Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK II. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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BOOK II. - 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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Our pilgrims had performed the journey according to programme, and prosperously reached the frontier of the province in which they were to learn so many wonderful things. On their first entry they beheld a most fertile region, the gentle slopes of which were favorable to agriculture, its higher mountains to sheep-feeding, and its broad valleys to the rearing of cattle. It was shortly before the harvest, and everything was in the greatest abundance; still, what surprised them from the outset, was that they saw neither women nor men, but only boys and youths busy getting ready for a prosperous harvest, and even making friendly preparations for a joyous harvest-home. They greeted now one, and now another, and inquired about the master, of whose whereabouts no one could give an account. The address of their letter was: To the Master or to the Three, and this too the boys could not explain; however, they referred the inquirers to an overseer, who was just preparing to mount his horse. They explained their object; Felix’s frank bearing seemed to please him: and so they rode together along the road.
Wilhelm had soon observed that a great diversity prevailed in the cut and color of the clothing, which gave a peculiar aspect to the whole of the little community. He was just on the point of asking his companion about this when another strange sight was displayed to him: all the children, howsoever they might be occupied, stopped their work, and turned, with peculiar yet various gestures, towards the party riding past; and it was easy to infer that their object was the overseer. The youngest folded their arms crosswise on the breast, and looked cheerfully towards the sky; the intermediate ones held their arms behind them, and looked smiling upon the ground; the third sort stood erect and boldly; with arms at the side, they turned the head to the right, and placed themselves in a row, instead of remaining alone, like the others, where they were first seen.
Accordingly, when they halted and dismounted, just where several children had ranged themselves in various attitudes and were being inspected by the overseer, Wilhelm asked the meaning of these gestures.
Felix interposed, and said cheerfully: “What position have I to take, then?”
“In any case,” answered the intendant, “at first the arms across the breast, and looking seriously and gladly upward, without turning your glance.” He obeyed; however he soon exclaimed: “This does not please me particularly; I see nothing overhead; does it last long? But yes, indeed,” he exclaimed joyfully, “I see two hawks flying from west to east; that must be a good omen!”
“It depends on how you take to it, how you behave yourself,” rejoined the former; “now go and mingle with them, just as they mingle with each other.”
He made a sign, the children forsook their attitudes, resumed their occupations or went on playing as before.
“Will you, and can you,” Wilhelm now asked, “explain to me that which causes my wonder? I suppose that these gestures, these positions, are greetings, with which they welcome you.”
“Just so,” answered the other; “greetings, that tell me at once at what stage of cultivation each of these boys stands.”
“But could you,” Wilhelm added, “explain to me the meaning of the graduation? For that it is such, is easy to see.”
“That is the part of better people than me,” answered the other; “but I can assure you of this much, that they are no empty grimaces, and that, on the contrary, we impart to the children, not indeed the highest, but still a guiding and intelligible explanation; but at the same time we command each to keep and cherish for himself what we may have chosen to impart for the information of each: they may not chat about it with strangers, nor amongst themselves, and thus the teaching is modified in a hundred ways. Besides this the secrecy has very great advantages; for if we tell people immediately and perpetually the reason of everything, they think that there is nothing behind. To certain secrets, even if they may be known, we have to show deference by concealment and silence, for this tends to modesty and good morals.”
“I understand you,” said Wilhelm. “Why should we not also apply spiritually what is so necessary in bodily matters? But perhaps in another respect you can satisfy my curiosity. I am surprised at the great variety in the cut and color of their clothes, and yet I do not see all kinds of color, but a few only, and these in all their shades, from the brightest to the darkest. Still I observe, that in this there cannot be meant any indication of degrees of either age or merit; since the smallest and biggest boys mingled together may be alike in cut and color, whilst those who are alike in gestures do not agree with one another in dress.”
“As concerns this, too,” their companion replied, “I cannot explain any further; yet I shall be much mistaken if you depart hence without being enlightened about all that you may wish to know.”
They were now going in search of the master, whom they thought that they had found; but now a stranger could not but be struck by the fact, that the deeper they got into the country the more they were met by a harmonious sound of singing. Whatsoever the boys set about, in whatever work they were found engaged, they were forever singing, and in fact it seemed that the songs were specially adapted to each particular occupation, and in similar cases always the same. If several children were in any place, they would accompany each other in turns. Towards evening they came upon some dancing, their steps being animated and guided by choruses. Felix from his horse chimed in with his voice, and, in truth, not badly; Wilhelm was delighted with this entertainment, which made the neighborhood so lively. “I suppose,” he observed to his companion, “you devote a great deal of care to this kind of instruction, for otherwise this ability would not be so widely diffused, or so perfectly developed.”
“Just so,” replied the other; “with us the art of singing forms the first step in education; everything else is subservient to it, and attained by means of it. With us the simplest enjoyment, as well as the simplest instruction, is enlivened and impressed by singing; and even what we teach in matters of religion and morals is communicated by the method of song. Other advantages for independent ends are directly allied; for, whilst we practise the children in writing down by symbols on the slate the notes which they produce, and then, according to the indication of these signs, in reproducing them in their throats, and moreover in adding the text, they exercise at the same time the hand, ear, and eye, and attain orthography and calligraphy quicker than you would believe; and, finally, since all this must be practised and copied according to pure metre and accurately fixed time, they learn to understand much sooner than in other ways the high value of measure and computation. On this account, of all imaginable means, we have chosen music as the first element of our education, for from this equally easy roads radiate in every direction.”
Wilhelm sought to inform himself further, and did not hide his astonishment at hearing no instrumental music.
“We do not neglect it,” replied the other, “but we practise it in a special place, enclosed in the most charming mountain-valley; and then again we take care that the different instruments are taught in places lying far apart. Especially are the discordant notes of beginners banished to certain solitary spots, where they can drive no one crazy; for you will yourself confess, that in well-regulated civil society scarcely any more miserable nuisance is to be endured than when the neighborhood inflicts upon us a beginner on the flute or on the violin. Our beginners, from their own laudable notion of wishing to be an annoyance to none, go voluntarily for a longer or shorter period into the wilds, and, isolated there, vie with one another in attaining the merit of being allowed to draw nearer to the inhabited world; on which account they are, from time to time, allowed to make an attempt at drawing nearer, which seldom fails, because in these, as in our other modes of education, we venture actually to develop and encourage a sense of shame and diffidence. I am sincerely glad that your son has got a good voice; the rest will be effected all the more easily.”
They had now reached a place where Felix was to remain, and make trial of his surroundings, until they were disposed to grant a formal admission. They already heard from afar a cheerful singing; it was a game, which the boys were now enjoying in their play-hour. A general chorus resounded, in which each member of a large circle joined heartily, clearly, and vigorously in his part, obeying the directions of the superintendent. The latter, however, often took the singers by surprise, by suspending with a signal the chorus-singing, and bidding some one or other single performer, by a touch of his baton, to adapt alone some suitable song to the expiring tune and the passing idea. Most of them already showed considerable ability, a few who failed in the performance willingly paid their forfeit, without exactly being made a laughing-stock. Felix was still child enough to mix at once among them and came tolerably well out of the trial. Thereupon the first style of greeting was conceded to him: he forthwith folded his arms on his breast, looked upwards, and with such a droll expression withal, that it was quite plain that no hidden meaning in it had as yet occurred to him.
The pleasant spot, the kind reception, the merry games, all pleased the boy so well, that he did not feel particularly sad when he saw his father depart; he looked almost more wistfully at the horse as it was led away; yet he had no difficulty in understanding, when he was informed that he could not keep it in the present locality. On the other hand, they promised him that he should find, if not the same, at all events an equally lively and well-trained one when he did not expect it.
As the superior could not be found, the overseer said: “I must now leave you, to pursue my own avocations; but still I will take you to the Three who preside over holy things: your letter is also addressed to them, and together they stand in place of the superior.”
Wilhelm would have liked to learn beforehand about the holy things, but the other replied: “The Three in return for the confidence with which you have left your son with us will certainly, in accordance with wisdom and justice, reveal to you all that is most necessary. The visible objects of veneration, which I have called holy things, are included within a particular boundary, are not mingled with anything, or disturbed by anything; only at certain times of the year, the pupils, according to the stages of their education, are admitted to them, in order that they may be instructed historically and through their senses; for in this way they carry off with them an impression, enough for them to feed upon for a long time in the exercise of their duty.”
Wilhelm now stood at the entrance of a forest-valley, enclosed by lofty walls; on a given signal a small door was opened, and a serious, respectable-looking man received our friend. He found himself within a large and beautifully verdant enclosure, shaded with trees and bushes of every kind, so that he could scarcely see some stately walls and fine buildings through the dense and lofty natural growth; his friendly reception by the Three, who came up by-and-bye, ultimately concluded in a conversation, to which each contributed something of his own, but the substance of which we shall put together in brief.
“Since you have intrusted your son to us,” they said, “it is our duty to let you see more deeply into our methods of proceeding. You have seen many external things, that do not carry their significance with them all at once; which of these do you most wish to have explained?”
“I have remarked certain seemly yet strange gestures and obeisances, the significance of which I should like to learn; with you no doubt what is external has reference to what is within, and vice versâ; let me understand this relation.”
“Well-bred and healthy children possess a great deal; Nature has given to each everything that he needs for time and continuance: our duty is to develop this; often it is better developed by itself. But one thing no one brings into the world, and yet it is that upon which depends everything through which a man becomes a man on every side. If you can find it out yourself, speak out.”
Wilhelm bethought himself for a short time, and then shook his head. After a suitable pause, they exclaimed: “Veneration!”
Wilhelm was startled.
“Veneration,” they repeated. “It is wanting in all, and perhaps in yourself. You have seen three kinds of gestures, and we teach a threefold veneration, which when combined to form a whole, only then attains to its highest power and effect. The first is veneration for that which is above us. That gesture, the arms folded on the breast, a cheerful glance towards the sky, that is precisely what we prescribe to our untutored children, at the same time requiring witness of them that there is a God up above, who reflects and reveals Himself in our parents, tutors and superiors. The second, veneration for that which is below us. The hands folded on the back as if tied together, the lowered, smiling glance, bespeak that we have to regard the earth well and cheerfully; it gives us an opportunity to maintain ourselves; it affords unspeakable joys; but it brings disproportionate sufferings. If one hurts one’s self bodily, whether faultily or innocently; if others hurt one, intentionally or accidentally; if earthly chance does one any harm, let that be well thought of, for such danger accompanies us all our life long. But from this condition we deliver our pupil as soon as possible, directly we are convinced that the teachings of this stage have made a sufficient impression upon him; but then we bid him be a man, look to his companions, and guide himself with reference to them. Now he stands erect and bold, yet not selfishly isolated; only in a union with his equals does, he present a front towards the world. We are unable to add anything further.”
“I see it all,” replied Wilhelm; “it is probably on this account that the multitude is so inured to vice, because it only takes pleasure in the element of ill-will and evil speech; he who indulges in this soon becomes indifferent to God, contemptuous towards the world, and a hater of his fellows; but the true, genuine, indispensable feeling of self-respect is ruined in conceit and presumption.”
“Allow me, nevertheless,” Wilhelm went on, “to make one objection: has it not ever been held that the fear evinced by savage nations in the presence of mighty natural phenomena, and other inexplicable foreboding events, is the germ from which a higher feeling, a purer disposition, should gradually be developed?”
To this the other replied: “Fear, no doubt, is consonant with nature, but not reverence; people fear a known or unknown powerful being: the strong one tries to grapple with it, the weak to avoid it; both wish to get rid of it, and feel happy when in a short space they have conquered it, when their nature in some measure has regained its freedom and independence. The natural man repeats this operation a million times during his life; from fear he strives after liberty, from liberty he is driven back into fear, and does not advance one step further. To fear is easy, but unpleasant; to entertain reverence is difficult but pleasing. Man determines himself unwillingly to reverence, or rather never determines himself to it; it is a loftier sense which must be imparted to his nature, and which is self-developed only in the most exceptionally gifted ones, whom therefore from all time we have regarded as saints, as gods. In this consists the dignity, in this the function of all genuine religions, of which also there exist only three, according to the objects towards which they direct their worship.”
The men paused, Wilhelm remained silent for a while in thought; as he did not feel himself equal to pointing these strange words, he begged the worthy men to continue their remarks, which too they at once consented to do.
“No religion,” they said, “which is based on fear, is esteemed among us. With the reverence which a man allows himself to entertain, whilst he accords honor, he may preserve his own honor; he is not at discord with himself, as in the other case. The religion which rests on reverence for that which is above us, we call the ethnical one; it is the religion of nations, and the first happy redemption from a base fear; all so-called heathen religions are of this kind, let them have what names they will. The second religion, which is founded on that reverence which we have for what is like ourselves, we call the Philosophic; for the philosopher, who places himself in the middle, must draw downward to himself all that is higher, and upward to himself all that is lower, and only in this central position does he deserve the name of the sage. Now, whilst he penetrates his relations to his fellows, and therefore to the whole of humanity, and his relations to all other earthly surroundings, necessary or accidental, in the cosmical sense he only lives in the truth. But we must now speak of the third religion, based on reverence for that which is below us; we call it the Christian one, because this disposition of mind is chiefly revealed in it; it is the last one which humanity could and was bound to attain. Yet what was not demanded for it? not merely to leave earth below, and claim a higher origin, but to recognize as divine even humility and poverty, scorn and contempt, shame and misery, suffering and death; nay, to revere and make lovable even sin and crime, not as hindrances but as furtherances of holiness! Of this there are indeed found traces throughout all time; but a track is not a goal, and this having once been reached, humanity cannot turn backwards; and it may be maintained, that the Christian religion having once appeared, can never disappear again; having once been divinely embodied, cannot again be dissolved.”
“Which of these religions do you then profess more particularly?” said Wilhelm.
“All three,” answered the others, “for, in point of fact, they together present the true religion; from these three reverences outsprings the highest reverence, reverence for one’s self, and the former again develop themselves from the latter, so that man attains to the highest he is capable of reaching, in order that he may consider himself the best that God and nature have produced; nay, that he may be able to remain on this height without being drawn through conceit or egoism into what is base.”
“Such a profession of faith, thus developed, does not estrange me,” replied Wilhelm; “it agrees with all that one learns here and there in life, only that the very thing unites you that severs the others.”
To this the others replied: “This confession is already adhered to by a large part of the world, though unconsciously.”
“How so, and where?” asked Wilhelm.
“In the Creed!” exclaimed the others, loudly; “for the first article is ethnical, and belongs to all nations: the second is Christian, for those struggling against sufferings and glorified in sufferings; the third finally teaches a spiritual communion of saints, to wit, of those in the highest degree good and wise: ought not therefore in fairness the three divine Persons, under whose likeness and name such convictions and promises are uttered, to pass also for the highest Unity?”
“I thank you,” replied the other, “for having so clearly and coherently explained this to me—to whom, as a full-grown man, the three dispositions of mind are not new; and when I recall, that you teach the children these high truths, first through material symbols, then through a certain symbolic analogy, and finally develop in them the highest interpretation, I must needs highly approve of it.”
“Exactly so,” replied the former; “but now you must still learn something more, in order that you may be convinced that your son is in the best hands. However, let this matter rest for the morning hours; rest and refresh yourself, so that, contented and humanly complete, you may accompany us farther into the interior to-morrow.”
Led by the hand of the eldest, our friend now entered through a handsome portal into a room, or rather, eight-sided hall, which was so richly adorned with pictures, that it caused astonishment to the visitor. He easily understood that all that he saw must have an important meaning, though he himself was not at once able to guess it. He was just on the point of asking his conductor about it, when the latter invited him to enter a side gallery, which, open on one side, surrounded a spacious, richly planted flower-garden. The wall, however, attracted the eye more than this brilliant adornment of nature, for it was painted throughout its whole length, and the visitor could not walk far along it without remarking that the sacred books of the Israelites had furnished the subjects of these pictures.
“It is here,” said the eldest, “that we teach that religion, which for the sake of brevity, I have called the ethnical. Its internal substance is found in the history of the world, as its external envelope in the events themselves. In the re-occurrence of the destinies of entire nations it is, properly speaking, grasped.”
“You have, I see,” said Wilhelm, “conferred the honor on the Israelitish people, and made its history the foundation of this exposition, or rather you have made it the principal subject of the same.”
“Just as you see,” rejoined the old man; “for you will observe that in the plinths and friezes are represented not so much synchronistic as symphronistic* actions and events, whilst among all nations there occur traditions of similar and equal import. Thus, while in the principal field, Abraham is visited by his gods in the form of handsome youths, you see up there in the frieze, Apollo among the shepherds of Admetus; from which we may learn that when the gods appear to men, they mostly go about unrecognized among them.”
The two observers went farther. Wilhelm found for the most part well-known subjects, yet represented in a more lively and significant manner than he had been accustomed to see them before. In reference to a few matters he asked for some explanation, in doing which he could not refrain from inquiring again, why they had selected the Israelitish history before all others?
Hereupon the eldest answered: “Among all heathen religions (for such is the Israelitish also) this one has great advantages, of which I shall mention only a few. Before the ethnic tribunal, before the tribunal of the God of nations, it is not the question, whether it is the best or the most excellent nation, but only whether it still exists, whether it has maintained itself. The Israelitish nation has never been worth much, as its leaders, judges, rulers and prophets have a thousand times thrown in its teeth; it possesses few virtues, and most of the faults of other nations; but in independence, endurance, courage, and if all that were no longer of account, in toughness, it cannot find its equal. It is the most tenacious people on the face of the earth! It is, it has been, and will be to glorify the name of Jehovah through all time. We have, therefore, set it up as a pattern, as a masterpiece, to which the others only serve as a frame.”
“It is not becoming in me to argue with you,” replied Wilhelm, “since you are in a position to teach me. Proceed, therefore, to explain to me the other advantages of this nation, or rather of its history, of its religion.”
“One principal advantage,” answered the other, “consists in the excellent collection of its sacred books. They are combined so happily, that from the most heterogeneous elements there results a deceptive unity. They are complete enough to satisfy, fragmentary enough to stimulate interest; sufficiently barbaric to excite challenge, sufficiently tender to soothe; and how many other opposing qualities might we extol in these books, in this Book!”
The series of the principal pictures, as well as the connection of the smaller ones which accompanied them above and below, gave the guest so much to think of, that he scarcely listened to the explanatory remarks by which his companion seemed rather to divert his attention from, than to fix it on the subjects.
In the meanwhile the other took occasion to say: “I must here mention one advantage of the Israelitish religion: that it does not embody its God in any given form, and therefore leaves us at liberty to give him a worthy human figure; also, on the other hand, to depict base idolatry by the forms of beasts and monsters.”
Our friend, moreover, in a short stroll through these halls, had again called to mind the history of the world: there was something new to him in regard to the circumstance. Thus, through the juxtaposition of the pictures, through the reflections of his companion, fresh ideas had dawned upon his mind; and he was glad that Felix by means of a visible representation of such merit should appropriate to himself for his whole life long, as vividly as if they had actually happened in his own time, those grand, significant, and inimitable events. He looked at these pictures at last only with the eyes of the child, and in this aspect he felt perfectly satisfied with them. And so strolling on they reached those sad, confused periods, and finally the destruction of the City and the Temple, the murder, banishment and slavery of whole multitudes of this obstinate nation. Its subsequent destinies were represented by discreet allegory, since a historic and real representation of them lies beyond the limits of the noble art.
Here the gallery, through which they had walked, terminated abruptly, and Wilhelm wondered at finding himself already at the end.
“I find,” he said to his guide, “an omission in this historical walk. You have destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem, and scattered the nation, without introducing the Divine Man, who shortly before that very time taught in it, and to whom, too, shortly before they would give no hearing.”
“To do this, as you demand, would have been a mistake. The life of that Divine Man, to whom you allude, stands in no connection with the world-history of his time. His was a private life, his doctrine a doctrine for individuals. What publicly concerns the masses of the people and its members belongs to the history of the world, to the religion of the world, which we regard as the first. What inwardly concerns the individual belongs to the second religion, to the religion of the wise; such was the one that Christ taught and practised as long as he went about on earth. Wherefore the external ends here, and I now open to you the internal.”
A door opened, and they entered a similar gallery, where Wilhelm at once recognized the pictures of the second holy writings. They seemed to be by a different hand from the first: everything was gentler; forms, movements, surroundings, light and coloring.
“You see here,” said his companion, after they had walked past a part of the pictures, “neither deeds nor events, but miracles and parables. Here is a new world; a new exterior, different from the former, and an interior, which in that is entirely lacking. By miracles and parables a new world is opened. The former make the common extraordinary, the latter make the extraordinary common.”
“Have the kindness,” replied Wilhelm, “to explain me these few words more circumstantially, for I do not feel equal to doing it myself.”
“You possess a natural mind,” replied the other, “although a deep one. Examples will open it most readily. Nothing is more common or ordinary than eating and drinking; on the other hand, it is extraordinary to ennoble a beverage, or to multiply a meal, so that it may suffice for a countless number. Nothing is commoner than illness and bodily infirmity; but to cure, to alleviate these by spiritual or spiritual-seeming means, is extraordinary: and just in this consists the marvel of the miracle—that the common and extraordinary, the possible and the impossible, become one. In the similitude, in the parable, the reverse is the case: here you have mind, insight, the idea of the sublime, the extraordinary, the unattainable. When this is embodied in a common, ordinary, intelligible image, so that it confronts us as living, present and real, so that we can appropriate, seize, retain, and converse with it as with one of our own like: that indeed becomes a second species of miracle, which is fairly associated with the first kind, nay, perhaps, is to be preferred to it. Here the living doctrine itself is pronounced, the doctrine that arouses no dispute. It is no opinion as to what is right or wrong; it is indisputably right or wrong itself.”
This part of the gallery was shorter, or rather it was only the fourth part of the enclosure of the inner courtyard. But while one cared only to pass along the first, here one was glad to linger, here one liked to walk to and fro. The subjects were not so striking nor so manifold, but so much the more did they invite inquiry into their deep and quiet meaning; moreover the two wanderers turned at the end of the corridor, whilst Wilhelm expressed a fear that in fact only the last supper, the last parting of the Master from his disciples, was reached. He asked for the remaining part of the story.
“In all teaching,” replied the elder one, “in all tradition, we are very willing to set apart only what it is possible to set apart, for only thereby can the notion of what is significant be developed in youth. Life otherwise mingles and mixes everything together; and thus we have here the life of that excellent Man completely separated from its end. During life he appears as a true philosopher—do not be scandalized at this expression—as a sage, in the highest sense. He stands firmly to his point; he pursues his own path unflinchingly, and whilst he draws up to himself what is inferior, whilst he allows the ignorant, the poor, the sick, a share in his wisdom, wealth, and power, and thereby seems to step down to their level; still, on the other hand, he does not deny his divine origin; he dares to make himself equal to God, nay, to declare himself God. In this manner, from his youth up, he astonishes those who surround him, gains one part of them over to himself, arouses the other against himself, and shows all those to whom it is a question of a certain sublimity in doctrine and life what they will have to expect from the world. And thus his life’s journey for the noble part of humanity is more instructive and fruitful than his death; for to the one test every one is called, but to the other only a few. And in order that we may pass over all that follows from this, only look at the touching scene of the last supper! Here the sage, as always happens, leaves his followers behind, quite orphaned, so to say, and whilst he is taking thought for the good ones, he is at the same time feeding with them a traitor, who will bring him and the better ones to destruction.”
With these words the elder opened a door, and Wilhelm was astonished to find himself again in the first hall of entrance. In the meantime, they had made, as he could easily see, the entire circuit of the courtyard.
“I was hoping,” said Wilhelm, “that you would conduct me to the end, whilst you are taking me back to the beginning.” “This time I can show you nothing more,” said the elder; “we do not let our pupils see more, we do not explain to them more than what you have so far passed through: the external and generally mundane may be imparted to each from his youth up; the internal and specially spiritual and mental, only to those who are growing up to a certain degree of thoughtfulness; and the rest, which can be disclosed only once a year, only to those of whom we are taking leave. That last form of religion, which arises from respect for what is below us, that reverence for what is repugnant, hateful, and apt to be shunned, we impart to each only by way of outfit for the world, in order that he may know where he can find the like, if need of such should stir within him. I invite you to return after the lapse of a year to attend our general festival, and to see how far your son has progressed; at which time too you shall be initiated into the holy estate of sorrow.”
“Allow me one question,” replied Wilhelm; “have you then, besides representing the life of this Divine Man as a pattern of teaching and imitation, also exalted his sufferings, his death, as a model of sublime endurance?”
“By all means,” said the elder. “We make no secret of this; but we draw a veil over these sufferings, just because we honor them so highly. We hold it for criminal audacity to expose that scaffold of agony, and the Saint suffering thereupon, to the gaze of the sun, that hid its face when a reckless world obtruded this sight upon it; to play, to trifle with these deep mysteries, in which the divine depth of suffering lies hidden; to decorate them, and not to rest until the most holy seems commonplace and vulgar. Thus much may suffice for this time to set you at rest respecting your boy, and convince you thoroughly that you will find him again, in one way or other, more or less developed, yet in a desirable manner, and at all events not confused, wavering or unsteady.”
Wilhelm lingered, looking over the pictures in the vestibule, wishing to have their meaning explained.
“This too,” said the elder, “we shall continue to owe you until the year is over. We do not admit any strangers to the instruction which we impart to the children during the interval; but in due time come and listen to what our best speakers think fit to say publicly on these subjects.”
Soon after this conversation a knock was heard at the small door. The inspector of yesterday presented himself; he had led up Wilhelm’s horse. And thus our friend took leave of the Three, who at parting recommended him to the inspector in the following terms: “He is now numbered among the confidants, and what you have to answer to his questions is known to you: for he surely still wishes to be enlightened about many things that he has seen and heard with us; the measure and purport are not unknown to you.” Wilhelm had still in fact a few questions on his mind, which also he expressed forthwith. Wherever they rode by, the children ranged themselves as on the day before, but to-day he saw, although rarely, a boy here and there who did not salute the inspector as he rode past, did not look up from his work, and allowed him to pass by without notice. Wilhelm now inquired the cause of this, and what this exception meant.
