Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER IV. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 5: W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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The two friends, not without care and difficulty, had descended to join the children, who had settled themselves in a shady spot below. The mineral specimens collected by Montan and Felix were unpacked almost more eagerly than the provisions. The latter had many questions to ask, and the former many names to pronounce. Felix was delighted that he could tell him the names of them all, and committed them quickly to memory. At last he produced one more stone, and said, “What is this one called?”
Montan examined it with astonishment, and said, “Where did you get it?”
Fitz answered quickly, “I found it; it comes from this country.”
“It is not from this district,” replied Montan.
Felix enjoyed seeing the great man somewhat preplexed.
“You shall have a ducat,” said Montan, “if you take me to the place where it is found.”
“It will be easy to earn,” replied Fitz, “but not at once.”
“Then describe to me the place exactly, so that I shall be able to find it without fail. But that is impossible, for it is a cross-stone, which comes from St. James of Compostella, and which some foreigner has lost, if indeed you have not stolen it from him, because it looks so wonderful.”
“Give your ducat to your friend to take care of,” said Fitz, “and I will honestly confess where I got the stone. In the ruined church at St. Joseph’s there is a ruined altar as well. Among the scattered and broken stones at the top I discovered a layer of this stone, which served as a bed for the others, and I knocked down as much of it as I could get hold of. If you only lifted away upper stones, no doubt you would find a good deal more of it.”
“Take your gold-piece,” replied Montan; “you deserve it for this discovery. It is a pretty one. One justly rejoices when inanimate nature brings to light a semblance of what we love and venerate. She appears to us in the form of a sibyl, who sets down beforehand evidence of what has been predestined from eternity, but can only in the course of time become a reality. Upon this, as upon a miraculous, holy foundation, the priests had set their altar.”
Wilhelm, who had been listening for a time, and who had noticed that many names and many descriptions came over and over again, repeated his already expressed wish that Montan would tell him so much as he had need of for the elementary instruction of the boy.
“Give that up,” replied Montan. “There is nothing more terrible than a teacher who does not know more than the scholars, at all events, ought to know. He who wants to teach others may often indeed be silent about the best that he knows, but he must not be half-instructed himself.”
“But where, then, are such perfect teachers to be found?”
“You can find them very easily,” replied Montan.
“Where, then?” said Wilhelm, with some incredulity.
“Wherever the matter which you want to master is at home,” replied Montan. “The best instruction is derived from the most complete environment. Do you not learn foreign languages best in the countries where they are at home—where only those given ones and no other strike your ear?”
“And have you then,” asked Wilhelm, “attained the knowledge of mountains in the midst of mountains?”
“Without conversing with people?” asked Wilhelm.
“At least only with people,” replied the other, “who were familiar with mountains. Wheresoever the Pygmies, attracted by the metalliferous veins, bore their way through the rock to make the interior of the earth accessible, and by every means try to solve problems of the greatest difficulty, there is the place where the thinker eager for knowledge ought to take up his station. He sees business, action; let things follow their own course, and is glad at success and failure. What is useful is only a part of what is significant. To possess a subject completely, to master it, one has to study the thing for its own sake. But whilst I am speaking of the highest and the last, to which we raise ourselves only late in the day by dint of frequent and fruitful observation, I see the boys before me: to them matters sound quite differently. The child might easily grasp every species of activity, because everything looks easy that is excellently performed. Every beginning is difficult! That may be true in a certain sense, but more generally one can say that the beginning of everything is easy, and the last stages are ascended with most difficulty and most rarely.”
Wilhelm, who in the meantime had been thinking, said to Montan, “Have you really adopted the persuasion that the collective forms of activity have to be separated in precept as well as in practice?”
“I know no other or better plan,” replied the former. “Whatever man would achieve, must loose itself from him like a second self; and how could that be possible if his first self were not entirely penetrated therewith?”
“But yet a many-sided culture has been held to be advantageous and necessary.”
