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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So swept on Luciana in the social whirlpool, driving the rush of life along before her. Her court multiplied daily, partly because her impetuosity roused and attracted so many, partly because she knew how to attach the rest to her by kindness and attention. Generous she was in the highest degree; her aunt’s affection for her and her bridegroom’s love, had heaped her, with beautiful and costly presents, but she seemed as if nothing which she had was her own, and as if she did not know the value of the things which had streamed in upon her. One day she saw a young lady looking rather poorly dressed by the side of the rest of the party, and she did not hesitate a moment to take off a rich shawl which she was wearing and hang it over her—doing it, at the same time, in such a humorous, graceful way that no one could refuse such a present so given. One of her courtiers always carried about a purse, with orders, whatever place they passed through, to inquire there for the most aged and most helpless persons, and give them relief, at least for the moment. In this way she gained for herself all round the country a reputation for charitablness which caused her not a little inconvenience, attracting about her far too many troublesome sufferers.
Nothing, however, so much added to her popularity as her steady and consistent kindness towards an unhappy young man, who shrank from society because, while otherwise handsome and well-formed, he had lost his right hand, although with high honor, in action This mutilation weighed so heavily upon his spirits, it was so annoying to him that every new acquaintance he made had to be told the story of his misfortune, that he chose rather to shut himself up altogether, devoting himself to reading and other studious pursuits, and once for all would have nothing more to do with society.
She heard of the state of this young man. At once she contrived to prevail upon him to come to her, first to small parties, then to greater, and then out into the world with her. She showed more attention to him than to any other person; particularly she endeavored, by the services which she pressed upon him, to make him sensible of what he had lost in laboring herself to supply it. At dinner, she would make him sit next to her; she cut up his food for him, that he might only have to use his fork. If people older or of higher rank prevented her from being close to him, she would stretch her attention across the entire table, and the servants were hurried off to make up to him what distance threatened to deprive him of. At last she encouraged him to write with his left hand. All his attempts he was to address to her, and thus, whether far or near, she always kept herself in correspondence with him. The young man did not know what had happened to him, and from that moment a new life opened out before him.
One may perhaps suppose that such behavior must have caused some uneasiness to her bridegroom. But, in fact, it was quite the reverse. He admired her exceedingly for her exertions, and he had the more reason for feeling entirely satisfied about her, as she had certain features in her character almost in excess, which kept anything in the slightest degree dangerous utterly at a distance. She would run about with anybody, just as she fancied; no one was free from danger of a push or a pull, or of being made the object of some sort of freak. But no person ever ventured to do the same to her; no person dared to touch her, or return, in the remotest degree, any liberty which she had taken herself. She kept every one within the strictest barriers of propriety in their behavior to herself, while she, in her own behavior, was every moment overleaping them.
On the whole, one might have supposed it had been a maxim with her to expose herself indifferently to praise or blame, to regard or to dislike. If in many ways she took pains to gain people, she commonly herself spoiled all the good she had done, by an ill tongue, which spared no one. Not a visit was ever paid in the neighborhood, not a single piece of hospitality was ever shown to herself and her party among the surrounding castles or mansions, but what on her return her excessive recklessness let it appear that all men and all human things she was only inclined to see on the ridiculous side.
There were three brothers who, purely out of compliment to each other, which should marry first, had been overtaken by old age before they had got the question settled; here was a little young wife with a great old husband; there, on the other hand, was a dapper little man and an unwieldy giantess. In one house, every step one took one stumbled over a child; another, however many people were crammed into it, never would seem full, because there were no children there at all. Old husbands (supposing the estate was not entailed) should get themselves buried as quickly as possible, that such a thing as a laugh might be heard again in the house. Young married people should travel: housekeeping did not sit well upon them. And as she treated the persons, so she treated what belonged to them; their houses, their furniture, their dinner-services—everything. The ornaments of the walls of the rooms most particularly provoked her saucy remarks. From the oldest tapestry to the most modern printed paper; from the noblest family pictures to the most frivolous new copperplate: one as well as the other had to suffer—one as well as the other had to be pulled in pieces by her satirical tongue, so that, indeed, one had to wonder how, for twenty miles round, anything continued to exist.
