Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK IV. - Goethe's Works, vol. 4 (Recreations of the German Emigrants, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship)
Return to Title Page for Goethe’s Works, vol. 4 (Recreations of the German Emigrants, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
BOOK IV. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Laertes was standing at the window in a thoughtful mood, resting on his arm and looking out into the fields. Philina came gliding towards him across the large hall; she leaned upon him and began to mock him for his serious looks.
“Do not laugh,” replied he; “it is frightful to think how time goes on, how all things change and have an end. See here! A little while ago there was a stately camp: how pleasantly the tents looked; what restless life and motion was within them; how carefully they watched the whole enclosure! And behold, it is all vanished in a day! For a short while, that trampled straw, those holes which the cooks have dug, will show a trace of what was here; and soon the whole will be ploughed and reaped as formerly, and the presence of so many thousand gallant fellows in this quarter will but glimmer in the memories of one or two old men.”
Philina began to sing, and dragged forth her friend to dance with her in the hall. “Since Time is not a person we can overtake when he is past,” cried she, “let us honor him with mirth and cheerfulness of heart while he is passing.”
They had scarcely made a step or two, when Frau Melina came walking through the hall. Philina was wicked enough to invite her to join them in the dance, and thus to bring her in mind of the shape to which her pregnancy had reduced her.
“That I might nevermore see a woman in an interesting situation!” said Philina, when her back was turned.
“Yet she feels an interest in it,” said Laertes.
“But she manages so shockingly. Didst thou notice that wabbling fold of her shortened petticoat, which always travels out before her when she moves? She has not the smallest knack or skill to trim herself a little and conceal her state.”
“Let her be,” said Laertes; “time will soon come to her aid.”
“It were prettier, however,” cried Philina, “if we could shake children from the trees.”
The baron entered, and spoke some kind words to them, adding a few presents, in the name of the count and the countess, who had left the place very early in the morning. He then went to Wilhelm, who was busy in the side chamber with Mignon. She had been extremely affectionate and taking; had asked minutely about Wilhelm’s parents, brothers, sisters and relations; and so brought to his mind the duty which he owed his people, to send them some tidings of himself.
With the farewell compliments of the family, the baron delivered him an assurance from the count, that his lordship had been exceedingly obliged by his acting, his poetical labors and his theatrical exertions. For proof of this statement the baron then drew forth a purse, through whose beautiful texture the bright glance of new gold coin was sparkling out. Wilhelm drew back, refusing to accept of it.
“Look upon this gift,” said the baron, “as a compensation for your time, as an acknowledgment of your trouble, not as the reward of your talents. If genius procures us a good name and good-will from men, it is fair likewise that, by our diligence and efforts, we should earn the means to satisfy our wants; since, after all, we are not wholly spirit. Had we been in town, where everything is to be got, we should have changed this little sum into a watch, a ring, or something of that sort; but as it is, I must place the magic rod in your own hands; procure a trinket with it, such as may please you best and be of greatest use, and keep it for our sakes. At the same time, you must not forget to hold the purse in honor. It was knit by the fingers of our ladies; they meant that the cover should give to its contents the most pleasing form.”
“Forgive my embarrassment,” said Wilhelm, “and my doubts about accepting this present. It as it were annihilates the little I have done, and hinders the free play of happy recollection. Money is a fine thing, when any matter is to be completely settled and abolished; I feel unwilling to be so entirely abolished from the recollection of your house.”
“That is not the case,” replied the baron; “but, feeling so tenderly yourself, you could not wish that the count should be obliged to consider himself wholly your debtor; especially when I assure you that his lordship’s highest ambition has always consisted in being punctual and just. He is not uninformed of the labor you have undergone, or of the zeal with which you have devoted all your time to execute his views; nay, he is aware that, to quicken certain operations, you have even expended money of your own. With what face shall I appear before him, then, if I cannot say that his acknowledgment has given you satisfaction?”
“If I thought only of myself,” said Wilhelm; “if I might follow merely the dictates of my own feelings, I should certainly, in spite of all these reasons, steadfastly refuse this gift, generous and honorable as it is; but I will not deny, that at the very moment when it brings me into one perplexity, it frees me from another, into which I have lately fallen with regard to my relations, and which has in secret caused me much uneasiness. My management, not only of the time, but also of the money, for which I have to give account, has not been the best; and now by the kindness of his lordship, I shall be enabled, with confidence, to give my people news of the good fortune to which this curious bypath has led me. I therefore sacrifice those feelings of delicacy, which like a tender conscience admonish us on such occasions, to a higher duty; and, that I may appear courageously before my father, I must consent to stand ashamed before you.”
“It is singular,” replied the baron, “to see what a world of hesitation people feel about accepting money from their friends and patrons, though ready to receive any other gift with joy and thankfulness. Human nature manifests some other such peculiarities, by which many scruples of a similar kind are produced and carefully cherished.”
“Is it not the same with all points of honor?” said our friend.
“It is so,” replied the baron; “and with several other prejudices. We must not root them out, lest, in doing so, we tear up noble plants along with them. Yet I am always glad when I meet with men that feel superior to such objections when the case requires it; and I think with pleasure on the story of that ingenious poet, which I dare say you have heard of. He had written several plays for the court-theatre, which were honored by the warmest approbation of the monarch. ‘I must give him a distinguished recompense,’ said the generous prince: ‘ask him whether he would choose to have some jewel given him; or if he would disdain to accept a sum of money.’ In his humorous way the poet answered the inquiring courtier: ‘I am thankful, with all my heart, for these gracious purposes; and, as the emperor is daily taking money from us, I see not wherefore I should feel ashamed of taking some from him.’ ”
Scarcely had the baron left the room when Wilhelm eagerly began to count the cash, which had come to him so unexpectedly, and, as he thought, so undeservedly. It seemed as if the worth and dignity of gold, not usually felt till later years, had now, by anticipation, twinkled in his eyes for the first time, as the fine glancing coins rolled out from the beautiful purse. He reckoned up, and found that, particularly as Melina had engaged immediately to pay the loan, he had now as much or more on the right side of his account, as on that day when Philina first asked him for the nosegay. With a little secret satisfaction he looked upon his talents; with a little pride, upon the fortune which had led him and attended him. He now seized the pen, with an assured mind, to write a letter, which might free his family from their anxieties, and set his late proceedings in the most favorable light. He abstained from any special narrative; and only by significant and mysterious hints left them room for guessing at what had befallen him. The good condition of his cash-book, the advantage he had earned by his talents, the favor of the great and of the fair, acquaintance with a wider circle, the improvement of his bodily and mental gifts, his hopes from the future, altogether formed such a fair cloud-picture that Fata Morgana itself could scarcely have thrown together a stranger or a better.
In this happy exaltation, the letter being folded up, he went on to maintain a conversation with himself, recapitulating what he had been writing, and pointing out for himself an active and glorious future. The example of so many gallant warriors had fired him; the poetry of Shakspeare had opened a new world to him; from the lips of the beautiful countess he had inhaled an inexpressible inspiration. All this could not and would not be without effect.
The Stallmeister came to inquire whether they were ready with their packing. Alas! with the single exception of Melina, no one of them had thought of it. Now, however, they were speedily to be in motion. The count had engaged to have the whole party conveyed forward a few days’ journey on their way: the horses were now in readiness, and could not long be wanted. Wilhelm asked for his trunk: Frau Melina had taken it to put her own things in. He asked for money; Herr Melina had stowed it all far down at the bottom of his box. Philina said she had still some room in hers; she took Wilhelm’s clothes and bade Mignon bring the rest. Wilhelm, not without reluctance, was obliged to let it be so.
While they were loading and getting all things ready, Melina said: “I am sorry we should travel like mountebanks and rope-dancers; I could wish that Mignon would put on girl’s clothes, and that the harper would let his beard be shorn.” Mignon clung firmly to Wilhelm, and cried, with great vivacity: “I am a boy; I will be no girl!” The old man held his peace; and Philina, on this suggestion, made some merry observations on the singularity of their protector the count. “If the harper should cut off his beard,” said she, “let him sew it carefully upon a ribbon, and keep it by him, that he may put it on again whenever his lordship the count falls in with him in any quarter of the world. It was this beard alone that procured him the favor of his lordship.”
On being pressed to give an explanation of this singular speech, Philina said to them: “The count thinks it contributes very much to the completeness of theatrical illusion, if the actor continues to play his part, and to sustain his character, even in common life. It was for this reason that he showed such favor to the pedant; and he judged it, in like manner, very fitting that the harper not only wore his false beard at nights on the stage, but also constantly by day; and he used to be delighted at the natural appearance of the mask.”
While the rest were laughing at this error, and the other strange opinions of the count, the harper led our friend aside, took leave of him, and begged with tears that he would even now let him go. Wilhelm spoke to him, declaring that he would protect him against all the world, that no one should touch a hair of his head, much less send him off against his will.
The old man seemed affected deeply; an unwonted fire was glowing in his eyes. “It is not that,” cried he, “which drives me away. I have long been reproaching myself in secret for staying with you. I ought to linger nowhere; for misfortune flies to overtake me, and injures all that are connected with me. Dread everything, unless you dismiss me; but ask me no questions; I belong not to myself; I cannot stay.”
“To whom dost thou belong? Who can exert such a power on thee?”
“Leave me my horrid secret and let me go! The vengeance which pursues me is not of the earthly judge. I belong to an inexorable Destiny; I cannot stay, and I dare not.”
“In the situation thou art now in, I certainly will not let thee go.”
“It were high treason against you, my benefactor, if I should delay. I am secure while with you, but you are in peril. You know not whom you keep beside you. I am guilty, but more wretched than guilty. My presence scares happiness away; and good deeds grow powerless when I become concerned in them. Fugitive, unresting I should be, that my evil genius might not seize me, which pursues but at a distance, and only appears when I have found a place, and am laying down my head to seek repose. More grateful I cannot show myself than by forsaking you.”
“Strange man! Thou canst neither take away the confidence I place in thee, nor the hope I feel to see thee happy. I wish not to penetrate the secrets of thy superstition; but if thou livest in belief of wonderful forebodings and entanglements of Fate, then, to cheer and hearten thee, I say, unite thyself to my good fortune, and let us see which genius is the stronger, thy dark or my bright one.”
Wilhelm seized this opportunity of suggesting to him many other comfortable things; for of late our friend had begun to imagine that this singular attendant of his must be a man who, by chance or destiny, had been led into some weighty crime, the remembrance of which he was ever bearing on his conscience. A few days ago Wilhelm, listening to his singing, had observed attentively the following lines:
But, let the old man urge what arguments he pleased, our friend had constantly a stronger argument at hand. He turned everything on its fairest side; spoke so bravely, heartily and cheerily, that even the old man seemed again to gather spirits, and to throw aside his whims.
Melina was in hopes to get established with his company in a small but thriving town at some distance. They had already reached the place where the count’s horses were to turn; and now they looked about for other carriages and cattle to transport them onward. Melina had engaged to provide them a conveyance; he showed himself but niggardly, according to his custom. Wilhelm, on the contrary, had the shining ducats of the countess in his pocket, and thought he had the fullest right to spend them merrily; forgetting very soon how ostentatiously he had produced them in the stately balance transmitted to his father.
His friend Shakspeare, whom with the greatest joy he acknowledged as his godfather, and rejoiced the more that his name was Wilhelm, had introduced him to a prince, who frolicked for a time among mean, nay, vicious companions, and who, notwithstanding his nobleness of nature, found pleasure in the rudeness, indecency and coarse intemperance of these altogether sensual knaves. This ideal likeness, which he figured as the type and the excuse of his own actual condition, was most welcome to our friend; and the process of self-deception, to which already he displayed an almost invincible tendency, was thereby very much facilitated.
He now began to think about his dress. It struck him that a waistcoat, over which, in case of need, one could throw a little short mantle, was a very fit thing for a traveller. Long knit pantaloons, and a pair of lacing-boots, seemed the true garb of a pedestrian. He next procured a fine silk sash, which he tied about him, under the pretence at first of securing warmth for his person. On the other hand, he freed his neck from the tyranny of stocks; and got a few stripes of muslin sewed upon his shirt; making the pieces of considerable breadth, so that they presented the complete appearance of an ancient ruff. The beautiful silk neckerchief, the memorial of Mariana, which had once been saved from burning, now lay slackly tied beneath this muslin collar. A round hat, with a parti-colored band, and a large feather, perfected the mask.
The women all asserted that this garb became him very well. Philina in particular appeared enchanted with it. She solicited his hair for herself; beautiful locks, which, the closer to approach the natural ideal, he had unmercifully clipped. By so doing, she recommended herself not amiss to his favor; and our friend, who, by his openhandedness, had acquired the right of treating his companions somewhat in Prince Harry’s manner, ere long fell into the humor of himself contriving a few wild tricks, and presiding in the execution of them. The people fenced, they danced, they devised all kinds of sports; and in their gayety of heart partook of what tolerable wine they could fall in with, in copious proportions; while, amid the disorder of this tumultuous life, Philina lay in wait for the coy hero; over whom let his better Genius keep watch!
One chief diversion, which yielded the company a frequent and very pleasing entertainment, consisted in producing an extempore play, in which their late benefactors and patrons were mimicked and turned into ridicule. Some of our actors had seized very neatly whatever was peculiar in the outward manner of several distinguished people in the count’s establishment; their imitation of these was received by the rest of the party with the greatest approbation; and when Philina produced, from the secret archives of her experience, certain peculiar declarations of love that had been made to her, the audience were like to die with laughing and malicious joy.
Wilhelm censured their ingratitude; but they told him in reply that these gentry well deserved what they were getting, their general conduct towards such deserving people as our friends believed themselves, not having been by any means the best imaginable. The little consideration, the neglect they had experienced, were now described with many aggravations. The jesting, bantering and mimicry proceeded as before; our party were growing bitterer and more unjust every minute.
“I wish,” observed Wilhelm, “there were no envy or selfishness lurking under what you say, but that you would regard those persons and their station in the proper point of view. It is a peculiar thing to be placed, by one’s very birth, in an elevated situation in society. The man for whom inherited wealth has secured a perfect freedom of existence; who finds himself from his youth upwards abundantly encompassed with all the secondary essentials, so to speak, of human life,—will generally become accustomed to consider these qualifications as the first and greatest of all; while the worth of that mode of human life, which nature from her own stores equips and furnishes, will strike him much more faintly. The behavior of noblemen to their inferiors, and likewise to each other, is regulated by external preferences: they give each credit for his title, his rank, his clothes and equipage, but his individual merits come not into play.”
This speech was honored with the company’s unbounded applause. They declared it to be shameful, that men of merit should constantly be pushed into the background; and that in the great world there should not be a trace of natural and hearty intercourse. On this latter point particularly they overshot all bounds.
“Blame them not for it,” said Wilhelm; “rather pity them! They have seldom an exalted feeling of that happiness which we admit to be the highest that can flow from the inward abundance of nature. Only to us poor creatures is it granted to enjoy the happiness of friendship in its richest fulness. Those dear to us we cannot elevate by our countenance, or advance by our favor, or make happy by our presents. We have nothing but ourselves. This whole self we must give away; and, if it is to be of any value, we must make our friend secure of it forever. What an enjoyment, what a happiness, for giver and receiver! With what blessedness does truth of affection invest our situation! It gives to the transitory life of man a heavenly certainty; it forms the crown and capital of all that we possess.”
