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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 4 (Recreations of the German Emigrants, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship) [1885]

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 4: W. Meister’s Apprenticeship.

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About this Title:

Volume 4 of a five volume collection of Goethe’s works. This edition is sumptuously illustrated. Vol. 4 contains Goethe’s Recreations of the German Emigrants, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship).

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Table of Contents:

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Goethe’s Works
Volume Four
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Goethe’s Works
Illustrated by the best German Artists
George Barrie
Philadelphia, New York & Boston
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copyright, 1885, by george barrie.

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Uncle Charles.

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The Recreations of The German Emigrants

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In the unhappy period, so fruitful in disasters to Germany, to Europe, and indeed to the whole world, when the French army overran the Continent, a family of distinction was compelled to forsake their property on the first invasion, and to fly beyond the Rhine. They sought to escape those calamities to which persons of noble birth were inevitably exposed, in whom it was considered criminal to be descended from an honorable line of ancestors, and to inherit those privileges and possessions which the virtues or the valor of their forefathers had bequeathed to them.

The Baroness of C—, a widow lady of middle age, distinguished for every domestic virtue which could promote the comfort or independence of her family, evinced, upon the occasion of this unforeseen calamity, the most noble spirit of activity and resolute determination. Brought up amid a wide circle of acquaintance, and already experienced, to some extent, in the reverses of life, she was considered perfect in her private and domestic character; and she was remarkable for the real delight which she ever felt in the active employment of her faculties. Indeed, the great purpose of her life seemed to consist in rendering services to others, and it is easy to suppose that her numerous friends never failed to provide her with employment. She was summoned, at the time we speak of, to take the lead of a little band of emigrants. Even for this duty she was prepared; and the same solicitous though cheerful temper, which had invariably distinguished her at home, did not forsake her in this hour of general terror and distress. But cheerfulness was not an entire stranger to our band of fugitives; many an unexpected incident and strange event afforded occasion for the indulgence of mirth and laughter, of which their easily-excited minds readily took advantage. The very flight itself was a circumstance well calculated to call out the peculiar character of each individual in a remarkable manner. The mind of one, for instance, was distracted by vain fear and terror; another fell a prey to idle apprehensions; and the extravagances and deficiencies, the weakness, irresolution, or impetuosity which was on all sides displayed, produced so many instances of vexation and bad temper that the real trouble of the whole party afforded more mirth than an actual tour of pleasure could possibly have occasioned.

As we may sometimes preserve our composure, even during the performance of a farce, without smiling at the most positive drolleries, though we find it impossible to restrain our laughter when anything absurd occurs in the representation of a tragedy, so in this real world, the generality of accidents of a serious nature are accompanied by circumstances Edition: current; Page: [8] either ridiculous at the moment or infallibly productive of subsequent mirth.

We must observe that the baroness’s eldest daughter, Louisa, a cheerful, lively, and, in her hour of prosperity, an imperious young lady, had to endure an unusual degree of suffering. She is said to have been quite overwhelmed with terror at the first alarm, and, in her distraction and absence of mind, to have packed together the most useless things with the greatest seriousness, and actually to have made an offer of marriage to one of the old servants of the establishment.

She defended herself for this step with much obstinacy, and would not allow her intended to be made a subject of ridicule. In her opinion she suffered enough from her daily fear of the allied army, and from the apprehension that her wished-for marriage might be delayed, or even frustrated, by a general engagement.

Her elder brother, Frederick, who was a youth of decisive character, executed his mother’s orders with precision and exactitude, accompanied the procession on horseback, and discharged, at times, the various duties of courier, conductor and guide. The tutor of the baroness’s younger son, who was a well-educated young man, accompanied her in her carriage; whilst Uncle Charles and an elderly clergyman, who had long been an indispensable friend of the family, followed in another vehicle, which was also occupied by two female relations, one young, the other somewhat advanced in years. The servants followed in an open carriage, and the procession was closed by a heavily-packed wagon, which occasionally loitered behind.

The whole party, as it is easy to suppose, had abandoned their dwellings with great reluctance, but Uncle Charles had forsaken his residence on this side of the Rhine even more unwillingly than the others; not that he had left his mistress behind, as one might, perhaps, have conjectured from his youth, his figure, and the warmth of his nature: he had rather been seduced by the brilliant phantom, which, under the denomination of freedom, had secured so many adherents, first in secret, then in public, and which, notwithstanding that she was a harsh mistress to some, was all the more devotedly honored by the others.

Just as lovers are generally blinded by their passion, did it happen in the case of Uncle Charles. They pant for the possession of a single happiness, and fancy that for this they can endure the privation of every other blessing. Position, fortune and all advantages vanish into nothing, compared with the one benefit which is to supply their place. Parents, relatives and friends are now looked upon as strangers. One desire fills and absorbs their whole being, to which everything else is to give way.

Uncle Charles abandoned himself to the intensity of his passion, and did not conceal it in his conversation. He thought he might express his conviction the more freely because he was of noble birth, and although the second son, yet the presumptive heir to a noble fortune. Even this fortune, which was to be his future inheritance, was at present in the enemy’s hands, by whom it had been shamefully wasted. But, in spite of all this, Charles could not hate a nation which promised such advantages to the world at large, and whose principles he approved, according to his own admission and the evidence of some of his associates. He constantly disturbed the peace of the little community (seldom as they enjoyed such a blessing) by an indiscriminate praise of everything, good or bad, which happened amongst the French, and by his noisy delight at their success. By this means he irritated his companions, who felt their own grievances doubly aggravated by the malicious triumphs of their friend and relation.

Frederick had been already engaged in frequent disputes with him, and latterly they had ceased to hold communication with each other. But the baroness, by her prudent management, had secured his moderation, at least for a time. Louisa gave him the greatest trouble, for she often used the most unfair methods to cast a slur upon his character and judgment. The tutor silently pronounced him right; the clergyman silently pronounced him wrong; and the female attendants, who were charmed with his figure and his liberality, heard him with delight, because, whilst they listened to his lectures, they could honorably fix upon him those loving eyes, which, until that time, had ever been modestly bent upon the ground.

Their daily necessities, the obstacles of the journey, and their disagreeable quarters, generally led the whole company to a consideration of their immediate interests; and the great number of French and German fugitives whom they constantly met, and whose conduct and fortunes were various, often made them consider how much occasion existed at Edition: current; Page: [9] such times for the practice of every virtue, but particularly of liberality and forbearance.

The baroness, upon one occasion, observed aloud that nothing could show more clearly the deficiencies of men in these virtues than the opportunity afforded for their exercise, by occasions of general confusion and distress. Our whole constitution, she maintained, resembled a ship chartered in a season of tempest to convey a countless crowd of men, old and young, healthy and infirm, across a stormy sea; but only in the hour of shipwreck could the capabilities of the crew be displayed: an emergency when even the good swimmer often perished.

Fugitives, for the most part, carry their faults and ridiculous peculiarities along with them, and we wonder at this circumstance. But as the English traveller never leaves his tea-kettle behind in any quarter of the globe, so are the generality of mankind invariably accompanied by their stock of proud pretensions, vanity, intolerance, impatience, obstinacy, prejudices and envy. Thus, the thoughtless enjoyed this flight as they would have enjoyed a party of pleasure, and the discontented required, even now in their moments of abject poverty, that their every want should be supplied. How rare is the display of that pure virtue which incites us to live and to sacrifice ourselves for others!

In the meantime, whilst numerous acquaintances were formed, which gave occasion to reflections of this nature, the season of winter was brought to a close. Fortune once more smiled on the German arms, the French were again driven across the Rhine, Frankfort was relieved, and Mainz was invested.

Trusting to the further advance of our victorious troops, and anxious to take possession of a part of their recovered property, the family we speak of set out for an estate which lay in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, on the right bank of the Rhine. We can hardly describe the rapture with which they once more beheld the silver stream flowing beneath their windows, the joy with which they took possession of every part of their house, and hailed the sight of their well-known furniture, their old family pictures, and of every trifle which they had long given up as totally lost; and they indulged the fondest anticipations of finding everything flourishing as heretofore on their side of the Rhine.

The arrival of the baroness was scarcely announced in the village when all her former acquaintances, friends and dependants hastened to welcome her, to recount the various vicissitudes of the last few months, and, in more than one instance, to implore her advice and assistance.

In the midst of these interviews she was most agreeably surprised by a visit from the Privy Councillor S. and his family, a man who from his earliest youth had followed business as a pursuit of pleasure, and who had both merited and acquired the confidence of his sovereign. His principles were firm, and he indulged his own peculiar notions upon many subjects. He was precise both in his conversation and conduct, and required others to be the same. A dignified deportment was, in his opinion, the highest virtue a man could possess.

His sovereign, his country and himself had suffered much from the irruption of the French. He had experienced the despotic character of that nation, which was perpetually boasting of justice, and had felt the tyranny of men who always had the cry of freedom on their lips. He had observed, however, the general consistency of character which prevailed, and had marked how many persons witnessed with feelings of angry disappointment the substitution of mere words for practice and of empty appearance for reality. The consequences to be expected from an unfortunate campaign did not escape his acute penetration, any more than the results of the general maxims and opinions we have quoted; though it must be admitted his views upon all subjects were neither cheerful nor dispassionate.

His wife, who had been an early friend of the baroness, after the experience of so much adversity, found a perfect paradise in the arms of her former companion. They had grown up together, had been educated together, and had always shared each other’s confidence. The early inclinations of their youth, their more important matrimonial interests, their joys and cares and domestic anxieties, had always been communicated, either personally or by correspondence, as they had for years maintained an uninterrupted intimacy with each other; but this was at length broken by the general troubles of the eventful times. Their present intercourse was, for this reason, the more affectionate, and their interviews the more frequent; and the baroness observed with pleasure that the intimacy of Louisa with the daughters of her friend was daily increasing.

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Unfortunately, however, the complete enjoyment of the delightful neighborhood around was often disturbed by the roar of cannon which was heard in the distance, sometimes loudly and sometimes indistinctly, according to the point of the wind. Moreover, it was impossible to avoid conversations upon political subjects, which were introduced by the perpetual rumors of the day, and which generally disturbed the temporary tranquillity of society, as the various ideas and opinions of all parties were usually propounded without reserve.

And as intemperate men seldom refrain from wine or injurious food on account of their experience of the evil consequences which such enjoyments occasion, so, in this instance, the several members of the society we speak of, in place of imposing restraint upon their conversation, abandoned themselves to the irresistible impulse of vexing each other, and thus eventually opened a channel of most disagreeable reflections.

We can readily suppose that the privy councillor adopted the opinions of those who advocated the old régime, and that Charles took the opposite side, in expectation that the approaching changes would heal and reanimate the old shattered constitution of the country.

The conversation was carried on at first with some degree of moderation, particularly as the baroness sought, by her well-timed and graceful interruptions, to maintain the balance equal between both parties; but when the important crisis of the conversation arrived, and the investment of Mainz was about to change to an actual siege, and the fears of all increased for that beautiful city and its abandoned inhabitants, both sides asserted their opinions with unrestrained violence.

The members of the clubs who had remained in the town were particularly discussed, and each expressed his hope of their liberation or punishment, according as he approved or condemned their conduct.

Amongst the latter class was the privy councillor, whose observations were especially displeasing to Charles, as he assailed the sound judgment of those people, and charged them with a thorough ignorance of the world and of themselves.

“What blind dolts they must be,” he exclaimed, one afternoon when the discussion became warm, “to think that a great nation, employed in an effort to suppress its own internal commotions, and which in sober moments has no other object than its own prosperity, can look down upon them with any sort of sympathy. Used as temporary tools, they will be thrown away at last or utterly neglected. How grossly they err in thinking that they will ever be admitted into the ranks of the French nation.

“Nothing is more ridiculous to the strong and powerful than to see weakness and inefficiency setting up its pretensions to equality, wrapped in the obscurity of its own fancies and in the ignorance of itself, its powers and its qualities. And can you suppose that the great nation, with that good fortune with which it has been hitherto favored, will be less haughty and overbearing than any other royal conqueror?

“Many a person who now struts about in his municipal robes and gaudy attire will heartily curse the masquerade when, after having assisted to oppress his own countrymen, by a new and disadvantageous change of things, he finds himself at last, in his new character, despised by those in whom he wholly confided. Indeed, it is my firm opinion that upon the surrender of the town, which must soon take place, those people will be abandoned or given up to us. I hope they will then receive their reward in that punishment they so richly deserve, according to my opinion, which is as unprejudiced as possible.”

“Unprejudiced!” exclaimed Charles with vehemence; “I beg I may never hear that word again. How can we so unequivocally condemn these men? Have they not actually devoted their whole lives to the old pursuit of serving the more favored classes of mankind? Have they not occupied the few habitable rooms of the old mansion and toiled diligently therein; or rather have they not felt the inconvenience of the deserted part of your state palace by the obligation of living there in a state of misery and oppression? Uncorrupted by frivolous pursuits, they do not consider their own occupation to be alone noble; but in silence they deplore the prejudice, the irregularity, the indolence and ignorance upon which your statesmen build their foolish claims to reverence, and in silence they pray for a more equal division of labor and enjoyment. And who can deny that their ranks contain at least some such men of intelligence and virtue, who, if they cannot now realize universal good, can fortunately aid in modifying evil and in preparing for a happy future? and if there be such noble beings amongst them, Edition: current; Page: [11] should we not deplore the approach of that evil hour which must destroy, perhaps forever, their fondest anticipations?”


The privy councillor, upon this, sneered with some degree of bitterness at certain youths who were in the habit of idealizing upon practical subjects, whilst Charles was equally severe upon men whose thoughts were merely formed upon antiquated precedents, and who never adopted any but compulsory reforms.

By reciprocal contradictions of this nature the dispute became gradually more violent, and every topic was introduced which has for so many years tended to dismember society. In vain did the baroness endeavor to establish a truce, if not to make peace between the contending parties; and the wife of the privy councillor, who from her estimable qualities had acquired some influence over Charles’ disposition, interposed also to no effect, more particularly as her husband continued to launch his poisoned shafts against youth and inexperience, and enlarged upon the especial aptitude of children to play with fire: a dangerous element which they were wholly unable to control.

Charles, forgetting prudence in his anger, now declared openly that he wished every success to the French arms, and called upon all his countrymen to aid in putting an end to their general slavery, expressing his conviction that their so-called enemies would protect every noble German who should join them, Edition: current; Page: [12] would regard them and treat them as their own countrymen, and crown them with honors, fortune and rewards, in place of sacrificing or leaving them in misery.

But the councillor maintained it was ridiculous to suppose that the French would bestow a thought upon them, whether they capitulated or not; that they would probably fall into the hands of the allies, by whom he hoped they would all be hanged.

Charles was provoked by this speech, and expressed his wish that the guillotine might find a rich harvest in Germany, and that no guilty head might escape. He added some cutting observations which were aimed at the councillor personally, and were in every sense offensive.

“I shall take leave of a society,” interrupted the latter, “in which everything is now slighted which once seemed worthy of respect. I lament that I should be for the second time expelled, and now by a fellow-countryman; but I am well aware that less pity may be expected from this new foe than from the French themselves; and I find here a confirmation of the old proverb, that it is better to fall into the hands of the Turks than of renegades.”

So saying, he rose and left the apartment. He was followed by his wife, and a general silence ensued. The baroness expressed her displeasure in a few words of strong import. Charles walked up and down the room. The councillor’s wife returned in tears, and stated that her husband had given directions for leaving, and had actually ordered the carriage. The baroness went to pacify him, whilst the young ladies wept and kissed each other, distressed beyond measure that they were compelled so suddenly and so unexpectedly to separate. The baroness returned without succeeding in her wishes. Gradually all those troubles approached which it is ever the lot of strangers to encounter. The sad moments of separation and departure were bitter beyond expression. Hope vanished with the appearance of the post-horses, and the general sorrow was redoubled.

The carriage drove off. The baroness followed it with her eyes full of tears. She left the window and sat down to her embroidery frame. The silence, and even despair, was universal. Charles showed his sorrow by sitting in a corner and intently turning over the leaves of a book, directing at intervals a melancholy look towards his aunt. At length he rose and took his hat, as if about to depart, but turned round on reaching the door, and approaching his aunt he exclaimed, with a countenance truly noble, “I have offended you, my dear aunt, I have distressed you; but pardon my thoughtlessness; I acknowledge my fault, and am deeply sensible of its sad consequences.”

“I forgive you,” replied the baroness; “I entertain no ill feeling towards you—you are a good and noble being, but you can never repair the injury you have done. Your error has deprived me of a friend to whom, after a long separation, I had been restored by the accident of our joint misfortunes, and in whose society I have forgotten much of the misery which has pursued and threatens us. She herself, driven from her home under most painful circumstances, and long a fugitive, after a short repose in the society of old and beloved friends, in this delightful spot and comfortable dwelling, is again compelled to wander forth; and we lose the company of her husband, who, in spite of some peculiarities, is a man of noble integrity, possessing an inexhaustible knowledge of society and of the world, of facts and experiences which he is ever ready to communicate with the most cheerful and delightful willingness. Of all these enjoyments we have been deprived by your fault, and how can you restore what we have lost?”


Spare me, my dear aunt. I feel deeply the weight of my fault; cease to explain to me its evident consequences.


Rather contemplate them as closely as possible. Talk not of sparing you; only inquire how your mind may be corrected. It is not the first time you have erred, nor will it be the last. Ye inexplicable men! cannot a common suffering, which brings you together under one roof, and confines you in one narrow dwelling, induce you to practise forbearance towards each other? Do you need any additional calamities than those which are perpetually bursting upon you? Consider your condition, and act sensibly and justly towards those who, in truth, would deprive you of nothing. Restrain your tempers from working and fermenting blindly, like some storm or other natural phenomenon which disturbs the world.

Charles made no reply. The tutor advanced from the window, where he had been standing, towards the baroness, and said his pupil would improve; that this event would act as a warning, that he should test his progress daily, that he would remember the distress Edition: current; Page: [13] the baroness had endured, and would afford convincing evidence of the self-restraint he could practise.


How easily men deceive themselves, especially in this particular. Authority is so delightful a word, and it sounds so noble to promise to control ourselves. Men speak of it with pleasure, and would persuade us that they can seriously practise the virtue. I wish I had ever known a man capable of subduing himself in the smallest particular. In indifferent matters they affect resolution, as if the loss occasioned actual suffering; whilst their real desires are considered as supremely essential, unavoidable and indispensable. I have never known a man capable of enduring the smallest privation.


You are seldom unjust, and I have never seen you so overpowered by anger and disappointment as at present.


Well, I need not be ashamed of my anger. When I think of my friend, who is now pursuing her journey in discomfort, weeping, probably, at the recollection of our inhospitality, my heart burns with indignation.


In your greatest trouble I have never seen you so agitated and exasperated as now.


A small evil, which follows closely upon a greater, can fill the cup; though, in truth, it is no small evil to lose a friend.


Be comforted, and rely upon our improvement, and that we will do all in our power to content you.


No; I shall rely upon none of you. But, for the future, I will demand obedience from all. I will command in my own house.

“Command, certainly,” exclaimed Charles, “and you shall not have to complain of our disobedience.”

“My severity will scarcely be very harsh,” rejoined the baroness with a smile, as she recovered herself; “I am not fond of commanding, particularly democrats; but I will give you some advice, and make one request.”


Both shall be strictly observed.


It would be ridiculous if I thought to impair the interest which you all take in the great events of the world, of which we ourselves are indeed the victims. I cannot change the opinions which exist and are established in the mind of each of you, according to his peculiar disposition; and it would be no less harsh than foolish to require you to suppress them. But I can demand this at least from the circle in which I live, that those of similar sentiments shall associate peaceably together, and converse in harmony. In your Edition: current; Page: [14] private apartments, during your walks, and wherever else you meet, you may communicate together at will, support your respective opinions, and enjoy the gratification of an ardent conviction. But, my dear friends, let us not forget how much we were accustomed to sacrifice of our own individual opinions, for the sake of general harmony, long before these new topics became the fashion; and as long as the world lasts we must all, for the general benefit, practise some outward self-control. It is not, therefore, for the sake of virtue, but in the name of common politeness, that I implore you now to concede to me a favor, which I think I may safely say you have always allowed to the veriest stranger.

It seems to me strange (continued the baroness) that we should have so far forgotten ourselves. What has become of our politeness? It used to be the custom in society to avoid topics disagreeable to others. Protestants, in the company of Catholics, never asserted that church ceremonies were ridiculous; and the most bigoted Catholic never maintained, before a Protestant, that the old religion afforded the only chance of salvation. In the presence of a mother who had lost her son, no one displayed the deep delight he took in his children, and an inappropriate word occasioned general embarrassment. It seemed the duty of each to repair the accidental evil; but now the very reverse of all this seems to be the rule. We appear to seek the opportunity of introducing subjects calculated to give pain. Oh! my dear friends, let us try and restore the old system. We have much to endure already; and who knows how soon the column of smoke by day, or the pillar of flame by night, may announce the destruction of our dwellings, and of our most valued possessions. Let us, at least, forbear to announce this intelligence with triumph; let us cease, by our own bitter observations, to impress our souls with calamities which it is painful enough to endure in silence.

When your father died, was it your habit to renew my grief upon every opportunity by a reference to the sad subject? Did you not rather avoid all improper allusion to his memory, and seek by your love, your silent sympathy and your incessant attentions to soften my sorrow and relieve my pain? Should we not now practise the same kind forbearance, which often brings more consolation than the offices of active friendship, more particularly at this time, when ours is not the grief of an individual in the midst of a happy multitude, where sorrow disappears amid the general content, but the grief of thousands, where but few indeed are capable of experiencing an accidental or artificial consolation.


My dear aunt, you have sufficiently humiliated us: may we take your hand in token of reconciliation?


Here it is, on condition that you will obey its guidance. We proclaim a general amnesty, which we cannot conclude with sufficient speed.

The young ladies, who had all been dissolved in tears since the event we have related, now made their appearance, but could not be persuaded to be reconciled to Charles.

“You are welcome, children,” said the baroness, addressing them. “We have just had a serious conversation, which I trust will establish peace and harmony amongst us; perhaps it was never more important that we should be friends and enjoy even one brief portion of the day. Let us make this resolution, to banish from our conversation all reference to the mere events of the time. How long have we been deprived of all instruction and entertaining intercourse! How long it seems, dear Charles, since you have amused us with accounts of distant lands, with whose productions, inhabitants, manners and customs you are so well acquainted! And you (continued the baroness, addressing the tutor), you have not lately instructed us in history, ancient or modern, in the comparison of centuries, or of remarkable men. And you, young ladies, where are the pretty poems which you used to bring forth from their hiding-places for the delight of your friends? what has become of all your free philosophic observations? Have you no more ambition to surprise us with some wonderful mineral specimen, some unknown plant, or remarkable insect, brought home from your walks, and affording occasion for pleasing speculations on the mysterious connection of all the productions of nature? Let us restore all those charming amusements, by an agreement, a resolution, a rule, to be useful, instructive, and, above all things, companionable towards each other; for all these advantages we can enjoy even in the most extreme adversity. Your promise, children.”

They promised eagerly. “And now I dismiss you,” added the baroness; “the evening is fine, amuse yourselves as you please, and at supper-time let us enjoy a friendly Edition: current; Page: [a] Edition: current; Page: [b] Edition: current; Page: [c] Edition: current; Page: [d] Edition: current; Page: [15] communion together, after so long an interruption.”



The company separated. Louisa alone remained with her mother. She could not so easily forget the misfortune of losing her companion, and she allowed Charles, whom she had invited to accompany her upon a walk, to set out alone. For some time the baroness and her daughter remained together, when the clergyman entered, after a long absence, entirely ignorant of what had, in the meantime, happened. Laying by his hat and stick, he took a seat, and was about to narrate something, when Louisa, pretending to continue a conversation with her mother, interrupted his intention with the following observations:

“Some of our company will, I think, find the arrangement we have come to rather disagreeable. When we lived in the country, it is true, we were sometimes at a loss for conversation, for it did not happen so often, as in town, that a girl could be slandered, or a young man traduced; but still we had an alternative in describing the follies of two great nations, in finding the Germans as absurd as the French, and in representing first one, and then the other, as Jacobins and Radicals. But, if these topics are forbidden, some of our society will be rendered stupid.”

“Is your observation directed to me, young lady?” asked the old clergyman with a smile. “You know how ready I am to be sacrificed for the benefit of the company. For though upon all occasions you do credit to your instructors, and every one finds your society both amiable and delightful, yet there is a certain little malicious spirit within you which, notwithstanding all your efforts, you cannot entirely subdue, which prompts you to take your revenge at my expense. Tell me, gracious lady,” he continued, turning towards the baroness, “what has occurred during my absence, and what topics have been forbidden to our society?”

The baroness informed him of all that had taken place. He listened attentively, and then observed that “this regulation would probably enable many persons to entertain the company better than others.”

“We shall be able to endure it,” said Louisa.

“Such an arrangement,” he added, “will not be grievous to those who have been accustomed to rely upon their own resources; on the contrary, they will find it pleasant, since they can amuse the company with pursuits which they have followed in private. And do not be offended, young lady, if I attribute to society the very existence of all newsmongers, spies and slanderers. For my part I never see persons so lively and so animated either at a learned meeting or at a public lecture convened for general instruction, as in a society where some piece of scandal is introduced which reflects on the character of a neighbor. Ask yourself, or ask others, what invests a piece of news with its greatest charm? Not its importance, nor its influence, but its mere novelty. Nothing old is cared for; novelty by itself excites our surprise, awakens the imagination, gently agitates the feelings, and requires no exertion of the reasoning powers. Every man can take the most lively interest in a piece of news with the least trouble to himself; indeed, since a succession of new events carries us rapidly from one circumstance to another, nothing is more welcome to the generality of mankind than this inducement to constant dissipation, and this opportunity of venting their spleen and malice in an agreeable and varied manner.”

“Well!” exclaimed Louisa, “you show some skill at explanation; just now you censured individuals, at present you condemn mankind in general.”

“I do not require,” he answered, “that you should render me justice; but this I must say, we who depend upon society must act according to its rules, and it would be safer to provoke its resentment than its ennui, by requiring it to think or reflect. We must avoid everything that would tend to this result, and pursue by ourselves in private whatever would prove unpalatable to the public.”

“By yourselves in private,” said Louisa, “many a bottle of wine will, I suppose, be drunk, and many a nap taken in the daytime.”

“I have never,” continued the old clergyman, “set much value upon my own actions, for I know how little I have done for others; but, however, I am in possession of something which may, perhaps, afford agreeable relaxation to this society, circumstanced as it is at present.”

“To what do you allude?” inquired the baroness.

“Rely upon it,” interrupted Louisa, “he has made some marvellous collection of scandals.”

“You are mistaken,” replied the clergyman.

“We shall see,” answered Louisa.

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“Suffer him to continue, my dear,” said the baroness; “and do not accustom yourself to act in a hard and unfriendly manner towards others even in jest, as they may take it ill. We have no need to increase our evil habits by practising them for entertainment. Tell me, my dear friend, of what does your collection consist? Will it conduce to our amusement? Have you been long employed about it? Why have you never mentioned it before?”

“I will give you an account of the whole matter,” rejoined the old clergyman. “I have lived long in the world, and have paid much attention to public occurrences. I have neither talent nor inclination for chronicling great actions, and worldly affairs in general are troublesome to me; but amongst the many private histories, true and false, which sometimes happen in public, or are related in private, there are some which possess a greater attraction than the charm of mere novelty, some which are calculated to improve us by their moral application, some which display at a glance the secret springs of human nature, and others again whose very absurdities are amusing. Amongst the multitude of occurrences which attract our attention and our malice in ordinary life, and which are as common as the individuals to whom they relate, I have noted down a few on account of their peculiar character, because they engaged and excited my attention and feelings, and the very recollection of them has never failed to produce a momentary sensation of pure and tranquil pleasure.”

“I am curious to hear,” said the baroness, “the nature of your anecdotes, and to learn their peculiar character.”

“You may easily suppose,” replied the clergyman, “that they are not about disputes or family matters. Such things have little interest except for those who are engaged in them.”


And what are yours about?


Why, for the most part, they treat of those emotions by which friends become attached or disunited, happy or miserable, and by which they are more frequently entangled than improved.


Indeed! I suppose you will produce a collection of merry adventures for our instruction and improvement. Excuse me for making this observation, dear mamma; it seems so evident, and it is, of course, allowable to speak the truth.


I suspect that you will not find anything in the whole collection which may be styled merry.


And what would you consider of that description?


Scandalous dialogues or situations are my abhorrence. I object equally that common adventures, which are unworthy of engaging our attention, should be told with exaggerated importance; they excite our expectations unduly, in place of giving real pleasure to the mind. They make a mystery of that which should be wholly unveiled, or from which we should altogether turn our eyes.


I do not understand you. You will, however, relate your stories with some degree of elegance. I hope our ears will not be offended by any coarse adventures. You must consider us in the light of a ladies’ seminary, and look for our thanks as your recompense.


Nothing of the sort. But, in truth, you will hear nothing new, particularly as I have, for some time back, observed that you never miss the perusal of certain criticisms in some of the learned reviews.


You are really too bad.


You are engaged to be married, and I therefore pardon you. But I am obliged to show that I also possess arrows which I know how to use.


I see your object plainly, but you must let her see it likewise.


Then I must repeat what I said at the beginning of this conversation. But it seems you had not the politeness to pay attention.


What is the use of attention, or of much argument? Look at the matter in any light, they will be scandalous stories, in some shape or other, and nothing else.


Must I repeat, young lady, that a well-regulated mind only perceives scandal, when it reads of wickedness, arrogance, a desire to injure, and an unwillingness to oblige; and from such spectacles he should avert his eyes. He finds pleasure in the narration of trifling faults and failings, and contemplates with satisfaction those points of the story where good men contend with themselves, with their desires and their intentions, where silly and conceited mortals are rebuked, corrected, or deceived, and where hopes, wishes and designs are disturbed, interrupted and frustrated, or unexpectedly fulfilled, accomplished and confirmed. But on those Edition: current; Page: [17] scenes where accident combines with human weakness and inefficiency, he dwells with the greatest delight, and none of the heroes whose history he authenticates, has either blame to apprehend, or praise to expect from him.


Your introduction excites our wish to hear a specimen. We have spent the greater part of our lifetime in one circle, and have never experienced anything worthy to find a place in such a collection.


Much undoubtedly depends upon the observer, and upon the peculiar view he takes of occurrences. But, however, I will not deny that I have made large extracts from old books and traditions. Perhaps you will have no objection to see some of your old friends with new faces. And this gives me a privilege of which I must not be deprived—that none of my tales shall be doubted.


But we are not to be prevented from recognizing our friends and acquaintances, or, if we please, from expounding the enigma.


Certainly not. But you will allow me, under such circumstances, to produce an old folio, to prove that the identical occurrence happened, and was made matter of record, some centuries ago. And I must be permitted to smile when some narration is pronounced to be an old fable, though it may have taken place amongst ourselves, without our being able to recognize the characters.


We shall never begin. Had we not better declare a truce for this evening, and do you commence a story at once, by way of specimen?


Permit me, in this instance, to be guilty of disobedience. The entertainment is intended for the whole assembled company. We must not deprive them of it, and I must premise beforehand that whatever I have to say possesses no value in itself. But when my audience, after some serious occupation, wishes for a brief repose, and, already sated with good things, desires the addition of a light dessert, then I shall be ready, and only hope that what I shall provide may not prove unpalatable.


In that case we had better postpone the amusement till to-morrow.


I am beyond measure curious to know what it will be.


You must not be so, young lady; for high expectations are seldom satisfied.

That same evening, after dinner, the baroness retired early to her apartment, whilst the rest of the company remained together and discussed the many reports which were current, and the various incidents which had happened. As is generally the case in such circumstances, few of them knew what to doubt or what to believe.

The old clergyman had his remedy for such an emergency. “I propose,” said he, “as the most convenient plan, that we all believe implicitly whatever we find pleasant, and that we reject, without ceremony, whatever we find unpleasant, and that we allow everything to be true which can prove itself.”

It was then remarked by some one that men generally acted in this way; and after some desultory conversation they commented upon that strange propensity of our nature to believe in the marvellous. They talked of romances and visions; and when the old clergyman had promised at a future time to relate some interesting anecdotes upon these subjects, Louisa exclaimed, “It will be extremely good of you, and you will merit our gratitude by telling us a story of that description now, for we are all in the proper humor for it; we shall pay attention and be thankful.” Without needing further entreaties, the old clergyman commenced at once, as follows:—

During my residence in Naples an event happened which attracted universal attention, and with regard to which public opinion varied exceedingly. Some persons maintained that the circumstance had actually occurred; whilst others asserted that, though true in general, it was founded upon a gross deceit. The latter class of persons were at further variance amongst themselves—they could not agree who was the deceiver. Others held it to be far from clear that spiritual natures were incapable of influencing the elements and human bodies, and maintained that we were not justified in pronouncing every marvellous occurrence to be a fraud or a delusion. But now to the facts themselves.

At the time I speak of, a singer named Antonelli was the favorite of the Neapolitan public. In the bloom of youth, beauty and talents, she was deficient in none of those enchantments by which women can allure and captivate, and render a certain class of their favorites happy. She was not insensible to the charms of love and flattery, but, naturally temperate and sensible, she knew how to enjoy the delights of both without losing that self-respect which was so essential to her happiness. Edition: current; Page: [18] The young, the distinguished and the rich flocked to her in crowds, but she admitted few to her friendship; and if she pursued her own inclination in the choice of her admirers, she evinced, upon all occasions, so firm and resolute a character that she attached every person to her. I had an opportunity of observing her upon one occasion, in consequence of my close intimacy with one of her especial favorites.


Some years had elapsed; her friends were numerous, and amongst the number were many foolish, simple and fickle personages. It was her opinion that a lover who, in a certain sense, is everything to woman, generally proves deficient in those very emergencies when she most needs his assistance; as, for example, in the difficulties of life, in domestic necessities, and upon the occurrence of sudden disasters. In such times she maintained that his own self-love often proved absolutely prejudicial to his mistress and his advice became positively dangerous.

Her former attachments were insufficient to satisfy her soul. The void required to be filled. She wished for a friend, and scarcely had she felt this want than she found a youth amongst those who sought her favors, upon whom she bestowed her confidence, of which in every respect he seemed worthy.

He was a native of Genoa, who had taken up his residence in Naples to transact the mercantile business of a firm to which he belonged. His natural talents had been improved by a most excellent education. His knowledge was extensive, his mind and body were sound and active, and his general conduct might serve as a model, and in his attention to others he ever seemed forgetful of himself. He was imbued with the commercial spirit for which his native town was distinguished. All his speculations were upon a large scale. His condition, however, was none of the happiest. The firm had entered into some unfortunate transactions, and became entangled in ruinous lawsuits. Time only increased the difficulties, and the anxiety which he endured gave him an air of melancholy, which was not unbecoming, and made Antonelli still more desirous of his acquaintance, from the idea that he stood in need of a friend.

Until now he had only seen Antonelli in public, but at his first request she granted him the entrée to her house, even inviting him to visit her—a favor which he did not fail to accept.

She lost no time in communicating to him her confidence and her wishes. He was no less surprised than delighted at her proposals. She implored him earnestly to be her friend, but to make no pretensions to the privileges of a lover. She made him acquainted with some embarrassments in which she had become involved, and his great experience enabled him to offer advice and assistance for her speedy release. In return for this confidence, he unfolded to her his own situation, and whilst she endeavored to cheer and console him, many new plans occurred to him which he had not thought of before, and she thus appeared to be his adviser, and a reciprocal friendship, founded on the highest regard and respect, was established between them.

Unfortunately we do not always consider the practicability of the obligations we incur. He had promised to be her friend, and to Edition: current; Page: [19] make no pretensions to the privileges of a lover. But he could not deny that her visitors in that character were not only unwelcome to, but were detested by him; and he felt it extremely painful when she thought to amuse him with the description of their various characters.

It soon happened, fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, that her heart was again free. This was a source of extreme delight to our young friend, who lost no time in entreating that the vacant place might be allotted to him. With some reluctance she listened to his proposals. “I fear,” she said, “that in making this concession I shall lose my friend.” Her anticipation was correct, for scarcely had he for a short time filled this double character than he found her temper change. As her friend he had been content with her respect; as a lover he demanded her affection, and as an intelligent and accomplished man he sought for constant entertainment. But this was more than Antonelli expected. She was unwilling to make an entire sacrifice of herself, and had no wish to surrender her absolute liberty to any one. She soon adopted ingenious expedients for curtailing the length of his visits, for avoiding his presence, and for making him sensible that she would not consent to forego her independence for any consideration.

This discovery was to him a source of the greatest misery, and unfortunately the calamity did not come alone. His domestic affairs became more and more involved, and he found reason for reproaching himself with having always considered his income as inexhaustible, and with having neglected his business in order to engage in foreign travel, and to make a greater figure in the world than he was entitled to do, either from the advantages of his birth or income. The law-suits, from which he expected so much, were tardy and expensive. They took him frequently to Palermo, and, upon the occasion of his last journey thither, Antonelli adopted means to change the nature of her establishment, for the purpose of becoming gradually disengaged from him. On his return he found her in another residence, at some distance from his; and he saw that the Marquis of S., who at that time exercised great influence in the world of fashion, had unreserved admission to her house. He was greatly affected by this discovery, which brought on a serious illness. Upon hearing this sad intelligence, Antonelli hastened to him, attended him, and as she was fully aware that his purse was but scantily supplied, she left a large sum of money, which supplied his necessities for a considerable time.

In consequence of his efforts to restrain her freedom, he had fallen considerably in her estimation. As her attachment diminished, her suspicions increased, and she at length began to think that a person who had managed his own affairs so badly was not entitled to a high character for good sense. But he was unaware of the great change which had taken place in her feelings towards him; and he attributed her anxiety for his recovery, and the constancy of her attentions which induced her to spend whole days at his bedside, rather to her love for him than to compassion for his sufferings; and he hoped upon his recovery to find himself once more reinstated in her favor.

But he was grievously mistaken. With his restoration to health and strength, all semblance of affection disappeared, and he now seemed as odious in her eyes as he had formerly proved agreeable. In addition to this, his temper had unconsciously become soured and unbearable. He attributed to others all the blame of his own misfortunes, and justified himself fully from their evil consequences. He considered himself an injured and persecuted invalid, and looked for a complete recompense for all his troubles in the devoted affection of his mistress.

With these exalted expectations he visited Antonelli immediately upon his recovery. He would be satisfied with nothing short of her entire affection, the dismissal of all her other friends and acquaintance, her complete retirement from the stage, and the devotion of herself to him alone. She demonstrated the impossibility of complying with these requests, at first in a playful, and afterwards in a more serious tone. At length she communicated to him the sad intelligence that their connection must end. He left her and never returned.

He lived for several years afterwards in a retired manner in the house of a pious old lady who had a small independence. At this period he gained his first law-suit, and soon afterwards he was successful in another; but this change of fortune came too late, his health was undermined, and the joy of his existence had vanished. A slight accident brought on a relapse, and the physician announced to him his approaching death. He heard his fate without a murmur, and merely expressed Edition: current; Page: [20] a wish to see his beautiful friend once more. He sent his servant to her—the same messenger who, in happier days, had been the bearer of many a delightful answer to him. He entreated an interview; she refused. He sent a second time, and implored her to consent; she was still inexorable. At length, at midnight, he sent a third time. She was embarrassed, and communicated her situation to me, as I had been invited, along with the marquis and some other friends, to spend the evening at her house. I advised her, indeed begged her, to show some last attentions to her friend. She appeared undecided at first, but after a short reflection she made up her mind and dismissed the servant with a refusal. He did not return.


After supper we were all engaged in social conversation, and general animation and hilarity reigned around. Suddenly, a little after midnight, a piercing shriek of bitter, painful lamentation was heard. We rose from the table, looked at each other, and wondered what this strange event could possibly mean. The sound seemed to come from the middle of the room in which we were assembled and to re-echo again from the wall. The marquis rushed to the window, whilst we endeavored to support Antonelli, who had fainted. By degrees she came to herself. She had scarcely opened her eyes than the jealous and passionate marquis loaded her with the bitterest reproaches. “If you choose to have these mysterious understandings with your friends,” said he, “at least let them be of a less fearful nature.” She replied, with her wonted presence of mind, “that as she had always enjoyed the right of seeing her friends whenever she pleased, she would scarcely select such appalling sounds as they had just heard to indicate approaching happiness.”

And in truth the cry had something in it unspeakably appalling. The long-continued scream of anguish dwelt upon our ears, and made our very limbs tremble. Antonelli was pale, motionless, and in a continual faint. We sat with her for half the night; but we heard nothing further. On the following night the same company, who had met together, not quite so cheerful as usual, though with a reasonable supply of courage, about the same hour of midnight, heard the same identical loud and appalling shriek.

We had, in the meantime, wearied our imaginations in framing conjectures as to the cause of the cry, and thinking from whence it Edition: current; Page: [21] could proceed. But why should I weary you? Whenever Antonelli supped at home, at the self-same hour the same shriek was heard, sometimes louder, and sometimes fainter. It was spoken of all over Naples. The mystery excited universal attention. The police were called out. Spies were placed in every direction to detect the cause of the mystery. To persons in the street, the shriek appeared to come from the open air, whilst in the house it seemed to proceed from the very room in which Antonelli was sitting. When she supped abroad nothing whatsoever occurred; but as often as she supped at home the horrid shriek was invariably heard.

But her absence from home did not upon all occasions protect her from this fearful visitation. Her many personal recommendations secured her a welcome reception in the most distinguished families. A pleasant companion, she was everywhere well received, and it had lately become her custom, in order to escape the fearful visitation we have described, to spend her evenings from home.

One evening a gentleman of great respectability, from his age and position, accompanied her to her house in his carriage. When in the act of taking leave of him at the door, a loud shriek was heard, which seemed to come from between them; and the gentleman, who, like many others, had often heard of this mysterious occurrence, was lifted into his carriage more like a corpse than a living person.

Upon another occasion, a young singer, to whom she was partial, drove through the town with her at evening to visit a friend. He likewise had frequently heard of the wonderful phenomenon we have related, and, with the spirits of a light-hearted youth, had expressed his doubts of its reality. They spoke of the circumstance. “I wish extremely,” said he, “that I could hear the voice of your invisible companion; call him, perhaps he will come; we are two, and need not fear him.” From thoughtlessness, or indifference to danger, I know not which, she called the spirit, and instantly the piercing shriek issued, as it were, from the middle of the carriage: three times it was heard, and then died away gradually. Arrived at the house of their friend, both parties were found insensible in the carriage; with difficulty they recovered their senses sufficiently to relate what had happened.

It was some time before Antonelli completely recovered. Her health became impaired by the constantly recurring fright she sustained; but when, at length, her fearful visitor appeared to intend that she should enjoy some repose, she began to hope for a complete cessation from this annoyance; but this expectation was premature.

At the end of the Carnival, accompanied by a young female acquaintance and a servant, she set out upon an excursion of pleasure. It was her intention to visit a friend in the country. Night came on before she reached her destination: an accident occurred to the carriage, and she was necessitated to take refuge in a small country inn, and to put up with the indifferent accommodation it afforded.

Her companion had already gone to bed, and the servant, having arranged the nightlight, was about to retire, when her mistress observed jestingly: “I think we are at the end of the world; it is a dreadful night; should he only find us out!” That very instant the shriek was heard more piercing and louder than ever. Her companion was terrified beyond expression, sprang from her bed, rushed down stairs, and alarmed the whole house. No one that night closed an eye. It was, however, the last time the shriek was heard. But the unwelcome visitor soon found another more frightful mode of indicating his presence.

He was quiet for a short time, when one evening, at the accustomed hour, as Antonelli sat with her companions at table, a shot from a gun or from a heavily loaded pistol was fired in at the window. Every one heard the report, every one saw the flash, but upon the closest inspection the window was found not to have sustained the slightest injury. But the circumstance seemed to every one of the most alarming importance, and all thought that an attempt had been made upon Antonelli’s life. The police were called, and the neighboring house was searched; but as nothing suspicious was found, guards were placed in it, next day, from top to bottom. Her own dwelling was carefully examined, and spies were even dispersed about the streets.

But all this precaution was useless. For three months in succession, at the very same hour, the shot was fired through the same window, without the slightest injury to the glass; and what was especially remarkable, this always took place exactly one hour before midnight, although in Naples time is counted after the Italian fashion, and the term midnight is never used.

But custom at length reconciled all parties to this occurrence, as it had done to the previous Edition: current; Page: [22] one, and the ghost began to lose credit by reason of his very harmless tricks. The shot ceased to alarm the company, or even to interrupt their conversation.

One evening, at the end of a very sultry day, Antonelli opened the window, without thinking of the hour, and went out with the marquis upon the balcony. They had scarcely been in the air a couple of minutes when the shot exploded between them, and drove them back into the house, where for some time they lay apparently lifeless on the floor. When they recovered, each felt the pain of a violent blow upon the cheek, one on the right side, the other on the left; but as no further injury was apparent, the singularity of the circumstance merely occasioned a few jocular observations.


From this time the shot was not repeated in the house, and Antonelli thought she was at last completely delivered from her invisible tormentor; when one evening, upon making a little excursion with a friend, she was terrified beyond measure by a most unexpected incident. Her way lay through the Chiaja, where her Genoese friend had formerly lived. It was bright moonlight. A lady who sat near her asked, “Is not that the house in which Signor—died?” “As well as I can Edition: current; Page: [23] recollect, it is one of those two,” answered Antonelli. The words were scarcely uttered when the shot was fired from one of the two houses alluded to, and it penetrated the carriage. The driver thought he was wounded, and drove forward with all possible speed. Arrived at their destination, the two ladies were lifted lifeless from the carriage.

But this was the last alarm of that kind. The unseen foe now changed his plan, and one evening, shortly afterwards, a loud clapping of hands was heard before the window. As a popular singer and favorite actress, she was more familiar with sounds of this description. They did not inspire terror, and might have proceeded, perhaps, from one of her numerous admirers. She paid no attention to them. Her friends, however, were more watchful, and distributed their guards as before. They continued to hear the noise, but saw nobody, and began to indulge a hope that the unaccountable mystery would soon completely end.

After a short time it became changed in character, and assumed the form of agreeable sounds. They were not, strictly speaking, melodious, but were, however, of a soft and pleasing character. To an accurate observer they seemed to proceed from the corner of the street, to float about in the empty space before Antonelli’s window, and there to die away in the most soft and delightful manner. It seemed as if some heavenly spirit wished, by means of a sweet prelude, to draw attention to a lovely melody which he designed to play. But these sounds also ceased at length, and were heard no more after the wonder had lasted for about a year and a half.

The clergyman here paused for a few moments in his narrative, and the entire company began to express their opinions, and their doubts about the truth of the tale.

The narrator answered that the story ought to be true, if it was intended to be interesting, as a manufactured tale could possess but little merit. Some one here observed that he thought it singular no one had inquired about Antonelli’s deceased friend, or the circumstances of his death, as perhaps some light might by this means have been thrown upon the whole affair.

“But this was done,” replied the clergyman; “I was myself curious enough, immediately after the first mysterious occurrence, to go to the house under the pretext of visiting the lady who had attended him in his last moments with a mother’s care. This lady informed me that the deceased was passionately attached to Antonelli; that during the last hours of his existence he had spoken of nothing but her; that at one time he addressed her as an adorable angel, and at another as little better than a demon.

“When his sickness became desperate, his whole thoughts were fixed on seeing her once more before his death, perhaps in the hope of obtaining from her an expression of affection, of pity, of attachment, or of love. Her unwillingness to see him afflicted him exceedingly, and her last decisive refusal hastened his decease. In despair he cried out, ‘No! it shall not avail her. She avoids me, but after my death she shall have no rest from me.’ In a paroxysm of this kind he expired, and only too late do we learn that the dead can keep their word on the other side of the grave.”

The company began once more to express their opinions about the story. At length Fritz observed, “I have a suspicion, but I shall not tell it till I have thought over all the circumstances again, and put my combinations to the proof.”

Being somewhat strongly pressed, he endeavored to avoid giving an answer by requesting that he might be allowed to relate an anecdote, which, though it might not equal the preceding one in interest, was of the same character, inasmuch as it could not be explained with any certainty.

“A gallant nobleman,” he commenced, “who inhabited an ancient castle, and was father of a large family, had taken into his protection an orphan girl, who, when she attained the age of fourteen years, was employed in attending the mistress of the house, in duties immediately about her person. She gave complete satisfaction, and her whole ambition seemed to consist in a wish to evince her gratitude to her benefactor by attention and fidelity. She possessed various charms both of mind and person, and was not without suitors for her hand. But none of these proposals seemed likely to conduce to her happiness, and the girl herself did not evince the least inclination to change her condition.

“On a sudden it happened that as she went through the house, intent upon her various duties, she heard sounds of knocking, which came from about her and beneath her. At first this seemed accidental, but as the knocking never ceased, and beat almost in unison Edition: current; Page: [24] with her footsteps, she became alarmed, and scarcely left the room of her mistress, where alone she found she could enjoy security.


“These sounds were heard by every one who accompanied her, or who stood near her. At first the subject was treated as a jest, but at length it was regarded in a more serious light. The master of the house, who was of a cheerful disposition, now took the matter in hand. The knocking was never heard when the maiden remained motionless, and when she walked was perceived not so evidently when she put her foot to the ground as when she raised it to advance another step. But the sounds were often irregular, and they were observed to be more than usually loud when the maiden went transversely across a certain large apartment in the castle.

“The old nobleman, one day having workmen in the house, caused the flooring to be suddenly raised behind the maiden, when the knocking sounds were at the loudest. Nothing, however, was found but a couple of rats, who, disturbed by the search, gave occasion to a chase and to considerable uproar in the house.

“Provoked by this circumstance and by the disappointment, the nobleman determined upon adopting strong measures. He took down his large whip from the wall, and swore that he would flog the maiden to death if he heard the knocking any more. From this time forth she could go through the house without the slightest molestation, and the knocking was never heard again.”

“Whereby,” observed Louisa, sagaciously, “we may conclude that the young maiden was her own ghost, and practised this joke, and played the fool with the family to indulge some whim of her own.”

“Not at all,” answered Fritz; “for those who ascribed the mysterious occurrence to a ghost believed that the maiden’s guardian angel wished her to leave the house, but was anxious also to protect her from injury. Others took another view, and maintained that one of the girl’s lovers had the cleverness to occasion these sounds, in order to drive her out of the house into his arms. But be this as it may, the poor child became quite ill in consequence, and was reduced to a melancholy spectre, though she had formerly been the most cheerful and lively and merry person in the whole establishment. But such a change in personal appearance can be explained in more ways than one.”

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The Baroness of C

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“It is a pity,” observed Fritz, “that these occurrences are not always more particularly examined, and that in judging of events which so much interest us we are obliged to hesitate between different appearances, because the circumstances under which they happen have not been all observed.”

“True,” replied the old clergyman; “but it is so extremely difficult to make this examination at the very moment when anything of the kind happens, and to take every precaution that nothing shall escape, in which deceit or fraud may be concealed. Can we, for example, detect a conjuror so easily, though we are perfectly conscious that he is deluding us?”

He had scarcely finished this observation than a loud report was suddenly heard in one corner of the apartment. Every one leaped up, whilst Charles said, jokingly, “Surely the noise does not proceed from some dying lover.”

He would willingly have recalled the expression, for Louisa became suddenly pale and stammered forth that she felt apprehension about the safety of her intended.

Fritz, to divert her attention, took up the light and went towards a reading-desk which stood in a corner of the apartment. The semicircular top was split through—this, then, was the cause of the report which they had heard; but it immediately occurred to them that the reading-desk was of the best workmanship, and had occupied the very same spot for years, and they were all, therefore, astonished that it should be so suddenly split asunder. It had even been praised more than once as a very model piece of furniture; and how, therefore, could this accident have occurred, without even the slightest change having taken place in the temperature?

