how in absence I provided for her? I would rather throw my purse into the ditch, and spend my time in nursing mangy whelps, than ever more bestow the smallest care on such a thing. Pshaw! at first I got letters of thanks, notice of places she was staying at, and finally no word at all; not even an acknowledgment for the money I had sent to pay the expenses of her lying-in. O! the treachery and the fickleness of women are rightly matched, to get a comfortable living for themselves, and to give an honest fellow many heavy hours.”
Wilhelm’s feelings on returning home after this conversation may be easily conceived. All his old wounds had been torn up afresh; and the sentiment, that Mariana was not wholly unworthy of his love, had again been brought to life. The interest which the old man had shown about her fate, the praises he gave her against his will, displayed her again in all her attractiveness. Nay, even the bitter accusations brought against her contained nothing that could lower her in Wilhelm’s estimation, for he as well as she was guilty in all her aberrations. Nor did even her final silence seem greatly blamable; it rather inspired him with mournful thoughts. He saw her as a frail, ill-succored mother, wandering helplessly about the world; wandering perhaps with his own child. What he knew, and what he knew not, awoke in him the most painful emotions.
Mignon had been waiting for him; she lighted him up-stairs. On setting down the light she begged that he would allow her that evening to compliment him with a piece of her art. He would rather have declined this, particularly as he knew not what it was; but he had not the heart to refuse anything this kind creature wished. After a little while she again came in. She carried a little carpet below her arm, which she then spread out upon the floor. Wilhelm said she might proceed. She thereupon brought four candles, and placed one upon each corner of the carpet. A little basket of eggs which she next carried in made her purpose clearer. Carefully measuring her steps, she then walked to and fro on the carpet, spreading out the eggs in certain figures and positions: which done, she called in a man that was waiting in the house, and could play on the violin. He retired with his instrument into a corner; she tied a band about her eyes, gave a signal, and, like a piece of wheel-work set a-going, she began moving the same instant as the music, accompanying her beats and the notes of the tune with the strokes of a pair of castanets.
Lightly, nimbly, and with hair-breadth accuracy, she carried on the dance. She skipped so sharply and surely along between the eggs, and trod so closely down beside them, that you would have thought every instant she must trample one of them in pieces, or kick the rest away in her rapid turns. By no means! She touched no one of them, though winding herself through their mazes with all kinds of steps, wide and narrow; nay, even with leaps, and at last half kneeling.
Constant as the movement of a clock, she ran her course; and the strange music, at each repetition of the tune, gave a new impulse to the dance; recommencing and again rushing off as at first. Wilhelm was quite led away by this singular spectacle; he forgot his cares; he followed every movement of the dear little creature, and felt surprised to see how finely her character unfolded itself as she proceeded in the dance.
Rigid, sharp, cold, vehement and in soft postures, stately rather than attractive; such was the light in which it showed her. At this moment he experienced at once all the emotions he had ever felt for Mignon. He longed to incorporate this forsaken being with his own heart; to take her in his arms, and with a father’s love to awaken in her the joy of existence.
The dance being ended she rolled the eggs together softly with her foot into a little heap, left none behind, harmed none; then placed herself beside it, taking the bandage from her eyes, and concluding her performance with a little bow.
Wilhelm thanked her for having executed, so prettily and unexpectedly, a dance he had long wished to see. He patted her; was sorry she had tired herself so much. He promised her a new suit of clothes; to which she vehemently replied, “Thy color!” This, too, he promised her, though not well knowing what she meant by it. She then lifted up the eggs, took the carpet under her arm, asked if he wanted anything further, and skipped out of the door.
The musician, being questioned, said that for some time she had taken much trouble in often singing over the tune of this dance, the well-known fandango, to him, and training him till he could play it accurately. For his labor she had likewise offered him some money, which, however, he would not accept.
After a restless night, which our friend spent, sometimes waking, sometimes oppressed with unpleasant dreams, seeing Mariana now in all her beauty, now in woful case, at one time with a child on her arm, then soon bereaved of it, the morning had scarcely dawned when Mignon entered with a tailor. She brought some gray cloth and blue taffeta, signifying in her own way that she wished to have a new jacket and sailor’s trousers, such as she had seen the boys of the town wearing, with blue cuffs and tyers.
Since the loss of Mariana, Wilhelm had laid aside all gay colors. He had used himself to gray, the garment of the shades; and only perhaps a sky-blue lining, or little collar of that dye, in some degree enlivened his sober garb. Mignon, eager to wear his colors, hurried on the tailor, who engaged to have his work soon ready.
The exercise in dancing and fencing which our friend took this day with Laertes did not prosper in their hands. Indeed, it was soon interrupted by Melina, who came to show them circumstantially how a little company was now of itself collected, sufficient to exhibit plays in abundance. He renewed the proposal that Wilhelm should advance a little money for setting them in motion; which, however, Wilhelm still declined.
Ere long Philina and the girls came in, racketing and laughing as usual. They had now devised a fresh excursion; for change of place and objects was a pleasure after which they always longed. To eat daily in a different spot was their highest wish. On this occasion they proposed a sail.
The boat in which they were to sail down the pleasant windings of the river had already been engaged by the Pedant. Philina urged them on: the party did not linger, and were soon on board.
“What shall we take to now?” said Philina, when all had placed themselves upon the benches.
“The readiest thing,” replied Laertes, “were for us to extemporize a play. Let each take a part that suits his character, and we shall see how we get along.”
