Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK VIII. - Goethe's Works, vol. 4 (Recreations of the German Emigrants, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship)
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BOOK VIII. - 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.
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Felix skipped into the garden; Wilhelm followed him with rapture: a lovely morning was displaying everything with fresh charms; our friend enjoyed the most delightful moment. Felix was new in the free and lordly world; nor did his father know much more than he about the objects, concerning which the little creature was repeatedly and unweariedly inquiring. At last they joined the gardener, who had to tell them the names and uses of a multitude of plants. Wilhelm looked on Nature as with unscaled eyes; the child’s new-fangled curiosity first made him sensible how weak an interest he himself had taken in external things, how small his actual knowledge was. Not till this day, the happiest of his life, did his own cultivation seem to have commenced: he felt the necessity of learning, being called upon to teach.
Jarno and the abbé did not show themselves again till evening, when they brought a guest along with them. Wilhelm viewed the stranger with amazement; he could scarce believe his eyes: it was Werner; who, likewise, for a moment, hesitated in his recognition. They embraced each other tenderly; neither of them could conceal that he thought the other greatly altered. Werner declared that his friend was taller, stronger, straighter; that he had become more polished in his looks and carriage, “Something of his old true-heartedness, I miss, however,” added he. “That too will soon appear again,” said Wilhelm, “when we have recovered from our first astonishment.”
The impression Werner made upon his friend was by no means so favorable. The honest man seemed rather to have retrograded than advanced. He was much leaner than of old; his peaked face appeared to have grown sharper, his nose longer; brow and crown had lost their hair; the voice, clear, eager, shrill, the hollow breast and stooping shoulders, the sallow cheeks, announced indubitably that a melancholic drudge was there.
Wilhelm was discreet enough to speak but sparingly of these great changes; while the other, on the contrary, gave free course to his friendly joy. “In truth,” cried he, “if thou hast spent thy time badly, and, as I suppose, gained nothing, it must be owned thou art grown a piece of manhood such as cannot fail to turn to somewhat. Do not waste and squander me this too again; with such a figure thou shalt buy some rich and elegant heiress.” “I see,” said Wilhelm, smiling, “thou wilt not belie thy character. Scarcely hast thou found thy brother after long absence, when thou lookest on him as a piece of goods, a thing on which to speculate, and to make profit by.”
Jarno and the abbé did not seem at all astonished at this recognition; they allowed the two to expatiate on the past and present as they pleased. Werner walked round and round his friend; turned him to this side and to that; so as almost to embarrass him. “No!” cried he, “such a thing as this I never met with, and yet I know that I am not mistaken. Thy eyes are deeper, thy brow is broader; thy nose has grown finer, thy mouth more lovely. Do but look at him, how he stands; how it all suits and fits together! Well, idling is the way to grow. But for me, poor devil,” said he, looking at himself in the glass, “if I had not all this while been making store of money, it were over with me altogether.”
Werner had got Wilhelm’s last letter; the distant trading house, in common with which Lothario meant to purchase the estate, was theirs. On that business Werner had come hither, not dreaming that he should meet with Wilhelm on the way. The baron’s lawyer came; the papers were produced; Werner reckoned the conditions reasonable. “If you mean well,” said he, “as you seem to do, with this young man, you will of yourselves take care that our part be not abridged: it shall be at my friend’s option whether he will take the land, and lay out a portion of his fortune on it.” Jarno and the abbé protested that they did not need this admonition. Scarcely had the business been discussed in general terms, when Werner signified a longing for a game at ombre, to which, in consequence, Jarno and the abbé set themselves along with him. He was now grown so accustomed to it, that he could not pass the evening without cards.
The two friends, after supper, being left alone, began to talk, and question one another very keenly, touching everything they wished to have communicated. Wilhelm spoke in high terms of his situation, of his happiness in being received among such men. Werner shook his head and said: “Well, I see, we should believe nothing that we do not see with our eyes. More than one obliging friend assured me thou wert living with a wild young nobleman, wert supplying him with actresses, helping him to waste his money; that, by thy means, he had quarrelled with every one of his relations.” “For my own sake, and the sake of these worthy gentlemen, I should be vexed at this,” said Wilhelm, “had not my theatrical experience made me tolerant to every sort of calumny. How can men judge rightly of our actions, which appear but singly or in fragments to them; of which they see the smallest portion; while good and bad takes place in secret, and for most part nothing comes to light but an indifferent show? Are not the actors and actresses in a play set up on boards before them; lamps are lit on every side; the whole transaction is comprised within three hours; yet scarcely one of them knows rightly what to make of it.”
Our friend proceeded to inquire about his family, his young comrades, his native town. Werner told, with great haste, of changes that had taken place, of changes that were still in progress. “The women in our house,” said he, “are satisfied and happy; we are never short of money. One half of their time they spend in dressing; the other in showing themselves when dressed. They are as domestic as a reasonable man could wish. My boys are growing up to prudent youths. I already, as in vision, see them sitting, writing, reckoning, running, trading, trucking: each of them, as soon as possible, shall have a business of his own. As to what concerns our fortune, thou wilt be contented with the state of it. When we have got these lands in order, thou must come directly home with me; for it now appears as if thou too couldst mingle with some skill in worldly undertakings. Thanks to thy new friends, who have set thee on the proper path. I am certainly a fool: I never knew till now how well I liked thee, now when I cannot gape and gaze at thee enough, so well and handsome thou lookest. That is in truth another form than the portrait which was sent thy sister; which occasioned such disputes at home. Both mother and daughter thought young master very handsome indeed, with his slack collar, half-open breast, large ruff, sleek pendent hair, round hat, short waistcoat, and wide pantaloons; while I, on the other hand, maintained that the costume was scarce two finger-breadths from that of Harlequin. But now thou lookest like a man; only the queue is wanting, in which I beg of thee to bind thy hair; else some time or other, they will seize thee as a Jew, and demand toll and tribute of thee.”
Felix in the mean time had come into the room; and as they did not mind him, he had laid himself upon the sofa, and was fallen asleep. “What urchin is this?” said Werner. Wilhelm at that moment had not the heart to tell the truth; nor did he wish to lay a still ambiguous narrative before a man, who was by nature anything but credulous.
The whole party now proceeded to the lands, to view them, and conclude the bargain. Wilhelm would not part with Felix from his side; for the boy’s sake, he rejoiced exceedingly in the intended purchase. The longing of the child for cherries and berries, the season for which was at hand, brought to his mind the days of his own youth, and the manifold duties of a father, to prepare, to procure, and to maintain for his family a constant series of enjoyments. With what interest he viewed the nurseries and the buildings! How zealously he contemplated repairing what had been neglected, restoring what had fallen! He no longer looked upon the world with the eyes of a bird of passage: an edifice he did not now consider as a grove that is hastily put together, and that withers ere one leaves it. Everything that he proposed commencing was to be completed for his boy; everything that he erected was to last for several generations. In this sense, his apprenticeship was ended: with the feeling of a father he had acquired all the virtues of a citizen. He felt this, and nothing could exceed his joy. “O needless strictness of morality,” exclaimed he, “while Nature in her own kindly manner trains us to all that we require to be! O strange demands of civil society, which first perplexes and misleads us, then asks of us more than Nature herself! Woe to every sort of culture which destroys the most effectual means of all true culture, and directs us to the end, instead of rendering us happy on the way!”
Much as he had already seen in his life, it seemed as if the observation of the child afforded him his first clear view of human nature. The theatre, the world had appeared before him, only as a multitude of thrown dice, every one of which upon its upper surface indicates a greater or a smaller value; and which, when reckoned up together, make a sum. But here in the person of the boy, as we might say, a single die was laid before him, on the many sides of which the worth and worthlessness of man’s nature were legibly engraved.
The child’s desire to have distinctions made in his ideas grew stronger every day. Having learned that things had names, he wished to hear the name of everything: supposing that there could be nothing which his father did not know, he often teased him with his questions, and caused him to inquire concerning objects, which but for this he would have passed without notice. Our innate tendency to pry into the origin and end of things was likewise soon developed in the boy. When he asked whence came the wind, and whither went the flame, his father for the first time truly felt the limitation of his own powers; and wished to understand how far man may venture with his thoughts, and what things he may hope ever to give account of to himself or others. The anger of the child, when he saw injustice done to any living thing, was extremely grateful to the father, as the symptom of a generous heart. Felix once struck fiercely at the cook for cutting up some pigeons. The fine impression this produced on Wilhelm was, indeed, ere long disturbed, when he found the boy unmercifully tearing sparrows in pieces, and beating frogs to death. This trait reminded him of many men, who appear so scrupulously just when without passion, and witnessing the proceedings of other men.
The pleasant feeling, that the boy was producing so fine and wholesome an influence on his being, was in a short time troubled for a moment, when our friend observed that in truth the boy was educating him more than he the boy. The child’s conduct he was not qualified to correct; its mind he could not guide in any path but a spontaneous one. The evil habits which Aurelia had so violently striven against, had all, as it seemed, on her death, assumed their ancient privileges. Felix still never shut the door behind him, he still would not eat from a plate; and no greater pleasure could befall him than when he happened to be overlooked, and could take his bit immediately from the dish, or let the full glass stand, and drink out of the bottle. He delighted also very much when he could set himself in a corner with a book, and say with a serious air: “I must study this scholar stuff!” though he neither knew his letters nor would learn them.
Thus, when Wilhelm thought how little he had done for Felix, how little he was capable of doing, there arose at times a restlessness within him, which appeared to counterbalance all his happiness. “Are we men, then,” said he, “so selfishly formed that we cannot possibly take proper charge of any one without us? Am I not acting with the boy exactly as I did with Mignon? I drew the dear child towards me; her presence gave me pleasure; yet I cruelly neglected her. What did I do for her education, which she longed for with such earnestness! Nothing! I left her to herself and to all the accidents to which in a society of coarse people she could be exposed. And now for this boy, who seemed so interesting before he could be precious to thee, has thy heart ever bid thee do the smallest service to him? It is time that thou shouldst cease to waste thy own years and those of others: awake, and think what thou shouldst do for thyself, and for this good being, whom love and nature have so firmly bound to thee.”
This soliloquy was but an introduction to admit that he had already thought, and cared, and tried, and chosen: he could delay no longer to confess it. After sorrow, often and in vain repeated, for the loss of Mariana, he distinctly felt that he must seek a mother for the boy; and also that he could not find one equal to Theresa. With this gifted lady he was thoroughly acquainted. Such a spouse and helpmate seemed the only one to trust one’s self to, in such circumstances. Her generous affection for Lothario did not make him hesitate. By a singular destiny, they two had been forever parted; Theresa looked upon herself as free; she had talked of marrying, with indifference indeed, but as of a matter understood.
After long deliberation, he determined on communicating to her everything he knew about himself. She was to be made acquainted with him, as he already was with her. He accordingly began to take a survey of his history: but it seemed to him so empty of events, and in general so little to his credit, that he more than once was on the point of giving up his purpose. At last, however, he resolved on asking Jarno for the Roll of his Apprenticeship, which he had noticed lying in the tower: Jarno said it was the very time for that, and Wilhelm consequently got it.
It is a feeling of awe and fear, which seizes on a man of noble mind, when conscious that his character is just about to be exhibited before him. Every transition is a crisis; and a crisis presupposes sickness. With what reluctance do we look into the glass after rising from a sick-bed! The recovery we feel: the effects of the past disease are all we see. Wilhelm had, however, been sufficiently prepared; events had already spoken loudly to him, and his friends had not spared him. If he opened the roll of parchment with some hurry, he grew calmer and calmer the further he read. He found his life delineated with large sharp strokes; neither unconnected incidents, nor narrow sentiments perplexed his view; the most bland and general reflections taught without shaming him. For the first time, his own figure was presented to him; not indeed, as in a mirror, a second self; but as in a portrait, another self: we do not, it is true, recognize ourselves in every feature, but we are delighted that a thinking spirit has so understood us, that such gifts have been employed in representing us, that an image of what we were exists, and may endure when we ourselves are gone.
Wilhelm next employed himself in setting forth the history of his life, for the perusal of Theresa; all the circumstances of it were recalled to memory by what he had been reading; he almost felt ashamed that, to her great virtues, he had nothing to oppose which indicated a judicious activity. He had been minute in his written narrative; he was brief in the letter which he sent along with it. He solicited her friendship, her love, if it were possible; he offered her his hand, and entreated for a quick decision.
After some internal contest whether it was proper to impart this weighty business to his friends, to Jarno and the abbé, he determined not to do so. His resolution was so firm, the business was of such importance, that he could not have submitted it to the decision of the wisest and best of men. He was even cautious enough to carry his letter with his own hand to the nearest post. From his parchment roll it appeared with certainty enough that, in very many actions of his life, in which he had conceived himself to be proceeding freely and in secret, he had been observed, nay guided; and perhaps the thought of this had given him an unpleasant feeling; and he wished at least in speaking to Theresa’s heart, to speak purely from the heart; to owe his fate to her decision and determination only. Hence in this solemn point he scrupled not to give his overseers the slip.
Scarcely was the letter gone when Lothario returned. Every one was gladdened at the prospect of so speedily concluding the important business which they had in hand: Wilhelm waited with anxiety to see how all these many threads were to be loosed, or tied anew, and how his own future state was to be settled. Lothario gave a kindly salutation to them all: he was quite recovered and serene; he had the air of one who knows what he should do, and who finds no hindrance in the way of doing it.
His cordial greeting Wilhelm could scarcely repay. “This,” he had to own within himself, “is the friend, the lover, bridegroom of Theresa; in his stead thou art presuming to intrude. Dost thou think it possible for thee to banish, to obliterate an impression such as this?” Had the letter not been sent away, perhaps he would not have ventured sending it at all. But happily the die was cast: it might be, Theresa had already taken up her resolution, and only distance shrouded with its veil a happy termination. The winning or the losing must soon be decided. By such considerations he endeavored to compose himself; and yet the movements of his heart were almost feverish. He could give but little attention to the weighty business, on which in some degree the fate of his whole property depended. In passionate moments, how trivial do we reckon all that is about us, all that belongs to us!
Happily for him, Lothario treated the affair with magnanimity, and Werner with an air of ease. The latter, in his violent desire of gain, experienced a lively pleasure in contemplating the fine estate which was to be his friend’s. Lothario, for his part, seemed to be revolving very different thoughts. “I cannot take such pleasure in the acquirement of property,” said he, “as in the justness of it.”
“And, in the name of Heaven,” cried Werner, “is not this of ours acquired justly?”
“Not altogether,” said Lothario.
“Are we not giving hard cash for it?”
“Doubtless,” replied Lothario; “and most probably you will consider what I am now hinting at as nothing but a whim. No property appears to me quite just, quite free of flaw, except it contribute to the State its due proportion.”
“How!” said Werner: “You would rather that our lands, which we have purchased free from burden, had been taxable?”
“Yes,” said Lothario, “in a suitable degree. It is only by this equality with every other kind of property that our possession of it can be made secure. In these new times, when so many old ideas are tottering, what is the grand reason why the peasant reckons the possession of the noble less equitable than his own? Simply that the noble is not burdened, and lies a burden on him.”
“But how would the interest of our capital agree with that?” said Werner.
“Perfectly well,” returned the other: “if the State, for a regular and fair contribution, would relieve us from the feudal hocus-pocus; would allow us to proceed with our lands according to our pleasure: so that we were not compelled to retain such masses of them undivided, so that we might part them more equally among our children, whom we might thus introduce to vigorous and free activity; instead of leaving them the poor inheritance of these our limited and limiting privileges, to enjoy which we must ever be invoking the ghosts of our forefathers. How much happier were men and women in our rank of life, if they might with unforbidden eyes look round them, and elevate by their selection, here a worthy maiden, there a worthy youth, regarding nothing further than their own ideas of happiness in marriage! The State would have more, perhaps better citizens, and would not so often be distressed for want of heads and hands.”
“I can assure you honestly,” said Werner, “I never in my life thought about the State: my taxes, tolls and tributes I have paid because it was the custom.”
“Still, however,” said Lothario, “I hope to make a worthy patriot of you. As he alone is a good father, who at table serves his children first, so is he alone a good citizen who, before all other outlays, discharges what he owes the State.”
By such general reflections their special business was accelerated rather than retarded. It was nearly over, when Lothario said to Wilhelm: “I must send you to a place where you are needed more than here. My sister bids me beg of you to go to her as soon as possible. Poor Mignon seems to be decaying more and more: and it is thought your presence might allay the malady. Besides telling me in person, my sister has dispatched this note after me: so that you perceive she reckons it a pressing case.” Lothario handed him a billet. Wilhelm, who had listened in extreme perplexity, at once discovered in these hasty pencil-strokes the hand of the countess, and knew not what to answer.
“Take Felix with you,” said Lothario: “the little ones will cheer each other. You must be upon the road to-morrow morning early; my sister’s coach, in which my people travelled hither, is still here: I will give you horses half the way; the rest you post. A prosperous journey to you! Make many compliments from me, when you arrive; tell my sister I shall soon be back, and that she must prepare for guests. Our granduncle’s friend, the Marchese Cipriani, is on his way to visit us: he hoped to find the old man still in life; they meant to entertain each other with their common love of art, and the recollection of their early intimacy. The marchese, much younger than my uncle, owed to him the greater part of his accomplishments. We must exert all our endeavors to fill up in some measure the void which is awaiting him; and a larger party is the readiest means.”
Lothario went with the abbé to his chamber; Jarno had ridden off before; Wilhelm hastened to his room. There was none to whom he could unbosom his distress; none by whose assistance he could turn aside the project, which he viewed with so much fear. The little servant came, requesting him to pack: they were to put the luggage on to-night, meaning to set out by daybreak. Wilhelm knew not what to do; at length he cried: “Well, I shall leave this house at any rate; on the road I may consider what is to be done; at all events I will halt in the middle of my journey; I can send a message hither, I can write what I recoil from saying; then let come of it what will.” In spite of this resolution, he spent a sleepless night: a look on Felix resting so serenely was the only thing that gave him any solace. “O! who knows,” cried he, “what trials are before me; who knows how sharply bygone errors will yet punish me; how often good and reasonable projects for the future shall miscarry! But this treasure, which I call my own, continue it to me, thou exorable or inexorable Fate! Were it possible that this best part of myself were taken from me, that this heart could be torn from my heart, then farewell sense and understanding; farewell all care and foresight; vanish thou tendency to perseverance! All that distinguishes us from the beasts, pass away! And if it is not lawful for a man to end his heavy days by the act of his own hand, may speedy madness banish consciousness, before Death, which destroys it forever, shall bring on his own long night.”
He seized the boy in his arms, kissed him, clasped him and wetted him with plenteous tears.
The child awoke: his clear eye, his friendly look, touched his father to the inmost heart. “What a scene awaits me,” cried he, “when I shall present thee to the beautiful unhappy countess, when she shall press thee to her bosom, which thy father has so deeply injured! Ought I not to fear that she will push thee from her with a cry, when the touch of thee renews her real or fancied pain!” The coachman did not leave him time for further thought or hesitation; but forced him into the carriage before day. Wilhelm wrapped his Felix well; the morning was cold but clear; the child, for the first time in his life, saw the sun rise. His astonishment at the first fiery glance of the luminary, at the growing power of the light; his pleasure and his strange remarks rejoiced the father, and afforded him a glimpse into the heart of the boy, before which, as over a clear and silent sea, the sun was mounting and hovering.
In a little town the coachman halted; unyoked his horses, and rode back. Wilhelm took possession of a room and asked himself seriously whether he would stay or proceed. Thus irresolute he ventured to take out the little note, which hitherto he had never had the heart to look on: it contained the following words: “Send thy young friend very soon; Mignon for the last two days has been growing rather worse. Sad as the occasion is, I shall be happy to get acquainted with him.”
The concluding words Wilhelm, at the first glance, had not seen. He was terrified on reading them, and instantly determined not to go. “How?” cried he, “Lothario, knowing what occurred between us, has not told her who I am? She is not, with a settled mind, expecting an acquaintance, whom she would rather not see: she expects a stranger; and I enter! I see her shudder and start back, I see her blush! No, it is impossible for me to encounter such a scene!” Just then his horses were led out and yoked: Wilhelm was determined to take off his luggage and remain. He felt extremely agitated. Hearing the maid running up-stairs to tell him, as he thought, that all was ready, he began on the spur of the instant to devise some pretext for continuing; his eyes were fixed, without attention, on the letter which he still held in his hand. “In the name of Heaven!” cried he, “what is this? It is not the hand of the countess, it is the hand of the Amazon!”
The maid came in; requested him to walk down, and took Felix with her. “Is it possible,” exclaimed he, “is it true? What shall I do? Remain, and wait, and certify myself? Or hasten, hasten and rush into an explanation? Thou art on the way to her, and thou canst loiter? This night thou mayest see her, and thou wilt voluntarily lock thyself in prison? It is her hand; yes, it is hers! This hand calls thee; her coach is yoked to lead thee to her! Now the riddle is explained: Lothario has two sisters; my relation to the one he knows; how much I owe to the other is unknown to him. Nor is she aware that the wounded stroller, who stands indebted to her for his health, if not his life, has been received with such unmerited attention in her brother’s house.”
Felix, who was swinging to and fro in the coach, cried up to him: “Father! Come, O come! Look at the pretty clouds, the pretty colors!” “Yes, I come,” cried Wilhelm, springing down stairs; “and all the glories of the sky, which thou, good creature, so admirest, are as nothing to the moment which I look for.”
Sitting in the coach, he recalled all the circumstances of the matter to his memory. “So this is the Natalia, then, Theresa’s friend! What a discovery; what hopes, what prospects! How strange that the fear of speaking about the one sister should have altogether concealed from me the existence of the other!” With what joy he looked on Felix. He anticipated for the child, as for himself, the best reception.