While he spoke thus, Mignon had come near him; she threw her little arms round him, and stood with her cheek resting on his breast. He laid his hand on the child’s head, and proceeded: “It is easy for a great man to win our minds to him; easy to make our hearts his own. A mild and pleasant manner, a manner only not inhuman, will of itself do wonders: and how many means does he possess of holding fast the affections he has once conquered! To us, all this occurs less frequently, to us it is all more difficult; and we naturally therefore put a greater value on whatever, in the way of mutual kindness, we acquire and accomplish. What touching examples of faithful servants giving themselves up to danger and death for their masters! How finely has Shakspeare painted out such things to us! Fidelity, in this case, is the effort of a noble soul struggling to become equal with one exalted above it. By steadfast attachment and love, the servant is made equal to his lord, who but for this is justified in looking on him as a hired slave. Yes, these virtues belong to the lower class of men alone; that class cannot do without them, and with them it has a beauty of its own. Whoever is enabled to requite all favors easily, will likewise easily be tempted to raise himself above the habit of acknowledgment. Nay, in this sense, I am of opinion, it might almost be maintained, that a great man may possess friends, but cannot be one.”
Mignon pressed still closer towards him.
“It may be so,” replied one of the party: “we do not need their friendship, and do not ask it. But it were well if they understood a little more about the arts which they affect to patronize. When we played in the best style, there was none to mind us: it was all sheer partiality. Any one they chose to favor pleased; and they did not choose to favor those that merited to please. It was intolerable to observe how often silliness and mere stupidity attracted notice and applause.”
“When I abate from this,” said Wilhelm, “what seemed to spring from irony and malice, I think we may nearly say, that one fares in art as he does in love. And after all, how shall a fashionable man of the world, with his dissipated habits, attain that intimate presence with a special object, which an artist must long continue in, if he would produce anything approaching to perfection? a state of feeling without which it is impossible for any one to take such an interest, as the artist hopes and wishes, in his work.
“Believe me, my friends, it is with talents as with virtue; one must love them for their own sake, or entirely renounce them. And neither of them is acknowledged and rewarded, except when their possessor can practise them unseen, like a dangerous secret.”
“Meanwhile, until some proper judge discovers us, we may all die of hunger,” cried a fellow in the corner.
“Not quite inevitably,” answered Wilhelm. “I have observed that so long as one stirs and lives, one always finds food and raiment, though they be not of the richest sort. And why should we repine? Were we not, altogether unexpectedly, and when our prospects were the very worst, taken kindly by the hand, and substantially entertained? And now, when we are in want of nothing, does it once occur to us to attempt anything for our improvement; or to strive, though never so faintly, towards advancement in our art? We are busied about indifferent matters; and, like school-boys, we are casting all aside that might bring our lesson to our thoughts.”
“In sad truth,” said Philina, “it is even so! Let us choose a play; we will go through it on the spot. Each of us must do his best, as if he stood before the largest audience.”
They did not long deliberate; a play was fixed on. It was one of those which at that time were meeting great applause in Germany, and have now passed away. Some of the party whistled a symphony; each speedily bethought him of his part; they commenced; and played all the piece with the greatest attention, and really well beyond expectation. Mutual applauses circulated; our friends had seldom been so pleasantly diverted.
On finishing, they all felt exceedingly contented, partly on account of their time being spent so well, partly because each of them experienced some degree of satisfaction with his own performance. Wilhelm expressed himself copiously in their praise; the conversation grew cheerful and merry.
“You would see,” cried our friend, “what advances we should make, if we continued this sort of training, and ceased to confine our attention to mere learning by heart, rehearsing, and playing mechanically, as if it were a barren duty, or some handicraft employment. How different a character do our musical professors merit! What interest they take in their art; how correct are they in the practicings they undertake in common! What pains they are at in tuning their instruments; how exactly they observe time; how delicately they express the strength and the weakness of their tones! No one there thinks of gaining credit to himself by a loud accompaniment of the solo of another. Each tries to play in the spirit of the composer, each to express well whatever is committed to him, be it much or little.
“Should not we too go as strictly and as ingeniously to work, seeing we practise an art far more delicate than that of music; seeing we are called on to express the commonest and the strangest emotions of human nature, with elegance, and so as to delight? Can anything be more shocking than to slur over our rehearsal, and in our acting to depend on good luck, or the capricious chance of the moment? We ought to place our highest happiness and satisfaction in mutually desiring to gain each other’s approbation; we should even value the applauses of the public, only in so far as we have previously sanctioned them among ourselves. Why is the master of the band more secure about his music than the manager about his play? Because, in the orchestra, each individual would feel ashamed of his mistakes, which offend the outward ear; but how seldom have I found an actor disposed to acknowledge or feel ashamed of mistakes, pardonable or the contrary, by which the inward ear is so outrageously offended! I could wish, for my part, that our theatre were as narrow as the wire of a rope-dancer, that so no inept fellow might dare to venture on it; instead of being, as it is, a place where every one discovers in himself capacity enough to flourish and parade.”
The company gave this apostrophe a kind reception; each being convinced that the censure conveyed in it could not apply to him, after acting a little while ago so excellently with the rest. On the other hand, it was agreed that during this journey, and for the future, if they remained together, they would regularly proceed with their training in the manner just adopted. Only it was thought, that as this was a thing of good humor and free will, no formal manager must be allowed to have a hand in it. Taking it for an established fact, that among good men the republican form of government is the best, they declared that the post of manager should go round among them; he must be chosen by universal suffrage, and every time have a sort of little senate joined in authority along with him. So delighted did they feel with this idea, that they longed to put it instantly in practice.
“I have no objection,” said Melina, “if you incline making such an experiment while we are travelling; I shall willingly suspend my own directorship until we reach some settled place.” He was in hopes of saving cash by this arrangement, and of casting many small expenses on the shoulders of the little senate or of the interim manager. This fixed, they went very earnestly to counsel, how the form of the new commonwealth might best be adjusted.
“ ’Tis an itinerating kingdom,” said Laertes; “we shall at least have no quarrels about frontiers.”
They directly proceeded to the business, and elected Wilhelm as their first manager. The senate also was appointed, the women having seat and vote in it; laws were propounded, were rejected, were agreed to. In such playing the time passed on unnoticed; and as our friends had spent it pleasantly, they also conceived that they had really been effecting something useful; and by their new constitution had been opening a new prospect for the stage of their native country.
Seeing the company so favorably disposed, Wilhelm now hoped he might further have it in his power to converse with them on the poetic merit of the pieces which might come before them. “It is not enough,” said he next day, when they were all again assembled, “for the actor merely to glance over a dramatic work, to judge of it by his first impression, and thus, without investigation, to declare his satisfaction or dissatisfaction with it. Such things may be allowed in a spectator, whose purpose it is rather to be entertained and moved than formally to criticise. But the actor, on the other hand, should be prepared to give a reason for his praise or censure: and how shall he do this, if he have not taught himself to penetrate the sense, the views and feelings of his author? A common error is, to form a judgment of a drama from a single part in it; and to look upon this part itself in an isolated point of view, not in its connection with the whole. I have noticed this, within a few days, so clearly in my own conduct, that I will give you the account as an example, if you please to hear me patiently.
“You all know Shakspeare’s incomparable Hamlet: our public reading of it at the castle yielded every one of us the greatest satisfaction. On that occasion, we proposed to act the piece; and I, not knowing what I undertook, engaged to play the prince’s part. This I conceived that I was studying, while I began to get by heart the strongest passages, the soliloquies, and those scenes in which force of soul, vehemence and elevation of feeling have the freest scope; where the agitated heart is allowed to display itself with touching expressiveness.
“I further conceived that I was penetrating quite into the spirit of the character, while I endeavored as it were to take upon myself the load of deep melancholy under which my prototype was laboring, and in this humor to pursue him through the strange labyrinths of his caprices and his singularities. Thus learning, thus practising, I doubted not but I should by-and-by become one person with my hero.
“But the further I advanced the more difficult did it become for me to form any image of the whole, in its general bearings; till at last it seemed as if impossible. I next went through the entire piece without interruption: but here too I found much that I could not away with. At one time the characters, at another time the manner of displaying them, seemed inconsistent; and I almost despaired of finding any general tint, in which I might present my whole part with all its shadings and variations. In such devious paths I toiled and wandered long in vain; till at length a hope arose that I might reach my aim in quite a new way.
“I set about investigating every trace of Hamlet’s character, as it had shown itself before his father’s death: I endeavored to distinguish what in it was independent of this mournful event; independent of the terrible events that followed; and what most probably the young man would have been, had no such thing occurred.
“Soft, and from a noble stem, this royal flower had sprung up under the immediate influences of majesty: the idea of moral rectitude with that of princely elevation, the feeling of the good and dignified with the consciousness of high birth, had in him been unfolded simultaneously. He was a prince, by birth a prince; and he wished to reign only that good men might be good without obstruction. Pleasing in form, polished by nature, courteous from the heart, he was meant to be the pattern of youth and the joy of the world.
“Without any prominent passion, his love for Ophelia was a still presentiment of sweet wants. His zeal in knightly accomplishments was not entirely his own; it needed to be quickened and inflamed by praise bestowed on others for excelling in them. Pure in sentiment, he knew the honorable-minded, and could prize the rest which an upright spirit tastes on the bosom of a friend. To a certain degree, he had learned to discern and value the good and the beautiful in arts and sciences; the mean, the vulgar was offensive to him; and if hatred could take root in his tender soul, it was only so far as to make him properly despise the false and changeful insects of a court, and play with them in easy scorn. He was calm in his temper, artless in his conduct; neither pleased with idleness, nor too violently eager for employment. The routine of a university he seemed to continue when at court. He possessed more mirth of humor than of heart; he was a good companion, pliant, courteous, discreet, and able to forget and forgive an injury; yet never able to unite himself with those who overstepped the limits of the right, the good, and the becoming.
“When we read the piece again, you shall judge whether I am yet on the proper track. I hope at least to bring forward passages that shall support my opinion in its main points.”
This delineation was received with warm approval: the company imagined they foresaw that Hamlet’s manner of proceeding might now be very satisfactorily explained; they applauded this method of penetrating into the spirit of a writer. Each of them proposed to himself to take up some piece and study it on these principles, and so unfold the author’s meaning.
Our friends had to continue in the place for a day or two; and it was not long till sundry of them got engaged in adventures of a rather pleasant kind. Laertes in particular was challenged by a lady of the neighborhood, a person of some property; but he received her blandishments with extreme, nay, unhandsome coldness; and had in consequence to undergo a multitude of jibes from Philina. She took this opportunity of detailing to our friend the hapless love-story which had made the youth so bitter a foe to womankind. “Who can take it ill of him,” she cried, “that he hates a sex which has played him so foul, and given him to swallow, in one stoutly concentrated potion, all the miseries that man can fear from woman? Do but conceive it: within four and twenty hours he was lover, bridegroom, husband, cuckold, patient and widower! I wot not how you could use a man worse.”
Laertes hastened from the room half-vexed, half-laughing; and Philina in her sprighthest style began to relate the story: how Laertes, a young man of eighteen, on joining a company of actors, found in it a girl of fourteen on the point of departing with her father, who had quarrelled with the manager. How, on the instant, he had fallen mortally in love; had conjured the father by all possible considerations to remain, promising at length to marry the young woman. How, after a few pleasing hours of groomship, he had accordingly been wedded, and been happy as he ought; whereupon, next day, while he was occupied at the rehearsal, his wife, according to professional rule, had honored him with a pair of horns; and how as he, out of excessive tenderness, hastened home far too soon, had, alas, found a former lover in his place, he had struck into the affair with thoughtless indignation, had called out both father and lover, and sustained a grievous wound in the duel. How father and daughter had thereupon set off by night, leaving him behind to labor with a double hurt. How the leech he applied to was unhappily the worst in nature; and the poor fellow had got out of the adventure with blackened teeth and watering eyes. That he was greatly to be pitied, being otherwise the bravest young man on the face of the earth. “Especially,” said she, “it grieves me that the poor soul now hates women; for, hating women, how can one keep living?”
Melina interrupted them with news, that all things being now ready for the journey, they would set out to-morrow morning. He handed them a plan, arranging how they were to travel.
“If any good friend take me on his lap,” said Philina, “I shall be content, though we sit crammed together never so close and sorrily: ’tis all one to me.”
“It does not signify,” observed Laertes, who now entered.
“It is pitiful,” said Wilhelm, hastening away. By the aid of money he secured another very comfortable coach, though Melina had pretended that there were no more. A new distribution then took place; and our friends were rejoicing in the thought that they should now travel pleasantly, when intelligence arrived that a party of military volunteers had been seen upon the road, from whom little good could be expected.
In the town these tidings were received with great attention, though they were but variable and ambiguous. As the contending armies were at that time placed, it seemed impossible that any hostile corps could have advanced, or any friendly one hung arear, so far. Yet every man was eager to exhibit to our travellers the danger that awaited them as truly dangerous; every man was eager to suggest that some other route might be adopted.
By these means most of our friends had been seized with anxiety and fear; and when, according to the new republican constitution, the whole members of the state had been called together to take counsel on this extraordinary case, they were almost unanimously of opinion that it would be proper either to keep back the mischief by abiding where they were, or to evade it by choosing another road.
Wilhelm alone, not participating in the panic, regarded it as mean to abandon, for the sake of mere rumors, a plan which they had not entered on without much thought. He endeavored to put heart into them; his reasons were manly and convincing.
“It is but a rumor,” he observed; “and how many such arise in time of war! Well-informed people say that the occurrence is exceedingly improbable, nay, almost impossible. Shall we in so important a matter allow a vague report to determine our proceedings? The route pointed out to us by the count, and to which our passport was adapted, is the shortest and in the best condition. It leads us to the town, where you see acquaintances, friends before you, and may hope for a good reception. The other way will also bring us thither; but by what a circuit, and along what miserable roads! Have we any right to hope, that, in this late season of the year, we shall get on at all; and what time and money shall we squander in the meanwhile!” He added many more considerations, presenting the matter on so many advantageous sides, that their fear began to dissipate, and their courage to increase. He talked to them so much about the discipline of regular troops, he painted the marauders and wandering rabble so contemptuously, and represented the danger itself as so pleasant and inspiring, that the spirits of the party were altogether cheered.
Laertes from the first had been of his opinion; he now declared that he would not flinch or fail. Old Boisterous found a consenting phrase or two to utter, in his own vein; Philina laughed at them all; and Madam Melina, who, notwithstanding her advanced state of pregnancy, had lost nothing of her natural stout-heartedness, regarded the proposal as heroic. Herr Melina, moved by this harmonious feeling, hoping also to save somewhat by travelling the short road which had been first contemplated, did not withstand the general consent; and the project was agreed to with universal alacrity.
They next began to make some preparations for defence at all hazards. They bought large hangers, and slung them in well-quilted straps over their shoulders. Wilhelm, further, stuck a pair of pistols in his girdle. Laertes, independently of this occurrence, had a good gun. They all took the road in the highest glee.
On the second day of their journey the drivers, who knew the country well, proposed to take their noon’s rest in a certain woody spot of the hills; since the town was far off, and in good weather the hill road was generally preferred.
The day being beautiful, all easily agreed to the proposal. Wilhelm on foot went on before them through the hills, making every one that met him stare with astonishment at his singular figure. He hastened with quick and contented steps across the forest: Laertes walked whistling after him; none but the women continued to be dragged along in the carriages. Mignon too ran forward by his side, proud of the hanger, which, when the party were all arming, she would not go without. Around her hat she had bound the pearl necklace, one of Mariana’s relics, which Wilhelm still possessed. Friedrich, the fair-haired boy, carried Laertes’ gun. The harper had the most pacific look; his long cloak was tucked up within his girdle, to let him walk more freely; he leaned upon a knotty staff; his harp had been left behind him in the carriage.
