Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER X. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER X. - 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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Father and son, accompanied by a groom, had reached a pleasant neighborhood, when the latter, stopping in front of a lofty wall that seemed to surround an extensive enclosure, intimated to them that they had now to approach the great gate on foot, for no horse was admitted within this enclosure. They rang the bell; the gate was opened without a human figure being visible, and they advanced towards an old building that peeped out towards them between the venerable trunks of beeches and oaks. It was wonderful to look at; for old it seemed in form, yet the bricklayers and stonemasons might but just have left it, so new and perfect and well-finished seemed the joints and elaborated decorations.
A heavy metal ring on a finely-carved door invited them to knock, which Felix from wantonness did somewhat ungently; this door too opened itself, and they found at once in the hall a maiden lady of middle age, sitting before an embroidery-frame, and occupied with a well-designed piece of work.
She at once greeted the visitors as being already expected, and began to sing a cheerful song, whereupon there forthwith stepped out of an adjacent door a woman, whom, from the appendages to her girdle, without anything else, it was easy to recognize as the custodian and acting housekeeper. She also with a friendly greeting took the strangers up a flight of stairs, and opened for them a room which impressed them in a solemn way, being spacious, lofty, and panelled all round, with a series of historical designs above. Two persons came towards them—a somewhat youthful lady, and an elderly man.
The former at once frankly bade the guests welcome. “You have,” she said, “been announced as one of our circle. But how shall I without ceremony introduce you to this gentleman? He is a family friend in the best and widest sense: by day the instructive companion, by night astronomer, and physician on every occasion.”
“And I,” added he, in friendly manner, “recommend to you this lady, as untiringly active, by day, by night when need be, ready at hand, and always the most cheerful companion to live with. Angela (for so this beauty, attractive both in figure and bearing, was called) announced forthwith Makaria’s approach: a green curtain was drawn aside, and a remarkable elderly lady was pushed into the room in an easy chair by two pretty young girls, and by two other girls a round table, with an inviting breakfast. In one corner of the massive oak benches round the room cushions had been laid, upon which the three above mentioned sat down, opposite to Makaria in her easy chair. Felix ate his breakfast standing, walking about the saloon, and inspecting with curiosity the knightly pictures above.
Makaria spoke to Wilhelm as to a confidential friend. She seemed to enjoy a vivid description of her relatives; it seemed as if she looked through the outward individual mask into the inner nature of each of them. The persons whom Wilhelm knew stood as if transfigured before his soul: the intelligent benevolence of the worthy woman threw off the outward husk, and ennobled and animated the sound kernel.
After these agreeable subjects had been exhausted with most kindly treatment, she said to her worthy companion: “You must not again find an excuse in the presence of this new friend, and once more put off the promised entertainment; he seems like one who would take a part in it himself.”
But to this he replied: “You know how difficult it is to explain one’s self on these subjects; for the question is of nothing less than the abuse of excellent and far-reaching expedients.”
“I grant that,” replied Makaria, “for one falls into a double embarrassment. If one speaks of abuse, one seems to impugn the worth of the method itself, for that is always latent in the abuse; if one speaks about the method, then one can scarcely allow that its thoroughness and value admit of any abuse. Still, as we are in private, and do not want to establish anything, or to produce any outward effect, but only to enlighten ourselves, the discussion can accordingly proceed.”
“Still,” replied the cautious man, “we must first of all ask whether our new friend has also a wish to take part in a to some degree abstruse matter, or whether he would not prefer to take needful repose in his apartment. Can our subject be willingly and favorably received by him apart from its connection, without any knowledge as to how we arrived at it?”
“If I were to explain by something analogous what you have said, the case seems to me to be almost as if in attacking hypocrisy one could be accused of an attack against religion.”
“We may let the analogy pass,” said the friend; “for the question now is of a complication of several remarkable men, of high science, of an important art, and, in short, of mathematics.”
“I have always,” replied Wilhelm, “even when I have heard the most unfamiliar subjects discussed, been able to appropriate something to myself; for whatever interests one man, will also find a sympathetic echo in another.”
“Assuming,” said the other, “that he has acquired a certain freedom of mind; and as we give you credit for this, I will not on my part at least make any objection to your presence here.”
“But what shall we do with Felix?” asked Makaria, “who I see has already finished his inspection of the pictures, and shows some signs of impatience.”