It was not, perhaps, exactly malice which produced all this destructiveness; wilfulness and selfishness were what ordinarily set her off upon it: but a genuine bitterness grew up in her feelings towards Ottilie.
She looked down with disdain on the calm, uninterrupted activity of the sweet girl, which everyone had observed and admired, and when something was said of the care which Ottilie took of the garden and of the hothouses, she not only spoke scornfully of it, in affecting to be surprised, if it were so, at there being neither flowers nor fruit to be seen, not caring to consider that they were living in the depth of winter, but every faintest scrap of green, every leaf, every bud which showed, she chose to have picked every day and squandered on ornamenting the rooms and tables, and Ottilie and the gardener were not a little distressed to see their hopes for the next year, and perhaps for a longer time, destroyed in this wanton recklessness.
As little would she be content to leave Ottilie to her quiet work at home, in which she could live with so much comfort. Ottilie must go with them on their pleasure-parties and sledging-parties; she must be at the balls which were being got up all about the neighborhood. She was not to mind the snow, or the cold, or the night-air, or the storm; other people did not die of such things, and why should she? The delicate girl suffered not a little from it all, but Luciana gained nothing. For although Ottilie went about very simply dressed, she was always, at least so the men thought, the most beautiful person present. A soft attractiveness gathered them all about her; no matter whereabouts in the great rooms she was, first or last, it was always the same. Even Luciana’s bridegroom was constantly occupied with her; the more so, indeed, because he desired her advice and assistance in a matter with which he was just then engaged.
He had cultivated the acquaintance of the architect. On seeing his collection of works of art, he had taken occasion to talk much with him on history and other matters, and especially from seeing the chapel had learned to appreciate his talent. The baron was young and wealthy. He was a collector; he wished to build. His love for the arts was keen, his knowledge small. In the architect he thought that he had found the man he wanted; that with his assistance there was more than one aim at which he could arrive at once. He had spoken to his bride of what he wished. She praised him for it, and was infinitely delighted with the proposal. But it was more, perhaps, that she might carry off this young man from Ottilie (for whom she fancied she saw in him a kind of inclination), than because she thought of applying his talents to any purpose. He had shown himself, indeed, very ready to help at any of her extemporized festivities, and had suggested various resources for this thing and that. But she always thought she understood better than he what should be done, and as her inventive genius was usually somewhat common, her designs could be as well executed with the help of a tolerably handy domestic as with that of the most finished artist. Further than to an altar on which something was to be offered, or to a crowning, whether of a living head or of one of plaster of Paris, the force of her imagination could not ascend, when a birthday, or other such occasion, made her wish to pay some one an especial compliment.
Ottilie was able to give the baron the most satisfactory answer to his inquiries as to the relation of the architect with their family. Charlotte had already, as she was aware, been exerting herself to find some situation for him; had it not been indeed for the arrival of the party, the young man would have left them immediately on the completion of the chapel; the winter having brought all building operations to a standstill; and it was, therefore, most fortunate if a new patron could be found to assist him, and to make use of his talents.
Ottilie’s own personal position with the architect was as pure and unconscious as possible. His agreeable presence, and his industrious nature, had charmed and entertained her, as the presence of an elder brother might. Her feelings for him remained at the calm unimpassioned level of blood relationship. For in her heart there was no room for more; it was filled to overflowing with love for Edward; only God, who interpenetrates all things, could share with him the possession of that heart.
Meantime the winter sank deeper; the weather grew wilder, the roads more impracticable, and therefore it seemed all the pleasanter to spend the waning days in agreeable society. With short intervals of ebb, the crowd from time to time flooded up over the house. Officers found their way there from distant garrison towns; the cultivated among them being a most welcome addition, the ruder the inconvenience of every one. Of civilians too there was no lack; and one day the count and the baroness quite unexpectedly came driving up together.
Their presence gave the castle the air of a thorough court. The men of rank and character formed a circle about the baron, and the ladies yielded precedence to the baroness. The surprise at seeing both together, and in such high spirits was not allowed to be of long continuance. It came out that the count’s wife was dead, and the new marriage was to take place as soon as ever decency would allow it.
Well did Ottilie remember their first visit, and every word which was then uttered about marriage and separation, binding and dividing, hope, expectation, disappointment, renunciation. Here were these two persons, at that time without prospect for the future, now standing before her, so near their wished-for happiness, and an involuntary sigh escaped out of her heart.