The other replied thereto: “It is in fact exceedingly significant, for it is the severest punishment that we inflict upon our pupils; they are declared unworthy of showing reverence, and compelled to seem rude and uncultured; but they do all that is possible to rescue themselves from this position, and apply themselves as quickly as possible to every duty. Should, however, any hardened youngster show no readiness to recant, then he is sent back to his parents with a short but conclusive report. He who does not learn to adapt himself to the laws, must leave the region where they prevail.”
Another sight excited to-day as yesterday the curiosity of the traveller; it was the variety of color and shape in the clothes of the pupils. In this there seemed to prevail no graduated arrangement, for some who saluted differently were dressed in uniform style, whilst those who had the same way of greeting were clad differently. Wilhelm asked for the cause of this seeming contradiction.
“It is explained thus,” replied the other; “namely, that it is a means of finding out the peculiar disposition of each boy. With strictness and method in other things, in this respect we allow a certain degree of freedom to prevail. Within the scope of our stores of cloths and trimmings, the pupils are allowed to choose any favorite color, and also within moderate limits to select both shape and cut; this we scrupulously observe, for by the color you may find out people’s bent of mind, and by the cut, the style of life. Yet there is one special peculiarity of human nature which makes a more accurate judgment to some extent difficult; this is the spirit of imitation—the tendency to associate. It is very seldom that a pupil lights on anything that has not occurred before: for the most part they choose something familiar, what they see just before them. Still, this consideration does not remain unprofitable to us; by means of such external signs, they ally themselves to this or that party, join in here or there, and thus more general dispositions distinguish themselves; we learn to where each inclines, and to what example he assimilates himself. Now, cases have been seen, in which the dispositions inclined towards the general, in which one fashion would extend itself to all, and every peculiarity tend towards losing itself in the totality. In a gentle way we try to put a stop to a tendency of this kind, we allow our stores to run short; one or other kind of stuff or ornament is no more to be had. We substitute something new, something attractive; through light colors, and short close cut, we attract the cheerful ones; by sombre shades and comfortable, ample suits, the thoughtful ones, and thus gradually establish a balance. For we are altogether opposed to uniform; it hides the character, and, more than any other disguise, conceals the peculiarities of the children from the sight of their superiors.”
With such and other conversation, Wilhelm arrived at the frontier of the district, and precisely at the point where the traveller, according to his old friend’s direction, ought to leave it, in order to pursue his own private ends.
On parting, the inspector first of all observed, that Wilhelm might now wait until the grand festival for all their sympathizers in various ways was announced. To this all the parents would be invited, and able pupils be dismissed to the chances of free life. After that, he was informed, he might at his leisure enter the other districts, where in accordance with peculiar principles, special instruction amidst the most perfect surroundings, was imparted and practised.
To flatter the taste of the worthy public, which for some time has derived pleasure in being entertained piece-meal, we had at first thought of presenting the following story in several sections. Yet, considered from the point of view of ideas, feelings and events, its internal structure required a continuous treatment. May it attain its aim, and at the same time may it in the end become clear how the personages of this seemingly isolated episode have been most intimately bound up with those whom we already know and love.
The Man of Fifty.
DURING the entry of the major into the manor-house, his niece Hilaria stood outside on the staircase that led up to the castle, ready to receive him. He scarcely recognized her, for by this time she had grown taller and more beautiful. She rushed towards him; he pressed her to his breast with the feelings of a father, and she hurried upstairs to her mother.
To the baroness, his sister, he was equally welcome, and when Hilaria went quickly away to prepare breakfast, the major cheerfully observed:
“This time I can be brief, and say that our business is done. Our brother, the marshal, sees pretty clearly that he cannot get on with either tenants or superintendents. He makes over the estates, in his lifetime, to us and to our children. The annual income that he stipulates for himself is heavy, it is true; but we can well afford to give it to him; we still gain a good deal for the present, and in the future, all. The new arrangement will soon be in order. Though every moment I expect my retirement, I still see before me an active life, that may be of decided advantage to us and ours. We shall quietly look on whilst our children grow up, and it depends upon us, upon them, to hasten their union.”
“That would be all very well,” said the baroness, “if only I had not to reveal you a secret, of which I myself have only lately become aware. Hilaria’s heart is no longer free; from that quarter your son has little or nothing to hope.”
“What do you say?” exclaimed the major; “is it possible! Whilst we are giving ourselves every possible trouble to manage with economy, does inclination play us such a trick? Tell me, my dear, tell me quickly who is it that could captivate Hilaria’s heart; or is it already as bad as that? Is it not perhaps a transient impression, that one may hope to extinguish again?”
“You must first think and guess awhile,” replied the baroness, thereby increasing his impatience. This had already reached its climax, when Hilaria, entering together with the servants, who were bringing the breakfast, rendered an immediate solution of the riddle impossible.
The major himself fancied that he now looked upon the beautiful child with other eyes than shortly before. He almost felt jealous of the fortunate one, whose image could impress itself on so beautiful a soul. He could not enjoy his breakfast, and he paid no attention to the fact that everything had been arranged precisely as he liked it best, and as he had formerly been used to wish and require it.
Amidst this silence and reserve, Hilaria herself almost lost her cheerfulness. The baroness felt embarrassed, and drew her daughter towards the piano, but her animated playing, full of feeling, could scarcely win a little applause from the major. He was anxious to see the beautiful child and the breakfast depart, the sooner the better, and the baroness had to make up her mind to break off, and propose to her brother a walk in the garden.
They were scarcely alone, when the major urgently repeated his former question; upon which his sister after a pause, replied, laughing:
“If you wish to find the fortunate man she loves, you need not go so far, he is quite close: it is you she loves.”
The major stood thunderstruck; then he exclaimed:
“It would be a very unseasonable jest, if you wished to persuade me of what in real earnest would make me no less embarrassed than unhappy. For although I need time to recover from my astonishment, yet I foresee at a glance how much our relations must be disturbed by such an unexpected circumstance. The only thing that consoles me, is the conviction that inclinations of this kind are only apparent, that self-deception lurks in the background, and that a genuinely good soul will often recover at once from mistakes of this kind of its own accord, or at least with a little assistance from sensible persons.”
“I am not of this opinion,” said the baroness; “for, to judge by all the symptoms, it is a very serious sentiment by which Hilaria is penetrated.”
“Anything so unnatural I should not have attributed to her natural character,” replied the major.
“It is not so unnatural,” said his sister; “in my own youth I recollect a passion even for an older man than you are. You are fifty years old; that at all events is by no means too much for a German, although perhaps other more lively nations grow old earlier.”
“But how will you prove your surmise?” said the major.
“It is no surmise, it is a certainty. The details you shall learn by-and-bye.”
Hilaria joined them, and the major against his will felt changed again. Her presence seemed to him still more amiable and dearer than before; her behavior seemed to him more affectionate, and he already began to give credence to his sister’s words. The sensation was in the highest degree agreeable to him, although he would neither acknowledge nor divulge it. Hilaria was indeed very amiable, whilst in her demeanor shyness towards a lover and the easy familiarity towards an uncle were most intimately combined; for she really loved him, and with her whole heart. The garden was in its full spring glory, and the major, whilst he saw so many old trees clothing themselves with leaves, was fain to believe in the return of his own spring-time. And who would not have been tempted to do so in the presence of the most amiable of girls.
In this manner the day was spent together; all domestic incidents passed off in the greatest harmony; in the evening after dinner Hilaria again sat down to the piano. The major listened with other ears than in the morning; one melody was entwined with another, one song connected itself with the next, and midnight scarcely availed to break up the little party.
When the major reached his room, he found everything arranged in accordance with his old accustomed convenience; even certain engravings, over which he had been wont to linger, had been brought from other rooms and hung up here; and now that he had once begun to notice, he saw himself attended to and flattered in every single little detail.
This time he required only a few hours’ sleep; his vital energies were awake early. But now he suddenly perceived that a new order of things would entail a good deal of inconvenience. To his old groom, who also fulfilled the duties of footmen and valet, he had never spoken an angry word for many years; for everything had gone on in its usual way with the strictest method: the horses were attended to, and the clothes ready brushed at the proper hour, but his master had risen sooner, and nothing was ready.
Another circumstance combined with this to increase the impatience and a sort of bad-humor on the part of the major. At other times everything had been correct with himself and with his servant; but now when he stepped before the looking-glass, he did not find himself as he wished to be. He could not deny a few gray hairs, and a few wrinkles also seemed to have put in an appearance. He rubbed and powdered more than usual, and yet had at last to leave things as they were. Neither was he satisfied with his dress, or with its plainness. There were always a few threads still on his coat, and a little dust on his boots. The old servant did not know what to say, and was astonished at seeing so transformed a master before him.
In spite of all these obstacles the major was early enough in the garden. Hilaria, whom he hoped to find there, he actually did find. She brought a nosegay for him, and he had not the courage, as at other times, to kiss her, and to press her to his heart. He found himself in the pleasantest embarrassment in the world, and abandoned himself to his feelings, without thinking whither they might lead him.
The baroness also was not slow in putting in an appearance, and, as she showed her brother a note that a messenger had just brought her, she exclaimed: “You cannot guess whom this letter is to announce!”
“Then only tell me quickly!” replied the major; and he was informed that an old theatrical friend happened to be travelling at no great distance from the manor, and thought of looking in for a moment.
“I am curious to see him again,” said the major; “he is no longer a boy, and yet I hear that he still continues to play youthful parts.”
“He must be ten years older than you,” replied the baroness.
“At the very least,” replied the major, “so far as I can recollect.”
It was not long before a cheerful, well-built, pleasant man made his appearance. Both were astonished for a moment as they looked at each other again. But very soon the friends became familiar, and reminiscences of all sorts animated the conversation. From this they passed to stories, to questions, and to giving accounts of themselves; they made themselves mutually acquainted with their present positions, and they soon felt as if they had never been separated.
Secret accounts tell us that this man in early life, as a very handsome and agreeable youth, had had the fortune or misfortune to please a lady of rank; that he had thereby fallen into great difficulties and danger, out of which the major had fortunately rescued him, at the very moment when a most sad fate was threatening him. He remained eternally grateful to both brother and sister; for the latter, by a timely warning, had given an opportunity of exercising prudence. A short time before dinner the men were left alone. Not without admiration, nay, with a certain amount of astonishment, the major had observed the outward deportment of his old friend, in general and in detail. He did not seem to be changed in the least, and it was no wonder that he could still continue to appear as a youthful lover on the stage.
“You are looking at me more closely than is fair,” he at last said to the major; “I very much fear that you find the difference compared with past times only too great.”
“By no means,” replied the major; “on the contrary, I am full of wonder at finding your looks fresher and more youthful than my own; although I know that you were already a grown-up man when I assisted you in certain difficulties with the audacity of a foolhardy fledgling.”
“It is your own fault,” replied the other, “it is the fault of all like you; and although you ought not to be reproached for it, still you are to blame. You only think about what is necessary; you want to be, and not to seem. That is right enough, so long as one is something. But when at last the Being begins to take leave of the Seeming, and the Seeming is still more transient than the Being, then everyone finds out that he would not have done badly if he had not entirely neglected the external in favor of the internal.”
“You are right,” replied the major, and could hardly refrain from a sigh.
“Perhaps not quite right,” answered the old youth; “for indeed in my trade it would be absolutely inexcusable if one did not bolster up the exterior as long as is simply possible. But you people have occasion to look at other things that are more important and lasting.”
“And yet there are occasions,” said the major, “when one feels inwardly fresh, and would be only too glad to freshen up one’s exterior too.”
As the guest could not divine the major’s real frame of mind, he took this utterance in a military sense, and expatiated long upon the point, how important the exterior was to military men, and how an officer, who had to expend so much care upon his dress, might pay some attention to his skin and hair as well.
“For example, it is undeniable,” he continued, “that your temples are already gray, that wrinkles contract themselves here and there, and that your crown is threatening to become bald. Only look at an old fellow like me! See how I have preserved myself, and all without any conjuring, and with far less trouble or care than one expends daily in injuring, or at least in wearying one’s self.”
The major found too much for his own purposes in this accidental conversation to break it off so soon; still he went gently, and even, in dealing with an old acquaintance, cautiously to work.
“Unfortunately I have now got behind-hand,” he exclaimed, “and it cannot be retrieved; I must now put up with it, and you will not think worse of me on account of it.”
“It is never too late,” replied the other; “if you serious gentlemen were not so obstinate and stiff-necked, immediately declaring anyone who attends to his own exterior vain, and thereby marring for yourselves the enjoyment of being in pleasant company and pleasing others yourselves.”
“If it is not magic,” laughingly said the major, “by means of which you keep yourselves young, it is nevertheless a secret; or there are at least ‘arcana,’ such as are often extolled in the papers, but from which you know how to choose the best.”
“Whether you speak in jest or in earnest,” replied his friend, “you have hit it. Among the many things that have continually been tried to give a kind of nourishment to the exterior, which often falls off much sooner than the interior, there are to be found really invaluable specifics, simple as well as compound, which have been imparted to me by fellow-artists, or handed over for cash or in some casual way, and tested by myself. I hold and abide by these, without on that account giving up my further researches. Thus much I may tell you, and I do not exaggerate: I carry about with me a dressing-case beyond all price, a casket, the effects of which I should like to try upon yourself, if we remain only a fortnight together.”
The thought that something of this kind was possible, and that this possibility had accidentally been brought within his reach just at the right moment, cheered up the major to such a degree, that he already looked really fresher and happier, and enlivened by the hope of bringing his head and face into harmony with his heart, excited by the restless desire of soon learning to know these specifics more intimately, he seemed at dinner quite a different man, met with confidence Hilaria’s graceful attentions, and looked on her with a certain trust, which in the morning had been still very foreign to him.
Now, inasmuch as the theatrical friend had managed, by all sorts of reminiscences, stories, and happy ideas, to keep alive and increase the good-humor once called forth, so much the more was the major troubled, when immediately after dinner he threatened to go away and pursue his journey. He sought by every means to facilitate the detention of his friend, at least for the night, expressly promising additional horses and relays early on the morrow. Enough, the healing toilet-case was not to depart from the house before he had been more particularly informed as to its contents and use.
The major saw well enough that there was now no time to be lost, and therefore immediately after dinner he sought to speak to his old familiar friend alone. As he had not the courage to go straight to the point, he alluded to it distantly, again taking up their former conversation, and affirming that, as for his own person, he would willingly bestow more care upon the exterior, if only people would not immediately stigmatize as vain any one in whom they discovered an endeavor of this kind, and thereby withdraw from him, in respect to moral esteem, as much as they felt bound to allow him in respect to what was physical.
“Do not make me angry with speeches of this kind,” replied his friend; “for these are expressions to which society has accustomed itself without thinking, or, to put it more severely, by which it expresses the unkindness and ill-will of its nature. When you come to consider it closely, what is that which is so often stigmatized as vanity? Every man ought to feel pleasure in himself, and happy is he who does so. Yet, if he does, how can he refrain from betraying this pleasant feeling? How, in the midst of existence, can he conceal that he feels a pleasure in existence? If good society—for only of such is the question now—should find these utterances blamable, only when they become too lively, when the joy of a man’s pleasure in himself and in his being prevents others from feeling pleasure in themselves, and from displaying it,—even then there would be nothing in it to remember; and the reproach has probably arisen in the first place from this excess. Yet, what is the good of a strange prohibitive severity against what is unavoidable? Why shall we not find an expression admissible and endurable which we, more or less, allow ourselves from time to time, nay, without which no good society could exist; for the pleasure in ourselves, the desire of communicating this individual feeling to others, makes us pleasant, the sense of our own charm makes us charming. Would to God that all men were vain! yet at the same time with consciousness, with moderation, and in the right sense; then we in the world of culture would be the happiest of people. Women, it is said, are vain from the beginning; yet it becomes them, and they please us all the more. How can a young man form himself who is not vain? An empty, hollow nature will at least know how to give itself an outward show, and the able man will soon form himself from the outward to the inward. As for myself, I have reason on this score to consider myself the happiest of men, because my trade justifies me in being vain, and because the more I am so, the greater pleasure I give people. I am praised where another is blamed, and it is just in this path that I have the right and the good fortune to delight and charm the public at an age at which others are compelled to withdraw from the stage, or only linger upon it with disgrace.”
The major was not pleased to hear the tendency of these observations. The little word vanity, when he used it, had only been meant to serve as a medium by which to bring his wish before his friend in a discreet manner; now he feared that in a lengthened conversation he would see his end still further set aside, and he therefore hastened directly to the point.
“For myself,” he said, “I should not be at all disinclined to swear fealty to your standard, since you do not think it too late, and believe that I could in some measure make up for lost time. Reveal to me something about your tinctures, pomades, and balsams, and I will make an attempt.”
“Revelations,” said the other, “are more difficult than one thinks. In this case, for instance, it is not only the question whether I pour out for you something from my bottles, or leave you a half of the best ingredients of my dressing-case; the greatest difficulty is the application. One cannot straightway make what is handed to us one’s own; how this or that may serve, under what circumstances, in what order the things are to be used, demands practice and reflection; nay, even these will hardly bear fruit, if one has not an inborn talent for the subject in question.”
“Now,” replied the major, “it seems to me you want to back out of it again. You are making difficulties in order to save the credit of your rather fabulous statements. You have no inclination to give me a pretext, an opportunity of putting your words to the test of fact.”
“By these sarcasms, my friend,” replied the other, “you would never induce me to acquiesce in your request if I did not myself harbor such kind intentions towards you, insomuch that as I in fact made you the offer in the first place. At the same time bear in mind, my friend, that man possesses a quite peculiar desire of making proselytes, of bringing what he values in himself into demonstration beyond himself, in others; in letting them enjoy what he himself enjoys, in finding and reflecting himself again in them. In truth, if this too is egoism, it is at all events of the most amiable and praiseworthy sort, such as makes us human, and keeps us human. From this too, irrespective of the friendship I entertain for you, I derive the pleasure of making a pupil of you in the art of rejuvenation. But, as one must expect from the master, that he should make no bunglers, I am at a loss as to how to set to work. I have already said that neither cosmetics nor any prescription is sufficient; the application cannot be taught in a general way. For love of you, and the desire of propagating my doctrine, I am prepared for any sacrifice. The greatest I can make for the moment I will at once offer you. I will leave you here my servant, a kind of valet and jack-of-all-trades, who, although he may not know how to prepare everything, or be initiated into all the secrets, yet understands very well the whole treatment, and at the beginning will be of great use to you, until you so work your way into the matter, that I may at length be able also to reveal to you the higher secrets.”
“How!” exclaimed the major, “you have also stages and degrees in your art of rejuvenation? You have secrets too for the initiated.”
“To be sure,” replied the former. “That would indeed be a wretched art which allowed itself to be grasped at once, the last results of which would be viewed at once by him who enters for the first time.”
There was no great hesitation; the valet was intrusted to the major, who promised to treat him well. The baroness had to furnish small boxes, pots and glasses, she did not know for what purpose; the partition took place; they remained together in good spirits and witty mood till far into the night. When the moon rose late the guest departed, promising to return in a short time.
The major went somewhat tired to his room. He had arisen early, had not spared himself during the day, and hoped at last to get speedily to bed. But instead of one servant he now found two. The old groom, according to old style and custom, undressed him quickly; but now the new one came forward, and bid him observe, that night was just the proper time for applying beautifying and rejuvenating remedies, in order that during a peaceful slumber they might take effect so much the more surely. So the major had to submit to having his head anointed, his face rubbed, his eyebrows marked, and his lips touched, besides which, several other ceremonies were required: thus the nightcap was not to be put on immediately, but before that a net, or at all events a fine leather cap, was drawn over his head.
The major lay down in bed, with a kind of unpleasant sensation, which, however, he had no time to make clear to himself, inasmuch as he soon fell asleep. Yet, if we were to speak his mind, he felt himself somewhat akin to a mummy, something between a sick man and an embalmed corpse. Only the sweet image of Hilaria, surrounded by the brightest hopes, lulled him soon into a refreshing sleep.
In the morning, at the appointed time, the groom was at hand. Everything appertaining to the dress of the master lay in its accustomed order on the chairs, and the major was just on the point of leaving the bed, when the new valet entered, and protested energetically against such premature haste. One must be quiet, one must wait, if the undertaking was to succeed, if from so much care and painstaking enjoyment was to be reaped. The gentleman accordingly was informed that he would have to rise in a short time, partake of a light breakfast, and then enter a bath, which was already prepared. There was no escape from this procedure; it must be carried out, and a few hours passed in these operations.
The major cut short the time of rest after the bath, thinking to throw on his clothes quickly, for by nature he was quick, and besides this he wished to meet Hilaria soon; but here also the new valet intervened, and made him understand that one must completely disaccustom one’s self from wishing to be done. All that one did must be completed slowly and leisurely, but the time of dressing especially must be regarded as a pleasant hour of communion with one’s own self.
The valet’s mode of treatment was perfectly in harmony with his words. But in return for all this, even the major thought that he really was better dressed than he had ever been before, when he stepped before the looking-glass, and saw himself dressed up to the highest point. Without much question, the valet had even given to the uniform a modern cut, having employed the night in this transformation. A rejuvenation, so quickly visible, imparted to the major a particularly cheerful disposition, so that both inwardly and outwardly he felt refreshed, and hurried to meet his friends with impatient longing.
He found his sister standing before their genealogical tree, which she had hung up, because on the preceding evening there had been some talk amongst them about certain collateral relations, who, being some unmarried, some living in distant lands, some quite lost sight of, gave the brother and sister or their children more or less hope of rich legacies. They conversed for some time about it, without mentioning the circumstance that hitherto all their family anxieties and endeavors had centred only on their children. Through Hilaria’s inclination, this whole prospect had in fact been completely changed, and yet neither the major nor his sister liked to think more about the matter at this moment.
The baroness went away, the major remained alone before the laconic family-picture: Hilaria came in to him, leaned childishly on his arm, looked at the pedigree, and asked whom among all these he had known, and who were still living?
The major began his description of the eldest, whom he now only vaguely remembered from the time of his youth. Then he went on to describe the characters of various fathers, the likeness or unlikeness of the children to them, observed that the grandfather often reappeared in his grandson, spoke generally about the influence of women, who, marrying into the stock from strange families, often change the character of the whole race. He praised the virtue of many an ancestor and collateral relation, and did not conceal their faults. He passed over in silence those of whom they had had reason to feel ashamed. At last he came to the latest generations. Among these were now found his brother the Obermarschall, himself, and his sister, and below them his son and Hilaria.
“These look one another straight enough in the face,” said the major, and did not add what he had in his mind.
After a pause, Hilaria modestly added, in a low voice and almost with a sigh, “And yet no one will blame one who looks upwards.” At the same time she looked up towards him with her two eyes, which expressed her entire affection.
“Do I understand you aright?” said the major, turning round towards her.
“I can say nothing,” answered Hilaria, laughing, “that you do not already know.”
“You make me the happiest man under the sun!” exclaimed he, and fell at her feet. “Will you be mine?”
“For Heaven’s sake, arise! I am yours forever.”
The baroness entered. Without being surprised, she was startled. “If it should be a misfortune,” said the major, “sister, the fault is yours; if it is good fortune, we shall always have to thank you for it.”
The baroness, from her youth up, had loved her brother in such a manner, that she set him before all other men, and perhaps the very inclination of Hilaria, if it had not actually sprung from this partiality of her mother’s, had certainly been nourished by it.
All three were henceforth united in one love, and one happiness, and so the happiest of hours were spent by them. Yet at last, too, they became aware again of the world around them, and this but seldom stands in harmony with such sentiments.
Now, too, they thought again about the son. For him Hilaria had been destined, as he knew very well. Directly after the termination of the business with the Obermarschall, the major was to have visited his son in garrison, to discuss everything with him, and bring these matters to a happy termination. But now, through an unexpected event, the whole arrangement was upset; the relations, which otherwise hung together in a friendly way, seemed henceforth to be in conflict, and it was difficult to foresee what turn things would take, and what sort of harmony would take possession of their minds.
In the meantime the major had to make up his mind to visit his son, with whom he had already appointed a meeting. Not without repugnance, not without a peculiar foreboding, not without pain at having to leave Hilaria for only a short time, he started, after a good deal of delay, and leaving groom and horses behind, he travelled with his rejuvenating valet, whom he could no longer dispense with, towards the city where his son was living.
The two greeted and embraced one another in the heartiest manner after so long a separation. They had much to say to one another, and yet did not immediately express what each had most at heart. The son expatiated upon his hopes of speedy promotion, in return for which the father gave him exact information as to what had been done and determined on between the elder members of the family respecting their fortune in general, and their landed property in particular.
The conversation was already beginning rather to drag, when the son took courage, and said, laughing, to his father, “You treat me very tenderly, father dear, and I thank you for it. You tell me about possessions and fortune, and do not mention the condition under which, at least partly, they will become mine; you refrain from mentioning the name of Hilaria; you wait for me to pronounce it myself, that I should reveal my desire of being soon united to the amiable child.”
The major, at these words of his son, found himself in great embarrassment; yet, as it was consonant partly with his nature and partly with an old habit of his, to explore the minds of those he had to deal with, he remained silent, and glanced at his son with a doubtful smile.
“You do not guess, father, what I have to say,” continued the lieutenant, “and I only wish to speak it out quickly once for all. I can rely upon your kindness, which, amidst so much solicitude in my behalf, has surely also thought about my true happiness. It will have to be said some time, and so let it be said at once: Hilaria cannot make me happy! I think of Hilaria as an amiable relation, with whom I would wish to remain all my life on the friendliest footing, but another has aroused my passion, fettered my inclination. This inclination is irresistible; you do not want to make me unhappy.”
Only with difficulty did the major hide the delight that would have spread over his countenance, and he asked his son in a gently serious way, “who the person was that had been able to conquer him so entirely?”
“You must see this person, father, for she is as indescribable as she is incomprehensible. I only fear that you will yourself be carried away by her, as everybody is who comes near her. By Heaven! I shall live to see you become the rival of your son.”
“Who is she, then?” asked the major. “If you are not able to describe her personally, tell me at least about her circumstances; for these perhaps ought to be mentioned first.”