“It may be so, too, in its proper time,” answered the other. “Many-sidedness prepares, in point of fact, only the element in which the one-sided man can work, who just at this time has room enough given him. Yes, now is the time for the one-sided; well for him who comprehends it, and who works for himself and others in this mind. In certain things it is understood thoroughly and at once. Practise till you are an able violinist, and be assured that the director will have pleasure in assigning you a place in the orchestra. Make an instrument of yourself, and wait and see what sort of place humanity will kindly grant you in universal life. Let us break off. Whoso will not believe, let him follow his own path: he too will succeed sometimes; but I say it is needful everywhere to serve from the ranks upwards. To limit one’s self to a handicraft is the best. For the narrowest heads it is always a craft; for the better ones an art; and the best, when he does one thing, does everything—or, to be less paradoxical, in the one thing, which he does rightly, he beholds the semblance of everything that is rightly done.”
This conversation, which we only reproduce sketchily, lasted until sunset, which glorious as it was, yet led the company to consider where they would spend the night.
“I should not know how to bring you under cover,” said Fitz; “but if you care to sit or lie down for the night in a warm place at a good old charcoal-burner’s, you will be welcome.”
And so they all followed him through strange paths to a quiet spot, where anyone would soon have felt at home.
In the midst of a narrow clearing in the forest there lay smoking and full of heat the round-roofed charcoal kilns, on one side the hut of pine-boughs, and a bright fire close by. They sat down and made themselves comfortable; the children at once busy helping the charcoal-burner’s wife, who, with hospitable anxiety, was getting ready some slices of bread, toasted with butter so as to let them be filled and soaked with it, which afforded deliciously oily morsels to their hungry appetites.
Presently, whilst the boys were playing at hide-and-seek among the dimly-lighted pine stems, howling like wolves and barking like dogs, in such a way that even a courageous wayfarer might well have been frightened by it, the friends talked confidentially about their circumstances.
But now, to the peculiar duties of the Renunciants appertained also this, that on meeting they must speak neither of the past nor the future, but only occupy themselves with the present.
Jarno, who had his mind full of mining undertakings, and of all the knowledge and capabilities that they required, enthusiastically explained to Wilhelm, with the utmost exactitude and thoroughness, all that he promised himself in both hemispheres from such knowledge and capacities; of which, however, his friend, who always sought for the true treasure in the human heart alone, could hardly form any idea, but rather answered at last with a laugh:
“Thus you stand in contradiction with yourself, when beginning only in advanced years to meddle with what one ought to be instructed in from youth up.”
“Not at all,” replied the other; “for it is precisely this, that I was educated in my childhood at a kind uncle’s, a mining officer of consequence, that I grew up with the miner’s children, and with them used to swim little bark boats down the draining channel of the mine, that has led me back into this circle wherein I now feel myself again happy and contented. This charcoal smoke can hardly agree with you as with me, who from childhood up have been accustomed to swallow it as incense. I have essayed a great deal in the world, and always found the same: in habit lies the only satisfaction of man; even the unpleasant, to which we have accustomed ourselves, we miss with regret. I was once troubled a very long time with a wound that would not heal, and when at last I recovered, it was most unpleasant to me when the surgeon remained away and no longer dressed it, and no longer took breakfast with me.”
“But I should like, however,” replied Wilhelm, “to impart to my son a freer survey of the world than any limited handicraft can give. Circumscribe man as you will, for all that he will at last look about himself in his time, and how can he understand it all, if he does not in some degree know what has preceded him. And would he not enter every grocer’s shop with astonishment if he had no idea of the countries whence these indispensable rarities have come to him?”
“What does it matter?” replied Jarno; “let him read the newspapers like every Philistine, and drink coffee like every old woman. But still, if you cannot leave it alone, and are so bent upon perfect culture, I do not understand how you can be so blind, how you need search any longer, how you fail to see that you are in the immediate neighborhood of an excellent educational institution.”
“In the neighborhood?” said Wilhelm, shaking his head.
“Certainly,” replied the other; “what do you see here?”
“Here, just before your nose!” Jarno stretched out his forefinger, and exclaimed impatiently: “What is that?”