Evening at last came on; the sun had set; the road was not the best; the postillion drove slowly; Felix had fallen asleep, and new cares and doubts arose in the bosom of our friend. “What delusion, what fantasies are these that rule thee!” said he to himself: “An uncertain similarity of handwriting has at once assured thee, and given thee matter for the strangest castles in the air.” He again brought out the paper; in the departing light he again imagined that he recognized the hand of the countess: his eyes could no longer find in the parts what his heart had at once shown him in the whole. “These horses, then, are running with thee to a scene of terror! Who knows but in a few hours they may have to bring thee back again? And if thou shouldst meet with her alone! But perhaps her husband will be there; perhaps the baroness! How altered will she be! Shall I not fail, and sink to the earth, at sight of her?”
Yet a faint hope that it might be his Amazon would often gleam through these gloomy thoughts. It was now night: the carriage rolled into a courtyard, and halted; a servant with a link stepped out of a stately portal, and came down the broad steps to the carriage-door. “You have been long looked for,” said he, opening it. Wilhelm dismounted; took the sleeping Felix in his arms: the first servant called to a second, who was standing in the door with a light: “Show the gentleman up to the baroness.”
Quick as lightning it went through Wilhelm’s soul: “What a happiness! Be it by accident or of purpose, the baroness is here! I shall see her first; apparently the countess has retired to rest. Ye good spirits, grant that the moment of deepest perplexity may pass tolerably over!”
He entered the house: he found himself in the most earnest, and, as he almost felt, the holiest place that he had ever trod. A pendent dazzling lustre threw its light upon a broad and softly rising flight of stairs, which lay before him, and which parted into two divisions at a turn above. Marble statues and busts were standing upon pedestals and arranged in niches: some of them seemed known to him. The impressions of our childhood abide with us, even in their minutest traces. He recognized a muse, which had formerly belonged to his grandfather; not indeed by its form or worth, but by an arm which had been restored, and some new-inserted pieces of the robe. He felt as if a fairy tale had turned out to be true. The child was heavy in his arms; he lingered on the stairs, and knelt down, as if to place him more conveniently. His real want, however, was to get a moment’s breathing time. He could scarcely raise himself again. The servant, who was carrying the light, offered to take Felix; but Wilhelm could not part with him. He had now mounted to an antechamber; in which, to his still greater astonishment, he observed the well-known picture of the sick king’s son hanging on the wall. He had scarcely time to cast a look on it; the servant hurried him along through two rooms into a cabinet. Here, behind a light screen, which threw a shadow on her, sat a young lady reading. “O that it were she!” said he within himself at this decisive moment. He set down the boy, who seemed to be awakening; he meant to approach the lady; but the child sank together drunk with sleep; the lady rose, and came to him. It was the Amazon. Unable to restrain himself, he fell upon his knee, and cried: “It is she!” He seized her hand, and kissed it with unbounded rapture. The child was lying on the carpet between them, sleeping softly.
Felix was carried to the sofa: Natalia sat down beside him; she directed Wilhelm to the chair which was standing nearest them. She proposed to order some refreshments; these our friend declined; he was altogether occupied convincing himself that it was she, closely examining her features, shaded by the screen, and accurately recognizing them. She told him of Mignon’s sickness, in general terms; that the poor child was gradually consuming under the influence of a few deep feelings; that, with her extreme excitability, and her endeavoring to hide it, her little heart often suffered violent and dangerous pains; that on any unexpected agitation of her mind, this primary organ of life would suddenly stop, and no trace of the vital movement could be felt in the good child’s bosom. That when such an agonizing cramp was past, the force of nature would again express itself in strong pulses, and now torment the child by its excess, as she had before suffered by its defect.
Wilhelm recollected one spasmodic scene of that description, and Natalia referred him to the doctor, who would speak with him at large on the affair, and explain more circumstantially why he, the friend and benefactor of the child, had been at present sent for. “One curious change,” Natalia added, “you will find in her: she now wears women’s clothes, to which she had once such an aversion.”
“How did you succeed in this?” said Wilhelm.
“If it was indeed a thing to be desired,” said she, “we owe it all to chance. Hear how it happened. Perhaps you are aware that I have constantly about me a number of little girls whose opening minds I endeavor, as they grow in strength, to train to what is good and right. From my mouth they learn nothing but what I myself regard as true: yet I cannot and would not hinder them from gathering, among other people, many fragments of the common prejudices and errors which are current in the world. If they inquire of me about them, I attempt, as far as possible, to join these alien and intrusive notions to some just one, and thus to render them, if not useful, at least harmless. Some time ago, my girls had heard among the peasants’ children many tales of angels, of Knecht Rupert and such shadowy characters, who, they understood, appeared at certain times in person, to give presents to good children, and to punish naughty ones. They had an idea that these strange visitants were people in disguise: in this I confirmed them; and without entering into explanations I determined, on the first opportunity, to let them see a spectacle of that sort. It chanced that the birthday of two twin-sisters, whose behavior had been always very good, was near; I promised that, on this occasion, the little present they had so well deserved should be delivered to them by an angel. They were on the stretch of curiosity regarding this phenomenon. I had chosen Mignon for the part; and accordingly, at the appointed day, I had her suitably equipped in a long light snow-white dress. She was, of course, provided with a golden girdle round her waist, and a golden fillet on her hair. I at first proposed to omit the wings; but the young ladies who were decking her insisted on a pair of large golden pinions, in preparing which they meant to show their highest art. Thus did the strange apparition, with a lily in the one hand, and a little basket in the other, glide in among the girls: she surprised even me. ‘There comes the angel!’ said I. The children all shrank back; at last they cried: ‘It is Mignon!’ yet they durst not venture to approach the wondrous figure.
“ ‘Here are your gifts,’ said she, putting down the basket. They gathered around her, they viewed, they felt, they questioned her.
“ ‘Art thou an angel?’ asked one of them.
“ ‘I wish I were,’ said Mignon.
“ ‘Why dost thou bear a lily?’
“ ‘So pure and so open should my heart be; then were I happy.’
“ ‘What wings are these? Let us see them!’
“ ‘They represent far finer ones, which are not yet unfolded.’
“And thus significantly did she answer all their other childlike, innocent inquiries. The little party having satisfied their curiosity, and the impression of the show beginning to abate, we were for proceeding to undress the little angel. This, however, she resisted: she took her cithern; she seated herself here, on this high writing-table, and sang a little song with touching grace:
“I immediately determined upon leaving her the dress,” proceeded Natalia; “and procuring her some others of a similar kind. These she now wears, and in them, I think, her form has quite a different expression.”
As it was already late Natalia let the stranger go: he parted from her not without anxiety. “Is she married or not?” asked he within himself. He had been afraid, at every rustling, that the door would open, and her husband enter. The serving-man, who showed him to his room, went off, before our friend had mustered resolution to inquire regarding this. His unrest held him long awake; he kept comparing the figure of the Amazon with the figure of his new acquaintance. The two would not combine: the former he had, as it were, himself fashioned: the latter seemed as if it would almost new-fashion him.
Next morning, while all was yet quiet, he went about viewing the house. It was the purest, finest, stateliest piece of architecture he had ever seen. “True art,” cried he, “is like good company: it constrains us in the most delightful way to recognize the measure by which, and up to which, our inward nature has been shaped by culture.” The impression which the busts and statues of his grandfather made upon him was exceedingly agreeable. With a longing mind, he hastened to the picture of the sick king’s son; and he still felt it to be charming and affecting. The servant opened to him various other chambers: he found a library, a museum, a cabinet of philosophical instruments. In much of this he could not help perceiving his extreme ignorance. Meanwhile Felix had awakened, and come running after him. The thought of how and when he might receive Theresa’s letter gave him pain; he dreaded seeing Mignon, and in some degree Natalia. How unlike his present state was his state at the moment when he sealed the letter to Theresa, and with a glad heart wholly gave himself to that noble being!
Natalia sent for him to breakfast. He proceeded to a room, where several tidy little girls, all apparently below ten years, were occupied in furnishing a table, while another of the same appearance brought in various sorts of beverage.
Wilhelm cast his eye upon a picture, hung above the sofa; he could not but recognize in it the portrait of Natalia, little as the execution satisfied him. Natalia entered, and the likeness seemed entirely to vanish. To his comfort, it was painted with the cross of a religious order on its breast; and he now saw another such upon Natalia’s.
“I have just been looking at the portrait here,” said he; “and it seems surprising that a painter could have been at once so true and so false. The picture resembles you in general extremely well, and yet it neither has your features nor your character.”
“It is rather matter of surprise,” replied Natalia, “that the likeness is so good. It is not my picture; but the picture of an aunt, whom I resembled even in childhood, though she was then advanced in years. It was painted when her age was just about what mine is: at the first glance every one imagines it is meant for me. You should have been acquainted with that excellent lady. I owe her much. A very weak state of health, perhaps too much employment with her own thoughts, and withal a moral and religious scrupulosity, prevented her from being to the world what, in other circumstances, she might have become. She was a light that shone but on a few friends, and on me especially.”
“Can it be possible,” said Wilhelm, after thinking for a moment, while so many circumstances seemed to correspond so well, “can it be possible that the fair and noble saint, whose meek Confessions I had liberty to study, was your aunt?”
“You read the manuscript?” inquired Natalia.
“Yes,” said Wilhelm, “with the greatest sympathy, and not without effect upon my life. What most impressed me in this paper was, if I may term it so, the purity of being, not only of the writer herself, but of all that lay round her; that self-dependence of nature, that impossibility of admitting anything into her soul which would not harmonize with its own noble lovely tone.”
“You are more tolerant to this fine spirit,” said Natalia, “nay, I will say more just, than many other men, to whom the narrative has been imparted. Every cultivated person knows how he has had to strive against a certain rudeness both in himself and others; how much his culture costs him; how apt he is, after all, in certain cases, to recollect himself alone, forgetting what he owes to others. How often has a worthy person to reproach himself for having failed to act with proper delicacy! And when a fair nature too delicately, too conscientiously cultivates, nay, if you will, overcultivates itself, there seems to be no toleration, no indulgence for it in the world. Yet such persons are, without us, what the ideal of perfection is within us: models not for being imitated, but for being aimed at. We laugh at the cleanliness of the Dutch: but would our friend Theresa be what she is, if some such notion were not always present to her in her housekeeping?”
“I see before me then,” cried Wilhelm, “in Theresa’s friend, the same Natalia whom her amiable relative was so attached to; the Natalia, who from her youth was so affectionate, so sympathizing and helpful! It was only out of such a line that such a being could proceed. What a prospect opens before me, while I at once survey your ancestors, and all the circle you belong to!”
“Yes,” replied Natalia, “in a certain sense, the story of my aunt would give you the faithfullest picture of us. Her love to me, indeed, has made her praise the little girl too much: in speaking of a child, we never speak of what is present, but of what we hope for.”
Wilhelm, in the meantime, was rapidly reflecting that Lothario’s parentage and early youth were now likewise known to him. The fair countess, too, appeared before him in her childhood, with the aunt’s pearls about her neck: he himself had been near those pearls, when her soft lovely lips bent down to meet his own. These beautiful remembrances he sought to drive away by other thoughts. He ran through the characters to whom that manuscript had introduced him. “I am here then,” cried he, “in your worthy uncle’s house! It is no house, it is a temple, and you are the priestess, nay, the genius of it: I shall recollect for life my impression yester-night, when I entered, and the old figures of my earliest days were again before me. I thought of the compassionate marble statues in Mignon’s song: but these figures had not to lament about me; they looked upon me with a lofty earnestness, they brought my first years into immediate contact with the present moment. That ancient treasure of our family, the joy of my grandfather, I find here placed among so many other noble works of art; and myself, whom nature made the darling of the good old man, my unworthy self I find here also. Heavens! in what society, in what connections!”
The girls had by degrees gone out to mind their little occupations. Natalia, left alone with Wilhelm, asked some further explanation of his last remark. The discovery, that a number of her finest paintings and statues had at one time been the property of Wilhelm’s grandfather, did not fail to give a cheerful stimulus to their discourse. As by that manuscript he had got acquainted with Natalia’s house, so now he found himself too, as it were, in his inheritance. At length he asked for Mignon. His friend desired him to have patience till the doctor, who had been called out into the neighborhood, returned. It is easy to suppose that the doctor was the same little active man, whom we already know, and who was spoken of in the Confessions of a Fair Saint.
“Since I am now,” said Wilhelm, “in the middle of your family circle, I presume the abbé, whom that paper mentions, is the strange inexplicable person, whom, after the most singular series of events, I met with in your brother’s house? Perhaps you can give some more accurate conception of him?”
“Of the abbé there might much be said,” replied Natalia: “what I know best about him is the influence which he exerted on our education. He was, for a time at least, convinced that education ought in every case to be adapted to the inclinations: his present views of it I know not. He maintained that with man the first and last consideration was activity, and that we could not act on anything, without the proper gifts for it, without an instinct impelling us to it. ‘You admit,’ he used to say, ‘that poets must be born such; you admit this with regard to all professors of the fine arts; because you must admit it, because those workings of human nature cannot very plausibly be aped. But if we consider well, we shall find that every capability, however slight, is born with us: that there is no vague general capability in men. It is our ambiguous dissipating education that makes men uncertain: it awakens wishes, when it should be animating tendencies; instead of forwarding our real capacities, it turns our efforts towards objects which are frequently discordant with the mind that aims at them. I augur better of a child, a youth who is wandering astray on a path of his own, than of many who are walking aright upon paths which are not theirs. If the former, either by themselves, or by the guidance of others, ever find the right path, that is to say, the path which suits their nature, they will never leave it; while the latter are in danger every moment of shaking off a foreign yoke, and abandoning themselves to unrestricted license.’ ”
“It is strange,” said Wilhelm, “that this same extraordinary man should likewise have taken charge of me; should, as it seems, have, in his own fashion, if not led, at least confirmed me in my errors, for a time. How he will answer to the charge of having joined with others, as it were, to make game of me, I wait patiently to see.”
“Of this whim, if it is one,” said Natalia, “I have little reason to complain: of all the family I answered best with it. Indeed I see not how Lothario could have got a finer breeding: but for my sister, the countess, some other treatment might have suited better; perhaps they should have studied to infuse more earnestness and strength into her nature. As to brother Friedrich, what is to become of him cannot be conjectured: he will fall a sacrifice, I fear, to this experiment in pedagogy.”
“You have another brother, then?” cried Wilhelm.
“Yes,” replied Natalia; “and a light merry youth he is; and as they have not hindered him from roaming up and down the world, I know not what the wild dissipated boy will turn to. It is a great while since I saw him. The only thing which calms my fears is, that the abbé, and the whole society about my brother, are receiving constant notice where he is and what he does.”
Wilhelm was about to ask Natalia her opinion more precisely on the abbé’s paradoxes, as well as to solicit information about that mysterious society, but the physician entering changed their conversation. After the first compliments of welcome, he began to speak of Mignon.
Natalia then took Felix by the hand, saying she would lead the child to Mignon, and prepare her for the entrance of her friend.
The doctor, now alone with Wilhelm, thus proceeded: “I have wondrous things to tell you; such as you are not anticipating. Natalia has retired, that we might speak with greater liberty of certain matters, which, although I first learned them by her means, her presence would prevent us from discussing freely. The strange temper of the child seems to consist almost exclusively of deep longing; the desire of revisiting her native land, and the desire for you, my friend, are, I might almost say, the only earthly things about her. Both these feelings do but grasp towards an immeasurable distance, both objects lie before her unattainable. The neighborhood of Milan seems to be her home: in very early childhood she was kidnapped from her parents by a company of rope-dancers. A more distinct account we cannot get from her, partly because she was then too young to recollect the names of men and places; but especially because she has made an oath to tell no living mortal her abode and parentage. For the strolling party, who came up with her when she had lost her way, and to whom she so accurately described her dwelling, with such piercing entreaties to conduct her home, but carried her along with them the faster; and at night in their quarters, when they thought the child was sleeping, joked about their precious capture, declaring she would never find the way home again. On this, a horrid desperation fell upon the miserable creature, but at last the holy virgin rose before her eyes, and promised that she would assist her. The child then swore within herself a sacred oath, that she would henceforth trust no human creature, would disclose her history to no one, but live and die in hope of immediate aid from Heaven. Even this, which I am telling you, Natalia did not learn expressly from her; but gathered it from detached expressions, songs and childlike inadvertencies, betraying what they meant to hide.”
Wilhelm called to memory many a song and word of this dear child, which he could now explain. He earnestly requested the physician to keep from him none of the confessions or mysterious poetry of this peculiar being.
“Prepare yourself,” said the physician, “for a strange confession; for a story with which you, without remembering it, have much to do; and which, as I greatly fear, has been decisive for the death and life of this good creature.”
“Let me hear,” said Wilhelm; “my impatience is unbounded.”
“Do you recollect a secret nightly visit from a female,” said the doctor, “after your appearance in the character of Hamlet?”
“Yes, I recollect it well,” cried Wilhelm, blushing, “but I did not look to be reminded of it at the present moment.”
“Do you know who it was?”
“I do not! You frighten me! In the name of Heaven, not Mignon surely? Who was it? Tell me, pray.”
“I know it not myself.”
“Not Mignon, then?”
“No, certainly not Mignon: but Mignon was intending at the time to glide in to you: and saw, with horror, from a corner where she lay concealed, a rival get before her.”
“A rival!” cried our friend: “speak on, you more and more confound me.”
“Be thankful,” said the doctor, “that you can arrive at the result so soon through means of me. Natalia and I, with but a distant interest in the matter, had distress enough to undergo, before we could thus far discover the perplexed condition of the poor dear creature, whom we wished to help. By some wanton speeches of Philina and the other girls, by a certain song which she had heard Philina sing, the child’s attention had been roused; she longed to pass a night beside the man she loved, without conceiving anything to be implied in this beyond a happy and confiding rest. A love for you, my friend, was already keen and powerful in her little heart; in your arms the child had found repose from many a sorrow; she now desired this happiness in all its fulness. At one time she proposed to ask you for it in a friendly manner; but a secret horror always held her back. At last, that merry night, and the excitement of abundant wine inspired her with the courage to attempt the adventure, and glide in to you on that occasion. Accordingly she ran before, to hide herself in your apartment, which was standing open; but just when she had reached the top of the stairs, having heard a rustling, she concealed herself, and saw a female in a white dress slip into your chamber. You yourself arrived soon after, and she heard you push the large bolt.
“Mignon’s agony was now unutterable: all the violent feelings of a passionate jealousy mingled themselves with the unacknowledged longing of obscure desire, and seized her half-developed nature with tremendous force. Her heart, which hitherto had beaten violently with eagerness and expectation, now at once began to falter and stop; it pressed her bosom like a heap of lead; she could not draw her breath, she knew not what to do; she heard the sound of the old man’s harp, hastened to the garret where he was, and passed the night at his feet in horrible convulsions.”
The physician paused a moment; then, as Wilhelm still kept silence, he proceeded: “Natalia told me nothing in her life had so alarmed and touched her as the state of Mignon while relating this: indeed, our noble friend accused herself of cruelty in having, by her questions and management, drawn this confession from her, and renewed by recollection the violent sorrows of the poor little girl.
“ ‘The dear creature,’ said Natalia, ‘had scarcely come so far with her recital, or rather with her answers to my questions, when she sank all at once before me on the ground, and with her hand on her bosom piteously moaned that the pain of that excruciating night was come back. She twisted herself like a worm upon the floor; and I had to summon all my composure, that I might remember and apply such means of remedy for mind and body as were known to me.’ ”
“It is a painful predicament you put me in,” cried Wilhelm, “by impressing me so vividly with the feeling of my manifold injustice towards this unhappy and beloved being, at the very moment when I am again to meet her. If she is to see me, why do you deprive me of the courage to appear with freedom? And shall I confess it to you? Since her mind is so affected, I perceive not how my presence can be advantageous to her. If you, as a physician, are persuaded that this double longing has so undermined her being as to threaten death, why should I renew her sorrows by my presence, and perhaps accelerate her end?”
“My friend,” replied the doctor, “where we cannot cure, it is our duty to alleviate; and how much the presence of a loved object tends to take from the imagination its destructive power, how it changes an impetuous longing to a peaceful looking, I could prove by the most convincing instances. Everything in measure and with purpose! For, in other cases, this same presence may rekindle an affection nigh extinguished. But do you go and see the child; behave to her with kindness, and let us wait the consequence.”
Natalia, at this moment coming back, bade Wilhelm follow her to Mignon. “She appears to feel quite happy with the boy,” observed Natalia, “and I hope she will receive our friend with mildness.” Wilhelm followed, not without reluctance: he was deeply moved by what he had been hearing; he feared a stormy scene of passion. It was altogether the reverse that happened on his entrance.
Mignon, dressed in long white women’s clothes, with her brown copious hair partly knotted, partly clustering out in locks, was sitting with the boy Felix on her lap, and pressing him against her heart. She looked like a departed spirit, he like life itself: it seemed as if heaven and earth were clasping one another. She held out her hand to Wilhelm with a smile, and said: “I thank thee for bringing back the child to me: they had taken him away, I know not how, and since then I could not live. So long as my heart needs anything on earth, thy Felix shall fill up the void.”
The quietness, which Mignon had displayed on meeting with her friend, produced no little satisfaction in the party. The doctor signified that Wilhelm should go frequently and see her; that in body as in mind she should be kept as equable as possible. He himself departed, promising to return soon.
Wilhelm could now observe Natalia in her own circle: one would have desired nothing better than to live beside her. Her presence had the purest influence on the girls, and young ladies of various ages, who resided with her in the house, or came to pay her visits from the neighborhood.