“Excellent!” said Wilhelm. “In a society where there is no dissimulation, but where each without disguise pursues the bent of his own humor, elegance and satisfaction cannot long continue; and where dissimulation always reigns they do not enter at all. It will not be amiss, then, that we take up dissimulation to begin with; and then, behind our masks, be as candid as we please.”
“Yes,” said Laertes, “it is on this account that one goes on so pleasantly with women; they never show themselves in their natural form.”
“That is to say,” replied Madam Melina, “they are not so vain as men, who conceive themselves to be always amiable enough, just as nature has produced them.”
In the meantime the river led them between pleasant groves and hills, between gardens and vineyards; and the young women, especially Madam Melina, expressed their rapture at the landscape. The latter even began to recite, in solemn style, a pretty poem of the descriptive sort, upon a similar scene of nature; but Philina interrupted her with the proposal of a law that no one should presume to speak of any inanimate object. On the other hand, she zealously urged on their project of an extempore play. Old Boisterous was to be a half-pay officer; Laertes, a fencing-master taking his vacation; the Pedant, a Jew; she herself would act a Tyrolese, leaving to the rest to choose characters according to their several pleasures. They would suppose themselves to be a party of total strangers to each other, who had just met on board a merchant ship.
She immediately began to play her part with the Jew; and a universal cheerfulness diffused itself among them.
They had not sailed far, when the skipper stopped in his course, asking permission of the company to take in a person standing on the shore, who had made a sign to him.
“That is just what we needed,” cried Philina; “a chance passenger was wanting to complete the travelling-party.”
A handsome man came on board, whom, by his dress and his dignified mien, you might have taken for a clergyman. He saluted the party, who thanked him in their own way, and soon made known to him the nature of their game. The stranger immediately engaged to play the part of a country parson; which, in fact, he accomplished in the most adroit manner, to the admiration of all; now admonishing, now telling stories, showing some weak points, yet never losing their respect.
In the meantime every one who had made a false step in his part, or swerved from his character, had been obliged to forfeit a pledge; Philina had gathered them with the greatest care; and especially threatened the reverend gentleman with many kisses, though he himself had never been at fault. Melina, on the other hand, was completely fleeced; shirt-buttons, buckles, every movable about his person was in Philina’s hands. He was trying to enact an English traveller, and could not by any means get into the spirit of his part.
Meanwhile the time had passed away very pleasantly. Each had strained his fancy and his wit to the utmost, and each had garnished his part with agreeable and entertaining jests. Thus comfortably occupied, they reached the place where they meant to pass the day; and Wilhelm going out to walk with the clergyman, as both from his appearance and late character he persisted in naming him, soon fell into an interesting conversation.
“I think this practice,” said the stranger, “very useful among actors, and even in the company of friends and acquaintances. It is the best mode of drawing men out of themselves, and leading them, by a circuitous path, back into themselves again. It should be a custom with every troop of players to practise in this manner; and the public would assuredly be no loser if every month an unwritten piece were brought forward; in which, of course, the players had prepared themselves by several rehearsals.”
“One should not, then,” replied our friend, “consider an extempore piece as, strictly speaking, composed on the spur of the moment; but as a piece of which the plan, action and division of the scenes were given; the filling up of all this being left to the player.”
“Quite right,” said the stranger; “and in regard to this very filling up, such a piece, were the players once trained to these performances, would profit greatly. Not in regard to the mere words, it is true; for by a careful selection of these the studious writer may certainly adorn his work; but in regard to the gestures, looks, exclamations, and everything of that nature; in short, to the mute and half-mute play of the dialogue, which seems by degrees fading away among us altogether. There are indeed some players in Germany whose bodies figure what they think and feel; who, by their silence, their delays, their looks, their slight graceful movements, can prepare the audience for a speech, and by a pleasant sort of pantomime combine the pauses of the dialogue with the general whole; but such a practice as this, coöperating with a happy natural turn, and training it to compete with the author, is far from being so habitual as, for the comfort of playgoing people, were to be desired.”
“But will not a happy natural turn,” said Wilhelm, “as the first and last requisite, of itself conduct the player like every other artist, nay, perhaps every other man, to the lofty mark he aims at?”
“The first and the last, the beginning and the end, it may well be; but in the middle many things will still be wanting to an artist, if instruction, and early instruction too, have not previously made that of him which he was meant to be: and perhaps for the man of genius it is worse in this respect than for the man possessed of only common capabilities; the one may much more easily be misinstructed, and be driven far more violently into false courses, than the other.”
“But,” said Wilhelm, “will not genius save itself, not heal the wounds which itself has inflicted?”
“Only to a very small extent, and with great difficulty,” said the other, “or perhaps not at all. Let no one think that he can conquer the first impressions of his youth. If he has grown up in enviable freedom, surrounded with beautiful and noble objects, in constant intercourse with worthy men; if his masters have taught him what he needed first to know, for comprehending more easily what followed; if he has never learned anything which he requires to unlearn; if his first operations have been so guided, that without altering any of his habits he can more easily produce what is excellent in future; then such a one will lead a purer, more perfect and happier life, than another man who has wasted the force of his youth in opposition and error. A great deal is said and written about education; yet I meet with very few who can comprehend, and transfer to practice, this simple yet vast idea, which includes within itself all others connected with the subject.”
“That may well be true,” said Wilhelm; “for the generality of men are limited enough in their conceptions to suppose that every other should be fashioned by education according to the pattern of themselves. Happy then are those whom fate takes charge of, and educates according to their several natures!”
“Fate,” said the other, smiling, “is an excellent, but most expensive schoolmaster. In all cases, I would rather trust to the reason of a human tutor. Fate, for whose wisdom I entertain all imaginable reverence, often finds in Chance, by which it works, an instrument not over manageable. At least the latter very seldom seems to execute precisely and accurately what the former had determined.”