“Quick!” said Charles, “let us settle this point at once by examining the barometer.” The quicksilver maintained the same point it had held for some days. And even the thermometer had not fallen more than could be reconciled with the difference of the temperature between day and night. “It is a pity that we have not a hygrometer at hand,” he exclaimed; “the very instrument that would have been most serviceable.”

“It seems,” said the old clergyman, “that the most valuable instrument always fails when we are engaged in supernatural inquiries.” They were interrupted in their reflections by the entry of a servant, who announced that a great fire was visible in the heavens, though no one could say whether it was raging in the town or in the neighborhood.

The circumstances we have just related made the whole party more susceptible of terror, and they were therefore much agitated by the news. Fritz hastened up to the belvidere of the house, where a map of the adjacent country was suspended, by means of which he was enabled, even at night, to point out with tolerable accuracy the various positions of the surrounding places. The rest of the party remained together, not without some sensations of fear and anxiety.

Fritz announced, upon his return, that he had no good news to tell. “The fire does not seem to be in the town, but upon the property of our aunt. I am well acquainted,” said he, “with the locality, and believe I am not mistaken.” Each one lamented the destruction of the fine building and calculated the loss. “A strange thought has just occurred to me,” said Fritz, “which may quiet our minds as to the mystery of the reading-desk. Consider how long it is since we heard the report.” They counted the minutes, and thought it had occurred about half-past twelve. “Now you will probably laugh,” continued Fritz, “when I tell you my conjecture. You know that our mother, a good many years ago, made our aunt a present of a reading-desk, in every respect similar to this one. They were both finished with the greatest care by the same workman, at the same time, and cut out of one piece of wood. Both have lasted well until now; and I will lay a wager that at this very instant the second reading-desk is actually burning at the house of my aunt, and its twin-brother here is afflicted at the disaster. To-morrow I will set out and investigate this singular fact as thoroughly as I am able.”

Whether Frederick really entertained the above opinion, or whether his wish to tranquillize his sister suggested the idea, we are unable to decide; they, however, seized the opportunity to speak of many undeniable sympathies, and ended by discovering that a sympathy actually existed between pieces of timber formed from one tree, and pronounced it probable that the same sympathy subsisted between pieces of work completed by the same hand. They agreed that these things resembled natural phenomena fully as much as other things which were often adduced, and which, although quite evident, are incapable of explanation. “And in my opinion,” added Edition: current; Page: [26] Charles, “every phenomenon, as well as every fact, is peculiarly interesting for its own sake. Whoever explains it, or connects it with other circumstances, only makes a jest of it, or deludes us: this is done, for example, by the natural philosopher and the historian. But an unconnected fact or event is interesting, not because it is explicable or probable, but because it is true. When at midnight the flames consumed your aunt’s reading-desk, the extraordinary splitting of ours at the very same time was a palpable fact, however explicable or connected with other things it may be.”

Though night was by this time far advanced, none of the company felt any inclination to retire, and Charles, in his turn, asked permission to tell a story, which, though equally interesting, might seem perhaps more natural and explicable than the previous ones. “Marshal Bassompierre,” he said, “relates it in his Memoirs, and I may be permitted to tell it in his name.

“I had remarked for five or six months that whenever I crossed the little bridge (for at that time the Pont Neuf had not been built) a very handsome shopkeeper, over the door of whose establishment was painted the sign of ‘The Two Angels,’ always saluted me with a low and respectful bow, and followed me with her eyes as far as she could see me. This conduct on her part surprised me extremely, but I always directed my looks to her and saluted her in return. I rode on one occasion from Fontainebleau to Paris, and when I had arrived at the little bridge she appeared at the door of her shop and said, ‘Your servant, sir.’ I returned the salute, and as I looked back from time to time I observed that she was as usual leaning forward to keep me in view as long as possible.

“My servant was following with a postilion, as I wished to send some letters back to some ladies in Fontainebleau the same day. I ordered the servant to alight, to go to the pretty shopkeeper, and to tell her from me that I had noticed her wish to speak to me, and that if she desired my acquaintance I would visit her whenever she wished. She answered that I could have sent her no more delightful news, that she would meet me whenever I should appoint, on condition that she might be allowed to pass a night under the same roof with me. I accepted the proposal, and asked the servant to find a place where I might appoint an assignation. He said he would lead me to a friend’s house, but advised me, as fever was then very prevalent, to provide myself with my own house-linen. When evening came, I went to the appointed house, where I found a very beautiful young woman awaiting my arrival. She was attired in a charming head-dress and wore the finest linens. Her tiny feet were adorned with slippers, worked in gold and silk, and her person was covered with a loose mantle of the softest satin texture. Suffice it to say, that I never saw a more charming person. In the morning I asked when I could see her again, as it was then Thursday night, and it was not my intention to leave the town before the following Sunday.

“She replied that she was more anxious for a fresh appointment than I could possibly be, but that it would be impracticable, unless I could postpone my departure, as I could only see her on Sunday night. To this I made some difficulty, which caused her to complain that I was tired of her, and therefore wished to set out on Sunday; ‘but,’ she added, ‘you will soon think of me again, and will be glad to forfeit a day to pass a night with me.’

“I was easily persuaded. I promised to stay during Sunday and to meet her in the evening at the same place. She answered me as follows: ‘I am quite aware that on your account I have allowed myself to meet you under circumstances calculated to ruin my character; but I have done this in obedience to an irresistible desire to enjoy your society. But so great an indiscretion cannot be repeated. I shall excite the jealousy of my husband, though one might risk even that for the satisfaction of an irresistible passion. For your sake I have come to this house, which has been honored by your presence. But if you desire to see me again you must meet me at the residence of my aunt.’

“She described the house with great particularity, and then added, ‘I shall expect you at ten o’clock. From that time till midnight the door shall be open. You will find a small entrance, through which you must advance, as my aunt’s door is at the farther end. You will then see a flight of stairs opposite to you. They lead to the first floor, and there I shall be expecting you with open arms.’

“I made all my arrangements. I sent away my things, dismissed my servants, and waited impatiently the arrival of Sunday night, when I was to see my charming companion once Edition: current; Page: [27] more. At ten o’clock I was at the appointed place. I found the door which she had described close shut, and observed lights in the house, which seemed every now and then to blaze up into a flame. I knocked impatiently in order to announce my arrival, and I was immediately saluted by the hoarse voice of a man inquiring what I wanted. I retired disappointed, and paced restlessly up and down the street. At length I returned to the house, and found the door then wide open. I hurried through the passage and ascended the stairs. Judge of my astonishment at finding the room occupied by two men, who were employed in burning a mattress and some bed-clothes, while I saw before me two naked corpses stretched upon the floor. I hastened away instantly, and in rushing down stairs knocked against two men carrying a coffin, who asked me angrily what I wanted. I drew my sword to protect myself, and finally reached my home in a state of the greatest excitement. I swallowed half a dozen glasses of wine, as a preservative against the fever, and on the following day continued my journey.

“All the inquiries I afterwards instituted to discover who this woman was were in vain. I even visited the shop where the ‘Two Angels’ were painted, but the newcomers could not inform me who their predecessors had been. The chief character in this adventure was doubtless a person from the lower orders; but I can assure you that but for the disagreeable finale it would have proved one of the most delightful incidents that has ever happened to me, and that I never think of my charming heroine without feelings of the warmest affection.”

Charles observed, upon the conclusion of the anecdote, that the mystery which enveloped the story was not easily explained. The woman might either have died of the fever, or have kept away from the house on account of the infection.

“But if she were alive,” answered Charles, “she would have met her lover in the street, as no fear could, under the circumstances, have kept her from him. I fear,” he added, “that her corpse was stretched on the floor.”

“Oh! no more of this,” said Louisa: “this story is too frightful. What a night we shall pass if we retire with our imaginations full of these pictures!”

“I recollect an anecdote,” interrupted Charles, “of rather a more cheerful description, which the same Bassompierre relates of some of his ancestors.

“A very beautiful woman, who loved one of her relations passionately, visited him every Monday at his country house, where they spent much time together, his wife believing in the meanwhile that her husband was engaged on a hunting-party. Two years uninterruptedly had passed in this way, when the wife’s suspicions being aroused she stole one morning to the country house, and found her husband asleep with his companion. Being unwilling or afraid to disturb them, she untied her veil, threw it over the feet of the sleeping couple, and retired. When the lady awoke and observed the veil, she uttered a piercing cry, and with loud lamentations complained that she would now never be able to see her lover again. She then took leave of him, having first given him three presents—a small fruit-basket, a ring, and a goblet—being a present for each of his three daughters, and desired him to take great care of them. They were accepted with thanks, and the children of these three daughters believe that they are indebted to their respective gifts for whatever good fortune has attended them.”

“This somewhat resembles the story of the beautiful Melusina, and such like fairy tales,” observed Louisa.

“But there is just such a tradition in our family,” said Frederick, “and we have possession of a similar talisman.”

“What do you mean?” asked Charles.

“That is a secret,” replied the former. “It can be told to no one but the eldest son, and that during the lifetime of his father, and he is then to hold the charm.”

“Are you the present possessor?” inquired Louisa.

“I have told too much already,” answered Frederick, as he lighted his candle previous to retiring.

The family had assembled to breakfast according to their usual custom, and the baroness afterwards took her seat at her embroidery-frame. After a short silence the clergyman observed, with a slight smile, “It is seldom indeed that singers, poets, or story-tellers, who enter into an agreement to amuse a company, do it at the right time; they often require pressing, when they should begin voluntarily; whilst, on the other hand, they are frequently eager and urgent to commence at Edition: current; Page: [28] a time when the entertainment could be dispensed with. I hope, however, to prove an exception to this custom, and I shall be glad to know whether it will prove agreeable to you that I should relate a story.”

“Particularly so,” answered the baroness; “and I feel sure that I express the general opinion. But if it is your intention to relate an anecdote as a specimen, I will tell you for what sort of story I have no inclination.”

“I take no pleasure in stories which, like the Arabian Nights, connect one tale with another, and so confound the interest of both, where the narrator finds himself compelled to excite our attention by interruptions, and instead of satisfying us by detailing a course of consecutive adventures, seeks to attract us by rare and often unworthy artifices. I cannot but censure the attempt to convert stories which should possess the unity of a poem into unmeaning puzzles, which only have the effect of destroying our taste. I leave you to choose your own subjects, but I hope you will pay a little attention to the style, since it must be remembered that we are members of good society. Commence with some narrative in which but few persons are concerned or few events described, in which the plot is good and natural, though possessing as much action and contrivance as is necessary, which shall not prove dull, nor be confined to one spot, but in which, however, the action shall not progress too rapidly. Let your characters be pleasing, and if not perfect, at least good—not extravagant, but interesting and amiable. Let your story be amusing in the narration, in order that when concluded we may remember it with pleasure.”


“If I were not well acquainted with you, gracious lady,” said the clergyman, “I should be of opinion that it was your wish, by thus explaining how much you require of me, to bring my wares into disrepute, before I have exposed them for sale. I see how difficult it will be to reach your standard of excellence. Even now,” he continued, after a short pause, “you compel me to postpone the tale which I had intended to relate till another time, and I fear I shall commit a mistake in extemporizing an anecdote for which I have always felt a great partiality:

“In a sea-coast town in Italy once lived a merchant, who from his youth had been distinguished for activity and industry. He was, in addition, a first-rate sailor, and had amassed considerable wealth by trading to Alexandria, where he was accustomed to purchase or exchange merchandise, which he afterwards either brought home or forwarded to the northern parts of Europe. His fortune increased from year to year. Business was his greatest pleasure, and he found no Edition: current; Page: [29] time for the indulgence of extravagant dissipation.

“His life was employed in active pursuits of this nature till he was fifty years old, and he had been, during all this time, a total stranger to those social pleasures with which luxurious citizens are accustomed to diversify their lives. Even the charms of the fair sex had never excited his attention, notwithstanding the attractions of his countrywomen. His knowledge of them was confined to their love for ornaments and jewelry, a taste of which he never failed to take proper advantage.

“He was surprised, therefore, at the change which took place in his disposition, when, after a long voyage, his richly-laden ship entered the port of his native town upon the occurrence of a great festival, in which the children of the place took a prominent part. The youths and maidens had attended the church in their gayest attire, and had joined in the sacred processions. They afterwards mingled through the town in separate companies, or dispersed through the country in search of amusements, or they assembled in the large square, engaging in various active pursuits and exhibiting feats of skill and dexterity, for which small prizes were bestowed.

“The merchant became delighted with all he saw. But after he had for some time observed the happiness of the children, and the delight of their parents, and witnessed so many persons in the full enjoyment of present bliss, and the indulgence of the fondest hopes, he could not help reflecting upon the wretchedness of his own condition. The thought of his own solitary home began for the first time to be distressing to him, and he thus gave vent to his melancholy thoughts.

“ ‘Unhappy being that I am! Why are my eyes opened so late? Why, in my old age, do I first become acquainted with those blessings which can alone insure the happiness of mankind? What toil have I endured! What labors have I borne! And what have they done for me? ’Tis true, my cellars are filled with merchandise, my chests with valuable metals, and my caskets with jewelry and precious stones; but these treasures can neither console nor satisfy my heart. The more I have, the more I want—one coin requires another, and one diamond wishes for its fellow. I am not the master of my riches. They command me in imperious tone. “Go and get more,” they exclaim. Gold delights in gold, and jewels in their fellows. They have ruled me all my life; and now I find, too late, that they possess no real value. Now, when age approaches, I begin for the first time to reflect, and to complain, that I enjoy none of the treasures which I possess, and that no one will enjoy them after me. Have I ever used them to adorn the person of a beloved wife?—to provide a marriage-portion for a daughter? Have I ever, by their means, enabled a son to win and to dower the maiden of his heart? Never! None of these treasures have ever enriched me or mine; and what I have collected with so much toil some stranger, after my death, will thoughtlessly dissipate.

“ ‘Oh! with what different feelings will those happy parents, whom I see around me, assemble their children this evening, praise their address, and encourage them to virtue! What joy have I beheld beaming from their eyes, and what hopes from the happiness of their beloved offspring! And must I ever be a stranger to hope? Am I grown gray? Is it not enough to see my error, before the final evening of my days arrives? No, in my ripe years, it is not foolish to dream of love. I will enrich a fair maiden with my wealth, and make her happy. And should my house ever become blessed with children, those late fruits will render me happy, instead of proving a plague and a torment, as they often do, to those who too early receive such gifts from heaven.’

“Thus communing with himself, he silently formed his determination. He then called two of his intimate companions, and opened his mind to them. They were ever ready to aid him in all emergencies, and were not wanting upon the present occasion. They hastened, therefore, into the town, to make inquiries after the fairest and most beautiful maidens; for they knew their master was a man who, whatever goods he might wish to acquire, would never be satisfied with any but the best. He was himself active, went about, inquired, saw and listened, and soon found what he sought in the person of a young maiden about sixteen years of age, accomplished and well educated. Her person and disposition pleased him, and gave him every hope of happiness. In fact, at this time, no maiden in the whole town was more admired for her beauty.

“After a short delay, during which the most perfect independence of his intended bride, not only during his own life, but after his decease, Edition: current; Page: [30] was secured, the nuptial ceremony was performed with great pomp and triumph, and from that day the merchant felt himself, for the first time in his life, in actual possession and enjoyment of his riches. His rarest and most costly silks were devoted to the adornment of his bride, and his diamonds gleamed more brilliantly upon the neck and amid the tresses of his love than they had ever shone in his caskets; and his rings acquired an inexpressible value from the beauty of the hand by which they were adorned. And thus he felt that he was not only as wealthy, but even wealthier than before; and all he possessed acquired a new value from being shared with her whom he loved. The happy couple spent a year together in the most perfect contentment, and he seemed to experience a real joy in having exchanged his active and wandering course of life for the calm content of domestic bliss. But he could not so easily divest himself of his nature; and he found that a habit acquired in early youth, though it may for a time be interrupted, can never be completely laid aside.

“After some time the sight of some of his old companions, when they had safely brought their ships into harbor, after a long and perilous voyage, excited anew his old inclinations, and he began now, even in the company of his bride, to experience sensations of restlessness and discontent. These feelings increased daily, and were gradually converted into so intense a longing for his old course of life that at last he became positively miserable, and a serious illness was the result.

“ ‘What will now become of me?’ he asked himself. ‘I learn too late the folly, in old age, of entering upon a new system of life. How can we separate ourselves from our thoughts and our habits? What have I done? Once I possessed the perfect freedom which a bird enjoys in open air, and now I am imprisoned in a dwelling with all my wealth and jewels, and my beauteous wife. I thought thus to win contentment and enjoy my riches; but I feel that I lose everything so long as I cannot increase my stores. Unjustly are men considered fools who add to their wealth by ceaseless activity—for activity itself is happiness, and riches themselves are valueless in comparison with the delight of the toil by which they are acquired. I am wretched from idleness, sick from inactivity, and, if I do not determine upon some other course, I may soon bid farewell to life.

“ ‘I know, however, how much I risk in separating from a young and lovely wife. I know how unjust it is to win the affections of a charming maiden, and, after a brief possession, to abandon her to the wearisome society of her own desires and emotions. I know, even now, how many vain and frivolous youths display their conceited persons before my windows. I know that in church and in the public promenades they seek to attract the notice and engage the attention of my wife. What may not take place, then, if I absent myself? Can I hope for the intervention of some miracle to save her from her almost inevitable fate? It were vain to expect that at her age, and with her warm affections, she can withstand the seductions of love. If I depart, I know that upon my return I shall have lost the attachment of my wife, and that she will have forfeited her fidelity and tarnished the honor of my house.’

“Such reflections as these, and the doubts to which he became a prey, embittered his condition tenfold. His wife, no less than his relations and friends, sympathized deeply with him, without being able to comprehend the cause of his illness. At length he sought relief from his own thoughts, and thus communed with himself: ‘Fool! to trouble yourself so much about the protection of a wife, whom, if your illness continues, you must leave behind you for the enjoyment of another. Is it not better to preserve your life, even though in the effort you risk the loss of the greatest treasure which a woman can possess? How many find their very presence ineffectual to preserve this treasure, and patiently endure a privation which they cannot prevent! Why cannot you summon up courage to be independent of so precarious a blessing, since upon this resolution your very existence depends?’

“He felt invigorated by these thoughts, and forthwith summoned together his former crew. He instructed them without delay to charter a vessel, to load it, and to hold themselves ready to set sail with the first favorable wind. He then unburdened himself in the following terms to his wife:—

“ ‘Be not astonished at any commotion you may shortly observe in our house, but conclude from thence that I am making preparations for a journey. Be not overcome with grief when I inform you that I am once more bent upon a sea voyage. My love is still unchanged towards you, and so it will doubtless remain Edition: current; Page: [i] Edition: current; Page: [j] Edition: current; Page: [k] Edition: current; Page: [l] Edition: current; Page: [31] during my life. I am sensible of the bliss I have enjoyed in your society, and should feel it still more powerfully but for the silent censures of idleness and inactivity with which my conscience reproves me. My old disposition returns, and my former habits are still alive. Let me once more visit the markets of Alexandria, to which I shall repair with the greater joy, because I can there procure for you the richest merchandise and most valuable treasures. I leave you in possession of all my fortune and of all my goods; make use of them without restraint, and enjoy yourself in the company of your relatives and friends. The period of our separation will roll swiftly by, and we shall see each other once more with inexpressible delight.’



“Dissolved in tears, his loving wife assured him, with the most tender endearments, that during his absence she should never be able to enjoy one happy moment; and entreated him, since she wished neither to control nor to detain him, that she might, at least, share his affectionate thoughts during the sad time of their separation.

“He then gave some general directions on business and household matters, and added, after a short pause: ‘I have something to say, which lies like a burden upon my heart, and you must permit me to utter it; I only implore you earnestly not to misinterpret my meaning, but in my anxiety for you to discern my love.’

“ ‘I can guess your thoughts,’ interrupted his wife; ‘you are suspicious of me, I know; and, after the fashion of men, you always rail against the universal weakness of our sex. I am, it is true, young and of a cheerful disposition, and you fear that, in your absence, I shall be found inconstant and unfaithful. I do not find fault with your suspicions: it is the habit of your sex; but, if I know my own heart, I may assure you that I am not so susceptible of impressions as to be induced, lightly, to stray from the paths of love and duty, through which I have hitherto journeyed. Fear not; you shall find your wife as true and faithful on your return as you have ever found her hitherto, when you have come to her arms at evening after a short absence.’

“ ‘I believe the truth of the sentiments you utter,’ added the husband, ‘and I beseech you to be constant to them. But let us conceive the possibility of the worst. Why should we shrink from it? You know yourself how the beauty of your person attracts the admiration of all our young fellow-citizens. During my absence they will be more attentive to you than ever. They will redouble their efforts to attract and to please you. The image of your husband will not prove as effective as his presence in banishing them from my doors and from your heart. I know you are a noble being; but the blandishments of love are powerful, and oftentimes overcome the firmest resolutions. Interrupt me not. Your very thoughts of me during my absence may inflame your passions. I may for some time continue to be the object of your dearest wishes; but who can foretell what opportunities may occur and allow a stranger to enjoy those privileges which were destined for me. Be not impatient, I beseech you, but hear me out.

“ ‘Should that time arrive, the possibility of which you deny, and which I am by no means anxious to hasten, in which you feel that you need society and can no longer defer the requirements of love, then make me one promise. Permit no thoughtless youth to supplant me, whatever may be the attractions of his person, for such lovers are more dangerous to the honor than to the virtue of a woman. Incited rather by vanity than by love, they seek the general favors of the sex, and are ever ready to transfer their transitory affections. If you wish for the society of a friend, look out for one who is worthy of the name, whose modesty and discretion understands the art of exalting the joys of love by the virtue of secrecy.’

“His beautiful wife could suppress her agony no longer, and the tears which she had till now restrained flowed in copious torrents from her eyes. ‘Whatever may be your opinion of me,’ she cried, after a passionate embrace, ‘nothing can be at this hour farther from my thoughts than the crime which you seem to consider as inevitable. If such an idea shall ever suggest itself to my imagination, may the earth in that instant open and swallow me up, and all hope of that joy forever vanish which promises a blessed immortality! Banish this mistrust from your bosom, and let me enjoy the full and delightful hope of seeing you again return to these arms’

“Leaving no effort untried to comfort and console his wife, he set sail the next day. His voyage was prosperous, and he soon arrived in Alexandria.

“In the meantime our heroine lived in the tranquil enjoyment of a large fortune, in possession Edition: current; Page: [32] of every luxury, though, with the exception of her relatives and immediate friends, no person was admitted to her society. The business of her absent husband was discharged by trustworthy servants, and she inhabited a large mansion, in whose splendid salons she was able to enjoy the daily pleasure of recalling the remembrance of his love.

“But, notwithstanding her quiet and retired mode of life, the young gallants of the town did not long remain inactive. They frequented the street, passed incessantly before her windows, and in the evening sought by means of music and serenades to attract her attention. The pretty prisoner at first found these attentions troublesome and annoying, but gradually she became reconciled to the vexation, and when the long evenings arrived she began to consider the serenades in the light of an agreeable entertainment, and could scarcely suppress an occasional sigh, which, strictly speaking, belonged to her absent husband.

“But her unknown admirers, in place of gradually wearying in their attentions, as she had once expected, became more assiduous in their devotion to her. She began, at last, to recognize the oft-repeated instruments and voices, to grow familiar with the melodies, and to feel an anxiety to know the names of her most constant serenaders. She might innocently indulge so harmless a curiosity. She now peeped occasionally through her curtains and half-closed shutters, to notice the pedestrians, and to observe more particularly the youths whose eyes were constantly directed towards her windows. They were invariably handsome and fashionably dressed; but their manner and whole deportment were unmistakably marked by frivolity and vanity. They sought rather to make themselves remarkable by directing their attention to the house of so beautiful a woman than to display towards her a feeling of peculiar respect.

“ ‘Really,’ the lady would sometimes say to herself in a tone of raillery, ‘really my husband showed a deal of penetration. The condition under which he allowed me to enjoy the privilege of a lover excludes all those who care in the least for me, or to whom I am likely to take a fancy. He seems to have well understood that prudence, modesty and silence are qualities which belong to demure old age, when men can value the understanding, but are incapable of awakening the fancy or exciting the desires. I am pretty sure, at least, that amongst the youths who lay perpetual siege to my mansion there is not one entitled to my confidence; and those who might lay some claim to that virtue fall lamentably short in other attractions.’

“Supported by these reflections, she allowed herself to take more and more pleasure daily in the music and in the attentions of her young admirers, till, at length, unperceived by herself, a restless desire gradually sprung up in her bosom, with which she was too late compelled to struggle. Solitude and idleness, combined with comfort and luxury, gave birth to an unruly passion long before the thoughtless victim had any suspicion of her danger.

“Amongst the numerous endowments of her husband she now saw ample reason to admire his profound knowledge of the world and of mankind, and his thorough acquaintance with woman’s heart. She now perceived the possibility of that occurrence which she had formerly so strenuously denied, and acknowledged his wisdom in preaching the necessity of prudence and caution. But what could these virtues avail, where pitiless chance seemed to be in conspiracy with her own unaccountable passions? How could she select one from a crowd of strangers, and was she permitted, in case of disappointment, to make a second choice?

“Innumerable thoughts of this nature increased the perplexity of our solitary heroine. In vain she sought for recreation and tried to forget herself. Her mind was perpetually excited by agreeable objects, and her imagination thus became impressed with the most delightful pictures of fancied happiness.

“In this state of mind she was informed one day by a relation, amongst other pieces of news, that a young lawyer who had just finished his studies at Bologna had lately arrived in his native town. His talents were the topic of general admiration and encomium. His universal knowledge was accompanied by a modesty and reserve very uncommon in youth, and his personal attractions were of a high order. In his office of procurator he had already won, not only the confidence of the public, but the respect of the judges. He had daily business to transact at the court-house, so great was the increase of his professional practice.

“Our heroine could not hear the talents of this youth so generally extolled without feeling a wish to become acquainted with him, Edition: current; Page: [33] accompanied by a secret hope that he might prove a person upon whom, in conformity with the permission of her husband, she might bestow her heart. She soon learned that he passed her dwelling daily on his way to the court-house, and she carefully watched for the hour when the lawyers were accustomed to assemble for the discharge of business. With beating heart she at length observed him pass, and if his handsome figure and youthful attractions, on the one hand, excited her admiration, his apparent reserve and modesty, on the other, gave her much reason for doubt and anxiety. For several days she watched him silently, till at length she was no longer able to resist her desire to gain his attention. She dressed herself with care, went out upon the balcony, and marked his approach with feelings of suspense. But she grew troubled and, indeed, felt ashamed when she saw him pass, in contemplative mood, with thoughtful steps and downcast eyes pursuing his quiet way, without deigning to bestow the slightest notice upon her. Vainly did she endeavor thus to win his attention for several successive days. In the same undeviating course he continued to pass by, without raising his eyes or looking to the right or to the left. But the more she observed him, the more did he appear to be the very person she desired. Her wish to know him now grew stronger, and at length became irresistible. How! she thought within herself—when my noble, sensible husband actually foresaw the extremity to which his absence would reduce me, when his keen perception knew that I could not live without a friend—must I droop and pine away at the very time when fortune provides me with one whom not only my own heart, but even the choice of my husband would approve, in whose society I may enjoy the delights of love in inviolable secrecy? Fool should I be to miss such an opportunity! fool, to resist the powerful impulses of love.


“With such reflections did she endeavor to decide upon some fixed course, and she did Edition: current; Page: [34] not long remain a prey to uncertainty. It happened with her, as it usually does with every one who is conquered by a passion, that she looked without apprehension upon all such trifling objections as shame, fear, timidity and duty, and came at length to the bold resolution of sending her servant maid to the young lawyer at any risk, and inviting him to visit her.

“She found him in the company of several friends, and delivered her message punctually in the terms in which she had been instructed. The procurator was not at all surprised at the invitation. He had known the merchant previously, was aware of his absence at present, and presumed that the lady required the aid of his professional services about some important matter of business. He promised the servant, therefore, that he would wait upon her mistress without delay. The latter heard with unspeakable joy that she would soon be allowed an opportunity of seeing and speaking to her beloved. She prepared carefully for his reception, and had her salons arranged with the utmost elegance. Orange leaves and flowers were strewn around in profusion, and the most costly furniture was displayed for the occasion. And thus the brief intervening time hastened by, which would otherwise have been unbearable.

“Who can describe the emotion with which she witnessed his arrival, or her agitation upon inviting him to take a seat at her side? She hesitated how to address him now that he had arrived, and found a difficulty in remembering what she had to say. He sat still and silent. At length she took courage and addressed him, not without some visible perplexity.

“ ‘I understand, sir, that you are but lately returned to your native city, and I learn that you are universally admired as a talented and incomparable man. I am ready to bestow my utmost confidence upon you in a matter of extraordinary importance, but which, upon reflection, would seem adapted rather for the ear of the confessor than that of the lawyer. I have been for some years married to a husband who is both rich and honorable, and who, as long as we have lived together, has never failed to tenderly love me, and of whom I should not have a single word of complaint to utter, if an irresistible desire for travelling and for trade had not torn him, for some time, from my arms.

“ ‘As a sensible and just man, he no doubt felt conscious of the injury which his absence must necessarily inflict upon me. He knew that a young wife must be preserved in a different manner from jewelry and pearls. He knew that she resembled a garden full of the choicest fruits, which would be lost not only to him, but to every one else, if the door were kept locked for years. For this reason he addressed me in serious but friendly tones before his departure, and assured me that he knew I should not be able to live without the society of a friend, and therefore not only permitted, but made me promise that I would, in a free and unrestrained manner, follow the inclination which I should soon find springing up within my heart.’

“She paused for a moment, but an eloquent look, which the young lawyer directed towards her, encouraged her to proceed.

“ ‘One only condition was imposed upon me by my indulgent husband. He recommended me to use the most extreme caution, and impressed upon me strongly the necessity of choosing a steady, prudent, silent and confidential friend. But you will excuse my continuing—excuse the embarrassment with which I must confess how I have been attracted by your numerous accomplishments, and conceive, if possible, from the confidence I have reposed in you, the nature of my hopes and wishes.’

“The worthy young lawyer was silent for a short time, and then replied, in a thoughtful tone: ‘I am deeply indebted for the high mark of confidence with which you both honor and delight me. I wish to convince you that I am not unworthy of your favor. But let me first answer you in a professional capacity, and I must confess my admiration for your husband, who so clearly saw the nature of the injustice he committed against you; for there can be no doubt of this—that a husband who leaves his young wife, in order to visit distant countries, must be viewed in the light of a man who relinquishes a valuable treasure, to which, by his own conduct, he abandons all manner of claim. And, as the first finder may then lawfully take possession, so I hold it to be natural and just that a young woman, under the circumstances you describe, should bestow her affections and herself, without scruple, upon any friend who may prove worthy of her confidence.

“ ‘But particularly when the husband, as in this case, conscious of the injustice he himself commits, expressly allows his forsaken wife a privilege, of which he could not deprive her, Edition: current; Page: [35] it must be clear that he can suffer no wrong from an action to which he has given his own consent.


“ ‘Wherefore, if you,’ continued the young lawyer, with a different look and the most express emphasis, and the most affectionate pressure of the hand, ‘if you select me for your servant, you enrich me with a happiness, of which, till now, I could have formed no conception. And be assured,’ he added, while at the same time he warmly kissed her hand, ‘that you could not have found a more true, loving, prudent and devoted servant.’

“This declaration tranquillized the agitated feelings of our tender heroine. She at once expressed her love without reserve. She pressed his hand, drew him nearer to her, and reclined her head upon his shoulder. They had remained but a short time in this position when he sought to disengage himself gently, and not without emotion expressed himself thus: ‘Did ever happy mortal find himself in such embarrassment? I am compelled to leave you, and to do violence to myself in the very moment when I might surrender myself to the most divine enchantment. I cannot now partake the bliss which is prepared for me, and I earnestly pray that a temporary postponement may not altogether frustrate my fondest hopes.’

“She inquired hastily the cause of this strange speech.

“ ‘When I was in Bologna,’ he replied, ‘and had just completed my studies, preparing Edition: current; Page: [36] to enter upon the practice of my profession, I was seized with a dangerous illness, from which it appeared that, even if I should escape with my life, my bodily and mental faculties must sustain irreparable injury. Reduced to despair, and tortured by the pangs of disease, I made a solemn vow to the Virgin that, should I recover, I would persist for one whole year in practising the strictest fast and abstinence from enjoyment of every description. For ten months I have already adhered to my vow, and, considering the wonderful favor I have enjoyed, the time has not passed wearily, and I have not found it difficult to abstain from many accustomed pleasures. But the two months which still remain will now seem an eternity, since, till their expiration, I am forbidden to partake a happiness whose delights are inconceivable. And though you may think the time long, do not, I beseech you, withdraw the favor which you have so bountifully bestowed upon me.’

“Not much consoled by this announcement, she felt a little more encouraged when her friend added, after a few minutes’ reflection, ‘I scarcely dare to make a proposal, and suggest a plan, which may, perhaps, release me a little earlier from my vow. If I could only find some one as firm and resolute as myself in keeping a promise, and who would divide with me the time that still remains, I should then be the sooner free, and nothing could impede our enjoyment. Are you willing, my sweet friend, to assist in hastening our happiness by removing one-half of the obstacle which opposes us? I can only share my vow with one upon whom I can depend with full confidence. And it is severe—nothing but bread and water twice a day, and at night a few hours’ repose on a hard bed; and, notwithstanding my incessant professional occupation, I must devote many hours to prayer. If I am obliged to attend a party, I am not thereby released from my duty, and I must avoid the enjoyment of every dainty. If you can resolve to pass one month in the observance of these rules, you will find yourself the sooner in possession of your friend’s society, which you will relish the more from the consciousness of having deserved it by your praiseworthy resolution.’

“The beautiful lady was not insensible of the difficulty she had to encounter; but the very presence of her beloved so increased her attachment that no trial appeared to her too difficult which should insure the possession of so valuable a prize. She assured him, therefore, in the most affectionate manner of her readiness to share the responsibility of his vow, and addressed him thus: ‘My sweet friend! the miracle through which you have recovered your health is to me an event of so much value and importance that it is not only my duty, but my joy, to partake the vow by which you are still bound. I am delighted to offer so strong a proof of my sincerity. I will imitate your example in the strictest manner, and, until you discharge me from my obligation, no consideration shall induce me to stray from my path of duty.’

“The young lawyer once more repeated the conditions under which he was willing to transfer to her the obligation of one-half of his vow, and then took his leave, with the assurance that he would soon visit her again, to inquire after her constancy and resolution. And she was then obliged to witness his departure, without receiving so much as one kiss or pressure of the hand, and scarcely with a look of ordinary recognition. She found some degree of happy relief in the strange employment which the performance of her new duties imposed upon her, for she had much to do in the preparation for her unaccustomed course of life. In the first place, all her beautiful exotics and flowers were removed, which had been procured to grace the reception of her beloved. Then a hard mattress was substituted for her downy bed, to which she retired at evening, after having scarcely satisfied her hunger with a frugal meal of bread and water. The following morning found her busily employed in plain work, and in making wearing apparel for a certain number of poor inmates of the town hospital. During this new occupation, she entertained her fancy by dwelling upon the image of her dear friend and indulging the hope of future happiness; and these thoughts reconciled her to the greatest privations, and to the humblest fare.

“At the end of the first week the roses began to fade from her beautiful cheeks, her person to fall away, and her strength to become weak and languid; but a visit from her friend imparted new animation and fortitude. He encouraged her to persist in her resolution by the example of his own perseverance, and by showing her the approaching certainty of uninterrupted happiness. His visit was brief, but he promised to return again speedily.

“With cheerful resignation she continued her new and strict course of life, but her strength soon declined so much that the most Edition: current; Page: [37] severe illness could scarcely have reduced her to such extreme weakness. Her friend, whose visit was repeated at the end of the week, sympathized with her condition, but comforted her by an assurance that one-half the period of her trial was already over. But the severe fasting, continual praying and incessant work became every day more unbearable, and her excessive abstemiousness threatened to ruin the health of one who had ever been accustomed to a life of the greatest luxury. At length she found a difficulty in walking, and she was compelled, notwithstanding the sultriness of the season, to wrap herself up in the warmest clothing to preserve even an ordinary degree of heat, till finally she was obliged to take to her bed.


“Reduced to this extremity it would be difficult to describe the course of her reflections, as she thought over the whole of this extraordinary occurrence, and it is impossible to imagine her distress when ten tedious days wearily passed without the appearance of the friend for whose sake she had consented to make this unheard-of sacrifice. But those hours of trouble sufficed to recall her to reason, and she formed her resolution. Her friend visited her after the lapse of some few days more, and seating himself at her bedside, upon the very sofa which he had occupied when she made her first declaration of love to him, he encouraged and implored her in the most tender and affectionate tones to persist for a short time longer; but she interrupted him with a sweet smile, and assured him that she needed no persuasion to continue, for a few days, the performance of a vow which she knew full well had been appointed for her advantage. ‘I am as yet too feeble,’ she said, ‘to express my thanks to you as I could wish. You have saved me from myself. You have restored me to myself; and I confess that from this moment I am indebted to you for my existence. My husband was, indeed, gifted with prudence and good sense, and well knew the nature of woman’s heart! And he was, moreover, just enough not to condemn a passion which he saw might spring up within my bosom, through his own fault, and he was generous enough to make allowance for the weakness of my nature! But you, sir, are truly virtuous and good. You have taught me that we possess within us an antidote equivalent to the force of our passions; that we are capable of renouncing luxuries to which we have been accustomed, and of suppressing our strongest inclinations. You have taught me this lesson by means of hope, and of delusion. Neither are any longer necessary; you have made me acquainted with the existence of that ever-living conscience, which, in peaceful silence, dwells within our souls, and never ceases with gentle admonitions to remind us of its presence, till its sway becomes irresistibly acknowledged. And now farewell. May your influence over others be as effective as it has been over me. Do not confine your labors to the task of unravelling legal perplexities, but show mankind, by your own gentle guidance and example, that within every bosom the germ of hidden virtue lies concealed. Esteem and fame will be your reward, and, far better than any statesman or hero, you will earn the glorious title of father of your country.’ ”

“We must all extol the character of your young lawyer,” said the baroness, at the conclusion Edition: current; Page: [38] of the clergyman’s tale; “polished, wise, interesting and instructive, I wish every preceptor were like him who undertakes to restrain or recall youth from the path of error. I think such a tale is peculiarly entitled to be styled a moral anecdote. Relate some more of the same nature, and your audience will have ample reason to be thankful.”


I am delighted that my tale has earned your approbation, but I am sorry you wish to hear more of such moral anecdotes; for, to say the truth, this is the first and last of the kind.


It certainly does not do you much credit to say that your best collection only furnishes a single specimen.


You have not understood me. It is not the only moral tale I can relate, but they all bear so close a resemblance that each would seem only to repeat the original.


Really, you should give up your paradoxical style, which so much obscures your conversation, and express yourself more clearly.


With pleasure, then. No anecdote deserves to be called moral which does not prove that man possesses within himself that power to subdue his inclinations which may be called out by the persuasion of another. My story teaches this doctrine, and no moral tale can teach otherwise.


Then, in order to act morally, I must act contrary to my inclinations?




Even when they are good?


No inclinations are abstractedly good—but only so as far as they effect good.


Suppose I have an inclination for benevolence?


Then you should subdue your inclination for benevolence, if you find your domestic happiness suffers from its exercise.


Suppose I felt an irresistible impulse to gratitude?


It is wisely ordained that gratitude can never be an impulse. But, if it were, it would be better to prove ungrateful than to commit a crime to oblige your benefactor.


Then there may be a thousand moral stories?


Yes, in your sense. But none of them would read a lesson different from the one our lawyer taught, and in this sense there can be but one story of the kind: you are right, however, if you mean that the incidents can be various.


If you had expressed your meaning more precisely at first, we had not disagreed.


And we should have had no conversation. Errors and misunderstandings are the springs of action, of life, and of amusement.


I cannot agree with you. Suppose a brave man saves another at the risk of his own life, is that not a moral action?


Not according to my mode of thinking. But suppose a cowardly man were to overcome his fears and do the same, that would be a moral action.


I wish, my dear friend, you would give us some examples, and convince Louisa of the truth of your theory. Certainly a mind disposed to good must delight us when we become acquainted with it. Nothing in the world can be more pleasing than a mind under the guidance of reason and conscience. If you know a tale upon such a subject, we should like to hear it. I am fond of stories which illustrate a doctrine. They give a better explanation of one’s meaning than dry words can possibly do.


I certainly can relate some anecdotes of that kind; for I have paid some attention to those qualities of the human mind.


I would just make one observation. I must confess I do not like stories which oblige us to travel, in imagination, to foreign lands. Why must every adventure take place in Italy, in Sicily, or in the East? Are Naples, Palermo and Smyrna the only places where anything interesting can happen? One may transpose the scene of our fairy tales to Ormus and Samarcand for the purpose of perplexing the imagination; but, if you would instruct the understanding or the heart, do it by means of domestic stories—family portraits—in which we shall recognize our own likeness, and our hearts will more readily sympathize with sorrow.


You shall be gratified. But there is something peculiar, too, about family stories. They bear a strong resemblance to each other, and, besides, we daily see every incident and situation of which they are capable fully worked out upon the stage. However, I am willing to make the attempt, and shall relate a story with some of the incidents of which you are already familiar; and it will Edition: current; Page: [39] only prove interesting so far as it is an exact representation of the picture in your own minds.

We may often observe in families that the children inherit not only the personal appearance, but even the mental qualities of their parents, and it sometimes happens that one child combines the dispositions of both father and mother in a peculiar and remarkable manner.

A youth, whom I may name Ferdinand, was a strong instance of this fact. In his appearance he resembled both parents, and one could distinguish in his mind the separate disposition of each. He possessed the gay, thoughtless manner of his father, in his strong inclination to enjoy the present moment, and, in most cases, to prefer himself to others; but he also inherited the tranquil and reflective mind of his mother, no less than her love for honesty and justice, and a willingness, like her, perpetually to sacrifice himself for the advantage of others. To explain his contradictory conduct upon many occasions, his companions were often reduced to the necessity of believing that he had two souls. I must pass by many adventures which happened in his youth, and shall content myself with relating one anecdote, which not only explains his character fully, but forms a remarkable epoch in his life.

His youth was passed in every species of enjoyment. His parents were affluent, and brought up their children extravagantly. If the father indulged in unreasonable expenditure, either in company, at the gaming-table, or in other dissipations, it was the habit of the mother to restrain her own and the household expenses so as to supply the deficiency; though she never allowed an appearance of want to be observed. Her husband was fortunate in his business; he was successful in several hazardous speculations which he had undertaken, and, as he was fond of society, he had the happiness to form many pleasant and advantageous connections.

The children of a family usually copy those members of the household who seem to live most happily and enjoy themselves. They see in the example of a father who follows such a course a model worthy of imitation, and, as they are seldom slow in obeying their inclinations, their wishes and desires often increase very much in disproportion to their means of enjoyment. Obstacles to their gratification soon arise; each new addition to the family forms a new claim upon the capabilities of the parents, who frequently surrender their own pleasures for the sake of their children, and, by common consent, a more simple and less expensive mode of living is adopted.

Ferdinand grew up with a consciousness of the disagreeable truth that he was often deprived of many luxuries which his more fortunate companions enjoyed. It distressed him to appear inferior to any of them in the richness of his apparel, or the liberality of his expenditure. He wished to resemble his father, whose example was daily before him, and who appeared to him a twofold model, first, as a parent, in whose favor a son is usually prejudiced; and secondly, as a man who led a pleasant and luxurious life, and was, therefore, apparently loved and esteemed by a numerous acquaintance. It is easy to suppose that all this occasioned great vexation to his mother; but in this way Ferdinand grew up, with his wants daily increasing, until at length, when he had attained his eighteenth year, his requirements and his wishes were sadly out of proportion to his condition.

He had hitherto avoided contracting debts, a vice for which his mother had impressed him with the greatest abhorrence; and, in order to win his confidence, she had in numerous instances exerted herself to gratify his desires and relieve him from occasional embarrassments. But it happened, unfortunately, that she was now compelled to practise the most rigid economy in her household expenditure, and this at a time when his wants, from many causes, had increased. He had commenced to enter more generally into society, sought to win the affections of a very attractive girl, and to rival, and even surpass his companions in the elegance of his attire. His mother, being unable any longer to satisfy his demands, appealed to his duty and filial affection to induce him to restrain his expenses. He admitted the justice of her expostulations, but being unable to follow her advice was soon reduced to a state of the greatest mental embarrassment.

Without forfeiting the object of his dearest wishes, he found it impossible to change his mode of life. From earliest youth he had been addicted to his present pursuits, and he could alter no iota of his habits or practices without running the risk of losing an old friend, a desirable companion, or what was worse, abandoning the society of his dearest love.

Edition: current; Page: [40]

His attachment became stronger, as the love which was bestowed upon him not only flattered his vanity, but complimented his understanding.

It was something to be preferred before a host of suitors by a handsome and agreeable girl, who was acknowledged to be the richest heiress in the city. He boasted of the preference with which he was regarded, and she also seemed proud of the delightful bondage in which she was held. It now became indispensable that he should be in constant attendance upon her, that he should devote his time and money to her service, and that he should afford perpetual proofs of the value he set upon her affection. All these inevitable results of his attachment occasioned Ferdinand to indulge in more expense than he would otherwise have incurred. His lady love (who was named Ottilia) had been intrusted to the care of an aunt by her parents, and no exertions had been spared to introduce her to society under the most favorable circumstances. Ferdinand exhausted every resource to furnish her with the enjoyments of society, into all of which she entered with the greatest delight, and of which she herself proved one of the greatest attractions.

No situation could possibly be more wretched than that to which Ferdinand was now reduced. His mother, whom he sincerely loved and respected, had pointed out to him the necessity of embarking in very different duties from those which he had hitherto practised; she could no longer assist him in a pecuniary way. He felt a horror at the debts which were daily becoming more burdensome to him; and he saw before him the difficult task of reconciling his impoverished condition with his anxiety to appear rich and to practise generosity. No mind could be a prey to greater unhappiness.

His mind was now forcibly impressed with thoughts which had formerly only indistinctly suggested themselves to his imagination. Certain unpleasant reflections became to him the source of great unhappiness. He had once looked upon his father as a model, he now began to regard him as a rival. What the son wished to enjoy the parent actually possessed, and the latter felt none of the anxieties or grievances wherewith the former was tortured. Ferdinand, however, was in full possession of every comfort of life, but he envied his father the luxuries which he enjoyed, and with which he thought his parent might very well dispense. But the latter was of a different opinion. He was one of those beings whose desires are wholly insatiable, and who, for their own gratification, subject their family and dependants to the greatest privations. His son received from him a certain pecuniary allowance, but a regular account of his expenditure was strictly exacted.

The eye of the envious is sharpened by restrictions; and dependants are never more censorious than when the commands of superiors are at variance with their practice. Thus Ferdinand came strictly to watch the conduct of his father, particularly upon points which concerned his expenditure. He listened attentively when it was rumored that his parent had lost heavily at the gambling-table and expressed great dissatisfaction at any unwonted extravagance which he might indulge. “Is it not astonishing,” he would say to himself, “that whilst parents revel in every luxury that can spring from the possession of a property which they accidentally enjoy, they can debar their children of those reasonable pleasures which their season of youth most urgently requires? And by what right do they act thus? How have they acquired this privilege? Does it not arise from mere chance, and can that be a right which is the result of accident? If my grandfather were still alive, who loved me as his own son, I should be better provided for. He would not see me in want of common necessaries, those things I mean which we have had from our birth. He would no more let me want than he would approve the extravagance of my parent. Had he lived longer, had he known how worthy his grandchild would prove to inherit a fortune, he would have provided in his will for my earlier independence. I have heard that his death was unexpected, that he had intended to make a will, and I am probably indebted to mere chance for the postponement of a fortune, which, if my father continues his present course, will probably be lost to me forever.”

With such discontented thoughts did Ferdinand often perplex himself in those hours of solitude and unhappiness in which he was prevented, by the want of money, from joining his companions upon some agreeable party of pleasure. Then it was that he discussed those dangerous questions of right and property, and considered how far individuals are bound by laws to which they have given no consent, or whether they may lawfully burst Edition: current; Page: [41] through the restraints of society. But all these were mere pecuniary sophistries; for every article of value which he formerly possessed had gradually disappeared, and his daily wants had now far outgrown his allowance.


He soon became silent and reserved, and at such times even his respect for his mother disappeared, as she could afford him no assistance, and he began to entertain a hatred for his father, who, according to his sentiments, was perpetually in his way.

Just at this period he made a discovery, which increased his discontent. He learned that his father was not only an irregular, but an improvident manager of his household. He observed that his parent often took money hastily from his desk, without entering it in his account-book, and that he was afterwards perplexed with private calculations, and annoyed at his inability to balance his accounts. More than once did Ferdinand make this remark; and his father’s carelessness was the more galling to him, as it often occurred at times when he himself was suffering severely from the want of money.

Whilst he was in this state of mind an unlucky accident happened, which afforded an opportunity for the commission of a crime, to which he had long felt himself impelled by a secret and ungovernable impulse.

His father had desired him to examine and arrange a collection of old letters. One Sunday, when he was alone, he set to work in a room which contained his father’s writing-desk, and in which his money was usually kept. The box of letters was heavy, and in the act of lifting it from the ground he pushed unintentionally against the desk, when the latter suddenly flew open. The rolls of money lay temptingly displayed before him. Without allowing time for a moment’s reflection, he took a roll of gold from that part of the desk where he thought his father kept a supply of money for his own occasional wants. He shut the desk again, and repeated the experiment of opening it. He once more succeeded, and saw that he could now command the treasure as completely as if he had possessed the key.

He soon plunged once more into all those dissipations which he had lately been obliged to renounce. He became more constant than ever in his attentions to Ottilia, and more passionate in the pursuit of pleasure. His former graceful animation was even converted into a species of excitement, which, though it was far from unbecoming, was deficient in Edition: current; Page: [42] that kind attention to others which is so agreeable.

Opportunity is to passion what a spark is to gunpowder, and those desires which we gratify contrary to the dictates of conscience always rule with the most ungovernable power. Ferdinand’s own convictions loudly condemned his conduct, but he endeavored to justify himself by specious arguments, and though his manner became in appearance more free and unrestrained than before, he was in reality a captive to the influence of his evil inclinations.

Just at this time the wearing of extravagant trifles came into fashion. Ottilia was fond of personal ornaments, and Ferdinand endeavored to discover a mode of gratifying her taste without apprising her where her supply of presents came from. Her suspicions fell upon an old uncle, and Ferdinand’s gratification was indescribable at observing the satisfaction of his mistress and the course of her mistaken suspicions. But, unfortunately for his peace of mind, he was now obliged to have frequent recourse to his father’s desk, in order to gratify Ottilia’s fancy and his own inclinations, and he pursued this course now the more boldly, as he had lately observed that his father grew more and more careless about entering in his account-book the sums which he himself required.

The time now arrived for Ottilia’s return to her parents. The young couple were overpowered with grief at the prospect of their separation, and one circumstance added to their sorrow. Ottilia had accidentally learned that the presents we have spoken of had come from Ferdinand; she questioned him upon the subject, and he confessed the truth with feelings of evident sorrow. She insisted upon returning them, and this request occasioned him the bitterest anguish. He declared his determination not to live without her, prayed that she would preserve her attachment to him, and implored that she would not refuse her hand as soon as he should have provided an establishment. She loved him, was moved at his entreaties, promised what he wished, and sealed her vow with the warmest embraces and a thousand passionate kisses.

After her departure, Ferdinand was reduced to sad solitude. The company in which he had found delight pleased him no more, as she was absent. From the mere force of habit he mingled with his former associates, and had recourse to his father’s desk to supply those expenses which in reality he felt but slight inclination to indulge. He was now frequently alone, and his natural good disposition began to obtain the mastery over him. In moments of calm reflection he felt astonished how he could have listened to that deceitful sophistry about justice and right, and his claim to the goods of others, and he wondered at his approval of those evil arguments by which he had been led to justify his dishonest conduct. But, in the meantime, before these correct ideas of truth and uprightness produced a practical effect upon his conduct, he yielded more than once to the temptation of supplying his wants, in extreme cases, from his father’s treasury. This plan, however, was now adopted with more reluctance, and he seemed to be under the irresistible impulse of an evil spirit.

