Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER VII. - 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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Very early in the morning our friend found himself alone in the gallery, and was enjoying himself over many a well-known form; to those unknown, a catalogue, which he found at hand, gave him the desired clue. Portraiture, like biography, has quite a peculiar interest; the distinguished man, whom one cannot think of without a surrounding, steps forward isolated, and places himself before us as before a mirror; we accordingly turn on him our special attention, we occupy ourselves with him exclusively, as he is complacently occupied with himself in the mirror. It is a general, who now represents the whole army, behind whom emperors as well as kings for whom he fights, step back into the shade. The clever courtier stands before us, even as if he were paying court to us; we do not think of the great world, for the sake of which he in fact has made himself so fascinating. Surprising, too, to our observer was the likeness of many a one long gone, to living people known to him, whom he had seen in the flesh—nay, even the likeness to himself. And why should Menæchmi-twins result only from one mother? Ought not the great mother of the gods and men also be able to bring forth the like form, at the same time or at intervals, from her fruitful lap? Finally, too, the sympathetic observer could not deny that many an attractive and many a repulsive form flitted across his vision.
In the midst of this contemplation he was surprised by the master of the house, with whom he conversed freely on these subjects, and whose favor he seemed to gain still more. For he was kindly taken into the inner room before the most precious portraits of remarkable men of the sixteenth century in complete presence just as they loved and lived, without any displaying of themselves in the mirror or to the spectator, self-reliant and self-contented, working by their own character, and not through any sort of willing or purposing.
The master of the house, satisfied that his guest should know how to value completely a past so richly brought before him, showed him the autographs of many persons, about whom they had been speaking before in the gallery; and at last some relics, which there was no doubt that the former possessors had used and touched.
“This is my kind of poetry,” said the master of the house, laughing; “my imagination must take hold of something! I can scarcely believe that anything has ever been, that is not still here. About such sacred relics of the past I try to procure the most rigid proofs, otherwise they are not admitted. Written traditions are most closely examined; for I believe, indeed, that the monk has written the chronicle, but what he bears witness to, that I seldom believe.”
At last he put a clean sheet of paper before Wilhelm with a request for a few lines but without signature; after which our guest found himself ushered through a side-door into the hall, and by his side the custodian.
“I am glad,” said the latter, “that you are valued by our master; the very fact that you have come out at this door is a proof of it. But do you know what he takes you for? He thinks that in you he sees a professional pedagogue; he supposes that the boy belongs to a family of rank, and has been intrusted to your guidance, in order to be initiated in the world and all its manifold conditions and principles, with right ideas in good time.”
“He does me too much honor,” said our friend; “still I shall not have heard this in vain.”
At breakfast, at which he found his Felix already busy amongst the ladies, they expressed to him the wish that, since he could on no account be detained, he would go to their noble Aunt Makaria, and perhaps thence to the cousin, to clear up the strange delay. He would thus become as it were a member of their family; he would confer upon them a distinct service, and without any great preparation would enter into confidential relations with Lenardo.
To this he replied, however: “Whithersoever you send me, I willingly betake myself. I set out for the purpose of seeing and thinking; with you I have experienced and learned more than I dared to hope, and I am convinced that on the next path to which I am introduced I shall find out and learn more than I can expect.”
“And you, pretty good-for-nothing? what are you going to learn?” asked Hersilia.
To which the boy answered very boldly: “I am learning to write, in order to be able to send you a letter; and to ride better than anyone, so that I may always be with you again immediately.”
Hereupon Hersilia said thoughtfully: “I have never been able to get on perfectly well with admirers of my own years; it seems as if the following generation is going to indemnify me very quickly.”
But now we feel with our friends how close at hand is the painful hour of leave-taking, and we should like to give a clear idea of the peculiarities of his excellent host, of the singularities of that extraordinary man. But, in order not to judge him falsely, we must first direct our attention to the descent and early development of this worthy person, already far advanced in years. What we were able to find out is as follows:
His grandfather lived as an active member of an embassy in England, just in the last years of William Penn.* The great benevolence, the pure aims, the unflagging activity of such a distinguished man, the conflict into which for this reason he fell with the world, the dangers and afflictions to which this noble man seemed to be subjected, aroused in the susceptible soul of the young man a decisive interest; he associated himself with the enterprise, and finally went himself to America. The father of our squire was born in Philadelphia, and they both had the fame of having contributed to the result that a general increase of religious freedom prevailed in the colonies.
Here was deduced the maxim, that any nation isolated in itself and in harmony as regards morals and religion, ought carefully to guard itself against all foreign influence and all innovation; but that where on a new soil we wish to gather together many members from all sides, there should be granted the most unfettered activity in all pursuits, and a free scope to the universal moral and religious ideas.
The brisk, lively impetus towards America in the beginning of the eighteenth century was considerable, inasmuch as everyone on this side who felt himself in any degree uncomfortable hoped over there to emancipate himself. This impetus was encouraged by the desirable possessions which could be obtained, before population had as yet spread further westward. Whole so-called counties were still for sale on the border of the inhabited territory; and the father of our proprietor had acquired considerable possessions there.