“Well, father,” replied the son; “and yet these outward circumstances too would be different in another woman, and act differently upon another person. She is a young widow, the heir of an old and wealthy husband, only recently deceased; independent, and in the highest degree worthy of being so, surrounded by many friends, beloved by just as many, and wooed by them all, yet, if I am not greatly mistaken, attached to me with all her heart.”
As the father remained silent, and betrayed no sign of disapproval, the son continued complacently to describe the conduct of the pretty widow towards him, to extol in detail that irresistible grace and those tender demonstrations of favor, in which, however, the father could only recognize the easy civility of a universally adored woman, who among many may perhaps prefer one, without altogether deciding in favor of him especially. Under any other circumstances, he would certainly have tried to call the attention of a son, or only of a friend, to the self-deception that would be likely to prevail in the matter; but on this occasion his own interest was so great in the fact that his son was not deceiving himself, and that the widow was really in love with him, and should decide as quickly as possible in his favor, that either he had no misgiving, or repelled such a doubt from himself, or perhaps only concealed it.
“You put me in great embarrassment,” began the father, after a short pause. “The whole agreement between the remaining members of our family rests on the supposition that you marry Hilaria. If she marries a stranger, then the whole of the beautifully arranged concentration of a handsome fortune will be demolished again, and you especially will not be playing your cards to the best advantage. Still there would remain an expedient, which, however, sounds a little strange, and by which you too would not gain much. I, old as I am, should have to marry Hilaria, yet by doing this I should scarcely give you any great pleasure.”
“The greatest in the world!” exclaimed the lieutenant; “for who can feel any true affection, who can enjoy or hope for the happiness of love without wishing this highest happiness for every friend, for every one who is worthy of it? You are not old, father; and is not Hilaria so amiable? And the mere passing thought of offering her your hand bears witness to a youthful heart and fresh vigor. Let us deliberate on and think out this idea, this plan, upon the spot. For I should only be really happy when I knew that you were happy. I should only be really glad when you yourself were so beautifully and richly repaid for the care which you have bestowed upon my destiny. Now, at last, I can take you with courage, confidence, and a really open heart, to my fair one. You will approve of my sentiment, because you yourself can feel. You will place no obstacle in the way of your son’s happiness, because you are going in the direction of your own.”
With these and other urgent words, the son gave his father no opportunity for the many doubts he would have insinuated, but hurried him off to the beautiful widow, whom they found in a large, well-appointed house, surrounded by a perhaps not numerous, but select party, engaged in lively conversation. She was one of those women from whom no man can escape. With incredible tact she managed to make the major the hero of the evening. The rest of the company seemed to be her own family, the major alone the guest. She knew his circumstances quite well, and yet she knew how to inquire about them, as if her wish was to hear everything from himself for the first time; and thus too the whole of the company was obliged to show some sort of sympathy with the new visitor. One must have known his brother, another his property, and a third something no matter what, so that throughout a lively conversation the major always felt himself to be the central point. He was seated, too, next to the beauty; her eyes were upon him, her smiles were directed towards him; enough, he found himself so comfortable, that he almost forgot the cause of his coming. And she too, scarcely said a single word about his son, although the young man joined in the conversation with vivacity; to her he seemed like all the rest, to be there to-day only for his father’s sake.
Ladies’ work carried on in company, and to all appearance continued with indifference, often by help of cleverness and grace acquires a great significance. If pursued without preoccupation and diligently, such employments give a beautiful woman an air of complete inattention to surrounding company, and arouse in the latter a secret dissatisfaction. But then again, as if waking up, a word, a glance, places the absent one again in the midst of the company, she seems as if newly welcomed; but if she lays down her work in her lap, pays attention to a story, to an instructive dissertation, in which gentlemen are so fond of indulging, this becomes in the highest degree flattering to whomsoever she may favor in this manner.
Our fair widow was working in this fashion at a splendid as well as tasteful letter-case, which, moreover, was remarkable for its large dimensions. This was just now being discussed by the company; it was taken up by her next neighbor, and amidst much praise handed all around the circle, whilst the fair arist herself was discussing some serious subject with the major. An old family friend praised the almost finished work with some exaggeration, yet, when it reached the major, she seemed to be about to take it from him as not worthy of his attention, whilst he, on the contrary, did not fail to acknowledge the merit of the work in the most obliging manner, and the family friend, in the meantime, fancied that he saw in it the magical handiwork of a Penelope.
The company walked to and fro in the rooms, and formed themselves into accidental groups. The lieutenant stepped up to the beauty, and asked, “What do you say to my father?”
She answered, laughingly, “It seems to me that you might well take him for a pattern. Only look how neatly he is dressed! Does he not bear himself and behave himself better than his dear son?”
So she went on to cry up and praise the father at the expense of the son, and to provoke in the young man’s heart a very mixed feeling of content and jealousy. It was not long before the son joined his father, and repeated it all again to him minutely. The father behaved with all the more friendliness towards the widow, who already adopted towards him a more lively and confidential tone. In short, it may be said that when the time for parting came, the major already belonged to her and to her circle as much as all the others.
A heavy rain which was falling prevented the company from returning home in the manner in which they had come. A few carriages drove up, into which the pedestrians were distributed; only the lieutenant, under the pretext that they were already too full, allowed his father to drive off, and remained behind.
The major, when he entered his room, felt really in a whirl of uncertainty respecting himself, as happens to those who pass quickly from one condition into an opposite one. The earth seems to move to him who disembarks from on board ship, and light still trembles before the eye of him who suddenly enters into darkness. So the major still felt himself surrounded by the presence of that beautiful being. He wished still to be seeing her, to be listening to her,—to see her again, to listen to her again; and, after some reflection, he excused his son, nay, he extolled his happiness, in that he could make some claims to possess so many attractions. From these reflections he was torn by his son, who in a passionate ecstasy rushed in at the door, embraced his father, and exclaimed, “I am the happiest man in the world!”
After these and like exclamations the two at last came to an explanation. The father observed, that the beauty in her conversation with him had not spoken a syllable about his son.
“That is just the delicate, reserved, half-silent, half-significant manner, by which one learns her wishes, and still for all that cannot quite refrain from doubt. Thus it is that she has hitherto been towards me, but your presence, father, has done wonders. I willingly confess that I remained behind in order to see her another moment. I found her pacing to and fro in her lighted rooms, for I well know that this is her usual habit; when the company has left, not a single light may be extinguished. She walks up and down alone in her enchanted halls, when the spirits whom she has convoked have departed. She allowed the pretext to pass under cover of which I had returned. She spoke gracefully, yet on common topics. We walked backwards and forwards through the open doors of the whole suite of apartments. Several times already we had reached the end, the small retreat, which is lighted only by a dim lamp. If she was beautiful when she moved beneath the lustres, she was infinitely more so when illumined by the soft radiance of the lamp. We had reached it again, and, on turning round, we stopped silent for a moment. I do not know what impelled me to the boldness, I do not know how I could venture, in the midst of the most indifferent talk, suddenly to seize her hand, to kiss that delicate hand, and to press it to my heart. It was not drawn away. ‘Heavenly being!’ I exclaimed, ‘do not hide yourself longer from me! If in this beautiful heart there is harbored any affection for the fortunate one who stands before you, do not conceal it longer, reveal it, confess it! This is the fairest and the best hour. Banish me, or take me to your arms!’ I do not know all that I said, I do not know how I behaved. But she did not withdraw, she did not resist, she did not answer. I ventured to clasp her in my arms, to ask her whether she would be mine. I kissed her wildly; she pushed me away. ‘Yes, then yes,’ or something like that she said half-aloud, and as if confused. I withdrew, exclaiming, ‘I will send my father, he shall speak for me!’
“ ‘Not a word to him about it!’ she replied, whilst she followed me a few steps. ‘Go away, forget what has happened.’ ”
What the major thought we shall not disclose. However, he said to his son: “What do you think ought to be done now? The matter, in my opinion, has been sufficiently well introduced on the spur of the moment to enable us now to set to work somewhat more formally, and to make it, perhaps, very proper that I should call to-morrow and intercede for you.”
“For God’s sake, father!” he exclaimed, “that would be to spoil the whole thing. That bearing, that tone, must not be disturbed or untuned by any kind of formality; it is enough, father, that your presence will accelerate this union, without your uttering a word. Yes, it is you to whom I owe my good fortune. The esteem of my beloved one for you has conquered every doubt, and the son would never have found so happy a moment if the father had not paved the way for it.”
They remained engaged in conversation of this kind until late in the night. They agreed mutually as to their plans. The major, only for form’s sake, wished to pay a farewell visit to the beautiful widow, and then to take steps towards his union with Hilaria; the son was to forward and expedite his as might be possible.
Our major paid a morning visit to the pretty widow to take leave, and if possible with becoming decency to further his son’s intentions. He found her in the most elegant morning toilet, in the company of an elderly lady, who at once captivated him by her highly refined and amiable presence. The grace of the younger, the dignity of the elder one, placed the two in a most admirably balanced relation; their mutual behavior also, throughout, seemed to suggest that they belonged to one another.
The younger lady seemed to have just finished a diligently-worked letter-case, already familiar to us, from yesterday; for, after the ordinary greetings and reassuring words of welcome, she turned to her friend, and handed her the work of art, as if again taking up an interrupted conversation. “So you see that I have finished it after all, though with so much delay and putting off, it scarcely looked likely that I would.”
“You come just in time, Herr Major,” said the elder lady, “to decide our dispute, or at least to declare yourself for one side or the other. I maintain that one never undertakes such a long-drawn work without thinking of some person for whom it is destined; one does not finish it without some such thought. Look yourself at this work of art, for so I can fairly call it; can anything of the kind ever be undertaken without an object?”
Our major had indeed to bestow all his approbation on the work. Partly worked, and partly embroidered, it aroused not only admiration, but also a desire to know how it was made. Colored silks predominated, but gold too was not dispensed with; one did not know whether splendor or taste was the more to be admired.
“And yet there is still something to be done to it,” replied the beauty, again untying the knot of the string that fastened it around, and busying herself with the interior. “I will not wrangle,” she continued, “but I will tell you how I am disposed towards work of this kind. As young girls, we grow accustomed to plying our fingers, and to wandering with our thoughts; both habits remain, whilst we learn by degrees to accomplish the most difficult and elegant kinds of work; and I do not deny that with every piece of work of this kind I have always associated the thoughts of persons and circumstances, and joy and sorrow. And thus what I had undertaken became valuable to me, and what I had finished, I may well say, became precious to me. As such, then, I was able to regard even the most trifling thing as something, the lightest work gained a value, and the most difficult, too, only on this account—that the recollections in this case were richer and more complete. I therefore always thought of being able to offer such kinds of work to friends and to those I loved—to worthy and distinguished persons; they, too, recognized the fact, and knew that I was offering them something of my very own, which, whilst constituting in many and indescribable ways, yet at all events, somehow or other, an acceptable gift, was always accepted graciously as a friendly compliment.”
To such an amiable confession a reply was indeed scarcely possible; yet her lady friend had the fact to add a few civil words in return. But the major, accustomed from of old to appreciate the graceful wisdom of the Roman writers and poets, and to imprint on his memory their luminous expressions, recollected a few apposite verses,* but, lest he should appear as a pedant, took care not to utter them, or even to mention them. However, in order not to seem stupid and devoid of wit, he attempted an impromptu paraphrase in prose, which, however, did not quite succeed, so that the conversation nearly came to a standstill.
The elder lady therefore seized a book that had been laid down on our friend’s entrance; it was a selection of poetry, which just before had been occupying the attention of the friends. This afforded an opportunity of speaking about poetry in general, and yet the conversation did not remain long on the general subject, for soon the ladies candidly confessed that they had been informed of the major’s poetical talent. The son, who did not hide his own claims to the honorary title of poet, had told them beforehand about his father’s poetry, and even recited some of it; in reality in order to flatter himself with a poetical descent, and, as is the case with youth, to be able to announce himself, in a modest way, as a progressive son who carried to a higher pitch his father’s capabilities. But the major, who sought to withdraw, since he only wished to pass for a man of letters and an amateur, tried, when no escape remained, at least to back out, maintaining that the kind of poetry which he certainly had practised was regarded as only a subordinate and an almost spurious sort; he could not deny having made a few attempts in the kind which is called descriptive, and, in a certain sense, didactic.
The ladies, especially the younger, were fond of this kind of poetry; she said, “When one wants to live rationally and quietly, which, in fine, is the wish and intention of every human being, what is the good of the sensational kind, that wantonly allures us without giving us anything, that unsettles us, and yet in the end abandons us to ourselves again? Yet since I cannot willingly dispense with poetry of one sort or another, infinitely more pleasant to me is that kind which transports me into cheerful regions, where I seem to recognize myself again; which brings home to my mind the sterling worth of the simply rural, carries me through leafy shades into the forest, unexpectedly commanding from a height the view of an inland lake, opposite to which perhaps cultivated hills, and then wood-crowned heights arise, whilst the blue mountains in the background form a soothing picture. If this is offered me in plain rhythm and rhyme, then on my sofa I am thankful to the poet for having evolved in my fancy a picture, in which I can enjoy more at my ease than if I saw it before my eyes after fatiguing travel, and perhaps under other unfavorable circumstances.”
The major, who in point of fact looked on the present conversation only as a means of furthering his ends, tried to turn again to the lyrical style of poetry, in which his son had really achieved something praiseworthy. They did not gainsay him directly, but they tried jokingly to get him out of the path on which he had entered, particularly as he seemed to allude to passionate pieces, in which the son, not without force and ability, had tried to bring before the incomparable lady the decided inclination of his heart.
“Lovers’ lays,” said the lady, “I care neither to have said nor sung to me; happy lovers one envies before one is aware of it, and unhappy ones we always find tedious.”
Hereupon the elder lady, turning to her charming friend, struck in and said, “Why are we proceeding so indirectly and losing time in ceremonies towards a man whom we love and honor? Ought we not to confide to him that we have already the pleasure of knowing in part his charming poem, in which he describes the sturdy passion of the chase in all its details; and ought we not to beg him now to withhold longer from us the whole of it? Your son,” she continued, “has repeated to us with vivacity a few passages from memory, and made us curious to see it as a connected whole.”
But when the father was a second time about to revert to and extol the talents of his son, the ladies would not allow this to pass, denouncing it as an evident evasion for the purpose of declining indirectly to fulfil their wishes. He was not allowed to get off until he had unconditionally promised to send the poem; but after that the conversation took a turn, which prevented him from saying anything more in favor of his son, especially as the latter had dissuaded him from all importunity.
As it now seemed to be the time to take leave, and the friend too had already made some movement to that end, the beauty said, with a sort of embarrassment, which only made her still more beautiful, at the same time carefully arranging the knot of the letter-case, which had been newly tied: “Poets and amateurs have unfortunately been long in such sort of repute, that one ought not to rely too much upon their promises and agreements; pardon me, therefore, if I venture to call in doubt the word of an honorable man, and on that account purpose, not to ask, but to give a pledge, a token of faith. Take this letter-case; it has some resemblance to your hunting-poem: many recollections are attached to it, a long time has been spent in the work, at last it is finished; avail yourself of it as a messenger, in which to bring us your pleasing work.”
The major really felt struck at such an unexpected offer; the elegant splendor of this gift had so little relation to what habitually surrounded him, to everything else that he made use of, that although offered to him, he scarcely ventured to accept it; still, he collected himself, and as some treasure of traditional lore was never lacking to his memory, a classical passage immediately occurred to his mind. However, it would have been pedantic to quote it, and yet it suggested in him a bright thought, so that then and there he was able in a neat paraphrase to tender a friendly acknowledgment, and an elegant compliment in return. And thus the scene was closed in a satisfactory manner to all the interlocutors.
So, finally, he found himself, not without embarrassment, entangled in a pleasant connection: he had promised, had pledged himself to send, to write; and if the occasion in some measure seemed unsatisfactory, still he had to esteem as a piece of good fortune the fact that he was to remain in pleasant relations with the lady who, with all her great attractions, was to be so nearly allied to him. So he took his departure, not without a certain inward satisfaction; for how should the poet not feel such an encouragement as this, when his faithful and diligent work, that had so long lain unheeded, was now quite unexpectedly receiving amiable recognition?
Immediately after his return to his quarters, the major sat down to write, to inform his good sister of everything, and then nothing was more natural than that his whole style should betray a certain exultation, such as he himself felt, and which, by the remarks of his son interrupting him from time to time, was raised to a still higher degree.
Upon the baroness this letter made a very mingled impression; for although the circumstance—through which the union of her brother with Hilaria was likely to be facilitated and hastened—was in itself calculated to satisfy her completely, still the beautiful widow somehow failed to please her, though she would not have thought of taking herself to task on that account. We will take this opportunity of making the following observation:
An enthusiasm for any one woman, ought never to be confided to another; they know each other too well to believe themselves worthy of any such exclusive homage. Men appear to them as customers in a shop, where the tradesman, who knows his wares, has the best of it, and can also avail himself of the opportunity of displaying them in the best lights; whilst, on the other hand, the buyer always enters with a kind of innocence; he stands in need of the article, desires to have it, and but very rarely understands how to look at it with the eyes of an expert. The one knows very well what he is giving, the other does not always know what he is receiving. Yet once for all this cannot be changed in human life and converse—nay, it is even as legitimate as necessary; for all coveting and wooing, all buying and bartering, depends upon it.
In consequence of this sentiment, rather than reflection, the baroness could not be entirely satisfied either with the passion of the son or with the favorable description of the father; she found herself surprised by the fortunate turn of affairs, and yet she could not banish a foreboding, on account of the double disparity of age. Hilaria seems to her too young for her brother, the widow not young enough for the son; in the meanwhile the affair has taken a course which is not likely to be checked. A pious wish that all might end well arose with a subdued sigh. To relieve her heart, she seized a pen, and wrote to that friend of hers so well acquainted with mankind,* and after a prefatory narrative, she thus continued:
“The method of this seductive widow is not unknown to me: she seems to decline all female company, and only to endure near her a woman who in no way prejudices her, who flatters her, and if her silent advantages are not sufficiently obvious, manages by words and an adroit treatment to recommend her to observation. Spectators, if sympathizers in such a performance, must be men; hence arises the necessity of enticing them and retaining them. I think no evil of the beautiful woman; she seems proper and discreet enough, but such a hankering vanity must doubtless sacrifice something to circumstances, and—what I regard as the worst—it is not all so considered and designed: a certain happy natural disposition guides and protects her, and nothing is more dangerous in a born coquette like her than an abandon resulting from innocence.”
The major, now at length arrived at his country house, devoted the day and hour to inspection and examination. He found himself in a situation to observe that a straightforward and well-grasped leading idea is in its execution subjected to manifold hindrances, and to the traversing of so many chances, to such a degree that the first idea almost vanishes, and for the moment seems to be utterly and completely lost, until in the midst of all the confusion the mind again perceives the possibility of success, when we see Time, the best ally of invincible endurance, offering us a hand.
And so too, here, there would have been the melancholy spectacle of fair and wide yet neglected possessions brought into a hopeless condition through the clever remarks of keen-witted economists, had it not at the same time been foreseen that a term of years, used with common-sense and honesty, are sufficient to reanimate what is dead, to bring into circulation what is stagnant, and so, by method and industry, to attain at last one’s end.
The good-natured Obermarschall had arrived, and with him, in fact, a grave lawyer; yet the latter caused the major less anxiety than the former, who was one of those people who have no fixed object, or, if they see one before them, decline the means of attaining it. Daily and hourly pleasure was the indispensable requirement of his life. After long hesitation, he had at last resolved in earnest to rid himself of his creditors, to shake off the burdens on his property, to put order into the confusion of his household, to enjoy without further anxieties a respectable and certain income; yet, for all that, not to discontinue even the smallest item of his previous habits.
On the whole he agreed to everything as to what his brother and sister were to pay for the undisturbed possession of the estate, and especially of the principal property; yet he would not completely forego his claims to a certain adjacent villa, to which every year on his birthday he invited his oldest friends and most recent acquaintances, nor to the ornamental gardens attached thereto that connected it with the principal building. The furniture was all to remain in the villa, the engravings on the walls; and, moreover, the fruit upon the espaliers was reserved to him. Peaches and strawberries of the most exquisite kind, pears and apples large and well-flavored, but particularly a certain kind of small gray apples, which he had been accustomed for many years to offer to the princess-dowager, were faithfully to be handed over to him. To this were added other conditions less important, but to the owner, the tenants, the overseers, and the gardeners, uncommonly burdensome.
For the rest the Obermarschall was in the best humor; for he did not relinquish the thought that all would ultimately be arranged according to his wishes, and as his sanguine temperament had anticipated; he therefore only troubled himself about a good dinner, and in an easy ride of a few hours obtained the requisite exercise, related story after story, and showed throughout a most cheerful countenance. In the same manner, too, he took his departure, thanked the major most handsomely for having treated him in such a brotherly manner, borrowed a little money, had the store of small gray apples, which this year had succeeded particularly well, carefully packed up, and with this treasure, which he intended to offer as a welcome compliment to the princess, he drove away to the dowager’s residence, where in due course he was received in a gracious and friendly manner.
The major, for his part, remained behind with totally opposite feelings, and would have been almost driven to despair at the restrictions that he found before him, if he had not been aided by that feeling which cheers and revives an active man when he has the hope of unravelling what is confused, and enjoying what has been unravelled.
Fortunately the lawyer happened to be an honest man, who, as he had a good deal else to do, soon settled the question. It was equally fortunate that a valet of the Obermarschall’s threw himself into it, and, on reasonable conditions, promised to co-operate in the affair, whereby a successful result might be hoped for. Satisfactory as this was, however, still the major, as a man of rectitude, felt, in the shifting pros and cons of this business, that satisfaction was only to be got through much that was unsatisfactory. But just as to women, the moment at which their hitherto uncontested beauty will become doubtful is in the highest degree painful, so also to men of a certain age, though still in the fulness of vigor, the faintest sense of insufficient power is extremely disagreeable, nay, in some degree painful.
Another circumstance, however, that occurred, which ought to have disturbed him, put him into the best humor. His cosmetical valet, who had not left him even during this country excursion, for some time back seemed to have struck into a fresh path, to which the major’s early rising, his daily rides and excursions, as also the admittance of many busy people—or even, during the Obermarschall’s presence, of many idle ones—seemed to compel him. For some time past he had excused the major all the small trifles, that only had a claim to engage the attention of an actor, but so much the more strictly did he hold fast to certain principal points, which hitherto had been obscured by a less important hocuspocus. He re-enforced everything which not only aimed at the appearance of health, but also was seriously supposed to maintain health itself, but particularly moderation in everything, and variety according to circumstances; attention likewise to the skin and hair, to eyebrows and teeth, to hands and nails, the most elegant form and neatest length of which this expert had long made his care. At the same time he stringently prescribed, over and over again, moderation in everything that is wont to throw a man off his balance; after which this professor of the art of beautification asked leave to go, because he could be of no further use to his master. At the same time one can imagine that he may well have wished himself back with his former patron, in order to be able to devote himself once more to the varied pleasures of a theatrical life.
And it really did the major a great deal of good to be again his own master. The sensible man needs only to keep himself under control, and he is happy. He could again freely indulge in his old exercise of riding, hunting, and of all pertaining thereto. The image of Hilaria in such solitary moments again came pleasantly forward, and he adapted himself to the condition of an engaged man—perhaps the most charming one that is allotted to us within the sphere of civilized life.
During a pause in the business that left him some liberty, he hurried to his estate, where, recollecting the promise given to the beautiful widow, which he had never forgotten, he rummaged among his poems, that were lying put away in excellent order; at the same time he put his hand on many note and memorandum-books, containing extracts from ancient and modern authors which he had read. Owing to his partiality for Horace and the Roman poets, most of them belonged to these, and it struck him that the passages chiefly expressed regrets for past time, and for a vanished state of things and feelings. Instead of many, we shall insert only the following passage:
Our friend having very soon found the hunting-poem among his well-arranged papers, he congratulated himself on the careful calligraphy, as years ago he had written it down in most elegant style, with Roman characters, in large octavo. The precious letter-case, being of considerable size, would contain the poem quite conveniently, and not often has an author seen himself so magnificently bound. A few lines on the subject were absolutely necessary; but prose was scarcely admissible. That Ovidian passage again occurred to him, and he thought he would best manage the matter by a poetical transcription, as he had on the other occasion by a prose one. It ran as follows:
With this transposition our friend did not long remain satisfied; he regretted the conversion of the beautifully inflected verb fierent into a sorry abstract substantive, and he was vexed that, in spite of all reflection, he was unable to mend the passage. Now all at once his partiality for the ancient languages awoke again, and the splendor of the German Parnassus, the heights of which, however, he was privately striving to ascend, seemed to grow dim before him.
But at last, finding that this pleasant compliment, apart from the original text, was good enough, and venturing to believe that a lady would accept it quite in good part, there arose a second source of misgiving, namely, that if one cannot be galant in verse without seeming to be in love, he would in that case, as a father-in-law about to be, be playing a strange part. The worst, however, occurred to him last. The Ovidian verses were uttered by Arachne, a lady spinner no less clever than beautiful and attractive. Now, if she through the envy of Minerva was turned into a spider, then it would be dangerous to compare even remotely a beautiful woman with a spider, and see her hovering at the centre of an outspread net. Among all the witty company which surrounded our lady, could one imagine any scholar who would have blundered into a comparison of this kind? How our friend extricated himself from such a dilemma has remained unknown to us, and we must number this case among those over which the muses slyly make bold to throw a veil. Enough, the hunting-poem itself was despatched; but about this we have to add a few words.
The reader of it is supposed to revel in a determined love of sport, and of everything that contributes to it; delightful is the succession of the seasons, which in different ways occasion and promote it. The peculiarities of all the creatures that are pursued and that one seeks to kill, the different characters of the sportsmen who devote themselves to this pleasure, to this toil, the accidents that favor or hinder it—all, especially whatever related to the winged tribe, was set forth in the best of moods, and treated with great originality. From the breeding of the grouse to the second flight of the woodcock, and from that to the building of the crow, nothing was neglected; all was well observed, clearly conceived, passionately pursued, and was lightly, playfully, and often ironically set forth.
