Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER X. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER X. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 5: W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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During the concluding song a large part of those present arose quickly, and amid the far-resounding din marched in order two by two out of the hall. Lenardo sitting down, asked the guest whether he intended publicly to bring forward his business here, or wished for a special sitting. The stranger stood up, bowed to the company, and began the following speech:—
“It is here especially, in such an assembly, that I wish first to explain myself without further delay. They who have quietly remained here, by their aspect all true men, have already given evidence by such lingering of a plain wish and intention of continuing, for the future, to belong to their native land and soil. I greet them all with friendship, for I venture to affirm that I am in a position to offer them, one and all, as they now present themselves, an adequate daily task for several years. I would desire, however, but only after a brief interval, one more meeting, since it is before all things necessary to reveal my business confidentially to the worthy principals who have hitherto kept these honest people together, and to convince them of the genuiness of my mission. Moreover, it will be fitting that I should speak individually with those who have remained, that I may know with what efforts they propose to respond to my handsome offers.”
Hereupon Lenardo demanded an adjournment, to provide for the most needful business of the moment, and when this was settled, the whole mass of those who were left stood up in an orderly manner, and left the hall, also two by two, with a moderate sort of social glee.
Odoard then imparted to the two leaders, who stayed behind, his designs and proposals, and got his authority made valid. But now, in further conversation with such distinguished men, he could not give an account of the affair without referring to the human foundation upon which the whole veritably rests. Mutual explanations and confessions of deep matters of the heart were disclosed therefrom in the prolonged conversation. They remained together till deep into the night, and involved themselves more and more inextricably in the labyrinth of human theories and destinies. Thus then Odoard found himself led to give a fragmentary account of the conditions of his mind and heart; whereby only an imperfect and unsatisfactory knowledge of this conversation has actually come to us. Yet we must thank, too, Friedrich’s happy talent of seizing and retaining the presentment of various scenes, as well as some explanation of the career of a remarkable man, which begins to interest us, even though it were only indications of what, perhaps, in the sequel must be told more explicitly and in a connected way.
Don’t go too far!
VERYTHING was accordingly ready at the appointed hour as the clock at night struck ten; in the flower-bedecked room an ample and neat table laid for four people, with its dessert and confectionery disposed amidst twinkling lights and flowers. How delighted the children were at this dessert!—for they were to come in for it. Meanwhile they were prowling about in their finery and masks; and as children cannot be disfigured, they looked like the prettiest of twin-genii. The father called them to him, and with little help they repeated the festal verses composed for their mother’s birthday very cleverly.
Time wore on: from quarter to quarter the good old lady forbore not to increase her friend’s impatience. Some of the lamps, she said, on the stairs were on the point of going out; favorite dishes of the fêted one would be over-done, it was to be feared. The children were just beginning to be naughty from weariness, and they would get unbearable with impatience. The father composed himself, and yet his wonted composure would not remain at call: he listened anxiously to the carriages; several rattled by without stopping; a certain ill-humor was about to arise. To pass the time he bade the children once more repeat their verses. They, in their ill-temper, inattentive, absent and careless, said it badly, their gesticulation was no longer correct, they over-did it, like actors, without feeling. The good man’s annoyance increased every moment; it was more than half-past ten. We leave it to himself to describe the rest.
“The clock struck eleven; my impatience was increased to desperation; I no longer hoped, I feared. I was now afraid that she might come in, make her passing excuses with her usual airy grace, declare that she was very tired, and behave as if she were reproaching me for diminishing her pleasure. Within me everything was in a whirl, and much, very much, that I had put up with for years returned and weighed upon my mind. I began to hate her; I could devise no demeanor wherewith to meet her. The good children, dressed out like little angels, were sleeping peacefully upon the sofa. The ground burned under my feet, I could not realize nor collect myself, and nothing remained for me but to retreat until the ensuing minutes were only got over. I ran, lightly and festally clad as I was, to the house-door. I know not what sort of excuse I stammered out to the good old woman. She made me put on an overcoat, and I found myself in the street in a state of mind which I had not experienced for years back. Like the veriest passionate youth, who knows not what to do with himself, I raced up and down the streets. I should have reached the open country, but a cold damp wind blew keenly and repellently enough to put some bounds to my rage.”
We have usurped, as is strikingly noticeable in this scene, the privileges of the epic poet, and have carried the well-disposed reader only too quickly into the midst of passionate representation. We see an important man in domestic confusion, without our having learned anything further from him. On this account, therefore, in order to clear up the situation only in some degree, we join company with the good old woman, listening to what, at all events, in her distress and confusion, she may quietly mutter, or complain of aloud to herself.