“May I whisper something to this young lady,” said Felix, running somewhat quietly up to Angela, who went aside with him, but soon returned laughing, when the friend began to speak as follows:
“In cases in which one has to express disapproval, or blame, or even only misgiving, I do not like to take the initiative; I look out for an authority, so that I can reassure myself, in finding that some else stands by me. I praise without misgiving, for why should I be silent, if anything falls in with me. Even if it should evince my narrowness, still I have no need to be ashamed of it; but if I blame, it may happen to me that I reject something of excellence, and thereby draw on myself the disapproval of others who understand it better; I am obliged to retract, when I become enlightened. Therefore I here bring some written matter, and some translations as well; for in such things I trust my own nation as little as myself: an agreement from a distance and from foreign parts seems to afford me more security.”
After obtaining permission he began to read as follows:—but our courteous readers will probably be inclined to approve, if we do not think fit to let this worthy man read. For what has been said above about the presence of Wilhelm at this discussion, applies even more to the case in which we find ourselves. Our friends have taken into their hands a novel, and if this has here and there turned out more than reasonably didactic, we find it advisable not to try too far the patience of our well-wishers. The documents that lie before us, we are thinking of having printed in some other place, and on this occasion shall continue the narrative without delay, since we ourselves are impatient to see the existing riddle solved. But still we cannot refrain from making some further mention of what came under discussion before the separation of this noble company in the evening.
Wilhelm, after listening with great attention to this reading, remarked quite unaffectedly: “I have heard here about great natural gifts, capacities and abilities, and at the same time about considerable diffidence in the use of them; if I were to express myself briefly about it, I should exclaim: ‘Great thoughts, and a pure heart, that is what we have to pray God for!’ ”
Granting its full approval to these sensible words, the company separated: but the astronomer promised to let Wilhelm, on this clear and splendid night, have his full share in all the wonders of the starry firmament.
A few hours later the astronomer bid his guest ascend the winding staircase of the observatory, and at last step out upon the completely open platform of a lofty round tower. A most brilliant night, sparkling and glowing with all the stars of heaven, surrounded the observer, who seemed for the first time to behold the lofty firmament in all its glory. For in daily life,—irrespective of unfavorable weather, that conceals from us the splendid extent of ether,—at home we are hindered by roofs and gables, abroad by forests and by rocks, but most of all and everywhere by the inward commotions of the mind, which flit to and fro and obscure the prospect more than all fogs or storms.
Rapt and astonished, he shut his eyes. The immense ceases to be sublime; it surpasses our faculty of comprehension, it threatens to annihilate us.
“What am I then, in comparison with the All?” he said to his own spirit. “How can I stand opposite to Him?—how can I stand in His midst?”
Yet, after a short reverie, he continued:
“The result of our evening’s conference solves also the riddle of the present moment. How can man set himself against the Infinite, otherwise than by collecting in his deepest innermost soul all the spiritual energies that are scattered in every direction; but by asking himself, How durst thou even think of thyself in the midst of this eternal and living order, if there do not also reveal itself within thee a glorious moving principle circling round a pure centre? And even if it should prove difficult for thee to discover this central point within thy bosom, yet wouldst thou recognize it in this, that a benevolent and beneficent action proceeds from it, and bears witness to it. Yet, who ought, who is able to look back upon his past life, without feeling in some degree bewildered; as he will mostly find that his will has been right, but his conduct wrong; that his desires have been blameworthy, yet their attainment longed-for. How often hast thou seen these stars twinkling, and have they not always found thee different? but they are ever the same, and say ever the same thing: By our regulated march, they repeat, we indicate the day and the hour. Ask thyself also, How standest thou in reference to day and hour? And this time I can answer, Of present circumstances I need not be ashamed: my intention is to reinstate a noble family in longed-for union in all its members; the road is indicated. I shall inquire into what keeps noble souls aloof; I shall remove hindrances, of whatsoever kind they be. This thou mayest openly avow in face of these heavenly hosts: if they took any heed of thee, they would indeed laugh at thy narrowness, but they would certainly honor thine intention, and favor its fulfilment.”
With these words and thoughts he turned round to look about him; then Jupiter, the star of fortune, met his eye, as gloriously luminous as ever; he took this as a good omen, and for a time lingered gladly over the spectacle.