The elegiac strain, however, sounded throughout the whole; it was treated rather as a farewell to these pleasures of life, whereby it indeed gained a pathetic touch as of a merry life spent, and had a very beneficial effect, but yet in the end, as in the case of those mottoes above cited, allowed a certain emptiness after enjoyment to be felt. Whether it was due to turning over these papers, or to a momentary indisposition, the major did not feel in a happy mood. At the diverging point at which he found himself, he seemed all at once to feel keenly that the years at first bring us one pleasant gift after the other, and then by degrees withdraw them again. A holiday put off, a summer gone without enjoyment, want of continual, habitual exercise—all caused him to feel certain bodily ailments, which he took for real evils, and showed more impatience thereat than there might seem occasion for.
The various members of the family had now been for several months without any special news of one another; the major was busy in the capital finally negotiating certain grants and confirmations appertaining to his affairs; the baroness and Hilaria bestowed their energies upon securing the gayest and richest outfit; the son, passionately devoting himself to his fair one, seemed to forget everything in that. The winter had set in, and enveloped all rural habitations in dismal rain-storms and premature gloom.
Anyone who at this time might have lost his way on a dark November night in the neighborhood of the noble castle, and seen by the feeble light of the half-veiled moon cornfields, meadows, clumps of trees, hills and underwood lying gloomily before him, and then all at once at a sharp turning round a corner have beheld in front of him the whole range of windows of an extensive edifice lit up, might well have thought that he had there fallen in with a company in festive array. Yet how would he have been astonished, when ushered up the illuminated staircase by a few servants, to see only three women—the baroness, Hilaria, and the ladies’-maid, in the lighted apartments within those bright walls, among hospitable domestic surroundings, thoroughly warm and comfortable.
Yet, since we suppose that we are surprising the baroness in a festive array, it is necessary to observe, that this splendid illumination is in this case not to be regarded as anything extraordinary, but that it is one of the peculiarities that the lady had brought with her from her earlier life. As the daughter of a lady-in-waiting, educated at court, she was wont to prefer the winter to all other seasons, and to make the display of a grand illumination the chief element of all her enjoyments. In fact there was no stint of wax candles, but one of her oldest servants had such a great delight in artificial illumination, that it was not easy for a new kind of lamp to be invented without his taking pains to introduce it into the castle, whereby surely enough the illumination gained considerably, but it also occasionally happened that here and there partial darkness was the result.
By her marriage with a distinguished landowner and eminent cultivator, the baroness, from affection and on due consideration, had changed her condition of a lady at court, and her sensible husband, when at first a country life failed to suit her, had, with the consent of his neighbors, nay, even at the injunction of the government, so much improved the roads for many miles round, that the intercommunication of the neighborhood had never been found anywhere in such a good condition; yet in this laudable improvement the principal object had really been that the lady, especially in favorable weather, might be able to drive everywhere; but in winter, on the other hand, she might remain at home with him, whilst he managed, by means of artificial light, to make night like day. After her husband’s death, her passionate solicitude for her daughter afforded her sufficient occupation, her brother’s frequent visits gratified her affection, and the habitual brightness of her surroundings gave a degree of comfort which had all the appearance of real contentment.
To-day, however, this illumination was altogether in place, for in one of the rooms we see displayed a kind of Christmas-show, attractive and resplendent to the sight. The cunning ladies’-maid had prevailed on the butler to increase the illumination, and at the same time had collected and spread out all that had been prepared beforehand for Hilaria’s marriage outfit—in point of fact with the sly purpose rather of bringing under discussion what was still wanting, than of showing off what had already been provided. All the needful things were there, made, moreover, of the finest material, and with the most elegant handiwork; neither was there any lack of fancy articles; and yet Ananetta was clever enough still to make a gap visible everywhere, where one could just as easily have found the most beautiful continuity. Whilst all sorts of under-clothing, handsomely set out, dazzled the eyes, linen, muslin, and all delicate fabrics of the kind, whatever their names might be, casting light enough around, yet all the colored silk-stuffs were missing, for the purchase of those had been wisely deferred, because, considering the very changeable fashions, it was intended to add whatever was most recent as a climax and conclusion.
After this most merry inspection, they betook themselves again to their customary but varied evening entertainment. The baroness, who knew well what makes a young lady endowed with a pleasant exterior attractive also from within, and her presence desirable wheresoever fate might lead her, had managed to introduce into these rural surroundings so many varied and instructive means of amusement, that Hilaria, young as she was, seemed at home everywhere, was not at a loss in any conversation, and yet showed herself withal quite on a level with her years. To show step by step how this had been possible, would be too long a task; enough to say, this evening also was a sample of the kind of life they had hitherto led Intellectual reading, a graceful piano recital, pretty songs, went on for some hours, pleasantly and in due order as heretofore, and yet not without a certain significance; they had in mind a third person, a beloved and honored man, to welcome whom in the heartiest manner they were practising this and much besides. It was a bridal feeling that animated Hilaria, and not her alone, with the sweetest sensations; the mother, with delicate sentiment, felt an unalloyed sympathy therein, and even Ananetta, in general only scheming and busy, was fain to abandon herself to certain distant hopes, which pictured to her fancy an absent friend as returning and present. In this manner the feelings of all three women, each of them amiable in her own way, were in harmony with the surrounding brightness, with the cheering warmth, and with the most comfortable circumstances.
A violent knocking and shouting at the outermost gate—an interchange of threatening and peremptory voices—lamp and torch-light in the courtyard—interrupted the gentle singing. Yet the noise had subsided before they had learned the cause of it, but quiet there was not: on the staircase the trample and quick discussing of men ascending. The door sprang open without any announcement; the ladies were terrified. Flavio rushed in in the most forlorn condition, with disordered head, on which the hair was partly ruffled up and partly hanging down drenched with rain; with tattered clothes, like one who has been rushing through thorns and bushes, dreadfully soiled, as if he had been wading through a mire and marsh.
“My father!” he exclaimed, “Where is my father?”
The ladies were out of their wits; the old huntsman, his earliest servant and favorite attendant, entering along with him, called out to him, “Your father is not here; calm yourself; here is your aunt, here is your cousin, see here!”
“Not here! then let me go away and find him. He alone shall hear it, and then I will die! Let me get away from the lamps, from the light of day. It dazzles me, it annihilates me.”
The house physician came in, seized his hand cautiously, feeling his pulse; several servants were standing anxiously around.
“What am I doing on these carpets? I am spoiling them, I am ruining them; my wretchedness drips down upon them, my abject destiny defiles them!”
He rushed towards the door; they took advantage of this effort to lead him away, and take him to the distant guest-chamber that his father usually occupied. Mother and daughter stood aghast; they had seen an Orestes chased by furies, not ennobled by art, but in a horrible repugnant reality, which in contrast with the comfort of a splendid dwelling in the brightest glow of waxen lights seemed only the more fearful. Terror-stricken, the women looked at one another, and each believed that she saw in the eyes of the other the picture of horror that had impressed itself so deeply on her own.
Only half herself, the baroness sent one servant after another to get information. It was some consolation to hear that he was being undressed, dried, and taken care of; that half consciously, half unwittingly, he allowed all this to be done. On repeating their inquiries, they were counselled to have patience.
At last the anxious ladies were informed that he had been bled, and in other respects every possible soothing remedy employed; he had been brought to a quiet condition, and sleep was hoped for.
Midnight arrived; the baroness asked to see him if he was asleep; the physician opposed—the physician yielded; Hilaria pressed in with her mother. The room was dimly lighted, only one candle glistened behind the green screen, there was little to be seen, nothing to be heard; the mother approached the bed, Hilaria with eager longing seized the candle and threw the light upon the sleeper. There he lay, turned away from them, but a very well-formed ear, a rounded cheek, now somewhat pale, peeped forth most gracefully among the locks that by this time curled again; a hand lying quietly, with its long, delicate, yet strong fingers, attracted the wandering glance. Hilaria, breathing gently, thought that she even perceived his gentle breathing; she brought the light nearer, like Psyche, at the risk of disturbing this most wholesome rest. The physician took the candle away and lighted the ladies to their rooms.
How these kind persons, so worthy of all sympathy, spent the hours of night, has remained a secret from us; but early the next morning they both showed themselves very impatient. There was no end to their questioning, to their desire to see the patient, proffered diffidently yet urgently; only towards midday the physician allowed a short visit.
The baroness stepped forward; Flavio extended his hand.
“Pardon, dearest aunt; only a little patience, perhaps not for long.”
Hilaria came forward; to her, too, he gave his right hand. “Welcome, dear sister.”
This went through her heart: he did not leave hold; they looked at one another, the most beauteous pair, a contrast in the finest sense. The youth’s black, flashing eyes harmonized with the dark tangled locks; she, on the other hand, stood, to all appearance divine in peace, and yet with the agitating past was now associated the present full of foreboding. That name, sister!—her inmost heart was stirred.
The baroness spoke: “How are you, dear nephew?”
“Pretty well, but they treat me badly.”
“They have bled me; it is cruel; they have carried it away, it was audacious; it does not belong to me, it is all—all hers.”
With these words his face seemed to change, but with hot tears he hid his face in the pillow.
Hilaria’s countenance betrayed to her mother a terrible expression; it was as if the dear child saw the gates of hell open before her, and for the first time looked on a monster, and forever. Swiftly, passionately, she hurried through the saloon, threw herself in the last chamber upon the sofa; her mother followed, and asked what, alas! she already perceived.
Hilaria, looking up in a strange way, cried, “The blood, the blood! it all belongs to her—all to her, and she is not worthy of it. Unhappy man! poor man!”
With these words, the bitterest storm of tears relieved the agonized heart.
Who is there that would undertake to reveal the situation that was developing itself from the foregoing scene—to bring to light the inward mischief for the women growing from this first meeting? To the patient, too, it was in the highest degree hurtful; so at least affirmed the physician, who came, it is true, often enough to impart news and to give consolation, but who felt himself in duty bound to forbid all further visiting. In this also he found a willing obedience; the daughter did not venture to ask what her mother would not have allowed, and so the order of the sensible gentleman was obeyed. But, on the other hand, he brought the welcome tidings that Flavio had asked for writing materials, and written down something, but had forthwith hidden it close by him in the bed. Curiosity was now added to their remaining restlessness and impatience; those were painful hours. After some time, however, he brought a scrap, written in a fine free hand, although hastily; it contained the following lines:
So here once again could the noble art of poetry display its healing power. Intimately associated with music, she heals all sorrows of the soul from its very depths, whilst powerfully arousing, evoking, and putting them to flight with liberating pangs. The physician had convinced himself that the youth would soon be well; sound in body, he would soon feel cheerful again, if the passion weighing upon his mind could be removed or mitigated. Hilaria meditated upon a reply; she sat down to the piano, and tried to accompany the lines of the patient with a melody. She did not succeed; nothing in her soul responded to such deep grief; yet, at this attempt, rhythm and rhyme accommodated themselves to such a degree to her ideas, that she responded to the poem with soothing cheerfulness, and taking her time, composed and worked up the following strophe:
The medical friend of the family took charge of the missive; it succeeded, the youth already replied in a moderate tone; Hilaria continued soothingly, and thus, little by little, they seemed to gain daylight and open ground once more, and perhaps we may be allowed, when occasion serves, to describe the whole course of this pleasing treatment. Enough, some time was spent most pleasantly in this sort of occupation; a quiet interview was being arranged beforehand, and the physician no longer thought it necessary to defer it.
In the meantime the baroness had busied herself in sorting and arranging old papers, and this occupation, which so completely accorded with present circumstances, acted wonderfully upon her excited spirit. She passed in review many years of her own life; deep, threatening sorrows had gone by, the reconsideration of which strengthened her courage for the present moment; particularly was she moved by the recollection of her beautiful friendship with Makaria, and indeed under trying circumstances. The excellence of that unique woman was again brought to her mind, and she at once formed the resolution of applying to her on this occasion also;* for to whom else could she express her present feelings, to whom else candidly avow her fears and hopes?
But in the midst of her researches she found amongst other things her brother’s miniature portrait, and was forced with a smile to sigh at its likeness to the son. Hilaria surprised her at this moment, possessed herself of the portrait, and she too was strangely struck with the resemblance.
Some time passed thus; at last, with the assent of the physician, and attended by him, Flavio, after having been announced, came in to breakfast. The women had been afraid of this first appearance; but as it very often happens in important, nay, in terrible moments, that something amusing, or even ridiculous, will take place, so it happened here. The son came in dressed completely in his father’s clothes; for nothing of his own suit was wearable; they had availed themselves of the major’s country and home wardrobe, which he had left in his sister’s keeping in readiness for shooting or house wear. The baroness laughed, and recovered herself; Hilaria was startled, she knew not why; at all events she turned her face away, and at this moment would give the youth neither a cordial word nor a phrase of greeting. However, in order to help the whole party out of their embarrassment, the doctor began a comparison of the two figures. The father was somewhat taller, he said, and for that reason the coat was a little too long; the son was slightly broader, and the coat therefore was too tight across the shoulders. Both differences of proportion gave a comical appearance to this disguise; yet, with these trifles, they escaped the momentary difficulty. To Hilaria, however, the likeness between the juvenile effigy of the father and the fresh living presence of the son remained discomforting—nay, oppressive.
But now we might well have wished to see the next interval of time circumstantially described by a woman’s delicate hand, since in our own style and manner we venture to occupy ourselves only with the general. For here the discourse must again be of the influence of poetic art.
Our Flavio must be credited with a certain amount of talent; but it needed only too much a passionate, sensual impulse, if it was to have any striking success; and it was on that account that almost all the poems dedicated to that irresistible woman seemed in the highest degree impressive and praiseworthy, and now, when read aloud with enthusiastic delivery in the presence of a most amiable beauty, must needs produce no little effect.
A young lady, who sees that another is loved passionately, willingly accommodates herself to the rôle of a confidante; she nourishes a secret, scarcely conscious feeling, that it would certainly not be unpleasant to see herself gently elevated to the place of the adored one. The conversation also became more and more significant. Responsive poems, such as a lover likes to compose, because, though but diffidently, he can half-and-half reply to himself, as from his fair one, what he himself wishes, and what he could hardly expect to hear from her own beautiful lips. Such poems, too, were read alternately with Hilaria, and in fact, as it could only be from the one manuscript, into which both had to look to strike in at the right time, and to this end both had to hold the little volume, it so came to pass that, sitting close together, little by little body and hand drew ever nearer, and at last, quite naturally, the contact was secretly maintained.
But amidst these sweet relations, in spite of the charming delight which they caused, Flavio felt a painful anxiety, which he concealed but ill, and longing continually for his father’s arrival, made it evident that he had to confide the most important thing to him. This secret, meanwhile, it would not have been difficult to guess with a little reflection. The charming woman, in a moment of excitement, provoked by the youth’s importunities, may have peremptorily dismissed the unhappy one, and have banished and destroyed the hope which he had hitherto obstinately cherished. We have not ventured to depict the scene in which this may have passed, from fear that the fire of youth might fail us here. In short, he had been so beside himself, that he had left the garrison in haste without leave, and in order to find his father, he had attempted in despair to reach his aunt’s country house through night, storm, and rain,—where, too, we lately saw him arrive. On the return of sober reflection, the consequences of such a step occurred vividly to him, and, as his father still remained absent, and he would have to dispense with the only possible mediation, he was unable either to compose or help himself.
How surprised and struck he therefore felt when a letter from his colonel was handed to him, the well-known seal of which he broke with hesitation and anxiety, but which, after the most friendly words, ended to the effect that the leave allowed him would be prolonged for another month.
Inexplicable as this favor seemed to him, still he felt freed thereby from a burden which began to weigh upon his mind almost more painfully than even his rejected love. He now thoroughly felt the happiness of being so well received by his amiable relations; he dared to rejoice in Hilaria’s presence, and, after a short time, recovered all the agreeable social qualities which for a time had rendered him necessary to the beautiful widow herself as well as to her circle, and which had been overclouded only by his peremptory claim to her hand forever.
In this frame of mind he could wait well enough for his father to come, and they were stimulated into an active way of life by natural events that intervened. The continuous rain, that up to this time had kept them together in the castle, pouring down in torrents, had caused the rivers everywhere to rise one after the other; dams had burst, and the region below the castle lay like a smooth lake, out of which the villages, farms, and country houses, big and little, being situated upon hills, looked for all the world like so many islands.
For such emergencies—rare enough, yet possible—people were prepared: the housewife gave her orders, the servants carried them out. After the first universal rendering of assistance, bread was baked, oxen were slaughtered, fishing-boats rowed to and fro extending help and provisions in all directions. Everything was carried out pleasantly and well, what was kindly given was gladly and thankfully received; only at one place the distributing officials of the commune were not trusted. Flavio undertook the duty, and with a well-laden boat rowed quickly and safely to the place. Transacting the simple business in a simple manner, he succeeded completely; moreover, rowing further, our youth discharged a commission which Hilaria had given him at parting. Just in the midst of these calamitous days the confinement of a woman, in whom the good child was especially interested, had taken place. Flavio found the patient, and took back home the thanks of all, and hers in particular. Amidst all this there could be no lack of things to talk of. If not one had perished, yet there was much to tell of wonderful rescues, of strange, of amusing, nay, even of ludicrous occurrences; many trying circumstances were described in an interesting manner. In short, Hilaria felt all at once an irresistible desire to make an expedition too, to congratulate the sick woman, to distribute gifts, and to spend a few pleasant hours.
After a little opposition on the part of her good mother, Hilaria’s lively determination to try the adventure at last prevailed, and we willingly admit that in the course of these events, as they became known to us, we were to some degree concerned, lest some danger might be hovering here, such as shipwreck, capsizing of the boat, or mortal peril to the fair one, and, on the youth’s part, a bold rescue, drawing still tighter the loosely-knotted bond. But of all this there was no question; the expedition went off successfully; the invalid was visited and received a present; the doctor’s company was not without a good effect; and if here or there a little obstacle was met with, if the appearance of a critical moment seemed to alarm the rowers, it nevertheless all ended in a sly joke to the effect that one said he had noticed in another an anxious air, increased embarrassment, or a timid gesture. In the meantime the mutual confidence had considerably increased; the habit of seeing each other, and of being together under all conditions, had been strengthened, and the dangerous situation—when relationship and inclination alternately assume a right to approach and take possession—became more and more critical.
And yet they were to be gracefully enticed still further and further along this path of love. The sky cleared up, and, agreeably with the season, a hard frost set in; the waters froze before they could flow away. Then to the eyes of all the aspect of the world was all at once changed; what had just been separated by the flood was now again connected by a hardened floor, and forthwith there appeared, as a desirable coadjutor, that beautiful art, which was invented in the far North, to glorify the first speedy winter days, and to give new life to the frozen. The lumber-room was opened, each sought his own marked skates, anxious, even at some risk, to be the first to cross the pure smooth expanse. Among the household there were many who were practised to the highest degree of activity; for almost every year they had this enjoyment on the neighboring lakes and connecting canals; but this time it was on a far more extensive surface.
Flavio only now felt thoroughly well, and Hilaria, who had had her uncle’s instruction from her earliest years, showed herself no less charming than energetic upon the newly-made floor. They sped about merrily, and yet more merrily, sometimes together, sometimes separately, sometimes apart, and sometimes hand-in-hand. Separation and avoidance, which in general weigh so heavily on the heart, became in this instance but small and laughable evils; they fled each other only to meet again the next moment.
Yet in the midst of this joy and gladness there moved also a world of necessity. Certain places still remained only half provided for; swiftly now did the most necessary articles speed to and fro upon bravely-drawn sledges, and, what was of still more advantage to the district, from many places that lay too far from the nearest high-road they could now quickly transport the products of farming and husbandry to the nearest depots of the towns and small boroughs, and from there bring back wares of all kinds. Thus, all at once, an ill-fated district, suffering the bitterest want, was once more rescued, once more cared for, connected as it was by a smooth surface open to the skilful and the bold.
Neither did the young couple omit, in the midst of the ruling pastime, to call to mind many duties due to kindly associations. The new mother was visited and supplied with every necessary. Others, too, were visited; old people, about whose health they were anxious; clergymen, with whom they had laudably been accustomed to keep up an edifying intercourse, and whom in this present trial they found still more worthy of esteem; small farmers, who in past times had settled down boldly enough in dangerous low-lying ground, but who this time being protected by well-built dams had remained unharmed, and after incessant alarms were doubly delighted with their escape. Every farm, every house, every family, nay, every single individual, had his story to tell; he had become to himself, and often to others also, an important personage; and so it happened that one narrator easily fell into the groove of another. Every one hurried in speaking, doing, coming and going, for there was always the danger that a sudden thaw might destroy the whole beautiful round of happy intercourse, threatening the householders, and cutting off the guests from their homes.
If the day was thus occupied in swift movement, and in the keenest interest, the evening afforded also in quite another way the pleasantest of hours; for skating has this advantage over all other bodily exercises, that in it effort does not overheat, nor long continuance fatigue. The limbs all seem to become more pliant, and every expenditure of strength to generate fresh strength, so at last a blissful, mobile state of rest comes over us, in which we are tempted to lull ourselves forever.
And so to-day our young couple could not tear themselves away from the smooth floor; each turn towards the lighted castle, where a large company was already assembled, was suddenly counter-turned, and a retreat into the distance preferred; they did not like to keep apart, for fear of losing each other; they held each other’s hand, to be sure of each being there. But sweetest of all seemed the motion when arms lay crosswise on shoulders, and dainty fingers played unconsciously in each other’s locks.
The full moon rose in the star-bespangled firmament, and completed the magic of the surroundings. They again saw each other distinctly, and mutually sought, as ever, for a response in the shaded eyes; but it seemed to be elsewhere. From the depths of their hearts a light seemed to beam forth, and betray what the mouth wisely forbore to utter; they both felt themselves in a mood of quiet joy.
All the high-growing willows and alders by the ditches, each lowly shrub on the heights and hills, had become distant; the stars glowed, the cold had increased—they felt nothing of it, and glided along the moon’s reflection, leading far into the distance straight towards the heavenly globe itself. Then they looked up, and saw in the flickering reflection a man’s form gliding to and fro, who seemed to be following his shadow, and dark himself, but surrounded by light, to be striding towards them; involuntarily they turned away; to encounter anyone would be unpleasant. They avoided the figure, that continued to move hither and thither, and seemed not to be observed. They pursued their direct path towards the castle; yet all at once their quiet composure forsook them, for the figure more than once circled round the startled couple. By chance they had reached the side in shadow; the stranger, illuminated by the full splendor of the moon, made straight towards them; he stood close in front of them—it was impossible not to recognize the father.
Hilaria, stopping short, in her surprise lost her balance and fell to the ground; Flavio at the same time dropped on one knee, and caught her head up to his breast; she hid her face, she did not know what had happened to her.
“I will fetch a sledge, there is one just passing below there; here I shall look for you again, close by these three tall alders!”
So spoke the father, and was already far off. Hilaria gathered herself up against the youth.
“Let us fly!” she exclaimed, “for this I cannot bear!”
She sped hastily towards the other side of the castle, so that Flavio was only able to overtake her with an effort; he spoke to her in the tenderest words.
It is impossible to paint the inward state of the three confused wanderers in the moonlight, now benighted on the smooth surface. Enough, they arrived at the castle late, the young couple singly, not daring to touch or approach one another, the father with the empty sledge, which, eager to assist her, he had driven fruitlessly far and wide around. Music and dancing were already proceeding: Hilaria, under the pretext of painful results from a bad fall, hid herself in her room; Flavio willingly left the first dance and the arrangement to certain young fellows, who in his absence had already taken them into their hands; the major did not put in an appearance, and thought it strange, although he was not unexpected, to find his room as if inhabited; his own clothes, linen, and articles lying about, only not in such good order as he was accustomed to. The lady of the house discharged all her duties with dignified restraint, and how glad was she when, all the guests being properly provided for, she at last had leisure for an explanation with her brother. It was soon over; but it needed time for him to recover from his surprise, to comprehend what was so unexpected, to remove doubts, to overcome anxiety. A solution of the riddle, relief to the mind, was not to be thought of at once.
Our readers are probably convinced, that from this point onward in relating our story, we must no longer proceed by depicting, but by narrating and reflecting, if we desire to penetrate the respective moods of the actors, upon which everything now depends, and render them present to our minds.
We announce therefore, in the first place, that the major, since we lost sight of him, had been devoting his time continuously to the family business, but in this, in spite of the beautiful simplicity in which it lay before him, he still met with unexpected hindrances in many details. For, in general, it is not so easy to unravel a confused condition of long standing, and to wind all the many tangled threads into one ball. As he had accordingly often to change his locality, in order to push on his business in different places and with different persons, his sister’s letters only reached him slowly and irregularly. He first heard of his son’s distracted mental condition and his illness; then he heard about a leave of absence, which he did not understand. That Hilaria’s affection was on the point of changing remained unknown to him, for how could his sister have informed him of that? Upon the news of the floods he hastened his journey, but only after the frost had set in did he arrive at the ice-fields, when he procured skates, sent servants and horses by a side-road to the castle, and setting off at a rapid pace towards it, he arrived, in a night as clear as day, just as he saw the lighted windows in the distance, in time to behold a most joyless sight, and thus had fallen into the most unpleasant complication with himself.
The transition from inner truth to outward reality is, in the contrast, always painful; and ought not love and constancy to have just the same privileges as parting and forsaking? And yet, when one person leaves another, an awful chasm is created in the soul, in which many a heart has before now perished. Indeed the illusion, so long as it lasts, has an unconquerable truth, and only manly, active spirits become elevated and strengthened by the recognition of an error. A discovery of this kind raises them above themselves; they stand elevated beyond themselves, and seeing the old road barred, look quickly round about for a new one, which they forthwith cheerfully and bravely enter on. Innumerable are the difficulties in which a man in such moments finds himself involved; innumerable also the remedies which an inventive nature is able to discover within its own powers, or, where these do not suffice, to indicate, in kindly mood, outside its own domain.