Immediately on reaching the summit of the height, a task not without its difficulties, our party recognized the appointed spot, by the fine beech-trees which encircled and screened it. A spacious green, sloping softly in the middle of the forest, invited one to tarry; a trimly-bordered well offered the most grateful refreshment; and on the farther side, through chasms in the mountains, and over the tops of the woods, appeared a landscape distant, lovely, full of hope. Hamlets and mills were lying in the bottoms, villages upon the plain; and a new chain of mountains, visible in the distance, made the prospect still more significant of hope, for they entered only like a soft limitation.
The first comers took possession of the place; rested a while in the shade, lighted a fire, and so awaited, singing as they worked, the remainder of the party; who by degrees arrived, and with one accord saluted the place, the lovely weather, and the still lovelier scene.
If our friends had frequently enjoyed a good and merry hour together while within four walls, they were naturally much gayer here, where the freedom of the sky and the beauty of the place seemed as it were to purify the feelings of every one. All felt nearer to each other; all wished that they might pass their whole lives in so pleasant an abode. They envied hunters, charcoal-men and wood-cutters; people whom their calling constantly retains in such happy places: but, above all, they prized the delicious economy of a band of gypsies. They envied these wonderful companions, entitled to enjoy in blissful idleness all the adventurous charms of nature; they rejoiced at being in some degree like them.
Meanwhile the women had begun to boil potatoes; and to unwrap and get ready the victuals brought along with them. Some pots were standing by the fire. The party had placed themselves in groups, under the trees and bushes. Their singular apparel, their various weapons, gave them a foreign aspect. The horses were eating their provender at a side. Could one have concealed the coaches, the look of this little horde would have been romantic, even to complete illusion.
Wilhelm enjoyed a pleasure he had never felt before. He could now imagine his present company to be a wandering colony, and himself the leader of it. In this character he talked with those around him, and figured out the fantasy of the moment as poetically as he could. The feelings of the party rose in cheerfulness: they ate and drank and made merry; and repeatedly declared that they had never passed more pleasant moments.
Their contentment had not long gone on increasing, till activity awoke among the younger part of them. Wilhelm and Laertes seized their rapiers, and began to practise, on this occasion with theatrical intentions. They undertook to represent the duel in which Hamlet and his adversary find so tragical an end. Both were persuaded that, in this powerful scene, it was not enough merely to keep pushing awkwardly hither and thither, as it is generally exhibited in theatres: they were in hopes to show, by example, how, in presenting it, a worthy spectacle might also be afforded to the critic in the art of fencing. The rest made a circle round them. Both fought with skill and ardor. The interest of the spectators rose higher every pass.
But all at once, in the nearest bush, a shot went off; and immediately another; and the party flew asunder in terror. Next moment, armed men were to be seen pressing forward to the spot where the horses were eating their fodder, not far from the coaches that were packed with luggage.
A universal scream proceeded from the females: our heroes threw away their rapiers, seized their pistols, and ran towards the robbers; demanding, with violent threats, the meaning of such conduct.
This question being answered laconically, with a couple of musket-shots, Wilhelm fired his pistol at a crisp-headed knave, who had got upon the top of the coach, and was cutting the cords of the package. Rightly hit, this artist instantly came tumbling down: Laertes also had not missed. Both of them, encouraged by success, drew their side-arms; when a number of the plundering party rushed out upon them, with curses and loud bellowing, fired a few shots at them, and fronted their impetuosity with glittering sabres. Our young heroes made a bold resistance. They called upon their other comrades, and endeavored to excite them to a general resistance. But ere long Wilhelm lost the sight of day, and the consciousness of what was passing. Stupefied by a shot that wounded him between the breast and the left arm, by a stroke that split his hat in two, and almost penetrated to his brain, he sank down, and only by the narratives of others came afterwards to understand the luckless end of this adventure.
On again opening his eyes, he found himself in the strangest posture. The first thing that pierced the dimness, which yet swam before his vision, was Philina’s face bent down over his. He felt himself weak; and making a movement to rise he discovered that he was in Philina’s lap; into which, indeed, he again sank down. She was sitting on the sward. She had softly pressed towards her the head of the fallen young man; and made for him an easy couch, as far as in her power. Mignon was kneeling with dishevelled and bloody hair at his feet, which she embraced with many tears.
On noticing his bloody clothes, Wilhelm asked, in a broken voice, where he was, and what had happened to himself and the rest. Philina begged him to be quiet: the others, she said, were all in safety, and none but he and Laertes wounded. Further, she would tell him nothing; but earnestly entreated him to keep still, as his wounds had been but slightly and hastily bound. He stretched out his hand to Mignon, and inquired about the bloody locks of the child, who he supposed was also wounded.
For the sake of quietness Philina let him know that this true-hearted creature, seeing her friend wounded, and in the hurry of the instant being able to think of nothing which would stanch the blood, had taken her own hair that was flowing round her head, and tried to stop the wounds with it; but had soon been obliged to give up the vain attempt: that afterwards they had bound him with moss and dry mushrooms, Philina herself giving up her neckerchief for that purpose.
Wilhelm noticed that Philina was sitting with her back against her own trunk, which still looked firmly locked and quite uninjured. He inquired if the rest also had been so lucky as to save their goods? She answered with a shrug of the shoulders, and a look over the green, where broken chests, and coffers beaten into fragments, and knapsacks ripped up, and a multitude of little wares, lay scattered all round. No person now was to be seen upon the place: this strange group formed the only living object in the solitude.
Inquiring further, our friend learned more and more particulars. The rest of the men, it appeared, who at all events might still have made resistance, were struck with terror, and soon overpowered. Some fled, some looked with horror at the accident. The drivers, for the sake of their cattle, had held out more obstinately; but they too were at last thrown down and tied; after which, in a few minutes, everything was thoroughly ransacked, and the booty carried off. The hapless travellers, their fear of death being over, had begun to mourn their loss; and hastened with the greatest speed to the neighboring village, taking with them Laertes, whose wounds were slight, and carrying off but a very few fragments of their property. The harper having placed his damaged instrument against a tree, had proceeded in their company to the place, to seek a surgeon, and return with his utmost rapidity to help his benefactor, whom he had left apparently upon the brink of death.
Meanwhile our three adventurers continued yet a time in their strange position, no one returning to their aid. Evening was advancing; the darkness threatened to come on. Philina’s indifference was changing to anxiety; Mignon ran to and fro, her impatience increasing every moment; and at last, when their prayer was granted, and human creatures did approach, a new alarm fell upon them. They distinctly heard a troop of horses coming up the road, which they had lately travelled; they dreaded lest, a second time, some company of unbidden guests might be purposing to visit this scene of battle, and gather up the gleanings.
The more agreeable was their surprise when, after a few moments, a young lady issued from the thickets, riding on a gray courser and accompanied by an elderly gentleman and some cavaliers. Grooms, servants, and a troop of hussars closed up the rear.
Philina stared at this phenomenon, and was about to call and entreat the fair Amazon for help, when the latter, turning her astonished eyes on the group, instantly checked her horse, rode up to them, and halted. She inquired eagerly about the wounded man, whose posture in the lap of this light-minded Samaritan seemed to strike her as peculiarly strange.
“Is it your husband?” she inquired of Philina. “Only a good friend,” replied the other, with a tone that Wilhelm liked extremely ill. He had fixed his eyes upon the soft, elevated, calm, sympathizing features of the stranger: he thought he had never seen aught nobler or more lovely. Her shape he could not see: it was hid by a man’s white greatcoat, which she seemed to have borrowed from some of her attendants, to screen her from the chill evening air.
By this time the horsemen had come near. Some of them dismounted; the lady did so likewise. She asked, with humane sympathy, concerning every circumstance of the mishap which had befallen the travellers; but especially concerning the wounds of the poor youth who lay before her. Thereupon she turned quickly round, and went aside with the old gentleman to some carriages, which were slowly coming up the hill, and which at length stopped upon the scene of action.
The young lady having stood with her conductor a short time at the door of one of the coaches, and talked with the people in it, a man of a squat figure stepped out and came along with them to our wounded hero. By the little box which he held in his hand, and the leathern pouch with instruments in it, you soon recognized him for a surgeon. His manners were rude rather than attractive; but his hand was light and his help was welcome.
Having examined strictly, he declared that none of the wounds were dangerous. He would dress them, he said, on the spot; after which the patient might be carried to the nearest village.
The anxious attentions of the young lady seemed to augment. “Do but look,” she said, after going to and fro once or twice, and again bringing the old gentleman to the place; “look how they have treated him! And is it not on our account that he is suffering?” Wilhelm heard these words, but did not understand them. She went restlessly up and down; it seemed as if she could not tear herself away from the presence of the wounded man, while at the same time she feared to violate decorum by remaining, when they had begun, though not without difficulty, to remove some part of his apparel. The surgeon was just cutting off the left sleeve of his patient’s coat, when the old gentleman came near, and represented to the lady, in a serious tone, the necessity of proceeding on their journey. Wilhelm kept his eyes bent on her, and was so enchanted with her looks that he scarcely felt what he was suffering or doing.
Philina, in the meantime, had risen up to kiss the hand of this kind young lady. While they stood beside each other Wilhelm thought he had never seen such a contrast. Philina had never till now appeared in so unfavorable a light. She had no right, as it seemed to him, to come near that noble creature, still less to touch her.
The lady asked Philina various things, but in an undertone. At length she turned to the old gentleman and said, “Dear uncle, may I be generous at your expense?” She took off the greatcoat, with the visible intention to give it to the stripped and wounded youth.
Wilhelm, whom the healing look of her eyes had hitherto held fixed, was now, as the surtout fell away, astonished at her lovely figure. She came near and softly laid the coat above him. At this moment, as he tried to open his mouth, and stammer out some words of gratitude, the lively impression of her presence worked so strongly on his senses, already caught and bewildered, that all at once it appeared to him as if her head were encircled with rays; and a glancing light seemed by degrees to spread itself over all her form. At this moment the surgeon, making preparations to extract the ball from his wound, gave him a sharper twinge: the angel faded away from the eyes of the fainting patient; he lost all consciousness; and on returning to himself the horsemen and coaches, the fair one with her attendants, had vanished like a dream.
Wilhelm’s wounds once dressed, and his clothes put on, the surgeon hastened off; just as the harper with a number of peasants arrived. Out of some cut boughs, which they speedily wattled with twigs, a kind of litter was constructed; upon which they placed the wounded youth, and under the conduct of a mounted huntsman, whom the noble company had left behind them, carried him softly down the mountain. The harper, silent and shrouded in his own thoughts, bore with him his broken instrument. Some men brought on Philina’s box, herself following with a bundle. Mignon skipped along through copse and thicket, now before the party, now beside them, and looked up with longing eyes at her hurt protector.
He meanwhile, wrapped in his warm surtout, was lying peacefully upon the litter. An electric warmth seemed to flow from the fine wool into his body; in short, he felt himself in the most delightful frame of mind. The lovely being, whom this garment lately covered, had affected him to the very heart. He still saw the coat falling down from her shoulders; saw that noble form, begirt with radiance, stand beside him; and his soul hied over rocks and forests on the footsteps of his vanished benefactress.
It was nightfall when the party reached the village and halted at the door of the inn where the rest of the company, in the gloom of despondency, were bewailing their irreparable loss. The one little chamber of the house was crammed with people. Some of them were lying upon straw; some were occupying benches; some had squeezed themselves behind the stove. Frau Melina, in a neighboring room, was painfully expecting her delivery. Fright had accelerated this event. With the sole assistance of the landlady, a young, inexperienced woman, nothing good could be expected.
As the party just arrived required admission, there arose a universal murmur. All now maintained that by Wilhelm’s advice alone, and under his especial guidance, they had entered on this dangerous road, and exposed themselves to such misfortunes. They threw the blame of the disaster wholly on him; they stuck themselves in the door to oppose his entrance, declaring that he must go elsewhere and seek quarters. Philina they received with still greater indignation; nor did Mignon and the harper escape their share.
The huntsman, to whom the care of the forsaken party had been earnestly and strictly recommended by his beautiful mistress, soon grew tired of this discussion: he rushed upon the company with oaths and menaces, commanding them to fall to the right and left, and make way for this new arrival. They now began to pacify themselves. He made a place for Wilhelm on a table, which he shoved into a corner; Philina had her box put there, and then sat down upon it. All packed themselves as they best could; and the huntsman went away to see if he could not find for “the young couple” a more convenient lodging.
Scarcely was he gone, when spite again grew noisy, and one reproach began to follow close upon another. Each described and magnified his loss, censuring the foolhardiness they had so keenly smarted for. They did not even hide the malicious satisfaction they felt at Wilhelm’s wounds; they jeered Philina, and imputed to her as a crime the means by which she had saved her trunk. From a multitude of jibes and bitter innuendoes you were required to conclude that during the plundering and discomfiture she had endeavored to work herself into favor with the captain of the band, and had persuaded him, heaven knew by what arts and complaisance, to give her back the chest unhurt. To all this she answered nothing; only clanked with the large padlocks of her box, to impress her censurers completely with its presence, and by her own good fortune to augment their desperation.
Though our friend was weak from loss of blood, and though ever since the appearance of that helpful angel his feelings had been soft and mild, yet at last he could not help getting vexed at the harsh and unjust speeches which, as he continued silent, the discontented company went on uttering against him. Feeling himself strong enough to sit up and expostulate on the annoyance they were causing to their friend and leader, he raised his bandaged head, and propping himself with much difficulty, and leaning against the wall, he began to speak as follows:
“Considering the pain which your losses occasion, I forgive you for assailing me with injuries at a moment when you should condole with me; for opposing me and casting me from you the first time I have needed to look to you for help. The services I did you, the complaisance I showed you, I regarded as sufficiently repaid by your thanks, by your friendly conduct: do not warp my thoughts, do not force my heart to go back and calculate what I have done for you; the calculation would be painful to me. Chance brought me near you, circumstances and a secret inclination kept me with you. I participated in your labors and your pleasures: my slender abilities were ever at your service. If you now blame me with bitterness for the mishap that has befallen us, you do not recollect that the first project of taking this road came to us from stranger people, was tried by all of you, and sanctioned by every one as well as me.
“Had our journey ended happily, each would have taken credit to himself for the happy thought of suggesting this plan and preferring it to others; each would joyfully have put us in mind of our deliberations and of the vote he gave: but now you make me alone responsible; you force a piece of blame upon me which I would willingly submit to if my conscience with a clear voice did not pronounce me innocent, nay, if I might not appeal with safety even to yourselves. If you have aught to say against me, bring it forward in order, and I shall defend myself; if you have nothing reasonable to allege, then be silent, and do not torment me now when I have such pressing need of rest.”
By way of answer the girls once more began whimpering and whining, and describing their losses circumstantially. Melina was quite beside himself; for he had suffered more in purse than any of them; more indeed than we can rightly estimate. He stamped like a madman up and down the little room, he knocked his head against the wall, he swore and scolded in the most unseemly manner; and the landlady entering at this very time with news that his wife had been delivered of a dead child, he yielded to the most furious ebullitions, while in accordance with him all howled and shrieked and bellowed and uproared with double vigor.
