Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER V. - 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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“Monday, 15th September.
“Late at night, after a difficult ascent halfway up the mountain, I had lighted upon a decent inn, and at daybreak was awakened, to my great annoyance, from a refreshing sleep by a ceaseless tinkling and ringing of bells. A long train of packhorses passed by, before I had been able to dress and to hurry on in front of them. I now found, too, as I followed my path, how disagreeable and annoying such society is—the monotonous ringing deafens one’s ears. The packs, which extend on both sides far beyond the beasts (on this occasion they were carrying big bales of cotton), are pretty sure to graze the rocks on one side; and if the beast, to prevent this, draws off towards the other side, the load hangs over the precipice, and awakens anxiety and giddiness in the spectator, whilst—which is worst of all—he is in either case hindered from slipping past them, and going on in advance.
“At last I got alongside of them, upon an unoccupied rock, where St. Christopher, who had stoutly carried my luggage so far, greeted a man who was standing quietly and seemed to be passing the procession in review as it filed by. He was in reality their conductor; not only did a considerable number of the beasts of burden belong to him (he had hired the others with their drivers), but he was also the owner of a smaller proportion of the goods. For the most part, however, his business consisted in faithfully superintending for larger merchants the transport of theirs. In conversation I found out from him, that this was cotton that came from Macedonia and Cyprus by way of Trieste, and was brought from the mountain-foot to these heights upon mules and packhorses, and even farther to the other side of the mountain, where spinners and weavers innumerable throughout the vales and ravines were busy with the preliminaries of an extensive traffic with foreign countries in goods that were in request. The bales, for the sake of convenience of carriage, were some of one and a half, and some of three hundredweight, which latter made a full load for a beast. The man praised the quality of the cotton that came by this route, and compared it with that from the East and West Indies, particularly with that from Cayenne, as being the best known: he seemed very well informed in his business; and as it was not altogether strange to myself also, it gave us an agreeable and profitable subject of conversation. In the meantime the whole procession had gone on in front of us, and I looked with nothing but repugnance at the endless train of these laden creatures, on the rocky path that twined snakelike up the heights, behind whom we should have to creep on, and be baked between rocks under the advancing sun. Whilst I was grumbling about this to my porter, there came up with us a thick-set lively man, who appeared to be carrying on a tolerably large frame a proportionately easy burden. A greeting passed, and it very soon appeared from the lusty shaking of hands that St. Christopher and this new-comer were well acquainted: whereupon I speedily learned about him what follows.
“For the more remote tracts of the mountain-range, where it would be too far for every single workman to go to market, there is a sort of subordinate merchant or collector, who is called a yarn-man. He trudges, in fact, through all the valleys and nooks, visits house after house, takes cotton for the spinners in small quantities, takes in exchange or buys spun yarn, of whatever quality it may be, and hands it over with a certain profit in the lump to the manufacturers settled in the lower district.
“As the inconvenience of creeping along behind the mules was again mentioned, the man at once invited me to descend with him a side-valley that branched just at this spot from the principal valley so as to draw off the waters into another district. The decision was soon made, and when with some effort we had surmounted a somewhat steep mountainridge we saw before us the declivities on the other side, at first sight a most uninviting view. The rock was of a different sort, and assumed a slaty form; no vegetation enlivened the crag and boulders, and an abrupt descent seemed to be threatened: springs gushed from several points at once, and we passed a small tarn surrounded by rugged rocks. At last there appeared singly, and afterwards more closely together, pine trees, larches and birches; then, in between them, scattered rustic habitations, but certainly of the meanest sort, every one put together by the inmates themselves, with crossed balks of timber, with the great black slabs on the roof weighted with stones to prevent the wind carrying them away. In spite of this melancholy exterior aspect, the narrow space inside was still not uncomfortable; warm and dry and neatly kept, it suited well with the cheerful appearance of the inmates with whom one at once felt one’s self at home in country fashion.