“Well then,” said Wilhelm, “a charcoal-kiln; but what has that to do with it?”
“Good, at last! a charcoal-kiln. How do they proceed to erect it?”
“They place logs one on top of the other.”
“When that is done, what happens next?”
“As it seems to me,” said Wilhelm, “you want to pay me a compliment in Socratic fashion—to make me understand, to make me acknowledge, that I am extremely absurd and thick-headed.”
“Not at all,” replied Jarno; “continue, my friend, to answer to the point. So, what happens then, when the orderly pile of wood has been arranged solidly yet lightly?”
“Why, they set fire to it.”
“And when it is thoroughly alight, when the flame bursts forth from every crevice, what happens?—do they let it burn on?”
“Not at all. They cover up the flames, which keep breaking out again and again, with turf and earth, with coal-dust, and anything else at hand.”
“To quench them?”
“Not at all: to damp them down.”
“And thus they leave it just as much air as is necessary, that all may be penetrated with the glow, so that all ferments aright. Then every crevice is shut, every outlet prevented; so that the whole by degrees is extinguished in itself, carbonized, cooled down, finally taken out separately, as marketable ware, forwarded to farrier and locksmith, to baker and cook; and when it has served sufficiently for the profit and edification of dear Christendom, is employed in the form of ashes by washerwomen and soapboilers.”
“Well,” replied Wilhelm, laughing, “what have you in view in reference to this comparison?”
“That is not difficult to say,” replied Jarno. “I look upon myself as an old basket of excellent beech charcoal; but in addition I allow myself the privilege of burning only for my own sake; whence also I appear very strange to people.”
“And me,” said Wilhelm; “how will you treat me?”
“At the present moment,” said Jarno, “I look on you as a pilgrim’s staff, which has the wonderful property of sprouting in every corner in which it is put, but never taking root. Now draw out the comparison further for yourself, and learn to understand why neither forester nor gardener, neither charcoal-burner nor joiner, nor any other craftsman, knows how to make anything of you.”
Whilst they were talking thus, Wilhelm, I do not know for what purpose, drew something out of his bosom which looked half like a pocketbook and half like a case, and which was claimed by Montan as an old acquaintance. Our friend did not deny that he carried it about like a kind of fetish, from the superstition that his fate, in a certain measure, depended thereon.
But what it was we would wish at this point not to confide as yet to the reader; but we may say thus much: that it led to a conversation, the final result of which was that Wilhelm confessed how he had long ago been inclined to devote himself to a certain special profession, an art of quite peculiar usefulness, provided that Montan would use his influence with the guild-brethren, in order that the most burdensome of all conditions of their life, that of not tarrying more than three days in one spot, might be dispensed with as soon as possible, and that for the attainment of his purpose, it might be allowed him to dwell here or there as might please himself. This Montan promised to do, after the other had solemnly promised himself unceasingly to pursue the aim which he had confidentially avowed, and to hold most faithfully to the purpose which he had once taken up.
Talking seriously of all this, and continually replying to one another, they had left their night’s lodgings, where a wonderfully suspicious company had by degrees gathered together, and by daybreak had got outside the wood on to an open space upon which they found some game, at which Felix particularly, who looked on delightedly, was very glad. They now prepared to separate; for here the paths led towards different points of the compass. Fitz was now questioned about the different directions, but he seemed absent, and, contrary to his usual habit, he gave confused answers.
“You are nothing but a rogue,” said Jarno; “you knew all of those men, last night, who came and sat down about us. There were woodcutters and miners, they might pass; but the later ones I take to be smugglers and poachers, and the tall one, the very last, who kept writing figures in the sand, and whom the others treated with a certain respect, was surely a treasure-digger, with whom you are secretly in concert.”
“They are all good people,” Fitz thereupon remarked, “who live poorly, and if they sometimes do what others forbid, they are just poor devils, who must give themselves some liberty, only to live.”