“I have expected this a long time, I said it would be so: I have not spared my good lady; I have often warned her, but it is too much for her. If the master tires himself out at the office in town with business, in the country in the evening he finds an empty house, or company which does not suit him. He cannot help it. If she does not continually see people, men, round about her, if she does not drive about hither and thither, and cannot dress and re-dress herself, it is like being without air to breathe. To-day, on her birthday, she sets out early for a drive into the country; good. Meanwhile we arrange everything here: she solemnly promises to be at home at nine o’clock. We are ready: the master hears the children a pretty poem they have learned by heart; they are dressed up; lamps and candles; boiled and roast, not a thing wanting—but she does not come. The master has a great control over himself, he hides his impatience; it bursts forth. He leaves the house, late as it is; why is plain, but where to? I have often threatened her honestly and sincerely with rivals. So far I have seen nothing on the master’s part. A fair one has long had her eye on him, and put herself to trouble about him. Who knows what struggles he has had hitherto? Now it breaks out; at last despair at seeing his good intentions unrecognized drives him out of the house at nighttime. So I give up all for lost. More than once have I said to her she ought not to carry it too far!”
Now let us find out our friend again and hear himself.
“In the most respectable inn I saw lights downstairs, and, knocking at the window, I asked the waiter who looked out, in my usual voice, whether some strangers had not arrived or sent word. He had already opened the door, and saying No to both questions he asked me to come in. I found that it suited my situation, and to continue the adventure I asked him for a room, which he at once gave me on the second story. The first he supposed should be kept for the expected guests. He hurried away to make some arrangements. I made no objection, and pledged myself for the reckoning. Thus much was done; but I relapsed into my low-spirits, recalled each and everything to my mind, waxed wrathful, and relented, blamed myself, and tried to compose and pacify myself. To-morrow morning at any rate I would let everything be reinstated; I already pictured to myself the day, again in its accustomed routine; but then anger again broke forth uncontrollably: I had never thought that I could be so unhappy.”
Our readers have certainly already begun to sympathize so far with the worthy man whom we see here so unexpectedly in passionate emotion about an occurrence apparently trifling, as to wish to receive more detailed information as to his circumstances. We will turn to account the interval which occurs in this nocturnal adventure whilst speechless and angry he continues to pace up and down the room.
We learn to recognize in Odoard the scion of an ancient house to which for a number of generations the noblest qualities had been bequeathed. Trained in the military academy, he had acquired an accomplished manner which, in conjunction with the most praiseworthy capacities, gave a special grace to his demeanor. A short service at court gave him a good insight into the relations of high personages; and when after this he was attached, through the favor that he had speedily gained for himself, to a diplomatic mission, and had an opportunity of seeing the world and making the acquaintance of foreign courts, he at once gave most decided evidence of his clearness of apprehension, and happy powers of memory for past occurrences, but more particularly of good disposition in undertakings of every sort. His facility of expression in many languages, with a frank but not dictatorial manner, brought him on from one step to another. He obtained success in every diplomatic commission, because he won people’s good-will and thereby put himself in an advantageous position for smoothing misunderstandings; and especially he contrived to satisfy opposing interests by a just balancing of the arguments brought forward.
It was the object of the first minister to secure the services of so distinguished a man; he married him to his daughter, a young lady of the most brilliant beauty and trained in all the higher social virtues. But as in the current of human happiness there is ever some barrier opposed which holds it back in one place or another, so was it also here the case. At the court of the sovereign-prince was being brought up, as a ward, the Princess Sophronia, the last scion of her stock. Her fortune and expectations, though lands and people went back to an uncle, were still considerable enough; on which account, to avoid protracted debates, it was proposed to marry her—though he was doubtless much younger—to the crown-prince.
Odoard was suspected of a sentiment for her; it was found that he had sung her praises in a poem, under the name of Aurora, with too much feeling: to this was added an imprudence on her side; for with singular independence she had met certain rallyings of her companions by saying defiantly that “she must have no eyes if she was to be blind to such advantages.” By her marriage now any such suspicion was hushed up; but yet it was quietly cherished by secret adversaries, and again stirred up when opportunity occurred.
Questions relating to the state and succession, though people endeavored to interfere with them as little as possible, came, however, often under discussion. The prince no less than his wise counsellors considered it altogether advantageous to let the matter rest for a time, whilst the secret adherents of the princess would have liked to see them settled, and the noble lady thereby placed in greater freedom, especially since the old king of the adjoining countries, who was related to and well disposed towards Sophronia, was still alive, and had shown himself ready on occasion to exert a fatherly influence.
Odoard came under the suspicion, on the occasion of a purely formal mission to that court, of having again brought into activity the affair that it was desired to put off; the opponents availed themselves of this incident, and the father-in-law, whom he had convinced of his innocence, had to bring all his influence to bear in order to obtain for him a sort of governorship in a distant province. He found himself happy there. He could bring all his forces into play. There were things needful, useful, good, beautiful and great to be done. He could achieve something lasting without sacrificing himself; whilst, in such circumstances as he was in before, a man occupies himself against his convictions with transient matters and occasionally ruins himself.