“The progress of your life,” said Wilhelm once to her, “must always have been very even; your aunt’s delineation of you in your childhood seems, if I mistake not, still to fit. It is easy to see, that you never were entangled in your path. You have never been compelled to retrograde.”
“This I owe to my uncle and the abbé,” said Natalia, “who so well discriminated my prevailing turn of mind. From my youth upwards I can recollect no livelier feeling than that I was constantly observing people’s wants, and had an irresistible desire to make them up. The child that had not learned to stand on its feet, the old man that could no longer stand on his; the longing of a rich family for children, the inability of a poor one to maintain their children; each silent wish for some particular species of employment, the impulse towards any talent, the natural gifts for many little necessary arts of life, were sure to strike me: my eye seemed formed by nature for detecting them. I saw such things where no one had directed my attention; I seemed born for seeing them alone. The charms of inanimate nature, to which so many persons are exceedingly susceptible, had no effect upon me; the charms of art, if possible, had less. My most delightful occupation was and is, when a deficiency, a want appeared before me anywhere, to set about devising a supply, a remedy, a help for it.
“If I saw a poor creature in rags, the superfluous clothes I had noticed hanging in the wardrobes of my friends immediately occurred to me; if I saw children wasting for want of care, I was sure to recollect some lady I had found oppressed with tedium amid riches and conveniences: if I saw too many persons crammed into a narrow space, I thought they should be lodged in the spacious chambers of palaces and vacant houses. This mode of viewing things was altogether natural, without the least reflection; so that in my childhood I often made the strangest work of it, and more than once embarrassed people by my singular proposals. Another of my peculiarities was this, I did not learn till late, and after many efforts, to consider money as a means of satisfying wants: my benefits were all distributed in kind, and my simplicity, I know, was frequently the cause of laughter. None but the abbé seemed to understand me; he met me everywhere; he made me acquainted with myself, with these wishes, these tendencies, and taught me how to satisfy them suitably.”
“Do you then,” said Wilhelm, “in the education of your little female world employ the method of these extraordinary men? Do you too leave every mind to form itself? Do you too leave your girls to search and wander, to pursue delusions, happily to reach the goal, or miserably lose themselves in error?”
“No!” replied Natalia, “such treatment as that would altogether contradict my notions. To my mind, he who does not help us at the needful moment, never helps; he who does not counsel at the needful moment, never counsels. I also reckon it essential that we lay down and continually impress on children certain laws, to operate as a kind of hold in life. Nay, I could almost venture to assert that it is better to be wrong by rule, than to be wrong with nothing but the fitful caprices of our disposition to impel us hither and thither: and in my way of viewing men, there always seems to be a void in their nature, which cannot be filled up, except by some decisive and distinctly settled law.”
“Your manner of proceeding, then,” said Wilhelm, “is entirely different from the manner of our friends?”
“Yes,” replied Natalia: “and you may see the unexampled tolerance of these men, from the fact that they nowise disturb me in my practice; but leave me on my own path, simply because it is my own, and even assist me in everything that I require of them.”
A more minute description of Natalia’s plans in managing her children we reserve for some other opportunity.
Mignon often asked to be of their society; and this they granted her with greater readiness, as she appeared to be again accustoming herself to Wilhelm, to be opening her heart to him, and in general to have become more cheerful and contented with existence. In walking, being easily fatigued, she liked to hang upon his arm. “Mignon,” she would say, “now climbs and bounds no more; yet she still longs to mount the summit of the hills, to skip from house to house, from tree to tree. How enviable are the birds; and then so prettily and socially they build their nests too!”
Ere long it became habitual for her to invite her friend, more than once every day, into the garden. When Wilhelm was engaged or absent, Felix had to take his place; and if poor Mignon seemed at times quite loosened from the earth, there were other moments when she would again hold fast to father and son, and seem to dread a separation from them more than anything beside.
Natalia wore a thoughtful look. “We meant,” said she, “to open her tender little heart, by sending for you hither. I know not whether we did prudently.” She stopped, and seemed expecting Wilhelm to say something. To him also it occurred that by his marriage with Theresa, Mignon, in the present circumstances, would be fearfully offended: but in his uncertainty he did not venture mentioning his project; he had no suspicion that Natalia knew of it.
As little could he talk with freedom, when his noble friend began to speak about her sister; to praise her good qualities, and to lament her hapless situation. He felt exceedingly embarrassed when Natalia told him he would shortly see the countess here. “Her husband,” said she, “has now no object but replacing Zinzendorf in the Community; and by insight and activity supporting and extending that establishment. He is coming with his wife, to take a sort of leave; he then purposes visiting the various spots where the Community have settled. They appear to treat him as he wishes: and I should not wonder if, in order to be altogether like his predecessor, he ventured, with my sister, on a voyage to America; for being already well-nigh convinced that a little more would make a saint of him, the wish to superadd the dignity of martyrdom has probably enough often flitted through his mind.”
They had often spoken of Theresa, often mentioned her in passing; and Wilhelm almost every time was minded to confess that he had offered her his heart and hand. A certain feeling, which he was not able to explain, restrained him; he paused and wavered, till at length Natalia, with the heavenly modest cheerful smile she often wore, said to him: “It seems, then, I at last must break silence, and force myself into your confidence! Why, my friend, do you keep secret from me an affair of such importance to yourself, and so closely touching my concerns? You have made my friend the offer of your hand: I do not mix uncalled in the transaction: here are my credentials; here is the letter which she writes to you, which she sends you through my hands.”
“A letter from Theresa!” cried he.
“Yes, mein herr! Your destiny is settled; you are happy. Let me congratulate my friend and you on your good fortune.”
Wilhelm spoke not, but gazed out before him. Natalia looked at him; she saw that he was pale. “Your joy is strong,” continued she; “it takes the form of terror, it deprives you of the power to speak. My participation is not the less cordial that I show it you in words. I hope you will be grateful: for I may say my influence on the decision of your bride has not been small: she asked me for advice; and as it happened, by a singular coincidence, that you were here just then, I was enabled to destroy the few scruples she still entertained. Our messages went swiftly to and fro: here is her determination; here is the conclusion of the treaty! And now you shall read her other letters, you shall have a free clear look into the fair heart of your Theresa.”
Wilhelm opened the letter, which she handed him unsealed. It contained these friendly words:
“I am yours, as I am and as you know me. I call you mine, as you are and as I know you. What in ourselves, what in our connection wedlock changes, we shall study to adjust, by reason, cheerfulness and mutual goodwill. As it is no passion, but trust and inclination for each other that is leading us together, we run less risk than thousands of others. You will forgive me, will you not, if I still think often and kindly of my former friend; in return, I will press your Felix to my heart, as if I were his mother. If you choose to share my little mansion straightway, we are lord and master there, and in the meanwhile the purchase of your land might be concluded. I could wish that no new arrangements were made in it without me. I could wish at once to prove that I deserve the confidence which you repose in me. Adieu, dear, dear friend! Beloved bridegroom, honored husband! Theresa clasps you to her breast with hope and joy. My friend will tell you more, will tell you all.”
Wilhelm, to whose mind this sheet recalled the image of Theresa with the liveliest distinctness, had now recovered his composure. While reading, thoughts had rapidly alternated within his soul. With terror, he discovered in his heart the most vivid traces of an inclination to Natalia: he blamed himself, declaring every thought of that description to be madness; he represented to himself Theresa in her whole perfection; he again perused the letter, he grew cheerful, or rather he so far regained his self-possession that he could appear cheerful. Natalia handed him the letters which had passed between Theresa and herself: out of Theresa’s we propose extracting one or two passages.
After delineating her bridegroom in her own peculiar way, Theresa thus proceeded:
“Such is the notion I have formed of the man who now offers me his hand. What he thinks of himself thou shalt see by and by, in the papers he has sent me, where he altogether candidly draws his own portrait; I feel persuaded that I shall be happy with him.”
“As to rank, thou knowest my ideas on this point long ago. Some people look on disagreement of external circumstances as a fearful thing, and cannot remedy it. I wish not to persuade any one, I wish to act according to my own persuasion. I mean not to set others an example, nor do I act without example. It is interior disagreements only that frighten me: a frame that does not fit what it is meant to hold; much pomp and little real enjoyment; wealth and avarice, nobility and rudeness, youth and pedantry, poverty and ceremonies,—these are the things which would annihilate me, however it may please the world to stamp and rate them.”
“If I hope that we shall suit each other, the hope is chiefly founded upon this, that he resembles thee, my dear Natalia, thee, whom I so highly prize and reverence. Yes, he has thy noble searching and striving for the better, whereby we of ourselves produce the good which we suppose we find. How often have I blamed thee, not in silence, for treating this or that person, for acting in this or that case, otherwise than I should have done! and yet in general the issue showed that thou wert right. ‘When we take people,’ thou wouldst say, ‘merely as they are, we make them worse; when we treat them as if they were what they should be, we improve them as far as they can be improved.’ To see or to act thus, I know full well is not for me. Skill, order, discipline, direction, that is my affair. I always recollect what Jarno said: ‘Theresa trains her pupils, Natalia forms them.’ Nay, once he went so far as to assert that of the three fair qualities, faith, love and hope, I was entirely destitute. ‘Instead of faith,’ said he, ‘she has penetration, instead of love she has steadfastness, instead of hope she has trust.’ Indeed I will confess that till I knew thee, I knew nothing higher in the world than clearness and prudence: it was thy presence only that persuaded, animated, conquered me; to thy fair lofty soul I willingly give place. My friend too I honor on the same principle; the description of his life is a perpetual seeking without finding; not empty seeking, but wondrous generous seeking; he fancies others may give him what can proceed from himself alone. So, love, the clearness of my vision has not injured me, on this occasion, more than others: I know my husband better than he knows himself, and I value him the more. I see him, yet I see not over him: all my skill will not enable me to judge of what he can accomplish. When I think of him, his image always blends itself with thine: I know not how I have deserved to belong to two such persons. But I will deserve it, by endeavoring to do my duty, by fulfilling what is looked for from me.”
“If I recollect Lothario? Vividly and daily. In the company which in thought surrounds me, I cannot want him for a moment. O, what a pity for this noble character, related by an error of his youth to me, that nature has related him to thee! A being such as thou, in truth, were worthier of him than I. To thee I could, I would surrender him. Let us be to him all we can, till he find a proper wife; and then too let us be, let us abide together.”
“But what shall we say to our friends?” began Natalia.—“Your brother does not know of it?”—“Not a hint; your people know as little: we women have, on this occasion, managed the affair ourselves. Lydia had put some whims into Theresa’s head concerning Jarno and the abbé. There are certain plans and secret combinations, with the general scheme of which I am acquainted, and into which I never thought of penetrating further. With regard to these, Theresa has, through Lydia, taken up some shadow of suspicion: so in this decisive step she would not suffer any one but me to influence her. With my brother it had been already settled, that they should merely announce their marriages to one another, not giving or asking counsel on the subject.”
Natalia wrote a letter to her brother; she invited Wilhelm to subjoin a word or two, Theresa having so desired it. They were just about to seal, when Jarno unexpectedly sent up his name. His reception was of course as kind as possible: he wore a sportful merry air; he could not long forbear to tell his errand. “I am come,” said he, “to give you very curious and very pleasing tidings: they concern Theresa. You have often blamed us, fair Natalia, for troubling our heads about so many things; but now you see how good it is to have one’s spies in every place. Guess, and let us see your skill for once!”
The self-complacency with which he spoke these words, the roguish mien with which he looked at Wilhelm and Natalia, persuaded both of them that he had found their secret. Natalia answered smiling: “We are far more skilful than you think: before we even heard your riddle we had put the answer to it down in black and white.”
With these words she handed him the letter to Lothario; satisfied at having met, in this way, the little triumph and surprise he had meant for them. Jarno took the sheet with some astonishment: ran it quickly over; started; let it drop from his hands, and stared at both his friends with an expression of amazement, nay, of fright, which on his countenance was rare. He spoke no word.
Wilhelm and Natalia were not a little struck; Jarno stepped up and down the room. “What shall I say?” cried he: “Or shall I say it at all? But it must come out; the perplexity is not to be avoided. So secret for secret; surprise against surprise! Theresa is not the daughter of her reputed mother! The hindrance is removed: I came to ask you to prepare her for a marriage with Lothario.”
Jarno saw the shock which he had given his friends; they cast their eyes upon the ground. “The present case,” said he, “is one of those which are worse to bear in company. What each has to consider in it, he considers best in solitude: I at least require an hour of leave.” He hastened to the garden; Wilhelm followed him mechanically, yet without approaching near.
At the end of an hour, they were again assembled. Wilhelm opened the conversation: “Formerly,” said he, “while I was living without plan or object, in a state of carelessness, or I may say of levity, friendship, love, affection, trust came towards me with open arms, they pressed themselves upon me; but now when I am serious, destiny appears to take another course with me. This resolution, of soliciting Theresa’s hand, is probably the first that has proceeded altogether from myself. I laid my plan considerately; my reason fully joined in it; by the consent of that noble maiden all my hopes were crowned. But now the strangest fate puts back my outstretched hand; Theresa reaches hers to me, but from afar, as in a dream; I cannot grasp it; and the lovely image leaves me forever. So fare thee well, thou lovely image! and all ye images of richest happiness that gathered round it!”
He was silent for a moment, looking out before him. Jarno was about to speak. “Let me have another word,” cried Wilhelm, “for the lot is drawing which is to decide the destiny of all my life. At this moment I am aided and confirmed by the impression which Lothario’s presence made upon me at the first glance, and which has ever since continued with me. That man well merits every sort of friendship and affection; and without sacrifices friendship cannot be imagined. For his sake, it was easy for me to delude a hapless girl; for his sake it shall be possible for me to give away the worthiest bride. Return, relate the strange occurrence to him, and tell him what I am prepared for.”
“In emergencies like this,” said Jarno, “I hold that everything is done, if one do nothing rashly. Let us take no step till Lothario has agreed to it. I will go to him: wait patiently for my return, or for his letter.”
He rode away; and left his friends in great disquiet. They had time to reconsider these events, to think of them maturely. It now first occurred to them, that they had taken Jarno’s statement simply by itself, and without inquiring into any of the circumstances. Wilhelm was not altogether free from doubts: but next day, their astonishment, nay, their bewilderment, arose still higher, when a messenger arriving from Theresa brought the following letter to Natalia:
“Strange as it may seem, after all the letters I have sent, I am obliged to send another, begging that thou wouldst dispatch my bridegroom to me instantly. He shall be my husband, what plans soever they may lay to rob me of him. Give him the enclosed letter; only not before witnesses, whoever they may be!”
The enclosed letter was as follows: “What opinion will you form of your Theresa, when you see her all at once insisting passionately on a union which calm reason alone appeared to have appointed? Let nothing hinder you from setting out the moment you have read this letter. Come, my dear, dear friend; now three times dearer since they are attempting to deprive me of you.”
“What is to be done?” cried Wilhelm, after he had read the letter.
“In no case that I remember,” said Natalia, after some reflection, “have my heart and judgment been so dumb as in the present one: what to do or to advise I know not.”
“Can it be,” cried Wilhelm vehemently, “that Lothario does not know of it; or if he does, that he is but like us, the sport of hidden plans? Has Jarno, when he saw our letter, devised that fable on the spot? Would he have told us something different, if we had not been so precipitate? What can they mean? What intentions can they have? What plan can Theresa mean? Yes, it must be owned, Lothario is begirt with secret influences and combinations: I myself have found that they are active, that they take a certain charge of the proceedings, of the destiny of several people, and contrive to guide them. The ulterior objects of these mysteries I know not; but their nearest purpose, that of snatching my Theresa from me, I perceive but too distinctly. On the one hand, this prospect of Lothario’s happiness which they exhibit to me may be but a hollow show; on the other hand, I see my dear, my honored bride inviting me to her affection. What shall I do? What shall I forbear?”
“A little patience,” said Natalia; “a little time for thought! In these singular perplexities, I know but this, that what can never be recalled should not be done in haste. To a fable, to an artful plan we have steadfastness and prudence to oppose: whether Jarno has been speaking true or false must soon appear. If my brother has actually hopes of a connection with Theresa, it were hard to cut him off forever from that prospect, at the moment when it seems so kindly inviting him. Let us wait at least till we discover whether he himself knows anything of it, whether he believes and hopes.”
These prudent counsels were confirmed by a letter from Lothario. “I do not send Jarno,” he wrote: “a line from my hand is more to thee than the minutest narrative in the mouth of a messenger. I am certain, Theresa is not the daughter of her reputed mother: and I cannot renounce hope of being hers, till she too is persuaded, and can then decide between my friend and me with calm consideration. Let him not leave thee, I entreat it! The happiness, the life of a brother is at stake. I promise thee, this uncertainty shall not be long.”
“You see how the matter stands,” said she to Wilhelm with a friendly air; “give me your word of honor that you will not leave the house!”
“I give it!” cried he, stretching out his hand; “I will not leave this house against your will. I thank Heaven, and my better genius, that on this occasion I am led, and led by you.”
Natalia wrote Theresa an account of everything; declaring that she would not let her friend away. She sent Lothario’s letter also.
Theresa answered: “I wonder not a little that Lothario is himself convinced: to his sister he would not feign to this extent. I am vexed, greatly vexed. It is better that I say no more. But I will come to thee, so soon as I have got poor Lydia settled: they are treating her cruelly. I fear we are all betrayed, and shall be so betrayed that we shall never reach the truth. If my friend were of my opinion, he would give thee the slip after all, and throw himself into the arms of his Theresa, whom none shall take away from him. But I, as I dread, shall lose him, and not regain Lothario. From the latter they are taking Lydia, by showing him afar off the prospect of obtaining me. I will say no more: the entanglement will grow still deeper. Whether, in the meantime, these beautiful relations to each other may not be so pushed aside, so undermined and broken down, that when the darkness passes off the mischief shall no longer admit of remedy, time will show. If my friend do not tear himself away, in a few days I myself will come and seek him out beside thee, and hold him fast. Thou marvellest how this passion can have gained the mastery of thy Theresa. It is no passion, but conviction; it is a belief that since Lothario can never be mine, this new friend will make me happy. Tell him so, in the name of the little boy that sat with him underneath the oak, and thanked him for his sympathy. Tell him in the name of Theresa, who met his offers with a hearty openness. My first dream of living with Lothario has wandered far away from my soul; the dream of living with my other friend is yet wholly present to me. Do they hold me so light, as to think that it were easy to exchange the former with the latter?”
“I depend on you,” said Natalia to Wilhelm, handing him the letter: “you will not leave me. Consider that the comfort of my life is in your hands. My being is so intimately bound and interwoven with my brother’s, that he feels no sorrow which I do not feel, no joy which does not likewise gladden me. Nay, I may truly say, through him alone I have experienced that the heart can be affected and exalted; that in the world there may be joy, love and an emotion which contents the soul beyond its utmost want.”
She stopped; Wilhelm took her hand, and cried: “O continue! This is the time for a true mutual disclosure of our thoughts: it never was more necessary for us to be well acquainted with each other.”
“Yes, my friend!” said she, smiling, with her quiet, soft, indescribable dignity; “perhaps it is not out of season, if I tell you that the whole of what so many books, of what the world holds up to us and names love, has always seemed to me a fable.”
“You have never loved?” cried Wilhelm.
“Never, or always!” said Natalia.
During this conversation, they kept walking up and down the garden, and Natalia gathered various flowers of singular forms, entirely unknown to Wilhelm, who began to ask their names, and occupy himself about them.
“You know not,” said Natalia, “for whom I have been plucking these? I intend them for my uncle, whom we are to visit. The sun is shining even now so bright on the Hall of the Past, I must lead you in, this moment; and I never go to it without a few of the flowers, which my uncle liked particularly, in my hand. He was a peculiar man, susceptible of very strange impressions. For certain plants and animals, for certain neighborhoods and persons, nay, for certain sorts of minerals, he had an especial love, which he was rarely able to explain. ‘Had I not,’ he would often say, ‘from youth withstood myself, and striven to form my judgment upon wide and general principles, I had been the narrowest and most intolerable person living. For nothing can be more intolerable than circumscribed peculiarity, in one from whom a pure and suitable activity might be required.’ And yet he was obliged to confess, that life and breath would almost leave him, if he did not now and then indulge himself, not from time to time allow himself a brief and passionate enjoyment of what he could not always praise and justify. ‘It is not my fault,’ said he, ‘if I have not brought my inclinations and my reason into perfect harmony.’ On such occasions he would joke with me, and say: ‘Natalia may be looked upon as happy while she lives: her nature asks nothing which the world does not wish and use.’ ”
So speaking, they arrived again at the house. Natalia led him through a spacious passage, to a door, before which lay two granite sphinxes. The door itself was in the Egyptian fashion, somewhat narrower above than below; and its brazen leaves prepared one for a serious or even a gloomy feeling. Wilhelm was in consequence agreeably surprised, when his expectation issued in a sentiment of pure cheerful serenity, as he entered a hall, where art and life took away all recollection of death and the grave. In the walls all round, a series of proportionable arches had been hollowed out, and large sarcophaguses stood in them: among the pillars in the intervals between them, smaller openings might be seen, adorned with urns and similar vessels. The remaining spaces of the walls and vaulted roof were regularly divided; and between bright and variegated borders, within garlands and other ornaments, a multitude of cheerful and significant figures had been painted, upon grounds of different sizes. The body of the edifice was covered with that fine yellow marble, which passes into reddish; clear blue stripes of a chemical substance happily imitating lapis-lazuli, while they satisfied the eye with contrast, gave unity and combination to the whole. All this pomp and decoration showed itself in the chastest architectural forms: and thus every one who entered felt as if exalted above himself, while the co-operating products of art, for the first time, taught him what man is and what he may become.