In point of fact, however, the little rogue, when he noticed the preparations of the friends to separate, became thoughtful. He mused quietly for a time, for he was in doubt as to which of the parties he should follow. He reckoned up his prospects: father and son were liberal with their silver, but Jarno rather with gold; he thought it the best plan not to leave him. Accordingly, he at once seized an opportunity that offered, when at parting Jarno said to him: “Now, when I come to St. Joseph’s I shall see whether you are honest: I shall look for the cross-stone and the ruined altar.”
“You will not find anything,” said Fitz, “and all the same I shall be honest; the stone is from there, but I have taken away all the pieces, and stored them up here. It is a valuable stone; without it no treasure can be dug up. For a little piece they pay me a great deal. You were quite right; this is how I came to be acquainted with the tall man.”
Now there were fresh deliberations. Fitz bound himself to Jarno, for an additional ducat, to get at a moderate distance a large piece of this rare mineral, on which account he advised them not to walk to the Giants’ Castle; but, however, since Felix insisted on it, he admonished the guide not to take the travellers too deep into the region, for no one would ever be able to find his way out again from those caverns and abysses.
They separated, and Fitz promised to meet them again, in good time, in the halls of the Giants’ Castle.
The guide walked ahead, the two others followed; the former, however, had scarcely ascended a certain distance up the mountain, when Felix observed that they were not walking on the path which Fitz had indicated.
The messenger replied, however: “I ought to know it better; for just these last few days a violent tempest has knocked down the next stretch of wood; the trees thrown one across the other obstruct this path. Follow me; I will bring you safely to the spot.”
Felix shortened the difficulty of the road by lively strides and jumps from rock to rock, and rejoiced at the knowledge he had gained, that he was actually jumping from granite to granite.
And so they went upwards, until he at last stopped short upon some black ruined columns, and all at once beheld before his eye the Giants’ Castle. Pillared walls stood out upon a solitary peak. Rows of connected columns formed doors within doors, aisles beyond aisles. The guide earnestly warned them not to lose themselves in the interior; and noticing at a sunny spot, commanding a wide view, traces of ashes left by his predecessors, he busied himself in keeping up a crackling fire. He was accustomed to prepare a frugal meal at spots of this kind, and whilst Wilhelm was seeking more correct information concerning the boundless prospect, Felix had disappeared; he must have lost himself within the cavern; he did not answer their shouting and whistling, and he did not appear again.
But Wilhelm, who, as beseems a pilgrim, was prepared against various accidents, took out of his hunting-wallet a ball of string, carefully tied it fast, and confided himself to this guiding clue, by which he had already formed the intention of taking his son into the interior. Thus he advanced, and from time to time blew his whistle, but for a time in vain. But at last there resounded from the depths a shrill whistle, and soon after Felix looked out on the ground from a cleft in the black rock.
“Are you alone?” whispered the boy, cautiously.
“Quite alone,” replied the father.
“Give me some logs of wood! give me some sticks!” said the boy; and, on receiving them, disappeared, first exclaiming anxiously, “Let nobody into the cave!”
But after a time he emerged again, and asked for a still longer and stronger piece of wood. His father waited anxiously for the solution of this riddle. At last the bold fellow arose quickly from out of the cleft, and brought out a little casket not bigger than a small octavo volume, of handsome antique appearance; it seemed to be of gold, adorned with enamel.
“Hide it, father, and let no one see it!”
Thereupon he hastily told how, from a mysterious inner impulse, he had crept into the cleft, and found underneath a dimlylighted space. In it there stood, he said, a large iron chest, not indeed locked, but the lid of which he could not raise, and indeed could hardly move. It was for the sake of mastering this that he had asked for the wood, partly to place them as supports under the lid, and partly to push them as wedges between; finally, he had found the box empty, save in one corner of it the ornamented little book. About this they mutually promised profound secrecy.
Noon was past; they had partaken of some food; Fitz had not yet come as he had promised; but Felix was particularly restless, longing to get away from the spot in which the treasure seemed exposed to earthly or unearthly claim. The columns seemed to him blacker, and the caverns still deeper. A secret had been laid upon him: a possession—lawful or unlawful? safe or unsafe? Impatience drove him from the spot; he thought that he should get rid of his anxiety by changing his locality.
