Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER VI. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The carriage which brought Ottilie drove up to the door. Charlotte went out to receive her. The dear girl ran to meet her, threw herself at her feet, and embraced her knees.
“Why such humility?” said Charlotte, a little embarrassed, and endeavoring to raise her from the ground.
“It is not meant for humility,” Ottilie answered, without moving from the position in which she had placed herself; “I am only thinking of the time when I could not reach higher than to your knees, and when I had just learned to know how you loved me.”
She stood up, and Charlotte embraced her warmly. She was introduced to the gentlemen, and was at once treated with especial courtesy as a visitor. Beauty is a welcome guest everywhere. She appeared attentive to the conversation, without taking a part in it.
The next morning Edward said to Charlotte, “What an agreeable, entertaining girl she is!”
“Entertaining!” answered Charlotte, with a smile; “why, she has not opened her lips yet!”
“Indeed!” said Edward, as he seemed to bethink himself; “that is very strange.”
Charlotte had to give the new-comer but a very few hints on the management of the household. Ottilie saw rapidly all the arrangements, and what was more, she felt them. She comprehended easily what was to be provided for the whole party, and what for each particular member of it. Everything was done with the utmost punctuality; she knew how to direct, without appearing to be giving orders, and when anyone had left anything undone, she at once set it right herself.
As soon as she had found how much time she would have to spare, she begged Charlotte to divide her hours for her, and to these she adhered exactly. She worked at what was set before her in the way which the assistant had described to Charlotte. They let her alone. It was but seldom that Charlotte interfered. Sometimes she changed her pens for others which had been written with, to teach her to make bolder strokes in her handwriting, but these, she found, would be soon cut sharp and fine again.
The ladies had agreed with one another when they were alone to speak nothing but French, and Charlotte persisted in it the more, as she found Ottilie more ready to talk in a foreign language, when she was told it was her duty to exercise herself in it. In this way she often said more than she seemed to intend. Charlotte was particularly pleased with a description, most complete, but at the same time most charming and amiable, which she gave her one day, by accident, of the school. She soon felt her to be a delightful companion, and before long she hoped to find in her an attached friend.
At the same time she looked over again the more early accounts which had been sent her of Ottilie, to refresh her recollection with the opinion which the superior and the assistant had formed about her, and compare them with her in her own person. For Charlotte was of opinion that we cannot too quickly become acquainted with the character of those with whom we have to live, that we may know what to expect of them; where we may hope to do anything in the way of improvement with them, and what we must make up our minds, once for all, to tolerate and let alone.
This examination led her to nothing new, indeed; but much which she already knew became of greater meaning and importance. Ottilie’s moderation in eating and drinking, for instance, became a real distress to her.
The next thing on which the ladies were employed was Ottilie’s toilet. Charlotte wished her to appear in clothes of a richer and more recherché sort, and at once the clever active girl herself cut out the stuff which had been previously sent to her, and with a very little assistance from others was able, in a short time, to dress herself out most tastefully. The new fashionable dresses set off her figure. An agreeable person, it is true, will show through all disguises; but we always fancy it looks fresher and more graceful when its peculiarities appear under some new drapery. And thus, from the moment of her first appearance, she became more and more a delight to the eyes of all who beheld her. As the emerald refreshes the sight with its beautiful hues, and exerts, it is said, a beneficent influence on that noble sense, so does human beauty work with a far larger potency on the outward and on the inward sense; whoever looks upon it is charmed against the breath of evil, and feels in harmony with himself and with the world.
In many ways, therefore, the party had gained by Ottilie’s arrival. The captain and Edward kept regularly to the hours, even to the minutes, for their general meeting together. They never kept the others waiting for them either for dinner or tea, or for their walks; and they were in less haste, especially in the evenings, to leave the table. This did not escape Charlotte’s observation; she watched them both, to see whether one more than the other was the occasion of it. But she could not perceive any difference. They had both become more companionable. In their conversation they seemed to consider what was best adapted to interest Ottilie, what was most on a level with her capacities and her general knowledge. If she left the room when they were reading or telling stories, they would wait till she returned. They had grown softer and altogether more united.