“The messenger was not unexpected; they had even been looking for him out of the little window, for it was his custom to come, if possible, on the same day of the week. He made his bargain for the yarn, and distributed fresh wool; then we quickly descended to where, a little way off, several more horses were standing near each other. We were no sooner seen than the inhabitants ran together to greet us. Children joined the throng, and were highly delighted with a sponge-cake or seed-biscuit. The pleasure everywhere was great, and was increased when it appeared that St. Christopher had a supply of these, and thus at once had the pleasure of earning the gratitude of all the children; all the more pleasant to him because, like his comrade, he knew very well how to get on with the little folk.
“The elders, on the other hand, were ready with all sorts of questions: everyone wanted to know something about the war, which happily was being waged at a considerable distance, and even if nearer would hardly have been dangerous for such districts. However, they rejoiced at the peace, although they were concerned about another danger that threatened, for it was not to be denied that machinery was continually on the increase in the country, and was little by little threatening the working hands with inactivity; still various grounds for consolation and hope suggested themselves.
“Our friend’s advice, in the meantime, was asked on many ordinary matters; nay, he must needs prove himself not only a family friend, but also a family doctor: magic-drops, salts, and ointments were things that he always carried with him.
“Entering the various houses, I found an opportunity of indulging my old hobby, and informing myself about the spinners’ art. I paid attention to the children, who busied themselves carefully and diligently in pulling the wool-flocks asunder, and taking out the seeds, the chips of the shells of the pods and other impurities; this they call picking it. I asked whether that was the task of the children only, but learned that in the winter evenings it was also done by the men and youths.
“Buxom spinsters then, as was but proper, attracted my attention. The preparing is done in this wise: the picked or cleansed cotton is equally distributed on the cards, which in Germany are called krämpel, and carded, so that the dust is got rid of, and the fibres of the cotton take one direction; then it is taken off, twisted into skeins, and so prepared for spinning on the wheel.
“I was then shown the difference between left-spun and right-spun yarn: the former is generally finer, which is effected by the thread which turns the spindle being confined round about the ring, as is shown in the accompanying drawing (which, like the rest, we have unfortunately not been able to give).
“The spinner sits facing the wheel, not too high. Several of them kept it steady with their feet one upon the other; others only with the right, putting the left behind. With the right hand she turns the wheel, and stretches out as far and as high as she can reach, whereby beautiful movements come into play, and a slim figure, by graceful turns of the body and the rounded fulness of the arms, shows itself to very great advantage: the position, especially in the last species of spinning, gives a very picturesque contrast, so that our finest ladies would have no need to fear a loss of real attractiveness and grace, if they would for once take to the spinning-wheel instead of the guitar.
“Amidst such surroundings new and peculiar sensations forced themselves upon me: the whirring wheels have a certain eloquence: the girls sing psalms, and also, though less often, other songs; siskins and goldfinches, suspended in cages, twitter amidst it all, and it would not be easy to find a picture of more active life than in a room where several spinners are at work.
“To the above described ‘wheel-yarn,’ however, the ‘paper-yarn’ is to be preferred. For this the best cotton, which has longer fibres than the rest, is used. When it has been picked clean, it is taken, instead of being carded, to combs, which consist of simple rows of long steel needles, and is combed. Then the longer and finer part of it is abstracted in the shape of bands (the technical word is a ‘cutting’) with a blunt knife, mixed up together, and done up in a paper cornet, which is then fastened to the distaff. From such a cornet it is spun with the spindle by hand; on which account it is called ‘spinning from the paper,’ and the resulting yarn is called ‘paper-yarn.’
“This occupation, which is only pursued by quiet thoughtful people, gives the spinner a gentler aspect than that at the wheel. If the latter shows off a tall slim figure to the greatest advantage, a quiet gentle form is very much favored by the latter. Of such diverse characters, occupied in divers tasks, I saw more than one in a room, and at last I could not rightly tell whether I must give my attention to the work or to the workers.