“You seem to express a very singular opinion,” said Wilhelm.
“Not at all!” replied the other. “Most of what happens in the world confirms my opinion. Do not many incidents at their commencement show some mighty purport, and generally terminate in something paltry?”
“You mean to jest.”
“And as to what concerns the individual man,” pursued the other, “is it not so with this likewise? Suppose Fate had appointed one to be a good player; and why should it not provide us with good players as well as other good things? Chance would perhaps conduct the youth into some puppet-show, where, at such an early age, he could not help taking interest in what was tasteless and despicable, reckoning insipidities endurable or even pleasing, and thus corrupting and misdirecting his primary impressions; impressions which can never be effaced, and whose influence, in spite of all our efforts, cling to us in some degree to the very last.”
“What makes you think of puppet-shows?” said Wilhelm, not without some consternation.
“It was an accidental instance; if it does not please you, we shall take another. Suppose Fate had appointed any one to be a great painter, and it pleased Chance that he should pass his youth in sooty huts, in barns and stables; do you think that such a man would ever be enabled to exalt himself to purity, to nobleness, to freedom of soul? The more keenly he may in his youth have seized on the impure, and tried in his own manner to ennoble it, the more powerfully in the remainder of his life will it be revenged on him; because while he was endeavoring to conquer it his whole being has become inseparably combined with it. Whoever spends his early years in mean and pitiful society, though at an after period he may have the choice of better, will yet constantly look back with longing towards that which he enjoyed of old, and which has left its impression blended with the memory of all his young and unreturning pleasures.”
From conversation of this sort, it is easy to imagine, the rest of the company had gradually withdrawn. Philina, in particular, had stepped aside at the very outset. Wilhelm and his comrade now rejoined them by a cross-path. Philina brought out her forfeits, and they had to be redeemed in many different ways. During which business, the stranger, by the most ingenious devices, and by his frank participation in their sports, recommended himself much to all the party, and particularly to the ladies; and thus, amid joking, singing, kissing, and railleries of all sorts, the hours passed away in the most pleasant manner.
When our friends began to think of going home, they looked about them for their clergyman; but he had vanished, and was nowhere to be found.
“It is not polite in the man, who otherwise displayed good breeding,” said Madam Melina, “to desert a company that welcomed him so kindly, without taking leave.”
“I have all the time been thinking,” said Laertes, “where I can have seen this singular man before. I fully intended to ask him about it at parting.”
“I too had the same feeling,” said Wilhelm, “and certainly I should not have let him go till he had told us something more about his circumstances. I am much mistaken if I have not ere now spoken with him somewhere.”
“And you may in truth,” said Philina, “be mistaken there. This person seems to have the air of an acquaintance because he looks like a man, and not like Jack or Kit.”
“What is this?” said Laertes. “Do not we two look like men?”
“I know what I am saying,” cried Philina; “and if you cannot understand me, never mind. In the end my words will be found to require no commentary.”
Two coaches now drove up. All praised the attention of Laertes, who had ordered them. Philina, with Madam Melina, took her place opposite to Wilhelm; the rest bestowed themselves as they best could. Laertes rode back on Wilhelm’s horse, which had likewise been brought out.
Philina was scarcely seated in the coach, when she began to sing some pretty songs, and gradually led the conversation to some stories, which she said might be successfully treated in the form of dramas. By this cunning turn she very soon put her young friend into his finest humor: from the wealth of his living imaginative store, he forthwith constructed a complete play, with all its acts, scenes, characters and plots. It was thought proper to insert a few catches and songs; they composed them; and Philina, who entered into every part of it, immediately fitted them with well-known tunes, and sang them on the spot.
It was one of her beautiful, most beautiful days; she had skill to enliven our friend with all manner of diverting wiles; he felt in spirits such as he had not for many a month enjoyed.
Since that shocking discovery had torn him from the side of Mariana, he had continued true to his vow to be on his guard against the encircling arms of woman, to avoid the faithless sex, to lock up his inclinations, his sweet wishes in his own bosom. The conscientiousness with which he had observed this vow gave his whole nature a secret nourishment; and as his heart could not remain without affection, some loving sympathy had now become a want with him. He went along once more, as if environed by the first cloudy glories of youth; his eye fixed joyfully on every charming object, and never had his judgment of a lovely form been more favorable. How dangerous, in such a situation, this wild girl must have been to him, is but too easy to conceive.
Arrived at home, they found Wilhelm’s chamber all ready to receive them; the chairs set right for a public reading; in midst of them the table, on which the punch-bowl was in due time to take its place.
The German chivalry-plays were new at this period, and had just excited the attention and the inclination of the public. Old Boisterous had brought one of this sort with him; the reading of it had already been determined on. They all sat down: Wilhelm took possession of the pamphlet, and began to read.
The harnessed knights, the ancient keeps, the true-heartedness, honesty and downrightness, but especially the independence of the acting characters, were received with the greatest approbation. The reader did his utmost; and the audience gradually mounted into rapture. Between the third and fourth act, the punch arrived in an ample bowl; and there being much fighting and drinking in the piece itself, nothing was more natural than that, on every such occurrence, the company should transport themselves into the situation of the heroes, should flourish and strike along with them, and drink long life to their favorites among the dramatis personæ.