Wilhelm, touched to the heart at once with sympathy in their sorrows, and with vexation at their mean way of thinking, felt all the vigor of his soul awakened, notwithstanding the weakness of his body. “Deplorable as your case may be,” exclaimed he, “I shall almost be compelled to despise you. No misfortune gives us right to load an innocent man with reproaches. If I had share in this false step, am I not suffering my share? I lie wounded here; and if the company has come to loss, I myself have come to most. The wardrobe of which we have been robbed, the decorations that are gone, were mine; for you, Herr Melina, have not yet paid me, and I here fully acquit you of all obligation in that matter.”
“It is well to give what none of us will ever see again,” replied Melina. “Your money was lying in my wife’s coffer, and it is your own blame that you have lost it. But ah! if that were all!” And thereupon he began anew to stamp and scold and squeal. Every one recalled to memory the superb clothes from the count’s wardrobe; also the buckles, watches, snuff-boxes, hats, for which Melina had so happily transacted with the head valet. Each then thought also of his own, though far inferior treasures. They looked with spleen at Philina’s box; and gave Wilhelm to understand that he had indeed done wisely to connect himself with that fair personage, and to save his own goods also under the shadow of her fortune.
“Do you think,” he exclaimed, at last, “that I shall keep anything apart while you are starving? And is this the first time I have honestly shared with you in a season of need? Open the trunk; all that is mine shall go to supply the common wants.”
“It is my trunk,” observed Philina, “and I will not open it till I please. Your rag or two of clothes, which I have saved for you, could amount to little, though they were sold to the most conscientious of Jews. Think of yourself; what your cure will cost, what may befall you in a strange country.”
“You, Philina,” answered Wilhelm, “will keep back from me nothing that is mine; and that little will help us out of the first perplexity. But a man possesses many things besides coined money to assist his friends with. All that is in me shall be devoted to these hapless persons; who, doubtless, on returning to their senses, will repent their present conduct. Yes,” continued he, “I feel that you have need of help, and what is mine to do I will perform. Give me your confidence again; compose yourselves for a moment, and accept of what I promise! Who will receive the engagement of me in the name of all?”
Here he stretched out his hand and cried: “I promise not to flinch from you, never to forsake you till each shall see his losses doubly and trebly repaired; till the situation you are fallen into, by whose blame soever, shall be totally forgotten by all of you, and changed for a better.”
He kept his hand still stretched out: but no one would take hold of it. “I promise it again,” cried he, sinking back upon his pillow. All continued silent; they felt ashamed, but nothing comforted; and Philina, sitting on her chest, kept cracking nuts, a stock of which she had discovered in her pocket.
The huntsman now came back with several people, and made preparations for carrying away the wounded youth. He had persuaded the parson of the place to receive the “young couple” into his house; Philina’s trunk was taken out; she followed with a natural air of dignity. Mignon ran before; and when the patient reached the parsonage, a wide couch, which had long been standing ready as guest’s bed and bed of honor, was assigned him. Here it was first discovered that his wound had opened and bled profusely. A new bandage was required for it. He fell into a feverish state; Philina waited on him faithfully; and when fatigue overpowered her she was relieved by the harper. Mignon, with the firmest purpose to watch, had fallen asleep in a corner.
Next morning Wilhelm, who felt himself in some degree refreshed, learned by inquiring of the huntsman that the honorable persons who last night assisted him so nobly had shortly before left their estates, in order to avoid the movements of the contending armies, and remain till the time of peace in some more quiet district. He named the elderly nobleman as well as his niece; mentioned the place they were first going to: and told how the young lady had charged him to take care of Wilhelm.
The entrance of the surgeon interrupted the warm expressions of gratitude in which our friend was pouring out his feelings. He made a circumstantial description of the wounds; and certified that they would soon heal if the patient took care of them and kept himself at peace.
When the huntsman was gone, Philina signified that he had left with her a purse of twenty louis-d’or; that he had given the parson a remuneration for their lodging, and left with him money to defray the surgeon’s bill when the cure should be completed. She added that she herself passed everywhere for Wilhelm’s wife: that she now begged leave to introduce herself once for all to him in this capacity, and would not allow him to look out for any other sick-nurse.
“Philina,” said Wilhelm, “in this disaster that has overtaken us, I am already deeply in your debt for kindness shown me; and I should not wish to see my obligations increased. I am restless so long as you are near me: for I know of nothing by which I can repay your labor. Give me my things which you have saved in your trunk; unite yourself to the rest of the company; seek another lodging, take my thanks, and the gold watch as a small acknowledgment; only leave me; your presence disturbs me more than you can fancy.”
She laughed in his face when he had ended. “Thou art a fool,” she said; “thou wilt not gather wisdom. I know better what is good for thee; I will stay, I will not budge from the spot. I have never counted on the gratitude of men, and therefore not on thine; and if I have a touch of kindness for thee what hast thou to do with it?”
She stayed accordingly; and soon wormed herself into favor with the parson and his household; being always cheerful, having the knack of giving little presents, and of talking to each in his own vein; at the same time always contriving to do exactly what she pleased. Wilhelm’s state was not uncomfortable: the surgeon, an ignorant but no unskilful man, let Nature play her part; and the patient was not long till he felt himself recovering. For such a consummation, being eager to pursue his plans and wishes, he vehemently longed.
Incessantly he kept recalling that event which had made an ineffaceable impression on his heart. He saw the beautiful Amazon again come riding out of the thickets; she approached him, dismounted, went to and fro, and strove to serve him. He saw the garment she was wrapped in fall down from her shoulders; he saw her countenance, her figure vanish in their radiance. All the dreams of his youth now fastened on this image. Here he conceived he had at length beheld the noble, the heroic Clorinda with his own eyes: and again he bethought him of that royal youth, to whose sick-bed the lovely sympathizing princess came in her modest meekness.
“May it not be,” said he often to himself in secret, “that in youth as in sleep, the images of coming things hover round us, and mysteriously become visible to our unobstructed eyes? May not the seeds of what is to betide us be already scattered by the hand of Fate; may not a foretaste of the fruits we yet hope to gather possibly be given us?”
His sick-bed gave him leisure to repeat those scenes in every mood. A thousand times he called back the tone of that sweet voice; a thousand times he envied Philina, who had kissed that helpful hand. Often the whole incident appeared before him as a dream; and he would have reckoned it a fiction if the white surtout had not been left behind to convince him that the vision had a real existence.
With the greatest care for this piece of apparel, he combined the greatest wish to wear it. The first time he arose he put it on; and was kept in fear all day, lest it might be hurt by some stain or other injury.
Laertes visited his friend. He had not assisted in that lively scene at the inn, being then confined to bed in an upper chamber. For his loss he was already in a great degree consoled; he helped himself with his customary, “What does it signify?” He detailed various laughable particulars about the company; particularly charging Frau Melina with lamenting the loss of her stillborn daughter, solely because she herself could not on that account enjoy the Old-German satisfaction of having a Mechthilde christened. As for her husband, it now appeared that he had been possessed of abundant cash; and even at first had by no means needed the advances which he had cajoled from Wilhelm. Melina’s present plan was to set off by the next postwagon; and he meant to require of Wilhelm an introductory letter to his friend, the Manager Serlo, in whose company, the present undertaking having gone to wreck, he now wished to establish himself.
For some days Mignon had been singularly quiet; when pressed with questions, she at length admitted that her right arm was out of joint. “Thou hast thine own folly to thank for that,” observed Philina; and then told how the child had drawn her sword in the battle; and seeing her friend in peril had struck fiercely at the freebooters; one of whom had at length seized her by the arm, and pitched her aside. They chided her for not sooner speaking of her ailment; but they easily saw that she was apprehensive of the surgeon, who had hitherto looked on her as a boy. With a view to remove the mischief, she was made to keep her arm in a sling; which arrangement too displeased her; for now she was obliged to surrender most part of her share in the management and nursing of our friend to Philina. That pleasing sinner but showed herself the more active and attentive on this account.
One morning, on awakening, Wilhelm found himself in a strange neighborhood with her. In the movements of sleep he had hitched himself quite to the back of his spacious bed. Philina was lying across from the front part of it; she seemed to have fallen asleep while sitting on the bed and reading. A book had dropped from her hand; she had sunk back, and her head was lying near his breast, over which her fair and now loosened hair was spread in streams. The disorder of sleep enlivened her charms more than heart or purpose could have done; a childlike smiling rest hovered on her countenance. He looked at her for a time; and seemed to blame himself for the pleasure which this gave him. He had viewed her attentively for some moments, when she began to awake. He softly closed his eyes; but could not help glimmering at her through his eyelashes, as she trimmed herself again, and went away to consult about breakfast.
All the actors had at length successively announced themselves to Wilhelm; asking introductory letters, requiring money for their journey with more or less impatience and ill-breeding; and constantly receiving it against Philina’s will. It was in vain for her to tell our friend that the huntsman had already left a handsome sum with these people, and that accordingly they did but cozen him. To these remonstrances he gave no heed; on the contrary, the two had a sharp quarrel on the subject; which ended by Wilhelm signifying once for all that Philina must now join the rest of the company, and seek her fortune with Serlo.
For an instant or two she lost temper; but speedily recovering her composure, she cried: “If I had but my fair-haired boy again I should not care a fig for any of you.” She meant Friedrich, who had vanished from the scene of battle, and never since appeared.
Next morning Mignon brought news to the bedside that Philina had gone off by night, leaving all that belonged to Wilhelm very neatly laid out in the next room. He felt her absence; he had lost in her a faithful nurse, a cheerful companion; he was no longer used to be alone. But Mignon soon filled up the blank.
Ever since that light-minded beauty had been near the patient with her friendly cares, the little creature had by degrees drawn back, and remained silent and secluded in herself; but the field being clear once more, she again came forth with her attentions and her love; again was eager in serving, and lively in entertaining him.
Wilhelm was rapidly approaching complete recovery: he now hoped to be upon his journey in a few days. He proposed no more to lead an aimless routine of existence: the steps of his career were henceforth to be calculated for an end. In the first place, he purposed to seek out that beneficent lady, and express the gratitude he felt to her; then to proceed without delay to his friend the manager, that he might do his utmost to assist the luckless company; intending at the same time to visit the commercial friends whom he had letters for, and to transact the business which had been intrusted to him. He was not without hope that fortune, as formerly, would favor him; and give him opportunity, by some lucky speculation, to repair his losses, and fill up the vacuity of his coffer.
The desire of again beholding his beautiful deliverer augmented every day. To settle his route, he took counsel with the clergyman, a person well skilled in statistics and geography, and possessing a fine collection of charts and books on those subjects. They searched for the place which this noble family had chosen as their residence while the war continued; they searched for information respecting the family itself. But their place was to be found in no geography or map; and the heraldic manuals made no mention of their name. Wilhelm became restless; and having mentioned the cause of his uneasiness, the harper told him he had reason to believe that the huntsman, for whatever reason, had concealed the real designations.
Conceiving himself now to be in the immediate neighborhood of his lovely benefactress, Wilhelm hoped he might obtain some tidings of her if he sent out the harper: but in this too he was deceived. Diligently as the old man kept inquiring, he could find no trace of her. Of late days a number of quick movements and unforeseen marches had taken place in that quarter; no one had particularly noticed the travelling party; and the ancient messenger, to avoid being taken for a Jewish spy, was obliged to return, and appear without any olive-leaf before his master and friend. He gave a strict account of his conduct in this commission, striving to keep far from him all suspicions of remissness. He endeavored by every means to mitigate the trouble of our friend; bethought him of everything that he had learned from the huntsman, and advanced a number of conjectures; out of all which, one circumstance at length came to light, whereby Wilhelm could explain some enigmatic words of his vanished benefactress.
The freebooters, it appeared, had lain in wait, not for the wandering troop, but for that noble company, whom they rightly guessed to be provided with store of gold and valuables, and of whose movements they must have had precise intelligence. Whether the attack should be imputed to some free corps, to marauders, or to robbers, was uncertain. It was clear, however, that by good fortune for the high and rich company, the poor and low had first arrived upon the place, and undergone the fate which was provided for the others. It was to this that the lady’s words referred, which Wilhelm yet well recollected. If he might now be happy and contented, that a prescient Genius had selected him for the sacrifice, which saved a perfect mortal; he was, on the other hand, nigh desperate when he thought that all hope of finding her and seeing her again was, at least for the present, completely gone.
What increased this singular emotion still further, was the likeness which he thought he had observed between the countess and the beautiful unknown. They resembled one another, as two sisters may, of whom neither can be called the younger or the elder, for they seem to be twins.
The recollection of the amiable countess was to Wilhelm infinitely sweet. He recalled her image but too willingly into his memory. But anon the figure of the noble Amazon would step between; one vision melted and changed into the other, and the form of neither would abide with him.
A new resemblance, the similarity of their handwritings, naturally struck him with still greater wonder. He had a charming song in the countess’ hand laid up in his portfolio; and in the surtout he had found a little note, inquiring with much tender care about the health of an uncle.
Wilhelm was convinced that his benefactress must have penned this billet; that it must have been sent from one chamber to another, at some inn during their journey, and put into the coat-pocket by the uncle. He held both papers together; and if the regular and graceful letters of the countess had already pleased him much, he found in the similar but freer lines of the stranger a flowing harmony which could not be described. The note contained nothing; yet the strokes of it seemed to affect him, as the presence of their fancied writer once had done.
He fell into a dreamy longing; and well accordant with his feelings was the song which at that instant Mignon and the harper began to sing, with a touching expression, in the form of an irregular duet:
The soft allurements of his dear presiding angel, far from leading our friend to any one determined path, did but nourish and increase the unrest which he had previously experienced. A secret fire was gliding through his veins; objects distinct and indistinct alternated within his soul, and awoke unspeakable desire. At one time he wished for a horse, at another for wings; and not till it seemed impossible that he could stay did he look round him to discover whither he was wanting to go.
The threads of his destiny had become so strangely entangled, he wished to see its curious knots unravelled or cut in two. Often, when he heard the tramp of a horse or the rolling of a carriage, he would run to the window and look out, in hopes it might be some one seeking him; some one, even though it were by chance, bringing him intelligence and certainty and joy. He told stories to himself, how his friend Werner might visit these parts and come upon him; how perhaps Mariana might appear. The sound of every post’s horn threw him into agitation. It would be Melina sending news to him of his adventures; above all, it would be the huntsman coming back to carry him to the beauty whom he worshipped.
Of all these possibilities, unhappily, no one occurred: he was forced at last to return to the company of himself; and in again looking through the past there was one circumstance which, the more he viewed and weighed it, grew the more offensive and intolerable to him. It was his unprosperous generalship; of which he never thought without vexation. For although, on the evening of that luckless day, he had produced a pretty fair defence of his conduct when accused by the company, yet he could not hide from himself that he was guilty. On the contrary, in hypochondriacal moments he took the blame of the whole misfortune.
Self-love exaggerates our faults as well as our virtues. Wilhelm thought he had awakened confidence in him, had guided the will of the rest; that, led by inexperience and rashness, they had ventured on, till a danger seized them, for which they were no match. Loud as well as silent reproaches had then assailed him: and if in their sorrowful condition he had promised to the company, misguided by him, never to forsake them till their loss had been repaid with usury, this was but another folly for which he had to blame himself, the folly of presuming to take upon his single shoulders a misfortune that was spread over many. One instant he accused himself of uttering this promise, under the excitement and the pressure of the moment; the next he again felt that this generous presentation of his hand, which no one deigned to accept, was but a light formality compared with the vow which his heart had taken. He meditated means of being kind and useful to them; he found every cause conspire to quicken his visit to Serlo. Accordingly he packed his things together; and without waiting his complete recovery, without listening to the counsel of the parson or the surgeon, he hastened, in the strange society of Mignon and the harper, to escape the inactivity, in which his fate had once more too long detained him.