Not so did his wife find it: she had her being only in larger circles, and only followed him later when forced to do so. He behaved as considerately as possible towards her, and approved of all substitutes for her former enjoyment; in summer, country parties in the neighborhood, in winter an amateur theatre, balls, and whatever else she liked to set on foot: nay, he even put up with an admirer, a stranger who had insinuated himself some time before, though he was by no means pleased with him, believing, with his clear insight into men, that he detected a certain insincerity all through him.
From all that we have said, it may be that in the present anxious moment somewhat of gloom and obscurity, somewhat also that was clear and distinct, passed across his mind. Enough if, after this confidential explanation, for which Friedrich’s good memory has furnished the material, we again turn to him, we find him again pacing excitedly up and down the room, by gestures and frequent exclamations giving evidence of an inner struggle.
“With such thoughts I had been walking hastily up and down the room. The waiter had brought me a bowl of broth, of which I was much in need; for in my careful preparations for the benefit of the birthday treat. I had taken nothing myself, and a luxurious supper was standing untasted at home. At that moment we heard a posthorn sounding very pleasantly up the street. ‘There comes some one from the mountain,’ said the waiter. We went to the window, and by the light of two brilliant carriage-lamps, saw a four-horsed well-loaded gentleman’s carriage drive up. The servants jumped from the box. ‘There they are!’ cried the waiter, and ran to the door. I caught hold of him tightly to impress upon him that he should say nothing of my being there, nor betray the fact that any orders had been given; he promised, and sprang away.
“Meanwhile I had hesitated to see who had got out, and a new impatience took possession of me. I thought that the waiter was delaying too long in bringing me news. At last I was informed by him that the guests were ladies: an elderly lady of dignified aspect, a middleaged one of incredible beauty, and a ladies’-maid, such as anyone might wish for.
“ ‘She began,’ he said, ‘by giving orders, went on with flattery, and when I did what she liked, fell into a merry saucy mood, that was very likely the most natural to her. I very soon noticed,’ he went on, ‘all the general astonishment at finding me so alert, and the house well prepared for their arrival, the room lighted, the fire burning. They made themselves at home; in the saloon they found a cold supper. I offered some broth, and it seemed welcome to them.’
“The ladies now sat down to table; the elder one scarcely ate anything: the dear beauty nothing at all, the maid, whom they called Lucy, made a good meal, and meanwhile sang the praises of the inn; was delighted with the bright wax-candles, the fine table-linen, the porcelain, and all the appointments. She had previously warmed herself at the blazing hearth, and now she asked the waiter when he came in again, whether they were here always so well prepared to entertain guests arriving at every hour of the day and night. The clever young rogue was at this juncture in the same state as children, who certainly say nothing about the secret, but cannot hide the fact that something secret has been intrusted to them. First he answered ambiguously, then more approximately, and at last, driven into a corner by the quick-wittedness of the girl, and by continual talking on one side and the other, he confessed that there had been a servant, that a gentleman had come, had gone away, and come back again; and finally it escaped him that the gentleman was actually up-stairs, and was walking restlessly up and down. The young lady jumped up; the others did the same. It must be an old gentleman, they hurriedly assumed; the waiter assured them that, on the contrary, he was young. Now they were in doubt again; he maintained the truth of what he had said. The confusion, the excitement increased. It must be her uncle, said the beauty. It was not his way, said the elder lady. No one but he could have known that she would arrive at this hour, replied the other persistently. But the waiter declared again and again it was a young handsome vigorous man. Lucy swore, on the other hand, that it must be the uncle; the rogue of a waiter was not to be trusted: he had contradicted himself in the last half-hour.
“After all this, the waiter had to go upstairs and urgently beg the gentleman to be so good as to come downstairs, and at the same time threaten that the ladies would come up and thank him themselves.
“ ‘It is an endless muddle,’ said the waiter: ‘I do not understand why you hesitate to show yourself; they take you for an old uncle, whom they passionately long to embrace once more. Go down, I beg. Are not these the people that you expected? Don’t wantonly despise a most charming adventure! The young beauty is worth seeing and hearing; they are most respectable people. Run down, else they will really forcibly carry you out of the room.’ ”
Passion begets passion; excited as he was, he longed for something different, something strange. He went down in the hope of introducing himself and giving explanations to the new-comers in a cheerful conversation, of hearing foreign news and giving himself some distraction: and yet he felt as if he were going to some already known and precarious situation. He now stood before the door; the ladies, who thought that they heard the uncle’s step, ran out to meet him. He entered. What a meeting! what a recognition! The beauty gave a cry, and threw herself round the neck of the elder lady: our friend recognized them both, he shrank backwards, then he started forwards, he lay at her feet and touched her hand, which he immediately let go again with the most deferential kiss: the syllables Au-ro-ra died upon his lips.