Each individual of the party was inflamed with the noblest fire of national spirit. How it gratified this German company to be poetically entertained, according to their own character, on stuff of their own manufacture! In particular, the vaults and caverns, the ruined castles, the moss and hollow trees, but above all the nocturnal gypsy-scenes, and the Secret Tribunal, produced a quite incredible effect. Every actor now figured to himself how, ere long, in helm and harness; every actress how, with a monstrous spreading ruff, she would present her Germanship before the public. Each would appropriate to himself without delay some name taken from the piece, or from German history; and Madam Melina declared, that the son or daughter she was then expecting should not be christened otherwise than by the name of Adelbert or of Mathilde.
Towards the fifth act the approbation became more impetuous and louder; and at last, when the hero actually trampled down his oppressor, and the tyrant met his doom, the ecstasy increased to such a height, that all averred they had never passed such happy moments. Melina, whom the liquor had inspired, was the noisiest; and when the second bowl was empty, and midnight near, Laertes swore through thick and thin that no living mortal was worthy ever more to put these glasses to his lips; and, so swearing, he pitched his own right over his head, through a window-pane, out into the street. The rest followed his example; and notwithstanding the protestations of the landlord, who came running in at the noise, the punch-bowl itself, never after this festivity to be polluted by unholy drink, was dashed into a thousand shreds. Philina, whose exhilaration was the least noticed, the other two girls by that time having laid themselves upon the sofa in no very elegant positions, maliciously encouraged her companions in their tumult. Madam Melina recited some spirit-stirring poems; and her husband, not too amiable in the uproar, began to cavil at the insufficient preparation of the punch, declaring that he could arrange an entertainment altogether in a different style; and at last becoming sulkier and louder as Laertes commanded silence, till the latter, without much consideration, threw the fragments of the punch-bowl about his head, and thereby not a little deepended the confusion.
Meanwhile the town-guard had arrived, and were demanding admission to the house. Wilhelm, much heated by his reading, though he had drunk but little, had enough to do with the landlord’s help to content these people by money and good words; and afterwards to get the various members of his party sent home in that unseemly case. On coming back, overpowered with sleep and full of chagrin, he threw himself upon his bed without undressing; and nothing could exceed his disgust, when, opening his eyes next morning, he looked out with dull sight upon the devastations of the bygone day, and saw the uncleanness, and the many bad effects, of which that ingenious, lively and well-intentioned poetical performance had been the cause.
After a short consideration he called the landlord, and bade him mark to his account both the damage and the regular charge. At the same time he learned, not without vexation, that his horse had been so hard ridden by Laertes last night, that, in all probability, it was foundered, as they term it, the farrier having little hope of its recovering.
A salute from Philina, which she threw him from her window, restored him in some degree to a more cheerful humor; he went forhtwith into the nearest shop to buy her a little present, which, in return for the powder-knife, he still owed her; and it must be owned that, in selecting his gift, he did not keep himself within the limits of proportional value. He not only purchased her a pair of earrings; but added likewise a hat and neckerchief, and some other little articles, which he had seem her lavishly throw from her on the first day of their acquaintance.
Madam Melina, happening to observe him as he was delivering his presents, took an opportunity before breakfast to rate him very earnestly about his inclination for this girl; at which he felt the more astonished, the less he thought it merited. He swore solemnly, that he had never once entertained the slightest notion of attaching himself to such a person, whose whole manner of proceeding was well known to him: he excused himself as well as possible for his friendly and polite conduct towards her; yet did not by any means content Madam Melina, whose spite grew ever more determined, as she could not but observe that the flatteries by which she had acquired for herself a sort of partial regard from our friend, were not sufficient to defend this conquest from the attacks of a lively, younger and more gifted rival.
As they sat down to table, her husband joined them, likewise in a very fretful humor; which he was beginning to display on many little things, when the landlord entered to announce a player on the harp. “You will certainly,” he said, “find pleasure in the music and the songs of this man: no one who hears him can forbear to admire him and bestow something on him.”
“Let him go about his business,” said Melina; “I am anything but in a trim for hearing fiddlers, and we have singers constantly among ourselves disposed to gain a little by their talent.” He accompanied these words with a sarcastic side-look at Philina: she understood his meaning, and immediately prepared to punish him by taking up the cause of the harper. Turning towards Wilhelm: “Shall we not hear the man?” said she; “shall we do nothing to save ourselves from this miserable ennui?”
Melina was going to reply, and the strife would have grown keener had not the person it related to at that moment entered. Wilhelm saluted him, and beckoned him to come near.
The figure of this singular guest set the whole party in astonishment; he had found a chair before any one took heart to ask him a question, or make any observation. His bald crown was encircled by a few gray hairs; and a pair of large blue eyes looked out softly from beneath his long white eyebrows. To a nose of beautiful proportions was subjoined a flowing hoary beard, which did not hide the fine shape and position of his lips; and a long dark-brown garment wrapped his thin body from the neck to the feet. He began to prelude on the harp, which he had placed before him.
The sweet tones which he drew from his instrument very soon inspirited the company.
“You can sing too, my good old man,” said Philina.
“Give us something that shall entertain the spirit and the heart as well as the senses,” said Wilhelm. “The instrument should but accompany the voice; for tunes and melodies without words and meaning seem to me like butterflies or finely-variegated birds, which hover round us in the air, which we could wish to catch and make our own; whereas song is like a blessed genius that exalts us towards heaven, and allures the better self in us to attend him.”
The old man looked at Wilhelm; then aloft; then gave some trills upon his harp, and began his song. It contained a eulogy on minstrelsy; described the happiness of minstrels, and reminded men to honor them. He produced his song with so much life and truth that it seemed as if he had composed it at the moment, for this special occasion. Wilhelm could scarcely refrain from clasping him in his arms; but the fear of awakening a peal of laughter detained him in his chair; for the rest were already in half-whispers making sundry very shallow observations, and debating if the harper was a Papist or a Jew.