Serlo received him with open arms, crying as he met him: “Is it you? Do I see you again? You have scarcely changed at all. Is your love for that noblest of arts still as lively and strong? I myself am so glad at your arrival, I even feel no longer the mistrust which your last letters had excited in me.”
Wilhelm asked with surprise for a clearer explanation.
“You have treated me,” said Serlo, “not like an old friend, but as if I were a great lord, to whom with a safe conscience you might recommend useless people. Our destiny depends on the opinion of the public; and I fear Herr Melina and his suite can hardly be received among us.”
Wilhelm tried to say something in their favor; but Serlo began to draw so merciless a picture of them, that our friend was happy when a lady came into the room, and put a stop to the discussion. She was introduced to him as Aurelia, the sister of his friend: she received him with extreme kindness; and her conversation was so pleasing, that he did not once remark a shade of sorrow visible on her expressive countenance, to which it lent peculiar interest.
For the first time during many months, Wilhelm felt himself in his proper element once more. Of late in talking, he had merely found submissive listeners, and even these not always; but now he had the happiness to speak with critics and artists, who not only fully understood him, but repaid his observations by others equally instructive. With wonderful vivacity they travelled through the latest pieces; with wonderful correctness judged them. The decisions of the public they could try and estimate: they speedily threw light on each other’s thoughts.
Loving Shakspeare as our friend did, he failed not to lead round the conversation to the merits of that dramatist. Expressing, as he entertained, the liveliest hopes of the new epoch which these exquisite productions must form in Germany, he ere long introduced his Hamlet, who had busied him so much of late.
Serlo declared that he would long ago have played the piece, had this been possible, and that he himself would willingly engage to act Polonius. He added, with a smile: “An Ophelia, too, will certainly turn up, if we had but a prince.”
Wilhelm did not notice that Aurelia seemed a little hurt at her brother’s sarcasm. Our friend was in his proper vein, becoming copious and didactic, expounding how he would have Hamlet played. He circumstantially delivered to his hearers the opinions we before saw him busied with; taking all the trouble possible to make his notion of the matter acceptable, sceptical as Serlo showed himself regarding it. “Well, then,” said the latter, finally, “suppose we grant you all this, what will you explain by it?”
“Much, everything,” said Wilhelm. “Conceive a prince such as I have painted him, and that his father suddenly dies. Ambition and the love of rule are not the passions that inspire him. As a king’s son he would have been contented; but now he is first constrained to consider the difference which separates a sovereign from a subject. The crown was not hereditary; yet a longer possession of it by his father would have strengthened the pretensions of an only son, and secured his hopes of the succession. In place of this, he now beholds himself excluded by his uncle, in spite of specious promises, most probably forever. He is now poor in goods and favor, and a stranger in the scene which from youth he had looked upon as his inheritance. His temper here assumes its first mournful tinge. He feels that now he is not more, that he is less than a private nobleman; he offers himself as the servant of every one; he is not courteous and condescending, he is needy and degraded.
“His past condition he remembers as a vanished dream. It is in vain that his uncle strives to cheer him, to present his situation in another point of view. The feeling of his nothingness will not leave him.
“The second stroke that came upon him wounded deeper, bowed still more. It was the marriage of his mother. The faithful, tender son had yet a mother when his father passed away. He hoped, in the company of his surviving noble-minded parent, to reverence the heroic form of the departed; but his mother too he loses, and it is something worse than death that robs him of her. The trustful image which a good child loves to form of its parents is gone. With the dead there is no help; on the living no hold. She also is a woman, and her name is Frailty, like that of all her sex.
“Now first does he feel himself completely bent and orphaned; and no happiness of life can repay what he has lost. Not reflective or sorrowful by nature, reflection and sorrow have become for him a heavy obligation. It is thus that we see him first enter on the scene. I do not think that I have mixed aught foreign with the piece, or overcharged a single feature of it.”
Serlo looked at his sister, and said, “Did I give thee a false picture of our friend? He begins well; he has still many things to tell us, many to persuade us of.” Wilhelm asseverated loudly, that he meant not to persuade, but to convince; he begged for another moment’s patience.
“Figure to yourselves this youth,” cried he, “this son of princes; conceive him vividly, bring his state before your eyes, and then observe him when he learns that his father’s spirit walks; stand by him in the terrors of the night, when the venerable ghost itself appears before him. A horrid shudder passes over him; he speaks to the mysterious form; he sees it beckon him; he follows it, and hears. The fearful accusation of his uncle rings in his ears; the summons to revenge, and the piercing, oft-repeated cry, Remember me!
“And when the ghost has vanished, who is it that stands before us? A young hero panting for vengeance? A prince by birth, rejoicing to be called to punish the usurper of his crown? No! trouble and astonishment take hold of the solitary young man; he grows bitter against smiling villains, swears that he will not forget the spirit, and concludes with the significant ejaculation:
“In these words, I imagine, will be found the key to Hamlet’s whole procedure. To me it is clear that Shakspeare meant, in the present case, to represent the effects of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it. In this view the whole piece seems to me to be composed. There is an oak tree planted in a costly jar, which should have borne only pleasant flowers in its bosom; the roots expand, the jar is shivered.
“A lovely, pure, noble and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must not cast away. All duties are holy for him; the present is too hard. Impossibilities have been required of him; not in themselves impossibilities, but such for him. He winds, and turns, and torments himself; he advances and recoils; is ever put in mind, ever puts himself in mind; at last does all but lose his purpose from his thoughts; yet still without recovering his peace of mind.”
Several people entering interrupted the discussion. They were musical dilettanti, who commonly assembled at Serlo’s once a week, and formed a little concert. Serlo himself loved music much: he used to maintain, that a player without taste for it never could attain a distinct conception and feeling of the scenic art. “As a man performs,” he would observe, “with far more ease and dignity when his gestures are accompanied and guided by a tune, so the player ought, in idea as it were, to set to music even his prose parts, that he may not monotonously slight them over in his individual style, but treat them in suitable alternation by time and measure.”
Aurelia seemed to give but little heed to what was passing; at last, she conducted Wilhelm to another room, and going to the window, and looking out at the starry sky, she said to him: “You have still much to tell us about Hamlet; I will not hurry you; my brother must hear it as well as I: but let me beg to know your thoughts about Ophelia.”
“Of her there cannot much be said,” he answered; “for a few master-strokes complete her character. The whole being of Ophelia floats in sweet and ripe sensation. Kindness for the prince, to whose hand she may aspire, flows so spontaneously, her tender heart obeys its impulses so unresistingly, that both father and brother are afraid; both give her warning harshly and directly. Decorum, like the thin lawn upon her bosom, cannot hide the soft, still movements of her heart; it on the contrary betrays them. Her fancy is smit; her silent modesty breathes amiable desire; and if the friendly goddess Opportunity should shake the tree its fruit would fall.”
“And then,” said Aurelia, “when she beholds herself forsaken, cast away, despised; when all is inverted in the soul of her crazed lover, and the highest changes to the lowest, and instead of the sweet cup of love he offers her the bitter cup of woe—”
“Her heart breaks,” cried Wilhelm; “the whole structure of her being is loosened from its joinings; her father’s death strikes fiercely against it; and the fair edifice altogether crumbles into fragments.”
Our friend had not observed with what expressiveness Aurelia pronounced those words. Looking only at this work of art, at its connection and completeness, he dreamed not that his auditress was feeling quite a different influence; that a deep sorrow of her own was vividly awakened in her breast by these dramatic shadows.
Aurelia’s head was still resting on her arms; and her eyes, now full of tears, were directed to the sky. At last, no longer able to conceal her secret grief, she seized both hands of her friend, and exclaimed, while he stood surprised before her: “Forgive, forgive a heavy heart! I am girt and pressed together by these people; from my hard-hearted brother I must seek to hide myself; your presence has untied these bonds. My friend!” continued she, “it is but a few minutes since we saw each other first, and already you are going to become my confidant.” She could scarcely end the words, and sank upon his shoulder. “Think not worse of me,” she said with sobs, “that I disclose myself to you so hastily, that I am so weak before you. Be my friend, remain my friend; I shall deserve it.” He spoke to her in his kindest manner: but in vain; her tears still flowed, and choked her words.
At this moment Serlo entered, most unwelcomely, and most unexpectedly, Philina with her hand in his. “Here is your friend,” said he to her; “he will be glad to make his compliments to you.”
“How!” cried Wilhelm in astonishment: “are you here?” With a modest settled mien, she went up to him; bade him welcome; praised Serlo’s goodness, who, she said, without merit on her part, but purely in the hope of her improvement, had agreed to admit her into his accomplished troop. She behaved, all the while, in a friendly manner towards Wilhelm, yet with a dignified distance.
But this dissimulation lasted only till the other two were gone. Aurelia having left them, that she might conceal her trouble, and Serlo being called away, Philina first looked very sharply at the doors, to see that both were really out; then began skipping to and fro about the room, as if she had been mad; at last dropped down upon the floor, like to die of giggling and laughing. She then sprang up, patted and flattered our friend; rejoicing above measure that she had been clever enough to go before, and spy the land and get herself nestled in.
“Pretty things are going on here,” she said; “just of the sort I like. Aurelia has had a hapless love-affair with some nobleman, who seems to be a very stately person, one whom I myself could like to see some day. He has left her a memorial, or I much mistake. There is a boy running about the house of three years old or so: the papa must be a very pretty fellow. Commonly I cannot suffer children, but this brat quite delights me. I have calculated Aurelia’s business. The death of her husband, the new acquaintance, the child’s age, all things agree.
“But now her spark has gone his ways; for a year she has not seen a glimpse of him. She is beside herself and inconsolable on this account. The more fool she! Her brother has a dancing girl in his troop, with whom he stands on pretty terms; an actress to whom he is betrothed; in the town, some other women whom he courts; I too am on his list. The more fool he! Of the rest thou shalt hear to-morrow. And now one word about Philina, whom thou knowest; the arch fool is fallen in love with thee.” She swore that it was true, and a proper joke. She earnestly requested Wilhelm to fall in love with Aurelia; for then the chase would be worth beholding. “She pursues her faithless swain, thou her, I thee, her brother me. If that will not divert us for a quarter of a year, I engage to die at the first episode which occurs in this four-times complicated tale.” She begged of him not to spoil her trade, and to show her such respect as her external conduct should deserve.
Next morning Wilhelm went to visit Frau Melina; but found her not at home. On inquiring here for the other members of the wandering community, he learned that Philina had invited them to breakfast. Out of curiosity, he hastened thither; and found them all cleared up and not a little comforted. The cunning creature had collected them, was treating them with chocolate, and giving them to understand that some prospects still remained for them; that, by her influence, she hoped to convince the manager how advantageous it would be for him to introduce so many clever hands among his company. They listened to her with attention; swallowed cup after cup of her chocolate; thought the girl was not so bad after all; and went away proposing to themselves to speak whatever good of her they could.
“Do you think then,” said our friend, who stayed behind, “that Serlo will determine to retain our comrades?” “Not at all,” replied Philina; “nor do I care a fig for it. The sooner they are gone the better! Laertes alone I could wish to keep: the rest we shall by-and-by pack off.”
Next she signified to Wilhelm her firm persuasion that he should no longer hide his talent; but, under the direction of a Serlo, go upon the boards. She was lavish in her praises of the order, the taste, the spirit, which prevailed in this establishment: she spoke so flatteringly to Wilhelm; with such admiration of his gifts, that his heart and his imagination were advancing towards this proposal, as fast as his understanding and his reason were retreating from it. He concealed his inclination from himself and from Philina; and passed a restless day, unable to resolve on visiting his trading correspondents, to receive the letters which might there be lying for him. The anxieties of his people during all this time he easily conceived; yet he shrank from the precise account of them; particularly at the present time, as he promised to himself a great and pure enjoyment from the exhibition of a new piece that evening.
Serlo had refused to let him witness the rehearsal. “You must see us on the best side,” he observed, “before we can allow you to look into our cards.”
The acting of the piece, however, where our friend did not fail to be present, yielded him a high satisfaction. It was the first time he had ever seen a theatre in such perfection. The actors were evidently all possessed of excellent gifts, of superior capacities, and a high clear notion of their art: they were not equal; but they mutually restrained and supported one another; each breathed ardor into those around him; throughout all their acting they showed themselves decided and correct. You soon felt that Serlo was the soul of the whole; as an individual he appeared to much advantage. A merry humor, a measured vivacity, a settled feeling of propriety, combined with a great gift of imitation, were to be observed in him the moment he appeared upon the stage. The inward contentment of his being seemed to spread itself over all that looked on him; and the intellectual style, in which he could so easily and gracefully express the finest shadings of his part, excited more delight, as he could conceal the art which, by long-continued practice, he had made his own.
Aurelia, his sister, was not inferior; she obtained still greater approbation, for she touched the souls of the audience, which it was his to exhilarate and amuse.
After a few days had passed pleasantly enough, Aurelia sent to inquire for our friend. He hastened to her; she was lying on a sofa; she seemed to be suffering from headache; her whole frame had visibly a feverish movement. Her eye lighted up as she noticed Wilhelm. “Pardon me!” she cried, as he entered: “the trust you have inspired me with has made me weak. Till now I have contrived to bear up against my woes in secret; nay, they gave me strength and consolation: but now, I know not how it is, you have loosened the bands of silence; you must, against your will, take part in the battle I am fighting with myself.”
Wilhelm answered her in friendly and obliging terms. He declared that her image and her sorrows had not ceased to hover in his thoughts; that he longed for her confidence, and devoted himself to be her friend.
While he spoke his eyes were attracted to the boy, who sat before her on the floor, and was busy rattling a multitude of playthings. This child, as Philina had observed, might be about three years of age; and Wilhelm now conceived how that giddy creature, seldom elevated in her phraseology, had likened it to the sun. For its cheerful eyes and full countenance were shaded by the finest golden locks, which flowed round in copious curls; dark, slender, softly-bending eyebrows showed themselves upon a brow of dazzling whiteness; and the living tinge of health was glancing on its cheeks. “Sit by me,” said Aurelia: “you are looking at the happy child with admiration; in truth, I took it into my arms with joy; I keep it carefully: yet by it too I can measure the extent of my sufferings; for they seldom let me feel the worth of such a gift.
“Allow me,” she continued, “to speak to you about myself and my destiny; for I have it much at heart that you should not misunderstand me. I thought I should have a few calm instants, and accordingly I sent for you; you are now here, and the thread of my narrative is lost.
“ ‘One more forsaken woman in the world!’ you will say. You are a man; you are thinking: ‘What a noise she makes, the fool, about a necessary evil; which, certainly as death, awaits a woman, when such is the fidelity of men!’ O my friend! if my fate were common, I would gladly undergo a common evil; but it is so singular: why cannot I present it to you in a mirror, why not command some one to tell it you? Oh, had I, had I been seduced, surprised, and afterwards forsaken, there would then still be comfort in despair: but I am far more miserable; I have been my own deceiver; I have wittingly betrayed myself; and this, this is what shall never be forgiven me.”
“With noble feelings, such as yours,” said Wilhelm, “you can never be entirely unhappy.”
“And do you know to what I am indebted for my feelings?” asked Aurelia. “To the worst education that ever threatened to contaminate a girl; to the vilest examples for misleading the senses and the inclinations.