They entered upon the road leading to those extensive possessions of the great landowner, of whose riches and eccentricities they had been told so much. Felix no longer leaped about as in the morning, and all three for hours walked silently on. Sometimes he wished to see the little casket, but his father, pointing to the porter, bade him be quiet. Now he was full of anxiety that Fitz should come. Then again he was afraid of the rogue; now he would whistle to give a signal, then again he would repent having done it; and so his wavering continued until Fitz at last made his whistle heard in the distance. He excused his own absence from the Giants’ Castle: he had been belated with Jarno; want of breath had hindered him. Then he inquired minutely how they had got on among the columns and the caves—how deep they had penetrated. Felix, half in bravado, half in embarrassment, told him one tale after another; he looked smilingly at his father, pinched him by stealth, and did all that was possible to make it clear that he had a secret, and was feigning.
They had at last reached a carriage-road, which ought to have taken them comfortably to those domains; but Fitz declared that he knew a nearer and better road: upon which the porter would not accompany them, but continued on the straight broad beaten road before him. The two wanderers trusted the independent youth, and thought that they had done well, for now they went straight down the mountain-side, through a forest of very tall thin-stemmed larches, which became every moment more penetrable to the sight, and at last allowed them to see, in the most brilliant sunlight, the loveliest demesne that can be imagined.
A large garden, devoted entirely as it seemed to the cultivation of produce, lay open, although plentifully planted with fruit-trees, before their eyes; and, regularly arranged in a number of divisions, covered an area of ground which, while it accorded with a general plan, was varied by many diversities of hill and hollow.
Several dwelling-houses lay scattered within it, so that the space seemed to belong to several owners, but yet, as Fitz declared, was owned and tilled by one single master. Beyond the garden they beheld a boundless landscape, richly cultivated and planted. They could plainly discern various lakes and rivers.
As they walked down the mountain they had got continually nearer, and thought that they would be in the garden directly, when Wilhelm started, and Fitz did not hide his malignant glee; for a precipitous cleft at the foot of the mountain disclosed itself before them, steep enough from the outside, although from inside fully on a level with the ground. Thus a deep ditch separated them from the garden, into which they directly looked.
“We shall have to make rather a long circuit,” said Fitz, “if we want to reach the road which leads into it. Still, I also know an entrance from this side, which will be a good deal nearer for us. The tunnels through which the rain-water is regulated as it rushes into the garden when it rains are on this side; they are high and wide enough for one to get through them pretty easily.”
As soon as Felix heard about tunnels he could not dismiss his curiosity to enter in this way. Wilhelm followed the children, and they descended together the steep steps, now lying dry, of these conduit-tunnels. They found themselves alternately in light and darkness, according as the light fell through side-openings, or was intercepted by columns and walls. At last they reached a tolerably level part, and were walking slowly forwards, when suddenly close to them a report was heard, and two hidden iron gratings closed and shut them in on either side. Not indeed the whole company, but only Felix and Wilhelm were imprisoned; for Fitz, as soon as the noise was heard, sprang back at once, and the closing grating caught only his large sleeves; but he, throwing off his jacket very quickly, escaped without waiting a moment.
The two captives had scarcely time to recover from their astonishment, when they heard human voices, which seemed to approach slowly. Then presently came some people with arms and torches to the grating, looking curiously to see what sort of capture they had made. They at once asked whether they would quietly surrender.
“There can be no question of surrender here,” replied Wilhelm; “we are in your power. We rather have reason to ask whether you will spare us. I deliver unto you the only weapon that we carry with us,” and with these words he handed his hunting-knife through the grating. This was at once opened, and quite leisurely the new-comers were taken onwards, and after being led up a winding stair, they soon found themselves in a curious place. It was a neat, spacious room, lit by small windows beneath the cornices, which in spite of strong iron bars shed sufficient light. For seats, sleeping-places, and whatever else could be required in a decent lodging, provision had been made, and it seemed as if nothing was wanting to one who found himself there but his liberty.