Opposite the door, on a stately sarcophagus, lay a marble figure of a noble-looking man, reclined upon a pillow. He held a roll before him; and seemed to look at it with still attention. It was placed so that you could read with ease the words which stood there: Think of living.
Natalia took away a withered bunch of flowers, and laid the fresh one down before the figure of her uncle. For it was her uncle whom the marble represented: Wilhelm thought he recognized the features of the venerable gentleman, whom he had seen, when lying wounded in the green of the forest. “Here he and I passed many an hour,” said Natalia, “while the hall was getting ready. In his latter years, he had gathered several skilful artists round him; and his chief delight was to invent or superintend the drawings and cartoons for these pictures.”
Wilhelm could not satisfy himself with looking at the objects which surrounded him. “What a life,” exclaimed he, “in this Hall of the Past! One might with equal justice name it the Hall of the Present and the Future. Such all were, such all will be. There is nothing transitory but the individual who looks at and enjoys it. Here, this figure of the mother pressing her infant to her bosom will survive many generations of happy mothers. Centuries hence, perhaps some father will take pleasure in contemplating this bearded man, who has laid aside his seriousness, and is playing with his son. Thus shamefaced will the bride sit for ages, and amid her silent wishes, need that she be comforted, that she be spoken to; thus impatient will the bride-groom listen on the threshold whether he may enter.”
The figures Wilhelm was surveying with such rapture were of almost boundless number and variety. From the first jocund impulse of the child, merely to employ its every limb in sport, up to the peaceful sequestered earnestness of the sage, you might, in fair and living order, see delineated how man possesses no capacity or tendency without employing and enjoying it. From the first soft conscious feeling, when the maiden lingers in pulling up her pitcher, and looks with satisfaction at her image in the clear fountain, to those high solemnities when kings and nations invoke the gods at the altar to witness their alliances, all was depicted, all was forcible and full of meaning.
It was a world, it was a heaven, that in this abode surrounded the spectator; and beside the thoughts which those polished forms suggested, beside the feelings they awoke, there still seemed something further to be present, something by which the whole man felt himself laid hold of. Wilhelm too observed this, though unable to account for it. “What is this,” exclaimed he, “which, independently of all signification, without any sympathy that human incidents and fortunes may inspire us with, acts on me so strongly and so gracefully? It speaks to me from the whole, it speaks from every part; though I have not fully understood the former, though I do not specially apply the latter to myself! What enchantment breathes from these surfaces, these lines, these heights and breadths, these masses and colors! What is it that makes these figures so delightful, even when slightly viewed, and merely in the light of decorations? Yes, I feel it: one might tarry here, might rest, might view the whole, and be happy; and yet feel and think something altogether different from aught that stood before his eyes.”
And certainly if we were able to describe how happily the whole was subdivided, how everything determined by its place, by combination or by contrast, by uniformity or by variety, appeared exactly as it should have done, producing an effect as perfect as distinct, we should transport the reader to a scene from which he would not be in haste to stir.
Four large marble candelabra rose in the corners of the hall; four smaller ones were in the midst of it, around a very beautifully worked sarcophagus, which, judging from its size, might once have held a young person of middle stature.
Natalia paused beside this monument; she laid her hand upon it as she said: “My worthy uncle had a great attachment to this fine antique. ‘It is not,’ he would often say, ‘the first blossoms alone that drop; such you can keep above in these little spaces; but fruits also, which, hanging on their twigs, long give us the fairest hope, whilst a secret worm is preparing their too early ripeness, and their quick decay.’ I fear,” continued she, “his words have been prophetic of that dear little girl, who seems withdrawing gradually from our cares, and bending to this peaceful dwelling.”
As they were about to go, Natalia stopped and said: “There is something still which merits your attention. Observe these half-round openings aloft on both sides. Here the choir can stand concealed while singing; these iron ornaments below the cornice serve for fastening on the tapestry, which, by order of my uncle, must be hung round at every burial. Music, particularly song, was a pleasure he could not live without: and it was one of his peculiarities that he wished the singer not to be in view. ‘In this respect,’ he would say, ‘they spoil us at the theatre; the music there is, as it were, subservient to the eye; it accompanies movements, not emotions. In oratorios and concerts the form of the musician constantly disturbs us: true music is intended for the ear alone; a fine voice is the most universal thing that can be figured; and while the narrow individual that uses it presents himself before the eye, he cannot fail to trouble the effect of that pure universality. The person whom I am to speak with, I must see, because it is a solitary man, whose form and character gives worth or worthlessness to what he says: but, on the other hand, whoever sings to me must be invisible; his form must not confuse me, or corrupt my judgment. Here, it is but one human organ speaking to another; it is not spirit speaking to spirit, not a thousandfold world to the eye, not a heaven to the man.’ On the same principles, in respect of instrumental music, he required that the orchestra should as much as possible be hid; because by the mechanical exertions, by the mean and awkward gestures of the performers, our feelings are so much dispersed and perplexed. Accordingly he always used to shut his eyes while hearing music; thereby to concentrate his whole being on the single pure enjoyment of the ear.”
They were about to leave the hall, when they heard the children running hastily along the passage, and Felix crying: “No, I! No, I!”
Mignon rushed in at the open door: she was foremost, but out of breath, and could not speak a word. Felix, still at some distance, shouted out: “Mamma Theresa is come!” The children had run a race, as it seemed, to bring the news. Mignon was lying in Natalia’s arms, her heart was beating fiercely.
“Naughty child,” said Natalia; “art thou not forbidden violent motions? See how thy heart is beating!”
“Let it break,” said Mignon with a deep sigh: “it has beat too long.”
They had scarcely composed themselves from this surprise, this sort of consternation, when Theresa entered. She flew to Natalia; clasped her and Mignon in her arms. Then turning round to Wilhelm, she looked at him with her clear eyes, and said: “Well, my friend, how is it with you? You have not let them cheat you?” He made a step towards her; she sprang to him, and hung upon his neck. “O my Theresa!” cried he.
“My friend, my love, my husband! Yes, forever thine!” cried she, amid the warmest kisses.
Felix pulled her by the gown, and cried: “Mamma Theresa, I am here too!” Natalia stood, and looked before her: Mignon on a sudden clapped her left hand on her heart; and, stretching out the right arm violently, fell with a shriek at Natalia’s feet, as dead.
The fright was great: no motion of the heart or pulse was to be traced. Wilhelm took her on his arm, and hastily carried her away; the body hung lax over his shoulders. The presence of the doctor was of small avail: he and the young surgeon, whom we know already, strove in vain. The dear little creature could not be recalled to life.
Natalia beckoned to Theresa: the latter took her friend by the hand and led him from the room. He was dumb, not uttering a word; he durst not meet her eyes. He sat down with her upon the sofa, where he had first found Natalia. He thought with great rapidity along a series of fateful incidents, or rather he did not think, but let his soul be worked on by the thoughts which would not leave it. There are moments in life when past events, like winged shuttles, dart to and fro before us, and by their incessant movements weave a web, which we ourselves, in a greater or less degree, have spun and put upon the loom. “My friend, my love!” said Theresa, breaking silence, as she took him by the hand: “Let us stand together firmly in this hour, as we perhaps shall often have to do in similar hours. These are occurrences, which it takes two united hearts to suffer. Think, my friend, feel that thou art not alone; show that thou lovest thy Theresa by imparting thy sorrows to her!” She embraced him, and drew him softly to her bosom: he clasped her in his arms and pressed her strongly towards him. “The poor child,” cried he, “used in mournful moments to seek shelter and protection in my unstable bosom: let the stability of thine assist me in this heavy hour.” They held each other fast; he felt her heart beat against his breast; but in his spirit all was desolate and void; only the figures of Mignon and Natalia flitted like shadows across the waste of his imagination.
Natalia entered. “Give us thy blessing!” cried Theresa: “Let us, in this melancholy moment, be united before thee!” Wilhelm had hid his face upon Theresa’s neck: he was so far relieved that he could weep. He did not hear Natalia come; he did not see her; but at the sound of her voice his tears redoubled. “What God has joined I will not part,” she answered, smiling; “but to unite you is not in my power; nor am I gratified to see that sorrow and sympathy seem altogether to have banished from your hearts the recollection of my brother.” At these words Wilhelm started from Theresa’s arms. “Whither are you going?” cried the ladies. “Let me see the child,” said he, “whom I have killed! Misfortune when we look upon it with our eyes is smaller than when our imagination sinks the evil down into the recesses of the soul. Let us view the departed angel! Her serene countenance will say to us that it is well with her.” As his friends could not restrain the agitated youth, they followed him; but the worthy doctor with the surgeon met them, and prevented them from coming near the dead. “Keep away from this mournful object,” said he; “and allow me, so far as I am able, to give some continuance to these remains. On this dear and singular being I will now display the beautiful art not only of embalming bodies, but of retaining in them a look of life. As I foresaw her death, the preparations are already made; with these helps I shall undoubtedly succeed. Give me but a few days, and ask not to see the child again till I have brought her to the Hall of the Past.”
The young surgeon had in his hands that well-known case of instruments. “From whom can he have got it?” Wilhelm asked the doctor. “I know it very well,” replied Natalia: “he has it from his father, who dressed your wounds when we found you in the forest.”
“Then I have not been mistaken! I recognized the band at once!” cried Wilhelm. “O get it for me! It was this that first gave me any hint of my unknown benefactress. What weal and woe will such a thing survive! Beside how many sorrows has this band already been, and its threads still hold together! How many men’s last moments has it witnessed, and its colors are not yet faded! It was near me in one of the fairest hours of my existence, when I lay wounded on the ground, and your helpful form appeared before me, and the child whom we are now lamenting sat with its bloody hair, busied with the tenderest care to save my life!”
It was not long that our friends could converse about this sad occurrence; that Theresa could inquire about the child, and the probable cause of its unexpected death: for strangers were announced; who, on making their appearance, proved to be well-known strangers. Lothario, Jarno and the abbé entered. Natalia met her brother: among the rest, there was a momentary silence. Theresa, smiling on Lothario, said: “You scarcely expected to find me here; of course, it would not have been advisable that we should visit one another at the present time: however, after such an absence, take my cordial welcome.”
Lothario took her hand, and answered: “If we are to suffer and renounce, it may as well take place in the presence of the object whom we love and wish for. I desire no influence on your determination; my confidence in your heart, in your understanding and clear sense, is still so great, that I willingly commit to your disposal my fate and that of my friend.”
The conversation turned immediately to general, nay, we may say, to trivial topics. The company soon separated into single pairs, for walking. Natalia was with her brother; Theresa with the abbé; our friend was left with Jarno in the castle.
The appearance of the guests at the moment when a heavy sorrow was oppressing Wilhelm, had, instead of dissipating his attention, irritated him and made him worse: he was fretful and suspicious, and unable or uncareful to conceal it, when Jarno questioned him about his sulky silence. “What is the use of saying more?” cried Wilhelm. “Lothario with his helpers is come: and it were strange if those mysterious watchmen of the tower, who are constantly so busy, did not now exert their influence on us, to effect I know not what strange purpose. So far as I have known these saintly gentlemen, it seems to be in every case their laudable endeavor to separate the united, and to unite the separated. What sort of web their weaving will produce, may probably to unholy eyes be forever a riddle.”
“You are cross and bitter,” said the other; “that is as it should be. Would you get into a proper passion, it were still better.”
“That too might come about,” said Wilhelm: “I fear much some of you are in the mind to load my patience, natural and acquired, beyond what it will bear.”
“In the meantime,” said the other, “till we see what is to be the issue of the matter, I could like to tell you somewhat of the tower, which you appear to view with such mistrust.”
“It stands with you,” said Wilhelm, “whether you will risk your eloquence on an attention so distracted. My mind is so engaged at present, that I know not whether I can take a proper interest in these very dignified adventures.”
“Your pleasing humor shall not hinder me,” said Jarno, “from explaining this affair to you. You reckon me a clever fellow; I want to make you reckon me an honest one; and what is more, on this occasion I am bidden speak.”—“I could wish,” said Wilhelm, “that you did it of yourself, and with an honest purpose to inform me; but as I cannot hear without suspicion, wherefore should I hear at all?”—“If I have nothing better to do,” said Jarno, “than tell you stories, you too have time to listen to me; and to this you may perhaps feel more inclined, when I assure you, that all you saw in the tower was but the relics of a youthful undertaking, in regard to which the greater part of the initiated were once in deep earnest, though all of them now view it with a smile.”
“So, with these pompous signs and words, you do but mock?” cried Wilhelm. “With a solemn air you lead us to a place inspiring reverence by its aspect; you make the strangest visions pass before us; you give us rolls full of glorious mystic apophthegms, of which in truth we understand but little; you disclose to us, that hitherto we have been pupils; you solemnly pronounce us free; and we are just as wise as we were.”—“Have you not the parchment by you?” said the other. “It contains a deal of sense: those general apophthegms were not picked up at random; though they seem obscure and empty to a man without experiences to recollect while reading them. But give me the Indenture as we call it, if it is at hand.”—“Quite at hand,” cried Wilhelm; “such an amulet well merits being worn upon one’s breast.”—“Well,” said Jarno, smiling, “who knows whether the contents of it may not one day find place in your head and heart?”
He opened the Roll, and glanced over the first half of it. “This,” said he, “regards the cultivation of our gifts for art and science; of which let others speak: the second treats of life; here I am more at home.”
He then began to read passages, speaking between whiles, and connecting them with his remarks and narrative. “The taste of youth for secrecy, for ceremonies, for imposing words, is extraordinary; and frequently bespeaks a certain depth of character. In those years, we wish to feel our whole nature seized and moved, even though it be but vaguely and darkly. The youth who happens to have lofty aspirations and forecastings, thinks that secrets yield him much, that he must depend much on secrets, and effect much by means of them. It was with such views that the abbé favored a certain society of young men; partly according to his principle of aiding every tendency of nature, partly out of habit and inclination; for in former times he had himself been joined to an association, which appears to have accomplished many things in secret. For this business I was least of all adapted. I was older than the rest; from youth I had thought clearly; I wished in all things nothing more than clearness; I felt no interest in men, but to know them as they were. With the same taste I gradually infected all the best of our associates; and this circumstance had almost given a false direction to our plan of culture. For we now began to look at nothing but the errors and the narrowness of others, and to think ourselves a set of highly-gifted personages. Here the abbé came to our assistance: he taught us, that we never should inspect the conduct of men, unless we at the same time took an interest in improving it; and that through action only could we ever be in a condition to inspect and watch ourselves. He advised us, however, to retain the primary forms of the society: hence there was still a sort of law in our proceedings; the first mystic impressions might be traced in the constitution of the whole. At length, as by a practical similitude, it took the form of a corporate trade, whose business was the arts. Hence came the names of apprentices, assistants, and masters. We wished to see with our own eyes, and to form for ourselves a special record of our own experience in the world. Hence those numerous confessions, which in part we ourselves wrote, in part made others write; and out of which the several Apprenticeships were afterwards compiled. The formation of his character is not the chief concern with every man. Many merely wish to find a sort of recipe for comfort, directions for acquiring riches, or whatever good they aim at. All such, when they would not be instructed in their proper duties, we were wont to mystify, to treat with juggleries and every sort of hocus-pocus, and at length to shove aside. We advanced none to the rank of masters, but such as clearly felt and recognized the purpose they were born for, and had got enough of practice to proceed along their way with a certain cheerfulness and ease.”
“In my case, then,” cried Wilhelm, “your ceremony has been very premature; for since the day when you pronounced me free, what I can, will, or shall do, has been more unknown to me than ever.”—“We are not to blame for this perplexity; perhaps good fortune will deliver us. In the meantime listen: ‘He in whom there is much to be developed will be later in acquiring true perceptions of himself and of the world. There are few who at once have thought and the capacity of action. Thought expands, but lames; Action animates, but narrows.’ ”
“I beg of you,” cried Wilhelm, “not to read me any more of that surprising stuff. These phrases have sufficiently confused me before.”—“I will stick by my story, then,” said Jarno, half rolling up the parchment, into which, however, he kept casting frequent glances. “I myself have been of less service to the cause of our society and of my fellowmen than any other member. I am but a bad schoolmaster; I cannot bear to look on people making awkward trials; when I see a person wandering from his path, I feel constrained to call to him, although it were a night-walker going straight to break his neck. On this point, I had a continual struggle with the abbé, who maintains that error can never be cured except by erring. About you, too, we often argued. He had taken an especial liking to you; and it is saying something to have caught so much of his attention. For me, you must admit, that every time we met, I told you just the naked truth.”—“Certainly, you spared me very little,” said the other, “and I think you still continue faithful to your principles.”—“What is the use of sparing,” answered Jarno, “when a young man of many good endowments is taking a quite false direction?”—“Pardon me,” said Wilhelm, “you have rigorously enough denied me any talent on the stage; I confess to you, that though I have entirely renounced the art, I cannot think myself entirely incapable.”—“And with me,” said Jarno, “it is well enough decided, that a person who can only play himself is no player. Whoever cannot change himself, in temper and in form, into many forms, does not deserve the name. Thus you, for example, acted Hamlet and some other characters extremely well; because in these, your form, your disposition and the temper of the moment suited. For an amateur theatre, for any one who saw no other way before him, this would perhaps have answered well enough. But,” continued Jarno, looking on the roll, “ ‘we should guard against a talent which we cannot hope to practise in perfection. Improve it as we may, we shall always in the end, when the merit of the master has become apparent to us, painfully lament the loss of time and strength devoted to such botching.’ ”
“Do not read!” cried Wilhelm: “I entreat you earnestly; speak on, tell, inform me! So the abbé aided me in Hamlet: he provided me a ghost?”—“Yes; for he asserted that it was the only way of curing you, if you were curable.”—“And on this account he left the veil, and bade me fly?”—“Yes, he hoped that having fairly acted Hamlet, your desire of acting would be satiated. He maintained that you would never go upon the stage again: I believed the contrary, and I was right. We argued on the subject, that very evening when the play was over.”—“You saw me act, then?”—“I did indeed.”—“And who was it that played the ghost?”—“That I cannot tell you; either the abbé or his twin brother; but I think the latter, for he is a little taller.”—“You have secrets from each other, then?”—“Friends may and must have secrets from each other; but they are not secrets to each other.”
“The very thought of that perplexity perplexes me. Let me understand the man, to whom I owe so many thanks as well as such reproaches.”
“What gives him such a value in our estimation,” answered Jarno, “what in some degree secures him the dominion over all of us, is the free sharp eye that nature has bestowed on him for all the powers which dwell in man, and are susceptible of cultivation, each according to its kind. Most men, even the most accomplished, are but limited: each prizes certain properties in others and himself; these alone he favors, these alone will he have cultivated. Directly the reverse is the procedure of our abbé: for every gift he has a feeling; every gift he delights to recognize and forward. But I must look into my roll again! ‘It is all men that make up mankind; all powers taken together that make up the world. These are frequently at variance: and, as they endeavor to destroy each ohter, nature holds them together, and again produces them. From the first animal tendency to handicraft attempts up to the highest practising of intellectual art; from the inarticulate crowings of the happy infant up to the polished utterance of the orator and singer; from the first bickerings of boys up to the vast equipments by which countries are conquered and retained; from the slightest kindliness and the most transitory love up to the fiercest passion and the most earnest covenant; from the merest perception of sensible presence up to the faintest presentiments and hopes of the remotest spiritual future; all this and much more also lies in man, and must be cultivated: yet not in one, but in many. Every gift is valuable, and ought to be unfolded. When one encourages the beautiful alone, and another encourages the useful alone, it takes them both to form a man. The useful encourages itself; for the multitude produce it, and no one can dispense with it: the beautiful must be encouraged; for few can set it forth, and many need it.”
“Hold! hold!” cried Wilhelm: “I have read it all.”—“Yet a line or two!” said Jarno: “Here is our worthy abbé to a hairs-breadth: ‘One power rules another; none can cultivate another: in each endowment, and not elsewhere, lies the force which must complete it: this many people do not understand, who yet attempt to teach and influence.’ ”—“I too do not understand it,” answered Wilhelm.—“You will often hear the abbé preach on this text; and, therefore, ‘Let us merely keep a clear and steady eye on what is in ourselves; on what endowments of our own we mean to cultivate; let us be just to others; for we ourselves are only to be valued in so far as we can value.’ ”—“For Heaven’s sake, no more of these wise saws! I feel them to be but a sorry balsam for a wounded heart. Tell me rather, with your cruel settledness, what you expect of me, how and in what manner you intend to sacrifice me.”—“For every such suspicion, I assure you, you will afterwards beg our pardon. It is your affair to try and choose; it is ours to aid you. A man is never happy till his vague striving has itself marked out its proper limitation. It is not to me that you must look, but to the abbé; it is not of yourself that you must think, but of what surrounds you. Thus, for instance, learn to understand Lothario’s superiority; how his quick and comprehensive vision is inseparably united with activity; how he constantly advances; how he expands his influence, and carries every one along with him. Wherever he may be, he bears a world about with him: his presence animates and kindles. Observe our good physician, on the other hand! His nature seems to be directly the reverse. If the former only works upon the general whole, and at a distance, the latter turns his piercing eye upon the things that are beside him; he rather furnishes the means for being active, than himself displays or stimulates activity. His conduct is exactly like the conduct of a good domestic manager; he is busied silently, while he provides for each in his peculiar sphere; his knowledge is a constant gathering and expending, a taking in and giving out on the small scale. Perhaps Lothario in a single day might overturn what the other had for years been employed in building up: but perhaps Lothario also might impart to others, in a moment, strength sufficient to restore a hundredfold what he had overturned.”—“It is but a sad employment,” answered Wilhelm, “to contemplate the sublime advantages of others, at a moment when we are at variance with ourselves. Such contemplations suit the man at ease; no him whom passion and uncertainty are agitating.”—“Peacefully and reasonably to contemplate is at no time hurtful,” answered Jarno: “and while we use ourselves to think of the advantages of others, our own mind comes insensibly to imitate them; and every false activity, to which our fancy was alluring us, is then willingly abandoned. Free your mind, if you can, from all suspicion and anxiety. Here comes the abbé: be courteous towards him, till you have learned still further what you owe him. The rogue! there he goes between Natalia and Theresa; I could bet he is contriving something. As in general he likes to act the part of Destiny a little; so he does not fail to show a taste for making matches when he finds an opportunity.”