“My mother dying early, the fairest years of my youth were spent with an aunt, whose principle it was to despise the laws of decency. She resigned herself headlong to every impulse; careless whether the object of it proved her tyrant or her slave, so she might forget herself in wild enjoyment.
“By children, with the pure clear vision of innocence, what ideas of men were necessarily formed in such a scene! How stolid, brutally bold, importunate, unmannerly, was every one whom she allured! How sated, empty, insolent and tasteless, when he left her! I have seen this woman live for years humbled under the control of the meanest creatures. What incidents she had to undergo! With what a front she contrived to accommodate herself to her destiny; nay, with how much skill to wear those shameful fetters!
“It was thus, my friend, that I became acquainted with your sex: and deeply did I hate it, when, as I imagined, I observed that even tolerable men, in their conduct to ours, appeared to renounce every honest feeling, of which nature might otherwise have made them capable.
“Unhappily, moreover, on such occasions, a multitude of painful discoveries about my own sex were forced upon me: and in truth I was then wiser, as a girl of sixteen, than I now am; now that I scarcely understand myself. Why are we so wise when young; so wise, and ever growing less so?”
The boy began to make a noise; Aurelia became impatient, and rung. An old woman came to take him out. “Hast thou toothache still?” said Aurelia to the crone, whose face was wrapped in cloth. “Unsufferable,” said the other, with a muffled voice; then lifted the boy, who seemed to like going with her, and carried him away.
Scarcely was he gone, when Aurelia began bitterly to weep. “I am good for nothing,” cried she, “but lamenting and complaining; and I feel ashamed to lie before you like a miserable worm. My recollection is already fled; I can relate no more.” She faltered, and was silent. Her friend, unwilling to reply with a commonplace, and unable to reply with anything particularly applicable, pressed her hand, and looked at her for some time without speaking. Thus embarrassed, he at length took up a book, which he noticed lying on the table before him: it was Shakspeare’s works, and open at Hamlet.
Serlo at this moment entering, inquired about his sister; and looking in the book which our friend had hold of, cried: “So you are again at Hamlet? Very good! Many doubts have arisen in me, which seem not a little to impair the canonical aspect of the piece as you would have it viewed. The English themselves have admitted that its chief interest concludes with the third act; the last two lagging sorrily on, and scarcely uniting with the rest: and certainly about the end it seems to stand stock-still.”
“It is very possible,” said Wilhelm, “that some individuals of a nation, which has so many masterpieces to feel proud of, may be led by prejudice and narrowness of mind to form false judgments: but this cannot hinder us from looking with our own eyes, and doing justice where we see it due. I am very far from censuring the plan of Hamlet; on the contrary, I believe there never was a grander one invented; nay, it is not invented, it is real.”
“How do you demonstrate that?” inquired Serlo.
“I will not demonstrate anything,” said Wilhelm; “I will merely show you what my own conceptions of it are.”
Aurelia rose up from her cushion; leaned upon her hand, and looked at Wilhelm; who, with the firmest assurance that he was in the right, went on as follows: “It pleases us, it flatters us to see a hero acting on his own strength; loving and hating as his heart directs him; undertaking and completing; casting every obstacle aside; and at length attaining some great object which he aimed at. Poets and historians would willingly persuade us that so proud a lot may fall to man. In Hamlet we are taught another lesson: the hero is without a plan, but the piece is full of plan. Here we have no villain punished on some self-conceived and rigidly-accomplished scheme of vengeance: a horrid deed occurs; it rolls itself along with all its consequences, dragging guiltless persons also in its course; the perpetrator seems as if he would evade the abyss which is made ready for him; yet he plunges in, at the very point by which he thinks he shall escape and happily complete his course.
“For it is the property of crime to extend its mischief over innocence, as it is of virtue to extend its blessings over many that deserve them not; while frequently the author of the one or of the other is not punished or rewarded at all. Here in this play of ours, how strange! The pit of darkness sends its spirit and demands revenge; in vain! All circumstances tend one way, and hurry to revenge; in vain! Neither earthly nor infernal thing may bring about what is reserved for Fate alone. The hour of judgment comes: the wicked fall with the good: one race is mowed away, that another may spring up.”
After a pause, in which they looked at one another, Serlo said: “You pay no great compliment to Providence, in thus exalting Shakspeare; and besides, it appears to me, that for the honor of your poet, as others for the honor of Providence, you ascribe to him an object and a plan, which he himself had never thought of.”
“Let me also put a question,” said Aurelia. “I have looked at Ophelia’s part again; I am contented with it, and conceive that under certain circumstances I could play it. But tell me, should not the poet have furnished the insane maiden with another sort of songs? Could not one select some fragments out of melancholy ballads for this purpose? What have double meanings and lascivious insipidities to do in the mouth of such a noble-minded person?”
“Dear friend,” said Wilhelm, “even here I cannot yield you one iota. In these singularities, in this apparent impropriety, a deep sense is hid. Do we not understand from the very first what the mind of the good soft-hearted girl was busied with? Silently she lived within herself, yet she scarce concealed her wishes, her longing; the tones of desire were in secret ringing through her soul; and how often may she have attempted, like an unskilful nurse, to lull her senses to repose with songs which only kept them more awake? But at last, when her self-command is altogether gone, when the secrets of her heart are hovering on her tongue, that tongue betrays her, and in the innocence of insanity she solaces herself, unmindful of king or queen, with the echo of her loose and well-beloved songs: To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day; and By Gis and by Saint Charity.”
He had not finished speaking, when all at once an extraordinary scene took place before him, which he could not in any way explain.
Serlo had walked once or twice up and down the room without evincing any special object. On a sudden, he stepped forward to Aurelia’s dressing-table; caught hastily at something that was lying there, and hastened to the door with his booty. No sooner did Aurelia notice this, than springing up, she threw herself in his way; laid hold of him with boundless vehemence, and had dexterity enough to clutch an end of the article which he was carrying off. They struggled and wrestled with great obstinacy; twisted and threw each other sharply round: he laughed; she exerted all her strength: and as Wilhelm hastened towards them, to separate and soothe them, Aurelia sprang aside with a naked dagger in her hand, while Serlo cast the scabbard, which had stayed with him, angrily upon the floor. Wilhelm started back astonished; and his dumb wonder seemed to ask the cause why so violent a strife, about so strange an implement, had taken place between them.
“You shall judge between us,” said the brother. “What has she to do with sharp steel? Do but look at it. That dagger is not fit for any actress: point like a needle’s, edge like a razor’s! What good is it? Passionate as she is, she will one day chance to do herself a mischief. I have a heart’s hatred at such singularities: a serious thought of that sort is insane, and so dangerous a plaything is not in taste.”
“I have it back!” exclaimed Aurelia, and held the polished blade aloft; “I will now keep my faithful friend more carefully. Pardon me,” she cried, and kissed the steel, “that I have so neglected thee.”
Serlo was like to grow seriously angry. “Take it as thou wilt, brother,” she continued: “how knowest thou but, under this form, a precious talisman may have been given me; so that, in extreme need, I may find help and counsel in it? Must all be hurtful that looks dangerous?”
“Such talk without a meaning might drive one mad,” said Serlo, and left the room with suppressed indignation. Aurelia put the dagger carefully into its sheath, and placed it in her bosom. “Let us now resume the conversation which our foolish brother has disturbed,” said she, as Wilhelm was beginning to put questions on the subject of this quarrel.
“I must admit your picture of Ophelia to be just,” continued she; “I cannot now misunderstand the object of the poet: I must pity, though, as you paint her, I shall rather pity her than sympathize with her. But allow me here to offer a remark, which in these few days you have frequently suggested to me. I observe with admiration the correct, keen, penetrating glance with which you judge of poetry, especially dramatic poetry: the deepest abysses of invention are not hidden from you, the finest touches of representation cannot escape you. Without ever having viewed the objects in nature, you recognize the truth of their images: there seems, as it were, a presentiment of all the universe to lie in you, which by the harmonious touch of poetry is awakened and unfolded. For, in truth,” continued she, “from without, you receive not much: I have scarcely seen a person that so little knew, so totally misknew the people he lived with, as you do. Allow me to say it: in hearing you expound the mysteries of Shakspeare, one would think you had just descended from a synod of the gods, and had listened there while they were taking counsel how to form men; in seeing you transact with your fellows, I could imagine you to be the first large-born child of the Creation, standing agape, and gazing with strange wonderment and edifying good-nature, at lions and apes and sheep and elephants, and true-heartedly addressing them as your equals, simply because they were there, and in motion like yourself.”
“The feeling of my ignorance in this respect,” said Wilhelm, “often gives me pain; and I should thank you, worthy friend, if you would help me to get a little better insight into life. From youth I have been accustomed to direct the eyes of my spirit inwards rather than outwards; and hence it is very natural that to a certain extent I should be acquainted with man, while of men I have not the smallest knowledge.”
“In truth,” said Aurelia, “I at first suspected that, in giving such accounts of the people whom you sent to my brother, you meant to make sport of us; when I compared your letters with the merits of these persons, it seemed very strange.”
Aurelia’s remarks, well-founded as they might be, and willing as our friend was to confess himself deficient in this matter, carried with them something painful, nay, offensive to him; so that he grew silent, and retired within himself, partly to avoid showing any irritated feeling, partly to search his mind for the truth or error of the charge.
“Let not this alarm you,” said Aurelia: “the light of the understanding it is always in our power to reach; but this fulness of the heart no one can give us. If you are destined for an artist, you cannot long enough retain the dim-sightedness and innocence of which I speak; it is the beautiful hull upon the young bud; woe to us if we are forced too soon to burst it! Surely it were well, if we never knew what the people are, for whom we work and study.
“Oh! I too was in that happy case, when I first betrod the stage, with the loftiest opinion of myself and of my nation. What a people, in my fancy, were the Germans; what a people might they yet become! I addressed this people; raised above them by a little joinery, separated from them by a row of lamps, whose glancing and vapor threw an indistinctness over everything before me. How welcome was the tumult of applause which sounded to me from the crowd; how gratefully did I accept the present, offered me unanimously by so many hands! For a time I rocked myself in these ideas; I affected the multitude, and was again affected by them. With my public I was on the fairest footing; I imagined that I felt a perfect harmony between us, and that on each occasion I beheld before me the best and noblest of the land.
“Unhappily it was not the actress alone that inspired these friends of the stage with interest; they likewise made pretensions to the young and lively girl. They gave me to understand, in terms distinct enough, that my duty was not only to excite emotion in them, but to share it with them personally. This unluckily was not my business: I wished to elevate their minds; but to what they called their hearts I had not the slightest claim. Yet now men of all ranks, ages and characters, by turns afflicted me with their addresses; and it did seem hard that I could not, like an honest young woman, shut my door, and spare myself such a quantity of labor.
“The men appeared, for most part, much the same as I had been accustomed to about my aunt; and here again I should have felt disgusted with them, had not their peculiarities and insipidities amused me. As I was compelled to see them, in the theatre, in open places, in my house, I formed the project of spying out their follies, and my brother helped me with alacrity to execute it. And if you reflect that, up from the whisking shopman and the conceited merchant’s son, to the polished calculating man of the world, the bold soldier and the impetuous prince, all in succession passed in review before me, each in his way endeavoring to found his small romance, you will pardon me if I conceived that I had gained some acquaintance with my nation.
“The fantastically-dizened student; the awkward, humbly-proud man of letters; the sleek-fed, gouty canon; the solemn, heedful man of office; the heavy country-baron; the smirking, vapid courtier; the young erring parson; the cool, as well as the quick and sharply-speculating merchant: all these I have seen in motion; and I swear to you that there were few among them fitted to inspire me even with a sentiment of toleration: on the contrary, I felt it altogether irksome to collect, with tedium and annoyance, the suffrages of fools; to pocket those applauses in detail, which in their accumulated state had so delighted me, which in the gross I had appropriated with such pleasure.
“If I expected a rational compliment upon my acting; if I hoped that they would praise an author whom I valued, they were sure to make one empty observation on the back of another, and to name some tasteless piece in which they wished to see me play. If I listened in their company to hear if some noble, brilliant, witty thought had met with a response among them, and would reappear from some of them in proper season, it was rare that I could catch an echo of it. An error that had happened, a mispronunciation, a provincialism of some actor; such were the weighty points by which they held fast, beyond which they could not pass. I knew not, in the end, to what hand I should turn: themselves they thought too clever to be entertained; and me they imagined they were well entertaining, if they romped and made noise enough about me. I began very cordially to despise them all; I felt as if the whole nation had, on purpose, deputed these people to debase it in my eyes. They appeared to me so clownish, so ill-bred, so wretchedly instructed, so void of pleasing qualities, so tasteless; I frequently exclaimed: No German can buckle his shoes till he has learned to do it of some foreign nation!
“You perceive how blind, how unjust and splenetic I was; and the longer it lasted, my spleen increased. I might have killed myself with these things: but I fell into the contrary extreme; I married, or rather let myself be married. My brother, who had undertaken to conduct the theatre, wished much to have a helper. His choice lighted on a young man, who was not offensive to me; who wanted all that my brother had, genius, vivacity, spirit and impetuosity of mind; but who also in return had all that my brother wanted, love of order, diligence, and precious gifts in housekeeping and the management of money.
“He became my husband, I know not how; we lived together, I do not well know why. Enough, our affairs went prosperously forward. We drew a large income; of this my brother’s activity was the cause. We lived with a moderate expenditure; and that was the merit of my husband. I thought no more about world or nation. With the world I had nothing to participate: my idea of the nation had faded away. When I entered on the scene, I did so that I might subsist; I opened my lips because I durst not continue silent, because I had come out to speak.
“Yet let me do the matter justice. I had altogether given myself up to the disposal of my brother. His objects were applause and money; for, between ourselves, he has no dislike to hear his own praises, and his outlay is always great. I no longer played according to my own feeling, to my own conviction; but as he directed me: and if I did it to his satisfaction, I was content. He steered entirely by the caprices of the public. Money flowed upon us; he could live according to his humor, and so we had good times with him.
“Thus had I fallen into a dull, handicraft routine. I spun out my days without joy or sympathy. My marriage was childless, and not of long continuance. My husband grew sick; his strength was visibly decaying; anxiety for him interrupted my general indifference. It was at this time that I formed an acquaintance, which opened a new life for me; a new and quicker one, for it will soon be done.”
She kept silence for a moment, and then continued: “All at once my prattling humor falters; I have not the courage to go on. Let me rest a little. You shall not go till you have learned the whole extent of my misfortune. Meanwhile, call in Mignon, and ask her what she wants.”
The child had more than once been in the room, while Aurelia and our friend were talking. As they spoke lower on her entrance, she had glided out again, and was now sitting quietly in the hall, and waiting. Being bid return, she brought a book with her, which its form and binding showed to be a small geographical atlas. She had seen some maps, for the first time at the parson’s house, with great astonishment; had asked him many questions, and informed herself so far as possible about them. Her desire to learn seemed much excited by this new branch of knowledge. She now earnestly requested Wilhelm to purchase her the book; saying she had pawned her large silver buckle with the printseller for it, and wished to have back the pledge to-morrow morning, as this evening it was late. Her request was granted; and she then began repeating several things she had already learned; at the same time, in her own way, making many very strange inquiries. Here again one might observe, that, with a mighty effort, she could comprehend but little and laboriously. So likewise was it with her writing, at which she still kept busied. She yet spoke very broken German: it was only when she opened her mouth to sing, when she touched her cithern, that she seemed to be employing an organ, by which, in some degree, the workings of her mind could be disclosed and communicated.