Yet here also was shown how often in sons a contradiction to the paternal disposition manifests itself. Our squire arriving as a youth in Europe, felt himself another man. This inestimable culture, that had been called into being several thousands of years ago; which had grown, expanded, been curbed, oppressed, never entirely suppressed; breathing afresh, reviving, and afterwards as before displaying itself in infinite forms of activity—gave him quite different notions respecting the goal which humanity is able to reach. He preferred to take his share of the great, immeasurable advantages; and to lose himself as a fellow-worker amidst the great mass moving in orderly activity, rather than there beyond the seas, belated by many centuries, playing the part of an Orpheus or Lycurgus. He used to say: “Everywhere man has need of patience, must everywhere be on his guard, and I would rather settle matters with my king, that he should grant me such rights, rather accommodate myself with my neighbors, that they may allow me certain restrictions, provided that I yield to them on some other point, than be fighting with the Iroquois, in order to expel them, or deceiving them by contracts, in order to drive them out of their marshes, where one will be tortured to death by mosquitoes.”
He took possession of the family estates; he knew how to deal with them in a liberal spirit, to manage them economically, to annex prudently large and apparently useless neighboring tracts of land, and thus within the civilized world,—which, in a certain sense only, may too often be called a wilderness,—to acquire and cultivate a moderate domain, which with the limitations of circumstances is still always sufficiently utopian.
Religious liberty is therefore indigenous within this district; public worship is regarded as a free confession that we have a common ownership in life and in death; but very great care is at the same time taken that no one should separate himself.
In the several plantations are seen moderately large edifices; each of these is the room which the owner of the soil devotes to each community; here the eldest gather, in order to consult together; here the many assemble to listen to instruction and pious exhortation. But this room is also destined for merrymaking; here the wedding dances are celebrated, and the holiday concluded amidst music.
Nature herself can lead us towards this. In ordinarily fine weather under the same lime-tree we see the elders in consultation, the community at its instruction, and the youth whirling round in dance. Upon a serious background of life, the holy thus appears beautiful; seriousness and holiness moderate enjoyment, and only by moderation do we preserve ourselves.
If the community is otherwise disposed, and sufficiently well-to-do, it is at liberty to devote different buildings to the different purposes.
But if all this has been calculated for the public and common morality, still religion itself remains as before, something inward, nay, something individual. For it has only to do with the conscience. This must be aroused or tranquillized: aroused, when blunt, inactive, and in a state of torpor; but soothed down when it threatens to embitter life by a remorseful restlessness. For it is closely allied to the pain which threatens to become sorrow, when through our own fault we have drawn down any ill upon ourselves or others.
But as we are not always disposed to considerations such as are required for this, nor even always care to be stirred, therefore the Sunday has been set apart, in which all that oppresses man must, in a religious, moral, social or economical aspect, come under discussion.
“If you would stay a little longer with us,” said Julietta, “our Sunday would not displease you either. The day after to-morrow, early, you would notice a great stillness; every one remains alone and devotes himself to a prescribed meditation. Man is a limited being: in order that we may meditate on our narrowness the Sunday is set apart. If there happen to be bodily suffering, which during the whirl of the week we set at naught; then at the beginning of the new week we must at once look out for the doctor; if our difficulty is economical or otherwise connected with business, then our bailiffs are obliged to hold their sittings; if it is something spiritual, moral, that overclouds us, then we have recourse to a friend, to a right-minded person, and ask for his advice, his influence; enough, it is the law, that no one dare to transfer to the next week any concern that may disturb or afflict him. From oppressive duties, only the most conscientious practice is able to deliver us, and what cannot be relieved at all we leave finally to God, as the all-controlling, all redeeming Being. Even our uncle himself does not omit this probation; there are even cases in which he will speak confidently to us about a difficulty, that he has not been able to overcome at the moment; but generally he consults with our noble aunt, to whom he from time to time pays a visit. On Sunday evening he is also in the habit of asking whether a clean confession and settlement of all has been made. From this you may see that we take every care not to be admitted into your order, the community of the Renunciants.”
“It is a tolerable life,” cried Hersilia; “if I resign myself once every seven days, at least I have it to my credit for three hundred and sixty-five!”
Before his departure our friend received from the younger bailiff a packet with writing enclosed—from which we extract the following passage:
“It seems to me, that in every nation there prevails a different frame of mind, which only can make it happy, and one observes this in different individuals. He who desires to have his ear filled with grand and harmoniously regulated tones, and thereby elevate spirit and soul,—will he thank me if I place before his eyes the most beautiful picture? A lover of pictures will look; but he will decline to have his imagination aroused by a poem or a novel. Who then is so endowed, that he can enjoy in many different ways?
“But you, our passing friend, have appeared to me like such an one, and if you have known how to appreciate the prettiness of a fashionable rich French aberration, then I trust you will not scorn the simple, true honesty of German ways; and pardon me if, according to my custom and manner of thinking, according to my birth and position, I find no more charming image than is shown us by the German middle class in its pure domestic life.
“Take this kindly: and remember me.”
[* ] William Penn, to whom, in 1681, Charles II. granted estates in North America, which he settled as a colony of Quakers, and from which arose the State of Pennsylvania, died in England in 1718.—Ed.