At length he took courage and formed the resolution of rendering a repetition of the practice impossible, by informing his father of the facility with which his desk could be opened. He took his measures cautiously, and once, in the presence of his father, he carried the box of letters we have mentioned into the room, pretended to stumble accidentally against the desk, and astonished his father by causing it to spring open. They examined the lock without delay, and found that it had become almost useless from age. It was at once repaired, and Ferdinand soon enjoyed a return of his peace of mind when he saw his father’s rolls of money once more in safe custody.

But he was not content with this. He formed the resolution of restoring the money which he had abstracted. He commenced the most economical course of life for this purpose, with a view of saving from his allowance all that could be possibly spared from the merest necessities. It is true that this was but little, but it appeared large, as it was the commencement of a system of restitution, and there will always be a wonderful difference between the last guinea borrowed and the first guinea saved. He had pursued this upright course for but a short time, when his father determined to settle him in business. His intention was to form a connection with a manufactory at some distance from his residence. The design was to establish a company in a part of the country where labor and provisions were cheap, to appoint an agent, and extend the business as widely as possible by means of money and credit. It was determined that Edition: current; Page: [43] Ferdinand should inquire into the practicability of the scheme, and forward a circumstantial report of his proceedings. His father furnished him with money for his journey, but placed a moderate limit upon his expenditure. The supply was, however, sufficient for his wants, and Ferdinand had no reason to complain of a deficiency.

Ferdinand used the utmost economy upon his journey, and found upon the closest calculation that he could live upon one-third of his allowance by practising strict restraint. He was now anxious to find means of gradually saving a certain sum, and it soon presented itself; for opportunity comes indifferently to the good and to the bad, and favors all parties alike. In the neighborhood which he designed to visit, he found every article of life cheaper than he had expected. No new habits of expense had as yet been introduced. A moderate capital alone had been invested in business, and the manufacturers were satisfied with small profits. Ferdinand soon saw that with a large capital, and the advantages of a new system, by purchasing the raw material by wholesale, and erecting machinery under the guidance of experienced workmen, large and solid advantages might be secured.

The prospect of a life of activity gave him the greatest delight. The image of his beloved Ottilia was ever before him, and the charming and picturesque character of the country made him wish anxiously that his father might be induced to establish him in this spot, commit the conduct of the new manufactory to him, and thus afford him the means of attaining independence. His attention to business was secured by the demands of his own personal interests. He now found an opportunity, for the first time in his life, for the exercise of his understanding and judgment, and for exerting his other mental powers. Not only the beautiful neighborhood, but his business and occupation were full of attractions for him; they acted as balm and cordial to his wounded heart whenever he recalled the painful remembrance of his father’s house, in which, influenced by a species of insanity, he had acted in a manner which now seemed to him in the highest degree criminal.

His constant companion was a friend of his family, a person of strong mind, but delicate health, who had first conceived the project of founding this establishment. He instructed Ferdinand in all his own views and projects, and seemed to take great pleasure in the thorough harmony of mind which existed between them. This latter personage led a simple and retired life, partly from choice, and partly because his health required it. He had no family of his own. His household establishment was conducted by a niece, who, he intended, should inherit his fortune, and it was his wish to see her united to a person of active and enterprising disposition, who, by means of capital and persevering industry, might carry on the business which his infirm health and want of means disqualified him from conducting. His first interview with Ferdinand suggested that he had found the man he wanted, and he was the more strongly confirmed in this opinion upon observing his fondness for business and his attachment to the place. His niece became aware of his intentions, and seemed to approve of them. She was a young and interesting girl, of sweet and engaging disposition. Her care of her uncle’s establishment had imparted to her mind the valuable qualities of activity and decision, whilst her attention to his health had softened down these traits by a proper union of gentleness and affection. It would have been difficult to find a person better calculated to make a lover happy.

But Ferdinand’s mind was engrossed with the thoughts of Ottilia’s love; he saw no attractions in the charms of this country beauty, or, at least, his admiration was circumscribed by the wish that if ever Ottilia settled down as his wife in this part of the country, she might have the assistance of such a person as assistant and housekeeper. But he was free and unrestrained in his intercourse with the young lady; he valued her more as he came to know her better, and his conduct became more respectful and attentive, and both she and her uncle soon put their own interpretations upon his behavior.

Ferdinand had in the meantime made all the requisite inquiries about his father’s business. The uncle’s suggestions had enabled him to form certain projects which, with his usual thoughtlessness, he made the subject of conversation. He had more than once uttered certain gallant speeches to the niece, until her uncle and herself fancied that he actually indulged intentions which gave them both unfeigned satisfaction. To Ferdinand’s great joy, he had learned that he could not only derive great advantage from his father’s plan, but that another favorable project would enable him to make restitution of the money he Edition: current; Page: [44] had abstracted, and the recollection of which pressed like a heavy burden upon his conscience. He communicated his intentions to his friend, who tendered not only his cordial congratulations, but every possible assistance to carry out his views. He even proposed to furnish his young friend with the necessary merchandise upon credit, a part of which offer was thankfully accepted, some portion of the goods being paid for with money Ferdinand had saved from his travelling expenses, and a short period of credit being taken for the remainder.


It would be difficult to describe the joy with which Ferdinand prepared for his return home. There can be no greater delight than is experienced by a man who, by his own unaided resources, frees himself from the consequences of error. Heaven looks down with satisfaction upon such a spectacle, and we cannot deny the force of the seeming paradox, which assures us that there is more joy before God over one returning sinner than over ninety-nine just.

But, unfortunately, neither the good resolutions nor the repentance and improvement of Ferdinand could remove the evil consequences of his crime, which were destined once more to disturb and agitate his mind with the most painful reflections. The storm had gathered during his absence, and it was destined to burst over his head upon his return home.

We have already had reason to observe that Ferdinand’s father was most irregular in his habits; but his business was under the superintendence of a clever manager. He had not himself missed the money which had been abstracted Edition: current; Page: [45] by his son, with the exception of one roll of foreign money, which he had won from a stranger at play. This he had missed, and the circumstance seemed to him unaccountable. He was afterwards somewhat surprised to perceive that several rolls of ducats could not be found, money which he had some time before lent to a friend, but which he knew had been repaid. He was aware of the previous insecurity of his desk, and felt convinced, therefore, that he had been robbed. This feeling rendered him extremely unhappy. His suspicions fell upon every one. In anger and exasperation he related the circumstance to his wife. The entire household was thereupon strictly examined, and neither servants nor children were allowed to escape. The good wife exerted herself to tranquillize her husband; she represented the discredit which a mere report of this circumstance would bring upon the family; that no one would sympathize in their misfortune, further than to humiliate them with their compassion; that neither he nor she could expect to escape the tongue of scandal; that strange observations would be made if the thief should remain undiscovered; and she suggested that perhaps, if they continued silent, they might recover their lost money without reducing the wretched criminal to a state of misery for life. In this manner she prevailed upon her husband to remain quiet, and to investigate the affair in silence.

But the discovery was unfortunately soon made. Ottilia’s aunt had of course been informed of the engagement of the young couple. She had heard of the presents which her niece had received. The attachment was not approved by her, and she had only maintained silence in consequence of her niece’s absence. She would have consented to her marriage with Ferdinand, but she did not like uncertainty on such a subject; and as she knew that he was shortly to return, and her niece was expected daily, she determined to inform the parents of the state of things, to inquire their opinion, to ask whether Ferdinand was to have a settlement, and if they would consent to the marriage.

The mother was not a little astonished at this information, and she was shocked at hearing of the presents which Ferdinand had made to Ottilia. But she concealed her surprise, and requesting the aunt to allow her some time to confer with her husband upon the matter, she expressed her own concurrence in the intended marriage, and her expectation that her son would be advantageously provided for.

The aunt took her leave; but Ferdinand’s mother did not deem it advisable to communicate the circumstance to her husband. She now had to undertake the sad duty of discovering whether Ferdinand had purchased Ottilia’s presents with the stolen money. She went straight to the shopkeeper who dealt in such goods, made some general inquiries, and said at last, “that he ought not to overcharge her, particularly as her son, who had bought some similar articles, had procured them from him at a more reasonable charge.” This the tradesman denied, producing the account, and further observing that he had even added something for the exchange, as Ferdinand had paid for the goods partly in foreign money. He specified the exact nature of the coin, and, to her inexpressible grief, it was the very same which had been stolen from her husband. She left the shop with sorrowful heart. Ferdinand’s crime was but too evident. The sum which her husband had lost was large, and she saw in all its force the extent of the crime and its evil results. But she had prudence enough to conceal her discovery. She waited for the return of her son with feelings of mingled fear and anxiety. She wished for an explanation, and yet dreaded the consequences of a further inquiry.

At length he arrived in the highest spirits. He expected the greatest praise from the manner in which he transacted his business, and was the bearer of a sum of money sufficient to make compensation for what he had criminally abstracted. His father heard his statement with pleasure, but did not manifest so much delight as the son expected. His late losses had irritated his temper, and he was the more distressed from having some large payments to make at the moment. Ferdinand felt hurt at his father’s depression of mind, and his own peace was further distrubed by the sight of everything around him; the very room in which he was, the furniture, and the sight of the fatal desk, those silent witnesses of his crime, spoke loudly to his guilty conscience. His satisfaction was at an end. He shrunk within himself and felt like a culprit.

After a few days’ delay he was about to distract his attention from these thoughts by examining the merchandise which he had ordered, when his mother finding him alone addressed him upon the subject, in a tone of affectionate earnestness, which did not allow Edition: current; Page: [46] the smallest opportunity for prevarication. He was overcome with grief. He threw himself at her feet, imploring her forgiveness, acknowledging his crime, and protesting that nothing but his affection for Ottilia had misled him; he assured her, in conclusion, that it was the only offence of the kind of which he had ever been guilty. He related the circumstances of his bitter repentance, of his having acquainted his father with the insecurity of his desk, and finally informed her how, by personal privations and a fortunate speculation, he was in a condition to make restitution.

His mother heard him calmly, but insisted on knowing how he had disposed of so much money, as the presents would account but for a small part of the sum abstracted. She produced to his dismay an account of what his father had missed, but he denied having taken even so much silver; the missing gold he solemnly protested he had never touched. His mother became exasperated at this denial. She rebuked him for his attempt to deceive her, and that at a moment when he laid claim to the virtue of repentance, asserting that if he could be guilty in one respect she must doubt his innocence in another. She suggested that he might perhaps have accomplices amongst his dissipated companions; that perhaps the business he had carried on was transacted with the stolen money, and that probably he would have confessed nothing if his crime had not been accidentally discovered. She threatened him with the anger of his father, with judicial punishment, with her highest displeasure, but nothing affected him more than his learning that his projected marriage with Ottilia had been already spoken of. She left him in the most wretched condition. His real crime had been discovered, and he was suspected of even greater guilt. How could he ever persuade his parents that he had not stoien the gold? He dreaded the public exposure which was likely to result from his father’s irritable temper, and he now had time to compare his present wretched condition with the happiness which he might have attained. All his prospects of an active life and of a marriage with Ottilia were at an end. He saw his utter wretchedness—abandoned, a fugitive in foreign lands, exposed to every species of misfortune.

But these reflections were not the worst evil he had to encounter, though they bewildered his mind, wounded his pride, and crushed his affections. His most severe pangs arose from the thought that his honest resolution, his noble intention to repair the past, was suspected, repudiated and denied. And even if these thoughts gave birth to a feeling resembling despair, he could not deny that he had deserved his fate, and to this conviction must be added his knowledge of the fatal truth, that one crime is sufficient to destroy the character forever. Such meditations as these, and the apprehension that his firmest resolutions of amendment might be looked upon as insincere, made life itself a burden.

In this moment of abandonment he appealed to Heaven for assistance. He sank upon his knees, and, moistening the ground with his tears of contrition, implored help from his Divine Maker. His prayer was worthy of being heard. Man, throwing off his load of crimes, has a claim upon Heaven. He who has exhausted every effort of his own may, as a last resource, appeal to God. He was for some time engaged in earnest prayer, when the door opened and some one entered his apartment. It was his mother, who approached him with a cheerful look, saw his agitation, and addressed him with consoling words. “How happy I am,” she said, “to find that I may credit your assertions and regard your sorrow as sincere. The missing sum of gold has been found; your father, when he received it from his friend, handed it to his secretary, who forgot the circumstance amid the numerous transactions of the day. And, with respect to the silver, you are also right, as the amount taken is less than I had supposed. Unable to conceal my joy, I promised your father to replace the missing sum if he would consent to forbear making any further inquiry into the matter.”

Ferdinand’s joy was indescribable. He completed at once his business arrangements, gave his mother the promised money, and in addition replaced the amount which his father had lost through his own irregularity. He became gradually more cheerful and happy, but the whole circumstance produced a serious impression upon his mind. He became convinced that every man has power to accomplish good, and that our Divine Maker will infallibly extend to him His assistance in the hour of trial—a truth which he himself had learned from late experience. He now unfolded to his father his plan of establishing himself in the neighborhood from which he had lately returned. He fully explained the Edition: current; Page: [m] Edition: current; Page: [n] Edition: current; Page: [o] Edition: current; Page: [p] Edition: current; Page: [47] nature of the intended business. His father consented to his proposals, and his mother at a proper time related to her husband the attachment of Ferdinand to Ottilia. He was delighted at the prospect of having so charming a daughter-in-law, and felt additional pleasure at the idea of being able to establish his son without the necessity of incurring much expense.



“This story pleases me,” said Louisa, when the old clergyman had finished his narration; “and though the incidents are taken from low life, yet the tone is sufficiently elevated to prove agreeable. And it seems to me that if we examine ourselves, or observe others, we shall find that men are seldom influenced by their own reflections either to pursue or to abandon a certain course, but are generally impelled by extraneous circumstances.”

“I wish for my part,” said Charles, “that we were not obliged to deny ourselves anything, and that we had no knowledge of those blessings which we are not allowed to possess. But unfortunately we walk in an orchard, where, though all the trees are loaded with fruit, we are compelled to leave them untouched, to satisfy ourselves with the enjoyment of the shade, and forego the greatest indulgence.”

“Now,” continued Louisa to the clergyman, “let us hear the end of the story.”


It is finished.


The denouement may be finished, but we should like to hear the very end.


Your distinction is just; and, since you seem interested in the fate of my friend, I will tell you briefly what happened to him.

Relieved from the oppressive weight of so dreadful a crime, and enjoying some degree of satisfaction at his own conduct, his thoughts were now directed to his future happiness, and he expected with anxiety the return of Ottilia, that he might explain his position and perform his promise to her. She came, accompanied by her parents. He hastened to meet her, and found her more beautiful than ever. He waited with impatience for an opportunity of speaking to her alone, and of unfolding all his future projects. The moment arrived, and with a heart full of tenderness and love he spoke of his hopes, of his expectations of happiness, and of his wish to share it with her. But what was his surprise and astonishment to find that she heard his announcement with indifference and even with contempt, and that she indulged in disagreeable jokes about the hermitage prepared for their reception, and the interest they would excite by enacting the characters of shepherd and shepherdess in a pastoral abode.

Her conduct occasioned bitter reflections. He was hurt and grieved at her indifference. She had been unjust to him, and he now began to observe faults in her conduct which had previously escaped his attention. In addition, it required no very keen perception to remark that a cousin, who had accompanied her, had made an impression upon her and won a large portion of her affections.

But Ferdinand soon perceived the necessity of struggling with this new source of sorrow, and, as victory had attended his exertions in one instance, he hoped to be successful upon a second occasion. He saw Ottilia frequently, and determined to observe her closely. His conduct towards her was attentive and affectionate, and her deportment was of a similar nature; but her attractions had become diminished for him; he soon found that her professions were not cordial or sincere, and that she could be affectionate and cold, attractive and repulsive, charming and disagreeable, according to the mere whim of the moment. He gradually became indifferent to her, and he resolved at length to break the last link of their connection.

But this was more difficult than he had anticipated. He found her one day alone, and took courage to remind her of her engagement to him, and of those happy moments in which, under the influence of the most delightful feelings, they had discoursed with joyful anticipations of their future happiness. She was in a tender mood, and he began to hope that he might perhaps have been deceived in the estimate he had lately formed of her. He thereupon began to describe his worldly prospects and the probable success of his intended establishment. She expressed her satisfaction, accompanied, however, with regret that their union must on this account be postponed still longer. She gave him to understand that she had not the least wish to leave the pleasures of a city life, but expressed her hopes that he might be able, after some years’ active industry in the country, to return home and become a citizen of consequence. She gave him, moreover, to understand that she expected he would play a more respectable and honest part in life than his father.

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Ferdinand saw plainly that he could expect no happiness from such a connection, and yet he felt the difficulty of wholly disengaging himself. In this state of mind he would probably have parted from her in uncertainty about the future, had he not been finally influenced by the conduct of Ottilia’s cousin, towards whom he thought she displayed too much tenderness. Ferdinand thereupon wrote a letter assuring her that it was still in her power to make him happy, but that it could not be advisable to encourage indefinite hopes, or to enter into engagements for an uncertain future.

He trusted that this letter would produce a favorable answer; but he received a reply which his heart deplored, but his judgment approved. She released him from his promise without rejecting his love, and adverted to her own feelings in the same ambiguous manner. She was still bound by the sense of her letter, but free by its literal meaning. But why should I delay communicating the inevitable result? Ferdinand hastened back to the peaceful abode he had left, and formed his determination at once. He became attentive and diligent in business, and was encouraged in this course by the affections of the kind being of whom we have already spoken, and the exertions of her uncle to employ every means in his power to render them happy. I knew him afterwards, when he was surrounded by a numerous and prosperous family. He related his own story to me himself; and, as it often happens with individuals whose early life has been marked by some uncommon accident, his own adventures had become so indelibly impressed upon his mind that they exerted a deep influence on his conduct. Even as a man and as a father he constantly denied himself the enjoyment of many gratifications, in order not to forget the practice of self-restraint; and the whole course of his children’s education was founded upon this principle, that they must accustom themselves to a frequent denial of their most ardent inclinations.

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I once had an opportunity of witnessing an instance of the system he adopted. One of his children was about to eat something at table of which he was particularly fond. His father forbade it, apparently without reason. To my astonishment the child obeyed with the utmost cheerfulness, and dinner proceeded as if nothing had occurred. And in this manner even the eldest members of the family often allowed a tempting dish of fruit or some other dainty to pass them untasted. But, notwithstanding this, a general freedom reigned in his house, and there was at times a sufficient display both of good and bad conduct. But Ferdinand was for the most part indifferent to what occurred, and allowed an almost unrestrained license. At times, however, when a certain week came about, orders were given for precise punctuality, the clocks were regulated to the second, every member of the family received his orders for the day, business and pleasure had their turn, and no one dared to be a single second in arrear. I could detain you for hours in describing his conversation and remarks on this extraordinary system of education. He was accustomed to jest with me upon my vows as a Catholic priest, and maintained that every man should make a vow to practise self-restraint, as well as to require obedience from others; but he observed that the exercise of these vows, in place of being perpetually demanded, was only suitable for certain occasions.

The baroness observed that she thought Ferdinand was perfectly right, and she compared the authority of a parent to the executive power in a kingdom, where, if the influence of the latter is weak, the legislative authority can be of little avail.

Louisa at this moment rushed hastily to the window, having heard Frederick ride past. She ran to meet him, and accompanied him into the salon. He seemed cheerful, notwithstanding he had just come from a scene of trouble and distress. In place of entering into a detailed description of the fire which had seized the house of his aunt, he assured the company that he had established beyond doubt the fact that the desk there had been burned at the very same time when theirs had been split asunder in so strange a manner.

He stated that, when the fire approached the room where the desk was, one of the servants saved a clock which stood upon it; that in carrying it out some accident had happened to the works, and it had stopped at the hour of half-past eleven, and thus the coincidence of time was placed beyond all question. The baroness smiled, and the tutor observed that, although two things might agree in some particulars, we were not, therefore, justified in inferring their mutual dependence. But Louisa took pleasure in believing the connection of these two circumstances, particularly as she had received intelligence that her intended was quite well; and as to the rest of the company, they gave full scope to the flights of their imagination.

Charles inquired of the clergyman whether he knew a fairy tale. “The imagination,” he observed, “is a divine gift, but I do not like to see it employed about the actualities of life. The airy forms to which it gives birth are delightful to contemplate, if we view them as beings of a peculiar order, but, connected with truth, they become prodigies, and are disapproved by our reason and judgment. The imagination,” he continued, “should not deal in facts, nor be employed to establish facts. Its proper province is art, and there its influence should operate like sweet music, which awakens our emotions, and makes us forget the cause by which these emotions are awakened.”

“Continue,” said the old clergyman, “and explain still further your view of the proper attributes of imaginative works. Another property is essential to their enjoyment—that the exercise of imagination should be voluntary. It can effect nothing by compulsion; it must wait for the moment of inspiration. Without design, and without any settled course, it soars aloft upon its own pinions, and as it is borne forward leaves a trace of its wonderful and devious course. But you must allow me to take my accustomed walk, that I may awaken in my soul the sweet fancies which, in former years, were accustomed to enchant me. I promise to relate a fairy tale this evening that will amuse you all.”

They at once consented, particularly as they all hoped in the meantime to hear the news of which Frederick was the bearer.

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In old ferryman, wearied with the labors of the day, lay asleep in his hut, on the bank of a wide river, which the late heavy rains had swollen to an unprecedented height. In the middle of the night he was awakened by a loud cry. He listened; it was the call of some travellers who wished to be ferried over.

Upon opening the door, he was surprised to see two will-o’-the-wisps dancing round his boat, which was still secured to its moorings. Speaking with human voices, they assured him that they were in the greatest possible hurry and wished to be carried instantly to the other side of the river. Without losing a moment, the old ferryman pushed off and rowed across with his usual dexterity. During the passage the strangers whispered together in an unknown language, and several times burst into loud laughter, whilst they amused themselves with dancing upon the sides and seats of the boat and cutting fantastic capers at the bottom.

“The boat reels,” cried the old man, “and if you continue so restless it may upset. Sit down, you will-o’-the-wisps.”

They burst into loud laughter at this command, ridiculed the boatman, and became more troublesome than ever. But he bore their annoyance patiently, and they soon reached the opposite bank of the river.

“Here is something for your trouble,” said the passengers, shaking themselves, when a number of glittering gold pieces fell into the boat.

“What are you doing?” cried the old man; “some misfortune will happen should a single piece of gold fall into the water. The river, which has a strong antipathy to gold, would become fearfully agitated and swallow both me and my boat. Who can say even what might happen to yourselves? I pray you take back your gold.”

“We can take nothing back which we have once shaken from our persons,” answered one of them.

“Then I shall be compelled,” replied the old boatman, as he stooped and collected the gold in his cap, “to take it to the shore and bury it.”

The will-o’-the-wisps had in the meantime leaped out of the boat, upon which the old man cried, “Pay me my fare.”

“The man who refuses gold must work for nothing,” answered the will-o’-the-wisps.

“My payment must consist of fruits of the earth,” rejoined the ferryman.

“We despise them; they are not food for us,” continued the will-o’-the-wisps.

“But you shall not depart,” replied the ferryman, “till you have given me three cauliflowers, three artichokes and three large onions.”

The will-o’-the-wisps were in the act of running away, with a laugh, when they felt themselves in some inexplicable manner fixed to the earth; they had never experienced so strange a sensation. They then promised to pay the demand without delay; upon which the ferryman released them and instantly pushed off with his boat.

He was already far away, when they called after him, “Old man, listen, we have forgotten something important;” but he heard them not, and continued his course. When he had reached a point lower down, on the same side of the river, he came to some rocks which the water was unable to reach and proceeded to bury the dangerous gold. Observing a deep cleft which opened between two rocks, he threw the gold into it and returned to his dwelling. This cleft was inhabited by a beautiful green dragon, who was awakened from her sleep by the sound of the falling money. At the very first appearance of the glittering pieces she devoured them greedily, then searched about carefully in hopes of finding such other coins as might have fallen accidentally amongst the briers or between the fissures of the rocks.

The dragon immediately felt herself overpowered with the most delightful sensations, and perceived with joy that she became suddenly shining and transparent. She had been long aware that this change was possible, but Edition: current; Page: [51] entertaining some doubt whether the brilliance would continue, she felt impelled by curiosity to leave her dwelling and ascertain, if possible, to whom she was indebted for the beautiful gold. She found no one; but she became lost in admiration of herself, and of the brilliant light which illumined her path through the thick underwood and shed its rays over the surrounding green. The leaves of the trees glittered like emeralds, and the flowers shone with glorious hues. In vain did she penetrate the solitary wilderness; but hope dawned when she reached the plains and observed at a distance a light resembling her own. “Have I at last discovered my fellow?” she exclaimed, and hastened to the spot. She found no obstacle from bog or morass; for though the dry meadow and the high rock were her dearest habitations, and though she loved to feed upon the spicy root, and to quench her thirst with the crystal dew and with fresh water from the spring, yet for the sake of her beloved gold and of her glorious light she was willing to encounter every privation.

Wearied and exhausted, she reached at length the confines of a wide morass, where our two will-o’-the-wisps were amusing themselves in playing fantastic antics. She made towards them, and saluting them, expressed her delight at being able to claim relationship with such charming personages. The lights played around her, skipped from side to side, and laughed about in their own peculiar fashion. “Dear aunt,” they exclaimed, “what does it signify, even though you are of horizontal form; we are related at least through brilliancy. But look how well a tall, slender figure becomes us gentry of the vertical shape;” and so saying both the lights compressed their breadth together and shot up into a thin and pointed line. “Do not be offended, dear friend,” they continued; “but what family can boast of a privilege like ours? Since the first will-o’-the-wisp was created none of our race have ever been obliged to sit down or to take repose.”

But all this time the feelings of the dragon in the presence of her relations were anything but pleasant; for, exalt her head as high as she would, she was compelled to stoop to earth again when she wished to advance; and though she was proud of the brilliancy which she shed round her own dark abode, she felt her light gradually diminish in the presence of her relatives, and she began to fear that it might finally be extinguished.

In her perplexity she hastily inquired whether the gentlemen could inform her whence the shining gold had come which had lately fallen into the cleft of the rocks hard by, as in her opinion it was a precious shower from heaven. The will-o’-the-wisps immediately shook themselves (at the same time laughing loudly), and a myriad of gold pieces at once flew around The dragon devoured them greedily. “We hope you like them, dear aunt,” shouted the shining will-o’-the-wisps; “we can supply you with any quantity;” and they shook themselves with such copious effect that the dragon found it difficult to swallow the bright dainties with sufficient speed. Her brilliancy increased as the gold disappeared, till at length she shone with inconceivable radiance, while in the same proportion the will-o’-the-wisps grew thin and tapering, without, however, losing the smallest iota of their cheerful humor.

“I am under eternal obligations to you,” said the dragon, pausing to breathe from her voracious meal; “ask of me what you please, I will give you anything you demand.”

“A bargain!” answered the will-o’-the-wisps; “tell us, then, where the beautiful Lily dwells; lead us to her palace and gardens without delay; we die of impatience to cast ourselves at her feet.”

“You ask a favor,” replied the dragon, with a deep sigh, “which it is not in my power so quickly to bestow. The beautiful Lily lives, unfortunately, on the opposite bank of the river. We cannot cross over on this stormy night.”

“Cruel river, which separates us from the object of our desires! But cannot we call back the old ferryman?” said they.

“Your wish is vain,” answered the dragon; “for even were you to meet him on this bank he would refuse to take you, as though he can convey passengers to this side of the stream he can carry no one back.”

“Bad news, indeed; but are there no other means of crossing the river?”

“There are, but not at this moment; I myself can take you over at midday.”

“That is an hour,” replied the will-o’-the-wisps, “when we do not usually travel.”

“Then you had better postpone your intention till evening, when you may cross in the giant’s shadow.”

“How is that managed?” they inquired.

“The giant,” replied the dragon, “who lives hard by, is powerless with his body; his hands are incapable of raising even a straw; Edition: current; Page: [52] his shoulders can bear no burden; but his shadow accomplishes all for him. For this reason he is most powerful at sunrise and at sunset. At the hour of evening the giant will approach the river softly, and if you place yourself upon his shadow it will carry you over. Meet me at midday, at the corner of the wood, where the trees hang over the river, when I myself will take you across and introduce you to the beautiful Lily. Should you, however, shrink from the noonday heat, your only alternative is to apply to the giant, when evening casts its shadows around, and he will no doubt prove obliging.”


With a graceful salutation the young gentlemen took their leave, and the dragon rejoiced at their departure, partly that she might indulge her feelings of pleasure at her own light, and partly that she might satisfy a curiosity by which she had long been tormented.

In the clefts of the rocks where she dwelt she had lately made a wonderful discovery; for although she had been obliged to crawl through these chasms in darkness, she had learned to distinguish every object by feeling. The productions of nature, which she was accustomed everywhere to encounter, were all of an irregular kind. At one time she wound her way amongst the points of enormous crystals, at another she was for a moment impeded by the veins of solid silver, and many were the precious stones which her light discovered to her. But, to her great astonishment, she had encountered in a rock, which was securely closed on all sides, objects which betrayed the plastic hand of man. Smooth walls, which she was unable to ascend, sharp, regular angles, tapering columns, and what was even more wonderful, human figures, round which she had often entwined herself, and which appeared to her to be formed of brass or of polished marble. She was now anxious to behold all these objects with her eyes, and to confirm, by her own observation, what she had hitherto but suspected. She thought herself capable now of illumining with her own light these wonderful subterranean caverns, and indulged the hope of becoming thoroughly acquainted with these astonishing mysteries. She delayed not, and quickly found the opening through which she was accustomed to penetrate into the sanctuary.

Arrived at the place, she looked round with wonder, and though her brilliancy was unable to light the entire cavern, yet many of the Edition: current; Page: [53] objects were sufficiently distinct. With astonishment and awe she raised her eyes to an illumined niche, in which stood the statue of a venerable king, of pure gold. In size the statue was colossal, but the countenance was rather that of a little than of a great man. His well-turned limbs were covered with a simple robe, and his head was encircled by an oaken garland.

Scarcely had the dragon beheld this venerable form than the king found utterance, and said, “How comest thou hither?”

“Through the cleft,” answered the dragon, “in which the gold abides.”

“What is nobler than gold?” asked the king.

“Light,” replied the dragon.

“And what is more vivid than light?” continued the monarch.

“Speech,” said the serpent.

During this conversation the dragon had looked stealthily around and observed another noble statue in an adjoining niche. A silver king sat there enthroned, of figure tall and slender; his limbs were enveloped in an embroidered mantle; his crown and sceptre were adorned with precious stones; his countenance wore the serene dignity of pride, and he seemed about to speak, when a dark vein, which ran through the marble of the wall, suddenly became brilliant and cast a soft light through the whole temple. This light discovered a third king, whose mighty form was cast in brass; he leaned upon a massive club, his head was crowned with laurels, and his proportions resembled a rock rather than a human being.

The dragon felt a desire to approach a fourth king, who stood before her at a distance; but the wall suddenly opened, the illumined vein flashed like lightning, and became as suddenly extinguished.

A man of middle stature now approached. He was clad in the garb of a peasant; in his hand he bore a lamp, whose flame it was delightful to behold, and which illumined the entire dwelling, without leaving the trace of a shadow.

“Why dost thou come, since we have already light?” asked the golden king.

“You know that I can shed no ray on what is dark,” replied the old man.

“Will my kingdom end?” inquired the silver monarch.

“Late or never,” answered the other.

The brazen king then asked, with a voice of thunder, “When shall I arise?”

“Soon,” was the reply.

“With whom shall I be united?” continued the former.

“With thine elder brother,” answered the latter.

“And what will become of the youngest?”

“He will repose.”

“I am not weary,” interrupted the fourth king, with a deep but faltering voice.

During this conversation the dragon had wound her way softly through the temple, surveyed everything which it contained, and approached the niche in which the fourth king stood. He leaned against a pillar, and his handsome countenance bore traces of melancholy. It was difficult to distinguish the metal of which the statue was composed. It resembled a mixture of the three metals of which his brothers were formed; but it seemed as if the materials had not thoroughly blended, as the veins of gold and silver crossed each other irregularly through the brazen mass and destroyed the effect of the whole.

The golden king now asked, “How many secrets dost thou know?”

“Three,” was the reply.

“And which is the most important?” inquired the silver king.

“The revealed,” answered the old man.

“Wilt thou explain it to us?” asked the brazen king.

“When I have learned the fourth,” was the response.

“I care not,” murmured he of the strange compound.

“I know the fourth,” interrupted the dragon, approaching the old man and whispering in his ear.

“The time is come,” exclaimed the latter, with tremendous voice. The sounds echoed through the temple; the statues rang again; and in the same instant the old man disappeared towards the west, and the dragon towards the east, and both pierced instantly through the impediments of the rock.

Every passage through which the old man bent his course became immediately filled with gold; for the lamp which he carried possessed the wonderful property of converting stones into gold, wood into silver, and dead animals into jewels. But in order to produce this effect it was necessary that no other light should be near. In the presence of another light the lamp merely emitted a soft illumination, which, however, gave joy to every living thing.

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The old man returned to his hut on the brow of the hill and found his wife in the greatest sorrow. She was seated at the fire, her eyes filled with tears, and she refused all consolation.

“What a misfortune,” she exclaimed, “that I allowed you to leave home to-day!”

“What has happened?” answered the old man, very quietly.

“You were scarcely gone,” replied she with sobs, “before two rude travellers came to the door; unfortunately I admitted them, as they seemed good, worthy people. They were attired like flames, and might have passed for will-o’-the-wisps; but they had scarcely entered the house before they commenced their flatteries, and became at length so importunate that I blush to recollect their conduct.”

“Well,” said the old man, smiling, “the gentlemen were only amusing themselves, and, at your age, you should have considered it as the display of ordinary politeness.”

“My age!” rejoined the old woman. “Will you forever remind me of my age; how old am I then? And ordinary politeness! But I can tell you something; look round at the walls of our hut; you will now be able to see the old stones which have been concealed for more than a hundred years. These visitors extracted all the gold more quickly than I can tell you, and they assured me that it was of capital flavor. When they had completely cleared the walls they grew cheerful, and in a few minutes their persons became tall, broad and shining. They thereupon again commenced their tricks, and repeated their flatteries, calling me a queen. They shook themselves, and immediately a profusion of gold pieces fell on all sides. You may see some of them still glittering on the floor; but a calamity soon occurred. Our dog Mops swallowed some of them, and see, he lies dead in the chimney-corner. Poor animal! his death afflicts me. I did not observe it till they had departed, otherwise I should not have promised to pay the ferryman the debt they owed him.”

“How much do they owe?” inquired the old man.

“Three cauliflowers,” answered his wife, “three artichokes and three onions. I have promised to take them to the river at break of day.”

“You had better oblige them,” said the old man, “and they may perhaps serve us in time of need.”

“I know not if they will keep their word,” said she; “but they promised and vowed to serve us.”

The fire had in the meantime died away; but the old man covered the cinders with ashes, put away the shining gold pieces, and lighted his lamp afresh. In the glorious illumination the walls became covered with gold, and Mops was transformed into the most beautiful onyx that was ever beheld. The variety of color which glittered through the costly gem produced a splendid effect.

“Take your basket,” said the old man, “and place the onyx in it. Then collect the three cauliflowers, the three artichokes and the three onions, lay them together, and carry them to the river. The dragon will bear you across at midday; then visit the beautiful Lily; her touch will give life to the onyx, as her touch gives death to every living thing; and it will be to her an affectionate friend. Tell her not to mourn; that her deliverance is nigh; that she must consider a great misfortune as her greatest blessing, for the time is come.”

The old woman prepared her basket, and set forth at break of day. The rising sun shone brightly over the river, which gleamed in the far distance. The old woman journeyed slowly on, for the weight of the basket oppressed her, but it did not arise from the onyx. Nothing lifeless proved a burden, for when the basket contained dead things it rose aloft, and floated over her head. But a fresh vegetable, or the smallest living creature, induced fatigue. She had toiled along for some distance, when she started and suddenly stood still; for she had nearly placed her foot upon the shadow of the giant, which was advancing towards her from the plain. Her eye now perceived his monstrous bulk; he had just bathed in the river, and was coming out of the water. She knew not how to avoid him. He saw her, saluted her jestingly, and thrust the hand of his shadow into her basket. With dexterity he stole a cauliflower, an artichoke and an onion, and raised them to his mouth. He then proceeded on his course up the stream, and left the woman alone.

She considered whether it would not be better to return and supply the missing vegetables from her own garden, and, lost in these reflections, she went on her way until she arrived at the bank of the river. She sat down and awaited for a long time the arrival of the ferryman. He appeared at length, having in Edition: current; Page: [55] his boat a traveller whose air was mysterious. A handsome youth, of noble aspect, stepped on shore.


“What have you brought with you?” said the old man.

“The vegetables,” replied the woman, “which the will-o’-the-wisps owe you,” pointing to the contents of her basket.

But when he found that there were but two of each kind he became angry and refused to take them.

The woman implored him to relent, assuring him that she could not then return home, as she had found her burden heavy, and she had still a long way to go. But he was obstinate, maintaining that the decision did not depend upon him.

“I am obliged to collect my gains for nine hours,” said he, “and I can keep nothing for myself till I have paid a third part to the river.”

At length, after much contention, he told her there was still a remedy.

“If you give security to the river, and acknowledge your debt, I will take the six articles; though such a course is not devoid of danger.”

“But if I keep my word I incur no risk,” she said, earnestly.

“Not the least,” he replied. “Thrust your hand into the river, and promise that within four-and-twenty hours you will pay the debt.”

The old woman complied, but shuddered as she observed that her hand, on drawing it out of the water, had become as black as a coal. She scolded angrily, exclaiming that her hands had always been most beautiful, and that, notwithstanding her hard work, she had ever kept them white and delicate. She gazed at her hand with the greatest alarm, and exclaimed, “This is still worse: it has shrunk, and is already much smaller than the other.”

“It only appears so now,” said the ferryman; “but if you break your word it will be so in reality. Your hand will in that case grow smaller, and finally disappear, though you will still preserve the use of it.”

“I would rather,” she replied, “lose it altogether, and that my misfortune should be concealed. But no matter; I will keep my word, to escape this black disgrace, and avoid so much anxiety.” Whereupon she took her basket, which rose aloft and floated freely over her head. She hastened after the youth, who was walking thoughtfully along the bank. His noble figure and peculiar attire had made a deep impression upon her mind.

His breast was covered with a shining cuirass, whose transparency permitted the motions of his graceful form to be seen. From his shoulders hung a purple mantle, and his auburn locks waved in beautiful curls round his uncovered head. His noble countenance and his well-turned feet were exposed to the burning rays of the sun. Thus did he journey patiently over the hot sand, which, “true to one sorrow, he trod without feeling.”

The garrulous old woman sought to engage him in conversation, but he heeded her not, or answered briefly; until, notwithstanding his beauty, she became weary, and took leave of him, saying, “You are too slow for me, sir, and I cannot lose my time, as I am anxious to cross the river with the assistance of the green dragon, and to present the beautiful Lily with my husband’s handsome present.” Edition: current; Page: [56] So saying, she left him speedily, upon which the youth took heart and followed her without delay.

“You are going to the beautiful Lily,” he exclaimed; if so, our way lies together. What present are you taking her?”

“Sir,” answered the woman, “it is not fair that you should so earnestly inquire after my secrets, when you paid so little attention to my questions. But if you will relate your history to me I will tell you all about my present.”

They made the bargain; the woman told her story, including the account of the dog, and allowed him to view the beautiful onyx.

He lifted the beautiful precious stone from the basket, and took Mops, who seemed to slumber softly, in his arms.

“Fortunate animal!” he exclaimed, “you will be touched by her soft hands and restored to life, in place of flying from her contact, like all other living things, to escape an evil doom. But, alas! what words are these? Is it not a sadder and more fearful fate to be annihilated by her presence, than to die by her hand? Behold me, thus young, what a melancholy destiny is mine! This armor which I have borne with glory in the battle-broil, this purple which I have earned by the wisdom of my government, have been converted by Fate, the one into an unceasing burden, the other into an empty honor. Crown, sceptre and sword are worthless. I am now as naked and destitute as every other son of clay. For such is the spell of her beautiful blue eyes, that they waste the vigor of every living creature; and those whom the contact of her hand does not destroy are reduced to the condition of breathing shadows.”

Thus he lamented long, but without satisfying the curiosity of the old woman, who sought information respecting his mental no less than his bodily sufferings. She learned neither the name of his father nor his kingdom. He stroked the rigid Mops, to whom the beams of the sun and the caresses of the youth had imparted warmth. He inquired earnestly about the man with the lamp, about the effect of the mysterious light, and seemed to expect thence a relief from his deep sorrow.

So discoursing, they observed at a distance the majestic arch of the bridge, which stretched from one bank of the river to the other, and shone splendidly in the beams of the sun. Both were astonished at the sight, as they had never before seen it so resplendent.

“How!” cried the prince, “was it not sufficiently beautiful before, with its decorations of jasper and opal? Can we now dare to cross over it, constructed as it is of emerald and chrysolite of varied beauty?”

Neither had any idea of the change which the dragon had undergone; for, in truth, it was the dragon, whose custom it was at mid-day to arch her form across the stream and assume the appearance of a beauteous bridge, which travellers crossed with silent reverence.

Scarcely had they reached the opposite bank when the bridge began to sway from side to side, and gradually sank to the level of the water, when the green dragon assumed her accustomed shape, and followed the travellers to the shore. The latter thanked her for her condescension in allowing them a passage across the stream, observing at the same time that there were evidently more persons present than were actually visible. They heard a light whispering, which the dragon answered with a similar sound. They listened and heard the following words: “We will first make our observations unperceived, in the park of the beautiful Lily, and look for you when the shadows of evening fall, to introduce us to such perfect beauty. You will find us on the bank of the great lake.”

“Agreed,” answered the dragon, and her hissing voice dissolved in the distance.

Our three travellers further consulted with what regard to precedence they should appear before the beautiful Lily; for, let her visitors be ever so numerous, they must enter and depart singly if they wished to escape bitter suffering.

The woman, carrying in the basket the transformed dog, came first to the garden and sought an interview with her benefactress. She was easily found, as she was then singing to her harp. The sweet tones showed themselves first in the form of circles upon the bosom of the calm lake, and then, like a soft breeze, they imparted motion to the grass and to the tremulous leaves. She was seated in a secluded nook beneath the shade of trees, and at the very first glance she enchanted the eyes, the ear and the heart of the old woman, who advanced towards her with rapture, and protested that since their last meeting she had become more beautiful than ever. Even from a distance she saluted the charming maiden in these words: “What joy to be in your presence! What a heaven surrounds you! What a spell proceeds from your lyre, which, encircled by your soft arms, and influenced Edition: current; Page: [57] by the pressure of your gentle bosom and slender fingers, utters such entrancing melody! Thrice happy the blessed youth who could claim so great a favor!”


So saying, she approached nearer. The beautiful Lily raised her eyes, let her hands drop, and said, “Do not distress me with your untimely praise; it makes me feel even more unhappy. And see, here is my beautiful canary dead at my feet, which used to accompany my songs so sweetly; he was accustomed to sit upon my harp, and was carefully instructed to avoid my touch. This morning, when, refreshed by sleep, I tuned a pleasant melody, the little warbler sang with increased harmony, when suddenly a hawk soared above us. My little bird sought refuge in my bosom, and at that instant I felt the last grasp of his expiring breath. It is true that the hawk, struck by my instantaneous glance, fell lifeless into the stream; but what avails this penalty to me?—my darling is dead, and his grave will but add to the number of the weeping willows in my garden.”

“Take courage, beautiful Lily,” interrupted the old woman, whilst at the same moment she wiped away a rising tear which the narration of the sorrowful maiden had Edition: current; Page: [58] brought to her eye—“take courage, and learn from my experience to moderate your grief. Great misfortune is often the harbinger of intense joy. For the time approaches; but, in truth,” continued she, “ ‘the web of life is of a mingled yarn.’ See my hand, how black it has grown, and, in truth, it has become much diminished in size; I must be speedy before it be reduced to nothing. Why did I promise favors to the will-o’-the-wisps, or meet the giant, or dip my hand into the river? Can you oblige me with a cauliflower, an artichoke, or an onion? I shall take them to the river, and then my hand will become so white that it will almost equal the lustre of your own.”

“Cauliflowers and onions abound, but artichokes cannot be procured. My garden produces neither flowers nor fruit; but every twig which I plant upon the grave of anything I love bursts into leaf at once and grows a goodly tree. Thus, beneath my eye, alas! have grown these clustering trees and copses. These tall pines, these shadowing cypresses, these mighty oaks, these overhanging beeches, were once small twigs planted by my hand, as sad memorials in an ungenial soil.”

The old woman paid but little attention to this speech, but was employed in watching her hand, which in the presence of the beautiful Lily became every instant of a darker hue and grew gradually less. She was about to take her basket and depart, when she felt that she had forgotten the most important of her duties. She took the transformed dog in her arms and laid him upon the grass, not far from the beautiful Lily. “My husband,” she said, “sends you this present. You know that your touch can impart life to this precious stone. The good and faithful animal will be a joy to you, and my grief at losing him will be alleviated by the thought that he is yours.”

The beautiful Lily looked at the pretty creature with delight, and rapture beamed from her eyes. “Many things combine together to inspire hope; but, alas! is it not a delusion of our nature to expect that joy is near when grief is at the worst?”

  • “Ah! what avail these omens all so fair?
  • My sweet bird’s death—my friend’s hands blackly dyed,
  • And Mops transformed into a jewel rare,
  • Sent by the lamp our faltering steps to guide.
  • “Far from mankind and every joy I prize,
  • To grief and sorrow I am still allied—
  • When from the river will the temple rise,
  • Or the bridge span it o’er from side to side?”

The old woman waited with impatience for the conclusion of the song, which the beautiful Lily had accompanied with her harp, entrancing the ears of every listener. She was about to say farewell, when the arrival of the dragon compelled her to remain. She had heard the last words of the song, and on this account spoke words of encouragement to the beautiful Lily. “The prophecy of the bridge is fulfilled,” she exclaimed; “this good woman will bear witness how splendidly the arch now appears. Formerly of untransparent jasper, which only reflected the light upon the sides, it is now converted into precious jewels of transparent hue. No beryl is so bright, and no emerald so splendid.”

“I congratulate you thereupon,” said the Lily; “but pardon me if I doubt whether the prediction is fulfilled. Only foot-passengers can as yet cross the arch of your bridge; and it has been foretold that horses and carriages, travellers of all descriptions, shall pass and repass in mingled multitudes. Is prediction silent with respect to the mighty pillars which are to ascend from the river?”

The old woman, whose eyes were fixed immovably upon her hand, interrupted this speech and bade farewell.

“Wait for one moment,” said the beautiful Lily, “and take my poor canary-bird with you. Implore the lamp to convert him into a topaz, and I will then reanimate him with my touch, and he and your good Mops will then be my greatest consolation. But make what speed you can, for with sunset decay will have commenced its withering influence, marring the beauty of its delicate form.”

The old woman enveloped the little corpse in some soft young leaves, placed it in the basket, and hastened from the spot.

“Notwithstanding what you say,” continued the dragon, resuming the interrupted conversation, “the temple is built.”

“But it does not yet stand upon the river,” replied the beautiful Lily.

“It rests still in the bowels of the earth,” continued the dragon. “I have seen the kings and spoken to them.”

“And when will they awake?” inquired the Lily.

The dragon answered, “I heard the mighty voice resound through the temple announcing that the hour was come.”

A ray of joy beamed from the countenance of the beautiful Lily as she exclaimed, “Do I hear those words for the second time to-day? Edition: current; Page: [59] When will the hour arrive in which I shall hear them for the third time?”

She rose, and immediately a beautiful maiden came from the wood and relieved her of her harp. She was followed by another, who took the ivory chair upon which the beautiful Lily had been seated, folded it together, and carried it away, together with the silver-tissued cushion. The third maiden, who bore in her hand a fan inlaid with pearls, approached to tender her services if they should be needed. These three maidens were lovely beyond description, though they were compelled to acknowledge that their charms fell far short of those of their beautiful mistress.

The beautiful Lily had, in the meantime, surveyed the marvellous Mops with a look of pleasure. She leaned over him and touched him. He instantly leaped up, looked round joyously, bounded with delight, hastened to his benefactress, and caressed her tenderly. She took him in her arms and pressed him to her bosom. “Cold though thou art,” she said, “and endued with only half a life, yet art thou welcome to me. I will love thee fondly, play with thee sportively, kiss thee softly, and press thee to my heart.” She let him go a little from her, called him back, chased him away again and played with him so joyously and innocently that no one could help sympathizing in her delight and taking part in her pleasure, as they had before shared her sorrow and her woe.

But this happiness and this pleasant pastime were interrupted by the arrival of the melancholy youth. His walk and appearance were as we have before described; but he seemed overcome by the heat of the day, and the presence of his beloved had rendered him perceptibly paler. He bore the hawk upon his wrist, where it sat with drooping wing as tranquil as a dove.

“It is not well,” exclaimed the Lily, “that you should vex my eyes with that odious bird, which has only this day murdered my little favorite.”

“Blame not the luckless bird,” exclaimed the youth: “rather condemn yourself and fate; and let me find an associate in this companion of my grief.”

Mops, in the meantime, was incessant in his caresses; and the Lily responded to his affection with the most gentle tokens of love. She clapped her hands to drive him away, and then sportively pursued to win him back. She caught him in her arms as he tried to escape, and chased him from her when he sought to nestle in her lap. The youth looked on in silence and in sorrow; but when at length she took him in her arms, and pressed him to her snowy breast, and kissed him with her heavenly lips, he lost all patience, and exclaimed, in the depth of his despair, “And must I, then, whom sad destiny compels to live in your presence, and yet be separated from you, perhaps forever—must I, who for you have forfeited everything, even my own being—must I look on and behold this ‘defect of nature’ gain your notice, win your love, and enjoy the paradise of your embrace? Must I continue to wander and measure my solitary way along the banks of this stream? No! a spark of my former spirit still burns within my bosom. Oh, that it would mount into a glorious flame! If stones may repose within your bosom, then let me be converted to a stone; and, if your touch can kill, I am content to receive my death at your hands.”

He became violently excited; the hawk flew from his wrist; he rushed towards the beautiful Lily; she extended her arms to forbid his approach, and touched him undesignedly. His consciousness immediately forsook him, and with dismay she felt the beautiful burden lean for support upon her breast. She started back with a scream, and the fair youth sank lifeless from her arms to the earth.

The deed was done. The sweet Lily stood motionless, and gazed intently on the breathless corpse. Her heart ceased to beat, and her eyes were bedewed with tears. In vain did Mops seek to win her attention: the whole world had died out with her lost friend. Her dumb despair sought no help, for help was now in vain.

But the dragon became immediately more active. Her mind seemed occupied with thoughts of rescue; and, in truth, her mysterious movements prevented the immediate consequence of this dire misfortune. She wound her serpentine form in a wide circle round the spot where the body lay, seized the end of her tail between her teeth, and remained motionless.

In a few moments one of the servants of the beautiful Lily approached, carrying the ivory chair, and with friendly entreaties compelled her mistress to be seated. Then came a second, bearing a flame-colored veil, with which she rather adorned than covered the head of the Lily. A third maiden offered her the harp, and scarcely had she struck the chords, Edition: current; Page: [60] and awakened their delicious tones, than the first maiden returned, having in her hands a circular mirror of lustrous brightness, placed herself opposite the Lily, intercepted her looks, and reflected the most enchanting countenance which nature could fashion. Her sorrow added lustre to her beauty, her veil heightened her charms, the harp lent her a new grace, and, though it was impossible not to hope that her sad fate might soon undergo a change, one could almost wish that that lovely and enchanting vision might last forever.