Since we are at present on the subject, we may also mention the perplexity which Wilhelm had of late experienced from certain parts of her procedure. When she came or went, wished him good-morning or goodnight, she clasped him so firmly in her arms, and kissed him with such ardor, that often the violence of this expanding nature gave him serious fears. The spasmodic vivacity of her demeanor seemed daily to increase; her whole being moved in a restless stillness. She would never be without some piece of packthread to twist in her hands; some napkin to tie in knots; some paper or wood to chew. All her sports seemed but the channels which drained off some inward violent emotion. The only thing that seemed to cause her any cheerfulness was being near the boy Felix, with whom she could go on in a very dainty manner.
Aurelia, after a little rest, being now ready to explain to her friend a matter which lay very near her heart, grew impatient at the little girl’s delay, and signified that she must go; a hint, however, which the latter did not take; and at last, when nothing else would do, they sent her off expressly and against her will.
“Now or never,” said Aurelia, “must I tell you the remainder of my story. Were my tenderly-beloved and unjust friend but a few miles distant. I would say to you: ‘Mount on horseback, seek by some means to get acquainted with him; on returning you will certainly forgive me, and pity me with all your heart.’ As it is, I can only tell you with words how amiable he was, and how much I loved him.
“It was at the critical season, when care for the illness of my husband had depressed my spirits, that I first became acquainted with this stranger. He had just returned from America, where, in company with some Frenchmen, he had served with much distinction under the colors of the United States.
“He addressed me with an easy dignity, a frank kindliness; he spoke about myself, my state, my acting, like an old acquaintance, so affectionately and distinctly, that now for the first time I enjoyed the pleasure of perceiving my existence reflected in the being of another. His judgments were just, though not severe; penetrating, yet not void of love. He showed no harshness; his pleasantry was courteous, with all his humor. He seemed accustomed to success with women; this excited my attention: he was never in the least importunate or flattering; this put me off my guard.
“In the town he had intercourse with few; he was often on horseback, visiting his many friends in the neighborhood, and managing the business of his house. On returning, he would frequently alight at my apartments; he treated my ever-ailing husband with warm attention; he procured him mitigation of his sickness by a good physician. And taking part in all that interested me he allowed me to take part in all that interested him. He told me the history of his campaigns; he spoke of his invincible attachment to military life, of his family relations, of his present business. He kept no secret from me; he displayed to me his inmost thoughts, allowed me to behold the most secret corners of his soul: I became acquainted with his passions and his capabilities. It was the first time in my life that I enjoyed a cordial, intellectual intercourse with any living creature. I was attracted by him, borne along by him, before I thought about inquiring how it stood with me.
“Meanwhile I lost my husband, nearly just as I had taken him. The burden of theatrical affairs now fell entirely on me. My brother, not to be surpassed upon the stage, was never good for anything in economical concerns: I took the charge of all; at the same time, studying my parts with greater diligence than ever. I again played as of old; nay, with new life, with quite another force. It was by reason of my friend, it was on his account that I did so; yet my success was not always best when I knew him to be present. Once or twice he listened to me unobserved; and how pleasantly his unexpected applauses surprised me you may conceive.
“Certainly I am a strange creature. In every part I played, it seemed as if I had been speaking it in praise of him; for that was the temper of my heart: the words might be anything they pleased. Did I understand him to be present in the audience, I durst not venture to speak out with all my force; just as I would not press my love or praise on him to his face: was he absent, I had then free scope; I did my best, with a certain peacefulness, with a contentment not to be described. Applause once more delighted me; and when I charmed the people I longed to call down among them: ‘This you owe to him!’
“Yes, my relation to the public, to the nation, had been altered by a wonder. On a sudden they again appeared to me in the most favorable light; I felt astonished at my former blindness.
“How foolish, said I often to myself, was it to revile a nation; foolish, simply since it was a nation. Is it necessary, is it possible, that individual men should generally interest us much? Not at all! The only question is, whether in the great mass there exists a sufficient quantity of talent, force and capability, which lucky circumstances may develop, which men of lofty minds may direct upon a common object. I now rejoiced in discovering so little prominent originality among my countrymen; I rejoiced that they disdained not to accept of guidance from without; I rejoiced that they had found a leader.
“Lothario—allow me to designate my friend by this his first name which I loved—Lothario had always presented the Germans to my mind on the side of valor; and shown me, that when well commanded, there was no braver nation on the face of the earth; and I felt ashamed that I had never thought of this, the first quality of a people. History was known to him; he was in connection and correspondence with the most distinguished persons of the age. Young as he was, his eye was open to the budding youthhood of his native country; to the silent labors of active and busy men in so many provinces of art. He afforded me a glimpse of Germany; what it was, and what it might be; and I blushed at having formed my judgment of a nation from the motley crowd that press themselves into the wardrobe of a theatre. He made me look upon it as a duty that I too, in my own department, should be true, spirited, enlivening. I now felt as if inspired every time I stepped upon the boards. Mediocre passages grew golden in my mouth; had any poet been at hand to support me adequately, I might have produced the most astonishing effects.
“So lived the young widow for a series of months. He could not want me; and I felt exceedingly unhappy when he stayed away. He showed me the letters he received from his relations, from his amiable sister. He took an interest in the smallest circumstance that concerned me; more complete, more intimate no union ever was than ours. The name of love was not mentioned. He went and came, came and went—and now, my friend, it is high time that you too should go.”
Wilhelm could put off no longer the visiting of his commercial friends. He proceeded to their place with some anxiety; knowing he should there find letters from his people; he dreaded the reproofs which these would of course contain: it seemed likely also that notice had been given to his trading correspondents concerning the perplexities and fears which his late silence had occasioned. After such a series of knightly adventures, he recoiled from the school-boy aspect in which he must appear: he proposed within his mind to act with an air of sternness and defiance, and thus hide his embarrassment.
To his great wonder and contentment, however, all went off very easily and well. In the vast, stirring, busy counting-room, the men had scarcely time to seek him out his packet; his delay was but alluded to in passing. And on opening the letters of his father and his friend Werner, he found them all of very innocent contents. His father, in hopes of an extensive journal, the keeping of which he had strongly recommended to his son at parting, giving him also a tabulary scheme for that purpose, seemed pretty well pacified about the silence of the first period; complaining only of a certain enigmatical obscurity in the last and only letter, despatched, as we have seen, from the castle of the count. Werner joked in his way; told merry anecdotes, facetious burgh news; and requested intelligence of friends and acquaintances, whom Wilhelm in the large trading city would now meet with in great numbers. Our friend, extremely pleased at getting off so well, answered without loss of a moment, in some very cheerful letters: promising his father a copious journal of his travels, with all the required geographical, statistical and mercantile remarks. He had seen much on his journey, he said; and hoped to make a tolerably large manuscript out of these materials. He did not observe, that he was almost in the same case as he had once experienced before, when he assembled an audience and lit his lamps to represent a play, which was not written, still less got by heart. Accordingly, so soon as he commenced the actual work of composition, he became aware that he had much to say about emotions and thoughts, and many experiences of the heart and spirit; but not a word concerning outward objects, on which, as he now discovered, he had not bestowed the least attention.
In this embarrassment, the acquisitions of his friend Laertes came very seasonably to his aid. Custom had united these young people, unlike one another as they were; and Laertes, with all his failings and singularities, was actually an interesting man. Endowed with warm and pleasurable senses, he might have reached old age without reflecting for a moment on his situation. But his ill fortune and his sickness had robbed him of the pure feelings of youth; and opened for him instead of it a view into the transitoriness, the discontinuity of man’s existence. Hence had arisen a humorous, flighty, rhapsodical way of thinking about all things, or rather of uttering the immediate impressions they produced on him. He did not like to be alone; he strolled about all the coffee-houses and tables-d’hôte; and when he did stay at home, books of travel were his favorite, nay, his only kind of reading. Having lately found a large circulating library, he had been enabled to content his taste in this respect to the full; and ere long half the world was figuring in his faithful memory.
It was easy for him, therefore, to speak comfort to his friend, when the latter had disclosed his utter lack of matter for the narrative so solemnly promised by him. “Now is the time for a stroke of art,” said Laertes, “that shall have no fellow!
“Has not Germany been travelled over, cruised over, walked, crept and flown over, repeatedly from end to end? And has not every German traveller the royal privilege of drawing from the public a repayment of the great or small expenses he may have incurred while travelling? Give me your route previous to our meeting; the rest I know already. I will find you helps and sources of information: of miles that were never measured, populations that were never counted, we shall give them plenty. The revenues of provinces we will take from almanacs and tables, which, as all men know, are the most authentic documents. On these we will ground our political discussions; we shall not fail in side-glances at the ruling powers. One or two princes we will paint as true fathers of their country, that we may gain more ready credence in our allegations against others. If we do not travel through the residence of any noted man, we shall take care to meet such persons at the inn, and make them utter the most foolish stuff to us. Particularly, let us not forget to insert, with all its graces and sentiments, some love-story with a pastoral bar-maid. I tell you it shall be a composition, which will not only fill father and mother with delight, but which booksellers themselves shall gladly pay you current money for.”
They went accordingly to work; and both of them found pleasure in their labor. Wilhelm, in the meantime, frequenting the play at night, and conversing with Serlo and Aurelia by day, experienced the greatest satisfaction; and was daily more and more expanding his ideas, which had been too long revolving in the same narrow circle.
It was not without deep interest that he became acquainted with the history of Serlo’s career. Piecemeal he learned it; for it was not the fashion of that extraordinary man to be confidential, or to speak of anything connectively. He had been, one may say, born and suckled in the theatre. While yet literally an infant, he had been produced upon the stage to move spectators merely by his presence; for authors even then were acquainted with this natural and very guiltless mode of doing so. Thus his first “Father!” or “Mother!” in favorite pieces, procured him approbation, before he understood what was meant by that clapping of the hands. In the character of Cupid he more than once descended, with terror, in his flying-gear; as harlequin he used to issue from the egg; and as a little chimney-sweep to play the sharpest tricks.
Unhappily, the plaudits of these glancing nights were too bitterly repaid by sufferings in the intervening seasons. His father was persuaded that the minds of children could be kept awake and steadfast by no other means than blows; hence, in the studying of any part, he used to thrash him at stated periods; not because the boy was awkward, but that he might become more certainly and constantly expert. It was thus that in former times, while putting down a landmark, people were accustomed to bestow a hearty drubbing on the children who had followed them; and these, it was supposed, would recollect the place exactly to the latest day of their lives. Serlo waxed in stature, and showed the finest capabilities of spirit and of body; in particular an admirable pliancy at once in his thoughts, looks, movements and gestures. His gift of imitation was beyond belief. When still a boy he could mimic persons, so that you would think you saw them; though in form, age and disposition, they might be entirely unlike him, and unlike each other. Nor, with all this, did he want the knack of suiting himself to his circumstances, and picking out his way in life. Accordingly, so soon as he had grown in some degree acquainted with his strength, he very naturally eloped from his father; who, as the boy’s understanding and dexterity increased, still thought it needful to forward their perfection by the harshest treatment.
Happy was the wild boy, now roaming free about the world, where his feats of waggery never failed to secure him a good reception. His lucky star first led him in the Christmas season to a cloister, where the friar, whose business it had been to arrange processions, and to entertain the Christian community by spiritual masquerades, having just died, Serlo was welcomed as a helping angel. On the instant he took up the part of Gabriel in the Annunciation; and did not by any means displease the pretty girl, who, acting the Virgin, very gracefully received his most obliging kiss, with external humility and inward pride. In their Mysteries he continued to perform the most important parts; and thought himself no slender personage, when at last, in the character of Martyr, he was mocked of the world, and beaten, and fixed upon the cross.
Some Pagan soldiers had, on this occasion, played their parts a little too naturally. To be avenged on these heathen in the proper style, he took care at the Day of Judgment to have them decked out in gaudy clothes as emperors and kings; and at the moment when they, exceedingly contented with their situation, were about to take precedence of the rest in heaven as they had done on earth, he on a sudden rushed upon them in the shape of the Devil; and, to the cordial edification of all the beggars and spectators, having thoroughly curried them with his oven-fork, he pushed them without mercy back into the Chasm, where, in the midst of waving flame, they met with the sorriest welcome.
He was acute enough, however, to perceive that these crowned heads might feel offended at such bold procedure; and perhaps forget the reverence due to his privileged office of Accuser and Turnkey. So, in all silence, before the Millennium commenced, he withdrew, and betook him to a neighboring town. Here a society of persons, denominated Children of Joy, received him with open arms. They were a set of clever, strong-headed, lively geniuses, who saw well enough that the sum of our existence, divided by reason, never gives an integer number, but that a surprising fraction is always left behind. At stated times, to get rid of this fraction, which impedes, and if it is diffused over all the mass of our conduct, endangers us, was the object of the Children of Joy. For one day a week each of them in succession was a fool on purpose; and during this, he in his turn exhibited to ridicule, in allegorical representations, whatever folly he had noticed in himself or the rest, throughout the other six. This practice might be somewhat ruder than that constant training, in the course of which a man of ordinary morals is accustomed to observe, to warn, to punish himself daily; but it was also merrier and surer. For as no Child of Joy concealed his bosom-folly, so he and those about him held it for simply what it was: whereas, on the other plan, by the help of self-deception, this same bosom-folly often gains the head authority within, and binds down reason to a secret servitude, at the very time when reason fondly hopes that she has long since chased it out of doors. The mask of folly circulated round in this society; and each member was allowed, in his particular day, to decorate and characterize it with his own attributes or those of others. At the time of Carnival they assumed the greatest freedom, vying with the clergy in attempts to instruct and entertain the multitude. Their solemn figurative processions of Virtues and Vices, Arts and Sciences, Quarters of the World, and Seasons of the Year, bodied forth a number of conceptions, and gave images of many distant objects to the people, and hence were not without their use; while, on the other hand, the mummeries of the priesthood tended but to strengthen a tasteless superstition, already strong enough.
Here again young Serlo was altogether in his element. Invention in its strictest sense, it is true, he had not; but, on the other hand, he had the most consummate skill in employing what he found before him; in ordering it; and shadowing it forth. His roguish turns; his gift of mimicry; his biting wit, which at least one day weekly he might use with entire freedom, even against his benefactors, made him precious, or rather indispensable, to the whole society.
Yet his restless mind soon drove him from this favorable scene to other quarters of his country, where other means of instruction awaited him. He came into the polished but also barren part of Germany, where, in worshipping the good and the beautiful, there is indeed no want of truth, but frequently a grievous want of spirit. His masks would here do nothing for him: he had now to aim at working on the heart and mind. For short periods he attached himself to small or to extensive companies of actors; and marked, on these occasions, what were the distinctive properties both of the pieces and the players. The monotony which then reigned on the German theatre, the mawkish sound and cadence of their Alexandrines, the flat and yet distorted dialogue, the shallowness and commonness of these undisguised preachers of morality, he was not long in comprehending; or in seizing, at the same time, what little there was that moved and pleased.