If we now take a look at our friend’s house, we find it in a very strange condition. The good old lady knew not what to do, or not do: she kept the lamps in the hall and staircase burning, and had the food taken off the fire—some of it being irretrievably spoiled. The maid had remained with the sleeping children, and had kept up the numerous lights in the room as quietly and patiently as the other had been angrily pacing up and down.
At last the carriage rolled up to the door: the lady got out and was informed that her husband had been called away some hours before—ascending the stairs she appeared to take no notice of the festal illumination. The elder woman now learned from a servant that an accident had happened on the way, the carriage having been upset in a ditch, and all else that had taken place afterwards.
The lady entered the room. “What is this masquerade about?” she said, pointing to the children.
“It would have given you a good deal of pleasure if you had come some hours sooner,” said the maiden lady.
The children, aroused from sleep, jumped up, and as soon as they saw their mother they began their got-off address. With embarrassment on both sides it went on for a while, then in the absence of encouragement and help it began to limp; at last it broke down completely, and the good children were sent with some caresses to bed. The lady found herself alone, threw herself upon the sofa, and burst out into bitter tears.
At this point, however, it becomes necessary to give some more detailed account of the lady herself and of the country party which had ended, as it seems, so badly. Albertina was one of those ladies to whom one would have had nothing to say tête-à-tête, but whom one is very glad to meet in a large party. Then they appear as real adornments of the whole, and as stimulants at every torpid moment. Their charm is of such a kind, that to express itself, to be in its element, it requires a certain amount of space; its operations demand a larger public, they require an element that supports them, that compels them to be charming: towards individuals they scarcely know how to conduct themselves.
Her friend and admirer gained her favor, and maintained himself in it, merely because he was expert at setting on foot one enjoyment after another, at keeping, if not a large circle, at any rate a lively one, continually on the move. In distributing parts, he used to select for himself the tender fathers, and managed by a respectable and sagacious demeanor to give himself an advantage over the younger, first, second and third lovers.
Florina, the owner of an important manorial estate in the neighborhood, and in winter a resident in town, was indebted to Odoard, whose economical management had accidentally though fortunately been of great advantage to her property and gave a prospect ultimately of a largely increased revenue from it. In summer she visited her estate, and made it the theatre of numerous agreeable diversions. Birthdays especially were never neglected, and all sorts of festivities were arranged.
Florina was a lively coquettish creature; attached as it seemed to no one, and neither claiming nor desiring any attachment. A passionate dancer, she only esteemed men in so far as they moved in good time. An everactive woman of society, she considered the man unendurable who even but one moment looked down and seemed to reflect; but in general displaying herself very gracefully as a lively lover such as are necessary in every play or opera—whence it happened that between her and Albertina, who played the dignified parts, no question of precedence ever arose.
To keep the coming birthday in good company, the best society from the town and from the country round about was invited. A dance, begun after breakfast, was continued after dinner; the gathering was protracted to great length; they drove away late, and, overtaken sooner than they expected by night on a bad road, which was doubly bad because it was being mended, the coachman mistook the way and threw them into a ditch. Our beauty with Florina and the gentleman friend felt themselves in a dreadful plight. The latter managed to extricate himself quickly; then stooping down over the carriage, he called. “Florina, where art thou?” Albertina thought she must be dreaming: he grasped something inside, and drew forth Florina, who lay on the top, in a swoon. He attended to her and at last carried her on his strong arm along the recovered road. Albertina was still wedged in the carriage. Coachman and servant helped her out, and supported by the latter she tried to go on. The road was bad, unsuited for dancing shoes; although held up by the boy she stumbled every moment. But within, the prospect was still wilder and more forlorn: how it came to pass she neither knew nor understood.
“But when she entered the inn, and in the little room saw Florina on the bed, with the hostess and Lelio busy about her, she was certain of her unhappiness. A secret understanding between the faithless friend and the treacherous companion was all at once made clear with the speed of lightning. She was forced to see how the latter, opening her eyes, threw herself on her admirer’s neck with the joy of newly awaking most tender affection: how the dark eyes again shone, a fresh color suddenly decked with charms the pale cheeks again: she really looked rejuvenated, charming and most lovely.
Albertina stood there, looking down, lonely and hardly noticed. The other two recovered and composed themselves; but the mischief was done. However, they were obliged to seat themselves again in the carriage, and in hell itself antithetic souls—betrayed and betrayers—could not have been so closely crowded together.