“But, at all events, I could not deny that the ladies of the mountain, excited by the unusual guests, showed themselves in a kindly and agreeable light. They were especially pleased that I made such particular inquiries about everything, noted what they told me, made drawings of their implements and simple mechanism, and hastily sketched their pretty limbs with gracefulness, as ought to be seen here annexed. Moreover, when evening came on, the finished work was displayed, the full spindles were laid aside in the little boxes made for the purpose, and the whole day’s work was carefully taken away. By this time we had got better acquainted, yet the work sped on its course: they busied themselves now with the reel, and already much more freely exhibited, some the machine, some the method of manipulating, whilst I carefully wrote it down.
“The reel has a wheel and ratchet, so that by every turn a spring is worked, which runs down as often as a hundred revolutions have been made by the reel. The tale of one thousand revolutions is called a ‘schneller,’* according to the weight of which the varying fineness of the yarn is estimated.
“Of right-spun yarn there are twenty-five to thirty to the pound; if left-spun, sixty to eighty, perhaps even ninety. The revolution of the reel comes to about seven quarter-ells, or something more, and the slender industrious spinner declared that she spun four and even five schnellers, which would be five thousand revolutions, and therefore eight to nine thousand ells of yarn every day at the wheel; she offered to make a bet about it if we would stay one day longer.
“The quiet and modest paper-spinner, however, could not let the matter rest here, and assured us that she spun one hundred and twenty schnellers from the pound in a proportionate time. For paper-spinning is slower than spinning at the wheel, and at the same time is better paid; perhaps double the amount is spun with the wheel. She had just completed the full number of revolutions at the reel, and showed me how the end of the thread is twisted round a couple of times and knotted. She took the schneller off, turned it round, so that it was wrapped within itself, drew one end of it through the other, and could thus display with innocent complacency the task of the practised spinner concluded.
“As there was now nothing further to be noted here, the mother stood up and said that, as the young gentleman wanted to see everything, she would now show him the dry-weaving. She explained to me, with the same good-nature, as she set herself down at the loom, how they only practised this sort, because in point of fact it was only good for coarse cottons, in which the weft was inserted dry, and was not woven very close: she then showed me dry goods of the kind; these are always smooth, without stripes or squares or any other rich pattern, and only from five to five and a half quarter-ells in breadth.
“The moon was shining in the heavens, and our yarn-man insisted on a further pilgrimage, since he must keep to his day and hour, and arrive punctually at every place. The paths were good and distinct, especially with such a nocturnal torch as this. We, on our side, cheered the parting with silk ribands and neckerchiefs, of which sort of articles St. Christopher carried with him a considerable package. The gift was handed to the mother, that she might distribute it amongst her family.
“Tuesday, 16th, early morning.
“Our walk through a splendidly clear night was full of beauty and enjoyment. We reached a somewhat large assemblage of chalets, which might perhaps have been called a village; at some distance from it, upon an open hill, stood a chapel, and the outlook began already to be more habitable and civilized. We passed by enclosures which gave indications not, it is true, of gardens, but still of scanty and carefully protected meadow growth.
“We had reached a place where, in addition to spinning, weaving was more seriously pursued. Our journey of yesterday, prolonged into the night, had exhausted our robust and youthful powers: the yarn-man climbed up into the hayloft, and I was on the point of following him, when St. Christopher commended his frame to me, and went up to the door. I understood his kindly intention, and let him have his way.
“The first thing, however, next morning, the family assembled together, and the children were strictly forbidden to go out of doors, since a terrible bear or some other monster must be haunting the neighborhood, for all through the night there had been such a growling and grumbling from the chapel, that rocks and houses over here might well have been shaken, and they advised us to be well on our guard in our further travels to-day. We tried to reassure the good people as much as possible, which, however, in this solitary waste seemed difficult to do.