In return for this, Ottilie’s anxiety to be of use increased every day; the more she came to understand the house, its inmates, and their circumstances, the more eagerly she entered into everything, caught every look and every motion; half a word, a sound, was enough for her. With her calm attentiveness, and her easy, unexcited activity, she was always the same. Sitting, rising up, going, coming, fetching, carrying, returning to her place again, it was all in the most perfect repose; a constant change, a constant agreeable movement; while, at the same time, she went about so lightly that her step was almost inaudible.
This cheerful obligingness in Ottilie gave Charlotte the greatest pleasure. There was one thing, however, which she did not exactly like, of which she had to speak to her. “It is very polite in you,” she said one day to her, “when people let anything fall from their hand, to be so quick in stooping and picking it up for them; at the same time, it is a sort of confession that they have a right to require such attention, and in the world we are expected to be careful to whom we pay it. Towards women, I will not prescribe any rule as to how you should conduct yourself. You are young. To those above you, and older than you, services of this sort are a duty; towards your equals they are polite; to those younger than yourself and your inferiors you may show yourself kind and good-natured by such things,—only it is not becoming in a young lady to do them for men.”
“I will try to forget the habit,” replied Ottilie; “I think, however, you will in the meantime forgive me for my want of manners, when I tell you how I came by it. We were taught history at school; I have not gained as much out of it as I ought, for I never knew what use I was to make of it; a few little things, however, made a deep impression upon me, among which was the following:—When Charles the First of England was standing before his so-called judges, the gold top came off the stick which he had in his hand, and fell down. Accustomed as he had been on such occasions to have everything done for him, he seemed to look round and expect that this time too some one would do him this little service. No one stirred, and he stooped down for it himself. It struck me as so piteous, that from that moment I have never been able to see any one let a thing fall, without myself picking it up. But, of course, as it is not always proper, and as I cannot,” she continued, smiling, “tell my story every time I do it, in future I will try and contain myself.”
In the meantime the fine arrangements which the two friends had been led to make for themselves, went uninterruptedly forward. Every day they found something new to think about and undertake.
One day as they were walking together through the village, they had to remark with dissatisfaction how far behindhand it was in order and cleanliness, compared to villages where the inhabitants were compelled by the expense of building-ground to be careful about such things.
“You remember a wish we once expressed when we were travelling in Switzerland together,” said the captain, “that we might have the laying out some country park, and how beautiful we would make it by introducing into some village situated like this, not the Swiss style of building, but the Swiss order and neatness which so much improve it.”
“And how well it would answer here! The hill on which the castle stands, slopes down to that projecting angle. The village, you see, is built in a semicircle, regularly enough, just opposite to it. The brook runs between. It is liable to floods; and do observe the way the people set about protecting themselves from them; one with stones, another with stakes; the next puts up a boarding, and a fourth tries beams and planks; no one, of course, doing any good to another with his arrangement, but only hurting himself and the rest too. And then there is the road going along just in the clumsiest way possible,—up hill and down, through the water, and over the stones. If the people would only lay their hands to the business together, it would cost them nothing but a little labor to run a semicircular wall along here, take the road in behind it, raising it to the level of the houses, and so give themselves a fair open space in front, making the whole place clean, and getting rid, once for all, in one good general work, of all their little trifling ineffectual makeshifts.”
“Let us try it,” said the captain, as he ran his eyes over the lay of the ground, and saw quickly what was to be done.
“I can undertake nothing in company with peasants and shopkeepers,” replied Edward, “unless I may have unrestricted authority over them.”
“You are not so wrong in that,” returned the captain; “I have experienced too much trouble myself in life in matters of that kind. How difficult it is to prevail on a man to venture boldly on making a sacrifice for an after-advantage! How hard to get him to desire an end, and not hesitate at the means! So many people confuse means with ends; they keep hanging over the first, without having the other before their eyes. Every evil is to be cured at the place where it comes to the surface, and they will not trouble themselves to look for the cause which produces it, or the remote effect which results from it. This is why it is so difficult to get advice listened to, especially among the many: they can see clearly enough from day to day, but their scope seldom reaches beyond the morrow; and if it comes to a point where with some general arrangement one person will gain while another will lose, there is no prevailing on them to strike a balance. Works of public advantage can only be carried through by an uncontrolled absolute authority.”