Wilhelm, whose angry and fretful humor all the placid prudent words of Jarno had not bettered, thought his friend exceedingly indelicate for mentioning marriage at a moment like the present; he answered with a smile indeed, but a rather bitter one: “I thought the taste for making matches had been left to those that had a taste for one another.”
The company had met again; the conversation of our friends was necessarily interrupted. Ere long a courier was announced, as wishing to deliver with his own hand a letter to Lothario. The man was introduced: he had a vigorous sufficient look; his livery was rich and handsome. Wilhelm thought he knew him: nor was he mistaken; for it was the man whom he had sent to seek Philina and the fancied Mariana, and who never came back. Our friend was about to address him, when Lothario, who had read the letter, asked the courier with a serious, almost angry tone: “What is your master’s name?”
“Of all questions,” said the other with a prudent air, “this is the one which I am least prepared to answer. I hope the letter will communicate the necessary information: verbally I have been charged with nothing.”
“Be it as it will,” replied Lothario with a smile; “since your master puts such trust in me as to indite a letter so exceedingly facetious, he shall be welcome to us.”—“He will not keep you long waiting for him,” said the courier with a bow, and withdrew.
“Do but hear the distracted stupid message,” said Lothario, “ ‘As of all guests, Good Humor is believed to be the most agreeable wherever he appears, and as I always keep that gentleman beside me by way of travelling companion, I feel persuaded that the visit I intend to pay your noble lordship will not be taken ill; on the contrary, I hope the whole of your illustrious family will witness my arrival with complete satisfaction; and in due time also my departure; being always, et cetera, Count of Snailfoot.’ ”
“’Tis a new family,” said the abbé.
“A vicariat count, perhaps,” said Jarno.
“The secret is easy to unriddle,” said Natalia: “I wager it is none but brother Friedrich, who has threatened us with a visit ever since my uncle’s death.”
“Right! fair and skilful sister!” cried a voice from the nearest thicket; and immediately a pleasant, cheerful youth stepped forward. Wilhelm could scarcely restrain a cry of wonder. “How?” exclaimed he: “Does our fair-haired knave, too, meet me here?” Friedrich looked attentively, and recognizing Wilhelm cried: “In truth it would not have astonished me so much to have beheld the famous Pyramids, which still stand fast in Egypt, or the grave of King Mausolus, which, as I am told, does not exist, here placed before me in my uncle’s garden, as to find you in it, my old friend and frequent benefactor. Accept my best and heartiest service!”
After he had kissed and complimented the whole circle, he again sprang towards Wilhelm, crying: “Use him well, this hero, this leader of armies, and dramatical philosopher! When we became acquainted first, I dressed his hair indifferently, I may say execrably; yet he afterwards saved me from a pretty load of blows. He is magnanimous as Scipio, munificent as Alexander; at times he is in love, yet he never hates his rivals. Far from heaping coals of fire on the heads of his enemies,—a piece of service, I am told, which we can do for any one,—he rather, when his friends have carried off his love, dispatches good and trusty servants after them, that they may not strike their feet against a stone.”
In the same style, he ran along with a volubility which baffled all attempts to restrain it; and as no one could reply to him in that vein, he had the conversation mostly to himself. “Do not wonder,” cried he, “that I am so profoundly versed in sacred and profane writers: you shall hear by and by how I attained my learning.” They wished to know how matters stood with him, where he had been; but crowds of proverbs and old stories choked his explanation.
Natalia whispered to Theresa: “His gayety afflicts me; I am sure at heart he is not merry.”
As, except a few jokes which Jarno answered, Friedrich’s merriment was met by no response from those about him, he was obliged at last to say: “Well, there is nothing left for me, but among so many grave faces to be grave myself. And as in such a solemn scene the burden of my sins falls heavy on my soul, I must honestly resolve upon a general confession; for which, however, you, my worthy gentlemen and ladies, shall not be a jot the wiser. This honorable friend already knows a little of my walk and conversation; he alone shall know the rest; and this the rather, as he alone has any cause to ask about it. Are not you,” continued he to Wilhelm, “curious about the how and where, the when and wherefore? And how it stands with the conjugation of the Greek verb φιλέω, φιλῶ, and the derivatives of that very amiable part of speech?”
He then took Wilhelm by the arm and led him off, pressing him and skipping round him with the liveliest air of kindness.
Scarcely had they entered Wilhelm’s room, when Friedrich noticed, in the window, a powder-knife, with the inscription, Think of me. “You keep your valuables well laid up!” said he: “This is the powder-knife Philina gave you when I pulled your locks for you. I hope, in looking at it, you have diligently thought of that fair damsel: I assure you, she has not forgotten you; if I had not long ago obliterated every trace of jealousy from my heart, I could not look on you without envy.”
“Talk no more of that creature,” answered Wilhelm. “I confess, it was a while before I could get rid of the impression, which her looks and manner made on me; but that was all.”
“Fy! fy!” cried Friedrich: “would any one deny his deary? You loved her as completely as a man could wish. No day passed without your giving her some present; and when a German gives, you may be sure he loves. No alternative remained for me but whisking her away from you; and in this the little red officer at last succeeded.”
“How! You were the officer whom we discovered with her, whom she travelled off with?”
“Yes,” said Friedrich, “whom you took for Mariana. We had sport enough at the mistake.”
“What cruelty,” cried Wilhelm, “to leave me in such suspense!”
“And besides to take the courier, whom you sent to catch us, into pay!” said Friedrich. “He is a very active fellow; we have kept him by us ever since. And the girl herself I love as desperately as ever. She has managed me in some peculiar style: I am almost in a mythologic case; every day I tremble at the thought of being metamorphosed.”
“But tell me, pray,” said Wilhelm, “where have you acquired this stock of erudition? It surprises me to hear the strange way you have assumed of speaking always with a reference to ancient histories and fables.”
“It was by a pleasant plan,” said Friedrich, “that I got my learning. Philina lives with me at present: we have got a lease of an old knightly castle from the farmer in whose ground it is: and there we live, with the hobgoblins of the place, as merrily as possible. In one of the rooms we found a small but choice library, consisting of a folio Bible, Gottfried’s Chronicle, two volumes of the Theatrum Europæum, an Acerra Philologica, Gryphius’ Writings, and some other less important works. As we now and then, when tired of romping, felt the time hang heavy on our hands, we proposed to read some books; and before we were aware the time hung heavier than ever. At last, Philina hit upon the royal plan of laying all the tomes, opened at once, upon a large table: we sat down opposite to one another: we read to one another; always in detached passages, first from this book, then from that. Here was a proper pleasure! We felt now as if we were in good society, where it is reckoned unbecoming to dwell on any subject, or search it to the bottom; we thought ourselves in witty gay society, where none will let his neighbor speak. We regularly treat ourselves with this diversion every day; and the erudition we obtain from it is quite surprising. Already there is nothing new for us under the sun; on everything we see or hear our learning offers us a hint. This method of instruction we diversify in many ways. Frequently we read by an old spoiled sand-glass, which runs in a minute or two. The moment it is down the silent party turns it round like lightning, and commences reading from his book; and no sooner is it down again than the other cuts him short, and starts the former topic. Thus we study in a truly academic manner: only our hours are shorter, and our studies are extremely varied.”
“This rioting is quite conceivable,” said Wilhelm, “when a pair like you two are together: but how a pair so full of frolic stay together does not seem so easily conceivable.”
“It is our good fortune,” answered Friedrich, “and our bad. Philina dare not let herself be seen, she cannot bear to see herself, she is in the family way. Nothing ever was so ludicrous and shapeless in the world. A little while before I came away, she chanced to cast an eye upon the looking-glass in passing. ‘Faugh!’ cried she, and turned away her face: ‘the living picture of the Frau Melina! Shocking figure! One looks entirely deplorable!’ ”
“I confess,” said Wilhelm with a smile, “it must be rather farcical to see a father and a mother such as you and she together.”
“ ’Tis a foolish business,” answered Friedrich, “that I must, at last, be raised to the paternal dignity. But she asserts, and the time agrees. At first that cursed visit which she paid you after Hamlet gave me qualms.”
“I suppose you have not quite slept off the memory of it yet? The pretty, flesh-and-blood spirit of that night, if you do not know it, was Philina. The story was in truth a hard dower for me; but if we cannot be content with such things, we should not be in love. Fatherhood at any rate depends entirely upon conviction: I am convinced, and so I am a father. There, you see, I can employ my logic in the proper season too. And if the brat do not laugh itself to death so soon as it is born, it may prove, if not a useful, at least a pleasant citizen of this world.”
Whilst our friends were talking thus of mirthful subjects, the rest of the party had begun a serious conversation. Scarcely were Friedrich and Wilhelm gone, when the abbé led his friends, as if by chance, into a garden-house; and having got them seated thus addressed them:
“We have in general terms asserted that Fräulein Theresa was not the daughter of her reputed mother: it is fit that we should now explain ourselves on this matter, in detail. I shall relate the story to you, which I undertake to prove and to elucidate in every point.
“Frau von — spent the first years of her wedlock in the utmost concord with her husband; only they had this misfortune, that the children she brought him came into the world dead; and on occasion of the third, the mother was declared by the physicians to be on the verge of death, and to be sure of death if she should ever have another. The parties were obliged to take their resolution: they would not break the marriage; it was too suitable to both, in a civil point of view. Frau von — sought in the culture of her mind, in a certain habit of display, in the joys of vanity, a compensation for the happiness of motherhood, which was refused her. She cheerfully indulged her husband, when she noticed in him an attachment to a young lady who had sole charge of their domestic economy; a person of beautiful exterior and very solid character. Frau von — herself, ere long, assisted in procuring an arrangement; by which the lady yielded to the wishes of Theresa’s father; continuing to discharge her household duties, and testifying to the mistress of the family, if possible, a more submissive zeal to serve her than before.
“After a while, she declared herself with child: and both the father and his wife on this occasion, though from very different causes, fell upon the same idea. Herr von — wished to have the offspring of his mistress educated in the house as his lawful child; and Frau von —, angry that the indiscretion of her doctor had allowed some whisper of her condition to go abroad, proposed by a supposititious child to counteract this; and likewise to retain, by such compliance, the superiority in her household, which otherwise she was like to lose. However, she was more backward than her husband: she observed his purpose; and contrived, without any formal question, to facilitate his explanation. She made her own terms; obtaining almost everything that she required; and hence the will, in which so little care was taken of the child. The old doctor was dead: they applied to a young, active and discreet successor; he was well rewarded; he looked forward to the credit of exposing and remedying the unskilfulness and premature decision of his deceased colleague. The true mother, not unwillingly, consented; they managed the deception very well; Theresa came into the world, and was surrendered to a step-mother, while her mother fell a victim to the plot; having died by venturing out too early, and left the father inconsolable.
“Frau von — had thus attained her object; in the eyes of the world she had a lovely child, which she paraded with excessive vanity; and she had also been delivered from a rival, whose fortune she envied, and whose influence, at least in prospect, she beheld with apprehension. The infant she loaded with her tenderness; and by affecting, in trustful hours, a lively feeling for her husband’s loss, she gained mastery of his heart; so that in a manner he surrendered all to her; laid his own happiness and that of his child in her hands; nor was it till a short while prior to his death, and in some degree by the exertions of his grown-up daughter, that he again assumed the rule in his own house. This, fair Theresa, was in all probability the secret, which your father in his last sickness so struggled to communicate; this is what I wish to lay circumstantially before you, at a moment when our young friend, who by a strange concurrence has become your bridegroom, happens to be absent. Here are the papers, which will prove in the most rigorous manner everything that I have stated. You will also see from them how long I have been following the trace of this discovery, though till now I could never attain certainty respecting it. I did not risk imparting to my friend the possibility of such a happiness: it would have wounded him too deeply, had this hope a second time deceived him. You will understand poor Lydia’s suspicions: I readily confess, I nowise favored the attachment of our friend to her, whenever I began to look for a connection with Theresa.”
To this recital no one replied. The ladies, some days afterwards, returned the papers, not making any further mention of them.
There were other matters in abundance to engage the party when they were together; and the scenery around was so delightful, that our friends, singly or in company, on horseback, in carriages, or on foot, delighted to explore it. On one of these excursions, Jarno took an opportunity of opening the affair to Wilhelm; he delivered him the papers; not, however, seeming to require from him any resolution in regard to them.
“In the singular position I am placed in,” said our friend, “I need only repeat to you what I said at first, in presence of Natalia, and with the clear intention to fulfil it. Lothario and his friends may require of me every sort of self-denial: I here abandon in their favor all pretensions to Theresa; do you procure me, in return, a formal discharge. There requires no great reflection to decide. For some days I have noticed that Theresa has to make an effort in retaining any show of the vivacity with which she welcomed me at first. Her affection is gone from me, or rather I have never had it.”
“Such affairs are more conveniently explained,” said Jarno, “by a gradual process, in silence and expectation, than by many words, which always cause a sort of fermentation and embarrassment.”
“I rather think,” said Wilhelm, “that precisely this affair admits of the most clear and calm decision on the spot. I have often been reproached with hesitation and uncertainty: why will you now, when I do not hesitate, commit against myself the fault you have often blamed in me? Do our neighbors take such trouble with our training, only to let us feel that they themselves are untrained? Yes, grant me soon the cheerful thought that I am out of a mistaken project, into which I entered with the purest feelings in the world.”
Notwithstanding this request, some days elapsed without his hearing any more of the affair, or observing any further alteration in his friends. The conversation, on the contrary, was general and of indifferent matters.
Jarno and Wilhelm were sitting one day by Natalia. “You are thoughtful, Jarno,” said the lady; “I have seen it in your looks for some time.”
“I am so,” answered Jarno: “a weighty business is before me, which we have for years been meditating, and must now begin to execute. You already know the outline of it: I may speak of it before our friend; for it will depend on himself whether he too shall not share in it. You are going to get rid of me, before long: I mean to take a voyage to America.”
“To America?” said Wilhelm smiling: “Such an adventure I did not anticipate from you; still less that you would have selected me for a companion.”
“When you rightly understand our plan,” said Jarno, “you will give it a more honorable name; and perhaps yourself be tempted to embark in it. Listen to me. It requires but a slight acquaintance with the business of the world to see that mighty changes are at hand, that property is almost nowhere quite secure.”
“Of the business of the world I have no clear notion,” interrupted Wilhelm; “and it is but of late that I ever thought about my property. Perhaps I had done well to drive it out of my head still longer; the care of securing it appears to give us hypochondria.”
“Hear me out,” said Jarno: “care beseems ripe age, that youth may live for a time free from care: in the conduct of poor mortals equilibrium cannot be restored except by contraries. As matters go, it is anything but prudent to have property in only one place, to commit your money to a single spot; and it is difficult again to guide it well in many. We have therefore thought of something else. From our old tower there is a society to issue, which must spread itself through every quarter of the world, and to which members from every quarter of the world shall be admissible. We shall insure a competent subsistence to each other, in the single case of a revolution happening, which might drive any part of us entirely from their possessions. I am now proceeding to America, to profit by the good connections which our friend established while he stayed there. The abbé means to go to Russia: if you like to join us, you shall have the choice of continuing in Germany to help Lothario, or of accompanying me. I conjecture you will choose the latter: to take a distant journey is extremely serviceable to a young man.”
Wilhelm thought a moment, and replied: “The offer well deserves consideration; for ere long the word with me must be, The further off the better. You will let me know your plan, I hope, more perfectly. It is perhaps my ignorance of life that makes me think so; but such a combination seems to me to be attended with insuperable difficulties.”
“The most of which, till now, have been avoided,” answered Jarno, “by the circumstance, that we have been but few in number, honorable, discreet, determined people, animated by a certain general feeling, out of which alone the feeling proper for societies can spring.”—“And if you speak me fair,” said Friedrich, who hitherto had only listened, “I too will go along with you.” Jarno shook his head.
“Well, what objections can you make?” cried Friedrich. “In a new colony young colonists will be required; these I bring with me: merry colonists will also be required; of these I make you certain. Besides, I recollect a certain damsel, who is out of place on this side of the water, the fair, soft-hearted Lydia. What is the poor thing to do with her sorrow and mourning, unless she get an opportunity to throw it to the bottom of the sea, unless some brave fellow take her by the hand? You, my benefactor,” said he, turning towards Wilhelm, “you have a taste for comforting forsaken persons: what withholds you now? Each of us might take his girl under his arm, and trudge with Jarno.”
This proposal struck Wilhelm offensively. He answered with affected calmness: “I know not whether she is unengaged; and as in general I seem to be unfortunate in courtship, I shall hardly think of making the attempt.”
“Brother Friedrich,” said Natalia, “though thy own conduct is so full of levity, it does not follow that such sentiments will answer others. Our friend deserves a heart that shall belong to him alone, that shall not at his side be moved by foreign recollections. It was only with a character as pure and reasonable as Theresa’s, that such a venture could be risked.”
“Risk!” cried Friedrich: “In love it is all risk. In the grove or at the altar, with a clasp of the arms or a golden ring, by the chirping of the cricket or the sound of trumpets and kettledrums, it is all but a risk; chance does it all.”
“I have often noticed,” said Natalia, “that our principles are just a supplement to our peculiar manner of existence. We delight to clothe our errors in the garb of universal laws; to attribute them to irresistibly-appointed causes. Do but think, by what a path thy dear will lead thee, now that she has drawn thee towards her, and holds thee fast there.”
“She herself is on a very pretty path,” said Friedrich, “on the path to saintship. A bypath, it is true, and somewhat roundabout; but the pleasanter and surer for that. Maria of Magdala travelled it, and who can say how many more? But on the whole, sister, when the point in hand is love, thou shouldst not mingle in it. In my opinion, thou wilt never marry, till a bride is lacking somewhere; in that case, thou wilt give thyself, with thy habitual charity, to be the supplement of some peculiar manner of existence: not otherwise. So let us strike a bargain with this soul-broker, and agree about our travelling company.”
“You come too late with your proposals,” answered Jarno; “Lydia is disposed of.”
“And how?” cried Friedrich.
“I myself have offered her my hand,” said Jarno.
“Old gentleman,” said Friedrich, “you have done a feat to which, if we regard it as a substantive, various adjectives might be appended; various predicates, if we regard it as a subject.”
“I must honestly confess,” replied Natalia, “it appears a dangerous experiment to make a helpmate of a woman at the very moment when her love for another man is like to drive her to despair.”
“I have ventured,” answered Jarno; “under a certain stipulation, she is to be mine. And, believe me, there is nothing in the world more precious than a heart susceptible of love and passion. Whether it has loved, whether it still loves, are points which I regard not. The love of which another is the object, charms me almost more than that which is directed to myself. I see the strength, the force of a tender soul, and my self-love does not trouble the delightful vision.”
“Have you talked with Lydia, then, of late?” inquired Natalia.
Jarno smiled and nodded: Natalia shook her head, and said as he rose: “I really know not what to make of you; but me you shall not mystify, I promise you.”
She was about retiring when the abbé entered with a letter in his hand. “Stay, if you please,” said he to her: “I have a proposal here, respecting which your counsel will be welcome. The marchese, your late uncle’s friend, whom for some time we have been expecting, will be here in a day or two. He writes to me, that German is not so familiar to him as he had supposed; that he needs a person who possesses this and other languages to travel with him; that as he wishes to connect himself with scientific rather than political society, he cannot do without some such interpreter. I can think of no one better suited for the post than our young friend here. He knows the language; is acquainted with many things beside; and for himself, it cannot but be advantageous to travel over Germany in such society and such circumstances. Till we have seen our native country we have no scale to judge of other countries by. What say you, my friend? What say you, Natalia?”
Nobody objected to the scheme: Jarno seemed to think his Transatlantic project would not be a hindrance, as he did not mean to sail directly. Natalia did not speak; and Friedrich uttered various saws about the uses of travel.
This new project so provoked our friend that he could hardly conceal his irritation. He saw, in this proposal, a concerted plan for getting rid of him as soon as possible; and what was worse, they went so openly to work, and seemed so utterly regardless of his feelings. The suspicions Lydia had excited in him, all that he himself had witnessed, rose again upon his mind; the simple manner in which everything had been explained by Jarno, now appeared to him another piece of artifice.
He constrained himself, and answered: “At all events, the offer will require mature deliberation.”
“A quick decision may perhaps be necessary,” said the abbé.
“For that I am not prepared,” answered Wilhelm. “We can wait till the marchese comes, and then observe if we agree together. One condition must, however, be conceded first of all: that I take Felix with me.”
“This is a condition,” said the abbé, “which will scarcely be conceded.”
“And I do not see,” cried Wilhelm, “why I should let any man prescribe conditions to me; or why, if I choose to view my native country, I must go in company with an Italian.”
“Because a young man,” said the abbé, with a certain imposing earnestness, “is always called upon to form connections.”