Fortunately, however, the major, without any wish or endeavor of his own, was already half-consciously in his inmost heart prepared for an event of this kind. Since he had dispensed with his cosmetic valet, to abandon himself to his natural way of life, and had ceased to make any claims in the matter of appearance, he found himself, as it were, curtailed in respect to physical enjoyment. He felt the inconvenience of a transition from a first lover to a tender father; and yet this latter part would continually press itself more and more upon him. Anxiety as to Hilaria’s fate and that of his own family was always foremost in his thoughts, whilst the feeling of love, of attachment, the desire of a still nearer presence, were only disclosed later. And when he thought of Hilaria in his arms, it was her happiness that he cherished, that he longed to procure, rather than the bliss of possessing her. Nay, if he wished purely and simple to enjoy the thought of her, he had first to remember the divinely expressed affection, he had first to think of that moment in which she had so unexpectedly devoted herself to him.
But now having, on the brightest of nights, seen before him a young couple in close conjunction, the most charming of beings swooning in the arms of the youth, neither of them heeding his promise of returning with assistance, nor waiting for him at the place which he so precisely indicated, but vanishing in the darkness, whilst he himself was left in the most dismal state of mind: who could feel all this and not in his heart despair?
The family, so accustomed to harmony, and hoping for a still closer union, kept aloof from one another in dismay. Hilaria obstinately kept her room; the major braced himself to learn from his son the previous events. The misfortune had been occasioned by a feminine caprice on the part of the beautiful widow. In order not to surrender her hitherto passionate adorer Flavio to another amiable woman, who betrayed designs upon him, she bestows on him more obvious favor than is legitimate. Excited and encouraged by this, he passionately attempts to pursue his aim to an unreasonable extent, whence at first arises opposition and disagreement; and at last a decisive rupture irrevocably puts an end to the whole connection.
To paternal indulgence nothing remains but to pity, and if possible to retrieve the errors of their children, when they have tragic consequences; but if they pass off more smoothly than was to be hoped, to pardon and to forget. After a little reflection and persuasion, then, Flavio set out for the newly-acquired possessions, to attend, instead of his father, to a number of matters, and there he was to remain until the expiration of his leave of absence, when he would again have to join his regiment, which in the meantime had been transferred to another garrison.
To the major it was a business of several days to open all the letters and packets that had accumulated at his sister’s house during his long absence. Among the rest he found a letter from his cosmetical friend, the well-preserved actor. He having been informed by the transferred valet about the major’s situation, and his intention of marrying, submitted to him, in the best of humors, the considerations that one ought to keep in sight in such undertakings; he treated the matter after his own fashion, and gave as his opinion that, for a man at a certain time of life, the surest cosmetic was to abstain from the fair sex, and to enjoy a laudable and convenient state of freedom. So the major, smiling, handed the note to his sister, jokingly, it is true, yet at the same time hinting seriously enough at the importance of its contents. Meanwhile, too, a poem had occurred to him on this occasion, the rhythmic expression of which does not immediately concern us, but of which the contents were marked by happy metaphors and elegant phraseology:
“The belated moon, still beaming chastely through the night, pales before the rising sun; the love-dream of age vanishes in the presence of passionate youth; the fir, that in the winter seems fresh and vigorous, in spring looks brown and discolored by the side of the bright-green shoots of the birch.”
However, we do not wish to give any special recommendation here either to philosophy or poetry as the decisive helpmates to a final resolution; for as a trifling circumstance may have the weightiest consequences, so also it often decides when wavering thoughts prevail, by inclining the balance to one side or the other. The major, a short time before, had lost one of his front teeth, and he was afraid of losing the other. In his present frame of mind an obvious artificial reparation was not to be thought of, and, with this defect, to woo a young sweetheart began to seem altogether humiliating to him, especially now when he found himself under the same roof with her. Earlier or later a circumstance of this kind would have had little effect, but such an accident happening just at this moment must needs be in the highest degree repugnant to any man accustomed to a sound state of health. He feels as if the keystone of his organic being were removed, and the rest of the arch were also threatening little by little to fall in by degrees.
However this might be, the major very soon spoke prudently and sensibly to his sister about a situation that seemed so confused: they had both to confess that, in point of fact, they had reached only by a roundabout way a goal quite near to that from which they had by accident, through external instigation—misled by the error of an inexperienced child—unwittingly diverged; they determined that nothing was more natural than to remain in this path, to bring about the union of the two children, and then to devote to them faithfully and constantly every paternal care that it was within their power to provide. Completely agreeing with her brother, the baroness went to Hilaria in the room. She was sitting at the piano, singing to an accompaniment of her own, and immediately, with a cheerful glance and a bow, invited the visitor, who greeted her, to listen. It was a pleasant, soothing song, which expressed in the singer a mood that could not have been wished better.
After she had finished she stood up, and before the elder lady, who was thinking, could begin her harangue, she began to speak: “Dearest mother! it was well that we were so long silent about this most important affair; I thank you for not having up to this time touched this chord; but now perhaps it is time to come to an explanation, if it so pleases you. What do you think about the matter?”
The baroness, highly delighted at the quietness and gentleness to which she found her daughter disposed, began at once a sensible retrospect of the past time, of her brother’s personal qualities and merits; she granted the impression, which the only man of worth—who had ever been so familiarly acquainted with a young girl—must necessarily make upon a free heart, and out of this feeling, instead of childlike reverence and confidence, could develop an inclination which manifested itself as love and passion. Hilaria listened attentively, and by looks and gestures of assent testified her complete agreement. The mother passed on to the son, and the girl now cast down her long eyelashes; and although the speaker did not find such praiseworthy arguments in favor of the younger man as she had managed to bring forward for the father, yet she dwelt chiefly on the similarity of the two, on the advantage that youth gave him, who, if chosen as a fully espoused companion for life, doubtless promised in time, as was reasonable, to become a complete development of his father’s character. In this, too, Hilaria seemed to think in the same way, although a somewhat more serious glance and an eye frequently downcast betrayed an emotion in this case very natural. Hereupon the conversation turned on the external, happy, and in some measure controlling, circumstances. The effected reconciliation, the handsome profit accruing for the present, the prospects that enlarged themselves in many directions, all were truthfully presented to the mind’s eye, and finally she could not fail to hint how Hilaria herself must remember that she had at an earlier time been betrothed, even if it were only in fun, to her half-grown-up cousin. From all this her mother now drew the self-evident conclusion, that with her own and the uncle’s consent, the union of the young people might now take place without delay.
Hilaria, looking and speaking calmly, replied, that she could not allow this inference to pass forthwith, and brought forward, admirably and gracefully, on the other side all that a delicate mind is sure to feel in common with her, and which we do not undertake to express in words.
Rational people, when they have devised any sensible plan as to how this or that embarrassment may be overcome, how this or that end may be attained, and for this purpose have elucidated and arranged all imaginable arguments, will feel most disagreeably surprised when those who ought to co-operate towards their own happiness are found to be of an entirely different mind, and, from motives lying deep in their hearts, oppose themselves to that which is as commendable as it is necessary. They interchanged arguments without convincing one another: the rational would not penetrate the purely sentimental, and feeling would not accommodate itself to the useful, the necessary; the conversation grew warm, the sharp edge of reason smote the already wounded heart, which now no longer in moderation but passionately revealed its own condition, so that at last the mother herself withdrew dumbfoundered before the high-mindedness and dignity of the young girl, as she put forward, with energy and truth, the indecency, nay, the criminality, of such a union.
One can imagine in what a state of confusion the baroness returned to her brother, and can probably sympathize, though, it may be, not completely, with what the major—who, flattered in his innermost soul by this decided refusal, stood before his sister satisfied and yet hopeless—gained from this defeat, and thus felt that he justified with his conscience a situation which had become to him a matter of the most delicate honor. For the moment, however, he concealed this state of mind from his sister, and hid his painful satisfaction behind the remark, in this case perfectly natural, that one must not be in too much of a hurry, but that time must be left to the poor child to enter of her own free will upon the path which had now in a certain manner become a self-evident one.
But we can yet scarcely encourage our readers to pass from these engrossing inner conditions to the external ones, upon which, however, so much now depended. Whilst the baroness allowed her daughter every opportunity of passing her time pleasantly with music and singing, with drawing and embroidery, and to read alone or amuse herself and her mother by reading aloud, the major at the commencement of spring occupied himself in setting the family affairs in order; the son, who looked upon himself as in the future a rich landowner, and—he did not in the least doubt—as the happy husband of Hilaria, now began to feel a military aspiration for renown and rank, should the threatened war break out. And so they trusted that, set at rest for the moment, they could anticipate as a certainty that this riddle—which seemed only to be implicated in one single misgiving—would soon be cleared up and resolved.
Unfortunately, however, in this seeming quietude no real satisfaction was to be found. The baroness waited day after day, but in vain, for a change in her daughter’s disposition; who modestly indeed, and but seldom, yet still, on every decisive occasion, resolutely gave them to understand that she would abide as firmly by her conviction as only one can do who has been inwardly convinced of a truth, whether it is in harmony with the surrounding world or not. The major felt a conflict within himself; he should feel himself forever injured if Hilaria should really decide for his son; yet should she decide in his own favor, he was equally convinced that he must decline her hand.
Let us pity the good man, around whom all these cares and troubles were flitting continuously like a moving cloud, sometimes as a background against which arose all the realities and occupations of the busy day, and sometimes drawing nearer, and overcasting all the present. Such a sort of wavering and reeling moved before his mind’s eyes; and though daytime peremptorily summoned him to vigorous and strenuous activity, it was in the night-watches that all these repugnant shapes, changing and changing again, danced round and round their dismal circle in his mind. These ever-returning irrepressible phantoms brought him into a condition which we might almost call despair—since action and creation, that otherwise afford the surest remedy in such circumstances, had here scarcely any mitigating, much less any healing, effect.
In this situation our friend received from an unknown hand a note, with an invitation to go to the post-office of a small neighboring town, where a traveller, passing through in haste, wished anxiously to speak to him. He, accustomed in his many business and social relations to such matters, acquiesced all the less reluctantly, inasmuch as the free, flowing handwriting seemed in some degree familiar. Quiet and collected, as was his wont, he betook himself to the indicated place, when, in the homely and almost rustic upper-room, the beautiful widow stepped towards him, prettier and more charming than he had left her. Whether it be that our imagination is not capable of retaining what is most excellent, or of realizing it again completely, or that a state of excitement had in reality given her a greater charm, it is enough to say, he actually required a double measure of self-control to hide his astonishment and confusion under the show of common politeness; he greeted her with restraint and embarrassed coldness.
“Not thus, my dearest friend!” she exclaimed. “It is by no means for this that I have summoned you to a meeting between these whitewashed walls, amidst these most ignoble surroundings; a house so meanly appointed as this does not demand such a courtly style of address. I relieve my breast of a heavy burden when I say, when I admit, that I have caused a great deal of mischief in your house.”
The major faltered and stepped back.
“I know all,” she continued, “we need no explanation; you and Hilaria, Hilaria and Flavio, your kind sister—I pity all of you.”
Speech seemed to fail her; the most lovely eyelashes could not hold back the tears that gushed forth; her cheeks reddened, she was more beautiful than ever. The worthy man stood before her in the utmost confusion; he was penetrated by an unknown emotion.
“Let us sit down,” said this most amiable creature, drying her eyes. “Forgive me, pity me! You see how I am punished.” She again held her embroidered kerchief to her eyes, and concealed how bitterly she wept.
“But, explain, gracious madam!” he said with haste.
“No more of gracious!” she replied, with a heavenly smile; “call me your friend—you have not a more faithful one; and so, my friend, I know all—I know exactly the position of the whole family, I am aware of the inclinations and sorrows of them all.”
“Who could have informed you to this extent?”
“Personal confessions. This hand cannot be strange to you.” She showed him several unfolded letters.
“My sister’s hand! Letters, several, and, to judge by the careless writing, confidential ones! Have you ever had any relations with her?”
“Not directly; but indirectly, for some time. Look here at the address. To . . . .”
“Another riddle! To Makaria, the most discreet of women.”
“But on that account, too, the confidante, the confessor of all oppressed souls, of all who have lost themselves, who wish to find themselves again, and do not know where.”
“Thank God!” he exclaimed, “that such a remedy has been found. It would not have befitted me to beg her intercession: I bless my sister for having done it; for I too know of instances in which this excellent woman, by holding up a moral magic mirror, has shown to some unfortunate or other his pure, fair inner being through the confused outward form, and, reconciling him first with himself, summoned him to a new existence.”
“This benefit she also conferred on me,” replied the beauty.
And at this moment our friend felt, and even if it was not quite clear to him, felt distinctly that from this remarkable person, otherwise wrapped up in her individual exclusiveness, there shone forth a morally beautiful, sympathizing, and consoling personality.
“I was not unhappy, but ill at ease,” she continued; “I no longer belonged properly to myself, and that, after all, is equivalent to not being happy. I no longer pleased myself; pose myself as I would before the lookingglass, it always seemed to me as if I were dressing-up for a masquerade; but since she held up the mirror before me, since I became aware how one can adorn one’s self from within, I am again well satisfied with my looks.” This she said between smiling and weeping, and was, it must be admitted, more than amiable. She seemed worthy of esteem, and worthy of a lasting, faithful attachment.
“And now, my friend, let us be brief: here are the letters; to read them, and read them again, to reflect, to prepare yourself, you would need at all events an hour—longer if you wish; then our respective positions can be determined with few words.”
She left him, to walk up and down in the garden; he now unfolded a correspondence between the baroness and Makaria, the contents of which we indicate summarily. The former complained of the beautiful widow. It is evident how one woman looks on and severely judges another. In point of fact the question is only about outward matters and about expressions, there is no reference to what is within. Then on Makaria’s part a milder judgment; the description of such a being from within outwards. The outward form appears as a result of contingencies hardly to be blamed, perhaps to be excused. Now the baroness describes the raving and madness of the son, the growing attachment of the young couple, tells of the arrival of the father, Hilaria’s determined non-compliance. Everywhere Makaria’s replies are pure impartiality, derived from the well-founded conviction, that out of all this moral improvement must ensue. Finally, she despatches the whole correspondence to the beautiful woman, whose mind, fair as heaven, is now revealed, and begins to glorify her outward being. The whole concludes with a grateful reply to Makaria.
Wilhelm to Lenardo.
“At last, dearest friend, I can say she is found, and, for your peace of mind, I may add, in a position in which nothing further remains to be wished for for her well-being. Let me speak in a general way: I am still writing from the place and spot where I have before my eyes everything of which I have to give an account.
“A domestic condition, grounded in piety, inspired and maintained by industry and order, not too narrow, not too wide, but in the happiest proportion to her capacities and powers. Around her is busy a circle of handworkers, in the purest, most primitive sense; here reign limitation and far-reaching effect, caution and moderation, innocence and activity. I have not often found myself in a pleasanter situation, over which a brighter prospect for the morrow and for the future impends. This, regarded as a whole, might well be sufficient to set every sympathizer at rest.
“I may, therefore, in remembrance of all that has been discussed between us, most urgently beg that my friend will be satisfied with general description, and at all events fill it up in his thoughts; while, on the other hand, he renounces all further inquiry, and devotes himself as energetically as possible to the great business of life, into which by this time he will probably be perfectly initiated.
“I send a duplicate of this letter to Hersilia, and the other to the Abbé,* who I presume knows most certainly where you are to be found. To this tried friend, in matters secret or open always equally to be relied on, I write something further, which he will tell you; I beg you particularly, as far as I am myself concerned, to look upon me with sympathy, and further my undertaking with pious and true good-will.”
Wilhelm to the Abbé.
“If I am not altogether mistaken, our most estimable Lenardo is at present in your midst, and I therefore send the duplicate of a letter, in order that it may be more certain to reach him. May this excellent young man, within your circle, be drawn into an uninterrupted, efficient activity, now that, as I hope, his inner being is tranquillized.
“As to myself, after a protracted and active self-effected test, I am now able to repeat still more earnestly my request, proffered through Montan long ago; the wish to complete my travel-years with more composure and steadiness becomes more and more urgent. In the confident hope that they would give heed to my representations, I have completely prepared myself, and made my plans. After the completion of the business to the advantage of my worthy friend, I may probably now be permitted to enter with fresh courage upon my further career, under the conditions already stated. As soon as I have completed one more pious pilgrimage, I intend to arrive at —. At this place I hope to find your letters, and in accordance with my inward impulse to begin afresh.”
[In the earlier edition of the “Wanderjahre” (ch. xii.) occurs a letter, which is necessary for the due understanding of what follows. In it Hersilia informs Wilhelm that the beautiful widow and Hilana—whose story, under the title of the Man of Fifty, she at the same time transmits to him—are at present travelling, and recommends him to seek them out. She continues, “To show you the way how this amiable pair may be met with on your wandering, I adopt a singular expedient. You herewith receive a little clipping of a map: when you lay this in its place on the full map of the country, the magnetic needle painted here will point with its barb to the spot whither the Desirable are moving. . . . This arrow-shaft, on the little patch of map, Hilaria herself was at the pains to draw, and to decorate with such dainty plumage: the sharp point, however, was the fair widow’s work. Have a care that it do not scratch, or perhaps pierce you. Our bargain is, that whenever you meet, be this where it may, you are forthwith to present the small shred of paper, and so be the sooner and more heartily admitted into trust.”
In the next chapter (ch. xiii.) we read, “The wanderer now tried on a large map the little fragment which had been sent him; and stood surprised, amazed, affrighted, as he saw the needle pointing straight to Mignon’s native place, to the houses where she had lived. What his peculiar feelings were, we do not find declared; but whoever can bring back to memory the end of the ‘Apprenticeship,’ will in his own heart and mind, without difficulty, call forth the like.”* —Ed.]
After our friend had despatched the above letters, he went wandering on through many a neighboring mountain-range, farther and farther, until the glorious lowland opened out before him, where, ere the beginning of a new life, he purposed to bring so much to completion. He here fell in unexpectedly with a young and lively travelling companion, who was destined to prove in many ways conducive to his aims and his enjoyment. He finds himself in the company of a painter, who, like many of the same sort in the real world, and many more who pervade and haunt novels and dramas, this time turned out to be an excellent artist. The two soon suit each other, and mutually confide their inclinations, aims and plans; and it now comes out that the clever artist, who was skilled in executing water-color landscapes with finely-conceived, well-drawn, and well-finished figures, was passionately interested in the fate, form, and character of Mignon. He had already represented her often, and was now undertaking a journey to draw from nature the surroundings amidst which she had lived, and to represent here the amiable child in her happy and unhappy surroundings and moods, and thus to summon her image, which lives in all tender hearts, before the sense of sight as well.
The friends soon arrived at the great lake.* Wilhelm endeavors to find out, one by one, the places which had been indicated to him. Splendid villas, extensive monasteries, ferries, creeks, capes, and landing-places were sought out, and the habitations of the bold and good-humored fishermen were no more neglected than the cheerful little towns built on the shore, and the castles on the neighboring hills. All this the artist is able to grasp and harmonize through light and color with the mental mood which their story in every case evoked, so that Wilhelm spent his days and hours in absorbing emotion.
On several sheets Mignon was represented in the foreground as she loved and lived, whilst Wilhelm was able to assist the happy imagination of his friend by exact description, and to reduce the more general idea into the narrower limits of individuality. And thus one beheld the boy-girl presented in all manner of positions and meanings. She stood beneath the lofty portico of the splendid villa, thoughtfully contemplating the statues in the hall. Here she was rocking herself and splashing in the boat fastened to the bank, there she was climbing the mast, and showing herself a bold sailor.
Yet one painting there was that excelled all the others, which the artist on his journey hither, before he met Wilhelm, had conceived with every characteristic lineament. In the midst of a rude mountain-tract the graceful feigned-boy shines forth, surrounded by precipitous rocks, besprinkled by waterfalls, amongst a troop of people difficult to describe. Never, perhaps, has an overawing and rugged primeval mountain-chasm been represented in a more charming or more impressive manner. The motley, gypsy-like company, rude and fantastic at the same time, strange and mean, too extravagant to inspire fear, too uncommon to awaken confidence. Strong pack-horses, now along winding-paths, now down steps hewn in the rock, slowly bring down a motley and miscellaneous assortment of baggage, among which a whole collection of instruments of noisy music, dangling and clattering about from time to time, molest the ear with discordant tones. In the midst of all this the amiable child, absorbed in herself, without disdain—unwilling, yet unresisting—taken, yet not forced away. Who would not have been pleased with so remarkable and complete a picture? The grim proximity of these rocky masses, the black chasms cutting through all, was powerfully characteristic, towering together, and threatening to prevent all exit, had not a bold bridge pointed to the possibility of effecting communication with the outer world. The artist, too, with a truly poetical sense of reality, had made discernible a cave, that might have been taken for nature’s own factory of mighty crystals, or the abode of a fabulous and terrible dragon’s brood.
Not without a holy shudder did the friends visit the palace of the marquis; the old man had not as yet returned from his journey; but in this locality also—since they knew how to ingratiate themselves with the spiritual and civil authorities—they were received and treated kindly. Wilhelm, however, found the absence of the master of the house very agreeable; for although he would have liked to see the worthy man again, and heartily greet him, still he felt afraid of his grateful liberality, and indeed of any compulsory acknowledgment of that true and loving service for which he had already received the most delicate return.
And thus in graceful skiffs the friends were drifted from shore to shore, crossing the lake in every direction. In this, the fairest season of the year, neither sunrise nor sunset escaped them, nor any of those thousand hues with which the heavenly light lavishly overspreads its firmament, and lake and earth therefrom, and only fully glorifies itself in its own reflection.
A luxuriant vegetation, sown broadcast by nature, tended and fostered by art, surrounded them on every side. The first chestnut forests had already bidden them welcome, and now they could not refrain from a melancholy smile, when, resting beneath cypresses, they beheld the laurel growing, the pomegranate reddening, oranges and lemons unfolding their buds, whilst fruit at the same time glowed forth from the dusky foliage.
By the help of his cheerful companion there arose even a fresh delight for Wilhelm. Nature had not given our old acquaintance a painter’s eye. Susceptible to visible beauty only in human form, he suddenly found that, through a friend of like disposition, but framed for quite other enjoyments and activities, the world around was opened up to him.
In verbal remarks on the changing glories of the country, but still more by a concentrated imitation, his eyes were opened, and he was relieved from all the doubts that he had hitherto obstinately cherished. The representations of Italian landscapes had always seemed suspicious to him; the sky seemed to him too blue, the violet tints of enchanting distances surpassingly lovely, it might be, yet untrue; and the many shades of bright green too variegated; but now, from his inmost mind, he identified himself with his new friend, and, susceptible as he was, learned to look at the world with his eyes, and whilst nature disclosed the open secret of her beauty, he was fain to feel an unconquerable longing after art as her most worthy exponent.
But quite unexpectedly his friend the painter showed himself to him from a different side: he had many a time struck up a merry song, and thereby enlivened and solaced the quiet hours of their lake-voyages far and wide; but now it happened that, in one of the palaces, he found a peculiar kind of stringed instrument, a lute, of small dimensions, strong, of good tone, convenient and portable; he was able to tune the instrument at once, and to handle it so happily and agreeably, and to amuse his hearers so well, that, like another Orpheus, he softened the otherwise severe and dry custodian of the castle, and compelled him in a kindly way to intrust the instrument to the singer for a time, on condition that he would faithfully return the same before his departure, and also in the interval would come now and then on a Sunday or holiday and entertain the family.
Lake and shore were now enlivened in quite a different way. Boats and skiffs would court their neighborhood, even freight and market-boats lingered near them, rows of people gathered on the shore. On landing, they saw themselves at once surrounded by a merry crowd; when they put off, everybody blessed them, contented, yet with a sense of longing.
Now a third person, observing the friends, could easily have seen that the mission of both was in point of fact at an end; all the scenes and localities relating to Mignon had been drawn, some put in in light shade and color, and some faithfully copied in the hot hours of the day. To accomplish this, they had in a peculiar fashion been moving from place to place, for Wilhelm’s vow was often a hindrance to them; yet they occasionally managed to avoid it by the excuse that it only held good on land, and was not applicable on the water.
Wilhelm, too, felt himself that their real intention had been attained, but he could not deny to himself that the wish to see Hilaria and the beautiful widow had still to be satisfied, if he was to leave this region with his mind at ease. His friend, to whom he had confided the story, was not less curious, and already congratulated himself in remembering a splendid position still vacant and unassigned in one of his drawings, which he proposed to fill up artistically with the forms of such charming persons.
They now set out on expeditions here and there and everywhere, watching the points at which a stranger is accustomed to enter this paradise. They had acquainted their boatmen with their hope of seeing friends here, and it was no long time before they saw gliding towards them a finely ornamented stateboat, to which they gave chase, and did not refrain from ardently capturing at once. The ladies, somewhat astonished, recovered at once, when Wilhelm showed them the small piece of paper, and both without hesitation recognized the arrow that had been drawn by themselves on the top. The friends were soon confidently invited to mount into the ladies’ boat, which was quickly done.
And now let anyone picture to himself the four as they sit opposite to one another, in the loveliest retreat, in a world of bliss, fanned by soft air-breath, rocked to and fro on shining waves. Let us fancy to ourselves the two ladies, as we have seen them but recently described; the two men, with whom for weeks we have been leading a common life of travel: and we see them, after brief consideration, together in the most charming although most dangerous situation. For the three who already, willingly or unwillingly, have numbered themselves amongst the Renunciants, we need not fear the worst; the fourth, however, might only too soon see himself received into that order.
After they had several times crossed the lake, and pointed out the most interesting localities both of the shore and of the islands, the ladies were taken towards the place where they were to pass the night, and where an able guide, who had been engaged for this tour, managed to provide all desirable comforts. Under these circumstances, Wilhelm’s vow became a suitable albeit an inconvenient kind of master of the ceremonies; for at this very station the friends had recently spent three days, and exhausted everything noteworthy in the neighborhood. The artist, who was not hampered by any pledge, was about to beg permission to accompany the ladies on shore, but they declined it, for which reason they parted company at a little distance from the landing-place.