Silently gazing upon the mirror, she drew melting tones of music from her harp; but her sorrow appeared to increase, and the chords responded to her melancholy mood. Once or twice she opened her sweet lips to sing, but her voice refused utterance; whereupon her grief found refuge in tears. Her two attendants supported her in their arms, and her harp fell from her hands, but the watchful attention of her handmaid caught it and laid it aside.

“Who will fetch the man with the lamp?” whispered the dragon, in low but audible voice. The maidens looked at each other, and the Lily’s tears fell faster.

At this instant the old woman with the basket returned breathless with agitation. “I am lost and crippled for life,” she exclaimed. “Look! my hand is nearly withered. Neither the ferryman nor the giant would set me across the river, because I am indebted to the stream. In vain did I tempt them with a hundred cauliflowers and a hundred onions; they insist upon the stipulated three, and not an artichoke can be found in this neighborhood.”

“Forget your distress,” said the dragon, “and give your assistance here; perhaps you will be relieved at the same time. Hasten, and find out the will-o’-the-wisps, for, though you cannot see them by daylight, you may perhaps hear their laughter and their motions. If you make good speed the giant may yet transport you across the river, and you may find the man with the lamp and send him hither.”

The old woman made as much haste as possible, and the dragon as well as the Lily evinced impatience for her return. But, sad to say, the golden rays of the setting sun were shedding their last beams upon the highest tops of the trees, and lengthening the mountain shadows over lake and meadow. The Edition: current; Page: [61] motions of the dragon showed increased impatience, and the Lily was dissolved in tears.

In this moment of distress the dragon looked anxiously around; she feared every instant that the sun would set, and that decay would penetrate within the magic circle, and exert its fell influence upon the corpse of the beautiful youth. She looked into the heavens and caught sight of the purple wings and breast of the hawk, which were illumined by the last rays of the sun. Her restlessness betrayed her joy at the good omen, and she was not deceived, for instantly afterwards she saw the man with the lamp sliding across the lake as if his feet had been furnished with skates.

The dragon did not alter her position, but the Lily, rising from her seat, exclaimed, “What good spirit has sent you thus opportunely, when you are so much longed for and required?”

“The spirit of my lamp impels me,” replied the old man, “and the hawk conducts me hither. The former flickers when I am needed, and I immediately look to the heavens for a sign, when some bird or meteor points the way which I should go. Be tranquil, beautiful maiden; I know not if I can help you; one alone can do but little, but he can avail who in the proper hour unites his strength with others. We must wait and hope.” Then, turning to the dragon, he said, “Keep your circle closed;” and, seating himself upon a hillock at his side, he shed a light upon the corpse of the youth. “Now bring the little canary-bird,” he continued, “and lay it also within the circle.”

The maiden took the little creature from the basket and followed the directions of the old man.

The sun had set in the meantime, and as the shades of evening closed around not only the dragon and the lamp cast their customary light, but the veil of the Lily was illumined with a soft brilliancy, and caused her pale cheeks and her white robe to beam like the dawn of morning, and clothed her with inexpressible grace. Her appearance gave birth to various emotions; anxiety and sorrow were softened by hope of approaching happiness.

To the delight of all, the old woman appeared with the lively will-o’-the-wisps, who must have led a prodigal life of late, for they looked wonderfully thin; but, nevertheless, behaved most politely to the princess and to the other young ladies. With an air of confidence, and much force of expression, they discoursed upon ordinary topics; and they were much struck by the charm which the shining veil shed over the beautiful Lily and her companions. The young ladies cast down their eyes with modest looks, and their beauty was heightened by the flattery which they heard. Every one was happy and contented, not excepting even the old woman. Notwithstanding the assurance of her husband that her hand would not continue to wither whilst the lamp shone upon it, she continued to assert that if things went on thus it would disappear entirely before midnight.

The old man with the lamp had listened attentively to the speech of the will-o’-the-wisps, and was charmed to observe that the beautiful Lily was pleased and flattered with their compliments. In very truth, midnight came before they were aware. The old man looked up to the stars, and thus spoke: “We are met at a fortunate hour: let each fulfil his office, let each discharge his duty, and a general happiness will alleviate one individual trouble, as a universal sorrow lessens particular joys.”

After these observations, a mysterious murmur arose; for every one present spoke for himself, and mentioned what he had to do: the three maidens alone were silent. One had fallen asleep near the harp, the other beside the fan, and the third leaning against the ivory chair; and no one could blame them, for, in truth, it was late. The will-o’-the-wisps, after paying some trivial compliments to the other ladies, including even the attendants, attached themselves finally to the Lily, by whose beauty they were attracted.

“Take the mirror,” said the old man to the hawk, “and illumine the fair sleepers with the first beams of the sun, and rouse them from their slumbers by the light reflected from heaven.”

The dragon now began to move: she broke up the circle, and retreated with strange evolutions to the river. The will-o’-the-wisps followed her in solemn procession, and they might have been mistaken for the most serious personages. The old woman and her husband took up the basket, the soft light from which had been hitherto scarcely observed; but it now became clearer and more brilliant. They laid the body of the youth within it, with the canary-bird reposing upon his breast, upon which the basket raised itself into the air and floated over the head of the old woman, and she followed the steps of the will-o’-the-wisps. Edition: current; Page: [62] The beautiful Lily, taking Mops in her arms, walked after the old woman, and the man with the lamp closed the procession.

The whole neighborhood was brilliantly illuminated with all these various lights. They all observed with astonishment, on approaching the river, that it was spanned by a majestic arch, by which means the benevolent dragon had prepared them a lustrous passage across. The transparent jewels of which the bridge was composed were objects of no less astonishment by day than was their wondrous brilliancy by night. The clear arch above cut sharply against the dark heaven, whilst vivid rays of light beneath shone against the keystone, revealing the firm pliability of the structure. The procession moved slowly over, and the ferryman, who witnessed the proceeding from his hut, surveyed the brilliant arch with awe, no less than the wondrous lights as they journeyed across it.

As soon as they had reached the opposite bank, the bridge began to contract as usual, and sink to the surface of the water. The dragon made her way to the shore, and the basket descended to the ground. The dragon now once more assumed a circular shape, and the old man, bowing before her, asked what she had determined to do.

“To sacrifice myself before I am made a sacrifice; only promise me that you will leave no stone on the land.”

The old man promised, and then addressed the beautiful Lily thus: “Touch the dragon with your left hand, and your lover with your right.”

The beautiful Lily knelt down and laid her hands upon the dragon and the corpse. In an instant the latter became endued with life: he moved, and then sat upright. The Lily wished to embrace him, but the old man held her back, and assisted the youth whilst he led him beyond the limits of the circle.

The youth stood erect, the little canary fluttered upon his shoulder, but his mind was not yet restored. His eyes were open, but he saw, at least he appeared to look on everything with indifference. Scarcely was the wonder at this circumstance appeased, than the change which the dragon had undergone excited attention. Her beautiful and slender form was converted into thousands and thousands of precious stones. The old woman, in the effort to seize her basket, had struck unintentionally against the dragon, after which nothing more was seen of the figure of the latter. Only a heap of brilliant jewels lay in the grass. The old man immediately set to work to collect them into his basket, a task in which he was assisted by his wife; they both then carried the basket to an elevated spot on the bank, when he cast the entire contents into the stream, not however without the opposition of his wife and of the beautiful Lily, who would willingly have appropriated a portion of the treasure to themselves. The jewels gleamed in the rippling waters like brilliant stars, and were carried away by the stream, and none can say whether they disappeared in the distance or sank to the bottom.

“Young gentlemen,” then said the old man, respectfully, to the will-o’-the-wisps, “I will now point out your path and lead the way, and you will render us the greatest service by opening the doors of the temple through which we must enter, and which you alone can unlock.”

The will-o’-the-wisps bowed politely, and took their post in the rear. The man with the lamp advanced first into the rocks, which opened of their own accord; the youth followed with apparent indifference; with silent uncertainty the beautiful Lily lingered slowly behind; the old woman, unwilling to be left alone, followed after, stretching out her hand that it might receive the rays of her husband’s lamp; the procession was closed by the will-o’-the-wisps, and their bright flames nodded and blended with each other as if they were engaged in active conversation. They had not gone far before they came to a large brazen gate which was fastened by a golden lock. The old man thereupon sought the assistance of the will-o’-the-wisps, who did not want to be entreated, but at once introduced their pointed flames into the lock, when the wards yielded to their influence. The brass resounded as the doors flew wide asunder, and displayed the venerable statues of the kings illuminated by the advancing lights. Each individual in turn bowed to the reverend potentates with respect, and the will-o’-the-wisps were prodigal of their lambent salutations.

After a short pause the golden king asked, “Whence do you come?”

“From the world,” answered the old man.

“And whither are you going?” inquired the silver king.

“Back to the world,” was the answer.

“And what do you wish with us?” asked the brazen king.

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“To accompany you,” responded the old man.

The fourth king was about to speak, when the golden statue thus addressed the will-o’-the-wisps, who had advanced towards him, “Depart from me, my gold is not for you.”

They then turned towards the silver king, and his apparel assumed the golden hue of their yellow flames. “You are welcome,” he said; “but I cannot feed you; satisfy yourselves elsewhere, and then bring me your light.”

They departed, and stealing unobserved past the brazen king, they attached themselves to the king composed of various metals.

“Who will rule the world?” inquired the latter in inarticulate tones.

“He who stands erect,” answered the old man.

“That is I,” replied the king.

“Then it will be revealed,” said the old man; “for the time is come.”

The beautiful Lily fell upon his neck and kissed him tenderly. “Kind father,” she said, “a thousand thanks for allowing me to hear this comforting word for the third time,” and so saying, she felt compelled to grasp the old man’s arm, for the earth began to tremble beneath them; the old woman and the youth clung to each other, whilst the pliant will-o’-the-wisps felt not the slightest inconvenience.

It was evident that the whole temple was in motion, and like a ship which pursues its quiet way from the harbor when the anchor is raised, the depths of the earth seemed to open before it, whilst it clove its way through. It encountered no obstacle—no rock opposed its progress. Presently a very fine rain penetrated through the cupola. The old man continued to support the beautiful Lily, and whispered, “We are now under the river, and shall soon attain the goal.” Presently they thought the motion ceased, but they were deceived, the temple still moved onwards. A strange sound was now heard above them; beams and broken rafters burst in disjointed fragments through the opening of the cupola. The Lily and the old woman retreated in alarm; the man with the lamp stood by the youth and encouraged him to remain. The ferryman’s little hut had been ploughed from the ground by the advance of the temple, and, in its gradual fall, buried the youth and the old man.

The women screamed in alarm, and the temple shook like a vessel which strikes upon a hidden rock. Anxiously the women wandered round the hut in darkness; the doors were shut, and no one answered to their knocking. They continued to knock more loudly, when at last the wood began to ring with sounds; the magic power of the lamp, which was enclosed within the hut, changed it into silver, and presently its very form was altered, for the noble metal, refusing to assume the form of planks, posts and rafters, was converted into a glorious building of artistic workmanship; it seemed as if a smaller temple had grown up within the large one, or at least an altar worthy of its beauty.

The noble youth ascended a staircase in the interior, whilst the man with the lamp shed light upon his way, and another figure lent him support, clad in a short white garment and holding in his hand a silver rudder; it was easy to recognize the ferryman, the former inhabitant of the transformed hut.

The beautiful Lily ascended the outward steps, which led from the temple to the altar, but was compelled to remain separated from her lover. The old woman, whose hand continued to grow smaller whilst the light of the lamp was obscured, exclaimed, “Am I still doomed to be unhappy amid so many miracles? Will no miracle restore my hand?”

Her husband pointed to the open door, exclaiming, “See, the day dawns; hasten and bathe in the river.”

“What advice!” she answered; “shall I not become wholly black and dissolve into nothing, for I have not yet discharged my debt?”

“Be silent,” said the old man, “and follow me; all debts are wiped away.”

The old woman obeyed, and in the same instant the light of the rising sun shone upon the circle of the cupola. Then the old man, advancing between the youth and the maiden, exclaimed with a loud voice. “Three things have sway upon the earth—wisdom, appearance and power.”

At the sound of the first word the golden king arose; at the sound of the second, the silver king; and the brazen king had risen at the sound of the third, when the fourth suddenly sunk awkwardly to the earth. The will-o’-the-wisps, who had been busily employed upon him till this moment, now retreated; though paled by the light of the morning, they seemed in good condition and sufficiently brilliant, for they had with much dexterity extracted the gold from the veins Edition: current; Page: [64] of the colossal statue with their sharp-pointed tongues. The irregular spaces which were thus displayed remained for some time exposed, and the figure preserved its previous form; but when at length the most secret veins of gold had been extracted, the statue suddenly fell with a crash, and formed a mass of shapeless ruins.

The man with the lamp conducted the youth, whose eye was still fixed upon vacancy, from the altar towards the brazen king. At the foot of the mighty monarch lay a sword in a brazen sheath. The youth bound it to his side. “Take the weapon in your left hand and keep the right hand free,” exclaimed the king.

They then advanced to the silver monarch, who bent his sceptre towards the youth; the latter seized it with his left hand, and the king addressed him in soft accents, “Feed my sheep.”

When they reached the statue of the golden king, with paternal benediction the latter pressed the oaken garland on the head of the youth, and said, “Acknowledge the highest.”

The old man had, during this proceeding, watched the youth attentively. After he had girded on the sword his breast heaved, his arm was firmer, and his step more erect; and after he had touched the sceptre his sense of power appeared to soften, and, at the same time, by an inexpressible charm, to become more mighty; but when his waving locks were adorned with the oaken garland, his countenance became animated, his soul beamed from his eye, and the first word he uttered was “Lily!”

“Dear Lily,” he exclaimed, as he hastened to ascend the silver stairs, for she had observed his progress from the altar where she stood—“dear Lily, what can man desire more blessed than the innocence and the sweet affection which your love brings me? Oh, my friend!” he continued, turning to the old man and pointing to the three sacred statues, “secure and glorious is the kingdom of our fathers, but you have forgotten to enumerate that fourth power, which exercises an earlier, more universal, and certain rule over the world—the power of love.”

With these words he flung his arms round the neck of the beautiful maiden; she had cast aside her veil, and her cheeks were tinged with a blush of the sweetest and most inexpressible beauty.

The old man now observed, with a smile, “Love does not rule, but controls, and that is better.”

During all this delight and enchantment no one had observed that the sun was now high in heaven, and through the open gates of the temple most unexpected objects were perceived. An empty space, of large dimensions, was surrounded by pillars and terminated by a long and splendid bridge, whose many arches stretched across the river. On each side was a footpath, wide and convenient for passengers, of whom many thousands were busily employed in crossing over; the wide road in the centre was crowded with flocks and herds, and horsemen and carriages, and all streamed over without impeding each other’s progress. All were in raptures at the union of convenience and beauty; and the new king and his spouse were as much charmed with the animation and activity of this great concourse as they were with their own reciprocal love.

“Honor the dragon,” said the man with the lamp; “to her you are indebted for life, and your people for the bridge whereby these neighboring shores are animated and connected. Those shining precious stones which still float by are the remains of her self-sacrifice, and form the foundation-stones of this glorious bridge, upon which she has erected herself to subsist forever.”

The approach of four beautiful maidens, who advanced to the door of the temple, prevented any inquiry into this wonderful mystery. Three of them were recognized as the attendants of the beautiful Lily, by the harp, the fan, and the ivory chair; but the fourth, though more beautiful than the other three, was a stranger; she, however, played with the others with sisterly sportiveness, ran with them through the temple, and ascended the silver stairs.

“Thou dearest of creatures!” said the man with the lamp, addressing the beautiful Lily, “you will surely believe me for the future. Happy for thee, and every other creature who shall bathe this morning in the waters of the river!”

The old woman, who had been transformed into a beautiful young girl, and of whose former appearance no trace remained, embraced the man with the lamp with tender caresses, which he returned with affection.

“If I am too old for you,” he said, with a smile, “you may to-day select another bridegroom; for no tie can henceforth be Edition: current; Page: [65] considered binding which is not this day renewed.”


“But are you not aware that you also have become young?” she inquired.

“I am delighted to hear it,” he replied. “If I appear to you to be a gallant youth, I take your hand anew and hope for a thousand years of happiness to come.”

The queen welcomed her new friend, and advanced with her and the rest of her companions to the altar, whilst the king, supported by the two men, pointed to the bridge and surveyed with wonder the crowd of passengers; but his joy was soon overshadowed by observing an object which gave him pain. The giant, who had just awakened from his morning sleep, stumbled over the bridge and gave rise to the greatest confusion. He was, as usual, but half awake, and had risen with the intention of bathing in the neighboring cove, but he stumbled instead upon firm land, and found himself feeling his way upon the broad highway of the bridge. And whilst he went clumsily along in the midst of men and animals, his presence, though a matter of astonishment to all, was felt by none; but when the sun shone in his eyes, and he raised his hand to shade them, the shadow of his enormous fist fell amongst the crowd with such careless violence that both men and animals huddled together in promiscuous confusion, and either sustained personal injury or ran the risk of being driven into the water.

The king, observing this calamity, with an involuntary movement placed his hand upon his sword; but, upon reflection, turned his eyes upon his sceptre, and then upon the lamp and the rudder of his companions.

“I guess your thought,” said the man with the lamp; “but we are powerless against this monster. Be tranquil; he injures for the last time, and happily his shadow is turned from us.”

In the meantime the giant had approached, and overpowered with astonishment at what he saw, his hands sunk down, became powerless for injury, and gazing with surprise he entered the courtyard.

In imagination he was ascending towards heaven, when he felt himself suddenly fast bound to the earth. He stood like a colossal pillar constructed of red shining stones, and his shadow indicated the hours which were marked in a circle on the ground, not however in figures, but in noble and significant effigies.

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The king was not a little delighted to see the shadow of the monster rendered harmless; and the queen was not less astonished, as she advanced from the altar with her maidens, all adorned with the greatest magnificence, to observe the strange wonder which almost covered the whole prospect from the temple to the bridge.

In the meantime the people had crowded after the giant, and, surrounding him as he stood still, had observed his transformation with the utmost awe. They bent their steps then towards the temple, of the existence of which they now seemed to be for the first time aware, and thronged the doorways.

The hawk was now observed aloft, towering over the building, and carrying the mirror, with which he caught the light of the sun and turned the rays upon the multifarious group which stood around the altar. The king, the queen and their attendants, illumined by the beam from heaven, appeared beneath the dim arches of the temple; their subjects fell prostrate before them. When they had recovered, and had risen again, the king and his attendants had descended to the altar, in order to reach his palace by a less obstructed path, and the people dispersed through the temple to satisfy their curiosity. They beheld with astonishment the three kings, who stood erect, and they were all anxiety to know what could be concealed behind the curtain in the fourth niche; since whatever kindness might have prompted the deed, a thoughtful discretion had extended a costly covering over the ruins of the fallen king, which no eye cared to penetrate and no profane hand dared to up lift.

There was no end to the astonishment and wonder of the people; and the dense throng would have been crushed in the temple if their attention had not been attracted once more to the court without.

To their great surprise, a shower of gold pieces fell as if from the air, resounding upon the marble pavement, and caused a contest and commotion amongst the passers-by. Several times this wonder was repeated in different places, at some distance from each other. It is not difficult to infer that this feat was the work of the retreating will-o’-the-wisps, who, having extracted the gold from the limbs of the mutilated king, dispersed it abroad in this joyous manner. The covetous crowd continued their contentions for some time longer, pressing hither and thither, and inflicting wounds upon each other, till the shower of gold pieces ceased to fall. The multitude at length dispersed gradually, each one pursuing his own course; and the bridge, to this day, continues to swarm with travellers, and the temple is the most frequented in the world.

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Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.

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Wilhelm Meister

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The play was late in breaking up: old Barbara went more than once to the window and listened for the sound of carriages. She was waiting for Mariana, her pretty mistress, who had that night, in the afterpiece, been acting the part of a young officer, to the no small delight of the public. Barbara’s impatience was greater than it used to be, when she had nothing but a frugal supper to present: on this occasion, Mariana was to be surprised with a packet, which Norberg, a young and wealthy merchant, had sent by the post, to show that, in absence, he still thought of his love.

As an old servant, as confidante, counsellor, manager and housekeeper, Barbara assumed the privilege of opening seals; and this evening she the less had been able to restrain her curiosity, as the favor of the open-handed gallant was more a matter of anxiety with herself than with her mistress. On breaking up the packet, she had found, with unfeigned satisfaction, that it held a piece of fine muslin and some ribbons of the newest fashion for Mariana; with a quantity of calico, two or three neckerchiefs, and a moderate rouleau of money, for herself. Her esteem for the absent Norberg was of course unbounded: she meditated only how she might best present him to the mind of Mariana, best bring to her recollection what she owed him, and what he had a right to expect from her fidelity and thankfulness.

The muslin, with the ribbons half unrolled, to set it off by their colors, lay like a Christmas-present on the small table; the position of the lights increased the glitter of the gift; all was in order, when the old woman heard Mariana’s step on the stairs, and hastened to meet her. But what was her disappointment when the little female officer, without deigning to regard her caresses, rushed past her with unusual speed and agitation; threw her hat and sword upon the table, and walked hastily up and down, bestowing not a look on the lights, or any portion of the apparatus!

“What ails thee, my darling?” exclaimed the astonished Barbara; “for Heaven’s sake, what is the matter? Look here, my pretty child! See what a present! And who could have sent it but thy kindest of friends? Norberg has given thee the muslin to make a nightgown of: he will soon be here himself; he seems to be fonder and more generous than ever.”

Barbara went to the table, that she might exhibit the memorials with which Norberg had likewise honored her, when Mariana, turning Edition: current; Page: [70] away from the presents, exclaimed with vehemence, “Off! off! Not a word of all this to-night! I have yielded to thee; thou hast willed it; be it so! When Norberg comes, I am his, am thine, am any one’s; make of me what thou pleasest: but till then I will be my own; and, if thou hadst a thousand tongues, thou should’st never talk me from my purpose. All, all that is my own will I give up to him who loves me; whom I love. No sour faces! I will abandon myself to this affection, as if it were to last forever.”

The old damsel had abundance of objections and serious considerations to allege; in the progress of the dialogue she was growing bitter and keen, when Mariana sprang at her, and seized her by the breast. The old damsel laughed aloud. “I must have a care,” she cried, “that you don’t get into pantaloons again, if I mean to be sure of my life! Come, doff you! The girl will beg my pardon for the foolish things the boy is doing to me. Off with the frock! Off with them all! The dress beseems you not; it is dangerous for you, I observe; the epaulets make you too bold.”

Thus speaking, she had laid hands upon her mistress. Mariana pushed her off, exclaiming, “Not so fast! I expect a visit to-night.”

“Visit!” rejoined Barbara; “you surely do not look for Meister, the young, soft-hearted, callow merchant’s son?”

“Just for him,” replied Mariana.

“Generosity appears to be growing your ruling passion,” said the old woman, with a grin; “you connect yourself with minors and moneyless people, as if they were the chosen of the earth. Doubtless it is charming to be worshipped as a benefactress.”

“Jeer as thou pleasest. I love him! I love him! With what rapture do I now, for the first time, speak the word! This is the passion which I have mimicked so often, when I knew not what it meant. Yes! I will throw myself about his neck; I will clasp him as if I could hold him forever. I will show him all my love; will enjoy all his in its whole extent.”

“Moderate yourself, said the old dame, coolly; “moderate yourself! A single word will interrupt your rapture: Norberg is coming! Coming in a fortnight! Here is the letter that arrived with the packet.”

“And, though the morrow were to rob me of my friend, I would conceal it from myself and him. A fortnight! An age! Within a fortnight what may not happen, what may not alter?”

Here Wilhelm entered. We need not say how fast she flew to meet him; with what rapture he clasped the red uniform, and pressed the beautiful wearer of it to his bosom. It is not for us to describe the blessedness of two lovers. Old Barbara went grumbling away: we shall retire with her, and leave the happy two alone.


When Wilhelm saluted his mother, next morning, she informed him that his father was very greatly discontented with him, and meant to forbid him these daily visits to the playhouse. “Though I myself often go with pleasure to the theatre,” she continued, “I could almost detest it entirely when I think that our fireside peace is broken by your excessive passion for that amusement. Your father is ever repeating: What is the use of it? How can any one waste his time so?”

“He has already told me this,” said Wilhelm; “and perhaps I answered him too hastily: but, for Heaven’s sake, mother, is nothing then of use but what immediately puts money in our purse; but what procures us some property that we can lay our hands on? Had we not, for instance, room enough in the old house; and was it indispensable to build a new one? Does not my father every year expend a large part of his profit in ornamenting his chambers? Are not these silk carpets, this English furniture, likewise of no use? Might we not content ourselves with worse? For my own part, I confess, these striped walls, these hundred times repeated flowers, and knots, and baskets, and figures, produce a really disagreeable effect upon me. At best, they but remind me of the front curtain of our theatre. But what a different thing it is to sit and look at that! There, if you must wait for a while, you are always sure that it will rise at last, and disclose to you a thousand curious objects, to entertain, to instruct and to exalt you.”

“But you go to excess with it,” said the mother; “your father wishes to be entertained in the evenings as well as you; besides, he thinks it dissipates your attention; and when he grows ill-humored on the subject it is I that must bear the blame. How often have I been upbraided with that miserable puppet-show, Edition: current; Page: [71] which I was unlucky enough to provide for you at Christma,s twelve years ago! It was the first thing that put these plays into your head.”


“Oh, do not blame the poor puppets; do not repent of your love and motherly care! It was the only happy hour I had enjoyed in the new empty house. I never can forget that hour; I see it still before me; I recollect how surprised I was, when, after we had got our customary presents, you made us seat ourselves before the door that leads to the other room. The door opened; but not as formerly, to let us pass and repass; the entrance was occupied by an unexpected show. Within it rose a porch, concealed by a mysterious curtain. All of us were standing at a distance; our eagerness to see what glittering or jingling article lay hid behind the half-transparent veil was mounting higher and higher, when you bade us each sit down upon his stool and wait with patience.

“At length all of us were seated and silent: a whistle gave the signal; the curtain rolled aloft, and showed us the interior of the Temple, painted in deep red colors. The high-priest Samuel appeared with Jonathan, and their strange alternating voices seemed to me the most striking thing on earth. Shortly after entered Saul, overwhelmed with confusion at the impertinence of that heavy-limbed warrior, who had defied him and all his people. But how glad was I when the little dapper son of Jesse, with his crook and shepherd’s pouch Edition: current; Page: [72] and sling, came hopping forth and said: ‘Dread king and sovereign lord! let no one’s heart sink down because of this; if your majesty will grant me leave, I will go out to battle with this blustering giant.’ Here ended the first act; leaving the spectators more curious than ever to see what further would happen, each praying that the music might soon be done. At last the curtain rose again. David devoted the flesh of the monster to the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field; the Philistine scorned and bullied him, stamped mightily with both his feet, and at length fell like a mass of clay, affording a splendid termination to the piece. And then the virgins sang: ‘Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands!’ The giant’s head was borne before his little victor, who received the king’s beautiful daughter to wife. Yet withal, I remember, I was vexed at the dwarfish stature of this lucky prince; for the great Goliath and the small David had both been formed, according to the common notion, with a due regard to their figures and proportions. I pray you, mother, tell me what has now become of those puppets? I promised to show them to a friend, whom I was lately entertaining with a history of all this child’s work.”

“I can easily conceive,” said the mother, “how these things should stick so firmly in your mind: I well remember what an interest you took in them; how you stole the little book from me and learned the whole piece by heart. I first noticed it one evening when you had made a Goliath and a David of wax; you set them both to declaim against each other, and at length gave a deadly stab to the giant, fixing his shapeless head, stuck upon a large pin with a wax handle, in little David’s hand. I then felt such a motherly contentment at your fine recitation and good memory that I resolved to give you up the whole wooden troop to your own disposal. I did not then foresee that it would cause me so many heavy hours.”

“Do not repent of it,” said Wilhelm; “this little sport has often made us happy.” So saying, he got the keys, made haste to find the puppets, and for a moment was transported back into those times when they almost seemed to him alive, when he felt as if he himself could give them life by the cunning of his voice and the movements of his hands. He took them to his room and locked them up with care.


If the first love is indeed, as I hear it everywhere maintained to be, the most delicious feeling which the heart of man, before it or after, can experience—then our hero must be reckoned doubly happy, as permitted to enjoy the pleasure of this chosen period in all its fulness. Few men are so peculiarly favored; by far the greater part are led by the feelings of their youth into nothing but a school of hardship, where, after a stinted and checkered season of enjoyment, they are at length constrained to renounce their dearest wishes, and to learn forever to dispense with what once hovered before them as the highest happiness of existence.

Wilhelm’s passion for that charming girl now soared aloft on the wings of imagination: after a short acquaintance he had gained her affections; he found himself in possession of a being whom with all his heart he not only loved, but honored: for she had first appeared before him in the flattering light of theatric pomp, and his passion for the stage combined itself with his earliest love for woman. His youth allowed him to enjoy rich pleasures, which the activity of his fancy exalted and maintained. The situation of his mistress, too, gave a turn to her conduct, which greatly enlivened his emotions. The fear lest her lover might before the time detect the real state in which she stood diffused over all her conduct an interesting tinge of anxiety and bashfulness; her attachment to the youth was deep; her inquietude itself appeared but to augment her tenderness; she was the loveliest of creatures while beside him.

When the first tumult of joy had passed, and our friend began to look back upon his life and its concerns, everything appeared new to him; his duties seemed holier, his inclinations keener, his knowledge clearer, his talents stronger, his purposes more decided. Accordingly, he soon fell upon a plan to avoid the reproaches of his father, to still the cares of his mother, and at the same time to enjoy Mariana’s love without disturbance. Through the day he punctually transacted his business, commonly forbore attending the theatre, strove to be entertaining at table in the evening; and when all were asleep he glided softly out into the garden, and hastened, wrapped up in his mantle, with all the feelings of Leander in his bosom, to meet his mistress without delay.

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“What is this you bring?” inquired Mariana, as he entered one evening with a bundle, which Barbara, in hopes it might turn out to be some valuable present, fixed her eyes upon with great attention.

“You will never guess,” said Wilhelm.

Great was the surprise of Mariana, great the scorn of Barbara, when the napkin being loosened gave to view a perplexed multitude of span-long puppets. Mariana laughed aloud as Wilhelm set himself to disentangle the confusion of the wires and show her each figure by itself. Barbara glided sulkily out of the room.


A very little thing will entertain two lovers; and accordingly our friends this evening were as happy as they wished to be. The little troop was mustered; each figure was minutely examined and laughed at in its turn. King Saul, with his golden crown and his black velvet robe, Mariana did not like; he looked, she said, too stiff and pedantic. She was far better pleased with Jonathan, his sleek chin, his turban, his cloak of red and yellow. She soon got the art of turning him deftly on his wire; she made him bow, and repeat declarations of love. On the other hand, she refused to give the least attention to the prophet Samuel, though Wilhelm commended the pontifical breastplate, and told her that the taffeta of the cassock had been taken from a gown of his own grandmother’s. David she thought too small; Goliath was too large; she held by Jonathan. She grew to manage him so deftly, and at last to extend her caresses from the puppet to its owner, that on this occasion, as on others, a silly sport became the introduction to happy hours.

Their soft, sweet dreams were broken in upon by a noise which arose on the street. Mariana called for the old dame, who, as usual, was occupied in furbishing the changeful materials of the playhouse wardrobe for the service of the piece next to be acted. Barbara said the disturbance arose from a set of jolly companions, who were just then sallying out of the Italian tavern, hard by, where they had been busy discussing fresh oysters, a cargo of which had just arrived, and by no means sparing their champagne.

“Pity,” Mariana said, “that we did not think of it in time; we might have had some entertainment to ourselves.”

“It is not yet too late,” said Wilhelm, giving Barbara a louis-d’or: “get us what we want; then come and take a share with us.”

The old dame made speedy work; ere long a trimly-covered table, with a neat collation, stood before the lovers. They made Barbara sit with them; they ate and drank, and enjoyed themselves.

On such occasions there is never want of Edition: current; Page: [74] enough to say. Mariana soon took up little Jonathan again, and the old dame turned the conversation upon Wilhelm’s favorite topic. “You were once telling us,” she said, “about the first exhibition of a puppet-show on Christmas Eve: I remember you were interrupted just as the ballet was going to begin. We have now the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with the honorable company by whom those wonderful effects were brought about.”

“Oh, yes!” cried Mariana, “do tell us how it all went on, and how you felt then.”

“It is a fine emotion, Mariana,” said the youth, “when we bethink ourselves of old times and old harmless errors; especially if this is at a period when we have happily gained some elevation, from which we can look around us and survey the path we have left behind. It is so pleasant to think, with composure and satisfaction, of many obstacles, which often with painful feelings we may have regarded as invincible; pleasant to compare what we now are with what we then were struggling to become. But I am happy above others in this matter, that I speak to you about the past, at a moment when I can also look forth into the blooming country, which we are yet to wander through together, hand in hand.”

“But how was it with the ballet?” said Barbara. “I fear it did not quite go off as it should have done.”

“I assure you,” said Wilhelm, “it went off quite well. And certainly the strange caperings of these Moors and Mooresses, these shepherds and shepherdesses, these dwarfs and dwarfesses, will never altogether leave my recollection while I live. When the curtain dropped and the door closed our little party skipped away, frolicking as if they had been tipsy, to their beds; for myself, however, I remember that I could not go to sleep; still wanting to have something told me on the subject, I continued putting questions to every one, and would hardly let the maid away who had brought me up to bed.

“Next morning, alas! the magic apparatus had altogether vanished; the mysterious veil was carried off; the door permitted us again to go and come through it without obstruction; the manifold adventures of the evening had passed away, and left no trace behind. My brothers and sisters were running up and down with their playthings; I alone kept gliding to and fro; it seemed to me impossible that two bare door-posts could be all that now remained, where the night before so much enchantment had displayed itself. Alas! the man that seeks a lost love can hardly be unhappier than I then thought myself.”

A rapturous look, which he cast on Mariana, convinced her that he was not much afraid of ever having a misfortune such as this to strive with.


My sole wish now,” continued Wilhelm, “was to witness a second exhibition of the piece. For this purpose I had recourse, by constant entreaties, to my mother; and she attempted in a favorable hour to persuade my father. Her labor, however, was in vain. My father’s principle was, that none but enjoyments of rare occurrence were adequately prized; that neither young nor old could set a proper value on pleasures which they tasted every day.

“We might have waited long, perhaps till Christmas returned, had not the contriver and secret director of the spectacle himself felt a pleasure in repeating the display of it; partly incited, I suppose, by the wish to produce a brand-new harlequin expressly prepared for the afterpiece.

“A young officer of the artillery, a person of great gifts in all sorts of mechanical contrivance, had served my father in many essential particulars during the building of the house; for which, having been handsomely rewarded, he felt desirous of expressing his thankfulness to the family of his patron, and so made us young ones a present of this complete theatre, which, in hours of leisure, he had already carved and painted and strung together. It was this young man, who, with the help of a servant, had himself managed the puppets, disguising his voice to pronounce their various speeches. He had no great difficulty in persuading my father, who granted, out of complaisance to a friend, what he had denied from conviction to his children. In short, our theatre was again set up, some little ones of the neighborhood were invited, and the piece was again represented.

“If I had formerly experienced the delights of surprise and astonishment, I enjoyed on this second occasion the pleasure of examining and scrutinizing. How all this happened was my present concern. That the puppets themselves did not speak, I had already decided; that of themselves they did not move, I also Edition: current; Page: [y] Edition: current; Page: [z] Edition: current; Page: [aa] Edition: current; Page: [bb] Edition: current; Page: [75] conjectured; but then how came it all to be so pretty, and to look just as if they both spoke and moved of themselves; and where were the lights, and the people that managed the deception? These enigmas perplexed me the more, as I wished at once to be among the enchanters and the enchanted, at once to have a secret hand in the play, and to enjoy, as a looker-on, the pleasure of illusion.



“The piece being finished, preparations were making for the farce; the spectators had risen, and were all busy talking together. I squeezed myself closer to the door, and heard, by the rattling within, that the people were packing up some articles. I lifted the lowest screen and poked in my head between the posts. As our mother noticed it, she drew me back; but I had seen well enough, that here friends and foes, Saul and Goliath, and whatever else their names might be, were lying quietly down together in a drawer; and thus my half-contented curiosity received a fresh excitement. To my great surprise, moreover, I had noticed the lieutenant very diligently occupied in the interior of the shrine. Henceforth, Jack-pudding, however he might clatter with his heels, could not any longer entertain me. I sank into deep meditation; my discovery at once made me more satisfied, and less so than before. After a little, it first struck me that I yet comprehended nothing; and here I was right; for the connection of the parts with each other was entirely unknown to me, and everything depends on that.


In well-adjusted and regulated houses,” continued Wilhelm, “children have a feeling not unlike what I conceive rats and mice to have; they keep a sharp eye on all crevices and holes, where they may come at any forbidden dainty; they enjoy it also with a fearful, stolen satisfaction, which forms no small part of the happiness of childhood.

“More than any other of the young ones, I was in the habit of looking out attentively to see if I could notice any cupboard left open, or key standing in its lock. The more reverence I bore in my heart for those closed doors, on the outside of which I had to pass by for weeks and months, catching only a furtive glance when our mother now and then opened the consecrated place to take something from it,—the quicker was I to make use of any opportunities which the forgetfulness of our housekeepers at times afforded me.

“Among all the doors, that of the storeroom was, of course, the one I watched most narrowly. Few of the joyful anticipations in life can equal the feeling which I used to have, when my mother happened to call me, that I might help her to carry out anything, after which I might pick up a few dried plums, either with her kind permission, or by help of my own dexterity. The accumulated treasures of this chamber took hold of my imagination by their magnitude; the very fragrance exhaled by so multifarious a collection of sweet-smelling spices produced such a craving effect on me, that I never failed, when passing near, to linger for a little, and regale myself at least on the unbolted atmosphere. At length, one Sunday morning, my mother, being hurried by the ringing of the church-bells, forgot to take this precious key with her on shutting the door, and went away, leaving all the house in a deep Sabbath stillness. No sooner had I marked this oversight, than gliding softly once or twice to and from the place, I at last approached very gingerly, opened the door, and felt myself, after a single step, in immediate contact with these manifold and long-wished-for means of happiness. I glanced over glasses, chests and bags, and drawers and boxes, with a quick and doubtful eye, considering what I ought to choose and take; turned finally to my dear withered plums, provided myself also with a few dried apples, and completed the forage with an orange-chip. I was quietly retreating with my plunder, when some little chests, lying piled over one another, caught my attention; the more so, as I noticed a wire, with hooks at the end of it, sticking through the joint of the lid in one of them. Full of eager hopes, I opened this singular package; and judge of my emotions when I found my glad world of heroes all sleeping safe within! I meant to pick out the topmost, and, having examined them, to pull up those below; but in this attempt the wires got very soon entangled, and I fell into a fright and flutter, more particularly as the cook just then began making some stir in the kitchen, which lay close by; so that I had nothing for it but to squeeze the whole together the best way I could, and to shut the chest, having stolen from it nothing but a little written book, which happened to be lying above, and contained the whole drama of Goliath and David. With Edition: current; Page: [76] this booty I made good my retreat into the garret.

“Henceforth all my stolen hours of solitude were devoted to perusing the play, to learning it by heart, and picturing in thought how glorious it would be could I but get the figures, to make them move along with it. In idea, I myself became David and Goliath by turns. In every corner of the courtyard, of the stables, of the garden, under all kinds of circumstances, I labored to stamp the whole piece upon my mind; laid hold of all the characters, and learned their speeches by heart, most commonly, however, taking up the parts of the chief personages, and allowing all the rest to move along with them, but as satellites, across my memory. Thus day and night the heroic words of David, wherewith he challenged the braggart giant, Goliath of Gath, kept their place in my thoughts. I often muttered them to myself, while no one gave heed to me, except my father, who, frequently observing some such detached exclamation, would in secret praise the excellent memory of his boy, that had retained so much from only two recitations.

“By this means, growing always bolder, I one evening repeated almost the entire piece before my mother, whilst I was busied in fashioning some bits of wax into players. She observed it, questioned me hard, and I confessed.

“By good fortune this detection happened at a time when the lieutenant had himself been expressing a wish to initiate me in the mysteries of the art. My mother forthwith gave him notice of these unexpected talents; and he now contrived to make my parents offer him a couple of chambers in the top story, which commonly stood empty, that he might accommodate the spectators in the one, while the other held his actors, the proscenium again filling up the opening of the door. My father had allowed his friend to arrange all this; himself, in the meantime, seeming only to look at the transaction, as it were, through his fingers; for his maxim was, that children should not be allowed to see the kindness which is felt towards them, lest their pretensions come to extend too far. He was of opinion that, in the enjoyments of the young, one should assume a serious air; often interrupting the course of their festivities, to prevent their satisfaction from degenerating into excess and presumption.


The lieutenant now set up his theatre and managed all the rest. During the week I readily observed that he often came into the house at unusual hours, and I soon guessed the cause. My eagerness increased immensely; for I well understood that till Sunday evening I could have no share in what was going on. At last the wished-for day arrived. At five in the evening my conductor came and took me up with him. Quivering with joy, I entered, and descried, on both sides of the framework, the puppets all hanging in order as they were to advance to view. I considered them narrowly, and mounted on the steps, which raised them above the scene, and allowed me to hover aloft over all that little world. Not without reverence did I look down between the pieces of board, and recollect what a glorious effect the whole would produce, and feel into what mighty secrets I was now admitted. We made a trial, which succeeded well.

“Next day a party of children were invited: we performed rarely; except that once, in the fire of action, I let poor Jonathan fall, and was obliged to reach down with my hand and pick him up again; an accident which sadly marred the illusion, produced a peal of laughter, and vexed me unspeakably. My father, however, seemed to relish this misfortune not a little. Prudently shrouding up the contentment he felt at the expertness of his little boy, after the piece was finished, he dwelt on the mistakes we had committed, saying it would all have been very pretty had not this or that gone wrong with us.

“I was vexed to the heart at these things, and sad for all the evening. By next morning, however, I had quite slept off my sorrow; and was blessed in the persuasion that, but for this one fault, I had played delightfully. The spectators also flattered me with their unanimous approval; they all maintained, that though the lieutenant, in regard to the coarse and the fine voices, had done great things, yet his declamation was in general too stiff and affected; whereas the new aspirant spoke his Jonathan and David with exquisite grace. My mother in particular commended the gallant tone in which I had challenged Goliath and acted the modest victor before the king.

“From this time, to my extreme delight, the theatre continued open; and as the spring advanced, so that fires could be dispensed Edition: current; Page: [77] with, I passed all my hours of recreation lying in the garret and making the puppets caper and play together. Often I invited up my comrades, or my brothers and sisters; but when they would not come I stayed by myself not the less. My imagination brooded over that tiny world, which soon afterwards acquired another form.


“Scarcely had I once or twice exhibited the first piece, for which my scenery and actors had been formed and decorated, till it ceased to give me any pleasure. On the other hand, among some books of my grandfather’s, I had happened to fall in with the ‘German Theatre’ and a few translations of Italian operas; in which works I soon got very deeply immersed, on each occasion first reckoning up the characters, and then, without further ceremony, proceeding to exhibit the piece. King Saul, with his black velvet cloak, was therefore now obliged to personate Darius or Cato, or some other pagan hero; in which cases, it may be observed, the plays were never wholly represented; for most part, only the fifth acts, where the cutting and stabbing lay.

“It was natural that the operas, with their manifold adventures and vicissitudes, should Edition: current; Page: [78] attract me more than anything beside. In these compositions I found stormy seas, gods descending in chariots of cloud, and, what most of all delighted me, abundance of thunder and lightning. I did my best with pasteboard, paint and paper: I could make night very prettily; my lightning was fearful to behold; only my thunder did not always prosper, which, however, was of less importance. In operas, moreover, I found frequent opportunities of introducing my David and Goliath, persons whom the regular drama would hardly admit. Daily I felt more attachment for the hampered spot where I enjoyed so many pleasures; and, I must confess, the fragrance which the puppets had acquired from the storeroom added not a little to my satisfaction.

“The decorations of my theatre were now in a tolerable state of completeness. I had always had the knack of drawing with compasses, and clipping pasteboard, and coloring figures; and here it served me in good stead. But the more sorry was I, on the other hand, when, as frequently happened, my stock of actors would not suffice for representing great affairs.

“My sisters dressing and undressing their dolls awoke in me the project of furnishing my heroes by and by with garments which might also be put off and on. Accordingly, I slit the scraps of cloth from off their bodies; tacked the fragments together as well as possible; saved a particle of money to buy new ribbons and lace; begged many a rag of taffeta; and so formed, by degrees, a full theatrical wardrobe, in which hoop-petticoats for the ladies were especially remembered.

“My troop was now fairly provided with dresses for the most important piece, and you might have expected that henceforth one exhibition would follow close upon the heels of another; but it happened with me, as it often happens with children; they embrace wide plans, make mighty preparations, then a few trials, and the whole undertaking is abandoned. I was guilty of this fault. My greatest pleasure lay in the inventive part and the employment of my fancy. This or that piece inspired me with interest for a few scenes of it, and immediately I set about providing new apparel suitable for the occasion. In such fluctuating operations many parts of the primary dresses of my heroes had fallen into disorder, or totally gone out of sight; so that now the first great piece could no longer be exhibited. I surrendered myself to my imagination; I rehearsed and prepared forever; built a thousand castles in the air, and saw not that I was at the same time undermining the foundations of these little edifices.”

During this recital, Mariana had called up and put in action all her courtesy for Wilhelm, that she might conceal her sleepiness. Diverting as the matter seemed on one side, it was too simple for her taste, and her lover’s view of it too serious. She softly pressed her foot on his, however, and gave him all visible signs of attention and approval. She drank out of his glass: Wilhelm was convinced that no word of his history had fallen to the ground. After a short pause, he said: “It is now your turn, Mariana, to tell me what were your first childish joys. Till now we have always been too busy with the present to trouble ourselves, on either side, about our previous way of life. Let me hear, Mariana, under what circumstances you were reared; what are the first lively impressions which you still remember?”

These questions would have very much embarrassed Mariana had not Barbara made haste to help her. “Think you,” said the cunning old woman, “we have been so mindful of what happened to us long ago that we have merry things like these to talk about; and, though we had, that we could give them such an air in talking of them?”

“As if they needed it!” cried Wilhelm. “I love this soft, good, amiable creature so much that I regret every instant of my life which has not been spent beside her. Allow me, at least in fancy, to have a share in thy bygone life: tell me everything; I will tell everything to thee! If possible we will deceive ourselves and win back those days that have been lost to love.”

“If you require it so eagerly,” replied the old dame, “we can easily content you. Only, in the first place, let us hear how your taste for the theatre gradually reached a head; how you practised, how you improved so happily, that now you can pass for a superior actor. No doubt you must have met with droll adventures in your progress. It is not worth while to go to bed now: I have still one flask in reserve; and who knows whether we shall soon all sit together so quiet and cheery again?”

Mariana cast a mournful look upon her, which Wilhelm not observing, proceeded with his narrative.

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The recreations of youth, as my companions began to increase in number, interfered with this solitary, still enjoyment. I was by turns a hunter, a soldier, a knight, as our games required me; and constantly I had this small advantage above the rest, that I was qualified to furnish them suitably with the necessary equipments. The swords, for example, were generally of my manufacture; I gilded and decorated the scabbards; and a secret instinct allowed me not to stop till our militia was accoutred according to the antique model. Helmets, with plumes of paper, were got ready; shields, even coats of mail, were provided; undertakings in which such of the servants as had aught of the tailor in them, and the seamstresses of the house, broke many a needle.

“A part of my comrades I had now got well equipped; by degrees the rest were likewise furbished up, though on a thriftier plan; and so a very seemly corps at length was mustered. We marched about the courtyards and gardens; smote fearfully upon each other’s shields and heads: many flaws of discord rose among us, but none that lasted.

“This diversion greatly entertained my fellows; but scarcely had it been twice or thrice repeated, till it ceased to content me. The aspect of so many harnessed figures naturally stimulated in my mind those ideas of chivalry which, for some time since I had commenced the reading of old romances, were filling my imagination.

“Koppen’s translation of ‘Jerusalem Delivered’ at length fell into my hands, and gave these wandering thoughts a settled direction. The whole poem, it is true, I could not read; but there were pieces of it which I learned by heart, and the images expressed in these hovered round me. Particularly was I captivated with Clorinda, and all her deeds and bearing. The masculine womanhood, the peaceful completeness of her being, had a greater influence upon my mind, just beginning to unfold itself, than the factitious charms of Armida, though the garden of that enchantress was by no means an object of my contempt.

“But a hundred and a hundred times, while walking in the evenings on the balcony which stretches along the front of the house, and looking over the neighborhood, as the quivering splendor streamed up at the horizon from the departed sun, and the stars came forth, and night pressed forward from every cleft and hollow, and the small shrill tone of the cricket tinkled through the solemn stillness—a hundred and a hundred times have I repeated to myself the history of the mournful duel between Tancred and Clorinda.

“However strongly I inclined by nature to the party of the Christians, I could not help declaring for the Paynim heroine with all my heart when she engaged to set on fire the great tower of the besiegers. And when Tancred in the darkness met the supposed knight, and the strife began between them under that veil of gloom, and the two battled fiercely, I could never pronounce the words,

  • “But now the sure and fated hour is nigh,
  • Clorinda’s course is ended, she must die!

without tears rushing into my eyes, which flowed plentifully, when the hapless lover, plunging his sword into her breast, opened the departing warrior’s helmet, recognized the lady of his heart, and, shuddering, brought water to baptize her.

“How did my heart run over when Tancred struck with his sword that tree in the enchanted wood, when blood flowed from the gash, and a voice sounded in his ears, that now again he was wounding Clorinda; that destiny had marked him out ever unwittingly to injure what he loved beyond all else!

“The recital took such hold of my imagination that the passages I had read of the poem began dimly, in my mind, to conglomerate into a whole; wherewith I was so taken that I could not but propose to have it some way represented. I meant to have Tancred and Rinaldo acted; and for this purpose two coats of mail, which I had before manufactured, seemed expressly suitable. The one, formed of dark-gray paper with scales, was to serve for the solemn Tancred; the other, of silver-and-gilt paper, for the magnificent Rinaldo. In the vivacity of my anticipations, I told the whole project to my comrades, who felt quite charmed with it, only could not well comprehend how so glorious a thing could be exhibited, and, above all, exhibited by them.

“Such scruples I easily set aside. Without hesitation I took upon me in idea the management of two rooms in the house of a neighboring playmate; not calculating that his venerable aunt would never give them up, or considering how a theatre could be made of them, whereof I had no settled notion, except that it was to be fixed on beams, to have side-scenes Edition: current; Page: [80] made of parted folding-screens, and on the floor a large piece of cloth. From what quarter these materials and furnishings were to come, I had not determined.

“So far as concerned the forest, we fell upon a good expedient. We betook ourselves to an old servant of one of our families, who had now become a woodman, with many entreaties that he would get us a few young firs and birches; which actually arrived more speedily than we had reason to expect. But, in the next place, great was our embarrassment as to how the piece should be got up before the trees were withered. Now was the time for prudent counsel! We had no house, no scenery, no curtains; the folding-screens were all we had.

“In this forlorn condition we again applied to the lieutenant, giving him a copious description of all the glorious things we meant to do. Little as he understood us, he was very helpful: he piled all the tables he could get in the house or neighborhood one above the other, in a little room; to these he fixed our folding-screens, and made a back view with green curtains, sticking up our trees along with it.