Presently the astronomer bade him come down, and let him look through a perfect telescope at this very star, considerably magnified and accompanied by its moons, as a celestial wonder.
After our friend had remained some time absorbed in it, he turned round and said to the star-lover: “I do not know whether I have to thank you for having brought this star so immeasurably nearer to me. As I saw it before, it stood in some relation to the innumerable others of heaven and to myself; but now it stands out in my imagination as incommensurable, and I do not know whether I ought to wish to bring out all the remaining host in like proportion. They would shut me in, oppress me.”
And so our friend went on according to his custom, and a good deal that was unpremeditated was discussed on the occasion. To some reply of the man of science, Wilhelm rejoined: “I can very well understand, that it must give you sky-searchers the greatest pleasure gradually to draw down to you all the immense universe, as I here saw, and see, this planet: but allow me to say that, in life in general and on the whole, I have found that these means, by which we come to the aid of our senses, do not exercise any morally favorable influence on man. He who looks through spectacles thinks himself wiser than he is, for his outward sense is thereby put out of balance with his inner faculty of judgment. It belongs to a higher culture, of which only excellent men are capable, to reconcile in some degree what is inwardly true, with this outward false effect. Whenever I look through a glass I become another man, and do not please myself; I see more than I ought to see; the world, seen more distinctly, does not harmonize with my inner self; and I quickly put aside my glasses, as soon as my curiosity as to how this or that distant object may be made is satisfied.”
In reply to certain jocose remarks of the astronomer, Wilhelm continued: “We shall not banish these glasses from the world, any more than any piece of machinery; but to the observer of morals, it is important to inquire and to know whence many things about which complaints are made have crept into humanity. Thus, for instance, I am convinced that to the habit of wearing spectacles is chiefly due the self-conceit of our young people.”
With these discussions the night had far advanced, whereupon the astronomer, accustomed to watching, proposed to his young friend to lie down on the camp-bed, and sleep for a short time, and then with a fresher glance to contemplate and greet Venus as she anticipated the sunrise—who on this particular day promised to appear in her completed splendor.
Wilhelm, who up to this moment had felt quite brisk and cheerful, at this proposal of the kind and considerate man, felt himself really exhausted; he laid himself down, and in a moment was sunk in the deepest slumber.
When aroused by the astronomer, Wilhelm jumped up, and hurried to the window; there he remained for a moment transfixed with astonishment, and then exclaimed enthusiastically: “What splendor! what a wondrous sight!” Other words of rapture followed, but the sight still remained a wonder, a great wonder to him.
“That this lovely star, that to-day appears in a fulness and splendor quite unusual, would surprise you, I could foresee; but this I may maintain, without being reproached for being cold: I see nothing wonderful—nothing wonderful at all!”
“How could you?” replied Wilhelm, “since I bring it with me, since I carry it within me, since I do not know how it happens to me. Let me still look, dumb and astounded at it; then do you feel it.”
After a pause, he continued: “I was lying in soft but deep sleep, when I felt transported into the saloon as yesterday, but alone. The green curtain went up, Makaria’s chair moved forward of its own accord, like an animated being; it shone with gold, her dress seemed sacerdotal, her glance sparkled mildly; I was on the point of throwing myself down. Clouds spread forth around her feet, and ascending they bore like wings the holy form upwards: instead of her glorious countenance I beheld through the parting clouds a shining star, that was ever carried upwards, and through the opening roof united itself with the whole firmament, which seemed to be ever expanding and to embrace everything. In this moment you arouse me; heavy with sleep I rush to the window, still with the vivid image of the star in my eye, and as I look, the morning star, of equal beauty, although perhaps not of such refulgent magnificence, is really before me! This real star, hovering yonder above, replaces that of my dream, it consumes all that was glorious in that which appeared to me; but still I look and look, and you are looking also with me at what in point of fact ought to have disappeared with the haze of my sleep.”
The astronomer exclaimed: “Wonderful, wonderful indeed! You do not know, yourself, what wonderful things you are saying. May this not prognosticate the decease of the glorious woman, to whom sooner or later some such apotheosis is predestined.”
The next morning Wilhelm, in search of his Felix, who at an early hour had quietly stolen away, hurried into the garden, which to his astonishment he saw being tilled by a number of girls. If not all beautiful, not one was ugly, and none seemed to have reached her twentieth year. They were variously dressed, as if belonging to different localities; and were active, cheerful in greeting him, and industrious.