Hardly had the minstrel sprung into his boat and put off hastily from the shore, when he seized his lute, and began charmingly to sing that strangely plaintive song that the Venetian gondoliers are wont to make resound from shore to lagoon, from lagoon to shore. Sufficiently practised in such exercise, in which on this occasion he succeeded with singular tenderness and expression, he proportionately strengthened his tone with the increasing distance, so that on the shore one fancied that the departing singer was heard continuously from the same distance. At last he laid down the lute, trusting to his voice alone, and had the pleasure of observing that the ladies, instead of withdrawing into the house, preferred to linger on the shore. He felt so inspired that he could not leave off, even when night and distance at last veiled the sight of every object; until at last his calmer friend made him observe, that even if darkness favored the sound, yet the boat had long passed the circle within which it could have any effect. According to appointment, the next day they again met on the open lake. As they glided along they familiarized themselves with the beautiful series of remarkably situated prospects sometimes to be seen in one row, sometimes hiding one another, which, doubling themselves, as it were, in the water, afford to the passers on the bank the most varied kind of pleasure. At the same time the artistic imitations allowed one to suspect and suppose on the paper, what during the day’s voyage one had failed to see immediately. For all this the quiet Hilaria seemed to possess a ready and beautiful appreciation.
But now towards noon the marvellous appeared again; the ladies landed alone, the men cruised in front of the harbor. The singer now attempted to adapt his delivery to such a degree of proximity, that some sort of happy effect might be hoped for, not simply from a tender and quickly modulated ordinary tone of longing, but from cheerful alluring importunity. Thus it happened that ofttimes one or other of those songs, for which we are indebted to the beloved persons of the Apprenticeship, would hover about the strings and lips; still, he restrained himself from a well-meant sense of forbearance, of which he himself stood in need, and revelled rather in foreign images and feelings, to the advantage of his performance, which thereby became all the more winning. The two friends, blockading the port in this manner, would probably not have thought of eating or drinking, if their thoughtful lady-friends had not sent over a few dainty dishes, which, with a draught of choice wine that accompanied them, were relished to the utmost.
Every separation, every limitation which obstructs our germinating passions, sharpens instead of subduing them; and this time too, it may be supposed, that the short absence only awakened a similar longing on both sides. At all events, the ladies in their dazzlingly gay gondola were very soon seen to approach again. The term gondola, however, must not here be taken in its melancholy Venetian sense; here it denotes a joyous, convenient, pleasant bark, that, had our small circle been doubled, would still have proved sufficiently capacious.
In this peculiar way, between meeting and parting, separating and remaining together, several days were spent; in the enjoyment of the most cheerful society, separation and renunciation hovered ever before the agitated soul.
In the presence of the new friends the older ones were recalled to mind: if the new ones were missed, it must be confessed that they too had succeeded in establishing strong claims to remembrance. Only a self-possessed, tried spirit like our beautiful widow could, at such a juncture, fully maintain her balance of mind. Hilaria’s heart was too deeply wounded for it to have been capable of receiving a fresh and pure impression; but when the charm of a glorious country soothingly surrounds us, when the tenderness of sympathetic friends works upon us, then does something quite singular come over our mind and sense, which, as in a dream, recalls to us the past, the absent, and spirits away the present, as if it were but a phantom. And so, rocked alternately backwards and forwards, attracted and sundered, brought nearer together and farther apart, they ebbed and flowed for several days.
Without scrutinizing these relations more closely, the clever and experienced guide thought that he observed some alteration in the hitherto restful demeanor of his heroines; and when at last the whim-fostering condition of affairs was evident to him, he was able to remedy it in the pleasantest possible way. For just as the ladies were about to be taken back again to the spot where their meal would be made ready for them, they were encountered by another gayly-decked vessel, which, coming alongside theirs, invitingly displayed a well-spread table, with all the luxuries of a festive meal. They could now outwait together the lapse of several hours, and night only decreed the inevitable parting.
Fortunately the two male friends on their earlier expeditions had, from a certain natural whim, neglected to visit the very island that was the most beautiful of all, and had not even now thought of showing their lady friends the treasures preserved there—which were by no means in the best condition—until the glorious world of beauty had been completely exhausted. But at last a different light dawned upon them. The guide was taken into their confidence. He managed to expedite this excursion at once, and they looked forward to it as a most blissful one. Now might they hope and expect, after so many interrupted pleasures, to spend three whole heavenly days, brought together in one secluded domain.
Here we must give special commendation to the guide: he was one of those active, industrious experts, who in conducting different parties of gentlefolk often traverse the same roads: perfectly well acquainted with all comforts and discomforts, they know how to avail themselves of the former and how to avoid the latter, and without neglect of their own interests are capable of guiding their patrons through the country more cheaply and satisfactorily than would be the case if the latter depended on themselves.
At the same time a lively company of female attendants on the ladies came for the first time effectively and industriously to the front, so that the beautiful widow could now make it a condition that the two friends should remain as her guests, and content themselves with modest entertainment. In this matter, too, everything turned out most favorably; for their clever manager had on this occasion, as on others before, managed to make such a discreet use of their letters of recommendation and credit, that, in the owner’s absence, castle and garden, and kitchen no less, were open for use at their discretion, and even some prospect of the cellar was left. Everything fell together so harmoniously, that from the first moment they must fain feel as much at home as the native lords of this paradise.
The collective baggage of all our travellers was forthwith brought to the island—a source of great comfort to the party—but the greatest advantage thereby attained was that, all the portfolios of our excellent artist being for the first time collected together, he had an opportunity of making present to the fair ladies in unbroken sequence the route that he had taken. They took up his work with delight—not as amateurs and artists mutually eulogize each other; in this case an excellent man received the most sympathetic, the most appreciative applause. But, that we may not incur the suspicion of only wishing, in general phrases, to palm off on credulous readers what we cannot lay before them, let us set down here the verdict of an expert, who several years later lingered admiringly over the works in question, as well as others of equal and similar merit.
“He succeeds in representing the cheerful repose of calm lake-prospects, where habitations in friendly nearness, mirrored in the clear flood, appear as it were to bathe within it; shores girt with green-clad hills, behind which mountains of forest and icy glacier-peaks rear themselves. The color-tone of such scenes is cheerful, joyously clear; the distances, as it were, diffused with mellowing vapor, which mounts in gray and enwrapping mist from torrents in chasm and valley, and indicates their winding courses. No less is the master’s art to be praised in views from valleys lying nearer to the mountain heights, where luxuriously clothed hill-sides slope down, and fresh streams rush swiftly on at the foot of the rocks.
“He is exceedingly clever at indicating satisfactorily, in the wide-spreading trees of the foreground, the differing character of the various sorts, as much in the form of the whole as in the lay of the branches and the several portions of the leaves; not less in the fresh many-shaded foliage in which soft breezes seem to fan with gentle breath, and the flickering lights to be moved thereby.
“In the middle distance the fresh green tone fades gradually away, and mingles itself in the pale violet of distant mountain heights with the blue of the sky. But above all our artist succeeds in representations of higher Alpine regions; the simple grandeur and repose of their character, the pastures spread out on the slope of the mountains, clad with the freshest green, where dark solitary firs stand out from the turfy carpet, and foaming torrents hurl themselves from the lofty rocky walls. Whether he peoples the pastures with grazing kine, or the narrow mountain-path that winds around the rocks with laden baggage-horses and mules, he indicates all with equal truth and talent; always introduced in the proper place and in not too great a number, they heighten and enliven these pictures, without destroying or even lessening their peaceful loneliness. The execution bears witness to the boldness of a master-hand—easy, with a few confident strokes, and yet complete. Later he was accustomed to employ brilliant English permanent colors on paper, consequently these pictures are especially bright in color, cheerful, but at the same time strong and solid.
“His pictures of deep rocky ravines, where, all around, naught but dead stone confronts us, and the wild torrent, boldly o’er-spanned by bridges, hurls itself into the chasm, do not, it is true, please us like the preceding, yet their truthfulness takes hold upon us; we marvel at the grand effect of the whole, brought out at the least expenditure, by a few significant touches, and masses of local color.
“He knows how to represent no less characteristically the high mountain districts, where neither tree nor shrub is any longer found, but only sunny patches, covered with tender grass, between rocky crags and snow-covered summits. But beautifully in their hazy green, and invitingly as he has colored these spots, yet he has rightly omitted to people them with pasturing flocks, for such tracts afford only fodder to the chamois and a dangerous booty to the wild-haymen.”
We shall not go beyond the object of bringing the condition of such wild districts as near to our readers as possible if we briefly explain the expression, “wild-haymen,” of which we have just made use. By it are indicated the poorer dwellers in the uplands, who make it their business to make hay upon the grassy slopes which are utterly inaccessible to cattle. For this purpose they climb, with clamps on their feet, the steepest and most perilous cliffs, or, when it is necessary, let themselves down with ropes from rocky heights to the grassy plots described. When they have cut the grass, and it is dried into hay, they cast it from the mountain heights into the deep valley below, where it is again collected and sold to the owners of cattle, who willingly buy it on account of its excellent quality.
These pictures, which must indeed have pleased and attracted everyone, were regarded by Hilaria especially with great attention. Her remarks showed that she was herself no stranger to this pursuit; and from the artist least of all did this remain concealed, for by no one had he seen himself better appreciated than by this most charming of all people. Her elder friend, therefore, was no longer silent, but blamed Hilaria for hesitating now as always to come forward with her own accomplishment. It was not a question now of being praised or blamed, but of learning; a more favorable opportunity would perhaps never be found again.
Now, for the first time, when she was compelled to produce her sketches, it became manifest what talent lay hidden behind this quiet, most attractive personality. Her capacity was inborn, fostered by diligent practice. She possessed a true eye, and a delicate hand, such as fits women in their ordinary ornamental and fancy-work for higher kinds of art. A certain unsteadiness in the strokes was indeed noticeable, and consequently a not sufficiently-marked character in the subjects; but one was quite enough surprised at the great industry shown in the execution, although the whole was not grasped in the most advantageous manner, nor quite artistically composed. It seemed as if she were afraid of desecrating the subject, unless she kept quite faithfully to it; consequently she is strained, and loses herself in detail.
Now, however, by the help of the great unfettered talent, the bold hand of the artist, she feels herself aroused, and whatever perception and taste was truly slumbering within her awakened. She perceives that she has only to take courage, and follow earnestly and literally certain axioms which the artist had commended to her, at the same time urging them thoroughly and in a kindly manner. Sureness of stroke is acquired; she gradually pays less attention to the parts than to the whole, and thus the fairest capacity develops unwittingly into ability; as a rosebud which in the evening we heedlessly pass by, on the morrow bursts forth with the sunrise before our eyes, so that we imagine that we can see with our very eyes the living tremulousness that the glorious apparition gives forth towards the light.
Such æsthetic cultivation, too, did not rest without moral result; for a perception of the deepest gratitude towards anyone to whom we are indebted for any decided instruction makes a magical impression on a pure soul. On this occasion it was the first joyous feeling that had arisen in Hilaria’s heart for a considerable time. To see the glorious world before her the first time for so many days, and now to feel the gift of more perfectly representing it suddenly acquired! What delight to approach in lines and colors more near to the inexpressible! She felt herself surprised with new youth, and could not withhold a special kindliness from the man to whom she owed this happiness.
So they were sitting by one another: it would have been difficult to say whether he were the quicker in imparting artistic gains or she in grasping and exercising them. The happiest rivalry, such as is seldom kindled between scholar and master, arose. Many a time the friend seemed to wish to modify her drawing with some decisive stroke, but she, gently declining, hastened to do at once what he wanted or what was necessary, and always in such a way as to astonish him.
The lovely widow in the meanwhile was walking with Wilhelm beneath cypresses and pines along terraces trellised now with vines, now with orange-trees, and at length could not refrain from satisfying the gently expressed wish of her new friend. She was fain to declare to him the wonderful straits through which two friends, severed from former ties, and closely drawn towards each other, had been sent out into the world.
Wilhelm, who was not wanting in the gift of taking accurate note of things, afterwards wrote out the melancholy story, and we purpose presently to impart it to our readers as he compiled it, and sent it to Natalia through Hersilia.
The last evening was now come, and a brilliantly clear full-moon made imperceptible the transition from day to night. The party had seated themselves together upon one of the highest terraces in order to look completely and clearly across the breadth of the quiet lake, with the shining lights on all sides again reflected from it, though its full length was in part concealed.
Whatever in such circumstances might be talked of, it was impossible not to notice what has been noticed hundreds of times; once more to tell the beauties of this sky, this water, this world, under the influence of a powerful sun, a gentle moon—nay, to recognize them in an exclusive and lyric sense.
But what was not confessed, what they would scarce acknowledge to themselves, was that deeply painful feeling that thrilled in each bosom; more or less strongly it may be, yet alike true and tender in all. The foreboding of separation spread over the whole party; a gradually increasing silence was becoming almost painful.
Then did the singer man himself, and make up his mind; as he preluded powerfully upon his instrument, he was unmindful of the forbearance previously so well observed. Before him hovered the image of Mignon, with the first tender song of the sweet child. Borne beyond limits in his emotion, and awaking the tuneful strings with passionate touch, he began to chant,
“Know’st thou the land where the fair citron blows?”*
Hilaria suddenly moved, stood up, and moved away, veiling her brow; our lovely widow moved one hand warningly towards the singer, whilst she grasped Wilhelm’s arm with the other. The youth, really distracted, followed Hilaria; her more self-possessed friend drew Wilhelm quietly behind the two. And now, as all four stood opposite each other in full moonlight, the general emotion could no longer be hidden. The ladies threw themselves into each others’ arms, the men embraced each other, and Luna was witness to the noblest and chastest tears. At last some composure slowly returned. They disengaged themselves in silence, with strange feelings and wishes, from which, however, hope was already dissevered. And now our artist, whom his friend drew away with him, beneath the high heavens in the solemn kindly hours of night, felt himself initiated in all the pains of the first grade of the Renunciants, which those friends had already passed, though they now saw themselves in danger of being again put painfully to the proof.
It was late when the young men betook themselves to rest, and awaking betimes in the early morning, they took heart, believing themselves strong enough for a farewell to this Paradise; and devising many plans as to how they might at all events make it possible, without violation of duty, to linger in this pleasant neighborhood.
They were thinking of bringing their projects to this end into effect, when they were astonished by the news that the ladies had already departed at the first appearance of daylight. A letter in the handwriting of our Queen of Hearts told them the rest. It was doubtful whether common-sense or goodness, affection or friendship, recognition of merit or gentle, bashful partiality was most expressed therein. Unhappily the conclusion contained the hard condition, that they should neither follow the two friends, nor seek them out anywhere—nay, if they should meet accidentally, that they should faithfully avoid each other.
Now was this Paradise converted, as if by a stroke of magic, into a complete desert for the two friends; and assuredly they would have laughed themselves, if it had been clear to them at the moment, how wrongly and thanklessly they were, all at once, disposed towards such beautiful and remarkable surroundings. No self-seeking hypochondriac would so keenly and enviously have resented and abused the ruin of the buildings, the dilapidation of the walls, the storm-beaten towers, the grassy growth on the walks, the decay of the trees, the mossy mouldering of the artificial grottoes, and aught else of the same sort that was noticeable. Meanwhile they recovered themselves as well as was possible; our artist carefully packed up his work, and the two got on board their boat. Wilhelm accompanied him to the upper portion of the lake, whence the other, according to previous arrangement, started on his way to Natalia, to transport her, by the aid of his beautiful landscapes, into regions which probably she would not soon visit. At the same time he was authorized to narrate, in confessing the unexpected incident, how he had come into a position to be received most cordially by the guild-brethren of Renunciation, and by kindly treatment to be, if not healed, at any rate comforted.
Lenardo to Wilhelm.
“Your letter, my dearest friend, found me in a state of activity, which I might call confusion if the end were not so great, and its attainment so sure. The association with your friends is of more importance than either side could imagine. I dare not begin to write about it, because it is at once obvious how unfathomable the whole is, how unspeakable the union. Doing, without talking, must now be our watchword. A thousand thanks for showing me, half-veiled in the distance, so charming a secret. I congratulate the good creature on a situation of such simple happiness, whilst a whirlpool of complications, though not without a guiding star, will drive me round and round. The abbé undertakes to tell you the rest. I must think only of what presses: longing vanishes in doing and effecting. You have—but no more now, where there is enough to do, there remains no room for reflection.”
The Abbé to Wilhelm
“A little more, and your well-meant letter—quite in opposition to your intention—would have been highly detrimental to us. The picture of the refound one is so genial and charming, that our wonderful friend would probably have thrown up everything in order to seek her out at once, if our now concerted plans had not been so great and far-reaching. But he has now withstood the trial, and it is well assured that he is fully penetrated by the importance of the matter, and feels himself drawn away from everything else, and to this end alone.
“In this our new relationship, for the introduction of which we have to thank you, have appeared, on closer inquiry, far greater advantages for him, as well as for us, than one would have thought. For it happens that through a region less favored by nature, where a part of the property which his uncle cedes to him is situate, a canal has been recently projected, which will also pass through our property, the value of which, if we are associated together, is inestimably increased.
“In this he can very conveniently develop his chief desire, to begin quite at the beginning. On both sides of this canal plenty of untilled and uninhabited land will be found. There spinners and weavers may settle, masons, carpenters, and blacksmiths may erect modest workshops for them and for themselves; all may be done at first-hand, whilst we others undertake to solve complicated problems and manage to further the round of industry.
“This, then, is our friend’s first task. From the mountains, complaints after complaints reach us of the want of means of subsistence that prevails there: these districts are also said to be over-peopled. There he will look round about, judge of people and of circumstances, and the really active ones, those useful to themselves and to others, he will take away in our train.
“Further, I have to report of Lothario, that he is preparing the complete consummation. He has undertaken a journey to the Pedagogues, to ask for skilled artisans, though only a very few. The arts are the salt of the earth; as this substance is to food, so are they related to technical work. We borrow nothing more from art, but the result that handiwork shall not be insipid.
“A permanent connection with this training institution will, on the whole, be very useful and necessary to us. We must be doing, and cannot think about forming, but to draw the ready-formed to us in our highest duty.
“Thousands of considerations here suggest themselves: allow me, after our old fashion, only one more general remark, occasioned by a passage in your letter to Lenardo. We do not wish to deprive domestic piety of its due commendation; upon it is founded the security of the individual, upon which fortitude and dignity may ultimately repose. But it extends no further; we must grasp the notion of a universal piety, send forth to the world our honestly human dispositions, in a practical shape, and not only help our neighbors, but at the same time take up the whole of humanity.
“And now, to refer at last to your request, I say thus much: Montan has duly reported it to us. The strange man would not on any account declare what you actually had in view; yet he pledged the word of a friend that it was reasonable, and if it should succeed, would be highly advantageous to the society. And so you are forgiven for likewise making a secret of it in your letter. In short, you are freed from all restrictions, as you should already have been informed, if your address had been known to us. Therefore, in the name of all, I repeat: your object, although undeclared, is approved, in confidence in Montan and you. Travel, stop, move about, or linger; whatever answers your purpose will be right. May you make yourself the most necessary link of our chain!
“I enclose at the end a little table, from which you will discover the movable centre of our communications. You will find therein displayed before your eyes, whither at each season you have to send your letters. We should like best to have them sent by trustworthy messengers, who are indicated to you sufficiently at several places. In the same way you will find it shown by symbols where you have to seek out one or the other of our friends.”
But at this point we find occasion to announce a pause to the reader, and one in fact of several years, on which account we should have liked, had it been reconcilable with typographical arrangements, to conclude a volume at this place.
Yet the space between two chapters will amply suffice for us to carry ourselves across the measure of time mentioned, as we have long been accustomed to allow of, between the falling and rising of the curtain in our own presence.
In this second book we have seen the circumstances of our old friends advanced in a remarkable manner, and at the same time we have gained fresh acquaintances; the prospects are such, that it is to be hoped that each and all, if they know how to take their place in life, will completely gain their wishes. Let us then expect soon to find them again, one after the other, interweaving and disengaging themselves upon trodden and untrodden paths.
If we now seek out our friend again—for some time left to his own resources, we shall find him as he comes hither from the side of the level country into the Pedagogic province. He comes across pastures and meadows, skirts on the dry down many a small lake, looks on bushy rather than wooded hills; on all sides a free prospect over a land but little tilled. On such tracks it did not long remain doubtful that he was in the horse-breeding district, and he noticed here and there smaller and larger herds of these noble beasts of different sex and age. But all at once the horizon is covered with a fearful dust-cloud, which rapidly looming nearer and nearer, completely conceals the whole breadth of the space, but at last parted by a keen side-wind is forced to disclose the tumult inside it.
A large body of the said noble beasts rushes forward in full gallop; they are guided and kept together by keepers on horseback. The tremendous hurly-burly rushes past the traveller; a fine boy, amongst the keepers in charge, looks at him in astonishment, pulls up, jumps off, and embraces his father.
Now questioning and explanation ensue. The son relates that he had had to put up with a good deal during the first probation time; dispensing with his horse, and going about on foot over ploughed lands and meadows, and, as he had declared beforehand, had not shown himself to advantage in the quiet toilsome country life. The harvest-feast had pleased him well enough; but the tillage afterwards, the ploughing, digging, and waiting, not at all. He had certainly occupied himself with the necessary and useful domestic animals, but always lazily and discontentedly until he was at last promoted to the more lively business of riding. The occupation of looking after the mares and foals was tedious enough; meanwhile, if one sees before one a lively little beast, that in three or four years’ time will perhaps carry one about, it is quite a different sort of thing from troubling one’s self about calves and sucking pigs, of which the end and aim is to be well fed and fattened, and then sold.
With the growth of his boy, who was now really reaching youth’s estate, with his healthy condition, and a certain merry freedom, not to say cleverness, in his talk, his father had good reason to be content. The two now proceeded to follow quickly on horseback the speeding convoy, past remote-lying and extensive farms to the village or country town where the great market was held. There incredible confusion was in full career, and it was impossible to distinguish whether the wares or the merchants raised the more dust. From all countries would-be purchasers here meet together in order to acquire animals of fine breed and careful rearing; and one might think that one heard all the tongues of the earth. In the midst of it all, too, sounds the lively music of the most powerful wind instruments, and everything indicates movement, vigor, and life.
Our traveller now again meets the overseer already known to him of old, and falls in company with other clever men, who manage quietly and no less unnoticeably to maintain discipline and order. Wilhelm believing that here again he sees an instance of exclusive occupation, and in spite of its seeming breadth, of a narrow course of life, is anxious to ascertain by what other means they are accustomed to train the pupils, in order to prevent the youth—in such a wild, and in some degree savage, occupation of rearing and training beasts—from becoming a wild beast himself. And thus it was very gratifying to him to learn that with this same violent and rough-seeming vocation was united the most delicate in the world, the practice and the learning of languages.
At this moment the father missed his son from his side; he saw him through the interstices of the crowd eagerly bargaining and arguing with a young pedlar over some trifles. In a short time he altogether lost him. On the overseer’s inquiring the reason of a certain embarrassment and abstraction, and hearing in reply that it was on his son’s account, “Never mind that,” he said, to reassure the father, “he is not lost. But to show you how we keep our charges together—” and thereupon he blew shrilly on a whistle that hung at his breast. In a moment it was answered by dozens from all sides. The man went on: “I will let this serve for the present, it is only a signal that the overseer is in the neighborhood, and happens to want to know how many hear him. On a second signal they keep quiet, but make themselves ready; on the third they answer and come rushing up. Moreover, these signals are multiplied in very many ways and for special uses.” A more open space had suddenly cleared itself round about them; they were able to speak more freely whilst walking towards the adjoining heights.
“We were led to this practice of languages,” proceeded the overseer, “by the fact that we find here youths from all parts of the world. Now it was to prevent the people of one country from clanning together, as usually happens abroad, and forming parties asunder from the other nations, that we try, by free communion of speech, to bring them nearer to one another. But a universal knowledge of language is most necessary, inasmuch as at this fair every foreigner is glad to find a sufficient means of intercourse in his own sounds and expressions, and at the same time all possible convenience in bargaining and dealing. Yet in order that no Babylonish confusion, no corruption of speech shall ensue, one language only is spoken in common, month by month throughout the year, in accordance with the principle that one should learn nothing that has to be made compulsory except the rudiments.
“We look upon our scholars,” said the overseer, “as so many swimmers, who in the element that threatens to swallow them feel themselves with wonder to be lighter, and are borne up and carried forward by it—and so it is with everything that man undertakes. Yet if one of our pupils shows a special inclination for this or that language, provision is made even in the midst of this tumultuous-seeming life, which affords withal very many quiet, idle, and lonely, nay, tedious hours for true and thorough instruction. You would have some difficulty in picking out our equestrian grammarians, amongst whom there are verily a few pedants, from amidst these bearded and beardless centaurs. Your Felix has set himself to Italian, and since melodious singing, as you know already, pervades everything in our institutions, you might hear him, in the monotony of a herdsman’s life, bring out many a ditty with taste and feeling. Activity and practical ability are far more reconcilable with efficient instruction than one thinks.”
As every district has its own peculiar festival, the guest was led to the domain of instrumental music. Bordering on the plains, it at once exhibited pleasantly and gracefully diversified valleys, little narrow copses, gentle brooks by the banks of which a moss-grown rock slyly peeped out here and there amidst the turf. Scattered habitations, surrounded by bushes, were to be seen upon the hills; in gentle dales the houses clustered nearer to each other. These cottages, set gracefully apart, were so far from each other, that no musical sound either true or false could be heard from one to the other.
They now approached a wide space, built and covered round about, where men standing shoulder to shoulder seemed on the tiptoe of attention and expectation. Just as the guest entered, a powerful symphony on all the instruments commenced, the full-toned strength and tenderness of which he could not but admire.
By the side of this roomily-constructed orchestra stood a smaller one, which attracted special attention; upon it were younger and older scholars. Each held his instrument in readiness, without playing on it. These were they who as yet were not able or did not venture to join in with the whole. One noticed with interest how they were standing as it were at the spring, and heard it declared that such a festival seldom passed by without a genius in some one or other being suddenly developed.