Wilhelm, feeling that he could not long retain his self-command, as it was Natalia’s presence only which in some degree assuaged his indignation, hastily made answer: “Give me a little while to think. I imagine it will not be very hard to settle whether I am called upon to form additional connections; or ordered irresistibly, by heart and head, to free myself from such a multiplicity of bonds, which seem to threaten me with a perpetual, miserable thraldom.”
Thus he spoke, with a deeply-agitated mind. A glance at Natalia somewhat calmed him: her form and dignity, in this impassioned moment, stamped themselves more deeply on his mind than ever.
“Yes,” said he, as soon as he was by himself, “confess it, thou lovest her; thou once more feelest what it means to love with thy whole soul. Thus did I love Mariana, and deceive myself so dreadfully; I loved Philina, and could not help despising her. Aurelia I respected, and could not love: Theresa I reverenced, and paternal tenderness assumed the form of an affection for her. And now when all the feelings that can make a mortal happy meet within my heart, now am I compelled to fly! Ah! why should these feelings and convictions be combined with an insuperable longing? Why, without the hope of its fulfilment, should they utterly subvert all other happiness? Shall the sun and the world, society or any other gift of fortune, ever henceforth yield me pleasure? Shalt thou not forever say: Natalia is not here! And yet, alas, Natalia will be always present to thee! If thou closest thy eyes, she will appear to thee; if thou openest them, her form will flit before all outward things, like the image which a dazzling object leaves behind it in the eye. Did not the swiftly-passing figure of the Amazon dwell continually in thy imagination? And yet thou hadst but seen her, thou didst not know her. Now, when thou knowest her, when thou hast been so long beside her, when she has shown such care about thee; now are her qualities impressed as deeply upon thy soul, as her form was then upon thy fancy. It is painful to be always seeking; but far more painful to have found, and to be forced to leave. What now shall I ask for further in the world? What now shall I look for further? Is there a country, a city that contains a treasure such as this? And I must travel on, and ever find inferiority? Is life, then, like a race-course, where a man must rapidly return, when he has reached the utmost end? Does the good, the excellent stand before us like a firm unmoving goal, from which with fleet horses we are forced away, the instant we appeared to have attained it? Happier are they who strive for earthly wares! They find what they are seeking in its proper climate, or they buy it in the fair.
“Come, my own boy!” cried he to Felix, who now ran frisking towards him: “be thou, and remain thou, all to me! Thou wert given me as a compensation for thy loved mother; thou wert to replace the second mother whom I meant for thee; and now thou hast a loss still greater to make good. Occupy my heart, occupy my spirit with thy beauty, thy loveliness, thy capabilities, and thy desire to use them!”
The boy was busied with a new plaything; his father tried to put it in a better state for him; just as he succeeded, Felix had lost all pleasure in it. “Thou art a true son of Adam!” cried Wilhelm: “Come, my child! Come, my brother! let us wander, playing without object, through the world, as we best may.”
His resolution to remove, to take the boy along with him, and recreate his mind by looking at the world, had now assumed a settled form. He wrote to Werner for the necessary cash and letters of credit; sending Friedrich’s courier on the message, with the strictest charges to return immediately. Much as the conduct of his other friends had grieved him, his relation to Natalia remained serene and clear as ever.
He confided to her his intention: she took it as a settled thing that he would go; and if this seeming carelessness in her chagrined him, her kindly manner and her presence made him calm. She counselled him to visit various towns, that he might get acquainted with certain of her friends. The courier returned, and brought the letter which our friend required, though Werner did not seem content with this new whim. “My hope that thou wert growing reasonable,” so the letter ran, “is now again deferred. Where are you all gadding? And where lingers the lady, who, thou saidst, was to assist us in arranging these affairs? Thy other friends also are absent; they have thrown the whole concern upon the shoulders of the lawyer and myself. Happy that he is as expert a jurist, as I am a financier; and that both of us are used to business. Fare thee well! Thy aberrations shall be pardoned thee; since but for them, our situation here could not have been so favorable.”
So far as outward matters were concerned, Wilhelm might now have entered on his journey; but there were still, for his heart, two hindrances that held him fast. In the first place, they flatly refused to show him Mignon’s body, till the funeral the abbé meant to celebrate; and for this solemnity, the preparations were not ready. There had also been a curious letter from the country clergyman, in consequence of which the doctor had gone off. It related to the harper; of whose fate Wilhelm wanted to have further information.
In these circumstances, day or night, he found no rest for mind or body. When all were asleep he wandered up and down the house. The presence of the pictures and statues, which he knew so well of old, alternately attracted and repelled him. Nothing that surrounded him could he lay hold of or let go; all things reminded him of all; the whole ring of his existence lay before him; but it was broken into fragments, and seemed as if it would never unite again. These works of art, which his father had sold, appeared to him an omen that he himself was destined never to obtain a lasting calm possession of anything desirable in life, or always to be robbed of it so soon as gained, by his own or other people’s blame. He waded so deep in these strange and dreary meditations, that often he almost thought himself a disembodied spirit; and even when he felt and handled things without him, he could scarcely keep himself from doubting whether he was really there and alive.
Nothing but the piercing grief, which often seized him, but the tears he shed at being forced, by causes frivolous as they were irresistible, to leave the good which he had found, and found after having lost it—restored him to the feeling of his earthly life. It was in vain to call before his mind his happy state in other respects. “All is nothing, then,” exclaimed he, “if the one blessing, which appears to us worth all the rest is wanting!”
The abbé told the company that the marchese was arrived. “You have determined, it appears,” said he to Wilhelm, “to set out upon your travels with your boy alone. Get acquainted with this nobleman, however; he will be useful to you, if you meet him by the way.” The marchese entered: he was a person not yet very far advanced in years; a fine, handsome, pleasing Lombard figure. In his youth, while in the army and afterwards in public business, he had known Lothario’s uncle; they had subsequently travelled through the greater part of Italy together; and many of the works of art, which the marchese now again fell in with, had been purchased in his presence, and under various happy circumstances, which he still distinctly recollected.
The Italians have in general a deeper feeling for the high dignity of art than any other nation. In Italy, whoever follows the employment tries to pass at once for artist, master and professor: by which pretensions, he acknowledges at least that it is not sufficient merely to lay hold of some transmitted excellency, or to acquire by practice some dexterity; but that a man who aims at art should have the power to think of what he does, to lay down principles, and make apparent to himself and others how and wherefore he proceeds in this way or in that.
The stranger was affected at again beholding these productions, when the owner of them was no more; and cheered to see the spirit of his friend surviving in the gifted persons left behind him. They discussed a series of works; they found a lively satisfaction in the harmony of their ideas. The marchese and the abbé were the speakers; Natalia felt herself again transported to the presence of her uncle, and could enter without difficulty into their opinions and criticisms; Wilhelm could not understand them, except as he translated their technology into dramatic language. Friedrich’s facetious vein was sometimes rather difficult to keep in check. Jarno was seldom there.
It being observed that excellent works of art were very rare in latter times, it was remarked by the marchese: “We can hardly think or estimate how many circumstances must combine in favor of the artist: with the greatest genius, with the most decisive talent, the demands which he must make upon himself are infinite, the diligence required in cultivating his endowments is unspeakable. Now, if circumstances are not in his favor; if he observed that the world is very easy to be satisfied, requiring but a slight, pleasing, transitory show; it were matter of surprise, if indolence and selfishness did not keep him fixed at mediocrity; it were strange if he did not rather think of bartering modish wares for gold and praises, than of entering on the proper path, which could not fail in some degree to lead him to a sort of painful martyrdom. Accordingly, the artists of our time are always offering and never giving. They always aim at charming, and they never satisfy: everything is merely indicated; you can nowhere find foundation or completion. Those for whom they labor, it is true, are little better. If you wait awhile in any gallery of pictures, and observe what works attract the many, what are praised and what neglected, you have little pleasure in the present, little hope in the future.”
“Yes,” replied the abbé; “and thus it is that artists and their judges mutually form each other. The latter ask for nothing but a general vague enjoyment; a work of art is to delight them almost as a work of nature; they imagine that the organs for enjoying works of art may be cultivated altogether of themselves, like the tongue and the palate; they try a picture or a poem as they do an article of food. They do not understand how very different a species of culture it requires to raise one to the true enjoyment of art. The hardest part of it, in my opinion, is that sort of separation, which a man that aims at perfect culture must accomplish in himself. It is on this account that we observe so many people partially cultivated; and yet every one of them attempting to pronounce upon the general whole.”
“Your last remark is not quite clear to me,” said Jarno, who came in just then.
“It would be difficult,” replied the abbé, “to explain it fully without a long detail. Thus much I may say: When any man pretends to mix in manifold activity or manifold enjoyment, he must also be enabled as it were to make his organs manifold and independent of each other. Whoever aims at doing or enjoying all and everything with his entire nature; whoever tries to link together all that is without him by such a species of enjoyment, will only lose his time in efforts that can never be successful. How difficult, though it seems so easy, is it to contemplate a noble disposition, a fine picture simply in and for itself; to watch the music for the music’s sake; to admire the actor in the actor; to take pleasure in a building for its own peculiar harmony and durability! Most men are wont to treat a work of art, though fixed and done, as if it were a piece of soft clay. The hard and polished marble is again to mould itself, the firm-walled edifice is to contract or expand itself, according as their inclinations, sentiments and whims may dictate; the picture is to be instructive, the play to make us better, everything is to do all. The reason is, that most men are themselves unformed, they cannot give themselves and their being any certain shape: and thus they strive to take from other things their proper shape, that all they have to do with may be loose and wavering like themselves. Everything is, in the long-run, reduced by them to what they call effect; everything is relative, say they; and so indeed it is; everything with them grows relative, except absurdity and platitude, which truly are absolute enough.”
“I understand you,” answered Jarno; “or rather I perceive how what you have been saying follows from the principles you hold so fast by. Yet with men, poor devils, we should not go to quest so strictly. I know enow of them in truth, who, beside the greatest works of art and nature, forthwith recollect their own most paltry insufficiency; who take their conscience and their morals with them to the opera; who bethink them of their loves and hatreds in contemplating a colonnade. The best and greatest that can be presented to them from without, they must first, as far as possible, diminish in their way of representing it, that they may in any measure be enabled to combine it with their own sorry nature.”
The abbé called them, in the evening, to attend the exequies of Mignon. The company proceeded to the Hall of the Past; they found it magnificently ornamented and illuminated. The walls were hung with azure tapestry almost from ceiling to floor, so that nothing but the friezes and socles, above and below, were visible. On the four candelabra in the corners, large wax-lights were burning; smaller lights were in the four smaller candelabra placed by the sarcophagus in the middle. Near this stood four boys, dressed in azure with silver; they had broad fans of ostrich feathers, which they waved above a figure that was resting upon the sarcophagus. The company sat down; two invisible choruses began in a soft musical recitative to ask: “Whom bring ye us to the still dwelling?” The four boys replied with lovely voices: “’Tis a tired playmate whom we bring you; let her rest in your still dwelling, till the songs of her heavenly sisters once more awaken her.”
Firstling of youth in our circle, we welcome thee! With sadness welcome thee! May no boy, no maiden follow! Let age only, willing and composed, approach the silent Hall, and in the solemn company, repose this one dear child!
Ah, reluctantly we brought her hither! Ah, and she is to remain here! Let us too remain; let us weep, let us weep upon her bier!
Yet look at the strong wings; look at the light clear robe! How glitters the golden band upon her head! Look at the beautiful, the noble repose.
Ah! the wings do not raise her; in the frolic game her robe flutters to and fro no more; when we bound her head with roses her looks on us were kind and friendly.
Cast forward the eye of the spirit! Awake in your souls the imaginative power, which carries forth, what is fairest, what is highest, life, away beyond the stars.
But ah! we find her not here; in the garden she wanders not; the flowers of the meadow she plucks no longer. Let us weep, we are leaving her here! Let us weep and remain with her!
Children, turn back into life! Your tears let the fresh air dry, which plays upon the rushing water. Fly from night! Day and pleasure, and continuance are the lot of the living.
Up! Turn back into life! Let the day give us labor and pleasure, till the evening brings us rest, and the nightly sleep refreshes us.
Children! Hasten into life! In the pure garments of beauty may Love meet you with heavenly looks and with the wreath of immortality!
The boys had retired; the abbé rose from his seat, and went behind the bier. “It is the appointment,” said he, “of the man who prepared this silent abode, that each new tenant of it shall be introduced with a solemnity. After him, the builder of this mansion, the founder of this establishment, we have next brought a young stranger hither: and thus already does this little space contain two altogether different victims of the rigorous, arbitrary, and inexorable death-goddess. By appointed laws we enter into life; the days are numbered which make us ripe to see the light; but for the duration of our life there is no law. The weakest thread will spin itself to unexpected length; and the strongest is cut suddenly asunder by the scissors of the fates, delighting, as it seems, in contradictions. Of the child, whom we have here committed to her final rest, we can say but little. It is still uncertain whence she came; her parents we know not; the years of her life we can only conjecture. Her deep and closely-shrouded soul allowed us scarce to guess at its interior movements: there was nothing clear in her, nothing open but her affection for the man, who had snatched her from the hands of a barbarian. This impassioned tenderness, this vivid gratitude, appeared to be the flame which consumed the oil of her life: the skill of the physician could not save that fair life, the most anxious friendship could not lengthen it. But if art could not stay the departing spirit, it has done its utmost to preserve the body, and withdraw it from decay. A balsamic substance has been forced through all the veins, and now tinges, in place of blood, these cheeks too early faded. Come near, my friends, and view this wonder of art and care!”
He raised the veil: the child was lying in her angel’s-dress, as if asleep, in the most soft and graceful posture. They approached, and admired this show of life. Wilhelm alone continued sitting in his place; he was not able to compose himself: what he felt, he durst not think; and every thought seemed ready to destroy his feeling.
For the sake of the marchese, the speech had been pronounced in French. That nobleman came forward with the rest, and viewed the figure with attention. The abbé thus proceeded: “With a holy confidence, this kind heart, shut up to men, was continually turned to its God. Humility, nay, an inclination to abase herself externally, seemed natural to her. She clave with zeal to the Catholic religion, in which she had been born and educated. Often she expressed a still wish to sleep on consecrated ground: and according to the usage of the church we have therefore consecrated this marble coffin, and the little earth which is hidden in the cushion that supports her head. With what ardor did she in her last moments kiss the image of the Crucified, which stood beautifully figured on her tender arm, with many hundred points!” So saying, he stripped up her right sleeve; and a crucifix, with marks and letters round it, showed itself in blue upon the white skin.
The marchese looked at this with eagerness, stooping down to view it more intensely. “O God!” cried he, as he stood upright, and raised his hands to heaven: “Poor child! Unhappy niece! Do I meet thee here! What a painful joy to find thee, whom we had long lost hope of; to find this dear frame, which we had long believed the prey of fishes in the ocean, here preserved, though lifeless! I assist at thy funeral, splendid in its external circumstances, still more splendid from the noble persons who attend thee to thy place of rest. And to these,” added he with a faltering voice, “so soon as I can speak, I will express my thanks.”
Tears hindered him from saying more. By the pressure of a spring, the abbé sank the body into the cavity of the marble. Four youths, dressed as the boys had been, came out from behind the tapestry; and lifting the heavy, beautifully ornamented lid upon the coffin, thus began their song:
Well is the treasure now laid up; the fair image of the Past! Here sleeps it in the marble, undecaying; in your hearts too it lives, it works. Travel, travel, back into life! Take along with you this holy earnestness; for earnestness alone makes life eternity.
The invisible chorus joined in with the last words: but no one heard the strengthening sentiment; all were too much busied with themselves, and the emotions which these wonderful disclosures had excited. The abbé and Natalia conducted the marchese out; Theresa and Lothario walked by Wilhelm. It was not till the music had altogether died away, that their sorrows, thoughts, meditations, curiosity again fell on them with all their force, and made them long to be transported back into that exalting scene.
The marchese avoided speaking of the matter; but had long secret conversations with the abbè. When the company was met, he often asked for music; a request to which they willingly assented, as each was glad to be delivered from the charge of talking. Thus they lived for some time, till it was observed that he was making preparations for departure. One day he said to Wilhelm: “I wish not to disturb the remains of this beloved child; let her rest in the place where she loved and suffered; but her friends must promise to visit me in her native country; in the scene where she was born and bred; they must see the pillars and statues, of which a dim idea remained with her. I will lead you to the bays, where she liked so well to roam and gather pebbles. You, at least, young friend, shall not escape the gratitude of a family that stands so deeply indebted to you. To-morrow I set out on my journey. The abbé is acquainted with the whole history of this matter: he will tell it you again. He could pardon me when grief interrupted my recital; as a third party he will be enabled to narrate the incidents with more connection. If, as the abbé had proposed, you like to follow me in travelling over Germany, you shall be heartily welcome. Leave not your boy behind: at every little inconvenience which he causes us we will again remember your attentive care of my poor niece.”
The same evening our party was surprised by the arrival of the countess. Wilhelm trembled in every joint as she entered: she herself, though forewarned, kept close by her sister, who speedily reached her a chair. How singularly simple was her attire, how altered was her form! Wilhelm scarcely dared to look at her: she saluted him with a kindly air; a few general words addressed to him did not conceal her sentiments and feelings. The marchese had retired betimes; and, as the company were not disposed to part so early, the abbé now produced a manuscript. “The singular narrative which was intrusted to me,” said he, “I forthwith put on paper. The case where pen and ink should least of all be spared is in recording the particular circumstances of remarkable events.” They informed the countess of the matter; and the abbé read as follows, in the name of the marchese:
“Many men as I have seen, I still regard my father as a very extraordinary person. His character was noble and upright; his ideas were enlarged, I may even say great; to himself he was severe; in all his plans there was a rigid order, in all his operations an unbroken perseverance. In one sense, therefore, it was easy to transact and live with him: yet owing to the very qualities which made it so, he never could accommodate himself to life; for he required from the state, from his neighbors, from his children and his servants, the observance of all the laws which he had laid upon himself. His most moderate demands became exorbitant by his rigor: and he never could attain to enjoyment, for nothing ever was completed as he had forecast it. At the moment when he was erecting a palace, laying out a garden, or acquiring a large estate in the highest cultivation, I have seen him inwardly convinced, with the sternest ire, that fate had doomed him to do nothing but abstain and suffer. In his exterior, he maintained the greatest dignity; if he jested, it was but displaying the preponderancy of his understanding. Censure was intolerable to him; the only time I ever saw him quite transported with rage, was once when he heard that one of his establishments was spoken of as something ludicrous. In the same spirit he had settled the disposal of his children and his fortune. My eldest brother was educated as a person that had large estates to look for. I was to embrace the clerical profession; the youngest was to be a soldier. I was of a lively temper; fiery, active, quick, apt for corporeal exercises: the youngest rather seemed inclined to an enthusiastic quietism; devoted to the sciences, to music and poetry. It was not till after the hardest struggle, the maturest conviction of the impossibility of his project, that our father, still reluctantly, agreed to let us change vocations; and, although he saw us both contented, he could never suit himself to this arrangement, but declared that nothing good would come of it. The older he grew the more isolated did he feel himself from all society. At last he came to live almost entirely alone. One old friend who had served in the German armies, who had lost his wife in the campaign, and brought a daughter of about ten years of age along with him, remained his only visitor. This person bought a fine little property beside us: he used to come and see my father on stated days of the week, and at stated hours; his little daughter often came along with him. He was never heard to contradict my father; who at length grew perfectly habituated to him, and endured him as the only tolerable company he had. After our father’s death, we easily observed that this old gentleman had not been visiting for naught, that his compliances had been rewarded by an ample settlement. He enlarged his estates; his daughter might expect a handsome portion. The girl grew up, and was extremely beautiful: my elder brother often joked with me about her, saying I should go and court her.
“Meanwhile brother Augustin, in the seclusion of his cloister, had been spending his years in the strangest state of mind. He abandoned himself wholly to the feeling of a holy enthusiasm, to those half-spiritual, half-physical emotions, which, as they for a time exalted him to the third heaven, ere long sank him down to an abyss of powerlessness and vacant misery. While my father lived, no change could be contemplated: what indeed could we have asked for or proposed? After the old man’s death, our brother visited us frequently: his situation, which at first afflicted us, in time became much more tolerable: for his reason had at length prevailed. But the more confidently reason promised him complete recovery and contentment on the pure part of nature, the more vehemently did he require of us to free him from his vows. His thoughts, he let us know, were turned upon Sperata, our fair neighbor.
“My elder brother had experienced too much suffering from the harshness of our father to look on the condition of the youngest without sympathy. We spoke with the family confessor, a worthy old man; we signified to him the double purpose of our brother, and requested him to introduce and expedite the business. Contrary to custom he delayed; and at last, when Augustin pressed us, and we recommended the affair more keenly to the clergyman, he had nothing left but to impart the strange secret to us.
“Sperata was our sister, and that by both her parents. Our mother had declared herself with child at a time when both she and our father were advanced in years; a similar occurrence had shortly before been made the subject of some merriment in our neighborhood; and our father, to avoid such ridicule, determined to conceal this late lawful fruit of love as carefully as people use to conceal its earlier accidental fruits. Our mother was delivered secretly; the child was carried to the country; and the old friend of the family, who, with the confessor, had alone been trusted with the secret, easily engaged to give her out for his daughter. The confessor had reserved the right of disclosing the secret in case of extremity. The supposed father was now dead; Sperata was living with an old lady; we were aware that a love of song and music had already led our brother to her; and on his again requiring us to undo his former bond, that he might engage himself by a new one, it was necessary that we should, as soon as possible, apprise him of the danger he stood in.