He was met by Angela, who was walking to and fro in order to direct and criticise the work; and to her the guest expressed his admiration at so pretty and industrious a colony.
“This,” she replied, “does not die out; it alters, but remains always the same. For with their twentieth year these girls, as indeed do all the female inhabitants of our establishment, enter upon active life, generally into the state of marriage. All the young men of the neighborhood, who are anxious to obtain for themselves a robust wife, pay attention to what is going on here with us. Neither are our pupils in any way shut up in this place; they have already looked round about them—at many an annual fair have been seen, desired, and betrothed; and thus several families are already attentively waiting for another vacancy with us in order to introduce their own daughters.”
After they had discussed this matter, the guest could not conceal from his new friend his desire once more to look through what had been read to them on the previous evening. “I have grasped the main drift of the conversation,” he said, “but now I should like to know more correctly the details which came into question.” “Fortunately I find myself in a position,” she replied, “to satisfy this wish of yours at once; the familiar relations towards us, that have been granted to you so soon, justify me in telling you, that those papers are already in my hands, to be carefully kept, along with certain other documents.
“My mistress,” she continued, “is profoundly convinced of the importance of impromptu conversation; things occur therein, she says, that no book contains, and yet again the best that books have ever contained. Therefore she has charged me with the duty of preserving a few good thoughts that spring from an intellectual conversation as so many grains of seed from a well-laden plant. Only if we are faithful in preserving the present, she says, can we have pleasure in tradition, in finding the best thought already spoken, the most worthy sentiment already expressed. By this process we attain to the contemplation of that agreement for which man has been born, in which he must often find himself against his own will, whilst he is only too fond of fancying that the world begins with him from the very beginning.”
Angela went on to confide to the guest, that in this manner a considerable manuscript collection had grown up, from which on sleepless nights she would sometimes read aloud a sheet to Makaria; on which occasions a thousand details would in turn present themselves in a wonderful way, just as when a mass of mercury falls, and scatters itself on all sides in an innumerable multitude of globules.
To his question, how far this collection of papers was kept secret, she revealed to him that at all events only their most intimate circle had knowledge of it, that she was quite willing to be responsible for it, and, since he desired it, to lay a few sheets before him.
During this garden conversation they had arrived at the château, and entering the room in one of the wings, she said, smiling: “I will take this opportunity of intrusting you with another secret, for which you will be by no means prepared.” Thereupon she made him peep through a curtain into a closet, where, to his great astonishment, he saw his own Felix sitting writing at a table, and was unable at once to explain to himself this unexpected diligence. But he was soon enlightened, when Angela disclosed to him that the boy had seized for this purpose the moment of his disappearance, and had declared that writing and riding were the only things in which he had pleasure.
Our friend was then introduced into a room, where in cupboards round about he saw a number of well-arranged papers. Labels of many kinds indicated the most various contents; discrimination and orderly arrangement were everywhere conspicuous.
When Wilhelm proceeded to praise these advantages, Angela gave the credit of it to the family friend—who was capable of settling under his own supervision not only the arrangement, but also in cases of difficulty the necessary interpolation. Thereupon she found out the manuscript that had been read aloud yesterday, and allowed the eager guest to avail himself of it and all the rest, and not only take notes, but even to copy them.
Here our friend had to go to work carefully, for there was only too much that was attractive and desirable: especially did he regard certain sheets of short and scarcely connected propositions as particularly valuable. They were products which, if we did not know their origins, would seem paradoxical, but which compel us by the aid of a reversed process of seeking and finding to return backwards in order if possible to bring home to us the filiation of such thoughts from afar and from below. Neither for these, for the reasons stated above, can we grant a place. Still, at the first opportunity that presents itself, we shall not neglect, and shall be able in a proper place to put forward a selection of what was here acquired.
On the morning of the third day our friend went to Angela and stood before her not without some embarrassment. “To-day I must take leave,” he said, “and receive my last commissions from that excellent lady, whom I regret that I was not allowed to see during the whole of yesterday. Now, something is weighing on my heart, on my own innermost soul, about which I have wished to be enlightened. If it be possible, then grant me this favor.”
“I think I understand you,” said the kind woman; “yet speak on.”