Wilhelm on entering, at once sat down and thought over the situation. Felix, on the contrary, when he had recovered from his astonishment, broke out into an incredible rage. These high walls, those lofty windows, these barred doors, this isolation, this confinement—was altogether new to him. He looked about, he ran hither and thither, stamped his feet, wept, rattled at the doors, beat with his fists against them; nay, he was on the point of running with his forehead against them, if Wilhelm had not caught him, and forcibly held him back.
“Only keep yourself quite quiet, my son,” began his father, “for impatience and violence will not help us out of this situation. The mystery will clear itself up; but I should be very much mistaken, if we have not fallen into good hands. Look at these inscriptions: ‘Deliverance and compensation for the innocent,’ ‘Pity for the tempted,’ and ‘Retributive justice for the culprit.’ All this shows us that these arrangements are works of necessity, and not of cruelty. Man has only too much cause to protect himself against man. Of malevolent people there are indeed many, and of evildoers not a few; and to live as it behoves, it is not enough always to do well.”
Felix had collected himself, but threw himself at once upon one of the beds, without any further demonstration or reply. His father did not desist, but said further:
“Let this experience, which you are gaining so early and so innocently, remain with you as living evidence of which and of what a perfect century you have been born in. What a long road has not humanity been forced to make, before it reached the point of being gentle to the guilty, merciful to the culprit, humane to the inhuman! They certainly were men of a divine nature who first taught this, and spent their lives in making possible and hastening its practice. Men are seldom susceptible of the beautiful; more often of the good; and how highly must we then hold those who seek to promote this at the cost of great sacrifices.”
These comforting, instructive words, which quite clearly expressed the purpose of the confining surroundings, Felix had not heard. He lay fast asleep, prettier and fresher than ever; for a passion, such as in general he was not easily subject to, had driven his whole inner being into his full cheeks. His father stood looking complacently at him, when a well-dressed young man entered, who, after he had looked for a while at the stranger in a friendly manner, began to ask him about the circumstances that had led him on the unusual path into this trap. Wilhelm told him about the occurrence straightforwardly, handed him certain papers which served to declare his identity, and referred him to the porter, who must soon arrive by the ordinary road from the other side. When all this was clear so far, the official begged his guest to follow him. It was impossible to arouse Felix; the servants therefore carried him upon the strong mattress, like the unconscious Ulysses of old, into the open air.
Wilhelm followed the official into a pretty garden, where refreshments were set out, which he was bidden to enjoy, whilst the other went to deliver his report at headquarters. When Felix, on awaking, beheld a little table laid out with fruit, wine and biscuits, as also the cheerful prospect through the open door, he felt quite bewildered. He runs out, he returns, he thinks he has been dreaming, and over such good fare and such pleasant surroundings has soon forgotten his previous terror and all his sorrow, like an unpleasant dream in broad daylight.
The porter had arrived, the official returned with him, and with another older and still more kindly man; and the matter was cleared up in the following manner. The master of this estate, benevolent in the higher sense, in that he aroused all about him to activity and industry, had for many years disposed of young plants from his extensive nursery-garden—to industrious and careful cultivators for nothing—to the negligent at a certain price—and likewise at a price, though a low one, to those who wished to trade with them. These two latter classes, however, demanded gratuitously what only the worthy received gratuitously, and as they were not yielded to they sought to purloin the plants. They had succeeded in doing so in various manners. This vexed the owner all the more, because not only were the nurseries plundered, but by excessive haste had also been injured. There were traces of their having entered through the water-channel, and on that account the grating with a spring-gun had been arranged, though it was only meant to serve as a symbol. The little boy had under many pretexts allowed himself to be seen in the garden, and nothing was more natural than that, from audacity and roguery, he should wish to take the strangers by a road which he had found out earlier, with a different object in view. They had wished to make him prisoner; meanwhile, his jacket would be preserved amongst other penal objects.