When vocal music also was brought forward in the intervals of the instrumental, there was no longer room to doubt that this too was in favor. Upon his inquiry, moreover, as to what further sort of education was joined in friendly union with this, the traveller learned that it was the art of poetry, and withal of the lyric sort. Their whole aim in this was that the two arts, each for and from itself, but at the same time in contrast to and in conjunction with each other should be developed. The pupils learn to know one as well as the other in their special limitations: then they are taught how they mutually limit, and again mutually emancipate one another.
To the rhythm of poetry the tone-artist opposes the division and movement of time. But here the sway of music over poetry soon manifests itself—for if the latter, as is proper and necessary, always keeps its quantities as clearly as possible in view, yet for the musician few syllables are definitely long or short; he destroys at pleasure the most conscientious proceedings of the dealer in rhythm—nay, actually converts prose into song; whence ensue the most wonderful possibilities, and the poet would very soon feel himself annihilated, were he not able, on his own part, to inspire the musician with reverence by means of lyric tenderness and boldness, and to call forth new feelings, at one time in the most delicate gradation, at another by the most abrupt transitions.
The singers one finds here are for the most part themselves poets. Dancing, too, is taught in its rudiments; so that all these accomplishments may diffuse themselves methodically throughout the whole of these regions.
When the guest was conducted across the next boundary he suddenly beheld quite a different style of building. The houses were no longer scattered, and no more of the cottage-sort; they rather appeared to be set together with regularity—solid and handsome from without, roomy, convenient, and elegant within. Here one perceived an unconfined and well-built town, adapted to its situation. Here plastic art and its kindred crafts are at home, and a stillness quite peculiar prevails in these places.
The plastic artist, it is true, always considers himself in relation to whatever lives and moves amidst mankind; but his occupation is a solitary one, and, by the strangest contradiction, no other, perhaps, so decidedly calls for a living environment. Here, then, does each one create in silence what is soon to occupy the eyes of men forever. A Sabbath stillness reigns over the whole place, and if one did not notice here and there the chipping of the stone-mason, or the measured blows of carpenters, just now busily employed in finishing a splendid building, not a sound would disturb the air.
Our traveller was struck with the seriousness, the wonderful strictness, with which beginners, as well as the more advanced, were treated; it seemed as if no one essayed anything by his own strength and power, but as if a hidden spirit animated all throughout, guiding them to one single great end. Neither draft nor sketch was anywhere to be seen; every stroke was drawn with care. And when the traveller asked the guide for an explanation of the whole process, the latter remarked, “The imagination is of itself a vague inconstant faculty, whilst the whole merit of the plastic artist consists in this, namely, in learning ever more and more to define and grasp it firmly, nay, even at last to elevate it to the level of the present.”
He was reminded of the necessity in other arts of more certain principles. “Would the musician allow a pupil to strike wildly at the strings, or to invent intervals according to his own caprice and pleasure? Here it is remarkable that nothing is to be left to the learner’s discretion. The element in which he is to work is given definitely, the tool that he has to handle is placed in his hand, the very style and method by which he is to avail himself of them (I mean the fingering) he finds prescribed, by which one member gets out of the way of another, and gets the proper road ready for its successor, by which orderly co-operation alone the impossible becomes possible at last. But what mostly justifies us in strict demands and definite laws, is that it is precisely genius, the inborn talent, that grasps them first, and yields them the most willing obedience. Only mediocrity would fain substitute its limited specialty for the unlimited whole, and glorify its false ideas under the pretence of an incontrollable originality and independence. This, however, we do not let pass, but we protect our pupils against all false steps, whereby a great part of life, nay, often the whole life, is confused and broken up. With the genius we love best to deal, for he is specially inspired with the good spirit of recognizing quickly what is useful to him. He sees that Art is called Art, precisely because it is not Nature; he accommodates himself to the proper respect even for that which might be called conventional, for what else is this but that the best men have agreed to regard the necessary, the inevitable, as the best? And is it not successful in every case? To the great assistance of the teachers, the three reverences and their symbols are introduced and inculcated here too, as everywhere with us, with some variation in conformity with the nature of the business that prevails.”
As the traveller was led further around, he was constrained to wonder at the fact, that the city seemed to extend itself forever, streets growing out of streets, and affording numberless fine views. The exterior of the buildings expressed their object unambiguously: they were substantial and imposing, less showy than beautiful. After the nobler and more solemn one in the middle of the town, came those of more cheerful aspect, until at last charming suburbs, of a graceful character, spread away towards the open country, dwindling away finally in the shape of country villas.
The traveller could not avoid remarking here that the habitations of the musicians in the preceding region were, in respect to beauty and size, in no way to be compared with the present ones in which painters, sculptors and architects dwelt. The answer given to him was that this lay in the nature of things. The musician must always be absorbed within himself, to shape out his inmost thought and to bring it forth. He has not to flatter the sense of sight; the eye very easily supplants the ear, and tempts outward the spirit from within. The plastic artist, on the contrary, must live in the outer world, and make his inner nature manifest, as it were unconsciously, on and in the external world. Plastic artists must live like kings and gods; how otherwise would they build and adorn for kings and gods? They must at last raise themselves above the ordinary so far that the whole community may feel honored in and by their works.
Our friend then desired the explanation of another paradox—why is it that just on these festivals, which in other regions are such lively and tumultuously excited days, here the greatest quiet prevails, and work is not even exhibited.
“A plastic artist,” he said, “requires no festival; to him the whole year is a festival. When he has accomplished anything excellent, it stands afterwards, as it did before, in his sight and in the sight of the whole world. In this no repetition is needed, no new effort, no fresh success, such as the musician is forever tormented by: who for that reason is not to be grudged the most splendid festival amidst the most numerous audience.”
“But yet,” replied Wilhelm, “on days like this one would be glad to see an exhibition in which the three years’ progress of the best pupils might be examined and criticised with pleasure.”
“In other places,” he was told, “an exhibition may be necessary; with us it is not; our whole end and aim is exhibition. Look here at the buildings of every sort, all carried out by pupils; after plans, discussed and revised, it is true, a hundred times; for one who builds must not potter about and make experiments. What has to remain standing, must stand well, and suffice, if not for eternity, at any rate for a considerable time. We may commit ever so many faults, but we must not build any. With sculptors we deal a little more leniently, most leniently of all with painters; they may experiment, here and there, each in his own style. It is open to them to choose in the inside or outside spaces of buildings, in the open squares, a spot which they will decorate. They make their ideas public, and, if one is in any degree worthy of approbation, the execution is agreed to; but in one of two ways—either with the privilege of taking the work away, sooner or later, should it cease to please the artist himself, or with the condition of leaving the work, when once set up, irremovably in its place. The most choose the former, and reserve the privilege for themselves, in which they are always well advised. The second case seldom occurs; and it is observable that the artists then rely less upon themselves, hold long conferences with their comrades and critics, and by that means manage to produce works really worthy of being valued and made permanent.”
After all this, Wilhelm did not neglect to inquire what other instruction was given besides, and he was informed that this consisted of poetry, and in fact of epic poetry.
Yet it must needs appear strange to our friend when they added that the pupils are not allowed to read or to recite the completed poems of ancient and modern poets. “Merely a series of myths, traditions and legends is briefly imparted to them. Thus we soon recognize by pictorial or poetic expression, the special productive power of the genius devoted to one or the other art. Poets and artists both occupy themselves at the same well-spring, and each one tries to guide the stream towards his own side for his own advantage, so as to attain his end according to his requirements; at which he succeeds much better than if he set about making over again what has been made already.”
The traveller had an opportunity of seeing the process himself. Several painters were busy in one room; a lively young companion was telling a quite simple story very circumstantially, so that he employed almost as many words as they did pencil-strokes to complete his exposition in the most rounded style possible.
They assured Wilhelm that in their joint work the friends entertained themselves very pleasantly, and that in this way improvisators were often developed who were able to arouse great enthusiasm in the twofold representation.
Our friend now turned his inquiries again to plastic art. “You have,” he said, “no exhibition, and, consequently, I suppose, no award of prizes.”
“We have not in point of fact,” replied the other; “but quite close by here, we can let you see what we regard as more useful.”
They turned into a large hall, lighted with good effect from above. A large circle of busy artists was first seen, from the midst of whom a colossal group, favorably placed, reared itself. Vigorous male and female forms, in powerful poses, reminded one of that splendid fight between youthful heroes and Amazons, in which hate and animosity at last resolve themselves into mutual and faithful alliance. This remarkably involved piece of art-work was seen to equal advantage from any point around it. Artists were sitting and standing in a large circle, each occupied after his own fashion: the painter at his easel, the draughtsman at his drawing-board, some modelling in the round, some in bas-relief; architects were even making drawings for the pedestal, upon which a similar work of art was afterwards to be placed. Every one taking part in it adopted his own method in copying. Painters and draughtsmen developed the group in the flat, carefully, indeed, so as not to spoil it, but to give as much as possible. The work in bas-relief was treated in precisely the same manner. Only one had reproduced the whole group on a smaller scale, and, in certain movements and arrangement of members, he really seemed to have surpassed the model.
It now appeared that this was the designer of the model, who, before its execution in marble, was now submitting it not to a critical but to a practical test; and who, by taking accurate note of everything that each of his fellow-workers, according to his own method and way of thinking, saw, preserved, or altered in it, was enabled to turn it to his own advantage; with this object, that ultimately, when the perfect work should come forth chiselled in marble, though undertaken, designed, and executed by only one, yet still it might seem to belong to all.
In this room, too, the greatest silence reigned; but the director raised his voice and cried, “Who is there here, who, in the presence of this motionless work, can so move the imagination with the excellence of his words that all that we can see transfixed here, shall again become resolved without losing its character, so that we may convince ourselves that what the artist has here laid hold of is indeed the worthiest.”
Expressly called on by them all, a beautiful youth left his work, and began by delivering a quiet discourse, in which he seemed merely to describe the present work, but soon he threw himself into the peculiar region of poetry, plunged into the midst of the action, and controlled this element to a marvel. Little by little his rendering was elevated by brilliant declamation, to such a height that the rigid group seemed to turn upon its axis, and the number of the figures seemed thereby doubled and trebled. Wilhelm stood enraptured, and at last cried, “Who can longer refrain from passing on into actual song and rhythmic verse?”
“This I would beg to refuse,” replied the overseer; “for if our excellent sculptor will speak sincerely, he will confess that our poet hardly pleases him, and simply because the two artists stand as far as possible from one another: on the other hand, I would wager that here and there a painter has appropriated from him certain living traits. Yet there is a gentle kindly song that I might allow our friend to hear, one that you deliver with such sweet seriousness: it relates to art as a whole, and does me good myself whenever I hear it.”
After a pause, in which they beckoned to each other, and made arrangements by signs, the following fine heart and spirit-stirring song resounded from all sides:—
Wilhelm might well have let all this pass, although it must have seemed to him very paradoxical, and, had he not seen it with his eyes, actually impossible. But when they proceeded, in beautiful sequence, to declare and make it all clear to him openly and frankly, he hardly needed to ask a single question for further information; yet he did not forbear, at last, to address his conductor as follows:
“I see that here everything desirable in life has been provided for very wisely, but tell me, besides, which region can manifest a similar solicitude for dramatic poetry, and where might I gain information on that subject. I have looked round amongst all your edifices, and find none that could be destined for such an object.”
“In reply to this question we cannot deny that there is nothing of the sort to be met with in the whole of our province, for the theatre presupposes an idle crowd, perhaps even a rabble, the like of which is not to be found amongst us; for such people, if they do not go away disgusted, of their own accord, are conveyed across the frontier. Be assured, however, that in our universally active institution so important a point as this has been well considered; but no region could be found for it; some weighty objection occurred in every case. Who is there amongst our pupils who would have easily made up his mind to awaken in this mass, with feigned merriment or hypocritical sorrow, an unreal emotion inconsistent with the time, and thereby produce in alterations an ever-dubious pleasure? Such foolishness we considered altogether dangerous, and could not connect it with our serious aim.”
“And yet it is said,” replied Wilhelm, “that this widely-encompassing art requires all the others together.”
“Not at all,” was the reply; “she makes use of the others, but spoils them. I do not blame the actor when he associates himself with the painter, but still the painter, in such a partnership, is lost. The actor, without any conscience, will, for his own momentary ends, and with no small profit, use up all that art and life offer him; the painter, on the other hand, who would reap some advantage again from the theatre, will always find himself at a disadvantage, and the musician will be in the same case. The arts seem to me like so many sisters, of whom the greater number have been disposed to economy, but one of trivial disposition has had a mind to appropriate the possessions and property of the whole family. The theatre is in this situation: it has an ambiguous origin, which, whether as art or handicraft or dilettanteism, it can never wholly disguise.”
Wilhelm looked down with a deep sigh, for all the enjoyment and the sorrow that he had had from and on the stage, was suddenly present to him. He blessed the good men who were wise enough to spare their pupils such pain, who, from conviction and principle, banished these perils from their circle.
His conductor, however, did not leave him long to these meditations, but proceeded: “As it is our highest and holiest principle to misdirect no disposition or talent, we cannot hide from ourselves the fact, that amongst so great a number a natural mimetic gift may very likely be decisively displayed. This, however, shows itself in an irrepressible desire to ape the characters, figures, motion and speech of others. This we do not encourage, it is true, but we observe the pupil carefully, and if he remains throughout true to his nature, we have put ourselves in connection with the large theatres of all nations, and thither we send anyone of tried capacity, in order that, like the duck upon the pond, he may with all speed be guided on the stage to the future waddling and quacking of his life.”
Wilhelm listened to this with patience, yet only with partial conviction, and perhaps with some annoyance; for so wonderfully is man minded, that whilst he is really persuaded of the worthlessness of some favorite subject or other, and will turn away from, and even execrate himself, yet still he will not bear to have it treated in the same way by anyone else, and probably the spirit of contradiction which dwells in all mankind is never more vigorously and effectively excited than in such a case.
The editor of these papers may even confess that he allows this wonderful passage to pass with some reluctance. Has he not, too, in many senses devoted more than a due share of life and strength to the theatre? and would it be easy to convince him that this has been an inexcusable error, a fruitless exertion?
However, we have not time to apply ourselves ill-humoredly to such recollections and underlying feelings, for our friend finds himself agreeably surprised on seeing before him, once more, one of the Three, and one especially sympathetic. A communicative gentleness, telling of the purest peace of soul, imparted itself most revivingly: the Wanderer could approach him trustfully, and feel that his trust was returned.
He now learned that the Superior was at present in the sanctuary, and was there instructing, teaching and blessing, whilst the Three arranged severally to visit all the regions, and in every place—after obtaining the most minute information, and arranging with the subordinate overseers to carry forward what had been begun—to establish what had been newly determined, and thus faithfully fulfil their high duty.
This excellent man it was, who gave him a more general view of their internal economy, and external connections, as well as a knowledge of the reciprocal effect of all the different regions; nor did he fail to make clear how a pupil could be transferred from one to the other after a longer or shorter period. Enough, everything fully harmonized with what he already knew. At the same time, the account given of his son was a source of great satisfaction, and the plan on which they intended to proceed with him must needs obtain his entire approbation.
Thereupon Wilhelm was invited by assistants and overseers to a mountain-festival which was on the point of being celebrated. They ascended the mountain with some difficulty, and Wilhelm fancied he noticed that towards evening the guide walked more slowly, as if the darkness would not oppose still further hindrance to their progress. But as soon as deep night surrounded them the riddle was solved for him: he saw, from numerous ravines and valleys, small flames glimmering unsteadily, stretching out into lines, and rolling towards them across the mountain heights. Much friendlier than when a volcano opens out, and its belching din threatens whole districts with destruction, did this spectacle appear; and yet, by-and-bye, it glowed much stronger, broader, and more concentrated, sparkling like a stream of stars, gentle and kindly it is true, but yet spreading itself boldly over the whole scene.
After enjoying some time the astonishment of the guest (for they could actually see each other well, their faces and forms seemed illuminated by the light in the distance, as well as their path), his companion began to speak:
“You see here a wonderful sight indeed: those lights, which glow and work, day and night, throughout the whole year, aiding the acquisition of hidden and scarcely attainable subterranean treasures, it is they that at the present moment are welling and gushing forth from their caverns and cheer the outer darkness. Hardly ever has a finer sight been seen, where the most useful industry, dispersed beneath the ground, withdrawn from sight, discloses itself to us in full completeness, bringing a vast secret combination to view.”
Amid such conversation and reflections, they had reached the spot where the rivulets of fire merged themselves into the sea of flame surrounding a brightly lighted insular space. The wanderer now stood in the blinding circle, where glancing lights by the thousand formed a weird contrast to the black background of the rows of miners. Forthwith the liveliest music was heard, with appropriate singing. Hollow masses of rock came away by the aid of machinery, and soon discovered a brilliant interior to the eye of the delighted spectator. Mimetic representations, and aught else that can add a charm to such a moment for the crowd, combined to excite and at the same time to satisfy a cheerful attention.
But with what astonishment was our friend filled, when he saw himself presented to the chief people, and amongst them, in solemn attire of state, beheld friend Jarno.
“Not without reason,” exclaimed the latter, “have I exchanged my earlier name for the more significant Montan. You find me here, consecrated to mountain and cavern, and happier in this limited situation below and upon the earth than can be imagined.”
“Then,” replied the wanderer, “you will thus, as a thorough expert, now be more liberal with explanation and instruction than you showed yourself towards me on those rocky mountain crags yonder.”
“Not at all,” rejoined Montan; “mountains are dumb teachers, and make silent scholars.”
After this festal celebration they supped at numerous tables. All the guests who, invited or uninvited, were present, belonged to the craft; consequently, even at the table at which Montan and his friend sat down, a conversation suited to the place at once commenced. The talk was all of mountains, lodes, and strata, of the veins and metals of the district in detail. But presently the conversation was merged into general subjects, and then the question turned on nothing less than the creation and origin of the world. But hereupon the discussion was no longer amicable, but rather involved itself speedily in a lively dispute.
Several of them would derive the formation of our earth from a watery covering sinking and diminishing itself little by little. They adduced in their support the remains of organic dwellers in the sea, on the highest mountains, as well as on the low hills. Others, on the contrary, averred more positively that it was first glowing and molten, that fire also prevailed throughout, which after it had had sufficient effect upon the outer surface, was finally withdrawn into the very depths, and was henceforward in constant activity through volcanoes raging violently in the sea as well as on the earth, and thus by successive eruptions, and lava likewise streaming over time after time, formed the highest mountains. They also especially reminded those who thought otherwise, that, in fact, without fire nothing could become hot, and that an active fire always presupposed a hearth. However reconcilable with experience this might seem, many were not contented with it. They affirmed that mighty forms which had already become fully perfected within the bosom of the earth, were driven by the agency of irresistible elastic forces through the earth’s crust and out into the heights, and in this tumult many portions of them were at the same time scattered and splintered far over the contiguous and distant tracts; they appealed to many facts which were not to be explained without some such assumption. A fourth, though perhaps not a numerous party, laughed at these futile attempts, and affirmed that indeed many circumstances of the surface of this earth would never be capable of explanation if we did not allow that larger and smaller mountain ranges had fallen down from the atmosphere, and tracts of land had been covered far and wide by them. They called to witness larger and smaller masses of rock which are found lying scattered about in many countries, and even in our days are collected as having been hurled down from above.
At last, two or three quiet guests essayed to call in the assistance of a period of severe cold, and from the highest mountain ridges would look in spirit upon glaciers sloping down far into the land, sliding-planes so to speak, provided for heavy masses of primitive rock, which were thus pushed farther and farther down upon the slippery path. These, on the advent of the period of thaw, must needs sink down, to remain lying forever on foreign soil. Thus, also, the transport of enormous blocks of stone hither from the north by means of floating drift-ice would become possible.* These good folks, however, could not make any impression with their somewhat calm views. It was held to be far more in accordance with nature to allow the creation of a world to proceed with gigantic bursting and upheaving, with tumultuous roaring and fiery jaculation; and when, moreover, the heat of wine had contributed its potent effect, the sumptuous feast had almost been broken up in murderous doings.
Utterly confused and befogged was our friend’s mind, who, in quiet thought, still cherished from of old the Spirit that had moved upon the face of the waters, and the deep flood which had stood fifteen cubits above the highest mountains, and to whom, amid this strange talk, the world, well-ordered, developed, and animated as it was, seemed to fall, before his imagination, into a chaotic heap.
The next morning he did not omit to question the grave Montan on this subject, exclaiming, “I could not understand you yesterday, for amongst all the extraordinary things and speeches, I was hoping to hear at last your opinion, and your decision; instead of which, you were sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, and always tried to confirm the opinion of him who happened to be speaking. But now tell me seriously what you think of it all, what you know about it.”
To this Montan replied, “I know as much as they, and would rather not think at all about it.”
“But here,” replied Wilhelm, “are so many contradictory opinions; and it is said, forsooth, that truth lies in the middle.”
“Not at all,” rejoined Montan; “the problem lies in the middle, insoluble perhaps, perhaps also accessible if it is taken in hand.”
So after somewhat more had been said to like effect by one and the other, Montan continued confidentially: “You blame me for supporting each one in his opinion, insomuch that a further argument can always be found for everything; I thereby increased the confusion, it is true, but, in point of fact, I cannot, with this breed, take the matter more seriously. I have thoroughly convinced myself that what each holds dearest—and these, in fact, are our convictions—he must, in deepest seriousness, keep to himself. Each one knows what he does know only for himself; and that he must keep secret; when he utters it, contradiction is excited forthwith, and when he ventures into conflict, he loses the equilibrium in himself, and what is best in him, if not annihilated, is at any rate disturbed.”
Prompted by some counter-arguments of Wilhelm’s, Montan further declared, “If one once knows on what everything depends, one ceases to be argumentative.”
“But what does everything depend on then?” replied Wilhelm impatiently.
“That is soon said,” answered the other. “Thinking and Doing, Doing and Thinking, from all time admitted, from all time practised, but not discerned by everyone. Like expiration and inhalation, the two must forever be pulsating backwards and forwards in life; like question and answer, the one cannot exist without the other. Whoever makes for himself a law—which the genius of human understanding secretly whispers into the ear of every new-born child—to test Doing by Thinking, Thinking by Doing, he cannot go astray; and if he does go astray, he will soon find himself on the right way again.”
Montan now proceeded to conduct his friend methodically round the mining district; they were greeted everywhere with a gruff “Good-luck!” which they cheerfully returned.
“I often feel inclined,” said Montan, “to call out to them, ‘Good sense!’ for sense is more than luck; yet the people always have sense enough, if their superiors have any. Since I am here, if not to command, at any rate to advise, I have taken some trouble to learn the peculiarities of the mountain. They are striving most vigorously after the metals that it contains. I have been trying to make clear to myself where these occur, and I have succeeded. It is not done by luck alone, but by sense, which calls in the aid of luck in order to regulate it. How these mountains have come to be here I know not, and what is more I do not care to know; but I daily endeavor to win away from them their property. The lead and silver that they bear in their bosom is greedily sought after; how they have it, I keep to myself, and provide an opportunity of finding what is wished for. At my advice an experimental attempt is made, it succeeds, and is lucky for me. What I know, I know to myself; in what I succeed, I succeed for the benefit of others, and no one imagines that in the same way he might have succeeded just as well. I am under the suspicion of possessing a magic wand; but they do not remark that they contradict me whenever I bring forward anything in the way of reasoning, and that they thereby cut off from themselves the way to the tree of knowledge where these divining rods may be plucked.”
Reassured by this conversation, persuaded that he, too, having hitherto prospered in his Doing and Thinking, had in general adapted himself, in a widely different department, to his friend’s requirements, he now proceeded to give account of the employment of his time, since he had obtained the favor of distributing and using the prescribed term of travel, not by days and hours, but in accordance with the true aim of a complete culture.
In this there was now, as it happened, no need of many words, for a circumstance of some moment gave our friend an opportunity of turning his acquired talent skilfully and favorably to account, and of proving himself truly useful to human society.
But of what sort this was, we must not at the moment disclose, though the reader shall soon, before the end of this book, be sufficiently informed of it.*
Hersilia to Wilhelm.
“Everyone has for many years upbraided me with being a strange whimsical girl. If it is the case, I am so without any fault of my own. People have had to be patient with me; and now I need to have patience with myself, and with my imagination, which brings father and son sometimes together, sometimes alternately backwards and forwards before my eyes. I seem to myself like an innocent Alkmene, who is perpetually haunted by two beings who personate each other.
“I have much to say to you, and yet I write to you, it seems, only when I have an adventure to relate; all the rest, too, is adventure-like, it is true, but not an adventure. So now for that of to-day.
“I am sitting under the tall lime-trees, and am just finishing a letter-case, a very pretty one, without knowing for certain who is to have it—father or son—but certainly one of the two. A young pedlar comes up to me with small baskets and boxes; he modestly legitimates himself by a permit from the bailiff allowing him to hawk goods upon the estate. I examine his small wares down to the endless trifles that nobody wants, and everybody buys from a childish impulse to possess and to spend. The boy seems to look at me attentively. Fine black, somewhat cunning eyes, well-marked eyebrows, profuse locks, sparkling rows of teeth—enough, you understand me, something of the oriental.
“He makes a great many inquiries in reference to the persons composing the family, to whom he would at any rate venture to offer something; by all sorts of manœuvres he manages to get me to name myself to him. ‘Hersilia,’ he says shyly, ‘will Hersilia excuse me if I discharge a commission?’ I looked at him in astonishment. He draws forth the smallest little slate enclosed in a white frame, such as are made in the mountains for the first childish attempts at writing. I take it, see that it is written upon, and read the inscription, neatly cut in with a sharp pencil: Felix loves Hersilia. The equerry is coming soon.
“I am dumfoundered, I ponder in astonishment on what I hold in my hand, see before my eyes; and chiefly on this, that destiny will prove itself almost more extraordinary than I am myself. ‘What does this mean?’ I say to myself, and the little rogue is more than ever present to me; nay, it seems as if his image would drill itself into my eyes.
“Then I begin to ask questions, and receive strange, unsatisfactory answers. I examine, and arrive at nothing. I think, and cannot properly collect my thoughts. At length, from talking and counter-talking, I gather thus much, that the young dealer had also passed through the Pedagogic province, and acquired the confidence of my young adorer, who having bought a slate had written the inscription upon it, and promised him the best recompenses for a word or two in reply. He then handed me a similar slate, several of which he disclosed in his pack, and likewise a pencil, and at the same time insisted and begged in so friendly a manner, that I took both, thought, thought again, and not being able to excogitate anything, wrote, Hersilia greets Felix, and hopes the equerry is well.