“At length the appointed evening came; the candles were lit, the maids and children were sitting in their places, the piece was to go forward, the whole corps of heroes was equipped and dressed—when each for the first time discovered that he knew not what he was to say. In the heat of invention, being quite immersed in present difficulties, I had forgotten the necessity of each understanding what and where he was to speak; nor, in the midst of our bustling preparations, had it once occurred to the rest; each believing he could easily enact a hero, easily so speak and bear himself, as became the personage into whose world I had transplanted him. They all stood wonder-struck, asking, What was to come first? I alone, having previously got ready Tancred’s part, entered solus on the scene, and began reciting some verses of the epic. But, as the passage soon changed into narrative, and I, while speaking, was at once transformed into a third party, and the bold Godfredo when his turn came would not venture forth, I was at last obliged to take leave of my spectators under peals of laughter—a disaster which cut me to the heart. Thus had our undertaking proved abortive; but the company still kept their places, still wishing to see something. All of us were dressed; I screwed my courage up, and determined, foul or fair, to give them David and Goliath. Some of my companions had before this helped me to exhibit the puppet-play; all of them had often seen it: we shared the characters among us; each promised to do his best, and one small grinning urchin painted a black beard upon his chin, and undertook, if any lacuna should occur, to fill it up with drollery as harlequin; an arrangement to which, as contradicting the solemnity of the piece, I did not consent without extreme reluctance; and I vowed within myself that, if once delivered out of this perplexity, I would think long and well before risking the exhibition of another piece.”


Mariana, overpowered with sleep, leaned upon her lover, who clasped her close to him and proceeded in his narrative, while the old damsel prudently sipped up the remainder of the wine.

“The embarrassment,” he said, “into which, along with my companions, I had fallen, by attempting to act a play that did not anywhere exist, was soon forgotten. My passion for representing each romance I read, each story that was told me, would not yield before the most unmanageable materials. I felt convinced that whatever gave delight in narrative must produce a far deeper impression when exhibited: I wanted to have everything before my eyes, everything brought forth upon the stage. At school, when the elements of general history were related to us, I carefully marked the passages where any person had been slain or poisoned in a singular way; and my imagination, glancing rapidly along the exposition and intrigue, hastened to the interesting fifth act. Indeed, I actually began to write some pieces from the end backwards, without, however, in any of them reaching the beginning.

“At the same time, partly by inclination, partly by the counsel of my good friends, who had caught the fancy of acting plays, I read a whole wilderness of theatrical productions, as chance put them into my hands. I was still in those happy years when all things please us, when number and variety yield us abundant satisfaction. Unfortunately, too, my taste was corrupted by another circumstance. Any piece delighted me especially, in which I could hope to give delight; there were few which I did Edition: current; Page: [81] not peruse in this agreeable delusion; and my lively conceptive power enabling me to transfer myself into all the characters, seduced me to believe that I might likewise represent them all. Hence, in the distribution of the parts, I commonly selected such as did not fit me; and always more than one part, if I could by any means accomplish more.


“In their games, children can make all things out of any: a staff becomes a musket, a splinter of wood a sword, any bunch of cloth a puppet, any crevice a chamber. Upon this principle was our private theatre got up. Totally unacquainted with the measure of our strength, we undertook all; we stuck at no quid pro quo, and felt convinced that every one would take us for what we gave ourselves out to be. Now, however, our affairs went on so soberly and smoothly, that I have not even a curious insipidity to tell you of. We first played all the few pieces in which only males are requisite; next, we travestied some of ourselves; and at last took our sisters into the concern along with us. In one or two houses, our amusement was looked upon as profitable, and company invited to see it. Nor did our lieutenant of artillery now turn his back upon us. He showed us how we ought to make our exits and our entrances; how we should declaim, and with what attitudes and gestures. Yet generally he earned small thanks for his toil: we conceived ourselves to be much deeper in the secrets of theatrical art than he himself was.

“We very soon began to grow tired of tragedy; for all of us believed, as we had often heard, that it was easier to write or represent a tragedy than to attain proficiency in comedy. In our first attempts, accordingly, we had felt as if exactly in our element; dignity of rank, elevation of character, we studied to approach by stiffness and affectation, and imagined that we succeeded rarely; but our happiness was not complete, except we might rave outright, stamp with our feet, and cast ourselves upon the ground, full of fury and despair.

“Boys and girls had not long carried on these amusements in concert, till nature began to take her course, and our society branched itself off into sundry little love-associations, as generally more than one sort of comedy is Edition: current; Page: [82] acted in the playhouse. Behind the scenes, each happy pair pressed hands in the most tender style; they floated in blessedness, appearing to one another quite ideal persons, when so transformed and decorated; whilst, on the other hand, unlucky rivals consumed themselves with envy, and out of malice and spite worked every species of mischief.

“Our amusements, though undertaken without judgment, and carried on without instruction, were not without their use to us. We trained our memories and persons; we acquired more dexterity in speech and gesture than is usually met with at so early an age. But for me in particular this time was in truth an epoch; my mind turned all its faculties exclusively to the theatre, and my highest happiness was in reading, in writing, or in acting plays.

“Meanwhile the labors of my regular teachers continued; I had been set apart for the mercantile life, and placed under the guidance of our neighbor in the counting-house; yet my spirit at this very time recoiled more forcibly than ever from all that was to bind me to a low profession. It was to the stage that I aimed at consecrating all my powers; on the stage that I meant to seek all my happiness and satisfaction.

“I recollect a poem, which must be among my papers, where the Muse of tragic art and another female form, by which I personified Commerce, were made to strive very bravely for my most important self. The idea is common, and I recollect not that the verses were of any worth; but you shall see it, for the sake of the fear, the abhorrence, the love and passion, which reign in it. How repulsively did I paint the old housewife, with the distaff in her girdle, the bunch of keys by her side, the spectacles on her nose; ever toiling, ever restless, quarrelsome and penurious, pitiful and dissatisfied! How feelingly did I describe the condition of that poor man who has to cringe beneath her rod, and earn his slavish day’s wages by the sweat of his brow!

“And how differently advanced the other! What an apparition for the overclouded mind! Formed as a queen, in her thoughts and looks she announced herself the child of freedom. The feeling of her own worth gave her dignity without pride; her apparel became her, it veiled each limb without constraining it; and the rich folds repeated, like a thousand-voiced echo, the graceful movements of the goddess. What a contrast! How easy for me to decide! Nor had I forgotten the more peculiar characteristics of my muse. Crowns and daggers, chains and masks, as my predecessors had delivered them, were here produced once more. The contention was keen; the speeches of both were palpably enough contrasted, for at fourteen years of age one usually paints the black lines and the white pretty near each other. The old lady spoke as beseemed a person that would pick up a pin from her path; the other, like one that could give away kingdoms. The warning threats of the housewife were disregarded: I turned my back upon her promised riches; disinherited and naked, I gave myself up to the muse; she threw her golden veil over me, and called me hers.

“Could I have thought, my dearest,” he exclaimed, pressing Mariana close to him, “that another and a more lovely goddess would come to encourage me in my purpose, to travel with me on my journey, the poem might have had a finer turn, a far more interesting end. Yet it is no poetry; it is truth and life that I feel in thy arms; let us prize the sweet happiness, and consciously enjoy it.”

The pressure of his arms, the emotion of his elevated voice, awoke Mariana, who hastened by caresses to conceal her embarrassment; for no word of the last part of his story had reached her. It is to be wished that in future our hero, when recounting his favorite histories, may find more attentive hearers.


Thus Wilhelm passed his nights in the enjoyment of confiding love; his days in the expectation of new happy hours. When desire and hope had first attracted him to Mariana, he already felt as if inspired with new life; felt as if he were beginning to be another man: he was now united to her; the contentment of his wishes had become a delicious habitude. His heart strove to ennoble the object of his passion; his spirit to exalt with it the young creature whom he loved. In the shortest absence, thoughts of her arose within him. If she had once been necessary to him, she was now grown indispensable, now that he was bound to her by all the ties of nature. His pure soul felt that she was the half, more than the half of himself. He was grateful and devoted without limit.

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Mariana, too, succeeded in deceiving herself for a season; she shared with him the feeling of his liveliest blessedness. Alas, if the cold hand of self-reproach had not often come across her heart! She was not secure from it even in Wilhelm’s bosom, even under the wings of his love. And when she was again left alone, again left to sink from the clouds, to which passion had exalted her, into the consciousness of her real condition, then she was indeed to be pitied. So long as she had lived among degrading perplexities, disguising from herself her real situation, or rather never thinking of it, frivolity had helped her through; the incidents she was exposed to had come upon her each by itself; satisfaction and vexation had cancelled one another; humiliation had been compensated by vanity; want by frequent, though momentary superfluity; she could plead necessity and custom as a law or an excuse; and hitherto all painful emotions from hour to hour, and from day to day, had by these means been shaken off. But now, for some instants, the poor girl had felt herself transported to a better world; aloft as it were, in the midst of light and joy, she had looked down upon the abject desert of her life, had felt what a miserable creature is the woman who, inspiring desire, does not also inspire reverence and love; she regretted and repented, but found herself outwardly or inwardly no better for regret. She had nothing that she could accomplish or resolve upon. Looking into herself and searching, all was waste and void within her soul; her heart had no place of strength or refuge. But the more sorrowful her state was, the more vehemently did her feelings cling to the man whom she loved; her passion for him even waxed stronger daily, as the danger of losing him came daily nearer.

Wilhelm, on the other hand, soared serenely happy in higher regions; to him also a new world had been disclosed, but a world rich in the most glorious prospects. Scarcely had the first excess of joy subsided, when all that had long been gliding dimly through his soul stood up in bright distinctness before it. She is thine! She has given herself away to thee! She, the loved, the wished-for, the adored, has given herself away to thee in trust and faith; she shall not find thee ungrateful for the gift. Standing or walking, he talked to himself; his heart constantly overflowed; with a copiousness of splendid words he uttered to himself the loftiest emotions. He imagined that he understood the visible beckoning of fate reaching out its hand by Mariana to save him from the stagnant, weary, drudging life out of which he had so often wished for deliverance. To leave his father’s house and people now appeared a light matter. He was young, and had not tried the world; his eagerness to range over its expanses, seeking fortune and contentment, was stimulated by his love. His vocation to the theatre was now clear to him; the high goal, which he saw raised before him, seemed nearer whilst he was advancing to it with Mariana’s hand in his; and in his comfortable prudence he beheld in himself the embryo of a great actor; the future founder of that national theatre, for which he heard so much and various sighing on every side. All that till now had slumbered in the most secret corners of his soul at length awoke. He painted for himself a picture of his manifold ideas, in the colors of love, upon a canvas of cloud: the figures of it, indeed, ran sadly into one another; yet the whole had an air but the more brilliant on that account.


He was now in his chamber at home, ransacking his papers, making ready for departure. Whatever savored of his previous employment he threw aside, meaning at his entrance upon life to be free even from recollections that could pain him. Works of taste alone, poets and critics, were, as acknowledged friends, placed among the chosen few. Heretofore he had given little heed to the critical authors: his desire for instruction now revived, when, again looking through his books, he found the theoretical part of them lying generally still uncut. In the full persuasion that such works were absolutely necessary, he had bought a number of them; but, with the best disposition in the world, he had not reached midway in any.

The more steadfastly, on the other hand, he had dwelt upon examples; and in every kind that was known to him had made attempts himself.

Werner entered the room; and seeing his friend busied with the well-known sheets, he exclaimed: “Again among your papers? And without intending, I dare swear, to finish any one of them! You look them through and Edition: current; Page: [84] through once or twice, then throw them by, and begin something new.”

“To finish is not the scholar’s care; it is enough if he improves himself by practice.”

“But also completes according to his best ability.”

“And still the question might be asked, Is there not good hope of a youth who, on commencing some unsuitable affair, soon discovers its unsuitableness and discontinues his exertions, not choosing to spend toil and time on what never can be of any value?”

“I know well enough it was never your concern to bring aught to a conclusion; you have always sickened on it before it came half way. When you were the director of our puppet-show, for instance, how many times were fresh clothes got ready for the Edition: current; Page: [85] dwarfish troop, fresh decorations furbished up? Now this tragedy was to be played, now that; and at the very best you gave us some fifth act, where all was going topsy-turvy and people cutting one another’s throats.”


“If you talk of those times, whose blame really was it that we ripped off from our puppets the clothes that fitted them, and were fast stitched to their bodies, and laid out money for a large and useless wardrobe? Was it not yours, my good friend, who had always some fragment of ribbon to traffic with; and skill, at the same time, to stimulate my taste and turn it to your profit?”

Werner laughed, and continued: “I still recollect, with pleasure, how I used to extract gain from your theatrical campaigns, as army contractors do from war. When you mustered for the ‘Deliverance of Jerusalem,’ I, for my part, made a pretty thing of profit, like the Venetians in the corresponding case. I know of nothing in the world more rational than to turn the folly of others to our own advantage.”

“Perhaps it were a nobler satisfaction to cure men of their follies.”

“From the little I know of men this might seem a vain endeavor. But something towards it is always done when any individual man grows wise and rich; and generally this happens at the cost of others.”

“Well, here is ‘The Youth at the Parting of the Ways’; it has just come into my hand,” said Wilhelm; drawing out a fold of papers from the rest; “this at least is finished, whatever else it may be.”

“Away with it; to the fire with it!” cried Werner. “The invention does not deserve the smallest praise: that affair has plagued me enough already and drawn upon yourself your father’s wrath. The verses may be altogether beautiful; but the meaning of them is fundamentally false. I still recollect your Commerce personified; a shrivelled, wretched-looking sibyl she was. I suppose you picked up the image of her from some miserable huckster’s shop. At that time you had no true idea at all of trade; whilst I could not think of any man whose spirit was, or needed to be, more enlarged than the spirit of a genuine merchant. What a thing it is to see the order which prevails throughout his business! By means of this he can at any time survey the general whole, without needing to perplex himself in the details. What advantages does he derive from the system of book-keeping by double entry? It is among the finest inventions of the human mind; every prudent master of a house should introduce it into his economy.”

“Pardon me,” said Wilhelm, smiling; “you begin by the form, as if it were the matter: you traders commonly, in your additions and balancings, forget what is the proper net-result of life.”

“My good friend, you do not see how form and matter are in this case one; how neither can exist without the other. Order and arrangement increase the desire to save and get. A man embarrassed in his circumstances, and conducting them imprudently, likes best to continue in the dark; he will not gladly reckon up the debtor entries he is charged with. But, on the other hand, there is nothing to a prudent manager more pleasant than daily to set before himself the sums of his growing fortune. Even a mischance, if it surprise and vex, will not affright him; for he knows at once what gains he has acquired to cast into the other scale. I am convinced, my friend, that if you once had a proper taste for our employments, you would grant that many faculties of the mind are called into full and vigorous play by them.”

“Possibly this journey I am thinking of may bring me to other thoughts.”

“Oh, certainly. Believe me, you want but to look upon some great scene of activity to make you ours forever; and when you come back you will joyfully enroll yourself among that class of men whose art it is to draw towards themselves a portion of the money and materials of enjoyment which circulate in their appointed courses through the world. Cast a look on the natural and artificial productions of all the regions of the earth; consider how they have become, one here, another there, articles of necessity for men. How pleasant and how intellectual a task is it to calculate, at any moment, what is most required, and yet is wanting, or hard to find; to procure for each easily and soon what he demands; to lay in your stock prudently beforehand, and then to enjoy the profit of every pulse in that mighty circulation. This, it appears to me, is what no man that has a head can attend to without pleasure.”

Wilhelm seemed to acquiesce, and Werner continued.

“Do but visit one or two great trading-towns, one or two seaports, and see if you can withstand the impression. When you Edition: current; Page: [86] observe how many men are busied, whence so many things have come, and whither they are going, you will feel as if you too could gladly mingle in the business. You will then see the smallest piece of ware in its connection with the whole mercantile concern; and for that very reason you will reckon nothing paltry, because everything augments the circulation by which you yourself are supported.”

Werner had formed his solid understanding in constant intercourse with Wilhelm; he was thus accustomed to think also of his profession, of his employments, with elevation of soul; and he firmly believed that he did so with more justice than his otherwise more gifted and valued friend, who, as it seemed to him, had placed his dearest hopes, and directed all the force of his mind, upon the most imaginary objects in the world. Many a time he thought this false enthusiasm would infallibly be got the better of, and so excellent a soul be brought back to the right path. So, hoping in the present instance, he continued: “The great ones of the world have taken this earth of ours to themselves; they live in the midst of splendor and superfluity. The smallest nook of the land is already a possession, none may touch it or meddle with it; offices and civic callings bring in little profit; where, then, will you find more honest acquisitions, juster conquests, than those of trade? If the princes of this world hold the rivers, the highways, the havens in their power, and take a heavy tribute from everything that passes through them, may not we embrace with joy the opportunity of levying tax and toll, by our activity, on those commodities which the real or imaginary wants of men have rendered indispensable? I can promise you, if you would rightly apply your poetic view, my goddess might be represented as an invincible, victorious queen, and boldly opposed to yours. It is true, she bears the olive rather than the sword; dagger or chain she knows not; but she, too, gives crowns to her favorites; which, without offence to yours be it said, are of true gold from the furnace and the mine, and glance with genuine pearls, which she brings up from the depths of the ocean, by the hands of her unwearied servants.”

This sally somewhat nettled Wilhelm; but he concealed his sentiments, remembering that Werner used to listen with composure to his apostrophes. Besides, he had fairness enough to be pleased at seeing each man think the best of his own peculiar craft; provided only his, of which he was so passionately fond, were likewise left in peace.

“And for you,” exclaimed Werner, “who take so warm an interest in human concerns, what a sight will it be to behold the fortune which accompanies bold undertakings distributed to men before your eyes. What is more spirit-stirring than the aspect of a ship arriving from a lucky voyage, or soon returning with a rich capture? Not alone the relatives, Edition: current; Page: [87] the acquaintances and those that share with the adventurers, but every unconcerned spectator also is excited, when he sees the joy with which the long-imprisoned shipman springs on land before his keel has wholly reached it, feeling that he is free once more, and now can trust what he has rescued from the false sea to the firm and faithful earth. It is not, my friend, in figures of arithmetic alone that gain presents itself before us; fortune is the goddess of breathing men; to feel her favors truly, we must live and be men who toil with their living minds and bodies, and enjoy with them also.”



It is now time that we should know something more of Wilhelm’s father and of Werner’s; two men of very different modes of thinking, but whose opinions so far coincided, that both regarded commerce as the noblest calling, and both were peculiarly attentive to every advantage which any kind of speculation might produce to them. Old Meister, when his father died, had turned into money a valuable collection of pictures, drawings, copperplates and antiquities: he had entirely rebuilt and furnished his house in the newest style, and turned his other property to profit in all possible ways. A considerable portion of it he had embarked in trade under the direction of the elder Werner, a man noted as an active merchant, whose speculations were commonly favored by fortune. But nothing was so much desired by Meister as to confer upon his son those qualities of which himself was destitute, and to leave his children advantages which he reckoned it of the highest importance to possess. Withal, he felt a peculiar inclination for magnificence; for whatever catches the eye, and possesses at the same time real worth and durability. In his house he would have all things solid and massive; his stores must be copious and rich; all his plate must be heavy; the furniture of his table costly. On the other hand, his guests were seldom invited; for every dinner was a festival, which, both for its expense and for its inconvenience, could not often be repeated. The economy of his house went on at a settled, uniform rate; and everything that moved or had place in it was just what yielded no one any real enjoyment.

The elder Werner, in his dark and hampered house, led quite another sort of life. The business of the day, in his narrow counting-house, at his ancient desk, once done, Werner liked to eat well, and, if possible, to drink better. Nor could he fully enjoy good things in solitude; with his family he must always see at table his friends, and any stranger that had the slightest connection with his house. His chairs were of unknown age and antique fashion; but he daily invited some to sit on them. The dainty victuals arrested the attention of his guests, and none remarked that they were served up in common ware. His cellar held no great stock of wine; but the emptied niches were usually filled by more of a superior sort.

So lived these two fathers, often meeting to take counsel about their common concerns. On the day we are speaking of, it had been determined to send Wilhelm out from home, for the despatch of some commercial affairs.

“Let him look about him in the world,” said old Meister. “and at the same time carry on our business in distant parts. One cannot do a young man any greater kindness than initiate him early in the future business of his life. Your son returned so happily from his first expedition, and transacted his affairs so cleverly, that I am very curious to see how mine will do: his experience, I fear, will cost him dearer.”

Old Meister had a high notion of his son’s faculties and capabilities; he said this in the hope that his friend would contradict him, and hold up to view the admirable gifts of the youth. Here, however, he deceived himself: old Werner, who, in practical concerns, would trust no man but such as he had proved, answered placidly: “One must try all things; we can send him on the same journey; we shall give him a paper of directions to conduct him. There are sundry debts to be gathered in, old connections are to be renewed, new ones to be made. He may likewise help the speculation I was lately talking of; for, without punctual intelligence gathered on the spot, there is little to be done in it.”

“He must prepare,” said Meister, “and set forth as soon as possible. Where shall we get a horse for him to suit this business?”

“We shall not seek far. The shopkeeper in H—, who owes us somewhat, but is withal a good man, has offered me a horse instead of payment. My son knows it, and tells me it is a serviceable beast.”

“He may fetch it himself; let him go with Edition: current; Page: [88] the diligence: the day after to-morrow he is back again betimes; we have his saddle-bags and letters made ready in the meantime; he can set out on Monday morning.”

Wilhelm was sent for, and informed of their determination. Who so glad as he, now seeing the means of executing his purpose put into his hands, the opportunity made ready for him, without co-operation of his own! So intense was his love, so full was his conviction of the perfect rectitude of his intention to escape from the pressure of his actual mode of life, and follow a new and nobler career, that his conscience did not in the least rebel; no anxiety arose within him; he even reckoned the deception he was meditating holy. He felt certain that, in the long run, parents and relations would praise and bless him for this resolution: he acknowledged in these concurring circumstances the signal of a guiding fate.

How slowly the time passed with him till night, till the hour when he should again see his Mariana! He sat in his chamber, and revolved the plan of his journey; as a conjuror, or a cunning thief in durance often draws out his feet from the fast-locked irons, to cherish in himself the conviction that his deliverance is possible, nay, nearer than short-sighted turnkeys believe.

At last the appointed hour struck; he went out, shook off all anxiety, and hastened through the silent streets. In the middle of the great square he raised his hands to the sky, feeling as if all was behind him and below him; he had freed himself from all. One moment he figured himself as in the arms of his beloved, the next, as glancing with her in the splendors of the stage; he soared aloft in a world of hopes, only now and then the call of some watchman brought to his recollection that he was still wandering on the vulgar earth.

Mariana came to the stairs to meet him; and how beautiful! how lovely! She received him in the new white négligé; he thought he had never seen her so charming. Thus did she handsel the gift of her absent lover in the arms of a present one; with true passion she lavished on her darling the whole treasure of those caresses which nature suggested or art had taught: need we ask if he was happy, if he was blessed?

He disclosed to her what had passed, and showed her, in general terms, his plan and his wishes. He would try, he said, to find a residence, then come back for her; he hoped she would not refuse him her hand. The poor girl was silent; she concealed her tears, and pressed her friend against her bosom. Wilhelm, though interpreting her silence in the most favorable manner, could have wished for a distinct reply; and still more, when at last he inquired of her in the tenderest and most delicate terms if he might not think himself a father. But to this she answered only with a sigh, with a kiss.


Next morning Mariana woke only to new despondency; she felt herself very solitary; she wished not to see the light of day, but stayed in bed and wept. Old Barbara sat down by her, and tried to persuade and console her; but it was not in her power so soon to heal the wounded heart. The moment was now at hand to which the poor girl had been looking forward as to the last of her life. Who could be placed in a more painful situation? The man she loved was departing; a disagreeable lover was threatening to come; and the most fearful mischiefs were to be anticipated if the two, as might easily happen, should meet together.

“Calm yourself, my dear,” said the old woman; “do not spoil your pretty eyes with crying. Is it, then, so terrible a thing to have two lovers? And, though you can bestow your love but on the one, yet be thankful to the other, who, caring for you as he does, certainly deserves to be named your friend.”

“My poor Wilhelm,” said the other, all in tears, “had warning that a separation was at hand. A dream discovered to him what we strove so much to hide. He was sleeping calmly at my side; on a sudden I heard him muttering some unintelligible sounds; I grew frightened, and awoke him. Ah! with what love and tenderness and warmth did he clasp me! ‘O Mariana!’ cried he, ‘what a horrid fate have you freed me from! How shall I thank you for deliverance from such torment? I dreamed that I was far from you in an unknown country, but your figure hovered before me; I saw you on a beautiful hill; the sunshine was glancing over it all; how charming did you look! But it had not lasted long till I observed your image sinking down, sinking, sinking. I stretched out my arms towards you; they could not reach you through the Edition: current; Page: [cc] Edition: current; Page: [dd] Edition: current; Page: [ee] Edition: current; Page: [ff] Edition: current; Page: [89] distance. Your image still kept gliding down; it approached a great sea that lay far extended at the foot of the hill—a marsh rather than a sea. All at once a man gave you his hand, and seemed meaning to conduct you upwards, but he led you sidewards, and appeared to draw you after him. I cried out; as I could not reach you, I hoped to warn you. If I tried to walk, the ground seemed to hold me fast; if I could walk, the water hindered me; and even my cries were smothered in my breast.’ So said the poor youth while recovering from his terror, and reckoning himself happy to dissipate a frightful dream by the most delicious reality.”



Barbara made every effort to reduce, by her prose, the poetry of her friend to the domain of common life, employing in the present case the ingenious craft which so often succeeds with bird-catchers, when they imitate with a whistle the tones of those luckless creatures which they soon hope to see by dozens safely lodged in their nets. She praised Wilhelm; she expatiated on his figure, his eyes, his love. The poor girl heard her with a gratified heart; then arose, let herself be dressed, and appeared calmer. “My child, my darling,” continued the old woman, in a cozening tone, “I will not trouble you or injure you; I cannot think of tearing from you your dearest happiness. Could you mistake my intention? Have you forgotten that on all occasions I have cared for you more than for myself? Tell me only what you wish; we shall soon see how it may be brought about.”

“What can I wish?” said Mariana; “I am miserable, miserable for life; I love him, and he loves me; yet I see that I must part with him, and know not how I shall survive it. Norberg comes, to whom we owe our whole subsistence, whom we cannot live without. Wilhelm is straitened in his fortune, he can do nothing for me.”

“Yes, unfortunately, he is one of those lovers who bring nothing but their hearts; and these people, too, have the highest pretensions of any.”

“No jesting! The unhappy youth thinks of leaving his home, of going upon the stage, of offering me his hand.”

“Of empty hands we have already four.”

“I have no choice,” continued Mariana; “do you decide for me! Cast me away to this side or to that; mark only one thing: I think I carry in my bosom a pledge that ought to unite me with him still more closely. Consider and determine: whom shall I forsake? whom shall I follow?”

After a short silence, Barbara exclaimed: “Strange, that youth should always be for extremes! To my view nothing would be easier than for us to combine both the profit and enjoyment. Do you love the one, let the other pay for it: all we have to mind is being sharp enough to keep the two from meeting.”

“Do as you please. I can imagine nothing, but I will follow.”

“We have this advantage, we can humor the manager’s caprice and pride about the morals of his troop. Both lovers are accustomed already to go secretly and cunningly to work. For hours and opportunity I will take thought; only henceforth you must play the part that I prescribe to you. Who knows what circumstances may arise to help us? If Norberg would arrive even now, when Wilhelm is away! Who can hinder you from thinking of the one in the arms of the other? I wish you a son, and good fortune with him; he will have a rich father.”

These projects lightened Mariana’s despondency only for a very short time. She could not bring her situation into harmony with her feelings, with her convictions; she would fain have forgotten the painful relations in which she stood, and a thousand little circumstances forced them back every moment to her recollection.


In the meantime Wilhelm had completed the small preliminary journey. His merchant being from home, he delivered the letter of introduction to the mistress of the house. But neither did this lady give him much furtherance in his purposes; she was in a violent passion, and her whole economy was in confusion.

He had not waited long till she disclosed to him, what in truth could not be kept a secret, that her stepdaughter had run off with a player—a person who had parted lately from a small strolling company, and had stayed in the place and commenced teaching French. The father, distracted with grief and vexation, had run to the Amt to have the fugitives pursued. She blamed her daughter bitterly, and vilified the lover, till she left no tolerable quality with either: she deplored at great length the shame thus brought upon the family, embarrassing Edition: current; Page: [90] our hero not a little, who here felt his own private scheme beforehand judged and punished, in the spirit of prophecy as it were, by this frenzied sibyl. Still stronger and deeper was the interest he took in the sorrows of the father, who now returned from the Amt, and with fixed sorrow, in broken sentences, gave an account of the errand to his wife, and strove to hide the embarrassment and distraction of his mind while, after looking at the letter, he directed that the horse it spoke of should be given to Wilhelm.

Our friend thought it best to mount his steed immediately and quit a house where, in its present state, he could not possibly be comfortable; but the honest man would not allow the son of one to whom he had so many obligations to depart without tasting of his hospitality, Edition: current; Page: [91] without remaining at least a night beneath his roof.


Wilhelm assisted at a melancholy supper, wore out a restless night, and hastened to get rid of these people, who, without knowing it, had, by their narratives and condolences, been constantly wounding him to the quick.

In a musing mood, he was riding slowly along, when all at once he observed a number of armed men coming through the plain. By their long, loose coats with enormous cuffs, by their shapeless hats, clumsy muskets, by their slouching gait and lax attitude, he recognized in these people a detachment of provincial militia. They halted beneath an old oak, set down their firearms, and placed themselves at their ease upon the sward to smoke a pipe of tobacco. Wilhelm lingered near them, and entered into conversation with a young man who came up on horseback. The history of the two runaways, which he already knew too well, was again detailed to him, and that with comments not particularly flattering either to the young pair themselves or to the parents. He learned also that the military were come hither to take the loving couple into custody, who had already been seized and detained in a neighboring village. After some time, accordingly, a cart was seen advancing to the place, encircled with a city-guard more ludicrous than appalling. An amorphous town-clerk rode forth and made his compliments to the Actuarius (for such was the young man whom Wilhelm had been speaking to), on the border of their several districts, with great conscientiousness and wonderful grimaces; as perhaps the ghost and the conjuror do when they meet, the one within the circle and the other out of it, in their dismal midnight operations.

But the chief attention of the lookers-on was directed to the cart: they could not behold without compassion the poor misguided creatures, who were sitting upon bundles of straw, looking tenderly at one another, and scarcely seeming to observe the bystanders. Accident had forced their conductors to bring them from the last village in that unseemly style; the old chaise, which had previously transported the lady, having there broken down. On that occurrence she had begged permission to sit beside her friend; whom, in the conviction that his crime was of a capital sort, the rustic bailiffs had brought along so far in irons. These irons certainly contributed to give the tender group a more interesting appearance, particularly as the young man moved and bore himself with great dignity, while he kissed more than once the hands of his fair companion.

“We are unfortunate,” she cried to the bystanders; “but not so guilty as we seem. It is thus that savage men reward true love; and parents, who entirely neglect the happiness of their children, tear them with fury from the arms of joy, when it has found them after many weary days.”

The spectators were expressing their sympathy in various ways, when the officers of law having finished their ceremonial, the cart went on, and Wilhelm, who took a deep interest in the fate of the lovers, hastened forward by a footpath to get some acquaintance with the Amtmann before the procession should arrive. But scarcely had he reached the Amthaus, where all was in motion and ready to receive the fugitives, when his new friend, the Actuarius, laid hold of him; and, giving him a circumstantial detail of the whole proceedings, and then launching out into a comprehensive eulogy of his own horse, which he had got last night by barter, put a stop to every other sort of conversation.

The luckless pair, in the meantime, had been set down behind at the garden, which communicated by a little door with the Amthaus, and thus brought in unobserved. The Actuarius, for this mild and handsome treatment, accepted of a just encomium from Wilhelm; though in truth his sole object had been to mortify the crowd collected in front of the Amthaus, by denying them the satisfaction of looking at a neighbor in disgrace.

The Amtmann, who had no particular taste for such extraordinary occurrences, being wont on these occasions to commit frequent errors, and with the best intentions to be often paid with sour admonitions from the higher powers, went with heavy steps into his office-room, the Actuarius with Wilhelm and a few respectable citizens following him.

The lady was first produced; she advanced without pertness, calm and self-possessed. The manner of her dress, the way in which she bore herself, showed that she was a person not without value in her own eyes. She accordingly began, without any questions being put, to speak not unskilfully about her situation.

The Actuarius bade her be silent, and held his pen over the folded sheet. The Amtmann gathered up his resolution, looked at his assistant, cleared his throat by two or three Edition: current; Page: [92] hems, and asked the poor girl what was her name and how old she was.


“I beg your pardon, sir,” said she, “but it seems very strange to me that you ask my name and age; seeing you know very well what my name is, and that I am just of the age of your oldest son. What you do want to know of me, and need to know, I will tell freely without circumlocution:—Since my father’s second marriage my situation in his house has not been of the most enviable sort. Oftener than once I have had it in my power to make a suitable marriage, had not my step-mother, dreading the expense of my portion, taken care to thwart all such proposals. At length I grew acquainted with the young Melina; I felt constrained to love him; and as both of us foresaw the obstacles that stood in the way of our regular union, we determined to go forth together and seek in the wide world the happiness which was denied us at home. I took nothing with me that was not my own; we did not run away like thieves and robbers, and my lover does not merit to be hauled about in this way with chains and handcuffs. The prince is just, and will not sanction such severity. If we are liable to punishment, it is not punishment of this kind.”

The old Amtmann hereupon fell into double and treble confusion. Sounds of the most gracious eulogies were already humming through his brain; and the girl’s voluble speech had entirely confounded the plan of his protocol. The mischief increased, when to repeated official questions she refused giving any answer, but constantly referred to what she had already said.

“I am no criminal,” she said. “They have brought me hither on bundles of straw to put me to shame; but there is a higher court that will bring us back to honor.”

The Actuarius, in the meantime, had kept writing down her words: he whispered the Amtmann, “just to go on; a formal protocol might be made out by and by.”

Edition: current; Page: [93]

The senior then again took heart, and began, with his heavy words, in dry prescribed formulas, to seek information about the sweet secrets of love.

The red mounted into Wilhelm’s cheeks, and those of the pretty criminal likewise glowed with the charming tinge of modesty. She was silent, she stammered, till at last her embarrassment itself seemed to exalt her courage.

“Be assured,” she cried, “that I should have strength enough to confess the truth, though it made against myself; and shall I now hesitate and stammer, when it does me honor? Yes, from the moment when I first felt certain of his love and faith I looked upon him as my husband; I freely gave him all that love requires, that a heart once convinced cannot long refuse. Now do with me what you please. If I hesitated for a moment to confess, it was owing to fear alone lest the admission might prove hurtful to my lover.”

On hearing this confession, Wilhelm formed a high opinion of the young woman’s feelings; while her judges marked her as an impudent strumpet; and the townsfolk present thanked God that in their families no such scandal had occurred, or at least been brought to light.

Wilhelm transported his Mariana into this conjuncture, answering at the bar; he put still finer words in her mouth, making her uprightness yet more affecting, her confession still nobler. The most violent desire to help the two lovers took possession of him. Nor did he conceal this feeling; but signified in private to the wavering Amtmann that it were better to end the business, all being clear as possible and requiring no further investigation.

This was so far of service that the young woman was allowed to retire; though, in her stead, the lover was brought in, his fetters having previously been taken off him at the door. This person seemed a little more concerned about his fate. His answers were more careful; and if he showed less heroic generosity, he recommended himself by the precision and distinctness of his expressions.

When this audience also was finished, and found to agree in all points with the former, except that from regard for his mistress Melina stubbornly denied what had already been confessed by herself—the young woman was again brought forward; and a scene took place between the two which made the heart of our friend entirely their own.

What usually occurs nowhere but in romances and plays he saw here in a paltry court-room before his eyes; the contest of reciprocal magnanimity, the strength of love in misfortune.

“Is it then true,” said he, internally, “that timorous affection which conceals itself from the eye of the sun and of men, not daring to taste of enjoyment save in remote solitude and deep secrecy, yet, if torn rudely by some cruel chance into light, will show itself more courageous, strong and resolute than any of our loud and ostentatious passions?”

To his comfort the business now soon came to a conclusion. The lovers were detained in tolerable quarters: had it been possible he would that very evening have brought back the young lady to her parents. For he firmly determined to act as intercessor in this case, and to forward a happy and lawful union between the lovers.

He begged permission of the Amtmann to speak in private with Melina; a request which was granted without difficulty.


The conversation of these new acquaintances very soon grew confidential and lively. When Wilhelm told the downcast youth of his connection with the lady’s parents, and offered to mediate in the affair, showing at the same time the strongest expectation of success, a light was shed across the dreary and anxious mind of the prisoner; he felt himself already free, already reconciled with the parents of his bride; and now began to speak about his future occupation and support.

“On this point,” said our friend, “you cannot long be in difficulty; for you seem to me directed, not more by your circumstances than by nature, to make your fortune in the noble profession you have chosen. A pleasing figure, a sonorous voice, a feeling heart! Could an actor be better furnished? If I can serve you with a few introductions, it will give me the greatest pleasure.”

“I thank you with all my heart,” replied the other; “but I shall hardly be able to make use of them; for it is my purpose, if possible, not to return to the stage.”

“Here you are certainly to blame,” said Wilhelm, after a pause, during which he had Edition: current; Page: [94] partly recovered out of his astonishment; for it had never once entered his head but that the player, the moment his young wife and he were out of durance, would repair to some theatre. It seemed to him as natural and as necessary as for the frog to seek pools of water. He had not doubted of it for a moment; and he now heard the contrary with boundless surprise.

“Yes,” replied Melina, “I have it in view not to reappear upon the stage; but rather to take up some civil calling, be it what it will, so that I can but obtain one.”

“This is a strange resolution, which I cannot give my approbation to. Without especial reasons, it can never be advisable to change the mode of life we have begun with; and, besides, I know of no condition that presents so much allurement, so many charming prospects, as the condition of an actor.”

“It is easy to see that you have never been one,” said the other.

“Alas, sir,” answered Wilhelm, “how seldom is any man contented with the station where he happens to be placed! He is ever coveting that of his neighbor, from which the neighbor in his turn is longing to be free.”

“Yet still there is a difference,” said Melina, “between bad and worse. Experience, not impatience, makes me determine as you see. Is there in the world any creature whose morsel of bread is attended with such vexation, uncertainty and toil? It were almost as good to take the staff and wallet, and beg from door to door. What things to be endured from the envy of rivals, from the partiality of managers, from the ever-altering caprices of the public! In truth, one would need to have a hide like a bear’s, that is led about in a chain along with apes and dogs of knowledge, and cudgelled into dancing at the sound of a bagpipe before the populace and children.”

Wilhelm thought a thousand things, which he would not vex the worthy man by uttering. He merely, therefore, led the conversation round them at a distance. His friend explained himself the more candidly and circumstantially on that account. “Is not the manager obliged,” said he, “to fall down at the feet of every little Stadtrath, that he may get permission, for a month between the fairs, to cause another groschen or two to circulate in the place? Ours, on the whole a worthy man, I have often pitied; though at other times he gave me cause enough for discontentment. A good actor drains him by extortion; of the bad he cannot rid himself; and, should he try to make his income at all equal to his outlay, the public immediately takes umbrage, the house stands empty; and, not to go to wreck entirely, he must continue acting in the midst of sorrow and vexation. No, no, sir! Since you are so good as to undertake to help me, have the kindness, I entreat you, to plead with the parents of my bride; let them get me a little post of clerk or collector, and I shall think myself well dealt with.”

After exchanging a few words more, Wilhelm went away with the promise to visit the parents early in the morning and see what could be done. Scarcely was he by himself when he gave utterance to his thoughts in these exclamations: “Unhappy Melina! not in thy condition, but in thyself lies the mean impediment over which thou canst not gain the mastery. What mortal in the world, if without inward calling he take up a trade, an art, or any mode of life, will not feel his situation miserable? But he who is born with capacities for any undertaking, finds in executing this the fairest portion of his being. Nothing upon earth without its difficulties! It is the secret impulse within; it is the love and the delight we feel, that help us to conquer obstacles, to clear out new paths, and to overleap the bounds of that narrow circle in which others poorly toil. For thee the stage is but a few boards; the parts assigned thee are but what a task is to a schoolboy. The spectators thou regardest as on work-days they regard each other. For thee, then, it may be well to wish thyself behind a desk, over ruled ledgers, collecting tolls, and picking out reversions. Thou feelest not the co-operating, co-inspiring whole, which the mind alone can invent, comprehend and complete; thou feelest not that in man there lives a spark of purer fire, which, when it is not fed, when it is not fanned, gets covered by the ashes of indifference and daily wants; yet not till late, perhaps never, can be altogether quenched. Thou feelest in thy soul no strength to fan this spark into a flame, no riches in thy heart to feed it when aroused. Hunger drives thee on, inconveniences withstand thee; and it is hidden from thee, that, in every human condition, foes lie in wait for us, invincible except by cheerfulness and equanimity. Thou dost well to wish thyself within the limits of a common station; for what station that required soul and resolution could’st thou Edition: current; Page: [95] rightly fill! Give a soldier, a statesman, a divine thy sentiments, and as justly will he fret himself about the miseries of his condition. Nay, have there not been men so totally forsaken by all feeling of existence that they have held the life and nature of mortals as a nothing, a painful, short and tarnished gleam of being? Did the forms of active men rise up living in thy soul; were thy breast warmed by a sympathetic fire; did the vocation which proceeds from within diffuse itself over all thy frame; were the tones of thy voice, the words of thy mouth, delightful to hear; didst thou feel thy own being sufficient for thyself,—then would’st thou doubtless seek place and opportunity likewise to feel it in others.”

Amid such words and thoughts, our friend undressed himself, and went to bed, with feelings of the deepest satisfaction. A whole romance of what he now hoped to do, instead of the worthless occupations which should have filled the approaching day, arose within his mind; pleasant fantasies softly conducted him into the kingdom of sleep, and then gave him up to their sisters, sweet dreams, who received him with open arms, and encircled his reposing head with the images of heaven.


Early in the morning he was awake again, and thinking of the business that lay before him. He revisited the house of the forsaken family, where his presence caused no small surprise. He introduced his proposal in the most prudent manner, and soon found both more and fewer difficulties than he had anticipated. For one thing, the evil was already done; and though people of a singularly strict and harsh temper are wont to set themselves forcibly against the past, and thus to increase the evil that cannot now be remedied, yet, on the other hand, what is actually done exerts a resistless effect upon most minds; an event which lately appeared impossible takes its place, so soon as it has really occurred, with what occurs daily. It was accordingly soon settled that Herr Melina was to wed the daughter; who, however, in return, because of her misconduct, was to take no marriage-portion with her, and to promise that she would leave her aunt’s legacy, for a few years more, at an easy interest, in her father’s hands. But the second point, touching a civil provision for Melina, was attended with greater difficulties. They liked not to have the luckless pair continually living in their Edition: current; Page: [96] sight; they would not have a present object ever calling to their minds the connection of a mean vagabond with so respectable a family, a family which could number even a superintendent among its relatives; nay, it was not to be looked for, that the government would trust him with a charge. Both parents were alike inflexible in this matter; and Wilhelm, who pleaded very hard, unwilling that a man whom he condemned should return to the stage, and convinced that he deserved not such a happiness, could not, with all his rhetoric, produce the slenderest impression. Had he known the secret springs of the business, he would have spared himself the labor of attempting to persuade. The father would gladly have kept his daughter near him, but he hated the young man, because his wife herself had cast an eye upon him; while the latter could not bear to have, in her stepdaughter, a happy rival constantly before her eyes. So Melina, with his young wife, who already manifested no dislike to go and see the world, and be seen of it, was obliged, against his will, to set forth in a few days, and seek some place in any acting company where he could find one.


Happy season of youth! Happy times of the first wish of love! A man is then like a child, that can for hours delight itself with an echo, can support alone the charges of conversation, and be well contented with its entertainment, if the unseen interlocutor will but repeat the concluding syllables of the words addressed to it.

So it was with Wilhelm in the earlier and still more in the later period of his passion for Mariana: he transferred the whole wealth of his own emotions to her, and looked upon himself as a beggar that lived upon her alms; and as a landscape is more delightful, nay, is delightful only, when it is enlightened by the sun, so likewise in his eyes were all things beautified and glorified which lay round her or related to her.

Often would he stand in the theatre behind the scenes, to which he had obtained the freedom of access from the manager. In such cases, it is true, the perspective magic was away; but the far mightier sorcery of love then first began to act. For hours he could stand by the sooty light-frame, inhaling the vapor of tallow lamps, looking out at his mistress; and when she returned and cast a kindly glance upon him, he could feel himself lost in ecstasy, and though close upon laths and bare spars, he seemed transported into paradise. The stuffed bunches of wool denominated lambs, the waterfalls of tin, the paper roses, and the one-sided huts of straw awoke in him fair poetic visions of an old pastoral world. Nay, the very dancing-girls, ugly as they were when seen at hand, did not always inspire him with disgust: they trod the same floor with Mariana. So true is it, that love, which alone can give their full charm to rose-bowers, myrtle-groves and moonshine, can also communicate, even to shavings of wood and paper-clippings, the aspect of animated nature. It is so strong a spice that tasteless, or even nauseous soups are by it rendered palatable.

So potent a spice was certainly required to render tolerable, nay, at least agreeable, the state in which he usually found her chamber, not to say herself.

Brought up in a substantial burgher’s house, cleanliness and order were the elements in which he breathed; and inheriting as he did a portion of his father’s taste for finery, it had always been his care, in boyhood, to furbish up his chamber, which he regarded as his little kingdom, in the stateliest fashion. His bed-curtains were drawn together in large massy folds, and fastened with tassels, as they are usually seen in thrones: he had got himself a carpet for the middle of his chamber, and a finer one for his table; his books and apparatus he had, almost instinctively, arranged in such a manner that a Dutch painter might have imitated them for groups in his still-life scenes. He had a white cap, which he wore straight up like a turban; and the sleeves of his nightgown he had caused to be cut short in the mode of the Orientals. By way of reason for this, he pretended that long wide sleeves encumbered him in writing. When, at night, the boy was quite alone, and no longer dreaded any interruption, he usually wore a silk sash tied round his body, and often, it is said, he would fix in his girdle a sword, which he had appropriated from an old armory, and thus repeat and declaim his tragic parts; in the same trim he would kneel down and say his evening prayer.

In those times, how happy did he think the players, whom he saw possessed of so many Edition: current; Page: [97] splendid garments, trappings and arms; and in the constant practice of a lofty demeanor, the spirit of which seemed to hold up a mirror of whatever, in the opinions, relations and passions of men, was stateliest and most magnificent. Of a piece with this, thought Wilhelm, is also the player’s domestic life; a series of dignified transactions and employments, whereof their appearance on the stage is but the outmost portion; like as a mass of silver, long simmering about in the purifying furnace, at length gleams with a bright and beautiful tinge in the eye of the refiner, and shows him, at the same time, that the metal now is cleansed of all foreign mixture.

Great, accordingly, was his surprise at first, when he found himself beside his mistress, and looked down, through the cloud that environed him, on tables, stools and floor. The wrecks of a transient, light and false decoration lay, like the glittering coat of a skinned fish, dispersed in wild disorder. The implements of personal cleanliness, combs, soap, towels, with the traces of their use, were not concealed. Music, portions of plays and pairs of shoes, washes and Italian flowers, pincushions, hair-skewers, rouge-pots and ribbons, books and straw-hats; no article despised the neighborhood of another; all were united by a common element, powder and dust. Yet as Wilhelm scarcely noticed in her presence aught except herself; nay, as all that had belonged to her, that she had touched, was dear to him, he came at last to feel, in this chaotic housekeeping, a charm which the proud pomp of his own habitation never had communicated. When, on this hand, he lifted aside her bodice, to get at the harpsichord; on that, threw her gown upon the bed, that he might find a seat; when she herself, with careless freedom, did not seek to hide from him many a natural office, which, out of respect for the presence of a second person, is usually concealed; he felt as if by all this he was coming nearer to her every moment, as if the communion betwixt them was fastening by invisible ties.

It was not so easy to reconcile with his previous ideas the behavior of the other players, whom, on his first visits, he often met with in her house. Ever busied in being idle, they seemed to think least of all on their employment and object; the poetic worth of a piece they were never heard to speak of, or to judge of, right or wrong; their continual question was simply: How much will it bring? Is it a stock-piece? How long will it run? How often think you it may be played? and other inquiries and observations of the same description. Then commonly they broke out against the manager, that he was stinted with his salaries, and especially unjust to this one or to that; then against the public, how seldom it recompensed the right man with its approval, how the German theatre was daily improving, how the player was ever growing more honored, and never could be honored enough. Then they would descant largely about wine-gardens and coffee-houses; how much debt one of their comrades had contracted, and must suffer a deduction from his wages on account of; about the disproportion of their weekly salaries; about the cabals of some rival company: on which occasions they would pass again to the great and merited attention which the public now bestowed upon them; not forgetting the importance of the theatre to the improvement of the nation and the world.

All this, which had already given Wilhelm many a restless hour, came again into his memory, as he walked his horse slowly homewards, and contemplated the various occurrences in which he had so lately been engaged. The commotion produced by a girl’s elopement, not only in a decent family, but in a whole town, he had seen with his own eyes; the scenes upon the highway and in the Amthaus, the views entertained by Melina, and whatever else he had witnessed, again arose before him, and brought his keen forecasting mind into a sort of anxious disquietude; which no longer to endure, he struck the spurs into his horse, and hastened towards home.

By this expedient, however, he but ran to meet new vexations. Werner, his friend and future brother-in-law, was waiting for him, to begin a serious, important, unexpected conversation.

Werner was one of those tried sedate persons, with fixed principles and habits, whom we usually denominate cold characters, because on emergencies they do not burst forth quickly or very visibly. Accordingly, his intercourse with Wilhelm was a perpetual contest, which, however, only served to knit their mutual affection the more firmly; for, notwithstanding their very opposite modes of thinking, each found his account in communicating with the other. Werner was very well contented with himself, that he could Edition: current; Page: [98] now and then lay a bridle on the exalted but commonly extravagant spirit of his friend; and Wilhelm often felt a glorious triumph when the staid and thinking Werner could be hurried on with him in warm ebullience. Thus each exercised himself upon the other; they had been accustomed to see each other daily; and you would have said their eagerness to meet and talk together had even been augmented by the inability of each to understand the other. At bottom, however, being both good-hearted men, they were both travelling together towards one goal; and they could never understand how it was that neither of the two could bring the other over to his own persuasion.

For some time Werner had observed that Wilhelm’s visits had been rarer; that in his favorite discussions he was brief and absent-minded; that he no longer abandoned himself to the vivid depicting of singular conceptions; tokens by which, in truth, a mind getting rest and contentment in the presence of a friend is most clearly indicated. The considerate and punctual Werner first sought for the root of the evil in his own conduct; till some rumors of the neighborhood set him on the proper trace, and some unguarded proceedings on the part of Wilhelm brought him nearer to the certainty. He began his investigation, and ere long discovered that for some time Wilhelm had been openly visiting an actress, had often spoken with her at the theatre, and accompanied her home. On discovering the nightly visits of his friend, Werner’s anxiety increased to a painful extent, for he heard that Mariana was a most seductive girl, who probably was draining the youth of his money, while, at the same time, she herself was supported by another and a very worthless lover.

Having pushed his suspicions as near certainty as possible, he had resolved to make a sharp attack on Wilhelm: he was now in full readiness with all his preparations, when his friend returned, discontented and unsettled, from his journey.

That very evening Werner laid the whole of what he knew before him, first calmly, then with the emphatic earnestness of a well-meaning friendship. He left no point of the subject undiscussed, and made Wilhelm taste abundance of those bitter things which men at ease are accustomed, with virtuous spite, to dispense so liberally to men in love. Yet, as might have been expected, he accomplished little. Wilhelm answered with interior commotion, though with great confidence: “You know not the girl! Appearances, perhaps, are not to her advantage; but I am certain of her faithfulness and virtue as of my love.”

Werner maintained his accusations, and offered to bring proofs and witnesses. Wilhelm waived these offers, and parted with his friend out of humor and unhinged; like a man in whose jaw some unskilful dentist has been seizing a diseased yet fast-rooted tooth, and tugging at it harshly to no purpose.