“He viewed us with a wild contemptuous look. ‘Spare your idle tales,’ cried he, ‘for children and credulous fools; from me, from my heart, they shall not tear Sperata; she is mine. Recall, I pray you, instantly, your frightful spectre, which would but harass me in vain. Sperata is not my sister; she is my wife!’ He described to us, in rapturous terms, how this heavenly girl had drawn him out of his unnatural state of separation from his fellow-creatures into true life; how their spirits accorded like their voices; how he blessed his sufferings and errors, since they had kept clear of women, till the moment when he wholly and forever gave himself to this most amiable being. We were shocked at the discovery, we deplored his situation, but we knew not how to help ourselves, for he declared with violence, that Sperata had a child by him within her bosom. Our confessor did whatever duty could suggest to him, but by this means he only made the evil worse. The relations of nature and religion, moral rights and civil laws, were vehemently attacked and spurned at by our brother. He considered nothing holy but his relation to Sperata; nothing dignified but the names of father and wife. ‘These alone,’ cried he, ‘are suitable to nature; all else is caprice and opinion. Were there not noble nations which admitted marriage with a sister? Name not your gods! You never name them but when you wish to befool us, to lead us from the paths of nature, and, by scandalous constraint, to transform the noblest inclinations into crimes. Unspeakable are the perplexities, abominable the abuses, into which you force the victims whom you bury alive.
“ ‘I may speak, for I have suffered like no other; from the highest, sweetest feeling of enthusiasm to the frightful deserts of utter powerlessness, vacancy, annihilation and despair; from the loftiest aspirations of preternatural existence to the most entire unbelief, unbelief in myself. All these horrid grounds of the cup, so flattering at the brim, I have drained; and my whole being was poisoned to its core. And now, when kind nature, by her greatest gift, by love, has healed me; now, when in the arms of a heavenly creature, I again feel that I am, that she is, that out of this living union a third shall arise and smile in our faces; now ye open up the flames of your hell, of your purgatory, which can only singe a sick imagination; ye oppose them to the vivid, true, indestructible enjoyment of pure love! Meet us under these cypresses, which turn their solemn tops to heaven; visit us among those espaliers where the citrons and pomegranates bloom beside us, where the graceful myrtle stretches out its tender flowers to us; and then venture to disturb us with your dreary, paltry nets which men have spun!’
“Thus for a long time he persisted in a stubborn disbelief of our story; and when we assured him of its truth, when the confessor himself asseverated it, he did not let it drive him from his point. ‘Ask not the echoes of your cloisters, not your mouldering parchments, not your narrow whims and ordinances! Ask nature and your heart; she will teach you what you should recoil from: she will point out to you with the strictest finger, over what she has pronounced her everlasting curse. Look at the lilies: do not husband and wife shoot forth on the same stalk? Does not the flower which bore them hold them both? And is not the lily the type of innocence; is not their sisterly union fruitful? When nature abhors, she speaks it aloud; the creature that shall not be is not produced; the creature that lives with a false life is soon destroyed. Unfruitfulness, painful existence, early destruction, these are her curses, the marks of her displeasure. It is only by immediate consequences that she punishes. Look around you; and what is prohibited, what is accursed, will force itself upon your notice. In the silence of the convent, in the tumult of the world, a thousand practices are consecrated and revered, while her curse rests on them. On stagnant idleness as on overstrained toil, on caprice and superfluity as on constraint and want, she looks down with mournful eyes: her call is to moderation; true are all her commandments, peaceful all her influences. The man who has suffered as I have done has a right to be free. Sperata is mine; death alone shall take her from me. How I shall retain her, how I may be happy, these are your cares! This instant I go to her, and part from her no more.’
“He was for proceeding to the boat, and crossing over to her: we restrained him, entreating that he would not take a step which might produce the most tremendous consequences. He should recollect, we told him, that he was not living in the free world of his own thoughts and ideas; but in a constitution of affairs, whose ordinances and relations had become inflexible as laws of nature. The confessor made us promise not to let him leave our sight, still less our house: after this he went away, engaging to return ere long. What we had foreseen took place: reason had made our brother strong, but his heart was weak; the earlier impressions of religion rose on him, and dreadful doubts along with them. He passed two fearful nights and days: the confessor came again to his assistance, but in vain! His enfranchised understanding acquitted him: his feelings, religion, all his usual ideas declared him guilty.
“One morning we found his chamber empty: on the table lay a note, in which he signified that, as we kept him prisoner by force, he felt himself entitled to provide for his freedom: that he meant to go directly to Sperata; he expected to escape with her, and was prepared for the most terrible extremities should any separation be attempted.
“The news of course affrighted us exceedingly; but the confessor bade us be at rest. Our poor brother had been narrowly enough observed: the boatman, in place of taking him across, proceeded with him to his cloister. Fatigued with watching for the space of four-and-twenty hours, he fell asleep, as the skiff began to rock him in the moonshine; and he did not awake till he saw himself in the hands of his spiritual brethren; he did not recover from his amazement till he heard the doors of the convent bolting behind him.
“Sharply touched at the fate of our brother, we reproached the confessor for his cruelty; but he soon silenced or convinced us by the surgeon’s reason, that our pity was destructive to the patient. He let us know that he was not acting on his own authority but by order of the bishop and his chapter; that by this proceeding they intended to avoid all public scandal, and to shroud the sad occurrence under the veil of a secret course of discipline prescribed by the church. Our sister they would spare; she was not to be told that her lover was her brother. The charge of her was given to a priest, to whom she had before disclosed her situation. They contrived to hide her pregnancy and her delivery. As a mother she felt altogether happy in her little one. Like most of our women she could neither write, nor read writing; she gave the priest many verbal messages to carry to her lover. The latter, thinking that he owed this pious fraud to a suckling mother, often brought pretended tidings from our brother, whom he never saw; recommending her, in his name, to be at peace; begging of her to be careful of herself and of her child; and for the rest to trust in God.
“Sperata was inclined by nature to religious feelings. Her situation, her solitude increased this tendency; the clergyman encouraged it, in order to prepare her by degrees for an eternal separation. Scarcely was her child weaned, scarcely did he think her body strong enough for suffering agony of mind, when he began to paint her fault to her in most terrific colors, to treat the crime of being connected with a priest as a sort of sin against nature, as a sort of incest. For he had taken up the strange thought of making her repentance equal in intensity to what it would have been had she known the true circumstances of her error. He thereby produced so much anxiety and sorrow in her mind; he so exalted the idea of the church and of its head before her; showed her the awful consequences, for the weal of all men’s souls, should indulgence in a case like this be granted, and the guilty pair rewarded by a lawful union; signifying too how wholesome it was to expiate such sins in time, and thereby gain the crown of immortality—that at last, like a poor criminal, she willingly held out her neck to the axe, and earnestly entreated that she might forever be divided from our brother. Having gained so much, the clergy left her the liberty (reserving to themselves a certain distant oversight) to live at one time in a convent, at another in her house, according as she afterwards thought good.
“Her little girl meanwhile was growing: from her earliest years she displayed an extraordinary disposition. When still very young, she could run, and move with wonderful dexterity; she sang beautifully, and learned to play upon the cithern almost of herself. With words, however, she could not express herself; and the impediment seemed rather to proceed from her mode of thought than from her organs of speech. The feelings of the poor mother to her, in the mean time, were of the most painful kind: the expostulations of the priest had so perplexed her mind, that though she was not quite deranged, her state was far from being sane. She daily thought her crime more terrible and punishable; the clergyman’s comparison of incest, frequently repeated, had impressed itself so deeply, that her horror was not less than if the actual circumstances had been known to her. The priest took no small credit for his ingenuity, with which he had contrived to tear asunder a luckless creature’s heart. It was miserable to behold maternal love, ready to expand itself in joy at the existence of her child, contending with the horrid feeling, that this child should not be there. The two emotions strove together in her soul; love was often weaker than aversion.
“The child had long ago been taken from her, and committed to a worthy family residing on the sea-shore. In the greater freedom which the little creature enjoyed here she soon displayed her singular delight in climbing. To mount the highest peaks, to run along the edges of the ships, to imitate in all their strangest feats the rope-dancers, whom she often saw in the place, seemed a natural tendency in her.
“To practise these things with the greater ease, she liked to change clothes with boys: and though her foster-parents thought this highly blamable and unbecoming, we bade them indulge her as much as possible. Her wild walks and leapings often led her to a distance; she would lose her way, and be long from home, but she always came back. In general, as she returned, she used to set herself beneath the columns in the portal of a country house in the neighborhood: her people now had ceased to look for her; they waited for her. She would there lie resting on the steps; then run up and down the large hall, looking at the statues; after which, if nothing specially detained her, she used to hasten home.
“But at last our confidence was balked, and our indulgence punished. The child went out, and did not come again: her little hat was found swimming on the water, near the spot where a torrent rushes down into the sea. It was conjectured that, in clambering among the rocks, her foot had slipped; all our searching could not find the body.
“The thoughtless tattle of her house-mates soon communicated the occurrence to Sperata; she seemed calm and cheerful when she heard it; hinting not obscurely at her satisfaction that God had pleased to take her poor child to himself, and thus preserved it from suffering or causing some more dreadful misery.
“On this occasion all the fables which are told about our waters came to be the common talk. The sea, it was said, required every year an innocent child: yet it would endure no corpse, but sooner or later throw it to the shore; nay, the last joint, though sunk to the lowest bottom, must again come forth. They told the story of a mother, inconsolable because her child had perished in the sea, who prayed to God and his saints to grant her at least the bones for burial. The first storm threw ashore the skull, the next the spine; and after all was gathered, she wrapped the bones in a cloth, and took them to the church: but O! miraculous to tell! as she crossed the threshold of the temple, the packet grew heavier and heavier, and at last, when she laid it on the steps of the altar, the child began to cry, and issued living from the cloth. One joint of the right-hand little finger was alone wanting: this too the mother anxiously sought and found; and in memory of the event it was preserved among the other relics of the church.
“On poor Sperata these recitals made a deep impression: her imagination took a new flight, and favored the emotion of her heart. She supposed that now the child had expiated, by its death, both its own sins, and the sins of its parents: that the curse and penalty, which hitherto had overhung them all, was at length wholly removed; that nothing more was necessary, could she only find the child’s bones, that she might carry them to Rome, where upon the steps of the great altar in St. Peter’s, her little girl, again covered with its fair fresh skin, would stand up alive before the people. With its own eyes it would once more look on father and mother; and the pope, convinced that God and his saints commanded it, would, amid the acclamations of the people, remit the parents their sins, acquit them of their oaths, and join their hands in wedlock.
“Her looks and her anxiety were henceforth constantly directed to the sea and the beach. When, at night in the moonshine, the waves were tossing to and fro, she thought every glittering sheet of foam was bringing out her child; and some one about her had to run off, as if to take it up when it should reach the shore.
“By day she walked unweariedly along the places where the pebbly beach shelved slowly to the water: she gathered, in a little basket, all the bones which she could find. None durst tell her that they were the bones of animals: the larger ones she buried, the little ones she took along with her. In this employment she incessantly persisted. The clergyman, who, by so unremittingly discharging what he thought his duty, had reduced her to this condition, now stood up for her with all his might. By his influence, the people in the neighborhood were made to look upon her not as a distracted person, but as one entranced: they stood in reverent attitudes as she walked by, and the children ran to kiss her hand.
“To the old woman, her attendant and faithful friend, the secret of Sperata’s guilt was at length imparted by the priest, on her solemnly engaging to watch over the unhappy creature with untiring care through all her life. And she kept this engagement to the last with admirable conscientiousness and patience.
“Meanwhile we had always had an eye upon our brother. Neither the physicians nor the clergy of his convent would allow us to be seen by him: but, in order to convince us of his being well in some sort, we had leave to look at him as often as we liked, in the garden, the passages, or even through a window in the roof of his apartment.
“After many terrible and singular changes, which I shall omit, he had passed into a strange state of mental rest and bodily unrest. He never sat but when he took his harp and played upon it, and then he usually accompanied it with singing. At other times he kept continually in motion; and in all things he was grown extremely guidable and pliant, for all his passions seemed to have resolved themselves into the single fear of death. You could persuade him to do anything by threatening him with dangerous sickness or with death.
“Besides this singularity of walking constantly about the cloister, a practice which he hinted it were better to exchange for wandering over hill and dale, he talked about an apparition which perpetually tormented him. He declared, that on awakening, at whatever hour of the night, he saw a beautiful boy standing at the foot of his bed, with a bare knife, and threatening to destroy him. They shifted him to various other chambers of the convent; but he still asserted that the boy pursued him. His wandering to and fro became more unrestful: the people afterwards remembered too, that at this time they had often seen him standing at the window looking out upon the sea.
“Our poor sister, on the other hand, seemed gradually wasting under the consuming influence of her single thought, of her narrow occupation. It was at last proposed by the physician, that among the bones which she had gathered, the fragments of a child’s skeleton should by degrees be introduced; and so the hapless mother’s hopes kept up. The experiment was dubious; but this at least seemed likely to be gained by it, that when all the parts were got together she would cease her weary search, and might be entertained with hopes of going to Rome.
“It was accordingly resolved on: her attendant changed by imperceptible degrees the small remains committed to her with the bones Sperata found. An inconceivable delight arose in the poor sick woman’s heart, when the parts began to fit each other, and the shape of those still wanting could be marked. She had fastened every fragment in its proper place with threads and ribbons; filling up the vacant spaces with embroidery and silk, as is usually done with the relics of saints.
“In this way nearly all the bones had been collected; none but a few of the extremities were wanting. One morning, while she was asleep, the physician having come to ask for her, the old attendant, with a view to show him how his patient occupied herself, took away these dear remains from the little chest where they lay in poor Sperata’s bedroom. A few minutes afterwards they heard her spring upon the floor; she lifted up the cloth and found the chest empty. She threw herself upon her knees; they came and listened to her joyful ardent prayer. ‘Yes!’ exclaimed she, ‘it is true; it was no dream, it is real! Rejoice with me, my friends! I have seen my own beautiful good little girl again alive. She arose and threw the veil from off her; her splendor enlightened all the room; her beauty was transfigured to celestial loveliness; she could not tread the ground, although she wished it. Lightly was she born aloft; she had not even time to stretch her hand to me. There! cried she to me, and pointed to the road where I am soon to go. Yes, I will follow her, soon follow her; my heart is light to think of it. My sorrows are already vanished; the sight of my risen little one has given me a foretaste of the heavenly joys.’
“From that time her soul was wholly occupied with prospects of the brightest kind; she gave no further heed to any earthly object; she took but little food; her spirit by degrees cast off the fetters of the body. At last this imperceptible gradation reached its head unexpectedly: her attendants found her pale and motionless; she opened not her eyes; she was what we call dead.
“The report of her vision quickly spread abroad among the people; and the reverential feeling, which she had excited in her lifetime, soon changed, at her death, to the thought that she should be regarded as in bliss, nay, as in sanctity.
“When we were bearing her to be interred, a crowd of persons pressed with boundless violence about the bier; they would touch her hand; they would touch her garment. In this impassioned elevation, various sick persons ceased to feel the pains by which at other times they were tormented: they looked upon themselves as healed; they declared it, they praised God and his new saint. The clergy were obliged to lay the body in a neighboring chapel; the people called for opportunity to offer their devotion. The concourse was incredible; the mountaineers, at all times prone to lively and religious feelings, crowded forward from their valleys; the reverence, the wonder, the adoration daily spread and gathered strength. The ordinances of the bishop, which were meant to limit, and in time abolish this new worship, could not be put in execution: every show of opposition raised the people into tumults; every unbeliever they were ready to assail with personal violence. ‘Did not Saint Borromæus,’ cried they, ‘dwell among our forefathers? Did not his mother live to taste the joy of his canonization? Was not that great figure on the rocks at Arona meant to represent to us, by a sensible symbol, his spiritual greatness? Do not the descendants of his kindred live among us to this hour? And has not God promised ever to renew his miracles among a people that believe?’
“As the body, after several days, exhibited no marks of putrefaction, but grew whiter, and as it were translucent, the general faith rose higher and higher. Among the multitude were several cures, which even the sceptical observer was unable to account for, or ascribe entirely to fraud. The whole country was in motion; those who did not go to see it, heard at least no other topic talked of.
“The convent, where my brother lived, resounded, like the land at large, with the noise of these wonders; and the people felt the less restraint in speaking of them in his presence, as in general he seemed to pay no heed to anything, and his connection with the circumstance was known to none of them. But on this occasion, it appeared, he had listened with attention. He conducted his escape with such dexterity and cunning that the manner of it still remains a mystery. We learned afterwards, that he had crossed the water with a number of travellers; and charged the boatmen, who observed no other singularity about him, above all to have a care lest their vessel overset. Late in the night he reached the chapel, where his hapless loved one was resting from her woes. Only a few devotees were kneeling in the corners of the place; her old friend was sitting at the head of the corpse; he walked up to her, saluted her, and asked how her mistress was. ‘You see it,’ answered she with some embarrassment. He looked at the corpse with a sidelong glance. After some delay he took its hand. Frightened by its coldness, he in the instant let it go: he looked unrestfully around him; then turning to the old attendant: ‘I cannot stay with her at present,’ said he; ‘I have a long, long way to travel; but at the proper time I shall be back: tell her so when she awakens.’
“With this he went away. It was a while before we got intelligence of these occurrences: we searched; but all our efforts to discover him were vain. How he worked his way across the mountains, none can say. A long time after he was gone we came upon a trace of him among the Grisons; but we were too late; it quickly vanished. We supposed that he was gone to Germany; but his weak foot-prints had been speedily obliterated by the war.”
The abbé ceased to read: no one had listened without tears. The countess scarcely ever took her handkerchief from her eyes; at last she rose, and, with Natalia, left the room. The rest were silent, till the abbé thus began: “The question now arises, whether we shall let the good marchese leave us without telling him our secret. For who can doubt a moment, that our harper and his brother Augustin are one? Let us consider what is to be done; both for the sake of that unhappy man himself, and of his family. My advice is, not to hurry, but to wait till we have heard what news the doctor, who is gone to see him, brings us back.”
All were of the same opinion; and the abbé thus proceeded: “Another question, which perhaps may be disposed of sooner, still remains. The marchese is affected to the bottom of his heart, at the kindness which his poor niece experienced here, particularly from our young friend. He made me tell him, and repeat to him every circumstance connected with her; and he showed the liveliest gratitude on hearing it. ‘Her young benefactor,’ he said, ‘refused to travel with me, while he knew not the connection that subsists between us. I am not now a stranger, of whose manner of existence, of whose humors he might be uncertain. I am his associate, his relation; and as his unwillingness to leave his boy behind was the impediment which kept him from accompanying me, let this child now become a fairer bond to join us still more closely. Besides the services which I already owe him, let him be of service to me on my present journey; let him then return along with me; my elder brother will receive him as he ought. And let him not despise the heritage of his unhappy foster-child: for by a secret stipulation of our father with his military friend, the fortune which he gave Sperata has returned to us: and certainly we will not cheat our niece’s benefactor of the recompense which he has merited so well.’ ”
Theresa, taking Wilhelm by the hand, now said to him: “We have here another beautiful example that disinterested well-doing yields the highest and best return. Follow the call, which so strangely comes to you: and while you lay a double load of gratitude on the marchese, hasten to a fair land, which has already often drawn your heart and your imagination towards it.”
“I leave myself entirely to the guidance of my friends and you,” said Wilhelm: “it is vain to think, in this world, of adhering to our individual will. What I purposed to hold fast, I must let go; and benefits which I have not deserved, descend upon me of their own accord.”
With a gentle pressure of Theresa’s hand, Wilhelm took his own away. “I give you full permission,” said he to the abbé, “to decide about me as you please. Since I shall not need to leave my Felix, I am ready to go anywhither, and to undertake whatever you think good.”
Thus authorized, the abbé forthwith sketched out his plan. The marchese, he proposed, should be allowed to depart; Wilhelm was to wait for tidings from the doctor; he might then, when they had settled what was to be done, set off with Felix. Accordingly, under the pretence that Wilhelm’s preparations for his journey would detain him, he advised the stranger to employ the mean while in examining the curiosities of the city, which he meant to visit. The marchese did in consequence depart; and not without renewed and strong expressions of his gratitude; of which indeed the presents left by him, including jewels, precious stones, embroidered stuffs, afforded a sufficient proof.
Wilhelm too was at length in readiness for travelling; and his friends began to be distressed that the doctor sent them no news. They feared some mischief had befallen the poor old harper, at the very moment when they were in hopes of radically improving his condition. They sent the courier off; but he was scarcely gone when the doctor in the evening entered with a stranger, whose form and aspect were expressive, earnest, striking, and whom no one knew. Both stood silent for a space; the stranger at length went up to Wilhelm, and holding out his hand said: “Do you not know your old friend, then?” It was the harper’s voice; but of his form there seemed to remain no vestige. He was in the common garb of a traveller, cleanly and genteelly equipped; his beard had vanished; his hair was dressed with some attention to the mode; and what particularly made him quite irrecognizable was, that in his countenance the look of age was no longer visible. Wilhelm embraced him with the liveliest joy; he was presented to the rest; and behaved himself with great propriety, not knowing that the party had a little while before become so well acquainted with him. “You will have patience with a man,” continued he with great composure, “who, grown up as he appears, is entering on the world, after long sorrows, inexperienced as a child. To this skilful gentleman I stand indebted for the privilege of again appearing in the company of my fellow-men.”
They bade him welcome: the doctor motioned for a walk, to interrupt the conversation, and lead it to indifferent topics.