On asking about the author of the song, the man gave no distinct reply; declaring only that he was rich in songs, and anxious that they should please. Most of the party were now merry and joyful; even Melina was grown frank in his way; and whilst they talked and joked together, the old man began to sing the praise of social life, in the most sprightly style. He described the loveliness of unity and courtesy, in soft, soothing tones. Suddenly his music became cold, harsh and jarring, as he turned to deplore repulsive selfishness, short-sighted enmity and baleful division; and every heart willingly threw off those galling fetters, while, borne on the wings of a piercing melody, he launched forth in praise of peacemakers, and sang the happiness of souls that, having parted, meet again in love.
Scarcely had he ended, when Wilhelm cried to him: “Whoever thou art, that as a helping spirit comest to us, with a voice which blesses and revives, accept my reverence and my thanks! Feel that we all admire thee, and confide in us if thou wantest anything.”
The old man spoke not; he threw his fingers softly across the strings: then struck more sharply, and sang:
When the harper, on finishing his song, took up a glass of wine that stood poured out for him, and, turning with a friendly mien to his entertainers, drank it off, a buzz of joyful approbation rose from all the party. They clapped hands, and wished him health from that glass, and strength to his aged limbs. He sang a few other ballads, exciting more and more hilarity among the company.
“Old man,” said Philina, “dost thou know the tune, ‘The Shepherd deck’d him for the Dance?’ ”*
“Oh, yes!” said he; “if you will sing the words, I shall not fail for my part of it.”
Philina then stood up, and held herself in readiness. The old man commenced the tune; and she sang a song, which we cannot impart to our readers, lest they might think it insipid, or perhaps undignified.
Meanwhile the company were growing merrier and merrier; they had already emptied several flasks of wine, and were now beginning to get very loud. But our friend, having fresh in his remembrance the bad consequences of their late exhilaration, determined to break up the sitting; he slipped into the old man’s hand a liberal remuneration for his trouble, the rest did something likewise; they gave him leave to go and take repose, promising themselves another entertainment from his skill in the evening.
When he had retired, our friend said to Philina: “In this favorite song of yours I certainly find no merit, either moral or poetical; yet, if you were to bring forward any proper composition on the stage, with the same arch simplicity, the same propriety and gracefulness, I should engage that strong and universal approbation would be the result.”
“Yes,” said Philina, “it would be a charming thing indeed to warm one’s self at ice.”
“After all,” said Wilhelm, “this old man might put many a player to the blush. Did you notice how correctly the dramatic part of his ballads was expressed? I maintain, there was more living true representation in his singing than in many of our starched characters upon the stage. You would take the acting of many plays for a narrative, and you might ascribe to these musical narratives a sensible presence.”
“You are hardly just!” replied Laertes. “I pretend to no great skill either as a player or a singer; yet I know well enough, that, when music guides the movements of the body, at once affording to them animation and a scale to measure it; when declamation and expression are furnished me by the composer, I feel quite a different man from what I do when, in prose-dramas, I have all this to create for myself; have both gesture and declamation to invent, and am perhaps disturbed in it too by the awkwardness of some partner in the dialogue.”
“Thus much I know,” said Melina, “the man certainly may put us to the blush in one point, and that a main one. The strength of his talent is shown by the profit he derives from it. Even us, who perhaps ere long shall be embarrassed where to get a meal, he persuades to share our pittance with him. He has skill enough to wile the money from our pockets with an old song; the money that we should have used to find ourselves employment. So pleasant an affair is it to squander the means which might procure subsistence to one’s self and others.”
This remark gave the conversation not the most delightful turn. Wilhelm, for whom the reproach was peculiarly intended, replied with some heat; and Melina, at no time over studious of delicacy and politeness, explained his grievances at last in words more plain than courteous. “It is now a fortnight,” said he, “since we looked at the theatrical machinery and wardrobe which is lying pawned here; the whole might be redeemed for a very tolerable sum. You then gave me hopes that you would lend me so much; and hitherto I do not see that you have thought more of the matter, or come any nearer a determination. Had you then consented, we should ere now have been under way. Nor has your intention to leave the place been executed; nor has your money in the meantime been spared: at least there are people who have always skill to create opportunities for scattering it faster and faster away.”
Such upbraidings, not altogether undeserved, touched Wilhelm to the quick. He replied with keenness, nay, with anger; and, as the company arose to part, he took hold of the door, and gave them not obscurely to understand that he would no longer continue with such unfriendly and ungrateful people. He hastened down, in no kindly humor, and seated himself upon the stone bench without the door of his inn; not observing that, first out of mirth, then out of spleen, he had drunk more wine than usual.
After a short time, which he passed sitting looking out before him, disquieted by many thoughts, Philina came singing and skipping along through the front door. She sat down by him, nay, we might almost say, on him, so close did she press herself towards him; she leaned upon his shoulders, began playing with his hair, patted him, and gave him the best words in the world. She begged of him to stay with them, and not leave her alone in that company, or she must die of tedium: she could not live any longer in the same house with Melina, and had come over to lodge in the other inn for that very reason.
He tried in vain to satisfy her with denials; to make her understand that he neither could nor would remain any longer. She did not cease with her entreaties; nay, suddenly she threw her arm round his neck, and kissed him with the liveliest expression of fondness.
“Are you mad, Philina?” cried Wilhelm, endeavoring to disengage himself; “to make the open street the scene of such caresses, which I nowise merit! Let me go; I cannot and I will not stay.”