It exceedingly dissatisfied Wilhelm to see the fair image of Mariana overclouded and almost deformed in his soul, first by the capricious fancies of his journey, and then by the unfriendliness of Werner. He adopted the surest means of restoring it to complete brilliancy and beauty, by setting out at night and hastening to his wonted destination. She received him with extreme joy: on entering the town he had ridden past her window; she had been expecting his company; and it is easy to conceive that all scruples were soon driven from his heart. Nay, her tenderness again opened up the whole stores of his confidence; and he told her how deeply the public, how deeply his friend, had sinned against her.

Much lively talking led them at length to speak about the earliest period of their acquaintance, the recollection of which forms always one of the most delightful topics between two lovers. The first steps that introduce us to the enchanted garden of love are so full of pleasure, the first prospects so charming, that every one is willing to recall them to his memory. Each party seeks a preference above the other; each has loved sooner, more devotedly; and each, in this contest, would rather be conquered than conquer.

Wilhelm repeated to his mistress what he had so often told her before, how she soon abstracted his attention from the play, and fixed it on herself; how her form, her acting, her voice inspired him; how at last he went only on the nights when she was to appear; how, in fine, having ventured behind the scenes, he had often stood by her unheeded; and he spoke with rapture of the happy evening when he found an opportunity to do her some civility, and lead her into conversation.

Mariana, on the other hand, would not allow that she had failed so long to notice him; she declared that she had seen him in the public walk, and for proof she described the clothes which he wore on that occasion; Edition: current; Page: [99] she affirmed that even then he pleased her before all others, and made her long for his acquaintance.

How gladly did Wilhelm credit all this! How gladly did he catch at the persuasion, that when he used to approach her, she had felt herself drawn towards him by some resistless influence; that she had gone with him between the side-scenes, on purpose to see him more closely, and get acquainted with him; and that, in fine, when his backwardness and modesty were not to be conquered, she had herself afforded him an opportunity, and as it were compelled him to hand her a glass of lemonade!

In this affectionate contest, which they pursued through all the little circumstances of their brief romance, the hours passed rapidly away; and Wilhelm left his mistress, with his heart at peace, and firmly determined on proceeding forthwith to the execution of his project.


The necessary preparations for his journey his father and mother had attended to; some little matters that were yet wanting to his equipage delayed his departure for a few days. Wilhelm took advantage of this opportunity to write to Mariana, meaning thus to bring to a decision the proposal, about which she had hitherto avoided speaking with him. The letter was as follows:—

“Under the kind veil of night, which has often overshadowed us together, I sit and think, and write to thee; all that I meditate and do is solely on thy account. O Mariana! with me, the happiest of men, it is as with a bridegroom who stands in the festive chamber, dreaming of the new universe that is to be unfolded to him, and by means of him, and while the holy ceremonies are proceeding transports himself in longing thought before the mysterious curtains, from which the loveliness of love whispers out to him.

“I have constrained myself not to see thee for a few days; the sacrifice was easy when united with the hope of such a recompense—of being always with thee, of remaining ever thine! Need I repeat what I desire? I must; for it seems as if yet thou hadst never understood me.

“How often, in the low tones of true love, which, though wishing to gain all, dares speak but little, have I sought in thy heart for the desire of a perpetual union. Thou hast understood me, doubtless; for in thy own heart the same wish must have arisen; thou didst comprehend me, in that kiss, in the intoxicating peace of that happy evening. Thy silence testified to me thy modest honor; and how did it increase my love! Another woman would have had recourse to artifice, that she might ripen by superfluous sunshine the purpose of her lover’s heart, might elicit a proposal, and secure a firm promise. Mariana, on the contrary, drew back; she repelled the half-opened confidence of him she loved, and sought to conceal her approving feelings by apparent indifference. But I have understood thee! What a miserable creature must I be, if I did not by these tokens recognize the pure and generous love that cares not for itself, but for its object! Confide in me and fear nothing. We belong to one another, and neither of us leaves aught nor forsakes aught, if we live for one another.

“Take it, then, this hand! Solemnly I offer this unnecessary pledge! All the joys of love we have already felt; but there is a new blessedness in the firm thought of duration. Ask not how; care not. Fate takes care of love, and the more certainly as love is easy to provide for.

“My heart has long ago forsaken my paternal home; it is with thee, as my spirit hovers on the stage. O my darling! to what other man has it been given to unite all his wishes, as it is to me? No sleep falls on my eyes; like the brightness of a perpetual dawn, thy love and thy happiness still glow around me.

“Scarcely can I hold myself from springing up, from rushing forth to thee, and forcing thy consent, and, with the first light of to-morrow, pressing forward into the world for the mark I aim at. But no! I will restrain myself; I will not act like a thoughtless fool; will do nothing rashly; my plan is laid, and I will execute it calmly.

“I am acquainted with the Manager Serlo; my journey leads me directly to the place where he is. For above a year he has frequently been wishing that his people had a touch of my vivacity, and my delight in theatrical affairs; I shall doubtless be very kindly received. Into your company I cannot enter, for more than one reason. Serlo’s theatre, moreover, is at such a distance from this, that I may there begin my undertaking without Edition: current; Page: [100] any apprehension of discovery. With him I shall thus at once find a tolerable maintenance; I shall look about me in the public, get acquainted with the company, and then come back for thee.

“Mariana, thou seest what I can force myself to do, that I may certainly obtain thee. For such a period not to see thee! for such a period to know thee in the wide world! I dare not view it closely. But yet if I recall to memory thy love, which assures me of all; if thou shalt not disdain my prayer, and give me, ere we part, thy hand, before the priest; I may then depart in peace. It is but a form between us, yet a form so touching; the blessing of Heaven to the blessing of the earth. Close by thy house, in the Ritterschaft Chapel, the ceremony will be soon and secretly performed.

“For the beginning I have gold enough; we will share it between us; it will suffice for both; and before that is finished, Heaven will send us more.

“No, my darling, I am not downcast about the issue. What is begun with so much cheerfulness must reach a happy end. I have never doubted that a man may force his way through the world if he really is in earnest about it; and I feel strength enough within me to provide a liberal support for two, and many more. The world, we are often told, is unthankful; I have never yet discovered that it was unthankful, if one knew how, in the proper way, to do it service. My whole soul burns at the idea that I shall at length step forth and speak to the hearts of men something they have long been yearning to hear. How many thousand times has a feeling of disgust passed through me, alive as I am to the nobleness of the stage, when I have seen the poorest creatures fancying they could speak a word of power to the hearts of the people! The tone of a man’s voice singing treble sounds far pleasanter and purer to my ear: it is incredible how these blockheads, in their coarse ineptitude, deform things beautiful and venerable.

“The theatre has often been at variance with the pulpit; they ought not, I think, to quarrel. How much is it to be wished that in both the celebration of nature and of God were intrusted to none but men of noble minds! These are no dreams, my darling! As I have felt in thy heart that thou could’st love, I seize the dazzling thought and say—no, I will not say, but I will hope and trust—that we two shall yet appear to men as a pair of chosen spirits, to unlock their hearts, to touch the recesses of their nature, and prepare for them celestial joys, as surely as the joys I have tasted with thee deserved to be named celestial, since they drew us from ourselves, and exalted us above ourselves.

“I cannot end. I have already said too much; and know not whether I have yet said all, all that concerns thy interests; for to express the agitations of the vortex that whirls round within myself is beyond the power of words.

“Yet take this sheet, my love! I have again read it over; I observe it ought to have begun more cautiously; but it contains in it all that thou hast need to know; enough to prepare thee for the hour when I shall return with the lightness of love to thy bosom. I seem to myself like a prisoner that is secretly filing his irons asunder. I bid goodnight to my soundly sleeping parents. Farewell, my beloved, farewell! For this time I conclude; my eyelids have more than once dropped together; it is now deep in the night.”


It seemed as if the day would never end, while Wilhelm, with the letter beautifully folded in his pocket, longed to meet with Mariana. The darkness had scarcely come on when, contrary to custom, he glided forth to her house. His plan was to announce himself for the night, then to quit his mistress for a short time, leaving the letter with her ere he went away; and, returning at a late hour, to obtain her reply, her consent, or to force it from her by the power of his caresses. He flew into her arms, and pressed her in rapture to his bosom. The vehemence of his emotions prevented him at first from noticing that, on this occasion, she did not receive him with her wonted heartiness; yet she could not long conceal her painful situation, but imputed it to slight indisposition. She complained of a headache, and would not by any means consent to his proposal of coming back that night. Suspecting nothing wrong, he ceased to urge her; but felt that this was not the moment for delivering his letter. He retained it, therefore; and as several of her movements and observations courteously compelled him to take his leave, in the tumult of unsatiable love he snatched up one of her Edition: current; Page: [101] neckerchiefs, squeezed it into his pocket, and forced himself away from her lips and her door. He returned home, but could not rest there; he again dressed himself and went out into the open air.


After walking up and down several streets, he was accosted by a stranger inquiring for a certain inn. Wilhelm offered to conduct him to the house. On the way, his new acquaintance asked about the names of the streets, the owners of various extensive edifices, then about some police regulations of the town; so that by the time they reached the door of the inn they had fallen into quite an interesting conversation. The stranger compelled his guide to enter and drink a glass of punch with him. Ere long he had told his name and place of abode, as well as the business that had brought him hither; and he seemed to expect a like confidence from Wilhelm. Our friend, without any hesitation, mentioned his name and the place where he lived.

“Are you not a grandson of the old Meister who possessed that beautiful collection of pictures and statues?” inquired the stranger.

“Yes, I am. I was ten years old when my grandfather died, and it grieved me very much to see those fine things sold.”

“Your father got a fine sum of money for them.”

“You know of it, then?”

“Oh, yes; I saw that treasure ere it left your house. Your grandfather was not merely a collector, he had a thorough knowledge of Edition: current; Page: [102] art. In his younger happy years he had been in Italy, and had brought back with him such treasures as could not now be got for any price. He possessed some exquisite pictures by the best masters. When you looked through his drawings, you would scarcely have believed your eyes. Among his marbles were some invaluable fragments; his series of bronzes was instructive and well chosen; he had also collected medals, in considerable quantity, relating to history and art; his few gems deserved the greatest praise. In addition to all which, the whole was tastefully arranged, although the rooms and hall of the old house had not been symmetrically built.”

“You may conceive,” said Wilhelm, “what we young ones lost when all these articles were taken down and sent away. It was the first mournful period of my life. I cannot tell you how empty the chambers looked, as we saw those objects vanishing one by one which had amused us from our earliest years, and which we considered equally unalterable with the house or the town itself.”

“If I mistake not, your father put the capital produced by the sale into some neighbor’s stock, with whom he commenced a sort of partnership in trade.”

“Quite right; and their joint speculations have prospered in their hands. Within the last twelve years they have greatly increased their fortunes, and are now the more vehemently bent on gaining. Old Werner also has a son, who suits that sort of occupation much better than I.”

“I am sorry the place should have lost such an ornament to it as your grandfather’s cabinet was. I saw it but a short time prior to the sale: and I may say, I was myself the cause of its being then disposed of. A rich nobleman, a great amateur, but one who, in such important transactions, does not trust to his own solitary judgment, had sent me hither, and requested my advice. For six days I examined the collection; on the seventh, I advised my friend to pay down the required sum without delay. You were then a lively boy, often running about me; you explained to me the subjects of the pictures; and in general I recollect that you could also give me a very good account of the whole cabinet.”

“I remember such a person; but I should not have recognized him in you.”

“It is a good while ago, and we all change more or less. You had, if I mistake not, a favorite piece among them, to which you were ever calling my attention.”

“Oh, yes; it represented the history of that king’s son dying of a secret love for his father’s bride.”

“It was not, certainly, the best picture; badly grouped, of no superiority in coloring, and executed altogether with great mannerism.”

“This I did not understand, and do not yet; it is the subject that charms me in a picture, not the art.”

“Your grandfather seemed to have thought otherwise. The greater part of his collection consisted of excellent pieces; in which, represent what they might, one constantly admired the talent of the master. This picture of yours had accordingly been hung in the outermost room, a proof that he valued it slightly.”

“It was in that room where we young ones used to play, and where the piece you mention made on me a deep impression, which not even your criticism, greatly as I honor it, could obliterate, if we stood before the picture at this moment. What a melancholy object is a youth that must shut up within himself the sweet impulse, the fairest inheritance which nature has given us, and conceal in his own bosom the fire which should warm and animate himself and others, so that his vitals are wasted away by unutterable pains! I feel a pity for the ill-fated man that would consecrate himself to another, when the heart of that other has already found a worthy object of true and pure affection.”

“Such feelings are, however, very foreign to the principles by which a lover of art examines the works of great painters; and most probably you too, had the cabinet continued in your family, would by and by have acquired a relish for the works themselves; and have learned to see in the performances of art something more than yourself and your individual inclinations.”

“In truth, the sale of that cabinet grieved me very much at the time; and often since I have thought of it with regret; but, when I consider that it was a necessary means of awakening a taste in me, of developing a talent, which will operate far more powerfully on my history than ever those lifeless pictures could have done, I easily content myself, and honor destiny, which knows how to bring about what is best for me, and what is best for every one.”

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“It gives me pain to hear this word destiny in the mouth of a young person, just at the age when men are commonly accustomed to ascribe their own violent inclinations to the will of higher natures.”

“Do you, then, believe in no destiny? No power that rules over us, and directs all for our ultimate advantage?”

“The question is not now of my belief; nor is this the place to explain how I may have attempted to form for myself some not impossible conception of things which are incomprehensible to all of us: the question here is: What mode of viewing them will profit us the most? The fabric of our life is formed of necessity and chance; the reason of man takes its station between them, and may rule them both: it treats the necessary as the groundwork of its being; the accidental it can direct and guide and employ for its own purposes; and only while this principle of reason stands firm and inexpugnable, does man deserve to be named the god of this lower world. But woe to him who, from his youth, has used himself to search in necessity for something of arbitrary will; to ascribe to chance a sort of reason, which it is a matter of religion to obey! Is conduct like this aught else than to renounce one’s understanding, and give unrestricted scope to one’s inclinations? We think it is a kind of piety to move along without consideration; to let accidents that please us determine our conduct; and finally, to bestow on the result of such a vacillating life the name of providential guidance.”

“Was it never your case that some little circumstance induced you to strike into a certain path, where some accidental occurrence ere long met you, and a series of unexpected incidents at length brought you to some point which you yourself had scarcely once contemplated? Should not lessons of this kind teach us obedience to destiny, confidence in some such guide?”

“With opinions like these no woman could maintain her virtue, no man could keep the money in his purse; for occasions enough are occurring to get rid of both. He alone is worthy of respect who knows what is of use to himself and others, and who labors to control his self-will. Each man has his own fortune in his hands; as the artist has a piece of rude matter which he is to fashion to a certain shape. But the art of living rightly is like all arts: the capacity alone is born with us; it must be learned and practised with incessant care.”

These discussions our two speculators carried on between them to considerable length; at last they parted, without seeming to have wrought any special conviction in each other, but engaging to meet at an appointed place next day.

Wilhelm walked up and down the streets for a time; he heard a sound of clarionets, hunting-horns and bassoons; it swelled his bosom with delightful feelings. It was some travelling showmen that produced this pleasant music. He spoke with them: for a piece of coin they followed him to Mariana’s house. The space in front of the door was adorned with lofty trees; under them he placed his artists; and himself resting on a bench at some distance, he surrendered his mind without restraint to the hovering tones which floated round him in the cool mellow night. Stretched out beneath the kind stars he felt his existence like a golden dream. “She, too, hears these flutes,” said he within his heart; “she feels whose remembrance, whose love of her it is that makes the night full of music. In distance even, we are united by these melodies; as in every separation, by the ethereal accordance of love. Ah! two hearts that love each other are as two magnetic needles; whatever moves the one must move the other with it; for it is one power that works in both, one principle that pervades them. Can I in her arms conceive the possibility of parting from her? And yet I am soon to be far from her; to seek out a sanctuary for our love, and then to have her ever with me.

“How often, when absent from her, and lost in thoughts about her, happening to touch a book, a piece of dress or aught else, have I thought I felt her hand, so entirely was I invested with her presence! And to recollect those moments which shunned the light of day and the eye of the cold spectator; which to enjoy, the gods might determine to forsake the painless condition of their pure blessedness! To recollect them? As if by memory we could renew the tumultuous thrilling of that cup of joy, which encircles our senses with celestial bonds, and lifts them beyond all earthly hindrances. And her form—” He lost himself in thoughts of her; his rest passed away into longing; he leaned against a tree, and cooled his warm cheek on its bark; and the winds of the night wafted speedily Edition: current; Page: [104] aside the breath, which proceeded in sighs from his pure and impassioned bosom. He groped for the neckerchief he had taken from her; but it was forgotten; it lay in his other clothes. His frame quivered with emotion.

The music ceased, and he felt as if fallen from the element in which his thoughts had hitherto been soaring. His restlessness increased, as his feelings were no longer nourished and assuaged by the melody. He sat down upon her threshold, and felt more peace. He kissed the brass knocker of her door; he kissed the threshold over which her feet went out and in, and warmed it by the fire of his breast. He again sat still for a moment, and figured her behind her curtains in the white nightgown, with the red ribbon round her head, in sweet repose; he almost fancied that he was himself so near her she must needs be dreaming of him. His thoughts were beautiful, like the spirits of the twilight; rest and desire alternated within him; love ran with a quivering hand, in a thousand moods, over all the chords of his soul: it was as if the spheres stood mute above him, suspending their eternal song to watch the low melodies of his heart.

Had he then had about him the master-key with which he used to open Mariana’s door, he could not have restrained himself from penetrating into the sanctuary of love. Yet he went away slowly; he slanted half-dreaming in beneath the trees, set himself for home, and constantly turned round again; at last, with an effort, he constrained himself, and actually departed. At the corner of the street, looking back yet once, he imagined that he saw Mariana’s door open, and a dark figure issue from it. He was too distant for Edition: current; Page: [105] seeing clearly; and, before he could exert himself and look sharply, the appearance was already lost in the night: yet afar off he thought he saw it again gliding past a white house. He stood and strained his eyes; but, ere he could arouse himself and follow the phantom, it had vanished. Whither should he pursue it? What street had the man taken, if it were a man?


A nightly traveller, when at some turn of his path he has seen the country for an instant illuminated by a flash of lightning, will, with dazzled eyes, next moment, seek in vain for the preceding forms and the connection of his road: so was it in the eyes and the heart of Wilhelm. And as a spirit of midnight which awakens unutterable terror is, in the succeeding moments of composure, regarded as a child of imagination, and the fearful vision leaves doubts without and behind it in the soul: so likewise was Wilhelm in extreme disquietude, as, leaning on the cornerstone of the street, he heeded not the clear gray of the morning, and the crowing of the cocks, till the early trades began to stir, and drove him home.


On his way he had almost effaced the unexpected delusion from his mind by the most sufficient reasons; yet the fine harmonious feelings of the night, on which he now looked back as if they too had been a vision, were also gone. To soothe his heart, and put the last seal on his returning belief, he took the neckerchief from the pocket of the dress he had been last wearing. The rustling of a letter which fell out of it took the kerchief away from his lips; he lifted and read:

“As I love thee, little fool, what ailed thee last night? This evening I will come again. I can easily suppose that thou art sick of staying here so long: but have patience; at the fair I will return for thee. And observe, never more put me on that abominable black-green-brown jacket; thou lookest in it like the witch of Endor. Did I not send the white nightgown that I might have a snowy little lambkin in my arms? Send thy letters always by the ancient sibyl; the Devil himself has selected her as Iris.”

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Whoever strives in our sight with vehement force to reach an object, be it one that we praise or that we blame, may count on exciting an interest in our minds; but when once the matter is decided we turn our eyes away from him; whatever once lies finished and done can no longer at all fix our attention, especially if we at first prophesied an evil issue to the undertaking.

Therefore we shall not try to entertain our readers with any circumstantial account of the grief and desperation into which the ill-fated Wilhelm was cast when he saw his hopes so unexpectedly and instantaneously ruined. On the contrary, we shall even pass over several years, and again take up our friend, where we hope to find him in some sort of activity and comfort. First, however, we must shortly set forth a few matters necessary for maintaining the connection of our narrative.

The pestilence, or a malignant fever, rages with more fierceness and speedier effect if the frame which it attacks was before healthy and full of vigor; and in like manner, when a luckless unlooked-for fate overtook the wretched Wilhelm, his whole being in a moment was laid waste. As when by chance, in the preparation of some artificial firework, any part of the composition kindles before its time, and the skilfully bored and loaded barrels, which, arranged and burning after a settled plan, would have painted in the air a magnificently varying series of flaming images, now hissing and roaring, promiscuously explode with a confused and dangerous crash; so, in our hero’s case, did happiness and hope, pleasure and joys, realities and dreams, clash together with destructive tumult, all at once, in his bosom. In such desolate moments the friend that has hastened to deliverance stands fixed in astonishment; and for him who suffers it is a benefit that sense forsakes him.

Days of pain, unmixed, ever-returning and purposely renewed, succeeded next; still even these are to be regarded as a grace from nature. In such hours Wilhelm had not yet quite lost his mistress; his pains were indefatigable struggles still to hold fast the happiness that was gliding from his soul; again to luxuriate in thought on the possibility of it; to procure a brief after-life for his joys that had departed forever. Thus one may look upon a body as not utterly dead while the putrefaction lasts, while the forces that in vain seek to work by their old appointment still labor in dissevering the particles of that frame which they once animated; and not till all is disunited and inert, till we see the whole moldered down into indifferent dust—not till then does there rise in us the mournful vacant sentiment Edition: current; Page: [107] of death; death, not to be recalled save by the breath of Him that lives forever.

In a temper so new, so entire, so full of love, there was much to tear asunder, to desolate, to kill; and even the healing force of youth gave nourishment and violence to the power of sorrow. The stroke had extended to the roots of his whole existence. Werner, by necessity his confidant, attacked the hated passion itself with fire and sword, resolutely zealous to search into the monster’s inmost life. The opportunity was lucky, the evidence at hand, and many were the histories and narratives with which he backed it out. With such unrelenting vehemence did he make his advances, leaving his friend not even the respite of the smallest momentary self-deception, but treading down every lurking-place in which he might have saved himself from desperation, that nature, not inclined to let her darling perish utterly, visited him with sickness, to make an outlet for him on the other side.

A violent fever, with its train of consequences, medicines, overstraining and exhaustion, besides the unwearied attentions of his family, the love of his brothers and sisters, which first becomes truly sensible in times of distress and want, were so many fresh occupations to his mind, and thus formed a kind of painful entertainment. It was not till he grew better—in other words till his strength was exhausted—that Wilhelm first looked down with horror into the gloomy abyss of a barren misery, as one looks down into the hollow crater of an extinguished volcano.

He now bitterly reproached himself that after so great a loss he could yet enjoy one painless, restful, indifferent moment. He despised his own heart, and longed for the balm of tears and lamentation.

To awaken these again within him, he would recall to memory the scenes of his bygone happiness. He would paint them to his fancy in the liveliest colors, transport himself again into the days when they were real; and when standing on the highest elevation he could reach, when the sunshine of past times again seemed to animate his limbs and heave his bosom, he would look back into the fearful chasm, would feast his eye on its dismembering depth, then plunge down into its horrors, and thus force from nature the bitterest pains. With such repeated cruelty did he tear himself in pieces; for youth, which is so rich in undeveloped force, knows not what it squanders when to the anguish which a loss occasions it adds so many sorrows of its own producing, as if it meant then first to give the right value to what is gone forever. He likewise felt so convinced that his present loss was the sole, the first, the last which he ever could experience in life, that he turned away from every consolation which aimed at showing that his sorrows might be less than endless.


Accustomed in this way to torment himself, he now also attacked what still remained to him, what next to love, and along with it, had given him the highest joys and hopes, his talent as a poet and actor, with spiteful criticisms on every side. In his labors he could see nothing but a shallow imitation of prescribed forms, without intrinsic worth; he looked on them as stiff school-exercises, destitute of any spark of nature, truth, or inspiration. His poems now appeared nothing more than a monotonous arrangement of syllables, in which the most trite emotions and thoughts were dragged along and kept together by a miserable rhyme. And thus did he also deprive himself of every expectation, every pleasure, which, on this quarter at least, might have aided the recovery of his peace.

With his theatric talent it fared no better. He blamed himself for not having sooner detected the vanity on which alone this pretension had been founded. His figure, his gait, his movements, his mode of declamation, were severally taxed; he decisively renounced every species of advantage or merit that might have raised him above the common run of men, and so doing he increased his mute despair to the highest pitch. For, if it is hard to give up a woman’s love, no less painful is the task to part from the fellowship of the Muses, to declare ourselves forever undeserving to be of their community; and to forego the fairest and most immediate kind of approbation, what is openly bestowed on our person, our voice and our demeanor.

Thus then our friend had long ago entirely resigned himself, and set about devoting his powers with the greatest zeal to the business of trade. To the surprise of friends, and to the great contentment of his father, no one was now more diligent than Wilhelm, on the exchange or in the counting-house, in the Edition: current; Page: [108] saleroom or the warehouses; correspondence and calculations, all that was intrusted to his charge, he attended to and managed with the greatest diligence and zeal. Not in truth with that warm diligence which to the busy man is its own reward, when he follows with constancy and order the employment he was born for; but with the silent diligence of duty, which has the best principle for its foundation, which is nourished by conviction, and rewarded by conscience; yet, which oft, even when the clearest testimony of our minds is crowning it with approbation, can scarcely repress a struggling sigh.


In this manner he had lived for a time, assiduously busied, and at last persuaded that his former hard trial had been ordained by fate for the best. He felt glad at having thus been timefully, though somewhat harshly warned about the proper path of life; while many are constrained to expiate more heavily, and at a later age, the misconceptions into which their youthful inexperience has betrayed them. For each man commonly defends himself as long as possible from casting out the idols which he worships in his soul, from acknowledging a master error, and admitting any truth which brings him to despair.

Determined as he was to abandon his dearest projects, some time was still necessary to convince him fully of his misfortune. At last, however, he had so completely succeeded by irrefragable reasons in annihilating every hope of love, of poetical performance, or stage-representation, that he took courage to obliterate entirely all the traces of his folly, all that could in any way remind him of it. For this purpose he had lit a fire in his chamber one cool evening, and brought out a little chest of relics, among which were multitudes of small articles that, in memorable moments, he had begged or stolen from Mariana. Each withered flower brought to his mind the time when it bloomed fresh among her hair; each little note the happy hour to which it had invited him; each ribbon-knot the lovely resting-place of his head, her beautiful bosom. So occupied, was it not to be expected that each emotion, which he thought long since quite dead, should again begin to move? Was it not to be expected that the passion, over which, when separated from his mistress, he had gained the victory, should in the presence of these memorials again gather strength? We first observe how dreary and disagreeable an overclouded day is when a single sunbeam Edition: current; Page: [109] pierces through, and offers to us the exhilarating splendor of a serene hour.

Accordingly, it was not without disturbance that he saw these relics, long preserved as sacred, fade away from before him in smoke and flame. Sometimes he shuddered and hesitated in his task; he had still a pearl necklace and a flowered neckerchief in his hands, when he resolved to quicken the decaying fire with the poetical attempts of his youth.

Till now he had carefully laid up whatever had proceeded from his pen, since the earliest unfolding of his mind. His papers yet lay tied up in a bundle at the bottom of the chest, where he had packed them, purposing to take them with him in his elopement. How altogether different were his feelings now in opening them, and his feelings then in tying them together!

If we happen, under certain circumstances, to have written and sealed and despatched a letter to a friend, which, however, does not find him, but is brought back to us, and we open it at the distance of some considerable time, a singular emotion is produced in us on breaking up our own seal, and conversing with our altered self as with a third person. A similar and deep feeling seized our friend, as he now opened this packet, and threw the scattered leaves into the fire; which was flaming fiercely with its offerings, when Werner entered, expressed his wonder at the blaze, and asked what was the matter.

“I am now giving proof,” said Wilhelm, “that I am serious in abandoning a trade for which I was not born.” And with these words he cast the second packet likewise into the fire. Werner made a motion to prevent him; but the business was already done.

“I cannot see how thou should’st bring thyself to such extremities,” said Werner. “Why must these labors, because they are not excellent, be annihilated?”

“Because either a poem is excellent, or it should not be allowed to exist. Because each man, who has no gift for producing first-rate works, should entirely abstain from the pursuit of art, and seriously guard himself against every deception on that subject. For it must be owned, that in all men there is a certain vague desire to imitate whatever is presented to them; and such desires do not prove at all that we possess the force within us necessary for succeeding in these enterprises. Look at boys, how, whenever any rope-dancers have been visiting the town, they go scrambling up and down, and balancing on all the planks and beams within their reach, till some other charm calls them off to other sports, for which perhaps they are as little suited. Hast thou never marked it in the circle of our friends? No sooner does a dilettante introduce himself to notice than numbers of them set themselves to learn playing on his instrument. How many wander back and forward on this bootless way! Happy they who soon detect the chasm that lies between their wishes and their powers!”

Werner contradicted this opinion; their discussion became lively, and Wilhelm could not without emotion employ against his friend the arguments with which he had already so frequently tormented himself. Werner maintained that it was not reasonable wholly to relinquish a pursuit for which a man had some propensity and talent, merely because he never could succeed in it to full perfection. There were many vacant hours, he said, which might be filled up by it; and then by-and-by some result might be produced which would yield a certain satisfaction to himself and others.

Wilhelm, who in this matter was of quite a different opinion, here interrupted him, and said with great vivacity:

“How immensely, dear friend, do you err in believing that a work, the first presentation of which is to fill the whole soul, can be produced in broken hours scraped together from other extraneous employment! No, the poet must live wholly for himself, wholly in the objects that delight him. Heaven has furnished him internally with precious gifts; he carries in his bosom a treasure that is ever of itself increasing; he must also live with this treasure, undisturbed from without, in that still blessedness which the rich seek in vain to purchase with their accumulated stores. Look at men, how they struggle after happiness and satisfaction! Their wishes, their toil, their gold, are ever hunting restlessly; and after what? After that which the poet has received from nature,—the right enjoyment of the world; the feeling of himself in others; the harmonious conjunction of many things that will seldom exist together.

“What is it that keeps men in continual discontent and agitation? It is, that they cannot make realities correspond with their conceptions, that enjoyment steals away from among their hands, that the wished-for comes too late, and nothing reached and acquired produces on the heart the effect which their Edition: current; Page: [110] longing for it at a distance led them to anticipate. Now fate has exalted the poet above all this, as if he were a god. He views the conflicting tumult of the passions; sees families and kingdoms raging in aimless commotion; sees those inexplicable enigmas of misunderstanding, which frequently a single monosyllable would suffice to explain, occasioning convulsions unutterably baleful. He has a fellow-feeling of the mournful and the joyful in the fate of all human beings. When the man of the world is devoting his days to wasting melancholy for some deep disappointment; or, in the ebullience of joy, is going out to meet his happy destiny, the lightly-moved and all-conceiving spirit of the poet steps forth, like the sun from night to day, and with soft transitions tunes his heart to joy or woe. From his heart, his native soil, springs up the lovely flower of wisdom; and if others, while waking, dream, and are pained with fantastic delusions from their every sense, he passes the dream of life like one awake, and the strangest of incidents is to him but a part both of the past and of the future. And thus the poet is at once a teacher, a prophet, a friend of gods and men. How! thou would’st have him descend from his height to some paltry occupation? He who is fashioned like the bird to hover round the world, to nestle on the lofty summits, to feed on buds and fruits, exchanging gayly one bough for another, he ought also to work at the plough like an ox; like a dog to train himself to the harness and draught; or perhaps, tied up in a chain, to guard a farm-yard by his barking!”

Werner, it may well be supposed, had listened with the greatest surprise. “All true,” he rejoined, “if men were but made like birds, and though they neither spun nor weaved could yet spend peaceful days in perpetual enjoyment; if, at the approach of winter, they could as easily betake themselves to distant regions, could retire before scarcity, and fortify themselves against frost.”

“Poets have lived so,” exclaimed Wilhelm, “in times when true nobleness was better reverenced; and so should they ever live. Sufficiently provided for within, they had need of little from without; the gift of communicating lofty emotions and glorious images to men, in melodies and words that charmed the ear, and fixed themselves inseparably on whatever objects they referred to, of old enraptured the world, and served the gifted as a rich inheritance. At the courts of kings, at the tables of the great, beneath the windows of the fair, the sound of them was heard, while the ear and the soul were shut to all beside; and men felt as we do when delight comes over us, and we stop with rapture if among the dingles we are crossing the voice of the nightingale starts out touching and strong. They found a home in every habitation of the world, and the lowliness of their condition but exalted them the more. The hero listened to their songs; and the conqueror of the earth did reverence to a poet, for he felt that without poets his own wild and vast existence would pass away like a whirlwind and be forgotten forever. The lover wished that he could feel his longings and his joys so variedly and so harmoniously as the poet’s inspired lips had skill to show them forth; and even the rich man could not of himself discern such costliness in his idol grandeurs, as when they were presented to him shining in the splendor of the poet’s spirit, sensible to all worth, and exalting all. Nay, if thou wilt have it, who but the poet was it that first formed gods for us; that exalted us to them, and brought them down to us?”

“My friend,” said Werner, after some reflection, “it has often grieved me that thou should’st strive by force to banish from thy soul what thou feelest so vividly. I am greatly mistaken if it were not better for thee in some degree to yield to these propensities, than to waste thyself by the contradictions of so hard a piece of self-denial, and with the enjoyment of this one guiltless pleasure to renounce the enjoyment of all others.”

“Shall I confess it,” said the other, “and wilt thou not laugh at me if I acknowledge that these ideas pursue me constantly; that, let me fly them as I will, when I explore my heart I find all my early wishes yet rooted there firmly, nay, more firmly than ever? Yet what now remains for me, wretched that I am? Ah! whoever should have told me that the arms of my spirit, with which I was grasping at infinity, and hoping with certainty to clasp something great and glorious, would so soon be crushed and smote in pieces; whoever should have told me this would have brought me to despair. And yet now, when judgment has been passed against me; now when she, that was to be as my divinity to guide me to my wishes, is gone forever, what remains but that I yield up my soul to the bitterest woes? Oh, my brother! I will not Edition: current; Page: [111] deceive you: in my secret purposes she was as the hook on which the ladder of my hopes was fixed: See! With daring aim the mounting adventurer hovers in the air; the iron breaks, and he lies broken and dismembered on the earth. No, there is no hope, no comfort for me more! I will not,” he cried out, springing to his feet, “leave a single fragment of these wretched papers from the flames.” He then seized one or two packets of them, tore them up, and threw them into the fire. Werner endeavored to restrain him, but in vain. “Let me alone!” cried Wilhelm; “what should these miserable leaves do here? To me they give neither pleasant recollections nor pleasant hopes. Shall they remain behind to vex me to the end of my life? Shall they perhaps one day serve the world for a jest, instead of awakening sympathy and horror? Woe to me! my doom is woe! Now I comprehend the wailings of the poets, of the wretched whom necessity has rendered wise. How long did I look upon myself as invulnerable and invincible; and alas! I am now made to see that a deep and early sorrow can never heal, can never pass away; I feel that I shall take it with me to my grave. No! not a day of my life shall escape this anguish, which at last must crush me down; and her image too shall stay with me, shall live and die with me, the image of the worthless—oh, my friend! if I must speak the feeling of my heart—the perhaps not altogether worthless! Her situation, the crookedness of her destiny, have a thousand times excused her in my mind. I have been too cruel; you steeled me in your own cold unrelenting harshness; you held my wavering senses captive, and hindered me from doing for myself and her what I owed to both. Who knows to what a state I may have brought her; my conscience by degrees presents to me, in all its heaviness, in what helplessness, in what despair I may have left her. Was it not possible that she might clear herself? Was it not possible? How many misconceptions throw the world into perplexity; how many circumstances may extort forgiveness for the greatest fault! Often do I figure her as sitting by herself in silence, leaning on her elbows. ‘This,’ she says, ‘is the faith, the love he swore to me! With this hard stroke to end the delicious life which made us one!’ ” He broke out into a stream of tears, while he threw himself down with his face upon the table, and wetted the remaining papers with his weeping.

Werner stood beside him in the deepest perplexity. He had not anticipated this fierce ebullition of feeling. More than once he had tried to interrupt his friend, more than once to lead the conversation elsewhere, but in vain; the current was too strong for him. It remained that long-suffering friendship should again take up her office. Werner allowed the first shock of sorrow to pass over, while by his silent presence he testified a pure and honest sympathy. And thus they both remained that evening: Wilhelm sunk in the dull feeling of old sorrows; and the other terrified at this new outbreaking of a passion, which he thought his prudent counsels and keen persuasion had long since mastered and destroyed.


After such relapses, Wilhelm usually applied himself to business and activity with augmented ardor; and he found it the best means to escape the labyrinth into which he had again been tempted to enter. His attractive way of treating strangers, the ease with which he carried on a correspondence in any living language, more and more increased the hopes of his father and his trading friends; and comforted them in their sorrow for his sickness, the origin of which had not been known, and for the pause which had thus interrupted their plan. They determined a second time on Wilhelm’s setting out to travel; and we now find him on horseback, with his saddle-bags behind him, exhilarated by the motion and the free air, approaching the mountains, where he had some affairs to settle.

He winded slowly on his path, through dales and over hills, with a feeling of the greatest satisfaction. Overhanging cliffs, roaring brooks, moss-grown rocky walls, deep precipices, he here saw for the first time; yet his earliest dreams of youth had wandered among such regions. In these scenes, he felt his age renewed; all the sorrows he had undergone were obliterated from his soul; with unbroken cheerfulness he repeated to himself passages of various poems, particularly of the Pastor Fido, which, in these solitary places, flocked in crowds into his mind. He also recollected many pieces of his own songs, and recited them with a peculiar contentment. He peopled the world which lay Edition: current; Page: [112] before him with all the forms of the past; and each step into the future was to him full of augury of important operations and remarkable events.

Several men, who came behind him in succession, and saluted him as they passed by to continue their hasty way into the mountains, by steep footpaths, sometimes interrupted his thoughts without attracting his attention to themselves. At last a communicative traveller joined him, and explained the reason of this general pilgrimage.

“At Hochdorf,” he said, “there is a play to be acted to-night, and the whole neighborhood is gathering to see it.”

“How!” cried Wilhelm. “In these solitary hills, among these impenetrable forests, has theatric art sought out a place, and built herself a temple? And I am journeying to her festivities!”

“You will wonder more,” said the other, “when you learn by whom the piece is to be played. There is in the place a large manufactory which employs many people. The proprietor, who lives, so to speak, remote from all human society, can find no better means of entertaining his workmen during winter than allowing them to act plays. He suffers no cards among them, and wishes also to withdraw them from all coarse rustic practices. Thus they pass the long evenings; and to-day, being the old gentleman’s birthday, they are giving a particular festival in honor of him.”

Wilhelm came to Hochdorf, where he was to pass the night, and alighted at the manufactory, the proprietor of which stood as a debtor in his list.

When he gave his name the old man cried in a glad surprise: “Ay, sir, are you the son of that worthy man to whom I owe so many thanks; so long have owed money? Your good father has had so much patience with me, I should be a knave if I did not pay you speedily and cheerfully. You come at the proper time to see that I am fully in earnest about it.”

He then called out his wife, who seemed no less delighted than himself to see the youth: she declared that he was very like his father, and lamented that, having such a multitude of guests already in the house, she could not lodge him for the night.

The account was clear, and quickly settled; Wilhelm put the roll of gold into his pocket, and wished that all his other business might go on as smoothly. At last the play-hour came: they now waited for nothing but the coming of the head forester, who at length also arrived; entered with a few hunters, and was received with the greatest reverence.

The company was then led into the playhouse, formed out of a barn that lay close upon the garden. Without any extraordinary taste, both seats and stage were yet decked out in a cheerful and pretty way. One of the painters employed in the manufactory had formerly worked as an understrapper at the Prince’s theatre; he had now represented woods and streets and chambers, somewhat rudely, it is true, yet so as to be recognized for such. The piece itself they had borrowed from a strolling company, and shaped it aright according to their own ideas. As it was, it did not fail to yield some entertainment. The plot of two lovers wishing to carry off a girl from her guardian, and mutually from one another, produced a great variety of interesting situations. Being the first play our friend had witnessed for so long a time, it suggested several reflections to him. It was full of action, but without any true delineation of character. It pleased and delighted. Such are always the beginnings of the scenic art. The rude man is contented if he see but something going on; the man of more refinement must be made to feel; the man entirely refined desires to reflect.

The players he would willingly have helped here and there, for a very little would have made them greatly better.

His silent meditations were somewhat broken in upon by the tobacco-smoke, which now began to rise in great and greater copiousness. Soon after the commencement of the piece the head forester had lit his pipe; by and by others took the same liberty. The large dogs too, which followed these gentlemen, introduced themselves in no pleasant style. At first they had been bolted out; but soon finding the back-door passage, they entered on the stage, ran against the actors, and at last, jumping over the orchestra, joined their masters, who had taken up the front seats in the pit.

For afterpiece an opera was given. A portrait, representing the old gentleman in his bridegroom dress, stood upon an altar, hung with garlands. All the players paid their reverence to it in the most submissive postures. The youngest child came forward dressed in white, and made a speech in verse; by which Edition: current; Page: [kk] Edition: current; Page: [ll] Edition: current; Page: [mm] Edition: current; Page: [nn] Edition: current; Page: [113] the whole family, and even the head forester himself, whom it brought in mind of his own children, were melted into tears. So ended the piece; and Wilhelm could not help stepping on the stage to have a closer view of the actresses, to praise them for their good performance, and give them a little counsel for the future.



The remaining business, which our friend in the following days had to transact in various quarters of the hill-country, was not all so pleasant, or so easy to conclude with satisfaction. Many of his creditors entreated for delay, many were uncourteous, many lied. In conformity with his instructions he had some of them to sue at law; he was thus obliged to seek out advocates, and give instructions to them, to appear before judges, and to go through many other sorry duties of the same sort.

His case was hardly bettered when people chanced to incline showing some attentions to him. He found very few that could in any way instruct him; few with whom he could hope to establish a useful commercial correspondence. Unhappily, moreover, the weather now grew rainy, and travelling on horseback in this district came to be attended with insufferable difficulties. He therefore thanked his stars on again getting near the level country; and at the foot of the mountains, looking out into a fertile and beautiful plain, intersected by a smooth-flowing river, and seeing a cheerful little town lying on its banks all glittering in the sunshine, he resolved, though without any special business in the place, to pass a day or two there, that he might refresh both himself and his horse, which the bad roads had considerably injured.


On alighting at an inn, upon the marketplace, he found matters going on very joyously, at least very stirringly. A great company of rope-dancers, leapers and jugglers, having a strong man along with them, had just arrived with their wives and children, and while preparing for a grand exhibition they kept up a perpetual racket. They first quarrelled with the landlord, then with one another; and if their contention was intolerable, the expressions of their satisfaction were infinitely more so. Undetermined whether he should go or stay, he was standing in the door looking at some workmen who had just begun to erect a stage in the middle of the square.

A girl, with roses and other flowers for sale, coming by, held out her basket to him, and he purchased a beautiful nosegay, which, like one that had a taste for these things, he tied up in a different fashion, and was looking at it with a satisfied air, when the window of another inn on the opposite side of the square flew up, and a handsome young lady looked out from it. Notwithstanding the distance, he observed that her face was animated by a pleasant cheerfulness; her fair hair fell carelessly streaming about her neck; she seemed to be looking at the stranger. In a short time afterwards a boy with a white jacket and a barber’s apron on came out from the door of her house towards Wilhelm, saluted him, and said, “The lady at the window bids me ask if you will favor her with a share of your beautiful flowers.” “They are all at her service,” answered Wilhelm, giving the nosegay to this nimble messenger, and making a bow to the fair one, which she returned with a friendly courtesy, and then withdrew from the window.

Amused with this small adventure, he was going up-stairs to his chamber, when a young creature sprang against him, and attracted his attention. A short silk waistcoat with slashed Spanish sleeves, tight trousers with puffs, looked very pretty on the child. Its long black hair was curled, and wound in locks and plaits about the head. He looked at the figure with astonishment, and could not determine whether to take it for a boy or a girl. However, he decided for the latter; and as the child ran by he took her up in his arms, bade her good-day, and asked her to whom she belonged, though he easily perceived that she must be a member of the vaulting and dancing company lately arrived. She viewed him with a dark sharp side-look, as she pushed herself out of his arms, and ran into the kitchen without making any answer.

On coming up-stairs he found in the large parlor two men practising the small sword, or seeming rather to make trial which was the better fencer. One of them plainly enough belonged to the vaulting company, the other had a somewhat less savage aspect. Wilhelm looked at them, and had reason to admire them both; and as the black-bearded, sturdy contender soon afterwards forsook the place of action, the other with extreme complaisance offered Wilhelm the rapier.

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“If you want to take a scholar under your inspection,” said our friend, “I am well content to risk a few passes with you.”

Accordingly they fought together; and although the stranger greatly overmatched his new competitor, he politely kept declaring that it all depended upon practice; in fact, Wilhelm, inferior as he was, had made it evident that he had got his first instructions from a good, solid, thoroughpaced German fencing-master.

Their entertainment was disturbed by the uproar with which the parti-colored brotherhood issued from the inn, to make proclamation of the show, and awaken a desire to see their art, throughout the town. Preceded by a drum, the manager advanced on horseback; he was followed by a female dancer mounted on a corresponding hack, and holding a child before her, all bedizened with ribbons and spangles. Next came the remainder of the troop on foot; some of them carrying children on their shoulders in dangerous postures, yet smoothly and lightly; among these the young, dark, black-haired figure again attracted Wilhelm’s notice.

Pickleherring ran gayly up and down the crowding multitude, distributing his hand-bills with much practical fun; here smacking the lips of a girl, there breeching a boy, and awakening generally among the people an invincible desire to know more of him.

On the painted flags the manifold science of the company was visibly delineated; particularly of a Monsieur Narciss and the Demoiselle Landrinette; both of whom, being main characters, had prudently kept back from the procession, thereby to acquire a more dignified consideration, and excite a greater curiosity.

During the procession Wilhelm’s fair neighbor had again appeared at the window; and he did not fail to inquire about her of his new companion. This person, whom, for the present, we shall call Laertes, offered to take Wilhelm over and introduce him. “I and the lady,” said he, laughing, “are two fragments Edition: current; Page: [115] of an acting company that made shipwreck here a short while ago. The pleasantness of the place has induced us to stay in it, and consume our little stock of cash in peace, while one of our friends is out seeking some situation for himself and us.”


Lacrtes immediately accompanied his new acquaintance to Philina’s door; where he left him for a moment, and ran to a shop hard by for a few sweetmeats. “I am sure you will thank me,” said he on returning, “for procuring you so pleasant an acquaintance.”

The lady came out from her room in a pair of tight little slippers with high heels, to give them welcome. She had thrown a black mantle over her, above a white négligé, not indeed scrupulously clean, but which, for that very reason, gave her a more frank and domestic air. Her short dress did not hide a pair of the prettiest feet and ankles in the world.

“You are welcome,” she cried to Wilhelm, “and I thank you for your charming flowers.” She led him into her chamber with the one hand, pressing the nosegay to her breast with the other. Being all seated, and got into a pleasant train of general talk, to which she had the art of giving a delightful turn, Laertes Edition: current; Page: [116] threw a handful of gingerbread-nuts into her lap, and she immediately began to eat them.

“Look what a child this young gallant is!” she said: “he wants to persuade you that I am fond of such confectionery; and it is himself that cannot live without licking his lips over something of the kind.”

“Let us confess,” replied Laertes, “that in this point, as in others, you and I go hand in hand. For example,” he continued, “the weather is delightful to-day: what if we should take a drive into the country, and eat our dinner at the Mill?”

“With all my heart,” said Philina; “we must give our new acquaintance some diversion.”

Laertes sprang out, for he never walked; and Wilhelm motioned to return for a minute to his lodgings, to have his hair put in order; for at present it was all dishevelled with riding. “You can do it here!” she said; then called her little servant, and constrained Wilhelm in the politest manner to lay off his coat, to throw her powder-mantle over him, and to have his head dressed in her presence. “We must lose no time,” said she: “who knows how short a while we may all be together?”

The boy, out of sulkiness and ill-nature more than want of skill, went on but indifferently with his task; he pulled the hair with his implements, and seemed as if he would not soon be done. Philina more than once reproved him for his blunders, and at last sharply packed him off, and chased him to the door. She then undertook the business herself, and frizzled Wilhelm’s locks with great dexterity and grace; though she too appeared to be in no exceeding haste, but found always this and that to improve and put to rights; while at the same time she could not help touching his knees with hers, and holding her nosegay and bosom so near his lips that he was strongly tempted more than once to imprint a kiss on it.

When Wilhelm had cleaned his brow with a little powder-knife, she said to him: “Put it in your pocket, and think of me when you see it.” It was a pretty knife; the haft, of inlaid steel, had these friendly words wrought on it, Think of me. Wilhelm put it up, and thanked her, begging permission at the same time to make her a little present in return.

At last they were in readiness. Laertes had brought round the coach, and they commenced a very gay excursion. To every beggar Philina threw out money from the window, giving along with it a merry and friendly word.

Scarcely had they reached the Mill, and ordered dinner, when a strain of music struck up before the house. It was some miners singing various pretty songs, and accompanying their clear and shrill voices with a cithern and triangle. In a short while the gathering crowd had formed a ring about them; and our company nodded approbation to them from the windows. Observing this attention they expanded their circle, and seemed making preparation for their grandest piece. After some pause, a miner stepped forward with a mattock in his hand; and while the others played a serious tune he set himself to represent the action of digging.

Ere long a peasant came from among the crowd, and by pantomimic threats let the former know that he must cease and remove. Our company were greatly surprised at this; they did not discover that the peasant was a miner in disguise till he opened his mouth, and in a sort of recitative, rebuked the other for daring to meddle with his field. The latter did not lose his composure of mind, but began to inform the husbandman about his right to break ground there, giving him withal some primary conceptions of mineralogy. The peasant, not being master of his foreign terminology, asked all manner of silly questions; whereat the spectators, as themselves more knowing, set up many a hearty laugh. The miner endeavored to instruct him; and showed him the advantage which, in the long-run, would reach even him, if the deep-lying treasures of the land were dug out from their secret beds. The peasant, who at first had threatened his instructor with blows, was gradually pacified, and they parted good friends at last; though it was the miner chiefly that got out of this contention with honor.

“In this little dialogue,” said Wilhelm, when seated at table, “we have a lively proof how useful the theatre might be to all ranks; what advantage even the State might procure from it, if the occupations, trades and undertakings of men were brought upon the stage and presented on their praiseworthy side, in that point of view in which the State itself should honor and protect them. As matters stand we exhibit only the ridiculous side of men; the comic poet is, as it were, but a spiteful tax-gatherer, who keeps a watchful eye over the errors of his fellow-subjects, and seems gratified when he can fix any charge Edition: current; Page: [oo] Edition: current; Page: [pp] Edition: current; Page: [qq] Edition: current; Page: [rr] Edition: current; Page: [117] upon them. Might it not be a worthy and pleasing task for a statesman to survey the natural and reciprocal influence of all classes on each other, and to guide some poet, gifted with sufficient humor, in such labors as these? In this way, I am persuaded, many very entertaining, both agreeable and useful pieces, might be executed.”


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“So far,” said Laertes, “as I, in wandering about the world, have been able to observe, statesmen are accustomed merely to forbid, to hinder, to refuse; but very rarely to invite, to further, to reward. They let all things go along, till some mischief happens; then they get into a rage, and lay about them.”

“A truce with State and statesmen!” said Philina; “I cannot form a notion of statesmen except in periwigs; and a periwig, wear it who will, always gives my fingers a spasmodic motion; I could like to pluck it off the venerable gentleman, to skip up and down the room with it, and laugh at the baldhead.”