“The yarn-man now declared that he would finish his business as quickly as possible, and then come and fetch us away; for we should have to-day a long and difficult road before us, as we should not only continue to clamber down the valley, but would have a troublesome climb across a spur of the mountain that barred our way. I therefore determined to employ the time as well as possible, and get myself introduced by our good entertainers of yesterday into the preliminaries of weaving.
“They were both elderly people, who had yet been blessed in their latter days with two or three children; one very soon became aware, in their surroundings, conduct, and speech, of religious feeling and superstitious ideas. I came just at the beginning of such a piece of work, the transition from spinning to weaving, and as I found no occasion for further discursiveness, I had the process, as it was just then in operation, dictated forthwith into my note-book.
“The first task, of sizing the yarn, had been done yesterday. It is boiled in a thin solution of size, consisting of starch and a little carpenter’s glue, whereby the thread acquires more toughness. The skeins of yarn were dry by early morning, and they made ready to ‘spool’—that is to say, to wind the yarn with the wheel upon reed-bobbins. The old grandfather, sitting at the stove, performed this easy task; a grandchild stood by him, and seemed eager to turn the bobbin-wheel himself. In the meanwhile the father stuck the spools for the warp upon a frame divided by cross staves, so that they moved freely about strong wires standing vertically, and let the thread run off. They are arranged in the proper order with coarser and finer yarn, as the pattern, or rather the stripes in the web require. An appliance—the ‘brittli,’ shaped almost like a sistrum,* has holes on both sides, through which the threads are drawn; this is held in the right hand of the warper; with the left he grasps the threads all together, and lays them, walking backwards and forwards, upon the warping-frame. From the top to the bottom, and from the bottom to the top, is called a course, and so many courses are made according to the thickness and breadth of the cloth. The length amounts to either sixty-four or thirty-two ells. At the beginning of each course one or two threads are always laid above, with the fingers of the left hand, and the same number below; and this is called the lease. Then the crossed threads are laid over the two nails that are put on the top of the warp-frame. This is done so that the weaver can receive the threads in properly even order. As soon as the warp is ready, the leases are tied below, and thereby every course is kept separate, so that there can be no confusion. Then, on the last course, marks are made with dissolved verdigris, so that the weaver may get the proper measure again; finally, it is taken off, and the whole rolled up in the form of a large coil, which is called the warp.
“We had set out early before daybreak, and had enjoyed the glorious light of a belated moon. The dawning day, the rising sun, allowed us to see a better populated and cultivated country. While higher up, when crossing streams, we had met with stepping-stones or sometimes a narrow plank, provided only on one side with a rail, here were already stone bridges thrown across the ever widening waters: the attractive would little by little ally itself with the savage, and an enjoyable impression was experienced by all the travellers.
“Hither over the mountain from another river-region came trudging a tall black-haired man, who cried when still at a distance, as one who has good eyes and a powerful voice, ‘God greet you, gossip yarn-man!’
“The latter allowed him to get nearer, then he too exclaimed with astonishment, ‘God bless me, gossip loom-fitter!* where in the world do you come from? What an unexpected meeting!’
“The other answered, as he came up, ‘For the last two months I have been tramping about the mountain mending their gear for all good folk, and setting their benches to rights so that they can work away again untroubled for a long time.’
“Thereupon the yarn-man, turning to me, said, ‘As you, young gentleman, show so much pleasure and liking for the craft, and interest yourself in it so anxiously, this man comes at the very time, whilst I have been silently wishing for your sake that he were here during the last few days: he would have explained everything better for you than the girls, with all their good-will: he is master of his trade, and all that belongs to spinning, weaving and the like; he understands perfectly how to contrive, apply, preserve and repair, as need demands and anybody may just happen to want.’
“I addressed myself to him, and found him a very sensible man, in a certain sense educated, and perfectly at home in his business; whilst I repeated him something of what I had learned in these few days, and asked him to clear up some doubts. I also told him what I had seen of the first processes of weaving yesterday.