No sooner did Luciana hear that the count was an amateur of music, than at once she must get up something of a concert. She herself would sing and accompany herself on the guitar. It was done. The instrument she did not play without skill; her voice was agreeable: as for the words one understood about as little of them as one commonly does when a German beauty sings to the guitar. However, everyone assured her that she had sung with exquisite expression, and she found quite enough approbation to satisfy her. A singular misfortune befell her, however, on this occasion. Among the party there happened to be a poet, whom she hoped particularly to attach to herself, wishing to induce him to write a song or two, and address them to her. This evening, therefore, she produced scarcely anything except songs of his composing. Like the rest of the party he was perfectly courteous to her, but she had looked for more. She spoke to him several times, going as near the subject as she dared, but nothing further could she get. At last, unable to bear it any longer, she sent one of her train to him, to sound him and find out whether he had not been delighted to hear his beautiful poems so beautifully executed.
“My poems?” he replied, with amazement; “pray excuse me, my dear sir,” he added, “I heard nothing but the vowels, and not all of those; however, I am in duty bound to express all gratitude for so amiable an intention.” The dandy said nothing and kept his secret; the other endeavored to get himself out of the scrape by a few well-timed compliments. She did not conceal her desire to have something of his which should be written for herself.
If it would not have been too ill-natured. he might have handed her the alphabet, to imagine for herself, out of that, such laudatory poem as would please her, and set it to the first melody that came to hand; but she was not to escape out of this business without mortification. A short time after, she had to learn that the very same evening he had written, at the foot of one of Ottilie’s favorite melodies, a most lovely poem, which was something more than complimentary.
Luciana, like all persons of her sort, who never can distinguish between where they show to advantage and where to disadvantage, now determined to try her fortune in reciting. Her memory was good, but, if the truth must be told, her execution was spiritless, and she was vehement without being passionate. She recited ballad stories, and whatever else is usually delivered in declamation. At the same time she had contracted an unhappy habit of accompanying what she delivered with gestures, by which, in a disagreeable way, what is purely epic and lyric is more confused than connected with the dramatic.
The count, a keen-sighted man, soon saw through the party, their inclinations, dispositions, wishes and capabilities, and by some means or other contrived to bring Luciana to a new kind of exhibition, which was perfectly suited to her.
“I see here,” he said, “a number of persons with fine figures, who would surely be able to imitate pictorial emotions and postures. Suppose they were to try, if the thing is new to them, to represent some real and well-known picture. An imitation of this kind, if it requires some labor in arrangement, has an inconceivably charming effect.”
Luciana was quick enough in perceiving that here she was on her own ground entirely. Her fine shape, her well-rounded form, the regularity and yet expressiveness of her features, her light-brown braided hair, her long neck—she ran them all over in her mind, and calculated on their pictorial effects, and if she had only known that her beauty showed to more advantage when she was still than when she was in motion, because in the last case certain ungracefulnesses continually escaped her, she would have entered even more eagerly than she did into this natural picture-making.
They looked out the engravings of celebrated pictures, and the first which they chose was Van Dyk’s Belisarius. A large well-proportioned man, somewhat advanced in years, was to represent the seated blind general. The architect was to be the affectionate soldier standing sorrowing before him, there really being some resemblance between them. Luciana, half from modesty, had chosen the part of the young woman in the background, counting out some large alms into the palm of his hand, while an old woman beside her is trying to prevent her, and representing that she is giving too much. Another woman who is in the act of giving him something, was not forgotten. Into this and other pictures they threw themselves with all earnestness. The count gave the architect a few hints as to the best style of arrangement, and he at once set up a kind of theatre, all necessary pains being taken for the proper lighting of it. They were already deep in the midst of their preparations, before they observed how large an outlay what they were undertaking would require, and that in the country, in the middle of winter, many things which they required it would be difficult to procure; consequently, to prevent a stoppage, Luciana had nearly her whole wardrobe cut in pieces, to supply the various costumes which the original artist had arbitrarily selected.