So, with a few lively songs, which she could sing very beautifully, Philina cut short their conversation; and urged them to a quick return homewards, that they might arrive in time for seeing the performance of the rope-dancers in the evening. On the road back she continued her lavish generosity, in a style of gayety reaching to extravagance; for, at last, every coin belonging to herself or her companions being spent, she threw her straw hat from the window to a girl, and her neckerchief to an old woman, who asked her for alms.

Philma invited both of her attendants to her own apartments; because, she said, the spectacle could be seen more conveniently from her windows than from theirs.

On arriving, they found the stage set up, and the background decked with suspended carpets. The swing-boards were already fastened, the slack-rope fixed to posts, the tightrope bound over trestles. The square was moderately filled with people, and the windows with spectators of some quality.

Pickleherring, with a few insipidities, at which the lookers-on are generally kind enough to laugh, first prepared the meeting to attention and good humor. Some children, whose bodies were made to exhibit the strangest contortions, awakened astonishment or horror; and Wilhelm could not, without the deepest sympathy, see the child he had at the first glance felt an interest in, go through her fantastic positions with considerable difficulty. But the merry tumblers soon changed the feeling into that of lively satisfaction, when they first singly, then in rows, and at last all together, vaulted up into the air, making somersets backwards and forwards. A loud clapping of hands and a strong huzza echoed from the whole assembly.

The general attention was next directed to quite a different object. The children in succession had to mount the rope; the learners first, that by practising they might prolong the spectacle, and show the difficulties of the art more clearly. Some men and full-grown women likewise exhibited their skill to moderate advantage; but still there was no Monsieur Narciss, no Demoiselle Landrinette.

At last this worthy pair came forth; they issued from a kind of tent with red spread curtains; and, by their agreeable forms and glittering decorations, fulfilled the hitherto increasing hopes of the spectators. He, a hearty knave, of middle stature, with black eyes and a strong head of hair; she, formed with not inferior symmetry, exhibited themselves successively upon the rope, with delicate movements, leaping, and singular postures. Her airy lightness; his audacity; the exactitude with which they both performed their feats of art raised the universal satisfaction higher at every step and spring. The stateliness with which they bore themselves, the seeming attentions of the rest to them, gave them the appearance of king and queen of the whole troop, and all held them worthy of the rank.

The animation of the people extended itself to the spectators at the windows; the ladies looked incessantly at Narciss, the gentlemen at Landrinette. The populace hurrahed, the more cultivated public could not keep from clapping of the hands; Pickleherring now could scarcely raise a laugh. A few, however, slunk away when some members of the troop began to press through the crowd with their tin plates to collect money.

“They have made their purpose good, I imagine,” said Wilhelm to Philina, who was leaning over the window beside him. “I admire the ingenuity with which they have turned to advantage even the meanest parts of their performance: out of the unskilfulness of their children, and exquisiteness of their chief actors, they have made up a whole which at first excited our attention, and then gave us very fine entertainment.”

The people by degrees dispersed, and the square had again become empty, while Philina Edition: current; Page: [118] and Laertes were disputing about the forms and the skill of Narciss and Landrinette, and rallying each other on the subject at great length. Wilhelm noticed the wonderful child standing on the street near some other children at play; he showed her to Philina, who, in her lively way, immediately called and beckoned to the little one, and, this not succeeding, tripped singing down stairs, and led her up by the hand.

“Here is the enigma,” said she, as she brought her to the door. The child stood upon the threshold, as if she meant again to run off; laid her right hand on her breast, the left on her brow, and bowed deeply. “Fear nothing, my little dear,” said Wilhelm, rising and going towards her. She viewed him with a doubting look, and came a few steps nearer.

“What is thy name?” he asked. “They call me Mignon.” “How old art thou?” “No one has counted.” “Who was thy father?” “The Great Devil is dead.”

“Well! this is singular enough,” said Philina. They asked her a few more questions; she gave her answers in a kind of broken German, and with a strangely solemn manner, every time laying her hands on her breast and brow, and bowing deeply.

Wilhelm could not satisfy himself with looking at her. His eyes and his heart were irresistibly attracted by the mysterious condition of this being. He reckoned her about twelve or thirteen years of age; her body was well formed, only her limbs gave promise of a stronger growth, or else announced a stunted one. Her countenance was not regular, but striking; her brow full of mystery; her nose extremely beautiful; her mouth, although it seemed too closely shut for one of her age, and though she often threw it to a side, had yet an air of frankness, and was very lovely. Her brownish complexion could scarcely be discerned through the paint. This form stamped itself deeply in Wilhelm’s soul; he kept looking at her earnestly, and forgot the present scene in the multitude of his reflections. Philina waked him from his half-dream by holding out the remainder of her sweetmeats to the child, and giving her a sign to go away. She made her little bow as formerly, and darted like lightning through the door.

As the time drew on when our new friends had to part for the evening, they planned a fresh excursion for the morrow. They purposed now to have their dinner at a neighboring Jägerhaus. Before taking leave of Laertes, Wilhelm said many things in Philina’s praise, to which the other made only brief and careless answers.

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Next morning, having once more exercised themselves in fencing for an hour, they went over to Philina’s lodging, towards which they had seen their expected coach passing by. But how surprised was Wilhelm when the coach seemed altogether to have vanished; and how much more so when Philina was not to be found at home! She had placed herself in the carriage, they were told, with a couple of strangers who had come that morning, and was gone with them. Wilhelm had been promising himself some pleasant entertainment from her company, and could not hide his irritation. Laertes, on the other hand, but laughed at it, and cried: “I love her for this: it looks so like herself! Let us, however, go directly to the Jägerhaus: be Philina where she pleases, we will not lose our promenade on her account.”

As Wilhelm, while they walked, continued censuring the inconsistency of such conduct, Laertes said: “I cannot reckon it inconsistent so long as one keeps faithful to his character. If this Philina plans you anything, or promises you anything, she does it under the tacit condition that it shall be quite convenient for her to fulfil her plan, to keep her promise. She gives willingly; but you must ever hold yourself in readiness to return her gifts.”

“That seems a singular character,” said Wilhelm.

“Anything but singular; only she is not a hypocrite. I like her on that account. Yes, I am her friend, because she represents the sex so truly, which I have so much cause to hate. To me she is another genuine Eve, the great mother of womankind; so are they all, only they will not all confess it.”

With abundance of such talk, in which Laertes very vehemently exhibited his spleen against the fair sex, without, however, giving any cause for it, they arrived at the forest; into which Wilhelm entered in no joyful mood, the speeches of Laertes having again revived in him the memory of his relation to Mariana. Not far from a shady well, among some old and noble trees, they found Philina sitting by herself at a stone table. Seeing them she struck up a merry song; and, when Laertes asked for her companions, she cried out: “I have already cozened them, I have already had my laugh at them, and sent them a travelling, as they deserved. By the way hither I had put to proof their liberality; and finding that they were a couple of your close-fisted gentry, I immediately determined to have amends of them. On arriving at the inn they asked the waiter what was to be had. He, with his customary glibness of tongue, reckoned over all that could be found in the house, and more than could be found. I noticed their perplexity; they looked at one another, stammered, and inquired about the cost. ‘What is the use of all this studying?’ said I; ‘the table is the lady’s business; allow me to manage it.’ I immediately began ordering a most unconscionable dinner, for which many necessary articles would require to be sent for from the neighborhood. The waiter, of whom, by a wry mouth or two, I had made a confidant, at last helped me out; and so, by the image of a sumptuous feast, we tortured them to such a degree that they fairly determined on having a walk in the forest, from which I imagine we shall look with clear eyes if we see them come back. I have laughed a quarter of an hour for my own behoof; I shall laugh forever when I think of the looks they had.” At table, Laertes told of similar adventures: they got into the track of recounting ludicrous stories, mistakes and dexterous cheats.

A young man, of their acquaintance from the town, came gliding through the wood with a book in his hand; he sat down by them, and began praising the beauty of the place. He directed their attention to the murmuring of the brook, to the waving of the boughs, to the checkered lights and shadows, and the music of the birds. Philina commenced a little song of the cuckoo, which did not seem at all to exhilarate the man of taste: he very soon made his compliments and went on.

“Oh, that I might never hear more of nature, and scenes of nature!” cried Philina, so soon as he was gone: “there is nothing in the world more intolerable than to hear people reckon up the pleasures you enjoy. When the day is bright you go to walk, as to dance when you hear a tune played. But who would think a moment on the music or the weather? It is the dancer that interests us, not the violin; and to look upon a pair of bright black eyes is the life of a pair of blue ones. But what on earth have we to do with wells, and brooks, and old rotten lindens?” She was sitting opposite to Wilhelm; and while speaking so she looked into his eyes with a glance which he could not hinder from piercing at least to the very door of his heart.

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“You are right,” replied he, not without embarrassment; “man is ever the most interesting object to man, and perhaps should be the only one that interests. Whatever else surrounds us is but the element in which we live, or else the instrument which we employ. The more we devote ourselves to such things, the more we attend to and feel concern in them, the weaker will our sense of our own dignity become, the weaker our feelings for society. Men who put a great value on gardens, buildings, clothes, ornaments, or any other sort of property, grow less social and pleasant; they lose sight of their brethren, whom very few can succeed in collecting about them and entertaining. Have you not observed it on the stage? A good actor makes us very soon forget the awkwardness and meanness of paltry decorations; but a splendid theatre is the very thing which first makes us truly feel the want of proper actors.”

After dinner Philina sat down among the long overshaded grass, and commanded both her friends to fetch her flowers in great quantities. She wreathed a complete garland, and put it round her head: it made her look extremely charming. The flowers were still sufficient for another; this too she plaited, while both the young men sat beside her. When at last, amid infinite mirth and sportfulness, it was completed, she pressed it on Wilhelm’s head with the greatest dignity, and shifted the posture of it more than once till it seemed to her properly adjusted. “And I. it appears, must go empty,” said Laertes.

“Not by any means; you shall not have reason to complain,” replied Philina, taking off the garland from her own head and putting it on his.

“If we were rivals,” said Laertes, “we might now dispute very warmly which of us stood higher in thy favor.”

“And the more fools you,” said she, while she bent herself towards him, and offered him her lips to kiss; and then immediately turned round, threw her arm about Wilhelm, and bestowed a kind salute on him also. “Which of them tastes best?” said she, archly.

“Surprisingly!” exclaimed Laertes: “it seems as if nothing else had ever such a tang of wormwood in it.”

“As little wormwood,” she replied, “as any gift that a man may enjoy without envy and without conceit. But now,” cried she, “I should like to have an hour’s dancing, and after that we must look to our vaulters.”

Accordingly they went into the house, and there found music in readiness. Philina was a beautiful dancer; she animated both her companions. Nor was Wilhelm without skill; but he wanted careful practice—a defect which his two friends voluntarily took charge of remedying.

In these amusements the time passed on insensibly; it was already late when they returned. The rope-dancers had commenced their operations. A multitude of people had again assembled in the square; and our friends, on alighting, were struck by the appearance of a tumult in the crowd, occasioned by a throng of men rushing towards the door of the inn, which Wilhelm had now turned his face to. He sprang forward to see what it was; and pressing through the people he was struck with horror to observe the master of the rope-dancing company dragging poor Mignon by the hair out of the house, and unmercifully beating her little body with the handle of a whip.

Wilhelm darted on the man like lightning, and seized him by the collar. “Quit the child!” he cried in a furious tone, “or one of us shall never leave this spot;” and, so speaking, he grasped the fellow by the throat with a force which only rage could have lent him. The showman, on the point of choking, let go the child, and endeavored to defend himself against his new assailant. But some people, who had felt compassion for Mignon, yet had not dared to begin a quarrel for her, now laid hold of the rope-dancer, wrenched his whip away, and threatened him with great fierceness and abuse. Being now reduced to the weapons of his mouth, he began bullying and cursing horribly: the lazy, worthless urchin, he said, would not do her duty; refused to perform the egg-dance, which he had promised to the public; he would beat her to death, and no one should hinder him. He tried to get loose and seek the child, who had crept away among the crowd. Wilhelm held him back, and said sternly: “You shall neither see nor touch her, till you have explained before a magistrate where you stole her. I will pursue you to every extremity; you shall not escape me.” These words, which Wilhelm uttered in heat, without thought or purpose, out of some vague feeling, or, if you will, out of inspiration, soon brought the raging showman to composure. “What have I to do with the useless brat?” cried he. “Pay me what her clothes cost, and make Edition: current; Page: [ss] Edition: current; Page: [tt] Edition: current; Page: [uu] Edition: current; Page: [vv] Edition: current; Page: [121] of her what you please; we shall settle it to-night.” And, being liberated, he made haste to resume his interrupted operations, and to calm the irritation of the public by some striking displays of his craft.



So soon as all was still again, Wilhelm commenced a search for Mignon, whom, however, he could nowhere find. Some said they had seen her on the street, others on the roofs of the adjoining houses; but, after seeking unsuccessfully in all quarters, he was forced to content himself, and wait to see if she would not again turn up of herself.

In the meantime, Narciss had come into the house, and Wilhelm set to question him about the birthplace and history of the child. Monsieur Narciss knew nothing about these things; for he had not long been in the company: but in return he recited, with much volubility and levity, various particulars of his own fortune. Upon Wilhelm’s wishing him joy of the great approbation he had gained, Narciss expressed himself as if exceedingly indifferent on that point. “People laugh at us,” he said, “and admire our feats of skill; but their admiration does nothing for us. The master has to pay us, and may raise the funds where he pleases.” He then took his leave, and was setting off in great haste.

At the question, Whither he was bent so fast? the dog gave a smile, and admitted that his figure and talents had acquired for him a more solid species of favor than the huzzaing of the multitude. He had been invited by some young ladies, who desired much to become acquainted with him, and he was afraid it would be midnight before he could get all his visits over. He proceeded with the greatest candor to detail his adventures; he would have given the names of his patronesses, their streets and houses, had not Wilhelm waived such indiscretion, and politely dismissed him.

Laertes had meanwhile been entertaining Landrinette: he declared that she was fully worthy to be and to remain a woman.

Our friend next proceeded to his bargain with the showman for Mignon. Thirty crowns was the price set upon her; and for this sum the black-bearded hot Italian entirely surrendered all his claims: but of her history, or parentage, he would discover nothing; only that she had fallen into his hands at the death of his brother, who, by reason of his admirable skill, had usually been named the Great Devil.

Next morning was chiefly spent in searching for the child. It was in vain that they rummaged every hole and corner of the house and neighborhood: the child had vanished, and Wilhelm was afraid she might have leaped into some pool of water, or destroyed herself in some other way.

Philina’s charms could not dissipate his inquietude; he passed a dreary thoughtful day. Nor at evening could the utmost efforts of the tumblers and dancers, exerting all their powers to gratify the public, divert the current of his thoughts, or clear away the clouds from his mind.

By the concourse of people flocking from all places round, the numbers had greatly increased on this occasion; the general approbation was like a snowball rolling itself into a monstrous size. The feat of leaping over swords, and through the cask with paper ends, made a great sensation. The Strong Man, too, produced a universal feeling of mingled astonishment and horror, when he laid his head and feet on a couple of separate stools, and then allowed some sturdy smiths to place a stithy on the unsupported part of his body, and hammer a horseshoe till it was completely made by means of it.

The Hercules’ Strength, as they called it, was a no less wonderful affair. A row of men stood up; then another row upon their shoulders; then women and young lads, supported in like manner on the second row; so that finally a living pyramid was formed, the peak being ornamented by a child, placed on its head, and dressed out in the shape of a ball and weather-vane. Such a sight, never witnessed in those parts before, gave a worthy termination to the whole performance. Narciss and Landrinette were then borne in litters, on the shoulders of the rest, along the chief streets of the town, amid the triumphant shouts of the people. Ribbons, nosegays, silks, were thrown upon them; all pressed to get a sight of them. Each thought himself happy if he could behold them, and be honored with a look of theirs.

“What actor, what author, nay, what man of any class, would not regard himself as on the summit of his wishes, could he, by a noble saying or a worthy action, produce so universal an impression? What a precious emotion would it give, if one could disseminate generous, exalted, manly feelings with electric force and speed, and rouse assembled thousands into such rapture, as these people, by Edition: current; Page: [122] their bodily alertness, have done! If one could communicate to thronging multitudes a fellow-feeling in all that belongs to man, by the portraying of happiness and misery, of wisdom and folly, nay, of absurdity and silliness; could kindle and thrill their inmost souls, and set their stagnant nature into movement, free, vehement and pure!” So said our friend; and as neither Laertes nor Philina showed any disposition to take part in such a strain, he entertained himself with these darling speculations, walking up and down the streets till late at night, and again pursuing, with all the force and vivacity of a liberated imagination, his old desire to have all that was good and noble and great embodied and shown forth by the theatric art.



Next morning, the rope-dancers, not without much parade and bustle, having gone away, Mignon immediately appeared, and came into the parlor as Wilhelm and Laertes were busy fencing. “Where hast thou been hid?” said Wilhelm in a friendly tone. “Thou hast given us a deal of anxiety.” The child looked at him, and answered nothing. “Thou art ours now,” cried Laertes, “we have bought thee.” “For how much?” inquired the child quite coolly. “For a hundred ducats,” said the other; “pay them again, and thou art free.” “Is that very much?” she asked. “Oh, yes! thou must now be a good child.” “I will try,” she said.

From that moment she observed strictly what services the waiter had to do for both her friends: and after the next day, she would not any more let him enter the room. She persisted in doing everything herself; and accordingly went through her duties, slowly indeed, and sometimes awkwardly, yet completely and with the greatest care.

She was frequently observed going to a basin of water, and washing her face with such diligence and violence that she almost wore the skin from her cheeks; till Laertes, by dint of questions and reproofs, learned that she was striving by all means to get the paint from her skin; and that, in her zealous endeavors towards this object, she had mistaken the redness produced by rubbing for the most obdurate dye. They set her right on this point, and she ceased her efforts; after which, having come again to her natural state, she exhibited a fine brown complexion, beautiful, though sparingly intermingled with red.

The siren charms of Philina, the mysterious presence of the child, produced more impression on our friend than he liked to confess; he passed several days in that strange society, endeavoring to elude self-reproaches by a diligent practice of fencing and dancing—accomplishments which he believed might not again be put within his reach so conveniently.

It was with great surprise, and not without a certain satisfaction, that he one day observed Herr Melina and his wife alight at the inn. After the first glad salutation, they inquired about “the lady-manager and the other actors;” and learned, with astonishment and terror, that the lady-manager had long since gone away, and her actors, to a very few, dispersed themselves about the country.

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This couple, subsequently to their marriage, in which, as we know, our friend did his best to serve them, had been travelling about in various quarters, seeking an engagement, without finding any; and had at last been directed to this little town by some persons who met them on their journey, and said there was a good theatre in the place.

Melina by no means pleased the lively Laertes, when introduced to him, any more than his wife did Philina. Both heartily wished to be rid of these new-comers; and Wilhelm could inspire them with no favorable feelings on the subject, though he more than once assured them that the Melinas were very worthy people.

Indeed, the previous merry life of our three adventurers was interfered with by this extension of their society, in more ways than one. Melina had taken up his quarters in the inn where Philina stayed, and he very soon began a system of cheapening and higgling. He would have better lodging, more sumptuous diet, and readier attendance, for a smaller charge. In a short while, the landlord and waiter showed very rueful looks; for whereas the others, to get pleasantly along, had expressed no discontent with anything, and paid instantly, that they might avoid thinking longer of payment, Melina now insisted on regulating every meal, and investigating its contents beforehand; a species of service for which Philina named him, without scruple, a ruminating animal.

Yet more did the merry girl hate Melina’s wife. Frau Melina was a young woman not without culture, but wofully defective in soul and spirit. She could declaim not badly, and kept declaiming constantly; but it was easy to observe that her performances were little more than recitations of words. She labored a few detached passages, but never could express the feeling of the whole. Withal, however, she was seldom disagreeable to any one, especially to men. On the contrary, people who enjoyed her acquaintance commonly ascribed to her a fine understanding; for she was what might be called a kind of spiritual chameleon, or taker-on.* Any friend whose favor she had need of, she could flatter with peculiar adroitness; could give in to his ideas so long as she could understand them; and, when they went beyond her own horizon, could hail with ecstasy such new and brilliant visions. She understood well when to speak and when to keep silence; and, though her disposition was not spiteful, she could spy out with great expertness where another’s weak side lay.


Melina, in the meantime, had been making strict inquiry about the wrecks of the late theatrical establishment. The wardrobe, as well as decorations, had been pawned with some traders; and a notary had been empowered, under certain conditions, to dispose of them by sale, should purchasers occur. Melina wished to see this ware; and he took Wilhelm with him. No sooner was the room opened than our friend felt towards its contents a kind of inclination, which he would not confess to himself. Sad as was the state of the blotched and tarnished decorations; little showy as the Turkish and Pagan garments, the old farce-coats for men and women, the cowls for enchanters, priests and Jews, might be, he was not able to exclude the feeling, that the happiest moments of his life had been spent in a similar magazine of frippery. Could Melina have seen into his heart, he would have urged him more pressingly to lay out a sum of money in liberating these scattered fragments, in furbishing them up, and again combining them into a beautiful whole. “What a happy man could I be,” cried Melina, “had I but two hundred crowns, to get into my hands, for a beginning, these fundamental necessaries of a theatre! How soon should I get up a little playhouse that would draw contributions from the town and neighborhood, and maintain us all!” Wilhelm was silent. They left these treasures of the stage to be again locked up, and both went away in a reflective mood.

Thenceforth Melina talked of nothing else but projects and plans for setting up a theatre, and gaining profit by it. He tried to interest Philina and Laertes in his schemes; and proposals were made to Wilhelm about advancing money, and taking them as his security. On this occasion, Wilhelm first clearly perceived that he was lingering too long here: he excused Edition: current; Page: [124] himself, and set about making preparations for departure.

In the meantime, Mignon’s form and manner of existence was growing more attractive to him every day. In her whole system of proceedings there was something very singular. She never walked up or down the stairs, but jumped. She would spring along by the railing, and before you were aware would be sitting quietly above on the landing. Wilhelm had observed, also, that she had a different sort of salutation for each individual. For himself, it had of late been with her arms crossed upon her breast. Often for the whole day she was mute. At times she answered various questions more freely, yet always strangely; so that you could not determine whether it was caused by shrewd sense, or ignorance of the language; for she spoke in broken German, interlaced with French and Italian. In Wilhelm’s service she was indefatigable, and up before the sun. On the other hand, she vanished early in the evening, went to sleep in a little room upon the bare floor, and could not by any means be induced to take a bed or even a palliasse. He often found her washing herself. Her clothes, too, were kept scrupulously clean, though nearly all about her was quilted two or three plies thick. Wilhelm was moreover told that she went every morning early to hear mass. He followed her on one occasion, and saw her kneeling down with a rosary in a corner of the church, and praying devoutly. She did not observe him; and he returned home, forming many a conjecture about this appearance, yet unable to arrive at any probable conclusion.

A new application from Melina for a sum of money to redeem the often-mentioned stage-apparatus, caused Wilhelm to think more seriously than ever about setting off. He proposed writing to his people, who for a long time had heard no tidings of him, by the very earliest post. He accordingly commenced a letter to Werner; and had advanced a considerable way with the history of his adventures, in recounting which he had more than once unintentionally swerved a little from the truth, when, to his vexation and surprise, he observed, upon the back of his sheet, some verses which he had been copying from his album for Madam Melina. Out of humor at this mistake, he tore the paper in pieces, and put off repeating his confession till the next post-day.


Our party was now again collected; and Philina, who always kept a sharp lookout on every horse or carriage that passed by, exclaimed, with great eagerness: “Our Pedant! Here comes our dearest Pedant! Who the deuce is it he has with him?” Speaking thus, she beckoned at the window, and the vehicle drew up.

A woful-looking genius, whom, by his shabby coat of grayish brown, and his ill-conditioned lower garments, you must have taken for some unprosperous preceptor, of the sort that moulder in our universities, now descended from the carriage, and, taking off his hat to salute Philina, discovered an ill-powdered but yet very stiff periwig, while Philina threw a hundred kisses of the hand towards him.

As Philina’s chief enjoyment lay in loving one class of men, and being loved by them, so there was a second and hardly inferior satisfaction, wherewith she entertained herself is frequently as possible; and this consisted in hoodwinking and passing jokes upon the other class, whom at such moments she happened not to love; all which she could accomplish in a very sprightly style.

Amid the flourish which she made in receiving this old friend, no attention was bestowed upon the rest who followed him. Yet among the party were an oldish man and two young girls, whom Wilhelm thought he knew. Accordingly it turned out that he had often seen them all, some years ago, in a company then playing in his native town. The daughters had grown since that period; the old man was little altered. He commonly enacted those good-hearted boisterous old gentlemen, whom the German theatre is never without, and whom, in common life, one also frequently enough falls in with. For as it is the character of our countrymen to do good, and cause it, without pomp or circumstance, so they seldom consider that there is likewise a mode of doing what is right with grace and dignity; more frequently, indeed, they yield to the spirit of contradiction, and fall into the error of deforming their dearest virtue by a surly mode of putting it in practice.

Such parts our actor could play very well; and he played them so often and exclusively that he had himself taken up the same turn of proceeding in his ordinary life.

On recognizing him, Wilhelm was seized Edition: current; Page: [125] with a strong commotion: he recollected how often he had seen this man on the stage with his beloved Mariana: he still heard him scolding, still heard the small soothing voice, with which in many characters she had to meet his rugged temper.

The first anxious question put to the strangers, Whether they had heard of any situation in their travels? was answered, alas, with No; and to complete the information it was further added, that all the companies they had fallen in with were not only supplied with actors, but many of them were afraid lest, on account of the approaching war, they should be forced to separate. Old Boisterous, with his daughters, moved by spleen and love of change, had given up an advantageous engagement; then meeting with the Pedant by the way, they had hired a carriage to come hither; where, as they found, good counsel was still dear, needful to have, and difficult to get.

The time while the rest were talking very keenly of their circumstances Wilhelm spent in thought. He longed to speak in private with the old man; he wished and feared to hear of Mariana, and felt himself in the greatest disquietude.

The pretty looks of the stranger damsels could not call him from his dream; but a war of words which now arose awakened his attention. It was Friedrich, the fair-haired boy, who used to attend Philina, stubbornly refusing on this occasion to cover the table and bring up dinner. “I engaged to serve you,” he cried; “but not to wait on everybody.” They fell into a hot contest. Philina insisted that he should do his duty; and as he obstinately refused, she told him plainly he might go about his business.

“You think, perhaps, I cannot leave you!” cried he, sturdily; then went to pack up his bundle, and soon hastily quitted the house.

“Go, Mignon,” said Philina, “and get us what we want: tell the waiter, and help him to attend us.”

Mignon came before Wilhelm, and asked in her laconic way: “Shall I? May I?” To which Wilhelm answered: “Do all that the lady bids thee, child.”

She accordingly took charge of everything, and waited on the guests the whole evening, with the utmost carefulness. After dinner Wilhelm proposed to have a walk with the old man alone. Succeeding in this, after many questions about his late wanderings, the conversation turned upon the former company, and Wilhelm hazarded a question touching Mariana.

“Do not speak to me of that despicable creature,” cried the old man; “I have sworn to think of her no more.” Terrified at this speech, Wilhelm felt still more embarrassed, as the old man proceeded to vituperate her fickleness and wantonness. Most gladly would our friend have broken off the conversation; but now it was impossible: he was obliged to undergo the whole tumultuous effusions of this strange old gentleman.

“I am ashamed,” continued he, “that I felt such a friendship for her. Yet had you known the girl better you would excuse me. She was so pretty, so natural and good, so pleasing, in every sense so tolerable, I could never have supposed that ingratitude and impudence were to prove the chief features of her character.”

Wilhelm had nerved himself to hear the worst of her; when all at once he observed, with astonishment, that the old man’s tones grew milder, his voice faltered, and he took out his handkerchief to dry the tears, which at last began to trickle down his cheeks.

“What is the matter with you?” cried Wilhelm. “What is it that suddenly so changes the current of your feelings? Conceal it not from me. I take a deeper interest in the fate of this girl than you suppose. Only tell me all.”

“I have not much to say,” replied the old man, again taking up his earnest angry tone. “I have suffered more from her than I shall ever forgive. She had always a kind of trust in me. I loved her as my own daughter; indeed, while my wife lived, I had formed a resolution to take the creature to my own house, and save her from the hands of that old crone, from whose guidance I boded no good. But my wife died, and the project went to nothing.

“About the end of our stay in your native town, it is not quite three years ago, I noticed a visible sadness about her. I questioned her, but she evaded me. At last we set out on our journey. She travelled in the same coach with me; and I soon observed, what she herself did not long deny, that she was with child, and suffering the greatest terror lest our manager might turn her off. In fact, in a short while he did make the discovery, immediately threw up her contract, which at any rate was only for six weeks, paid off her arrears, and, in spite of all entreaties, left her Edition: current; Page: [126] behind in the miserable inn of a little village.


“Devil take all wanton jilts!” cried the old man, with a splenetic tone, “and especially this one, that has spoiled me so many hours of my life! Why should I keep talking how I myself took charge of her, what I did for her, what I spent on her, how in absence I provided for her? I would rather throw my purse into the ditch, and spend my time in nursing mangy whelps, than ever more bestow the smallest care on such a thing. Pshaw! at first I got letters of thanks, notice of places she was staying at, and finally no word at all; not even an acknowledgment for the money I had sent to pay the expenses of her lying-in. O! the treachery and the fickleness of women are rightly matched, to get a comfortable living for themselves, and to give an honest fellow many heavy hours.”


Wilhelm’s feelings on returning home after this conversation may be easily conceived. All his old wounds had been torn up afresh; and the sentiment, that Mariana was not wholly unworthy of his love, had again been Edition: current; Page: [127] brought to life. The interest which the old man had shown about her fate, the praises he gave her against his will, displayed her again in all her attractiveness. Nay, even the bitter accusations brought against her contained nothing that could lower her in Wilhelm’s estimation, for he as well as she was guilty in all her aberrations. Nor did even her final silence seem greatly blamable; it rather inspired him with mournful thoughts. He saw her as a frail, ill-succored mother, wandering helplessly about the world; wandering perhaps with his own child. What he knew, and what he knew not, awoke in him the most painful emotions.

Mignon had been waiting for him; she lighted him up-stairs. On setting down the light she begged that he would allow her that evening to compliment him with a piece of her art. He would rather have declined this, particularly as he knew not what it was; but he had not the heart to refuse anything this kind creature wished. After a little while she again came in. She carried a little carpet below her arm, which she then spread out upon the floor. Wilhelm said she might proceed. She thereupon brought four candles, and placed one upon each corner of the carpet. A little basket of eggs which she next carried in made her purpose clearer. Carefully measuring her steps, she then walked to and fro on the carpet, spreading out the eggs in certain figures and positions: which done, she called in a man that was waiting in the house, and could play on the violin. He retired with his instrument into a corner; she tied a band about her eyes, gave a signal, and, like a piece of wheel-work set a-going, she began moving the same instant as the music, accompanying her beats and the notes of the tune with the strokes of a pair of castanets.

Lightly, nimbly, and with hair-breadth accuracy, she carried on the dance. She skipped so sharply and surely along between the eggs, and trod so closely down beside them, that you would have thought every instant she must trample one of them in pieces, or kick the rest away in her rapid turns. By no means! She touched no one of them, though winding herself through their mazes with all kinds of steps, wide and narrow; nay, even with leaps, and at last half kneeling.

Constant as the movement of a clock, she ran her course; and the strange music, at each repetition of the tune, gave a new impulse to the dance; recommencing and again rushing off as at first. Wilhelm was quite led away by this singular spectacle; he forgot his cares; he followed every movement of the dear little creature, and felt surprised to see how finely her character unfolded itself as she proceeded in the dance.

Rigid, sharp, cold, vehement and in soft postures, stately rather than attractive; such was the light in which it showed her. At this moment he experienced at once all the emotions he had ever felt for Mignon. He longed to incorporate this forsaken being with his own heart; to take her in his arms, and with a father’s love to awaken in her the joy of existence.

The dance being ended she rolled the eggs together softly with her foot into a little heap, left none behind, harmed none; then placed herself beside it, taking the bandage from her eyes, and concluding her performance with a little bow.

Wilhelm thanked her for having executed, so prettily and unexpectedly, a dance he had long wished to see. He patted her; was sorry she had tired herself so much. He promised her a new suit of clothes; to which she vehemently replied, “Thy color!” This, too, he promised her, though not well knowing what she meant by it. She then lifted up the eggs, took the carpet under her arm, asked if he wanted anything further, and skipped out of the door.

The musician, being questioned, said that for some time she had taken much trouble in often singing over the tune of this dance, the well-known fandango, to him, and training him till he could play it accurately. For his labor she had likewise offered him some money, which, however, he would not accept.


After a restless night, which our friend spent, sometimes waking, sometimes oppressed with unpleasant dreams, seeing Mariana now in all her beauty, now in woful case, at one time with a child on her arm, then soon bereaved of it, the morning had scarcely dawned when Mignon entered with a tailor. She brought some gray cloth and blue taffeta, signifying in her own way that she wished to have a new jacket and sailor’s trousers, such as she had seen the boys of the town wearing, with blue cuffs and tyers.

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Since the loss of Mariana, Wilhelm had laid aside all gay colors. He had used himself to gray, the garment of the shades; and only perhaps a sky-blue lining, or little collar of that dye, in some degree enlivened his sober garb. Mignon, eager to wear his colors, hurried on the tailor, who engaged to have his work soon ready.

The exercise in dancing and fencing which our friend took this day with Laertes did not prosper in their hands. Indeed, it was soon interrupted by Melina, who came to show them circumstantially how a little company was now of itself collected, sufficient to exhibit plays in abundance. He renewed the proposal that Wilhelm should advance a little money for setting them in motion; which, however, Wilhelm still declined.

Ere long Philina and the girls came in, racketing and laughing as usual. They had now devised a fresh excursion; for change of place and objects was a pleasure after which they always longed. To eat daily in a different spot was their highest wish. On this occasion they proposed a sail.

The boat in which they were to sail down the pleasant windings of the river had already been engaged by the Pedant. Philina urged them on: the party did not linger, and were soon on board.

“What shall we take to now?” said Philina, when all had placed themselves upon the benches.

“The readiest thing,” replied Laertes, “were for us to extemporize a play. Let each take a part that suits his character, and we shall see how we get along.”

“Excellent!” said Wilhelm. “In a society where there is no dissimulation, but where each without disguise pursues the bent of his own humor, elegance and satisfaction cannot long continue; and where dissimulation always reigns they do not enter at all. It will not be amiss, then, that we take up dissimulation to begin with; and then, behind our masks, be as candid as we please.”

“Yes,” said Laertes, “it is on this account that one goes on so pleasantly with women; they never show themselves in their natural form.”

“That is to say,” replied Madam Melina, “they are not so vain as men, who conceive themselves to be always amiable enough, just as nature has produced them.”

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In the meantime the river led them between pleasant groves and hills, between gardens and vineyards; and the young women, especially Madam Melina, expressed their rapture at the landscape. The latter even began to recite, in solemn style, a pretty poem of the descriptive sort, upon a similar scene of nature; but Philina interrupted her with the proposal of a law that no one should presume to speak of any inanimate object. On the other hand, she zealously urged on their project of an extempore play. Old Boisterous was to be a half-pay officer; Laertes, a fencing-master taking his vacation; the Pedant, a Jew; she herself would act a Tyrolese, leaving to the rest to choose characters according to their several pleasures. They would suppose themselves to be a party of total strangers to each other, who had just met on board a merchant ship.

She immediately began to play her part with the Jew; and a universal cheerfulness diffused itself among them.

They had not sailed far, when the skipper stopped in his course, asking permission of the company to take in a person standing on the shore, who had made a sign to him.

“That is just what we needed,” cried Philina; “a chance passenger was wanting to complete the travelling-party.”

A handsome man came on board, whom, by his dress and his dignified mien, you might have taken for a clergyman. He saluted the party, who thanked him in their own way, and soon made known to him the nature of their game. The stranger immediately engaged to play the part of a country parson; which, in fact, he accomplished in the most adroit manner, to the admiration of all; now admonishing, now telling stories, showing some weak points, yet never losing their respect.

In the meantime every one who had made a false step in his part, or swerved from his character, had been obliged to forfeit a pledge; Philina had gathered them with the greatest care; and especially threatened the reverend gentleman with many kisses, though he himself had never been at fault. Melina, on the other hand, was completely fleeced; shirt-buttons, buckles, every movable about his person was in Philina’s hands. He was trying to enact an English traveller, and could not by any means get into the spirit of his part.

Meanwhile the time had passed away very pleasantly. Each had strained his fancy and his wit to the utmost, and each had garnished his part with agreeable and entertaining jests. Thus comfortably occupied, they reached the place where they meant to pass the day; and Wilhelm going out to walk with the clergyman, as both from his appearance and late character he persisted in naming him, soon fell into an interesting conversation.

“I think this practice,” said the stranger, “very useful among actors, and even in the company of friends and acquaintances. It is the best mode of drawing men out of themselves, and leading them, by a circuitous path, back into themselves again. It should be a custom with every troop of players to practise in this manner; and the public would assuredly be no loser if every month an unwritten piece were brought forward; in which, of course, the players had prepared themselves by several rehearsals.”

“One should not, then,” replied our friend, “consider an extempore piece as, strictly speaking, composed on the spur of the moment; but as a piece of which the plan, action and division of the scenes were given; the filling up of all this being left to the player.”

“Quite right,” said the stranger; “and in regard to this very filling up, such a piece, were the players once trained to these performances, would profit greatly. Not in regard to the mere words, it is true; for by a careful selection of these the studious writer may certainly adorn his work; but in regard to the gestures, looks, exclamations, and everything of that nature; in short, to the mute and half-mute play of the dialogue, which seems by degrees fading away among us altogether. There are indeed some players in Germany whose bodies figure what they think and feel; who, by their silence, their delays, their looks, their slight graceful movements, can prepare the audience for a speech, and by a pleasant sort of pantomime combine the pauses of the dialogue with the general whole; but such a practice as this, coöperating with a happy natural turn, and training it to compete with the author, is far from being so habitual as, for the comfort of playgoing people, were to be desired.”

“But will not a happy natural turn,” said Wilhelm, “as the first and last requisite, of itself conduct the player like every other artist, nay, perhaps every other man, to the lofty mark he aims at?”

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“The first and the last, the beginning and the end, it may well be; but in the middle many things will still be wanting to an artist, if instruction, and early instruction too, have not previously made that of him which he was meant to be: and perhaps for the man of genius it is worse in this respect than for the man possessed of only common capabilities; the one may much more easily be misinstructed, and be driven far more violently into false courses, than the other.”

“But,” said Wilhelm, “will not genius save itself, not heal the wounds which itself has inflicted?”

“Only to a very small extent, and with great difficulty,” said the other, “or perhaps not at all. Let no one think that he can conquer the first impressions of his youth. If he has grown up in enviable freedom, surrounded with beautiful and noble objects, in constant intercourse with worthy men; if his masters have taught him what he needed first to know, for comprehending more easily what followed; if he has never learned anything which he requires to unlearn; if his first operations have been so guided, that without altering any of his habits he can more easily produce what is excellent in future; then such a one will lead a purer, more perfect and happier life, than another man who has wasted the force of his youth in opposition and error. A great deal is said and written about education; yet I meet with very few who can comprehend, and transfer to practice, this simple yet vast idea, which includes within itself all others connected with the subject.”

“That may well be true,” said Wilhelm; “for the generality of men are limited enough in their conceptions to suppose that every other should be fashioned by education according to the pattern of themselves. Happy then are those whom fate takes charge of, and educates according to their several natures!”

“Fate,” said the other, smiling, “is an excellent, but most expensive schoolmaster. In all cases, I would rather trust to the reason of a human tutor. Fate, for whose wisdom I entertain all imaginable reverence, often finds in Chance, by which it works, an instrument not over manageable. At least the latter very seldom seems to execute precisely and accurately what the former had determined.”

“You seem to express a very singular opinion,” said Wilhelm.

“Not at all!” replied the other. “Most of what happens in the world confirms my opinion. Do not many incidents at their commencement show some mighty purport, and generally terminate in something paltry?”

“You mean to jest.”

“And as to what concerns the individual man,” pursued the other, “is it not so with this likewise? Suppose Fate had appointed one to be a good player; and why should it not provide us with good players as well as other good things? Chance would perhaps conduct the youth into some puppet-show, where, at such an early age, he could not help taking interest in what was tasteless and despicable, reckoning insipidities endurable or even pleasing, and thus corrupting and misdirecting his primary impressions; impressions which can never be effaced, and whose influence, in spite of all our efforts, cling to us in some degree to the very last.”

“What makes you think of puppet-shows?” said Wilhelm, not without some consternation.

“It was an accidental instance; if it does not please you, we shall take another. Suppose Fate had appointed any one to be a great painter, and it pleased Chance that he should pass his youth in sooty huts, in barns and stables; do you think that such a man would ever be enabled to exalt himself to purity, to nobleness, to freedom of soul? The more keenly he may in his youth have seized on the impure, and tried in his own manner to ennoble it, the more powerfully in the remainder of his life will it be revenged on him; because while he was endeavoring to conquer it his whole being has become inseparably combined with it. Whoever spends his early years in mean and pitiful society, though at an after period he may have the choice of better, will yet constantly look back with longing towards that which he enjoyed of old, and which has left its impression blended with the memory of all his young and unreturning pleasures.”

From conversation of this sort, it is easy to imagine, the rest of the company had gradually withdrawn. Philina, in particular, had stepped aside at the very outset. Wilhelm and his comrade now rejoined them by a cross-path. Philina brought out her forfeits, and they had to be redeemed in many different ways. During which business, the stranger, by the most ingenious devices, and by his frank participation in their sports, recommended himself much to all the party, and Edition: current; Page: [131] particularly to the ladies; and thus, amid joking, singing, kissing, and railleries of all sorts, the hours passed away in the most pleasant manner.


When our friends began to think of going home, they looked about them for their clergyman; but he had vanished, and was nowhere to be found.

“It is not polite in the man, who otherwise displayed good breeding,” said Madam Melina, “to desert a company that welcomed him so kindly, without taking leave.”

“I have all the time been thinking,” said Laertes, “where I can have seen this singular man before. I fully intended to ask him about it at parting.”

“I too had the same feeling,” said Wilhelm, “and certainly I should not have let him go till he had told us something more about his circumstances. I am much mistaken if I have not ere now spoken with him somewhere.”

“And you may in truth,” said Philina, “be mistaken there. This person seems to have the air of an acquaintance because he looks like a man, and not like Jack or Kit.”

“What is this?” said Laertes. “Do not we two look like men?”

“I know what I am saying,” cried Philina; “and if you cannot understand me, never mind. In the end my words will be found to require no commentary.”

Two coaches now drove up. All praised the attention of Laertes, who had ordered them. Philina, with Madam Melina, took her place opposite to Wilhelm; the rest bestowed themselves as they best could. Laertes rode back on Wilhelm’s horse, which had likewise been brought out.

Philina was scarcely seated in the coach, when she began to sing some pretty songs, and gradually led the conversation to some stories, which she said might be successfully treated in the form of dramas. By this cunning turn she very soon put her young friend into his finest humor: from the wealth of his living imaginative store, he forthwith constructed a complete play, with all its acts, scenes, characters and plots. It was thought proper to insert a few catches and songs; they composed them; and Philina, who entered into every part of it, immediately fitted them with well-known tunes, and sang them on the spot.

It was one of her beautiful, most beautiful days; she had skill to enliven our friend with all manner of diverting wiles; he felt in spirits such as he had not for many a month enjoyed.

Since that shocking discovery had torn him from the side of Mariana, he had continued true to his vow to be on his guard against the encircling arms of woman, to avoid the faithless sex, to lock up his inclinations, his sweet wishes in his own bosom. The conscientiousness with which he had observed this vow gave his whole nature a secret nourishment; and as his heart could not remain without affection, some loving sympathy had now become a want with him. He went along once more, as if environed by the first cloudy glories of youth; his eye fixed joyfully on every charming object, and never had his judgment of a lovely form been more favorable. How dangerous, in such a situation, this wild girl must have been to him, is but too easy to conceive.

Arrived at home, they found Wilhelm’s chamber all ready to receive them; the chairs set right for a public reading; in midst of them the table, on which the punch-bowl was in due time to take its place.

The German chivalry-plays were new at this period, and had just excited the attention and the inclination of the public. Old Boisterous had brought one of this sort with him; the reading of it had already been determined on. They all sat down: Wilhelm took possession of the pamphlet, and began to read.

The harnessed knights, the ancient keeps, the true-heartedness, honesty and downrightness, but especially the independence of the acting characters, were received with the greatest approbation. The reader did his utmost; and the audience gradually mounted into rapture. Between the third and fourth act, the punch arrived in an ample bowl; and there being much fighting and drinking in the piece itself, nothing was more natural than that, on every such occurrence, the company should transport themselves into the situation of the heroes, should flourish and strike along with them, and drink long life to their favorites among the dramatis personæ.

Each individual of the party was inflamed with the noblest fire of national spirit. How it gratified this German company to be poetically entertained, according to their own Edition: current; Page: [132] character, on stuff of their own manufacture! In particular, the vaults and caverns, the ruined castles, the moss and hollow trees, but above all the nocturnal gypsy-scenes, and the Secret Tribunal, produced a quite incredible effect. Every actor now figured to himself how, ere long, in helm and harness; every actress how, with a monstrous spreading ruff, she would present her Germanship before the public. Each would appropriate to himself without delay some name taken from the piece, or from German history; and Madam Melina declared, that the son or daughter she was then expecting should not be christened otherwise than by the name of Adelbert or of Mathilde.


Towards the fifth act the approbation became more impetuous and louder; and at last, when the hero actually trampled down his oppressor, and the tyrant met his doom, the ecstasy increased to such a height, that all averred they had never passed such happy moments. Melina, whom the liquor had inspired, was the noisiest; and when the second bowl was empty, and midnight near, Laertes swore through thick and thin that no living mortal was worthy ever more to put these glasses to his lips; and, so swearing, he pitched his own right over his head, through a window-pane, out into the street. The rest followed his example; and notwithstanding the protestations of the landlord, who came running in at the noise, the punch-bowl itself, never after this festivity to be polluted by unholy drink, was dashed into a thousand shreds. Philina, whose exhilaration was the Edition: current; Page: [133] least noticed, the other two girls by that time having laid themselves upon the sofa in no very elegant positions, maliciously encouraged her companions in their tumult. Madam Melina recited some spirit-stirring poems; and her husband, not too amiable in the uproar, began to cavil at the insufficient preparation of the punch, declaring that he could arrange an entertainment altogether in a different style; and at last becoming sulkier and louder as Laertes commanded silence, till the latter, without much consideration, threw the fragments of the punch-bowl about his head, and thereby not a little deepended the confusion.

Meanwhile the town-guard had arrived, and were demanding admission to the house. Wilhelm, much heated by his reading, though he had drunk but little, had enough to do with the landlord’s help to content these people by money and good words; and afterwards to get the various members of his party sent home in that unseemly case. On coming back, overpowered with sleep and full of chagrin, he threw himself upon his bed without undressing; and nothing could exceed his disgust, when, opening his eyes next morning, he looked out with dull sight upon the devastations of the bygone day, and saw the uncleanness, and the many bad effects, of which that ingenious, lively and well-intentioned poetical performance had been the cause.


After a short consideration he called the landlord, and bade him mark to his account both the damage and the regular charge. At the same time he learned, not without vexation, that his horse had been so hard ridden by Laertes last night, that, in all probability, it was foundered, as they term it, the farrier having little hope of its recovering.

A salute from Philina, which she threw him from her window, restored him in some degree to a more cheerful humor; he went forhtwith into the nearest shop to buy her a little present, which, in return for the powder-knife, he still owed her; and it must be owned that, in selecting his gift, he did not keep himself within the limits of proportional value. He not only purchased her a pair of earrings; but added likewise a hat and neckerchief, and some other little articles, which he had seem her lavishly throw from her on the first day of their acquaintance.

Madam Melina, happening to observe him as he was delivering his presents, took an opportunity before breakfast to rate him very earnestly about his inclination for this girl; at which he felt the more astonished, the less he thought it merited. He swore solemnly, that he had never once entertained the slightest notion of attaching himself to such a person, whose whole manner of proceeding was well known to him: he excused himself as well as possible for his friendly and polite conduct towards her; yet did not by any means content Madam Melina, whose spite grew ever more determined, as she could not but observe that the flatteries by which she had acquired for herself a sort of partial regard from our friend, were not sufficient to defend this conquest from the attacks of a lively, younger and more gifted rival.

As they sat down to table, her husband joined them, likewise in a very fretful humor; which he was beginning to display on many little things, when the landlord entered to announce a player on the harp. “You will certainly,” he said, “find pleasure in the music and the songs of this man: no one who hears him can forbear to admire him and bestow something on him.”

“Let him go about his business,” said Melina; “I am anything but in a trim for hearing fiddlers, and we have singers constantly among ourselves disposed to gain a little by their talent.” He accompanied these words with a sarcastic side-look at Philina: she understood his meaning, and immediately prepared to punish him by taking up the cause of the harper. Turning towards Wilhelm: “Shall we not hear the man?” said she; “shall we do nothing to save ourselves from this miserable ennui?

Melina was going to reply, and the strife would have grown keener had not the person it related to at that moment entered. Wilhelm saluted him, and beckoned him to come near.

The figure of this singular guest set the whole party in astonishment; he had found a chair before any one took heart to ask him a question, or make any observation. His bald crown was encircled by a few gray hairs; and a pair of large blue eyes looked out softly from beneath his long white eyebrows. To a nose of beautiful proportions was subjoined a flowing hoary beard, which did not hide Edition: current; Page: [134] the fine shape and position of his lips; and a long dark-brown garment wrapped his thin body from the neck to the feet. He began to prelude on the harp, which he had placed before him.

The sweet tones which he drew from his instrument very soon inspirited the company.

“You can sing too, my good old man,” said Philina.

“Give us something that shall entertain the spirit and the heart as well as the senses,” said Wilhelm. “The instrument should but accompany the voice; for tunes and melodies without words and meaning seem to me like butterflies or finely-variegated birds, which hover round us in the air, which we could wish to catch and make our own; whereas song is like a blessed genius that exalts us towards heaven, and allures the better self in us to attend him.”

The old man looked at Wilhelm; then aloft; then gave some trills upon his harp, and began his song. It contained a eulogy on minstrelsy; described the happiness of minstrels, and reminded men to honor them. He produced his song with so much life and truth that it seemed as if he had composed it at the moment, for this special occasion. Wilhelm could scarcely refrain from clasping him in his arms; but the fear of awakening a peal of laughter detained him in his chair; for the rest were already in half-whispers making sundry very shallow observations, and debating if the harper was a Papist or a Jew.

On asking about the author of the song, the man gave no distinct reply; declaring only that he was rich in songs, and anxious that they should please. Most of the party were now merry and joyful; even Melina was grown frank in his way; and whilst they talked and joked together, the old man began to sing the praise of social life, in the most sprightly style. He described the loveliness of unity and courtesy, in soft, soothing tones. Suddenly his music became cold, harsh and jarring, as he turned to deplore repulsive selfishness, short-sighted enmity and baleful division; and every heart willingly threw off those galling fetters, while, borne on the wings of a piercing melody, he launched forth in praise of peacemakers, and sang the happiness of souls that, having parted, meet again in love.

Scarcely had he ended, when Wilhelm cried to him: “Whoever thou art, that as a helping spirit comest to us, with a voice which blesses and revives, accept my reverence and my thanks! Feel that we all admire thee, and confide in us if thou wantest anything.”