“He joyously exclaimed in reply, ‘That is a good wish indeed! then I have come just in the nick of time to give such a worthy kind gentleman the needful information about the most ancient and glorious art that, in point of fact, distinguishes the man from the brute. We have this very day arrived amongst worthy and clever people, and call me no loom-fitter if you don’t presently understand the craft as well as I do myself.’
“I returned him friendly thanks, the conversation was continued on all sorts of topics, and after a short halt and breakfast, we reached a group of houses which, whilst certainly somewhat irregular, were at all events better built. He showed us up to the best of them; and the yarn-man, as we arranged, went in first with me and St. Christopher. Then, after the first greetings and some joking, the loom-fitter followed, and it was astonishing what a joyful surprise his entrance created in the family. Father, mother, daughters and children gathered round him: the shuttle stopped in the hand of a finely grown girl sitting at the loom, as it was on the point of travelling through the warp: at the same moment she stayed the treadle, stood up, and presently came, with slow embarrassment, to give him her hand.
“Both of them, the yarn-man as well as the loom-fitter, soon put themselves, with jokes and tales, on the old footing due to family friends; and after spending some time in refreshing themselves, the excellent fellow turned to me and said, ‘We must not neglect you, dear sir, amidst these rejoicings at meeting again; we could go on gossiping with one another for days: you must be off to-morrow. Let the gentleman see the mystery of our craft: sizing and warping he knows; we must show him the rest. The young ladies there will help, I dare say. At this stool, I see, you are winding on.’
“This was the work of the younger one, to whom we turned. The elder sat down again at her loom, and, with a quiet amiable demeanor, pursued her lively task.
“I now carefully watched the winding on. For this purpose the courses of the work are allowed to run in their order through a big comb, of just the same breadth as the yarn-beam on which the winding is to be done. This is provided with a groove in which lies a thin round rod, which is inserted through the end of the warp and made tight in the groove. A little boy or girl sits under the loom and holds the string of the warp tight, whilst the weaver turns the yarn-beam round powerfully with a lever, at the same time taking care that everything is lying in proper order. When it is all wound on, one round and two flat rods (Schiene) are pushed through the ‘lease’ so as to hold it; and now the drawing begins.
“Of the old web there is still about a quarter of an ell left on the second yarn-beam, and from this the threads run for a length of about three quarter-ells through the reed in the batten as well as through the leaves of the heddles. On to these the weaver now carefully twists the threads of the new warp, one on to another, and when he has done the whole of what is twisted on is drawn through in one, so that the new threads reach to the still empty front yarn-beam: the broken threads are knotted together, the weft is wound upon small reels so that they fit into the little shuttle, and the last preparation for the weaving, namely, the dressing, is made.
“Throughout the length of the loom the warp is damped through and through with a size made of glove leather, by aid of a brush dipped into it; then the before-mentioned rods which hold the leases are drawn back, all the threads are laid most exactly in order, and it is all fanned with a goosewing fastened to a stick until it is dry; and now the weaving can begin, to go on until it is again necessary to dress.
“The dressing and fanning are commonly left to young people who are familiarized with the weaving trade; but in the leisure of the winter evenings a brother, or a lover, performs this office for the comely weaver, or at the least they prepare the little reels of weft-yarn.
“Fine muslins are woven wet, that is to say, the thread of the weft-yarn is dipped in size, wound whilst still damp upon the little reels, and worked forthwith, by which means the web can be more evenly worked and looks cleaner.
“In general I found something busy, indescribably animated, homely and peaceful in the whole condition of a weaving-room like this: several looms were in activity; spinning and spooling wheels were going; and at the stove sat the old people, with friends and neighbors who had looked in, engaged in confidential talk. Between whiles singing would perhaps be heard, generally Ambrosius Lobwasser’s psalms in four parts; more seldom ordinary songs; then perhaps there breaks out a merry peal of laughter from the girls, when cousin Jacob has made a witty remark.