The appointed evening came, and the exhibition was carried out in the presence of a large assemblage, and to the universal satisfaction. They had some good music to excite expectation, and the performance opened with the Belisarius. The figures were so successful, the colors were so happily distributed, and the lighting managed so skilfully, that they might really have fancied themselves in another world, only that the presence of the real instead of the apparent produced a kind of uncomfortable sensation.
The curtain fell, and was more than once raised again by general desire. A musical interlude kept the assembly amused while preparation was going forward, to surprise them with a picture of a higher stamp; it was the well-known design of Poussin, Ahasuerus and Esther. This time Luciana had done better for herself. As the fainting, sinking queen she had put out all her charms, and for the attendant maidens who were supporting her, she had cunningly selected pretty well-shaped figures, not one among whom, however, had the slightest pretension to be compared with herself. From this picture, as from all the rest, Ottilie remained excluded. To sit on the golden throne and represent the Zeus-like monarch, Luciana had picked out the finest and handsomest man of the party, so that this picture was really of inimitable perfection.
For a third they had taken the so-called “Father’s Admonition” of Terburg, and who does not know Wille’s admirable engraving of this picture? One foot thrown over the other, sits a noble knightly-looking father; his daughter stands before him, to whose conscience he seems to be addressing himself. She, a fine striking figure, in a folding drapery of white satin, is only to be seen from behind, but her whole bearing appears to signify that she is collecting herself. That the admonition is not too severe, that she is not being utterly put to shame, is to be gathered from the air and attitude of the father, while the mother seems as if she were trying to conceal some slight embarrassment—she is looking into a glass of wine, which she is on the point of drinking.
Here was an opportunity for Luciana to appear in her highest splendor. Her back hair, the form of her head, neck and shoulders, were beyond all conception beautiful; and the waist, which in the modern antique of the ordinary dresses of young ladies is hardly visible, showed to the greatest advantage in all its graceful slender elegance in the really old costume. The architect had contrived to dispose the rich folds of the white satin with the most exquisite nature, and, without any question whatever, this living imitation far exceeded the original picture, and produced universal delight.
The spectators could never be satisfied with demanding a repetition of the performance, and the very natural wish to see the face and front of so lovely a creature, when they had done looking at her from behind, at last became so decided, that a merry impatient young wit cried out aloud the words one is accustomed to write at the bottom of a page, “Tournez, s’il vous plait,” which was echoed all round the room.
The performers, however, understood their advantage too well, and had mastered too completely the idea of these works of art to yield to the most general clamor. The daughter remained standing in her shame, without favoring the spectators with the expression of her face. The father continued to sit in his attitude of admonition, and the mother did not lift nose or eyes out of the transparent glass, in which, although she seemed to be drinking, the wine did not diminish.
We need not describe the number of smaller after-pieces; for which had been chosen Flemish public-house scenes and fair and market days.
The count and the baroness departed, promising to return in the first happy weeks of their approaching union. And Charlotte now had hopes, after having endured two weary months of it, of ridding herself of the rest of the party at the same time. She was assured of her daughter’s happiness, as soon as the first tumult of youth and betrothal should have subsided in her; for the bridegroom considered himself the most fortunate person in the world. His income was large, his disposition moderate and rational, and now he found himself further wonderfully favored in the happiness of becoming the possessor of a young lady with whom all the world must be charmed. He had so peculiar a way of referring everything to her, and only to himself through her, that it gave him an unpleasant feeling when any newly-arrived person did not devote himself heart and soul to her, and was far from flattered if, as occasionally happened, particularly with elderly men, he neglected her for a close intimacy with himself. Everything was settled about the architect. On New Year’s day he was to follow him, and spend the Carnival at his house in the city, where Luciana was promising herself infinite happiness from a repetition of her charmingly successful pictures, as well as from a hundred other things; all the more as her aunt and her bridegroom seemed to make so light of the expense which was required for her amusements.