While they were standing and talking, a man came up and begged of them. He looked more impudent than really in want, and Edward, who was annoyed at being interrupted, after two or three fruitless attempts to get rid of him by a gentler refusal, spoke sharply to him. The fellow began to grumble and mutter abusively; he went off with short steps, talking about the right of beggars. It was all very well to refuse them an alms, but that was no reason why they should be insulted. A beggar, and everybody else too, was as much under God’s protection as a lord. It put Edward out of all patience.
The captain, to pacify him, said, “Let us make use of this as an occasion for extending our rural police arrangements to such cases. We are bound to give away money, but we do better in not giving it in person, especially at home. We should be moderate and uniform in everything, in our charities as in all else; too great liberality attracts beggars instead of helping them on their way. At the same time there is no harm when one is on a journey, or passing through a strange place, in appearing to a poor man in the street in the form of a chance deity of fortune, and making him some present which shall surprise him. The position of the village and of the castle makes it easy for us to put our charities here on a proper footing. I have thought about it before. The public-house is at one end of the village, a respectable old couple live at the other. At each of these places deposit a small sum of money, and let every beggar, not as he comes in, but as he goes out, receive something. Both houses lie on the roads which lead to the castle, so that any one who goes there can be referred to one or the other.”
“Come,” said Edward, “we will settle that on the spot. The exact sum can be made up another time.”
They went to the innkeeper, and to the old couple, and the thing was done.
“I know very well,” Edward said, as they were walking up the hill to the castle together, “that everything in this world depends on distinctness of idea and firmness of purpose. Your judgment of what my wife has been doing in the park was entirely right; and you have already given me a hint how it might be improved. I will not deny that I told her of it.”
“So I have been led to suspect,” replied the captain; “and I could not approve of your having done so. You have perplexed her. She has left off doing anything; and on this one subject she is vexed with us. She avoids speaking of it. She has never since invited us to go with her to the summer-house, although at odd hours she goes up there with Ottilie.”
“We must not allow ourselves to be deterred by that,” answered Edward. “If I am once convinced about anything good, which could and should be done, I can never rest till I see it done. We are clever enough at other times in introducing what we want into the general conversation; suppose we have out some descriptions of English parks, with copper-plates, for our evening’s amusement. Then we can follow with your plan. We will treat it first problematically, and as if we were only in jest. There will be no difficulty in passing into earnest.”
The scheme was concerted, and the books were opened. In each group of designs they first saw a ground-plan of the spot, with the general character of the landscape, drawn in its rude, natural state. Then followed others, showing the changes which had been produced by art, to employ and set off the natural advantages of the locality. From these to their own property and their own grounds, the transition was easy.
Everybody was pleased. The chart which the captain had sketched was brought and spread out. The only difficulty was, that they could not entirely free themselves of the plan in which Charlotte had begun. However, an easier way up the hill was found; a lodge was suggested to be built on the height at the edge of the cliff, which was to have an especial reference to the castle. It was to form a conspicuous object from the castle windows, and from it the spectator was to be able to overlook both the castle and the garden.
The captain had thought it all carefully over, and taken his measurements; and now he brought up again the village road and the wall by the brook, and the ground which was to be raised behind it.
“Here you see,” said he, “while I make this charming walk up the height, I gain exactly the quantity of stone which I require for that wall. Let one piece of work help the other, and both will be carried out most satisfactorily and most rapidly.”
“But now,” said Charlotte, “comes my side of the business. A certain definite outlay of money will have to be made. We ought to know how much will be wanted for such a purpose, and then we can apportion it out—so much work, and so much money, if not by weeks, at least by months. The cash-box is under my charge. I pay the bills, and I keep the accounts.”
“You do not appear to have overmuch confidence in us,” said Edward.
“I have not much in arbitrary matters,” Charlotte answered. “Where it is a case of inclination, we women know better how to control ourselves than you.”
It was settled; the dispositions were made, and the work was begun at once.
The captain being always on the spot, Charlotte was almost daily a witness to the strength and clearness of his understanding. He, too, learned to know her better; and it became easy for them both to work together, and thus bring something to completeness. It is with work as with dancing; persons who keep the same step must grow indispensable to one another. Out of this a mutual kindly feeling will necessarily arise; and that Charlotte had a real kind feeling towards the captain, after she came to know him better, was sufficiently proved by her allowing him to destroy her pretty seat, which in her first plans she had taken such pains in ornamenting, because it was in the way of his own, without experiencing the slightest feeling about the matter.