“A really smart and at the same time diligent weaver, if she has help, can, at most, in the course of a week finish a piece of not too fine muslin, thirty-two ells in length; but this is very unusual, and in some working households this is commonly the work of a fortnight.
“The beauty of the web depends upon the even action of the heddles, on the even motion of the batten, and also upon whether the weft is wet or dry. A perfectly equal and at the same time strong tension also contributes, to secure which the weaver of fine cotton cloths hangs a heavy stone on the pin of the front beam. If the web during the work is strongly strained (the technical word is dämmen) it is perceptibly lengthened—in thirty-two ells by three-quarters of an ell, and in sixty-four by about one and a half. This overplus belongs to the weaver; she is paid extra for it, or keeps it for neckerchiefs, aprons, etc.
“On the brightest, tenderest of moonlit nights, such as prevail only in the high mountain regions, sat the family with their guest, at the house door, in the most animated talk, Lenardo deep in thought. Amidst all the life and employment, and so much thought devoted to manufacturing processes, his friend Wilhelm’s letter written to reassure him again came to his recollection. The words that he had read so often, the lines he had several times conned, again presented themselves to his inner sense. And as a favorite tune suddenly becomes, before we are aware of it, gently present to our deeper sense of hearing, so did that tender missive repeat itself in the quiet and self-absorbed soul.
“ ‘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.’
“But on this occasion reminiscence was more exacting than soothing. ‘And yet,’ said he to himself, ‘this general laconic description accords completely with the circumstances that surround me here. Is there not here peace, piety, and unintermittent activity? It is only the far-reaching effect that fails to seem equally obvious to me. May it be that the good creature animates a like circle, but a wider and a better one. May she find herself as happily situate as these—perhaps still more happily—and look round about her with more joy and freedom.’
“But now, aroused by a lively and increasing flow of talk on the part of the others, and paying more heed to what was passing, an idea which he had been cherishing all this time became perfectly vivid to him. ‘Might not this selfsame man, this man who deals with tools and apparatus in so masterly a manner, be able to make the most useful of members for our society?’ He pondered on this and everything—how the advantages of this expert workman had already powerfully struck him. He therefore turned the conversation in that direction; and as if in jest, it is true, but for that reason all the more unconstrainedly, he made the proposal whether he would not join an association of some importance, and make a trial of emigrating over the sea.
“The other excused himself, declaring, with equal good-humor, that he was getting on very well here, and expected to do better too; that he was born in this part of the country, accustomed to it, known far and wide and received with confidence everywhere. In general there would be found no liking for emigration in these valleys; they had no want to trouble them, and a mountain country has a firm hold on its people.
“ ‘For that reason,’ said the yarn-man, ‘I am surprised to hear it said that Frau Susanna is going to marry the manager, sell her property, and go with a fair sum of money over the sea.’
“On inquiry, our friend found that this was a young widow who was in easy circumstances and carried on a lucrative trade in the products of the mountain-side; of which the travelling tourist could satisfy himself the first thing on the morrow, for they would come across her in good time on the road they were following.
“ ‘I have already heard her mentioned in various ways,’ replied Lenardo, ‘as exercising activity and benevolence in this valley, and have been intending to inquire about her.’
“ ‘But let us retire to rest,’ said the yarnman, ‘so as to avail ourselves of the approaching day, which promises to be a merry one, betimes.’ ”
Here the manuscript ended, and when Wilhelm asked for the continuation, he was told that it was not at present in the friends’ hands. It had been sent, they said, to Makaria, who by aid of wit and good-will was to smooth over certain difficulties which were referred to in it and solve various unpropitious complications. Our friend had to make the best of this interruption, and make up his mind to be satisfied with a social evening spent in lively conversation.
[* ] This term corresponds to the English skein.
[* ] An antique metallic shuttle, the outline of which is somewhat like an ordinary hand-mirror.—Ed.
[* ]Geschirrfasser.—Geschirr is what is called the “mounting” of a loom, comprising chiefly the “heddles” which raise and depress the alternate yarns.—Ed.