And now they were to break up. But this could not be managed in an ordinary way. They were one day making fun of Charlotte aloud, declaring that they would soon have eaten out her winter stores, when the nobleman who had represented Belisarius, being fortunately a man of some wealth, carried away by Luciana’s charms, to which he had been so long devoting himself, cried out unthinkingly, “Why not manage then in the Polish fashion? you come now and eat up me, and then we will go on round the circle.” No sooner said than done. Luciana willed that it should be so. The next day they all packed up and the swarm alighted on a new property. There indeed they found room enough, but few conveniences and no preparations to receive them. Out of this arose many contretemps, which entirely enchanted Luciana; their life became ever wilder and wilder. Huge hunting-parties were set on foot in the deep snow, attended with every sort of disagreeableness; women were not allowed to excuse themselves any more than men, and so they trooped on, hunting and riding, sledging and shouting, from one place to another, till at last they approached the residence, and there the news of the day and the scandals and what else forms the amusement of people at courts and cities gave the imagination another direction, and Luciana with her train of attendants (her aunt had gone on some time before) swept at once into a new sphere of life.
FROM OTTILIE’S DIARY.
“We accept every person in the world as that for which he gives himself out, only he must give himself out for something. We can put up with the unpleasant more easily than we can endure the insignificant.
“We venture upon anything in society except only what involves a consequence.
“We never learn to know people when they come to us: we must go to them to find out how things stand with them.
“I find it almost natural that we should see many faults in visitors, and that directly they are gone we should judge them not in the most amiable manner. For we have, so to say, a right to measure them by our own standard. Even cautious, sensible men can scarcely keep themselves in such cases from being sharp censors.
“When, on the contrary, we are staying at the houses of others, when we have seen them in the midst of all their habits and environments among those necessary conditions from which they cannot escape, when we have seen how they affect those about them, and how they adapt themselves to their circumstances, it is ignorance, it is worse, it is ill-will, to find ridiculous what in more than one sense has a claim on our respect.
“That which we call politeness and good breeding effects what otherwise can only be obtained by violence, or not even by that.
“Intercourse with women is the element of good manners.
“How can the character, the individuality of a man co-exist with polish of manner?
“The individuality can only be properly made prominent through good manners. Everyone likes what has something in it, only it must not be a disagreeable something.
“In life generally, and in society no one has such high advantages as a well-cultivated soldier.
“The rudest fighting people at least do not go out of their character, and generally behind the roughness there is a certain latent good humor, so that in difficulties it is possible to get on even with them.
“No one is more intolerable than an underbred civilian. From him one has a right to look for a delicacy, as he has no rough work to do.
“When we are living with people who have a delicate sense of propriety, we are in misery on their account when anything unbecoming is committed. So I always feel for and with Charlotte, when a person is tipping his chair She cannot endure it.
“No one would ever come into a mixed party with spectacles on his nose, if he did but know that at once we women lose all pleasure in looking at him or listening to what he has to say.
“Free-and-easiness, where there ought to be respect, is always ridiculous. No one would put his hat down when he had scarcely paid the ordinary compliments if he knew how comical it looks.
“There is no outward sign of courtesy that does not rest on a deep moral foundation. The proper education would be that which communicated the sign and the foundation of it at the same time.
“Behavior is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image.
“There is a courtesy of the heart. It is akin to love. Out of it arises the purest courtesy in the outward behavior.
“A freely offered homage is the most beautiful of all relations. And how were that possible without love?
“We are never further from our wishes than when we imagine that we possess what we have desired.
“No one is more a slave than the man who thinks himself free while he is not.
“A man has only to declare that he is free, and the next moment he feels the conditions to which he is subject. Let him venture to declare that he is under conditions, and then he will feel that he is free.
“Against great advantages in another, there are no means of defending ourselves except love.
“There is something terrible in the sight of a highly-gifted man lying under obligations to a fool.
“ ‘No man is a hero to his valet,’ the proverb says. But that is only because it requires a hero to recognize a hero. The valet will probably know how to value the valet-hero.
“Mediocrity has no greater consolation than in the thought that genius is not immortal.
“The greatest men are connected with their own century always through some weakness.
“One is apt to regard people as more dangerous than they are.
“Fools and modest people are alike innocuous. It is only your half-fools and your half-wise who are really and truly dangerous.
“There is no better deliverance from the world than through art; and a man can form no surer bond with it than through art.
“Alike in the moment of our highest fortune and our deepest necessity, we require the artist.
“The business of art is with the difficult and the good.
“To see the difficult easily handled, gives us the feeling of the impossible.
“Difficulties increase the nearer we are to our end.
“Sowing is not so difficult as reaping.”