“I considered what I had written, and felt vexed at its clumsy expression. Neither tenderness, nor inspiration, nor wit; mere embarrassment: and why? I was standing before a boy, and writing to a boy: ought that to deprive me of my composure? I verily believe that I sighed, and was just on the point of wiping out what I had written, but he took it so gracefully out of my hand, asked me for something or other with which to cover it carefully; and so it happened that I—though I know not how it happened—put the little slate into the letter-case, wound the string round it, and handed it, fastened up, to the boy, who took it gracefully, and bowing deeply, lingered a moment, so that I just had time to press my purse into his hand, and blamed myself for not having given him enough. He ran off at a pretty good pace, and when I looked after him had already disappeared, I do not rightly understand how.
“Now it is past, I am already back on the ordinary, everyday level, and scarcely believe in the apparition. Do I not hold the slate in my hand? It is only too charming, the writing quite beautifully and carefully traced; I believe I should have kissed it if I had not been afraid of obliterating the writing.
“I have taken a little time after writing the above; but whatever I think about this, too, will always avail nothing. Most certainly there was something mysterious about the figure, the like of which are now-a-days indispensable in fiction; must they then encounter us in real life too? Agreeable and suspicious, foreign-looking, yet inspiring confidence; why did he go away too before the puzzle was solved? Why had I not sufficient presence of mind civilly to detain him?
“After a pause I again take pen in hand to pursue my confessions. The decided, constant affection of a boy ripening into youth might be flattering to me, but then it occurred to me that, at this age, it is nothing uncommon to be attached to older women. Indeed there is a mysterious inclination in younger men for older women. At another time, when it did not concern myself, I would have laughed over it, and maliciously declared it to be a reminiscence of the tender age of nursing and sucking-babyhood from which they were scarcely emancipated. Now it vexes me to think of the matter like this; I reduce the good Felix to infancy, and yet I do not find myself in an advantageous position either. Alas! what a difference it makes whether one is judging one’s self or other people!”
Wilhelm to Natalia.
“I have been walking about for days, and cannot make up my mind to set pen to paper, there are so many things to tell: in speaking, perhaps, one thing would connect itself with another; one thing, too, would easily develop itself out of the other. Let me then, the absent one, begin only with what is most general; it will yet lead me at last to the strange matter that I have to impart.
“You have heard of the youth who, walking on the seashore, found a rudder-pin; the interest that he felt in it impelled him to procure a rudder as necessarily belonging to it. But this too was of no further use to him. He earnestly desired to get a boat, and succeeded in doing so. Yet boat, rudder, and rudder-pin were of no particular use; he provided himself with masts and sails, and so, piece by piece, with whatever is requisite for speed and convenience in navigation. By efforts adapted to his ends he attained to greater aptitude and dexterity; fortune favors him, he sees himself at last master and owner of a larger vessel, and so success increases; he wins wealth, respect, and a good name amongst the seafarers.*
“In causing you to read this pretty story again, I must confess that it is appropriate here only in the widest sense, yet it gives me an opening for expressing that which I have to say. Meanwhile, I must run through something still more remote.
“The capabilities that lie in men can be divided into general and special; the general are to be regarded as activities in a state of balanced repose, which are aroused by circumstances, and directed accidentally to this or that end. Man’s faculty of imitation is general: he will make or form in imitation of what he sees, even without the slightest inward and outward means to that end. It is always natural, therefore, that he should wish to do what he sees to be done: the most natural thing, however, would be that the son should embrace the occupation of his father. In this case it is all in one, a decided activity in an original direction, with probably an inborn faculty for a special end; then a resultant and gradually progressive exercise and a developed talent, that would have compelled us to proceed upon the beaten path, even if other impulses are developed within us, and a free choice might have led us to an occupation for which nature has given us neither capacity nor perseverance. On the average, therefore, those men are the happiest who find an opportunity of cultivating an inborn, family talent in the domestic circle. We have seen painter-pedigrees of this sort; amongst them there have been feeble talents, it is true, but in the meantime, they have brought to light something useful, and perhaps better than they would have achieved with moderate powers in any other department of their own choice.
“But as this, too, is not what I wanted to say, I must try to approach my subject from some other side.
“This is the pity of friends being far apart, that the intermediate and auxiliary members of our thoughts, which in mutual presence are reciprocally developed and interwoven as swiftly as lightning, cannot be produced and expressed in momentary connection and association. Here then, in the first place, is one of the earliest of children’s tales.
“We children, brought up in an ancient and sober city, had acquired the ideas of streets, squares, and walls, and soon, also, of ramparts, of the glacis, and of the adjoining walled gardens. But our parents, in order to take us, or rather themselves, once into the open country, had for a long time arranged, though it was continually deferred, a party, with some friends in the country. At last, one Whitsuntide, the invitation and proposal came more pressingly, and was agreed to, but only on the condition that everything should be so arranged that we might be home again by night-time; for to sleep out of one’s long-accustomed bed seemed to be an impossibility. To concentrate the pleasures of the day into so narrow a space was certainly difficult; two friends had to be visited, and their claims to so infrequent an entertainment satisfied; however, with great punctuality, there were hopes of carrying it all out.
“On the third day of the holidays all were standing, at the earliest hour, cheerful and ready. The carriage drew up at the appointed time. We had left all confinements of streets, gates, bridges, and town-ditches behind us; an open far-extending world spread itself before our inexperienced eyes. The green of cornfields and meadows lately refreshed by rain in the night, the tint more or less bright of buds on hedges and trees just bursting forth, the dazzling whiteness of the tree-blossoms diffusing itself on all sides, everything gave us a foretaste of happy Eden-like hours.
“We arrived in due time at the first halting-place, the house of a worthy clergyman. Our cordial reception soon assured us that the ecclesiastical feast now concluded was no detriment to spirits seeking rest and refreshment. I regarded the rural household for the first time with pleased interest—plough and harrow, wagon and cart, betrayed their immediate use; even the repulsive-looking manure seemed the most indispensable in the whole circuit, for it was carefully collected, and, to a certain degree, neatly stored up. Yet this first glance, directed to what was new and yet intelligible, was soon riveted by a treat: appetizing cakes, new milk, and many other country dainties were greedily regarded by us. Then the children, forsaking the little garden-plot and the hospitable arbor, quickly busied themselves in performing, in the adjoining spinney, a task which an old, kindly-disposed aunt had given them. That was to gather as many cowslips as possible, and carefully take them back to town with them, for the thrifty goodwife was in the habit of making all sorts of wholesome beverages of them.
“Whilst thus employed in the meadows, we were running backwards and forwards along banks and hedges, several of the village-children joined us, and the sweet scent of the gathered spring-flowers seemed to grow more and more refreshing and balmy. We had by this time collected such a mass of stalks and flowers that we did not know what to do with them. Now we began to pick off the yellow coronals, for it was really only with these that we had to do; each tried to fill his little hat or cap as full as possible.
“However, the eldest of these boys, the fisherman’s son, who was a little older than myself, a boy who had at once especially attracted me by his serious demeanor, did not seem to enjoy this trifling over flowers, and he invited me to walk with him to the river, which, already of considerable breadth, flowed by at a short distance. We sat down, with a couple of fishing-rods, in a shady place, where in the deep, clear, calm water many little fishes were darting hither and thither. He good-naturedly showed me what to do, and how the bait was to be fastened on the hook, and several times I was successful in whisking into the air, against their will, the smallest of these delicate creatures. As we were thus sitting quietly leaning against each other, he seemed to get tired of it, and made me observe a flat, pebbly bank which projected into the stream from our side, and that there was a most beautiful opportunity for a bathe. ‘He could not help trying it,’ he cried at last, springing up, and before I was aware, he was down, undressed, and in the water.
“As he swam very well, he soon left the shallow place, abandoned himself to the stream, and soon came up to me in the deeper water. Quite a strange feeling came over me: grasshoppers were dancing about me, ants were crawling towards me, colored beetles were clinging to the twigs, and gold-gleaming ‘sun-maidens,’ as he had called them, were hovering and flitting spirit-like at my feet, just as he, pulling out a great cray-fish from between some roots, held it up merrily, and then cleverly concealed it again at the old place with what we had caught before. It was so warm and sultry all around, one yearned to be out of the sun and in the shade, out of the cool shade in the still cooler water below. So it was easy for him to entice me down; I found an invitation, not often repeated, irresistible, and what with fear of my parents, and timidity about the unfamiliar element in addition, I was quite strangely excited. But soon undressed upon the gravel, I ventured gently into the water, but not deeper than was due to the gradually sloping bottom. Here he let me linger, went to some distance in the sustaining element, came back, and when he got out and stood up to dry himself in the fuller sunshine, my eyes seemed to be dazzled by a triple sun; so fair was the human form, of which I had never had any idea. He seemed to look at me with equal attention. Though quickly dressed, we still seemed to stand unclothed before each other; our spirits drew together, and amidst the most ardent kisses we swore eternal friendship.
“But then swiftly, swiftly, we betook ourselves home, just at the right moment, as the party were setting out on the most delightful footpath, for about an hour and a half, through bush and wood, to the bailiff’s dwelling. My friend accompanied me; we already seemed inseparable; but when, about half-way there, I asked permission to take him into the bailiff’s house, the pastor’s wife refused, with a quiet hint about the impropriety; on the other hand, she gave him a strict injunction to tell his father when he came in, that she must be sure on her return home to find some fine crayfish, that she wished to give her guests to take back to the city as a rarity. The boy went off, but pledged himself with hand and lips to wait for me in the evening at this corner of the wood.
“The party soon reached the bailiff’s, where we also found a rural household, but of a higher style. A dinner delayed in consequence of the housewife’s being over-busy, did not make me impatient; for a stroll in a well-kept pleasure-garden, in which the daughter, who was somewhat younger than I, accompanied me to show me the way, was very agreeable to me. Spring-flowers of every kind grew in tastefully laid-out plots, filling them or decking their edges. My companion was beautiful, fair-haired, and gentle; we walked confidentially together, soon held each other by the hand, and seemed to wish for nothing better. Thus we walked past tulip-beds, past narcissuses and jonquils in rows; she showed me several places where the most splendid hyacinth-bells had already just gone off. On the other hand, provision had been made for the coming seasons too; the plants of future ranunculuses and anemones were already green; the care bestowed upon numerous carnation slips promised the most abundant bloom; but the hope of many-flowered lily-stems, very wisely distributed among roses, was already budding more nearly. And how many were the bowers that promised presently both the beauty and the shade of honeysuckle, jasmine, and vine-like and creeping kinds of growth!
“When I look back, after so many years, at my situation on that occasion, it seems to me really enviable. Unexpectedly, at the same moment, the premonition of friendship and love seized me: for when I unwillingly took leave of the beautiful child, I comforted myself with the thought of disclosing these feelings to my young friend, of confiding in him, and of enjoying his sympathy together with these fresh sentiments.
“And if I add one more remark here, I may perhaps confess that in the course of life that first out-blooming of the exterior world has appeared to me as the real original nature, in comparison with which all else that later appeals to our senses seem to be but copies, which at every comparison with the former are deficient in that peculiarly original spirit and sense.
“How we must have despaired at seeing so cold, so lifeless an outward life, had not something revealed itself in our heart that glorifies nature in quite another way, whilst manifesting a creative power, to beautify ourselves in her.
“It was already dusk when we again approached the corner of the wood, where my young friend had promised to wait for me. I strained my eyesight to its utmost extent to descry his presence; and when I was unsuccessful in this, I impatiently hurried in front of the party, who walked leisurely, running to and fro amongst the bushes. I called out, I worried myself; he was not to be seen, nor did he answer; for the first time I experienced, in double and manifold degree, a passionate grief.
“The unmeasured demands of confidential affection had already developed themselves in me, there was already an irresistible need to unburden my soul, by talking, of the image of that fair-haired one, to relieve my heart of the emotions which she had awakened in me. It was full, the lips already muttered, to overflowing. I blamed the good boy aloud for violated friendship, for broken faith.
“But heavier trials were soon in store for me. From out of the first houses of the village rushed shrieking women, followed by screaming children; no one gave information or answer. Round the corner house on one side we saw a sad procession approach: it moved slowly along the street; it seemed like a funeral, but of more complicated character; there was no end to the bearing and carrying along. The shrieking continued, increased, the crowd thickened: ‘They are drowned—all drowned together!’ ‘He! who? which?’ The mothers who saw their children about them seemed consoled. But a serious-looking man came up, and said to the pastor’s wife, ‘Unhappily, I stayed out too long; Adolphus has been drowned with four others; he wished to keep his promise and mine.’ The man—it was the fisherman himself—walked on after the procession; we stood shocked and astounded. Then a little boy came up, holding out a bag: ‘Here are the crayfish, madam!’ and held the token high in the air. All were horrified at it, as at a thing of most evil omen: they questioned, inquired, and heard thus much: this last child had remained on the bank and picked up the crayfish that they threw to him from below. But then, after much questioning and cross-questioning, they found out that Adolphus and two sensible boys had gone down to and into the water; two others, younger, had joined them unasked, and could not be kept back by any scolding and threats. The first two had almost got across a rocky and dangerous place; the other two slipped, seized hold of and kept pulling each other underneath. The same thing occurred at last to the foremost two also, and they all sank in the deep water. Adolphus, being a good swimmer, would have saved himself, but in their terror they all hung on to him, and he was dragged down. This little one had then run screaming into the village, holding his bag of crayfish tight in his hands. The fisherman, accidentally late on his way home, ran off with others who were alarmed; they had dragged them out one after the other, found that they were dead, and were now bringing them in.
“The pastor, together with the father, walked sadly towards the town-house; the full moon had risen, and shone on the path of death. I followed in passionate grief; they would not let me in, I was in a terrible condition. I walked round and round the house without resting; at last I saw my opportunity, and sprang in at the open window.
“In the large room, where meetings of all kinds are held, lay the unfortunates, stretched naked upon straw, dazzling white corpses, shining also in the dim lamplight. I threw myself upon the tallest—my friend. I had no words to express my condition; I wept bitterly, and deluged his broad breast with unceasing tears. I had heard something of rubbing, which in such a case was said to be of use. I rubbed in my tears, and cheated myself with the warmth that I excited. Amidst my confusion, I thought of breathing breath into him, but the pearly rows of his teeth were fast locked; the lips, on which the parting kiss still seemed to remain, refused even the slightest symptom of response. Despairing of human aid, I had recourse to prayer: I implored, I prayed. It seemed to me as if at this moment I must perform a miracle to call forth the still indwelling soul, to lure it in again if still hovering near. I was torn away, weeping, sobbing. I sat in the carriage, and scarcely understood what my parents were saying. Our mother, as I afterwards heard so often repeated, had resigned herself to God’s will. In the meanwhile I had fallen asleep, and awoke gloomily, late next morning, in a doubtful and confused condition.
“But when I went to breakfast I found my mother, my aunt, and the cook in weighty consultation. The crayfish were not to be boiled nor brought to table; my father would not endure such a direct reminiscence of the calamity that had so lately occurred. The aunt seemed to wish most eagerly to possess herself of these uncommon creatures, but at the same time blamed me for our having forgotten to bring the cowslips with us. However, she soon seemed to be pacified about this, when those misshapen creatures crawling alive over each other were handed over to her free disposal, whereupon she took counsel with the cook as to their further treatment.
“But to make the significance of this scene clear, I must say something more of the character and personality of this woman. The peculiarities by which she was governed one could not by any means praise from a moral point of view; and yet from a civic and political point of view they produced many a good result. She was, in the proper sense of the word, miserly; for she regretted every mere penny that she had to spend, and for her requirements she looked about everywhere for substitutes that could be got for nothing, by exchange, or in any sort of fashion. Thus the cowslips were intended for tea, which she maintained to be more wholesome than any Chinese sort. God had given every land what was necessary, whether for food, for relish, or for medicine; on that account one need not have recourse to foreign countries. So in a little garden she cultivated everything that, after her notions, would make food palatable, or would be useful to the sick. She never visited another person’s garden without taking away with her something of the sort.
“This disposition and whatever resulted from it could well be pardoned, since her diligently-hoarded cash would after all be for the benefit of the family. In this matter, too, our father and mother managed to give in completely to her and be accommodating.
“Another propensity, however, one of activity, and indefatigably asserting itself, was a pride in being regarded as an important and influential person. And, in truth, she had deserved and attained this reputation, for she was clever enough to turn to her own advantage the useless, and often indeed mischievous, gossip current among women. Everything that went on in the town, and consequently even the private affairs of families, was accurately known to her, and it was not often that any matter of dispute arose without her having contrived to mix herself up in it, in which she was the more successful inasmuch as she always tried to be of some use, but managed thereby to increase her reputation and good name. Many a match had she made with which one side at least probably remained satisfied. But what she gave her attention to most was the furthering and assisting of such persons as were seeking an office or appointment, whereby she really gained a large number of clients, of whose influence she was able to avail herself in return.
“The widow of an official of some importance, an upright and strict man, she yet had learned how those whom one cannot get at by any considerable overtures are gained over by trifles.
“However, to keep on the beaten path without further digression, be it said at once that she had contrived to gain great influence over a man who occupied an important office. He was miserly like her, and, to his own misfortune, equally gluttonous and fond of dainties; so to set on the table before him, on any pretext, a tasty dish, was always her chief anxiety. His conscience was not one of the most sensitive; but his courage and audacity had also to be called into request, whenever in dubious cases he had to overcome the opposition of his colleagues and stifle the voice of duty which they brought to bear against him.
“It was precisely this case now—that she was favoring an unworthy individual: she had done all she could to push him in, the matter had taken a favorable turn for her, and now the crayfish, of which the like were indeed rarely seen, luckily came to her assistance. They were to be carefully fed up, and served up at intervals on the table of her distinguished patron, who commonly dined alone very sparely.
“As to other matters, the unfortunate calamity gave occasion to a good deal of talk and social excitement. My father was one of the first who on this occasion was impelled by a spirit of general benevolence to extend his consideration and care beyond the limits of his family and of the town. He was interested, in conjunction with certain intelligent physicians, and those connected with the police, in overcoming the great obstacles which at first opposed inoculation for smallpox. Greater carefulness in the hospital, more humane treatment of prisoners, and other kindred objects, were the end and aim of his life, or at any rate of his reading and thinking; and, as he used to give utterance to his convictions on all occasions, he thus effected a great deal of good.
“He looked upon the association of citizens, to whatever form of government it might be subjected, as a natural condition which had its good and its bad side—its ordinary courses, its years of plenty and scarcity alternately, and hailstorms, floods, and fires, no less accidentally and irregularly: the good to be seized and used, the bad to be avoided or endured. But nothing, he considered, was more desirable than the diffusion of universal goodwill, independently of every other consideration.
“As a natural consequence of such a disposition he must now needs be determined to bring again under discussion a matter of benevolence that had already been mooted before: this was the resuscitation of such as were thought to be dead, in whatever way, moreover, the outward signs of life might have been lost. During conversations of this sort I now learned that in the case of these children the reverse of what was right had been tried and applied, nay, that, in a certain sense, they had been killed. It was furthermore maintained that by opening a vein they might perhaps all have been saved. In my youthful ardor, I therefore determined in silence that I would spare no opportunity of learning everything that might be needful in such a case, especially blood-letting, and whatever else there might be of like sort.
“But how soon did daily routine carry me away! The need for friendship and love had been awakened; I looked round about me everywhere to satisfy it. Meanwhile sensibility, imagination, and intellect were occupied beyond measure by the theatre: how far I was here led, and misled, I must not repeat.
“But if after this circumstantial narrative I have still to confess that I am as far as ever from the goal of my intention, and that I can only hope to arrive at it by a circuitous route, what am I to say? How can I excuse myself? In any case I should have to bring forward what follows. If it is allowable to the humorist to mix up his matter in minutest confusion, when he impudently leaves it to his reader to find out at last in half-meanings what—if anything—is to be got out of it, should it not be permitted to the intelligent and rational man to work in a strange-seeming way towards many points, so that one may at last see them reflected and concentrated in one focus, and may learn to understand how the most varied influences surrounding a man drive him to a conclusion which he would have been able to attain in no other way, either through inward impulse or outward motive?
“From the many things which still remain for me to say, I have the choice as to which I shall take first; but this too, is a matter of indifference. You must just possess your soul in patience, read and read on; for at last there will suddenly dawn upon you, and seem quite natural, that which spoken in one word would have struck you as exceedingly strange, and in fact to such a degree, that you would hardly have cared afterwards to give a moment to these introductions in the form of explanations.
“But that I may now in some sort get in the right direction, I will take a glance back at that rudder-pin again, and call to mind a conversation that I was accidentally led to hold with our tried friend Jarno—whom I met in the mountains under the name of Montan—and which awakened certain feelings of my own in a very special way. The circumstances of our life have a mysterious course which cannot be calculated. You remember, doubtless, that case which your skilful surgeon brought out when you came to help me as I lay prostrate and wounded in the forest? It flashed in my eyes at that time with such effect, and made so deep an impression, that I was quite delighted when I found it again, years after, in the hands of a younger man. He attached no particular value to it; instruments altogether had been improved in more recent times, and were better adapted to their purpose, and I obtained it all the more easily as the acquisition of a new set was thereby facilitated. From that time I always carried it about with me, not to make any use of it, it is true; but in order to be surer of comforting recollections; it was a witness to the moment when my good fortune began, at which I was to arrive only after a long circuit.
“By chance Jarno saw it when we spent the night at the charcoal-burner’s; and he recognized it at once, and in reply to my explanation said:
“ ‘I have nothing to object to a man’s setting up such a fetish in memory of many an unlooked-for benefit, or of important results from some ordinary circumstance; it elevates us as something that points to an Incomprehensible, stimulates us in difficulties, and encourages our hopes; but it would be a finer thing if you had let yourself be enticed, through those tools, to understand their use also, and to accomplish what they mutely demand of you.’
“ ‘Let me confess,’ I replied thereto, ‘that this has occurred to me a hundred times; an inner voice stirred within me, bidding me recognize in this my peculiar vocation.’
“I thereupon told him the story of the drowned boys, and how I had heard then that they might have been saved, if they had been bled. ‘I intended to learn how to do it; but every hour made the intention weaker.’
“ ‘Then seize it now!’ replied he. ‘I have for long seen you occupied with matters that concern and bear upon the human spirit, disposition, heart, and whatever you call it all. But what have you thereby gained for yourself and others? Sorrows of the mind into which we have fallen by misfortune or our own faults; to heal these intellect can do nothing, reason little, time much; resolute activity, on the other hand, everything. In this every one works with and for himself; that you have experienced in yourself and others.’
“He attacked me with angry and bitter words, as is his wont, and said many hard things that I do not care to repeat. ‘There is nothing,’ he concluded at last, ‘better worth the trouble of learning and doing than to assist the healthy man when he is injured by some accident or other; with prudent treatment, nature easily restores itself: the sick must be left to the physician; but no one needs a surgeon more than the sound and healthy man. In the quietude of country life, in the narrowest family circle, he is just as welcome as in and after the turmoil of battle; in the sweetest moments, as in the bitterest and most terrible; evil fate prevails everywhere, more dreadful than death itself, and not a whit less ruthless, nay, after a fashion, yet more noxious, more destructive to pleasure and to life.’
“You know him, and can imagine without effort that he spared me as little as the world. But he inclined most strongly to the argument which he directed against me in the name of the society at large.
“ ‘Your universal culture,’ said he, ‘and all institutions for that end, are foolishness. The thing is, that a man should understand something quite definitely, do it with an excellence which scarce anyone else in the immediate neighborhood could attain; and in our association particularly this is a self-evident matter. You are just of an age when a man forms any plan with intelligence, judges what lies before him with discernment, grapples with it from the right side, and directs his capacities and abilities to the right end.’
“Why, then, need I proceed to express what is a self-understood matter? He made it clear to me that I could obtain a dispensation from the restless life so strangely enjoined, though it might be difficult for me to obtain it. ‘You are one of that sort of men,’ he said, ‘who easily grow accustomed to a place, but not to an occupation. To all such a restless state of life is prescribed, in order, perhaps, that they may attain to a surer manner of life. If you will devote yourself in earnest to the most divine of all employments, to heal without miracles, and to perform miracles without words, I will use my influence in your favor.’ So he spoke hurriedly, adding all such cogent reasons as his eloquence was able to muster.
“Here then, I am disposed to make an end: but you shall very soon learn circumstantially how I have made use of the permission to remain a longer time at certain places; how I have succeeded in applying myself to the profession for which I have always had a secret liking, and of thoroughly training myself therein. Enough, in the great undertaking for which you are preparing yourself, I shall prove myself a useful, a necessary member of the society, and I shall fall into your paths with a certain assurance—with some amount of pride; for to be worthy of you is a laudable pride.”
[* ]i.e., of similar signification.
[* ] From Ovid. See below, p. 105.—D.
[* ] Makaria is meant. See below, p. 110.
[* ] Horace, Od. iv. 10.
[† ] Ovid, Metam. iv. 17, 18. See above, p. 101.
[* ] See above, p. 103.
[* ] See “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship,” several of the characters in which now reappear occasionally.
[* ] The above extracts are from Carlyle’s excellent translation, to which the reader who wishes to compare the two editions of this work is referred.
[* ] Lago Maggiore, with the Borromean Islands, as Goethe expressly declared to Eckermann. Jean Paul introduces Isola Bella with some success in his “Titan” without having seen it.—D.
[* ] See ‘Wilhelm Meister,’ also Goethe’s Poems, vol. i., p. 61.
[* ] This passage is interesting as apparently giving Goethe’s own views as to erratic rocks, at a time when the now familiar and well-established theory of glacier-movement had not been arrived at.—Ed.
[* ] The circumstance after all is not told. It was meant, Düntzer says, to be an accident to one of the miners.—Ed.
[* ] Goethe had made use of this story before, in his journey on the Rhine in the years 1814-1815.—D.