Not only single parts in the current pieces, but the pieces themselves remained easily and wholly in his memory; and along with them the special tone of any player who had represented them with approbation. At length, in the course of his rambles, his money being altogether done, the project struck him of acting entire pieces by himself, especially in villages and noblemen’s houses; and thus in all places making sure at least of entertainment and lodging. In any tavern, any room, or any garden, he would accordingly at once set up his theatre: with a roguish seriousness and a show of enthusiasm, he would contrive to gain the imaginations of his audience; to deceive their senses, and before their eyes to make an old press into a tower, or a fan into a dagger. His youthful warmth supplied the place of deep feeling; his vehemence seemed strength, and his flattery tenderness. Such of the spectators as already knew a theatre, he put in mind of all that they had seen and heard; in the rest he awakened a presentiment of something wonderful, and a wish to be more acquainted with it. What produced an effect in one place he did not fail to repeat in others; and his mind overflowed with a wicked pleasure when, by the same means, on the spur of the moment, he could make gulls of all the world.
His spirit was lively, brisk and unimpeded: by frequently repeating parts and pieces, he improved very fast. Ere long he could recite and play with more conformity to the sense than the models whom he had at first imitated. Proceeding thus, he arrived by degrees at playing naturally, though he did not cease to feign. He seemed transported, yet he lay in wait for the effect; and his greatest pride was in moving, by successive touches, the passions of men. The mad trade he drove did itself soon force him to proceed with a certain moderation; and thus, partly by constraint, partly by instinct, he learned the art of which so few players seem to have a notion, the art of being frugal in the use of voice and gestures.
Thus did he contrive to tame, and to inspire with interest for him, even rude and unfriendly men. Being always contented with food and shelter; thankfully accepting presents of any kind as readily as money; which latter, when he reckoned that he had enough of it, he frequently declined,—he became a general favorite; was sent about from one to another with recommendatory letters; and thus he wandered many a day from castle to castle, exciting much festivity, enjoying much, and meeting in his travels with the most agreeable and curious adventures.
With such inward coldness of temper, he could not properly be said to love any one; with such clearness of vision, he could respect no one. In fact, he never looked beyond the external peculiarities of men; and he merely carried their characters in his mimical collection. Yet, withal, his selfishness was keenly wounded, if he did not please every one, and call forth universal applause. How this might be attained, he had studied in the course of time so accurately, and so sharpened his sense of the matter, that not only on the stage, but also in common life, he no longer could do otherwise than flatter and deceive. And thus did his disposition, his talent and his way of life work reciprocally on each other, till by this means he had imperceptibly been formed into a perfect actor. Nay, by a mode of action and reaction, which is quite natural, though it seems paradoxical, his recitation, declamation and gesture improved, by critical discernment and practice, to a high degree of truth, ease and frankness; while, in his life and intercourse with men, he seemed to grow continually more secret, artful, or even hypocritical and constrained.
Of his fortunes and adventures we perhaps shall speak in another place: it is enough to remark at present, that in later times, when he had become a man of circumstance, in possession of a distinct reputation, and of a very good though not entirely secure employment and rank, he was wont, in conversation, partly in the way of irony, partly of mockery, in a delicate style, to act the sophist, and thus to destroy almost all serious discussion. This kind of speech he seemed peculiarly fond of using towards Wilhelm; particularly when the latter took a fancy, as often happened, for introducing any of his general and theoretical disquisitions. Yet still they liked well to be together; with such different modes of thinking the conversation could not fail to be lively. Wilhelm always wished to deduce everything from abstract ideas which he had arrived at; he wanted to have art viewed in all its connections as a whole. He wanted to promulgate and fix down universal laws; to settle what was right, beautiful and good: in short, he treated all things in a serious manner. Serlo, on the other hand, took up the matter very lightly; never answering directly to any question, he would contrive by some anecdote or laughable turn to give the finest and most satisfactory illustrations; and thus to instruct his audience while he made them merry.
While our friend was in this way living very happily, Melina and the rest were in quite a different case. Wilhelm they haunted like evil spirits; and not only by their presence, but frequently by rueful faces and bitter words, they caused him many a sorry moment. Serlo had not admitted them to the most trifling part, far less held out to them any hope of a permanent engagement; and yet he had contrived, by degrees, to get acquainted with the capabilities of every one of them. Whenever any actors were assembled in leisure hours about him, he was wont to make them read, and frequently to read along with them. On such occasions he took plays which were by-and-by to be acted, which for a long time had remained unacted; and generally by portions. In like manner, after any first representation, he caused such passages to be repeated as he had anything to say upon; by which means he sharpened the discernment of his actors, and strengthened their certainty of hitting the proper point. And as a person of slender but correct understanding may produce more agreeable effect on others than a perplexed and unpurified genius, he would frequently exalt men of mediocre talents, by the clear views which he imperceptibly afforded them, to a wonderful extent of power. Nor was it an unimportant item in his scheme that he likewise had poems read before him in their meetings; for by these he nourished in his people the feeling of that charm which a well-pronounced rhythm is calculated to awaken in the soul; whereas in other companies, those prose compositions were already getting introduced, for which any tyro was adequate.
On occasions such as these he had contrived to make himself acquainted with the new-come players: he had decided what they were, and what they might be; and silently made up his mind to take advantage of their talents, in a revolution which was now threatening his own company. For a while he let the matter rest; declined every one of Wilhelm’s intercessions for his comrades with a shrug of the shoulders; till at last he saw his time, and altogether unexpectedly made the proposal to our friend, “that he himself should come upon the stage; that on this condition the others too might be admitted.”
“These people must not be so useless as you formerly described them,” answered Wilhelm, “if they can now be all received at once; and I suppose their talents would remain the same without me as with me.”
Under seal of secrecy Serlo hereupon explained his situation: how his first actor was giving hints about a rise of salary at the renewal of their contract; how he himself did not incline conceding this, the rather as the individual in question was no longer in such favor with the public; how, if he dismissed him, a whole train would follow; whereby, it was true, his company would lose some good, but likewise some indifferent actors. He then showed Wilhelm what he hoped to gain in him, in Laertes, Old Boisterous, and even Frau Melina. Nay, he promised to procure for the silly Pedant himself, in the character of Jew, minister, but chiefly of villain, a decided approbation.
Wilhelm faltered; the proposal agitated him; he knew not what to say. That he might say something, he rejoined with a deep-drawn breath: “You speak very graciously about the good you find and hope to find in us: but how is it with our weak points, which certainly have not escaped your penetration?”
“These,” said Serlo, “by diligence, practice and reflection, we shall soon make strong points. Though you are yet but freshmen and bunglers, there is not one among you that does not warrant expectation more or less: for, so far as I can judge, no stick, properly so called, is to be met with in the company; and your stick is the only person that can never be improved, never bent or guided, whether it be self-conceit, stupidity or hypochondria that renders him unpliant.”
The manager next stated, in a few words, the terms he meant to offer; requested Wilhelm to determine soon, and left him in no small perplexity.
In the marvellous composition of those travels, which he had at first engaged with as it were in jest, and was now carrying on in conjunction with Laertes, his mind had by degrees grown more attentive to the circumstances and the every-day life of the actual world than it was wont. He now first understood the object of his father in so earnestly recommending him to keep a journal. He now, for the first time, felt how pleasant and how useful it might be to become participator in so many trades and requisitions, and to take a hand in diffusing activity and life into the deepest nooks of the mountains and forests of Europe. The busy trading town in which he was; the unrest of Laertes, who dragged him about to examine everything, afforded him the most impressive image of a mighty centre, from which everything was flowing out, to which everything was coming back; and it was the first time that his spirit, in contemplating this species of activity, had really felt delight. At such a juncture Serlo’s offer had been made him; had again awakened his desires, his tendencies, his faith in a natural talent, and again brought into mind his solemn obligation to his helpless comrades.
“Here standest thou once more,” said he within himself, “at the Parting of the Ways, between the two women who appeared before thee in thy youth. The one no longer looks so pitiful as then; nor does the other look so glorious. To obey the one, or to obey the other, thou art not without a kind of inward calling; outward reasons are on both sides strong enough; and to decide appears to thee impossible. Thou wishest some preponderancy from without would fix thy choice: and yet, if thou consider well, it is external circumstances only that inspire thee with a wish to trade, to gather, to possess; whilst it is thy inmost want that has created, that has nourished the desire still further to unfold and perfect what endowments soever for the beautiful and good, be they mental or bodily, may lie within thee. And ought I not to honor Fate, which without furtherance of mine has led me hither to the goal of all my wishes? Has not all that I in old times meditated and forecast now happened accidentally, and without my co-operation? Singular enough! We seem to be so intimate with nothing as we are with our own wishes and hopes, which have long been kept and cherished in our hearts; yet when they meet us, when they as it were press forward to us, then we know them not, then we recoil from them. All that, since the hapless night which severed me from Mariana, I have but allowed myself to dream, now stands before me, entreating my acceptance. Hither I intended to escape by flight; hither I am softly guided: with Serlo I meant to seek a place; he now seeks me, and offers me conditions which, as a beginner, I could not have looked for. Was it then mere love to Mariana that bound me to the stage? Or love to art that bound me to her? Was that prospect, that outlet, which the theatre presented me, nothing but the project of a restless, disorderly and disobedient boy, wishing to lead a life which the customs of the civic world would not admit of? Or, was all this different, worthier, purer? If so, what moved thee to alter the persuasions of that period? Hast thou not hitherto, even without knowing it, pursued thy plan? Is not the concluding step still further to be justified, now that no side-purposes combine with it; now that in making it thou mayest fulfil a solemn promise, and nobly free thyself from a heavy debt?”
All that could affect his heart and his imagination was now moving and conflicting in the liveliest strife within him. The thought that he might retain Mignon, that he should not need to put away the harper, was not an inconsiderable item in the balance; which, however, had not ceased to waver to the one and to the other side, when he went, as he was wont, to see his friend Aurelia.
She was lying on the sofa; she seemed quiet. “Do you think you will be fit to act to-morrow?” he inquired. “O yes!” cried she with vivacity, “you know there is nothing to prevent me. If I but knew a way,” continued she, “to rid myself of those applauses! The people mean it well, but they will kill me Last night, I thought my very heart would break! Once, when I used to please myself, I could endure this gladly: when I had studied long, and well prepared myself, it gave me joy to hear the sound, ‘It has succeeded!’ pealing back to me from every corner. But now I speak not what I like, nor as I like; I am swept along, I get confused, I scarce know what I do; and the impression I make is far deeper. The applause grows louder, and I think: Did you but know what charms you! These dark, vague, vehement tones of passion move you, force you to admire; and you feel not that they are the cries of agony, wrung from the miserable being whom you praise.
“I learned my part this morning; just now I have been repeating it and trying it. I am tired, broken down; and to-morrow I must do the same. To-morrow evening is the play. Thus do I drag myself to and fro: it is wearisome to rise, it is wearisome to go to bed. All moves within me in an everlasting circle. Then come their dreary consolations, and present themselves before me; and I cast them out, and execrate them. I will not surrender, not surrender to necessity: why should that be necessary which crushes me to the dust? Might it not be otherwise? I am paying the penalty of being born a German; it is the nature of the Germans that they bear heavily on everything, that everything bears heavily on them.”
“Oh, my friend!” cried Wilhelm, “could you cease to whet the dagger wherewith you are ever wounding me! Does nothing then remain for you? Are your youth, your form, your health, your talents nothing? Having lost one blessing, without blame of yours, must you throw all the others after it? Is that also necessary?”
She was silent for a few moments, and then burst forth: “I know well it is a waste of time, nothing but a waste of time, this love! What might not, should not, I have done! And now it is all vanished into air. I am a poor, wretched, lovelorn creature; lovelorn, that is all! Oh, have compassion on me: God knows I am poor and wretched!”
She sank in thought; then, after a brief pause, she exclaimed with violence: “You are accustomed to have all things fly into your arms. No, you cannot feel; no man is qualified to feel the worth of a woman that can reverence herself. By all the holy angels, by all the images of blessedness, which a pure and kindly heart creates, there is not anything more heavenly than the soul of a woman giving herself to the man she loves!
“We are cold, proud, high, clear-sighted, wise, while we deserve the name of women; and all these qualities we lay down at your feet the instant that we love, that we hope to excite a return of love. Oh, how have I cast away my whole existence wittingly and willingly! But now will I despair, purposely despair. There is no drop of blood within me but shall suffer, no fibre that I will not punish. Smile, I pray you; laugh at this theatrical display of passion.”
Wilhelm was far enough from any tendency to laugh. This horrible, half-natural, half-factitious condition of his friend afflicted him but too deeply. He sympathized in the tortures of that racking misery: his thoughts were wandering in painful perplexities, his blood was in a feverish tumult.
She had risen, and was walking up and down the room. “I see before me,” she exclaimed, “all manner of reasons why I should not love him. I know he is not worthy of it: I turn my mind aside, this way and that; I seize upon whatever business I can find. At one time I take up a part, though I have not to play it; at another, I begin to practise old ones, though I know them through and through; I practise them more diligently, more minutely, I toil and toil at them—my friend, my confidant, what a horrid task is it to tear away one’s thoughts from one’s self! My reason suffers, my brain is racked and strained; to save myself from madness I again admit the feeling that I love him. Yes, I love him, I love him!” cried she, with a shower of tears; “I love him, I shall die loving him!”
He took her by the hand, and entreated her in the most earnest manner not to waste herself in such self-torments. “Oh, it seems hard,” said he, “that not only so much that is impossible should be denied us, but so much also that is possible. It was not your lot to meet with a faithful heart that would have formed your perfect happiness. It was mine to fix the welfare of my life upon a hapless creature, whom by the weight of my fidelity I drew to the bottom like a reed, perhaps even broke in pieces!”
He had told Aurelia of his intercourse with Mariana, and could therefore now refer to it. She looked him intently in the face, and asked: “Can you say that you never yet betrayed a woman, that you never tried with thoughtless gallantry, with false asseverations, with cajoling oaths, to wheedle favor from her?”
“I can,” said Wilhelm, “and indeed without much vanity; my life has been so simple and sequestered, I have had but few enticements to attempt such things. And what a warning, my beautiful, my noble friend, is this melancholy state in which I see you! Accept of me a vow, which is suited to my heart; which, under the emotion you have caused me, has settled into words and shape, and will be hallowed by the hour in which I utter it: Each transitory inclination I will study to withstand; and even the most earnest I will keep within my bosom; no woman shall receive an acknowledgment of love from my lips, to whom I cannot consecrate my life!”
She looked at him with a wild indifference; and drew back some steps as he offered her his hand. “’Tis of no moment!” cried she: “so many women’s tears more or fewer; the ocean will not swell by reason of them. And yet,” continued she, “among thousands one woman saved; that still is something: among thousands one honest man discovered; this is not to be refused. Do you know then what you promise?”
“I know it,” answered Wilhelm with a smile, and holding out his hand.
“I accept it then,” said she, and made a movement with her right hand, as if meaning to take hold of his: but instantly she darted it into her pocket, pulled out her dagger quick as lightning, and scored with the edge and point of it across his hand. He hastily drew it back, but the blood was already running down.
“One must mark you men rather sharply, if one would have you take heed,” cried she with a wild mirth, which soon passed into a quick assiduity. She took her handkerchief, and bound his hand with it to stanch the fast-flowing blood. “Forgive a half-crazed being,” cried she, “and regret not these few drops of blood. I am appeased, I am again myself. On my knees will I crave your pardon: leave me the comfort of healing you.”
She ran to her drawer; brought lint, with other apparatus; stanched the blood, and viewed the wound attentively. It went across the palm, close under the thumb, dividing the life-lines, and running towards the little finger. She bound it up in silence, with a significant, reflective look. He asked once or twice: “Aurelia, how could you hurt your friend?”
“Hush!” replied she, laying her finger on her mouth: “Hush!”