“And I will hold thee fast,” said she, “and kiss thee here on the open street, and kiss thee till thou promise what I want. I shall die of laughing,” she continued; “by this familiarity the good people here must take me for thy wife of four weeks’ standing; and husbands, who witness this touching scene, will commend me to their wives as a pattern of childlike simple tenderness.”
Some persons were just then going by; she caressed him in the most graceful way; and he, to avoid giving scandal, was constrained to play the part of the patient husband. Then she made faces at the people, when their backs were turned; and, in the wildest humor, continued to commit all sorts of improprieties, till at last he was obliged to promise that he would not go that day, or the morrow, or the next day.
“You are a true clod!” said she, quitting him; “and I am but a fool to spend so much kindness on you.” She arose with some vexation, and walked a few steps, then turned round laughing, and cried: “I believe it is just that, after all, that makes me so crazy about thee. I will but go and seek my knitting-needles and my stocking, that I may have something to do. Stay here, and let me find the stone man still upon the stone bench when I come back.”
She cast a sparkling glance on him, and went into the house. He had no call to follow her; on the contrary, her conduct had excited fresh aversion in him: yet he rose from the bench to go after her, not well knowing why.
He was just entering the door, when Melina passed by, and spoke to him in a respectful tone, asking his pardon for the somewhat too harsh expressions he had used in their late discussion. “You will not take it ill of me,” continued he, “if I appear perhaps too fretful in my present circumstances. The charge of providing for a wife, perhaps soon for a child, forbids me from day to day to live at peace, or spend my time, as you may do, in the enjoyment of pleasant feelings. Consider, I pray you; and, if possible, do put me in possession of that stage-machinery that is lying here. I shall not be your debtor long, and I shall be obliged to you while I live.”
Our friend, unwilling to be kept upon the threshold, over which an irresistible impulse was drawing him at that moment to Philina, answered, with an absent mind, eager to be gone, and surprised into a transient feeling of good-will: “If I can make you happy and contented by doing this, I will hesitate no longer. Go you and put everything to rights. I shall be prepared this evening, or to-morrow morning, to pay the money.” He then gave his hand to Melina in confirmation of his promise, and was very glad to see him hastily proceed along the street; but, alas, his entrance, which he now thought sure, was a second time prohibited, and more disagreeably than at first.
A young man, with a bundle on his back, came walking fast along the street, and advanced to Wilhelm, who at once recognized him for Friedrich. “Here I am again!” cried he, looking with his large blue eyes joyfully up and down, over all the windows of the house. “Where is Mamsell? Devil take me, if I can stroll about the world any longer without seeing her!”
The landlord, joining them at this instant, replied that she was above. Friedrich with a few bounds was up-stairs, and Wilhelm continued standing as if rooted to the threshold. At the first instant he was tempted to pluck the younker back, and drag him down by the hair; then all at once the spasm of a sharp jealousy stopped the current of his spirits and ideas; and, as he gradually recovered from this stupefaction, there came over him a splenetic fit of restlessness, a general discomfort, such as he had never felt in his life before.
He went up to his room, and found Mignon busy writing. For some time the creature had been laboring with great diligence in writing everything she knew by heart, giving always to her master and friend the papers to correct. She was indefatigable, and of good comprehension; but still her letters were irregular, and her lines crooked. Here too the body seemed to contradict the mind. In his usual moods Wilhelm took no small pleasure in the child’s attention; but at the present moment he regarded little what she showed him,—a piece of neglect which she felt the more acutely, as on this occasion she conceived her work had been accomplished with peculiar success.
Wilhelm’s unrest drove him up and down the passages of the house, and finally again to the street-door. A rider was just prancing towards it, a man of good appearance, of middle age, and a brisk, contented look. The landlord ran to meet him, holding out his hand as to an old acquaintance. “Ay, Herr Stallmeister,” cried he, “have we the pleasure to see you again?”
“I am just going to bait with you,” replied the stranger, “and then along to the Estate, to get matters put in order as soon as possible. The Count is coming over to-morrow with his lady; they mean to stay a while to entertain the Prince von — in their best style: he intends to fix his headquarters in this neighborhood for some time.”
“It is pity,” said the landlord, “that you cannot stop with us: we have good company in the house.” The hostler came running out, and took the horse from the Stallmeister, who continued talking in the door with the landlord, and now and then giving a look at Wilhelm.
Our friend, observing that he formed the topic of their conversation, went away, and walked up and down the streets.
In the restless vexation of his present humor, it came into his head to go and see the old harper, hoping by his music to scare away the evil spirits that tormented him. On asking for the man, he was directed to a mean public-house in a remote corner of the little town; and, having mounted up-stairs there to the very garret, his ear caught the fine twanging of the harp coming from a little room before him. They were heart-moving, mournful tones, accompanied by a sad and dreary singing. Wilhelm glided to the door; and, as the good old man was performing a sort of voluntary, the few stanzas of which, sometimes chanted, sometimes in recitative, were repeated more than once, our friend succeeded, after listening for a while, in gathering nearly this:
The heart-sick plaintive sound of this lament pierced deep into the soul of the hearer. It seemed to him as if the old man were often stopped from proceeding by his tears; his harp would alone be heard for a time, till his voice again joined it in low broken tones. Wilhelm stood by the door; he was much moved; the mourning of this stranger had again opened the avenues of his heart; he could not resist the claim of sympathy, or restrain the tears which this woe-begone complaint at last called forth. All the pains that pressed upon his soul seemed now at once to loosen from their hold; he abandoned himself without reserve to the feelings of the moment. Pushing up the door, he stood before the harper. The old man was sitting on a mean bed, the only seat, or article of furniture which his miserable room afforded.