In private, the doctor gave the following explanation: “It was by the strangest chance that we succeeded in the cure of this man. We had long treated him, morally and physically, as our best consideration dictated: in some degree the plan was efficacious; but the fear of death continued powerful in him, and he would not lay aside his beard and cloak. For the rest, however, he appeared to take more interest in external things than formerly; and both his songs and his conceptions seemed to be approaching nearer life. A strange letter from the clergyman, as you already know, called me from you. I arrived: I found our patient altogether changed; he had voluntarily given up his beard; he had let his locks be cut into a customary form; he asked for common clothes; he seemed to have at once become another man. Though curious to penetrate the reason of this sudden alteration, we did not risk inquiring of himself: at last we accidentally discovered it. A glass of laudanum was missing from the parson’s private laboratory: we thought it right to institute a strict inquiry on the subject; every one endeavored to ward off suspicion; and the sharpest quarrels rose among the inmates of the house. At last, this man appeared before us, and admitted that he had the laudanum: we asked if he had swallowed any of it. ‘No! said he: ‘but it is to this that I owe the recovery of my reason. It is at your choice to take the vial from me; and to drive me back inevitably to my former state. The feeling that it was desirable to see the pains of life terminated by death, first put me on the way of cure; before long the thought of terminating them by voluntary death arose in me; and with this intention, I took the glass of poison. The possibility of casting off my load of griefs forever gave me strength to bear them: and thus have I, ever since this talisman came into my possession, pressed myself back into life, by a contiguity with death. Be not anxious lest I use the drug; but resolve, as men acquainted with the human heart, by granting me an independence of life, to make me properly and wholesomely dependent on it.’ After mature consideration of the matter, we determined not to meddle further with him: and he now carries with him, in a firm little ground-glass vial, this poison, of which he has so strangely made an antidote.”
The doctor was informed of all that had transpired since his departure; towards Augustin, it was determined that they should observe the deepest silence in regard to it. The abbé undertook to keep beside him, and to lead him forward on the healthful path he had entered.
Meanwhile Wilhelm was to set about his journey over Germany with the marchese. If it should appear that Augustin could be again excited to affection for his native country, the circumstances were to be communicated to his friends, and Wilhelm might conduct him thither.
Wilhelm had at last made every preparation for his journey. At first the abbé thought it strange that Augustin rejoiced in hearing of his friend and benefactor’s purpose to depart; but he soon discovered the foundation of this curious movement. Augustin could not subdue his fear of Felix; and he longed as soon as possible to see the boy removed.
By degrees so many people had assembled, that the castle and adjoining buildings could scarcely accommodate them all; and the less, as such a multitude of guests had not originally been anticipated. They breakfasted, they dined together; each endeavored to persuade himself that they were living in a comfortable harmony, but each in secret longed in some degree to be away. Theresa frequently rode out attended by Lothario, and oftener alone; she had already got acquainted with all the landladies and landlords in the district; for she held it as a principle of her economy, in which perhaps she was not far mistaken, that it is essential to be in good acceptance with one’s neighbors male and female, and to maintain with them a constant interchange of civilities. Of an intended marriage with Lothario she appeared to have no thought. Natalia and the countess often talked with one another; the abbé seemed to covet the society of Augustin; Jarno had frequent conversations with the doctor; Friedrich held by Wilhelm; Felix ran about, wherever he could meet with most amusement. It was thus too that in general they paired themselves in walking, when the company broke up: when it was obliged to be together, recourse was quickly had to music, to unite them all by giving each back to himself.
Unexpectedly the count increased the party; intending to remove his lady, and, as it appeared, to take a solemn farewell of his worldly friends. Jarno hastened to the coach to meet him: the count inquired what guests they had; to which the other answered, in a fit of wild humor that would often seize him: “We have all the nobility in nature; marcheses, marquises, milords and barons: we wanted nothing but a count.” They came up-stairs. Wilhelm was the first who met them in the ante-chamber. “Milord,” said the count to him in French, after looking at him for a moment, “I rejoice very much in the unexpected pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with your lordship: I am very much mistaken if I did not see you at my castle in the prince’s suite.” “I had the happiness of waiting on your excellency at that time,” answered Wilhelm; “but you do me too much honor when you take me for an Englishman, and that of the first quality. I am a German, and”—“A very brave young fellow,” interrupted Jarno. The count looked at Wilhelm with a smile, and was about to make some reply, when the rest of the party entered, and saluted him with many a friendly welcome. They excused themselves for being unable at the moment to show him to a proper chamber; promising without delay to make the necessary room for him.
“Ay, ay!” said he, smiling: “we have left chance, I see, to act as our purveyor. Yet with prudence and arrangement, how much is possible! For the present, I entreat you not to stir a slipper from its place; the disorder, I perceive, would otherwise be great. Every one would be uncomfortably lodged, and this no one shall be on my account, if possible, not even for an hour. You can testify,” said he to Jarno, “and you too, meister,” turning to Wilhelm, “how many people I commodiously stowed, that time, in my castle. Let me have the list of persons and servants; let me see how they are lodged at present: I will make a plan of dislocation, such that, with the very smallest inconvenience, every one shall find a suitable apartment, and there shall be room enough to hold another guest if one should accidentally arrive.”
Jarno volunteered to be the count’s assistant; procured him all the necessary information; taking great delight, as usual, if he could now and then contrive to lead him astray, and leave him in awkward difficulties. The old gentleman at last, however, gained a signal triumph. The arrangement was completed; he caused the names to be written on their several doors, himself attending; and it could not be denied that, by a very few changes and substitutions, the object had been fully gained. Jarno, among other things, had also managed that the persons, who at present took an interest in each other, should be lodged together.
“Will you help me,” said the count to Jarno, after everything was settled, “to clear up my recollections of the young man there, whom you call meister, and who, you tell me, is a German?” Jarno was silent; for he knew very well that the count was one of those people who, in asking questions, merely wish to show their knowledge. The count accordingly continued, without waiting for an answer: “You, I recollect, presented him to me; and warmly recommended him in the prince’s name. If his mother was a German woman, I’ll be bound for it his father is an Englishman, and one of rank too: who can calculate the English blood that has been flowing, these last thirty years, in German veins! I do not wish to pump you: I know you have always family secrets of that kind; but in such cases it is in vain to think of cheating me.” He then proceeded to detail a great variety of things as having taken place with Wilhelm at the castle; to the whole of which Jarno, as before, kept silence; though the count was altogether in the wrong, confounding Wilhelm more than once with a young Englishman of the prince’s suite. The truth was, the good old gentleman had in former years possessed a very excellent memory; and was still proud of being able to remember the minutest circumstances of his youth: but in regard to late occurrences, he used to settle in his mind as true, and utter with the greatest certainty, whatever fables and fantastic combinations in the growing weakness of his powers, imagination might present to him. For the rest, he was become extremely mild and courteous; his presence had a very favorable influence upon the company. He would call on them to read some useful book together; nay, he often gave them little games, which, without participating in them, he directed with the greatest care. If they wondered at his condescension, he would reply, that it became a man, who differed from the world in weighty matters, to conform to it the more anxiously in matters of indifference.
In these games, our friend had, more than once, an angry and unquiet feeling to endure. Friedrich, with his usual levity, took frequent opportunity of giving hints that Wilhelm entertained a secret passion for Natalia. How could he have found it out? What entitled him to say so? And would not his friends think that, as they two were often together, Wilhelm must have made a disclosure to him, so thoughtless and unlucky a disclosure?
One day, while they were merrier than common at some such joke, Augustin, dashing up the door, rushed in with a frightful look; his countenance was pale, his eyes were wild; he seemed about to speak, but his tongue refused its office. The party were astounded; Lothario and Jarno, supposing that his madness had returned, sprang up and seized him. With a choked and faltering voice, then loudly and violently, he spoke and cried: “Not me! Haste! Help! Save the child! Felix is poisoned!”
They let him go; he hastened through the door: all followed him in consternation. They called the doctor: Augustin made for the abbé’s chamber; they found the child; who seemed amazed and frightened, when they called to him from a distance: “What hast thou been doing?”
“Dear papa!” cried Felix, “I did not drink from the bottle, I drank from the glass: I was very thirsty.”
Augustin struck his hands together: “He is lost!” cried he; then pressed through the bystanders, and hastened away.
They found a glass of almond-milk upon the table, with a bottle near it more than half empty. The doctor came; was told what they had seen and heard: with horror he observed the well-known laudanum-vial lying empty on the table. He called for vinegar, he summoned all his art to his assistance.
Natalia had the little patient taken to a room, she busied herself with painful care about him. The abbé had run out to seek Augustin, and draw some explanation from him. The unhappy father had been out upon the same endeavor, but in vain: he returned, to find anxiety and fear on every face. The doctor, in the meantime, had been examining the almond-milk in the glass; he found it to contain a powerful mixture of opium: the child was lying on the sofa, seeming very sick; he begged his father “not to let them pour more stuff into him, not to let them plague him any more.” Lothario had sent his people, and had ridden off himself, endeavoring to find some trace of Augustin. Natalia sat beside the child; he took refuge in her bosom, and entreated earnestly for her protection; earnestly for a little piece of sugar: the vinegar, he said, was biting sour. The doctor granted his request; the child was in a frightful agitation; they were obliged to let him have a moment’s rest. The doctor said that every means had been adopted; he would continue to do his utmost. The count came near, with an air of displeasure: his look was earnest, even solemn: he laid his hands upon the child; turned his eyes to heaven, and remained some moments in that attitude. Wilhelm, who was lying inconsolable on a seat, sprang up, and casting a despairing look at Natalia, left the room. Shortly afterwards the count too left it.
“I cannot understand,” said the doctor, having paused a little, “how it comes that there is not the smallest trace of danger visible about the child. At a single gulp, he must have swallowed an immense dose of opium; yet I find no movement in his pulse but what may be ascribed to our remedies, and to the terror we have put him into.”
In a few minutes Jarno entered, with intelligence that Augustin had been discovered in the upper story, lying in his blood; a razor had been found beside him; to all appearance he had cut his throat. The doctor hastened out: he met the people carrying down the body. The unhappy man was laid upon a bed, and accurately examined: the cut had gone across the windpipe; copious loss of blood had been succeeded by a swoon; yet it was easy to observe that life, that hope was still there. The doctor put the body in a proper posture; joined the edges of the wound, and bandaged it. The night passed sleepless and full of care to all. Felix would not quit Natalia: Wilhelm sat before her on a stool; he had the boy’s feet upon his lap; the head and breast were lying upon hers. Thus did they divide the pleasing burden and the painful anxiety; and continue, till the day broke, in their uncomfortable sad position. Natalia had given her hand to Wilhelm; they did not speak a word; they looked at the child and then at one another. Lothario and Jarno were sitting at the other end of the room, and carrying on a most important conversation; which, did not the pressure of events forbid us, we would gladly lay before our readers. The boy slept softly; he awoke quite cheerful, early in the morning, and demanded a piece of bread and butter.
So soon as Augustin had in some degree recovered, they endeavored to obtain some explanation from him. They learned with difficulty, and by slow degrees, that having, by the count’s unlucky shifting, been appointed to the same chamber with the abbé, he had found the manuscript in which his story was recorded. Struck with horror on perusing it, he felt that it was now impossible for him to live; on which he had recourse as usual to the laudanum: this he poured into a glass of almond-milk, and raised it to his mouth; but he shuddered when it reached his lips; he set it down untasted; went out to walk once more across the garden, and behold the face of nature; and on his return, he found the child employed in filling up the glass out of which it had been drinking.
They entreated the unhappy creature to be calm; he seized Wilhelm by the hand with a spasmodic grasp, and cried: “Ah! why did I not leave thee long ago? I knew well that I should kill the boy, and he me.” “The boy lives!” said Wilhelm. The doctor, who had listened with attention, now inquired of Augustin if all the drink was poisoned. “No,” replied he, “nothing but the glass.” “By the luckiest chance, then,” cried the doctor, “the boy has drunk from the bottle! A benignant genius has guided his hand, that he did not catch at death, which stood so near and ready for him.” “No! no!” cried Wilhelm with a groan, and clapping both his hands upon his eyes: “How dreadful are the words! Felix said expressly that he drank not from the bottle but the glass. His health is but a show; he will die among our hands.” Wilhelm hastened out; the doctor went below, and taking Felix up, with much caressing, asked: “Now did not you, my pretty boy? You drank from the bottle, not the glass?” The child began to cry. The doctor secretly informed Natalia how the matter stood: she also strove in vain to get the truth from Felix, who but cried the more; cried till he fell asleep.
Wilhelm watched by him; the night went peacefully away. Next morning Augustin was found lying dead in bed; he had cheated his attendants by a seeming rest; had silently loosened the bandages, and bled to death. Natalia went to walk with Felix; he was sportful as in his happiest days. “You are always good to me,” said Felix; “you never scold, you never beat me; I will tell you the truth, I did drink from the bottle. Mamma Aurelia used to rap me over the fingers every time I touched the bottle: father looked so sour, I thought he would beat me.”
With winged steps Natalia hastened to the castle; Wilhelm came, still overwhelmed with care, to meet her. “Happy father!” cried she, lifting up the child, and throwing it into his arms: “there is thy son again! He drank from the bottle: his naughtiness has saved him.”
They told the count the happy issue; but he listened with a smiling, silent, modest air of knowingness, like one tolerating the error of worthy men. Jarno, attentive to all, could not explain this lofty self-complacency; till after many windings, he at last discovered it to be his lordship’s firm belief that the child had really taken poison, and that he himself, by prayer and the laying-on of hands, had miraculously counteracted the effects of it. After such a feat, his lordship now determined on departing. Everything, as usual with him, was made ready in a moment; the fair countess, when about to go, took Wilhelm’s hand before parting with her sister’s; she then pressed both their hands between her own, turned quickly round, and stepped into the carriage.
So many terrible and strange events, crowding one upon the back of another, inducing an unusual mode of life, and putting everything into disorder and perplexity, had brought a sort of feverish movement into all departments of the house. The hours of sleep and waking, of eating, drinking and social conversation were inverted. Except Theresa, none of them had kept in their accustomed course. The men endeavored, by increased potations, to recover their good-humor; and thus communicating to themselves an artificial vivacity, they drove away that natural vivacity, which alone imparts to us true cheerfulness and strength for action.
Wilhelm, in particular, was moved and agitated by the keenest feelings. Those unexpected, frightful incidents had thrown him out of all condition to resist a passion which had so forcibly seized his heart. Felix was restored to him; yet still it seemed that he had nothing: Werner’s letters, the directions for his journey were in readiness; there was nothing wanting but the resolution to remove. Everything conspired to hasten him. He could not but conjecture that Lothario and Theresa were awaiting his departure, that they might be wedded. Jarno was unusually silent; you would have said that he had lost a portion of his customary cheerfulness. Happily the doctor helped our friend in some degree from this embarrassment: he declared him sick, and set about administering medicine to him.
The company assembled always in the evening: Friedrich, the wild madcap, who had often drunk more wine than suited him, in general took possession of the talk; and by a thousand frolicsome citations, fantasies and waggish allusions, often kept the party laughing; often also threw them into awkward difficulties, by the liberty he took to think aloud.
In the sickness of his friend he seemed to have little faith. Once when they were all together, “Pray, doctor,” cried he, “how is it you call the malady our friend is laboring under? Will none of the three thousand names, with which you decorate your ignorance, apply to it? The disease at least is not without examples. There is one such case,” continued he with an emphatic tone, “in the Egyptian or Babylonian history.”
The company looked at one another and smiled.
“What call you the king—?” cried he, and stopped short a moment. “Well, if you will not help me, I must help myself.” He threw the door-leaves up, and pointed to the large picture in the ante-chamber. “What call you the goat-beard there, with the crown on, who is standing at the foot of the bed, making such a rueful face about his sick son? How call you the beauty, who enters, and in her modest roguish eyes at once brings poison and antidote? How call you the quack of a doctor, who at this moment catches a glimpse of the reality, and for the first time in his life takes occasion to prescribe a reasonable recipe, to give a drug which cures to the very heart, and is at once salutiferous and savory?”
In this manner he continued babbling. The company took it with as good a face as might be; hiding their embarrassment behind a forced laugh. A slight blush overspread Natalia’s cheeks, and betrayed the movements of her heart. By good fortune, she was walking up and down with Jarno: on coming to the door, with a cunning motion she slipped out, walked once or twice across the antechamber, and retired to her room.
The company were silent: Friedrich began to dance and sing:
Theresa had gone out to find Natalia; Friedrich pulled the doctor forward to the picture; pronounced a ridiculous eulogium on medicine, and glided from the room.
Lothario had been standing all the while in the recess of a window; he was looking, without motion, down into the garden. Wilhelm was in the most dreadful state. Left alone with his friends, he still kept silence for a time: he ran with a hurried glance over all his history, and at last, with shuddering, surveyed his present situation; he started up and cried: “If I am to blame for what is happening, for what you and I are suffering, punish me. In addition to my other miseries, deprive me of your friendship, and let me wander, without comfort, forth into the wide world, in which I should have mingled, and withdrawn myself from notice long ago. But if you see in me the victim of a cruel entanglement of chance, out of which I could not thread my way, then give me the assurance of your love, of your friendship, on a journey which I dare not now postpone. A time will come, when I may tell you what has passed of late within me. Perhaps this is but a punishment, which I am suffering, because I did not soon enough disclose myself to you, because I hesitated to display myself entirely as I was: you would have assisted me, you would have helped me out in proper season. Again and again have my eyes been opened to my conduct; but it was ever too late, it was ever in vain! How richly do I merit Jarno’s censure! I imagined I had seized it; how firmly did I purpose to employ it, to commence another life! Could I, might I have done so? It avails not for mortals to complain of fate or of themselves! We are wretched, and appointed for wretchedness; and what does it matter whether blame of ours, higher influence or chance, virtue or vice, wisdom or folly plunge us into ruin? Farewell! I will not stay another moment in a house where I have so fearfully violated the rights of hospitality. Your brother’s indiscretion is unpardonable; it aggravates my suffering to the highest pitch, it drives me to despair.”
“And what,” replied Lothario, taking Wilhelm by the hand, “what if your alliance with my sister were the secret article on which depended my alliance with Theresa? This amends that noble maiden has appointed for you; she has vowed that these two pairs should appear together at the altar. ‘His reason has made choice of me,’ said she; ‘his heart demands Natalia: my reason shall assist his heart.’ We agreed to keep our eyes upon Natalia and yourself; we told the abbé of our plan, who made us promise not to intermeddle with this union, or attempt to forward it, but to suffer everything to take its course. We have done so, nature has performed her part; our mad brother only shook the ripe fruit from the branch. And now, since we have come together so unusually, let us lead no common life; let us work together in a noble manner, and for noble purposes! It is inconceivable how much a man of true culture can accomplish for himself and others, if, without attempting to rule, he can be the guardian over many; can induce them to do that in season, which they are at any rate disposed enough to do; can guide them to their objects, which in general they see with due distinctness, though they miss the road to them. Let us make a league for this: it is no enthusiasm; but an idea which may be fully executed, which indeed is often executed, only with imperfect consciousness, by people of benevolence and worth. Natalia is a living instance of it. No other need attempt to rival the plan of conduct which has been prescribed by nature for that pure and noble soul.”
He had more to say, but Friedrich with a shout came jumping in. “What a garland have I earned!” cried he: “how will you reward me? Myrtle, laurel, ivy, leaves of oak, the freshest you can find, come twist them: I have merits far beyond them all. Natalia is thine! I am the conjuror who raised this treasure for thee.”
“He raves,” said Wilhelm; “I must go.”
“Art thou empowered to speak?” inquired Lothario, holding Wilhelm from retiring.
“By my own authority,” said Friedrich, “and the grace of God. It was thus I was the wooer; thus I am the messenger: I listened at the door; she told the abbé everything.”
“Barefaced rogue! who bade thee listen?” said Lothario.
“Who bade her bolt the door?” cried Friedrich. “I heard it all; she was in a wondrous pucker. In the night when Felix seemed so ill, and was lying half upon her knees, and thou wert sitting comfortless before her, sharing the beloved load, she made a vow, that if the child died she would confess her love to thee, and offer thee her hand. And now when the child lives, why should she change her mind? What we promise under such conditions, we keep under any. Nothing wanting but the parson! He will come, and marvel what strange news he brings.”
The abbé entered. “We know it all,” cried Friedrich: “be as brief as possible; it is mere formality you come for; they never send for you or me on any other score.”
“He has listened,” said the baron.—“Scandalous!” exclaimed the abbé.
“Now quick!” said Friedrich. “How stands it with the ceremonies? These we can reckon on our fingers. You must travel; the marchese’s invitation answers to a hairsbreadth. If we had you once beyond the Alps, it will all be right: the people are obliged to you for undertaking anything surprising; you procure them an amusement which they are not called to pay for. It is as if you gave a free ball; all ranks partake in it.”
“In such popular festivities,” replied the abbé, “you have done the public much service in your time; but to-day, it seems, you will not let me speak at all.”
“If it is not just as I have told it,” answered Friedrich, “let us have it better. Come round, come round; we must see them both together.”
Lothario embraced his friend, and led him to Natalia, who with Theresa came to meet them. All were silent.
“No loitering!” cried Friedrich. “In two days you may be ready for your travels. Now, think you, friend,” continued he, addressing Wilhelm, “when we first scraped acquaintance, and I asked you for the pretty nosegay, who could have supposed you were ever to receive a flower like this from me?”
“Do not, at the moment of my highest happiness, remind me of those times!”
“Of which you need not be ashamed, any more than one need be ashamed of his descent. The times were very good times: only I cannot but laugh to look at thee: to my mind, thou resemblest Saul, the son of Kish, who went out to seek his father’s asses, and found a kingdom.”
“I know not the worth of a kingdom,” answered Wilhelm; “but I know I have attained a happiness which I have not deserved, and which I would not change with anything in life.”