“A wonderful dream,” he continued, “a few words also from the earnest astronomer, a separate locked compartment among the accessible cases, with the inscription, The qualities of Makaria—all these suggestions are associated with an inner voice, that tells me that this study of the heavenly bodies is not merely a scientific amusement, a striving after knowledge of the world of stars, but that we ought rather to suppose that there is hidden in it some peculiar relation of Makaria to the stars, to know which must be a matter of the highest interest to me. I am neither inquisitive nor importunate, but this forms such an important case to the student of mind and character, that I cannot refrain from asking whether, in addition to so much confidence, this extra indulgence might also be kindly granted?”
“And I have the right to grant this,” replied the amiable woman. “Your remarkable dream has remained indeed a secret to Makaria, but with our friends I have observed and considered your singular intellectual sympathy, your unexpected comprehension of the deepest secrets; and we may take courage to lead you further. Allow me in the first instance to speak figuratively! In things difficult of comprehension one does well to help one’s self in this fashion.
“As is said of the poet, the elements of the moral world are hidden in the depths of his nature, and have had to develop themselves from him little by little, so that nothing existing in the world would come to view but of what he had previously had a presentiment: even thus, it will seem, the relations of our solar system from the beginning, at first in a state of rest, then little by little developing, and afterwards becoming ever more distinctly animated, are fundamentally innate in Makaria. At first she suffered from these apparitions, then she took pleasure in them, and with her years her enjoyment increased. Yet she did not attain to the present harmony and repose until she had gained the aid of the friend whose merits you too have already learned to know sufficiently well.
“As a mathematician and philosopher, incredulous from the beginning, she was long doubtful whether this visionary power of hers was not acquired; for Makaria had to allow that, at an early age, she had enjoyed instruction in astronomy, and had studied it passionately. But at the same time, she also informed him, for many years of her life she had put together and compared the inward apparitions and the outward phenomena, but never had been able to find out any harmony between them.
“Thereupon the man of science bade her explain to him most minutely what she saw, which only from time to time was quite clear to her; he then made his calculations, and concluded hence, that she did not so much carry within herself the whole solar system, but rather that as an integral part she was spiritually moving within it. He proceeded on this supposition, and his calculations were corroborated in an incredible way by her statements.
“Thus much only do I for this time venture to confide to you, and this too I reveal only with the urgent request not to mention a word of it to anybody. For would not every man of sense and understanding, with the purest good will, still regard and declare such opinions to be mere fancies and misunderstood reminiscences of a previously acquired science? Even her family know nothing more precise about it; it is these secret revelations, these rapturous visions, that amongst her relations pass for a malady, by which she is for a time prevented from taking a part in the world and in her own interests. This, my friend, keep quietly to yourself, and also say nothing about it to Lenardo.”
Towards evening our wanderer was once more led into Makaria’s presence: much that was pleasantly instructive came under discussion, from which we select the following:
“From nature we possess no defect that could not become a virtue, and no virtue that could not become a fault. These latter are just the most problematical. Our wonderful nephew has chiefly given me occasion to make this remark—the young man about whom you have heard in our family so many singular things, and whom I, according to my relatives, are said to treat more indulgently and lovingly than is due.
“From youth up there was developed in him a certain lively, technical cleverness, to which he entirely devoted himself, and in which he happily advanced to manifold knowledge and acquirements. Later, everything that he sent home from his travels was always of the most artistic, skilful, refined, and delicate handiwork, indicative of the country in which he might happen to be, and which we were expected to guess. From this it might be concluded that he was and would remain a dry, unsympathetic man, wrapped up in external things; in conversation, too, he was not disposed to agree in general ethical matters, but privately and in secret he was endowed with a wonderfully fine practical sense of good and evil, the praiseworthy and the unpraiseworthy; such that I have never seen him at fault either towards his elders or juniors, his superiors or inferiors. But this innate consciousness, unbridled as it was, in single instances transformed itself into a whimsical weakness; he would even invent for himself duties where they were not required, and sometimes quite needlessly avow himself a delinquent.
“From his whole plan of travel, but particularly from his preparations for returning, I believe that he fancies himself to have offended a certain female belonging to our circle, whose fate now causes him anxiety, from which he would feel relieved and absolved as soon as he could hear that she was well; and Angela will tell you the rest. Take this letter, and prepare a happy reunion for our family. I sincerely confess I would wish to see him once more in this world, and in taking leave of it to bless him with all my heart.”