“What feelings hast thou not awakened in me, good old man!” exclaimed he. “All that was lying frozen at my heart thou hast melted and put in motion. Let me not disturb thee; but continue, in solacing thy own sorrows, to confer happiness upon a friend.” The harper was about to rise and say something; but Wilhelm hindered him, for he had noticed in the morning that the old man did not like to speak. He sat down by him on the straw bed.
The old man wiped his eyes, and asked, with a friendly smile, “How came you hither? I meant to wait upon you in the evening again.”
“We are more quiet here,” said Wilhelm. “Sing to me what thou pleasest, what accords with thy own mood of mind, only proceed as if I were not by. It seems to me that to-day thou canst not fail to suit me. I think thee very happy that, in solitude, thou canst employ and entertain thyself so pleasantly; that, being everywhere a stranger, thou findest in thy own heart the most agreeable society.”
The old man looked upon his strings, and, after touching them softly by way of prelude, he commenced and sang:
We might describe with great prolixity, and yet fail to express the charms of the singular conversation, which Wilhelm carried on with this wayfaring stranger. To every observation which our friend addressed to him, the old man, with the nicest accordance, answered in some melody, which awakened all the cognate emotions, and opened a wide field to the imagination.
Whoever has happened to assist at a meeting of certain devout people, who conceive that, in a state of separation from the Church, they can edify each other in a purer, more affecting, and more spiritual manner, may form to himself some conception of the present scene. He will recollect how the leader of the meeting would append to his words some verse of a song, that raised the soul till, as he wished, she took wing; how another of the flock would ere long subjoin, in a different tune, some verse of a different song; and to this again a third would link some verse of a third song; by which means the kindred ideas of the songs to which the verses belonged were indeed suggested, yet each passage by its new combination became new and individualized, as if it had been first composed that moment; and thus, from a well-known circle of ideas, from well-known songs and sayings, there was formed, for that particular society in that particular time, an original whole, by means of which their minds were animated, strengthened and refreshed. So likewise did the old man edify his guest: by known and unknown songs and passages, he brought feelings near and distant, emotions sleeping and awake, pleasant and painful, into a circulation, from which, in Wilhelm’s actual state the best effects might be anticipated.
Accordingly, in walking back, he began to think with greater earnestness than ever on his present situation: he had reached home with the firm purpose of altering it, when the landlord disclosed to him, by way of secret, that Mademoiselle Philina had made a conquest of the Count’s Stallmeister; who, after executing his commission at his master’s estate, had returned in the greatest haste, and was even now partaking of a good supper with her up in her chamber.
At this very moment Melina came in with a notary: they went into Wilhelm’s chamber together, where the latter, though with some hesitation, made his promise good; gave a draught of three hundred crowns to Melina, who, handing it to the lawyer, received in return a note acknowledging the sale of the whole theatrical apparatus, and engaging to deliver it next morning.
Scarcely had they parted when Wilhelm heard a cry of horror rising from some quarter of the house. He caught the sound of a young voice, uttering menacing and furious tones, which were ever and anon choked by immoderate weeping and howling. He observed this frantic noise move hastily from above; go past his door, and down to the lower part of the house.
Curiosity enticing our friend to follow it, he found Friedrich in a species of delirium. The boy was weeping, grinding his teeth, stamping with his feet, threatening with clenched fists; he appeared beside himself from fury and vexation. Mignon was standing opposite him, looking on with astonishment. The landlord, in some degree, explained this phenomenon.
The boy, he said, being well received at his return by Philina, seemed quite merry and contented; he had kept singing and jumping about till the time when Philina grew acquainted with the Stallmeister. Then, however, this half-grown younker had begun to show his indignation, to slam the doors, and run up and down in the highest dudgeon. Philina had ordered him to wait at table that evening; upon which he had grown still sulkier and more indignant; till at last, carrying up a plate with a ragout, instead of setting it upon the table, he had thrown the whole between Mademoiselle and her guest, who were sitting moderately close together at the time; and the Stallmeister, after two or three hearty cuffs, had then kicked him out of the room. He, the landlord, had himself helped to clean both of them, and certainly their clothes had suffered much.
On hearing of the good effect of his revenge, the boy began to laugh aloud, whilst the tears were still running down his cheeks. He heartily rejoiced for a time, till the disgrace which he had suffered from the stronger party once more came into his head, and he began afresh to howl and threaten.
Wilhelm stood meditating, and ashamed at this spectacle. It reflected back to him his own feelings, in coarser and exaggerated features: he too was inflamed with a fierce jealousy; and, had not decency restrained him, he would willingly have satisfied his wild humor; with malicious spleen, would have abused the object of his passion, and called out his rival: he could have crushed in pieces all the people round him; they seemed as if standing there but to vex him.
Laertes also had come in and heard the story; he roguishly spurred on the irritated boy, who was now asserting with oaths that he would make the Stallmeister give him satisfaction; that he had never yet let any injury abide with him; that should the man refuse there were other ways of taking vengeance.
This was the very business for Laertes. He went up-stairs, with a solemn countenance, to call out the Stallmeister in the boy’s name.
“This is a pleasant thing,” said the Stallmeister: “such a joke as this I had scarcely promised myself to-night.” They went down, and Philina followed them. “My son,” said the Stallmeister to Friedrich, “thou art a brave lad, and I do not hesitate to fight thee. Only as our years and strength are unequal, and the attempt a little dangerous on that account, I propose a pair of foils in preference to other weapons. We can rub the buttons of them with a piece of chalk; and whoever marks upon the other’s coat the first or the most thrusts, shall be held the victor, and be treated by the other with the best wine that can be had in town.”
