Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER VII. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 5: W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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[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.
[* ] 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.