Laertes decided that the proposition might be listened to: Friedrich obeyed him as his tutor. The foils were produced; Philina took a seat, went on with her knitting, and looked at the contending parties with the greatest peace of mind.
The Stallmeister, who could fence very prettily, was complaisant enough to spare his adversary, and to let a few chalk-scores be marked upon his coat; after which the two embraced, and wine was ordered. The Stallmeister took the liberty of asking Friedrich’s parentage and history; and Friedrich told him a long story, which had often been repeated already, and which, on some other opportunity, we purpose communicating to our readers.
To Wilhelm, in the meantime, this contest completed the representation of his own state of mind. He could not but perceive that he would willingly have taken up a foil against the Stallmeister; a sword still more willingly, though evidently much his inferior in the science of defence. Yet he deigned not to cast one look on Philina; he was on his guard against any word or movement that could possibly betray his feelings; and, after having once or twice done justice to the health of the duellists, he hastened to his own room, where a thousand painful thoughts came pressing round him.
He called to memory the time when his spirit, rich in hope, and full of boundless aims, was raised aloft, and encircled with the liveliest enjoyments of every kind as with its proper element. He now clearly saw, that of late he had fallen into a broken wandering path, where, if he tasted, it was but in drops what he once quaffed in unrestricted measure. But he could not clearly see what insatiable want it was that nature had made the law of his being; and how this want had been only set on edge, half satisfied, and misdirected by the circumstances of his life.
It will not surprise us, therefore, that, in considering his situation, and laboring to extricate himself, he fell into the greatest perplexity. It was not enough, that, by his friendship for Laertes, his attachment to Philina, his concern for Mignon, he had been detained longer than was proper in a place and a society where he could cherish his darling inclination, content his wishes as it were by stealth, and without proposing any object again pursue his early dreams. These ties he believed himself possessed of force enough to break asunder: had there been nothing more to hold him, he could have gone at once. But, only a few moments ago, he had entered into money-transactions with Melina; he had seen that mysterious old man, the enigma of whose history he longed with unspeakable desire to clear. Yet of this too, after much balancing of reasons, he at length determined, or thought he had determined, that it should not keep him back. “I must go,” he exclaimed; “I will go.” He threw himself into a chair; he felt greatly moved. Mignon came in, and asked, Whether she might help to undress him? Her manner was still and shy; it had grieved her to the quick to be so abruptly dismissed by him before.
Nothing is more touching than the first disclosure of a love which has been nursed in silence, of a faith grown strong in secret, and which at last comes forth in the hour of need, and reveals itself to him who formerly has reckoned it of small account. The bud, which had been closed so long and firmly, was now ripe to burst its swathings, and Wilhelm’s heart could never have been readier to welcome the impressions of affection.
She stood before him, and noticed his disquietude. “Master!” she cried, “if thou art unhappy, what will become of Mignon?” “Dear little creature,” said he, taking her hands, “thou too art part of my anxieties. I must go hence.” She looked at his eyes, glistening with restrained tears; and knelt down with vehemence before him. He kept her hands; she laid her head upon his knees, and remained quite still. He played with her hair, patted her, and spoke kindly to her. She continued motionless for a considerable time. At last he felt a sort of palpitating movement in her, which began very softly, and then by degrees with increasing violence diffused itself over all her frame. “What ails thee, Mignon?” cried he; “what ails thee?” She raised her little head, looked at him, and all at once laid her hand upon her heart, with the countenance of one repressing the utterance of pain. He raised her up, and she fell upon his breast; he pressed her towards him, and kissed her. She replied not by any pressure of the hand, by any motion whatever. She held firmly against her heart; and all at once gave a cry, which was accompanied by spasmodic movements of the body. She started up, and immediately fell down before him, as if broken in every joint. It was an excruciating moment! “My child!” cried he, raising her up, and clasping her fast; “my child, what ails thee?” The palpitations continued, spreading from the heart over all the lax and powerless limbs; she was merely hanging in his arms. All at once she again became quite stiff, like one enduring the sharpest corporeal agony; and soon with a new vehemence all her frame once more became alive; and she threw herself about his neck, like a bent spring closing; while in her soul, as it were, a strong rent took place, and at the same moment a stream of tears flowed from her shut eyes into his bosom. He held her fast. She wept, and no tongue can express the force of these tears. Her long hair had loosened, and was hanging down before her; it seemed as if her whole being was melting incessantly into a brook of tears. Her rigid limbs were again become relaxed; her inmost soul was pouring itself forth; in the wild confusion of the moment, Wilhelm was afraid she would dissolve in his arms, and leave nothing there for him to grasp. He held her closer and closer. “My child!” cried he, “my child! Thou art indeed mine, if that word can comfort thee. Thou art mine! I will keep thee, I will never forsake thee!” Her tears continued flowing. At last she raised herself; a faint gladness shone upon her face. “My father!” cried she, “thou wilt not forsake me? Wilt be my father? I am thy child!”
Softly, at this moment, the harp began to sound before the door; the old man brought his most affecting songs as an evening offering to our friend, who, holding his child ever closer in his arms, enjoyed the most pure and indescribable felicity.
[* ]Anempfinderin (feeler-by, feeler-according-to) is the new untranslatable word poorly paraphrased so. A new German word, first used here, the like of which might be useful in all languages, for it designates a class of persons extant in all countries.—Ed.
[* ]Der Schafer putzte sich zum Tanz; a song of Goethe’s.—Ed.