The old man spoke not; he threw his fingers softly across the strings: then struck more sharply, and sang:

    • “What notes are those without the wall,
    • Across the portal sounding?
    • Let’s have the music in our hall,
    • Back from its roof rebounding.”
    • So spoke the king, the henchman flies;
    • His answer heard, the monarch cries:
    • “Bring in that ancient minstrel.”
    • “Hail, gracious king, each noble knight!
    • Each lovely dame, I greet you!
    • What glittering stars salute my sight!
    • What heart unmov’d may meet you!
    • Such lordly pomp is not for me,
    • Far other scenes my eyes must see:
    • Yet deign to list my harping.”
    • The singer turns him to his art,
    • A thrilling strain he raises;
    • Each warrior hears with glowing heart,
    • And on his lov’d one gazes.
    • The king, who liked his playing well,
    • Commands, for such a kindly spell,
    • A golden chain be given him.
    • “The golden chain give not to me;
    • Thy boldest knight may wear it,
    • Who cross’d the battle’s purple sea
    • On lion-breast may bear it:
    • Or let it be thy chancellor’s prize,
    • Amid his heaps to feast his eyes,
    • Its yellow glance will please him.
    • “I sing but as the linnet sings,
    • That on the green bough dwelleth;
    • A rich reward his music brings,
    • As from his throat it swelleth:
    • Yet might I ask, I’d ask of thine
    • One sparkling draught of purest wine,
    • To drink it here before you.”
    • He view’d the wine, he quaff’d it up:
    • “O draught of sweetest savor!
    • O happy house, where such a cup
    • Is thought a little favor!
    • If well you fare, remember me,
    • And thank kind Heaven, from envy free,
    • As now for this I thank you.”

When the harper, on finishing his song, took up a glass of wine that stood poured out for him, and, turning with a friendly mien to his entertainers, drank it off, a buzz of joyful approbation rose from all the party. They clapped hands, and wished him health from that glass, and strength to his aged limbs. He sang a few other ballads, exciting more and more hilarity among the company.

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“Old man,” said Philina, “dost thou know the tune, ‘The Shepherd deck’d him for the Dance?’ ”*

“Oh, yes!” said he; “if you will sing the words, I shall not fail for my part of it.”

Philina then stood up, and held herself in readiness. The old man commenced the tune; and she sang a song, which we cannot impart to our readers, lest they might think it insipid, or perhaps undignified.

Meanwhile the company were growing merrier and merrier; they had already emptied several flasks of wine, and were now beginning to get very loud. But our friend, having fresh in his remembrance the bad consequences of their late exhilaration, determined to break up the sitting; he slipped into the old man’s hand a liberal remuneration for his trouble, the rest did something likewise; they gave him leave to go and take repose, promising themselves another entertainment from his skill in the evening.

When he had retired, our friend said to Philina: “In this favorite song of yours I certainly find no merit, either moral or poetical; yet, if you were to bring forward any proper composition on the stage, with the same arch simplicity, the same propriety and gracefulness, I should engage that strong and universal approbation would be the result.”

“Yes,” said Philina, “it would be a charming thing indeed to warm one’s self at ice.”

“After all,” said Wilhelm, “this old man might put many a player to the blush. Did you notice how correctly the dramatic part of his ballads was expressed? I maintain, there was more living true representation in his singing than in many of our starched characters upon the stage. You would take the acting of many plays for a narrative, and you might ascribe to these musical narratives a sensible presence.”

“You are hardly just!” replied Laertes. “I pretend to no great skill either as a player or a singer; yet I know well enough, that, when music guides the movements of the body, at once affording to them animation and a scale to measure it; when declamation and expression are furnished me by the composer, I feel quite a different man from what I do when, in prose-dramas, I have all this to create for myself; have both gesture and declamation to invent, and am perhaps disturbed in it too by the awkwardness of some partner in the dialogue.”

“Thus much I know,” said Melina, “the man certainly may put us to the blush in one point, and that a main one. The strength of his talent is shown by the profit he derives from it. Even us, who perhaps ere long shall be embarrassed where to get a meal, he persuades to share our pittance with him. He has skill enough to wile the money from our pockets with an old song; the money that we should have used to find ourselves employment. So pleasant an affair is it to squander the means which might procure subsistence to one’s self and others.”

This remark gave the conversation not the most delightful turn. Wilhelm, for whom the reproach was peculiarly intended, replied with some heat; and Melina, at no time over studious of delicacy and politeness, explained his grievances at last in words more plain than courteous. “It is now a fortnight,” said he, “since we looked at the theatrical machinery and wardrobe which is lying pawned here; the whole might be redeemed for a very tolerable sum. You then gave me hopes that you would lend me so much; and hitherto I do not see that you have thought more of the matter, or come any nearer a determination. Had you then consented, we should ere now have been under way. Nor has your intention to leave the place been executed; nor has your money in the meantime been spared: at least there are people who have always skill to create opportunities for scattering it faster and faster away.”

Such upbraidings, not altogether undeserved, touched Wilhelm to the quick. He replied with keenness, nay, with anger; and, as the company arose to part, he took hold of the door, and gave them not obscurely to understand that he would no longer continue with such unfriendly and ungrateful people. He hastened down, in no kindly humor, and seated himself upon the stone bench without the door of his inn; not observing that, first out of mirth, then out of spleen, he had drunk more wine than usual.


After a short time, which he passed sitting looking out before him, disquieted by many thoughts, Philina came singing and skipping along through the front door. She sat down Edition: current; Page: [136] by him, nay, we might almost say, on him, so close did she press herself towards him; she leaned upon his shoulders, began playing with his hair, patted him, and gave him the best words in the world. She begged of him to stay with them, and not leave her alone in that company, or she must die of tedium: she could not live any longer in the same house with Melina, and had come over to lodge in the other inn for that very reason.


He tried in vain to satisfy her with denials; to make her understand that he neither could nor would remain any longer. She did not cease with her entreaties; nay, suddenly she threw her arm round his neck, and kissed him with the liveliest expression of fondness.

“Are you mad, Philina?” cried Wilhelm, endeavoring to disengage himself; “to make the open street the scene of such caresses, which I nowise merit! Let me go; I cannot and I will not stay.”

“And I will hold thee fast,” said she, “and kiss thee here on the open street, and kiss thee till thou promise what I want. I shall die of laughing,” she continued; “by this familiarity the good people here must take me for thy wife of four weeks’ standing; and husbands, who witness this touching scene, will commend me to their wives as a pattern of childlike simple tenderness.”

Some persons were just then going by; she caressed him in the most graceful way; and he, to avoid giving scandal, was constrained to play the part of the patient husband. Then she made faces at the people, when their backs were turned; and, in the wildest humor, continued to commit all sorts of improprieties, till at last he was obliged to promise that he would not go that day, or the morrow, or the next day.

“You are a true clod!” said she, quitting him; “and I am but a fool to spend so much kindness on you.” She arose with some vexation, and walked a few steps, then turned round laughing, and cried: “I believe it is just that, after all, that makes me so crazy about thee. I will but go and seek my knitting-needles and my stocking, that I may have something to do. Stay here, and let me find the stone man still upon the stone bench when I come back.”

She cast a sparkling glance on him, and went into the house. He had no call to follow her; on the contrary, her conduct had excited fresh aversion in him: yet he rose from the bench to go after her, not well knowing why.

He was just entering the door, when Melina passed by, and spoke to him in a respectful tone, asking his pardon for the somewhat too harsh expressions he had used in their late discussion. “You will not take it ill of me,” continued he, “if I appear perhaps too fretful in my present circumstances. The charge of providing for a wife, perhaps soon for a child, forbids me from day to day to live at peace, or spend my time, as you may do, in the enjoyment of pleasant feelings. Consider, I pray you; and, if possible, do put me in possession of that stage-machinery that is lying here. I shall not be your debtor long, and I shall be obliged to you while I live.”

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Our friend, unwilling to be kept upon the threshold, over which an irresistible impulse was drawing him at that moment to Philina, answered, with an absent mind, eager to be gone, and surprised into a transient feeling of good-will: “If I can make you happy and contented by doing this, I will hesitate no longer. Go you and put everything to rights. I shall be prepared this evening, or to-morrow morning, to pay the money.” He then gave his hand to Melina in confirmation of his promise, and was very glad to see him hastily proceed along the street; but, alas, his entrance, which he now thought sure, was a second time prohibited, and more disagreeably than at first.

A young man, with a bundle on his back, came walking fast along the street, and advanced to Wilhelm, who at once recognized him for Friedrich. “Here I am again!” cried he, looking with his large blue eyes joyfully up and down, over all the windows of the house. “Where is Mamsell? Devil take me, if I can stroll about the world any longer without seeing her!”

The landlord, joining them at this instant, replied that she was above. Friedrich with a few bounds was up-stairs, and Wilhelm continued standing as if rooted to the threshold. At the first instant he was tempted to pluck the younker back, and drag him down by the hair; then all at once the spasm of a sharp jealousy stopped the current of his spirits and ideas; and, as he gradually recovered from this stupefaction, there came over him a splenetic fit of restlessness, a general discomfort, such as he had never felt in his life before.

He went up to his room, and found Mignon busy writing. For some time the creature had been laboring with great diligence in writing everything she knew by heart, giving always to her master and friend the papers to correct. She was indefatigable, and of good comprehension; but still her letters were irregular, and her lines crooked. Here too the body seemed to contradict the mind. In his usual moods Wilhelm took no small pleasure in the child’s attention; but at the present moment he regarded little what she showed him,—a piece of neglect which she felt the more acutely, as on this occasion she conceived her work had been accomplished with peculiar success.

Wilhelm’s unrest drove him up and down the passages of the house, and finally again to the street-door. A rider was just prancing towards it, a man of good appearance, of middle age, and a brisk, contented look. The landlord ran to meet him, holding out his hand as to an old acquaintance. “Ay, Herr Stallmeister,” cried he, “have we the pleasure to see you again?”

“I am just going to bait with you,” replied the stranger, “and then along to the Estate, to get matters put in order as soon as possible. The Count is coming over to-morrow with his Edition: current; Page: [138] lady; they mean to stay a while to entertain the Prince von — in their best style: he intends to fix his headquarters in this neighborhood for some time.”


“It is pity,” said the landlord, “that you cannot stop with us: we have good company in the house.” The hostler came running out, and took the horse from the Stallmeister, who continued talking in the door with the landlord, and now and then giving a look at Wilhelm.

Our friend, observing that he formed the topic of their conversation, went away, and walked up and down the streets.


In the restless vexation of his present humor, it came into his head to go and see the old harper, hoping by his music to scare away the evil spirits that tormented him. On asking for the man, he was directed to a mean public-house in a remote corner of the little town; and, having mounted up-stairs there to the very garret, his ear caught the fine twanging of the harp coming from a little room before him. They were heart-moving, mournful tones, accompanied by a sad and dreary singing. Wilhelm glided to the door; and, as the good old man was performing a sort of voluntary, the few stanzas of which, sometimes chanted, sometimes in recitative, were repeated more than once, our friend succeeded, after listening for a while, in gathering nearly this:

    • Who never ate his bread in sorrow,
    • Who never spent the darksome hours
    • Weeping and watching for the morrow,
    • He knows ye not, ye gloomy Powers.
    • To earth, this weary earth, ye bring us,
    • To guilt ye let us heedless go,
    • Then leave repentance fierce to wring us:
    • A moment’s guilt, an age of woe!

The heart-sick plaintive sound of this lament pierced deep into the soul of the hearer. It seemed to him as if the old man were often stopped from proceeding by his tears; his harp would alone be heard for a time, till his voice again joined it in low broken tones. Wilhelm stood by the door; he was much moved; the mourning of this stranger had again opened the avenues of his heart; he could not resist the claim of sympathy, or restrain the tears which this woe-begone complaint at last called forth. All the pains that pressed upon his soul seemed now at once to loosen from their hold; he abandoned himself without reserve to the feelings of the moment. Pushing up the door, he stood before the harper. The old man was sitting on a mean bed, the only seat, or article of furniture which his miserable room afforded.

“What feelings hast thou not awakened in me, good old man!” exclaimed he. “All that was lying frozen at my heart thou hast melted and put in motion. Let me not disturb thee; but continue, in solacing thy own sorrows, to confer happiness upon a friend.” The harper was about to rise and say something; but Wilhelm hindered him, for he had noticed in the morning that the old man did not like to speak. He sat down by him on the straw bed.

The old man wiped his eyes, and asked, with a friendly smile, “How came you hither? I meant to wait upon you in the evening again.”

“We are more quiet here,” said Wilhelm. “Sing to me what thou pleasest, what accords with thy own mood of mind, only proceed as if I were not by. It seems to me that to-day thou canst not fail to suit me. I think thee very happy that, in solitude, thou canst employ and entertain thyself so pleasantly; that, being everywhere a stranger, thou findest in thy own heart the most agreeable society.”

The old man looked upon his strings, and, after touching them softly by way of prelude, he commenced and sang:

    • Who longs in solitude to live,
    • Ah! soon his wish will gam;
    • Men hope and love, men get and give,
    • And leave him to his pain.
    • Yes, leave me to my moan!
    • When from my bed
    • You all are fled,
    • I still am not alone
    • The lover glides with footstep light:
    • His love, is she not waiting there?
    • So glides to meet me, day and night,
    • In solitude my care,
    • In solitude my woe:
    • True solitude I then shall know
    • When lying in my grave,
    • When lying in my grave,
    • And grief has let me go.

We might describe with great prolixity, and yet fail to express the charms of the singular conversation, which Wilhelm carried on with this wayfaring stranger. To every observation Edition: current; Page: [139] which our friend addressed to him, the old man, with the nicest accordance, answered in some melody, which awakened all the cognate emotions, and opened a wide field to the imagination.


Whoever has happened to assist at a meeting of certain devout people, who conceive that, in a state of separation from the Church, they can edify each other in a purer, more affecting, and more spiritual manner, may form to himself some conception of the present scene. He will recollect how the leader of the meeting would append to his words some verse of a song, that raised the soul till, as he wished, she took wing; how another of the flock would ere long subjoin, in a different tune, some verse of a different song; and to this again a third would link some verse of a third song; by which means the kindred ideas of the songs to which the verses belonged were indeed suggested, yet each passage by its new combination became new and individualized, as if it had been first composed that moment; and thus, from a well-known circle of ideas, from well-known songs and sayings, there was formed, for that particular society in that particular time, an original whole, by means of which their minds were animated, strengthened and refreshed. So likewise did the old man edify his guest: by known and unknown songs and passages, he brought feelings near and distant, emotions sleeping and awake, pleasant and painful, into a circulation, from which, in Wilhelm’s actual state the best effects might be anticipated.


Accordingly, in walking back, he began to think with greater earnestness than ever on his present situation: he had reached home with the firm purpose of altering it, when the landlord disclosed to him, by way of secret, that Mademoiselle Philina had made a conquest of the Count’s Stallmeister; who, after executing his commission at his master’s estate, had returned in the greatest haste, and was Edition: current; Page: [140] even now partaking of a good supper with her up in her chamber.

At this very moment Melina came in with a notary: they went into Wilhelm’s chamber together, where the latter, though with some hesitation, made his promise good; gave a draught of three hundred crowns to Melina, who, handing it to the lawyer, received in return a note acknowledging the sale of the whole theatrical apparatus, and engaging to deliver it next morning.

Scarcely had they parted when Wilhelm heard a cry of horror rising from some quarter of the house. He caught the sound of a young voice, uttering menacing and furious tones, which were ever and anon choked by immoderate weeping and howling. He observed this frantic noise move hastily from above; go past his door, and down to the lower part of the house.

Curiosity enticing our friend to follow it, he found Friedrich in a species of delirium. The boy was weeping, grinding his teeth, stamping with his feet, threatening with clenched fists; he appeared beside himself from fury and vexation. Mignon was standing opposite him, looking on with astonishment. The landlord, in some degree, explained this phenomenon.

The boy, he said, being well received at his return by Philina, seemed quite merry and contented; he had kept singing and jumping about till the time when Philina grew acquainted with the Stallmeister. Then, however, this half-grown younker had begun to show his indignation, to slam the doors, and run up and down in the highest dudgeon. Philina had ordered him to wait at table that evening; upon which he had grown still sulkier and more indignant; till at last, carrying up a plate with a ragout, instead of setting it upon the table, he had thrown the whole between Mademoiselle and her guest, who were sitting moderately close together at the time; and the Stallmeister, after two or three hearty cuffs, had then kicked him out of the room. He, the landlord, had himself helped to clean both of them, and certainly their clothes had suffered much.

On hearing of the good effect of his revenge, the boy began to laugh aloud, whilst the tears were still running down his cheeks. He heartily rejoiced for a time, till the disgrace which he had suffered from the stronger party once more came into his head, and he began afresh to howl and threaten.

Wilhelm stood meditating, and ashamed at this spectacle. It reflected back to him his own feelings, in coarser and exaggerated features: he too was inflamed with a fierce jealousy; and, had not decency restrained him, he would willingly have satisfied his wild humor; with malicious spleen, would have abused the object of his passion, and called out his rival: he could have crushed in pieces all the people round him; they seemed as if standing there but to vex him.

Laertes also had come in and heard the story; he roguishly spurred on the irritated boy, who was now asserting with oaths that he would make the Stallmeister give him satisfaction; that he had never yet let any injury abide with him; that should the man refuse there were other ways of taking vengeance.

This was the very business for Laertes. He went up-stairs, with a solemn countenance, to call out the Stallmeister in the boy’s name.

“This is a pleasant thing,” said the Stallmeister: “such a joke as this I had scarcely promised myself to-night.” They went down, and Philina followed them. “My son,” said the Stallmeister to Friedrich, “thou art a brave lad, and I do not hesitate to fight thee. Only as our years and strength are unequal, and the attempt a little dangerous on that account, I propose a pair of foils in preference to other weapons. We can rub the buttons of them with a piece of chalk; and whoever marks upon the other’s coat the first or the most thrusts, shall be held the victor, and be treated by the other with the best wine that can be had in town.”

Laertes decided that the proposition might be listened to: Friedrich obeyed him as his tutor. The foils were produced; Philina took a seat, went on with her knitting, and looked at the contending parties with the greatest peace of mind.

The Stallmeister, who could fence very prettily, was complaisant enough to spare his adversary, and to let a few chalk-scores be marked upon his coat; after which the two embraced, and wine was ordered. The Stallmeister took the liberty of asking Friedrich’s parentage and history; and Friedrich told him a long story, which had often been repeated already, and which, on some other opportunity, we purpose communicating to our readers.

To Wilhelm, in the meantime, this contest completed the representation of his own state of mind. He could not but perceive that he Edition: current; Page: [141] would willingly have taken up a foil against the Stallmeister; a sword still more willingly, though evidently much his inferior in the science of defence. Yet he deigned not to cast one look on Philina; he was on his guard against any word or movement that could possibly betray his feelings; and, after having once or twice done justice to the health of the duellists, he hastened to his own room, where a thousand painful thoughts came pressing round him.

He called to memory the time when his spirit, rich in hope, and full of boundless aims, was raised aloft, and encircled with the liveliest enjoyments of every kind as with its proper element. He now clearly saw, that of late he had fallen into a broken wandering path, where, if he tasted, it was but in drops what he once quaffed in unrestricted measure. But he could not clearly see what insatiable want it was that nature had made the law of his being; and how this want had been only set on edge, half satisfied, and misdirected by the circumstances of his life.

It will not surprise us, therefore, that, in considering his situation, and laboring to extricate himself, he fell into the greatest perplexity. It was not enough, that, by his friendship for Laertes, his attachment to Philina, his concern for Mignon, he had been detained longer than was proper in a place and a society where he could cherish his darling inclination, content his wishes as it were by stealth, and without proposing any object again pursue his early dreams. These ties he believed himself possessed of force enough to break asunder: had there been nothing more to hold him, he could have gone at once. But, only a few moments ago, he had entered into money-transactions with Melina; he had seen that mysterious old man, the enigma of whose history he longed with unspeakable desire to clear. Yet of this too, after much balancing of reasons, he at length determined, or thought he had determined, that it should not keep him back. “I must go,” he exclaimed; “I will go.” He threw himself into a chair; he felt greatly moved. Mignon came in, and asked, Whether she might help to undress him? Her manner was still and shy; it had grieved her to the quick to be so abruptly dismissed by him before.

Nothing is more touching than the first disclosure of a love which has been nursed in silence, of a faith grown strong in secret, and which at last comes forth in the hour of need, and reveals itself to him who formerly has reckoned it of small account. The bud, which had been closed so long and firmly, was now ripe to burst its swathings, and Wilhelm’s heart could never have been readier to welcome the impressions of affection.

She stood before him, and noticed his disquietude. “Master!” she cried, “if thou art unhappy, what will become of Mignon?” “Dear little creature,” said he, taking her hands, “thou too art part of my anxieties. I must go hence.” She looked at his eyes, glistening with restrained tears; and knelt down with vehemence before him. He kept her hands; she laid her head upon his knees, and remained quite still. He played with her hair, patted her, and spoke kindly to her. She continued motionless for a considerable time. At last he felt a sort of palpitating movement in her, which began very softly, and then by degrees with increasing violence diffused itself over all her frame. “What ails thee, Mignon?” cried he; “what ails thee?” She raised her little head, looked at him, and all at once laid her hand upon her heart, with the countenance of one repressing the utterance of pain. He raised her up, and she fell upon his breast; he pressed her towards him, and kissed her. She replied not by any pressure of the hand, by any motion whatever. She held firmly against her heart; and all at once gave a cry, which was accompanied by spasmodic movements of the body. She started up, and immediately fell down before him, as if broken in every joint. It was an excruciating moment! “My child!” cried he, raising her up, and clasping her fast; “my child, what ails thee?” The palpitations continued, spreading from the heart over all the lax and powerless limbs; she was merely hanging in his arms. All at once she again became quite stiff, like one enduring the sharpest corporeal agony; and soon with a new vehemence all her frame once more became alive; and she threw herself about his neck, like a bent spring closing; while in her soul, as it were, a strong rent took place, and at the same moment a stream of tears flowed from her shut eyes into his bosom. He held her fast. She wept, and no tongue can express the force of these tears. Her long hair had loosened, and was hanging down before her; it seemed as if her whole being was melting incessantly into a brook of tears. Her rigid limbs were again become relaxed; her inmost soul was pouring itself forth; in the wild confusion of the moment, Edition: current; Page: [142] Wilhelm was afraid she would dissolve in his arms, and leave nothing there for him to grasp. He held her closer and closer. “My child!” cried he, “my child! Thou art indeed mine, if that word can comfort thee. Thou art mine! I will keep thee, I will never forsake thee!” Her tears continued flowing. At last she raised herself; a faint gladness shone upon her face. “My father!” cried she, “thou wilt not forsake me? Wilt be my father? I am thy child!”

Softly, at this moment, the harp began to sound before the door; the old man brought his most affecting songs as an evening offering to our friend, who, holding his child ever closer in his arms, enjoyed the most pure and indescribable felicity.

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    • Know’st thou the land where lemon trees do bloom,
    • And oranges like gold in leafy gloom;
    • A gentle wind from deep blue heaven blows,
    • The myrtle thick, and high the laurel grows?
    • Know’st thou it, then?
    • ’Tis there! ’tis there,
    • Oh, my belov’d one, I with thee would go’
    • Know’st thou the house, its porch with pillars tall?
    • The rooms do glitter, glitters bright the hall,
    • And marble statues stand, and look me on:
    • What’s this, poor child, to thee they’ve done?
    • Know’st thou it, then?
    • ’Tis there! ’tis there,
    • Oh, my protector, I with thee would go!
    • Know’st thou the mountain bridge that hangs on cloud?
    • The mules in mist grope o’er the torrent loud,
    • In caves lie coil’d the dragon’s ancient brood,
    • The crag leaps down and over it the flood:
    • Know’st thou it, then?
    • ’Tis there! ’tis there
    • Our way runs; Oh, my father, wilt thou go?

Next morning, on looking for Mignon about the house Wilhelm did not find her; but was informed that she had gone out early with Melina, who had risen betimes to receive the wardrobe and other apparatus of his theatre.

After the space of some hours, Wilhelm heard the sound of music before his door. At first he thought it was the harper come again to visit him; but he soon distinguished the tones of a cithern, and the voice which began to sing was Mignon’s. Wilhelm opened the door; the child came in, and sang him the song we have just given above.

The music and general expression of it pleased our friend extremely, though he could not understand all the words. He made her once more repeat the stanzas, and explain them; he wrote them down, and translated them into his native language. But the originality of its turns he could imitate only from afar; its childlike innocence of expression vanished from it in the process of reducing its broken phraseology to uniformity, and combining its disjointed parts. The charm of the tune, moreover, was entirely incomparable.

She began every verse in a stately and solemn manner, as if she wished to draw attention towards something wonderful, as if she had something weighty to communicate. In the third line her tones became deeper and gloomier; the Know’st thou it, then? was uttered with a show of mystery and eager circumspectness; in the ’Tis there! ’tis there! lay a boundless longing; and her I with thee would go! she modified at each repetition, so Edition: current; Page: [144] that now it appeared to entreat and implore, now to impel and persuade.

On finishing her song for the second time, she stood silent for a moment, looked keenly at Wilhelm, and asked him, “Know’st thou the land?” “It must mean Italy,” said Wilhelm: “where didst thou get the little song?” “Italy!” said Mignon, with an earnest air: “if thou go to Italy, take me along with thee; for I am too cold here.” “Hast thou been there already, little dear?” said Wilhelm. But the child was silent, and nothing more could be got out of her.

Melina entered now; he looked at the cithern; was glad that she had rigged it up again so prettily. The instrument had been among Melina’s stage-gear; Mignon had begged it of him in the morning; and then gone to the old harper. On this occasion she had shown a talent she was not before suspected of possessing.

Melina had already got possession of his wardrobe, with all that pertained to it; some members of the town magistracy had promised him permission to act, for a time, in the place. He was now returning with a merry heart and a cheerful look. His nature seemed altogether changed; he was soft, courteous to every one, nay, fond of obliging, and almost attractive. He was happy, he said, at now being able to afford employment to his friends, who had hitherto lain idle and embarrassed; sorry, however, that at first he could not have it in his power to remunerate the excellent actors whom fortune had offered him, in a style corresponding to their talents and capacities; being under the necessity, before all other things, of discharging his debt to so generous a friend as Wilhelm had proved himself to be.

“I cannot describe,” said he to Wilhelm, “the friendliness which you have shown in helping me forward to the management of a theatre. When I found you here, I was in a very curious predicament. You recollect how strongly I displayed to you, on our first acquaintance, my aversion to the stage; and yet, on being married, I was forced to look about for a place in some theatre, out of love to my wife, who promised to herself much joy and great applause, if so engaged. I could find none, at least no constant one; but in return I luckily fell in with some commercial men, who, in extraordinary cases, were enabled to employ a person that could handle his pen, that understood French, and was not without a little skill in ciphering. I managed pretty well in this way, for a time; I was tolerably paid; got about me many things which I had need of, and did not feel ashamed of my work. But these commissions of my patrons came to an end; they could afford me no permanent establishment; and, ever since, my wife has continued urging me still more to go upon the stage again; though, at present, alas, her own situation is none of the most favorable for exhibiting herself, with honor, in the eyes of the public. But now, I hope, the establishment, which by your kind help I have the means of setting up, will prove a good beginning for me and mine; you I shall thank for all my future happiness, let matters turn out as they will.”

Wilhelm listened to him with contentment; the whole fraternity of players were likewise moderately satisfied with the declarations of the new manager; they secretly rejoiced that an offer of employment had occurred so soon; and were disposed to put up, at first, with a smaller salary; the rather, that most of them regarded the present one, so unexpectedly placed within their reach, as a kind of supplement, on which a short while ago they could not count. Melina made haste to profit by this favorable temper; he endeavored in a sly way to get a little talk with each in private; and ere long had, by various methods, so cockered them all, that they did not hesitate to strike a bargain with him, without loss of time; scarcely thinking of this new engagement, or reckoning themselves secure at worst of getting free again after six weeks’ warning.

The terms were now to be reduced to proper form, and Melina was considering with what pieces he would first entice the public, when a courier riding up informed the Stallmeister that his lord and lady were at hand; on which the latter ordered out his horses.

In a short time after this the coach with its masses of luggage rolled in; two servants sprang down from the coach-box before the inn; and Philina, according to her custom, foremost in the way of novelties, placed herself within the door.

“Who are you?” said the countess, entering the house.

“An actress, at your excellency’s service,” was the answer; while the cheat, with a most innocent air, and looks of great humility, courtesied and kissed the lady’s gown.

The count, on seeing some other persons standing round, who also signified that they were players, inquired about the strength of Edition: current; Page: [aaa] Edition: current; Page: [bbb] Edition: current; Page: [ccc] Edition: current; Page: [ddd] Edition: current; Page: [145] their company, their last place of residence, their manager. “Had they but been Frenchmen,” said he to his lady, “we might have treated the prince with an unexpected enjoyment, and entertained him with his favorite pastime at our house.”


The Countess

“And could we not,” said the countess, “get these people, though unluckily they are but Germans, to exhibit with us at the castle while the prince stays there? Without doubt, they have some degree of skill: A large party can never be so well amused with anything as with a theatre; besides the baron would assist them.”

So speaking they went up-stairs; and Melina presented himself above as manager. “Call your folk together,” said the count, “and place them before me, that I may see what is in them. I must also have the list of pieces you profess to act.”

Melina, with a low bow, hastened from the room, and soon returned with his actors. They advanced in promiscuous succession; some, out of too great anxiety to please, introduced themselves in a rather sorry style; the others, not much better, by assuming an air of unconcern. Philina showed the deepest reverence to the countess, who behaved with extreme graciousness and condescension; the count, in the meantime, was mustering the rest. He questioned each about his special province of acting; and signified to Melina that he must rigorously keep them to their several provinces; a precept which the manager received with the greatest devotion.

The count then stated to each in particular what he ought especially to study, what about his figure or his postures ought to be amended; showed them luminously in what points the Germans always fail; and displayed such extraordinary knowledge that all stood in the deepest humility, scarcely daring to draw their breath, before so enlightened a critic and so right honorable a patron.

“What fellow is that in the corner?” said the count, looking at a subject, who had not yet been presented to him, and who now approached; a lean shambling figure, with a rusty coat patched at the elbows, and a woful periwig covering his submissive head.

This person, whom, from the last book, we know already as Philina’s darling, had been wont to enact pedants, tutors and poets; generally undertaking parts in which any cudgelling or ducking was to be endured. He had trained himself to certain crouching, ludicrous, timid bows; and his faltering, stammering speech befitted the characters he played, and created laughter in the audience; so that he was always looked on as a useful member of the company, being moreover very serviceable and obliging. He approached the count in his own peculiar way, bent himself before him, and answered every question with the grimaces and gestures he was used to on the stage. The count looked at him for some time with an air of attentive satisfaction and studious observation; then turning to the countess, “Child,” said he, “consider this man well: I will engage for it he is a great actor, or may become so.” The creature here, in the fulness of his heart, made an idiotic bow; the count burst into laughing, and exclaimed: “He does it excellently well! I bet this fellow can act anything he likes; it is a pity that he has not been already used to something better.”

So singular a prepossession was extremely galling to the rest: Melina alone felt no vexation, but completely coincided with the count, and answered with a prostrate look: “Alas! it is too true; both he and others of us have long stood in need of such encouragement and such a judge as we now find in your excellency.”

“Is this the whole company?” inquired the count.

“Some of them are absent,” said the crafty Melina; “and, at any rate, if we should meet with support, we could soon collect abundant numbers from the neighborhood.”

Philina in the meanwhile was saying to the countess: “There is a very pretty young man above, who without doubt would shortly become a first-rate amateur.”

“Why does not he appear?” said the countess.

“I will bring him,” cried Philina, hastening to the door.

She found our friend still occupied with Mignon; she persuaded him to come down. He followed her with some reluctance; yet curiosity impelled him: for hearing that the family were people of rank he longed much to know more of them. On entering the room his eyes met those of the countess, which were directed towards him. Philina led him to the lady, while the count was busied with the rest. Wilhelm made his bow, and replied to several questions from the fair dame, not without confusion of mind. Her beauty and youth, her graceful dignity and Edition: current; Page: [146] refined manner, made the most delightful impression on him; and the more so, as her words and looks were accompanied with a certain bashfulness, one might almost say embarrassment. He was likewise introduced to the count, who however took no special notice of him, but went to the window with his lady, and seemed to ask her about something. It was easy to observe that her opinion accorded strongly with his own; that she even tried to persuade him and strengthen him in his intentions.


In a short while he turned round to the company, and said: “I must not stay at present, but I will send a friend to you; and if you make reasonable proposals, and will take very great pains, I am not disinclined to let you play at the castle.”

All testified their joy at this; Philina in particular kissed the hands of the countess with the greatest vivacity.

“Look you, little thing,” said the lady, patting the cheeks of the light-minded girl, “look you, child, you shall come to me again; I will keep my promise; only you must dress better.” Philina stated in excuse that she had little to lay out upon her wardrobe; and the countess immediately ordered her waiting-maids to bring from the carriage a silk neckerchief and an English hat, the articles easiest to come at, and give them to her new favorite. The countess herself then decked Philina, who continued very neatly to support, by her looks and conduct, that saint-like, guiltless character she had assumed at first.

The count took his lady’s hand and led her down. She bowed to the whole company with a friendly air in passing by them; she turned round again towards Wilhelm, and said to him, with the most gracious mien: “We shall soon meet again.”

These happy prospects enlivened the whole party: every one of them gave free course to his hopes, his wishes, his imaginations; spoke of the parts he would play, and the applause he would acquire. Melina was considering how he might still, by a few speedy exhibitions, gain a little money from the people of the town before he left it, while others went into the kitchen to order a better dinner than of late they had been used to.

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After a few days the baron came; and it was not without fear that Melina received him. The count had spoken of him as a critic; and it might be dreaded he would speedily detect the weakness of the little party and see that it formed no efficient troop, there being scarcely a play which they could act in a suitable manner. But the manager, as well as all the members, were soon delivered from their cares, on finding that the baron was a man who viewed the German stage with a most patriotic enthusiasm, to whom every player, and every company of players, was welcome and agreeable. He saluted them all with great solemnity; was happy to come upon a German theatre so unexpectedly, to get connected with it, and to introduce their native muses to the mansion of his relative. He then pulled out from his pocket a bundle of stitched papers, in which Melina hoped to find the terms of their contract specified; but it proved something very different. It was a drama which the baron himself had composed, and wished to have played by them: he requested their attention while he read it. Willingly they formed a circle round him; charmed at being able with so little trouble to secure the favor of a man so important; though judging by the thickness of the manuscript it was clear that a very long rehearsal might be dreaded. Their apprehensions were not groundless; the piece was written in five acts, and that sort of acts which never have an end.

The hero was an excellent, virtuous, magnanimous and at the same time misunderstood and persecuted man; this worthy person, after many trials, gained the victory at last over all his enemies; on whom, in consequence, the most rigorous poetic justice would have been exercised, had he not pardoned them on the spot.

While this piece was rehearsing each of the auditors had leisure enough to think of himself, and to mount up quite softly from the humble prostration of mind, to which, a little while ago, he had felt disposed, into a comfortable state of contentment with his own gifts and advantages; and from this elevation to discover the most pleasing prospects in the future. Such of them as found in the play no parts adapted for their own acting, internally pronounced it bad, and viewed the baron as a miserable author; while the others, every time they noticed any passage which they hoped might procure them a little clapping of the hands, exalted it with the greatest praise, to the immeasurable satisfaction of the author.

The commercial part of their affair was soon completed. Melina made an advantageous bargain with the baron, and contrived to keep it secret from the rest.

Of our friend, Melina took occasion to declare in passing, that he seemed to be successfully qualifying himself for becoming a dramatic poet, and even to have some capacities for being an actor. The baron introduced himself to Wilhelm as a colleague; and the latter by-and-by produced some little pieces, which, with a few other relics, had escaped by chance on the day when he threw the greater part of his works into the flames. The baron lauded both his pieces and delivery; he spoke of it as a settled thing, that Wilhelm should come over to the castle with the rest. For all, at his departure, he engaged to find the best reception, comfortable quarters, a good table, applauses and presents; and Melina further gave the promise of a certain modicum of pocket-money to each.

It is easy to conceive how this visit raised the spirits of the party; instead of a low and harassing situation, they now at once saw honors and enjoyment before them. On the score of these great hopes they already made merry; and each thought it needless and stingy to retain a single groschen of money in his purse.

Meanwhile our friend was taking counsel with himself about accompanying the troop to the castle; and he found it, in more than one sense, advisable to do so. Melina was in hopes of paying off his debt, at least in part, by this engagement; and Wilhelm, who had come from home to study men, was unwilling to let slip this opportunity of examining the great world, where he expected to obtain much insight into life, into himself and the dramatic art. With all this, he durst not confess how greatly he wished again to be near the beautiful countess. He rather sought to persuade himself in general of the mighty advantages which a more intimate acquaintance with the world of rank and wealth would procure for him. He pursued his reflections on the count, the countess, the baron; on the security, the grace and propriety of their demeanor; he exclaimed with rapture when alone:

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“Thrice happy are they to be esteemed, whom their birth of itself exalts above the lower stages of mankind; who do not need to traverse those perplexities, not even to skirt them, in which many worthy men so painfully consume the whole period of life. Far-extending and unerring must their vision be, on that higher station; easy each step of their progress in the world! From their very birth they are placed as it were in a ship, which, in this voyage we have all to make, enables them to profit by the favorable winds, and to ride out the cross ones; while others, bare of help, must wear their strength away in swimming, can derive little profit from the favorable breeze, and in the storm must soon become exhausted and sink to the bottom. What convenience, what ease of movement does a fortune we are born to, confer upon us! How securely does a traffic flourish which is founded on a solid capital, where the failure of one or of many enterprises does not of necessity reduce us to inaction! Who can better know the worth and worthlessness of earthly things than he that has had within his choice the enjoyment of them from youth upwards; and who can earlier guide his mind to the useful, the necessary, the true, than he that may convince himself of so many errors in an age when his strength is yet fresh to begin a new career!”

Thus did our friend cry joy to all inhabitants of the upper regions; and not to them only, but to all that were permitted to approach their circle, and draw water from their wells. So he thanked his own happy stars, that seemed preparing to grant this mighty blessing to himself.

Melina, in the meantime, was torturing his brains to get the company arranged according to their several provinces, and each of them appointed to produce his own peculiar effect. In compliance with the count’s injunctions and his own persuasions, he made many efforts: but, at last, when it came to the point of execution, he was forced to be content, if, in so small a troop, he found his people willing to adjust themselves to this or that part, as they best were able. When matters would admit of it Laertes played the lover; Philina the lady’s-maid; the two young girls took up between them the characters of the artless and tender loved ones; the boisterous old gentleman of the piece was sure to be the best acted. Melina himself thought he might come forth as chevalier; Madam Melina, to her no small sorrow, was obliged to satisfy herself with personating young wives, or even affectionate mothers; and as in the newer plays a poet or pedant is rarely introduced, and still more rarely for the purpose of being laughed at, the well-known favorite of the count was now usually transformed into president or minister; these being commonly set forth as knaves, and severely handled in the fifth act. Melina too, in the part of chamberlain or the like, introduced, with great satisfaction, the ineptitudes put into his hands by various honest Germans, according to use and wont, in many well-accepted plays: he delighted in these characters, because he had an opportunity of decking himself out in a fashionable style, and was called upon to assume the airs of a courtier, which he conceived himself to possess in great perfection.

It was not long till they were joined by several actors from different quarters; who, being received without very strict examination, were also retained without very burdensome conditions.

Wilhelm had been more than once assailed with persuasions from Melina to undertake an amateur part. This he declined; yet he interested and occupied himself about the general cause with great alacrity, without our new manager’s acknowledging his labors in the smallest. On the contrary, it seemed to be Melina’s opinion, that with his office he had at the same time picked up all the necessary skill for carrying it on. In particular, the task of curtailment formed one of his most pleasing occupations; he would succeed in reducing any given piece down to the regular measure of time, without the slightest respect to proprieties or proportions, or anything whatever but his watch. He met with great encouragement; the public was very much delighted; the most knowing inhabitants of the burgh maintained that the prince’s theatre itself was not so well conducted as theirs.


At last the time arrived when the company had to prepare themselves for travelling, and to expect the coaches and other vehicles that were to carry them to the count’s mansion. Much altercation now took place about the mode of travelling, and who should sit with whom. The ordering and distribution of the Edition: current; Page: [149] whole was at length settled and concluded with great labor, and, alas, without effect. At the appointed hour fewer coaches came than were expected; they had to accommodate themselves as the case would admit. The baron, who followed shortly afterwards on horseback, assigned as the reason, that all was in commotion at the castle, not only because the prince was to arrive a few days earlier than had been looked for, but also because an unexpected party of visitors were already come; the place, he said, was in great confusion; on this account perhaps they would not lodge so comfortably as had been intended; a change which grieved him very much.

Our travellers packed themselves into the carriages the best way they could; and the weather being tolerable, and the castle but a few leagues distant, the heartiest of the troop preferred setting out on foot to waiting the return of the coaches. The caravan got under way with great jubilee; for the first time, without caring how the landlord’s bill was to be paid. The count’s mansion rose like a palace of the fairies on their souls; they were the happiest and merriest mortals in the world. Each throughout the journey, in his own peculiar mode, kept fastening a continued chain of fortune, honor and prosperity to that auspicious day.

A heavy rain, which fell unexpectedly, did not banish these delightful contemplations; though, as it incessantly continued with more and more violence, many of the party began to show traces of uneasiness. The night came on; and no sight could be more welcome than the palace of the count, which shone upon them from a hill at some distance, glancing with light in all its stories, so that they could reckon every window.

On approaching nearer they found all the windows in the wings illuminated also. Each of the party thought within himself what chamber would be his; and most of them prudently determined to be satisfied with a room in the attic story, or some of the side buildings.

They were now proceeding through the village, past the inn. Wilhelm stopped the coach, in the mind to alight there; but the landlord protested that it was not in his power to afford the least accommodation: his lordship the count, he said, being visited by some unexpected guests, had immediately engaged the whole inn; every chamber in the house had been marked with chalk last night, specifying who was to lodge there. Our friend was accordingly obliged, against his will, to travel forward to the castle with the rest of the company.

In one of the side buildings, round the kitchen fire, they noticed several cooks running busily about; a sight which refreshed them not a little. Servants came jumping hastily with lights to the staircase of the main door; and the hearts of the worthy pilgrims overflowed at the aspect of such honors. But how great was their surprise when this cordial reception changed into a storm of curses. The servants scouted the coachmen for driving in hither; they must wheel out again, it was bawled, and take their loading round to the old castle; there was no room here for such guests! To this unfriendly and unexpected dismissal they joined all manner of jeering, and laughed aloud at each other for leaping out in the rain on so false an errand. It was still pouring; no star was visible in the sky; while our company were dragged along a rough, jolting road, between two walls, into the old mansion which stood behind, inhabited by none since the present count’s father had built the new residence in front of it. The carriages drew up, partly in the courtyard, partly in a long arched gateway; and the postilions, people hired from the village, unyoked their horses and rode off.

As nobody came forward to receive the travellers, they alighted from their places, they shouted, and searched. In vain! All continued dark and still. The wind swept through the lofty gate: the court and the old towers were lying gray and dreary, and so dim that their forms could scarcely be distinguished in the gloom. The people were all shuddering and freezing; the women were becoming frightened; the children began to cry; the general impatience was increasing every minute; so quick a revolution of fortune, for which no one of them had been at all prepared, entirely destroyed their equanimity.

Expecting every minute that some person would appear and unbolt the doors; mistaking at one time the pattering of rain, at another the rocking of the wind, for the much-desired footstep of the castle bailiff, they continued downcast and inactive; it occurred to none of them to go into the new mansion, and there solicit help from charitable souls. They could not understand where their friend the Edition: current; Page: [150] baron was lingering; they were in the most disconsolate condition.


At last some people actually arrived; by their voices they were recognized as the pedestrians who had fallen behind the others on the journey. They intimated that the baron had tumbled with his horse, and hurt his leg severely; and that on calling at the castle they too had been roughly directed hither.

The whole company were in extreme perplexity; they guessed and speculated as to what should now be done; but they could fix on nothing. At length they noticed from afar a lantern advancing, and took fresh breath at sight of it; but their hopes of quick deliverance again evaporated, when the object approached, and came to be distinctly seen. A groom was lighting the well-known Stallmeister of the castle towards them; this gentleman, on coming nearer, very anxiously inquired for Mademoiselle Philina. No sooner had she stepped forth from the crowd, than he very pressingly offered to conduct her to the new mansion, where a little place had been provided for her with the countess’ maids. She did not hesitate long about accepting his proposal; she caught his arm, and, recommending her trunk to the care of the rest, was going to hasten off with him directly; but the others intercepted them, asking, entreating, Edition: current; Page: [151] conjuring the Stallmeister; till at last, to get away with his fair one, he promised everything, assuring them that in a little while the castle should be opened, and they lodged in the most comfortable manner. In a few moments they saw the glimmer of his lantern vanish; they long looked in vain for another gleam of light. At last, after much watching, scolding and reviling, it actually appeared, and revived them with a touch of hope and consolation.

An ancient footman opened the door of the old edifice, into which they rushed with violence. Each of them now strove to have his trunk unfastened, and brought in beside him. Most of this luggage, like the persons of its owners, was thoroughly wet. Having but a single light, the process of unpacking went on very slowly. In the dark passages they pushed against each other, they stumbled, they fell. They begged to have more lights, they begged to have some fuel. The monosyllabic footman, with much ado, consented to put down his own lantern; then went his way, and came not again.

They now began to investigate the edifice. The doors of all the rooms were open; large stoves, tapestry hangings, inlaid floors, yet bore witness to its former pomp: but of other house-gear there was none to be seen; no table, chair, or mirror; nothing but a few monstrous empty bedsteads, stripped of every ornament and every necessary. The wet trunks and knapsacks were adopted as seats; a part of the tired wanderers placed themselves upon the floor. Wilhelm had sat down upon some steps; Mignon lay upon his knees. The child was restless; and, when he asked what ailed her, she answered, “I am hungry.” He himself had nothing that could still the craving of the child; the rest of the party had consumed their whole provision; so he was obliged to leave the little traveller without refreshment. Through the whole adventure he had been inactive, silently immersed in thought. He was very sullen, and full of indignant regret that he had not kept by his first determination, and remained at the inn, though he should have slept in the garret.

The rest demeaned themselves in various ways. Some of them had got a heap of old wood collected within a vast gaping chimney in the hall; they set fire to the pile with great huzzaing. Unhappily, however, their hopes of warming and drying themselves by means of it were mocked in the most frightful manner. The chimney, it appeared, was there for ornament alone, and was walled up above; so the smoke rushed quickly back, and at once filled the whole chamber. The dry wood rose crackling into flames; the flame was also driven back; the draught sweeping through the broken windows gave it a wavering direction. Terrified lest the castle should catch fire, the unhappy guests had to tear the burning sticks asunder, to smother and trample them under their feet; the smoke increased; their case was rendered more intolerable than before; they were driven to the brink of desperation.

Wilhelm had retreated from the smoke into a distant chamber; to which Mignon soon followed him, leading in a well-dressed servant, with a high clear double-lighted lantern in his hand. He turned to Wilhelm, and holding out to him some fruits and confectionery on a beautiful porcelain plate: “The young lady up-stairs,” said he, “sends you this, with the request that you would join her party: she bids me tell you,” added the lackey, with a sort of grin, “that she is very well off yonder, and wishes to divide her enjoyments with her friends.”

Wilhelm had not at all expected such a message; for, ever since the adventure on the stone bench, he had treated Philina with the most decided contempt: he was still so resolute to have no more concern with her, that he thought of sending back her dainty gifts untasted, when a supplicating look of Mignon’s induced him to accept them. He returned his thanks in the name of the child. The invitation he entirely rejected. He desired the servant to exert himself a little for the stranger company, and made inquiry for the baron. The latter, he was told, had gone to bed; but had already, as the lackey understood, given orders to some other person to take charge of these unfortunate and ill-lodged gentlemen.

The servant went away, leaving one of his lights, which Wilhelm, in the absence of a candlestick, contrived to fix upon the window casement; and now at least, in his meditations, he could see the four walls of his chamber. Nor was it long till preparations were commenced for conducting our travellers to rest. Candles arrived by degrees, though without snuffers; then a few chairs; an hour afterwards came bedclothes; then pillows, all well steeped in rain. It was far past midnight when straw-beds and mattresses were produced, Edition: current; Page: [152] which, if sent at first, would have been extremely welcome.

In the interim also, somewhat to eat and drink had been brought in; it was enjoyed without much criticism, though it looked like a most disorderly collection of remains, and offered no very singular proof of the esteem in which our guests were held.


The disorders and mischievous tricks of some frolicksome companions still further augmented the disquietudes and distresses of the night; these gay people woke each other; each played a thousand giddy pranks to plague his fellow. The next morning dawned amid loud complaints against their friend the baron, for having so deceived them, for having given so very false a notion of the order and comfort that awaited their arrival. However, to their great surprise and consolation, at an early hour, the count himself, attended by a few servants, made his entrance, and inquired about their circumstances. He appeared much vexed on discovering how badly they had fared; and the baron, who came limping along, supported on the arm of a servant, bitterly accused the steward for neglecting his commands on this occasion; showing great anxiety to have that person punished for his disobedience.

The count gave immediate orders that everything should be arranged, in his presence, to the utmost possible convenience of the guests. While this was going on, some officers arrived, who forthwith scraped acquaintance with the actresses. The count assembled all the company before him, spoke to each by name, introduced a few jokes among his observations; so that every one was charmed at the gracious condescension of his lordship. At last it came to Wilhelm’s turn; he appeared with Mignon holding by his hand. Our friend excused himself in the best terms he could, for the freedom he had taken; the count, on the other hand, spoke as if the visit had been looked for.

A gentleman, who stood beside the count, and who, although he wore no uniform, appeared to be an officer, conversed with Wilhelm; he was evidently not a common man. His large keen blue eyes, looking out from beneath a high brow; his light-colored hair, thrown carelessly back; his middle stature; everything about him showed an active, firm and decisive mode of being. His questions were lively; he seemed to be at home in all that he inquired about.

Wilhelm asked the baron what this person was; but found that he had little good to say of him. “He held the rank of major, was the special favorite of the prince, managed his most secret affairs, was, in short, regarded as his right arm. Nay, there was reason to believe him the prince’s natural son. He had been on embassies in France, England, Italy; in all those places he had greatly distinguished himself; by which means he was grown conceited, imagining, among other pretensions, that he thoroughly understood the literature of Germany, and allowing himself to vent all kinds of sorry jests upon it. He, the baron, was in the habit of avoiding all intercourse with him; and Wilhelm would do well to imitate that conduct, for it somehow happened that no one could be near him without being punished for it. He was called Jarno; though nobody knew rightly what to make of such a name.”

Wilhelm had nothing to urge against all this; he had felt a sort of inclination for the stranger, though he noticed in him something cold and repulsive.

The company being arranged and distributed throughout the castle, Melina issued the strictest orders, that they should behave themselves with decency; the women live in a separate quarter; and each direct his whole attention to the study of dramatic art, and of the characters he had to play. He posted up written ordinances, consisting of many articles, upon all the doors. He settled the amount of fine, which should be levied upon each transgressor, and put into a common box.

This edict was but little heeded. Young officers went out and in; they jested not in the most modest fashion with the actresses; made game of the actors; and annihilated the whole system of police, before it had the smallest time to take root in the community. The people ran chasing one another through the rooms, they changed clothes, they disguised themselves. Melina, attempting to be rigorous with a few at first, was exasperated by every sort of insolence; and when the count soon after sent for him to come and view the place where his theatre was to be erected, matters grew worse and worse. The Edition: current; Page: [153] young gentry devised a thousand broad jokes; by the help of some actors they became yet coarser; it seemed as if the old castle had been altogether given up to an infuriate host; and the racket did not end till dinner.

Meanwhile the count had led Melina over to a large hall, which, though belonging to the old castle, communicated by a gallery with the new one; it seemed very well adapted for being changed into a little theatre. Here the sagacious lord of the mansion pointed out in person how he wanted everything to be.

The labor now commenced in the greatest haste; the stage-apparatus was erected and furbished up; what decorations they had brought along with them and could employ, were set in order; and what was wanting was prepared by some skilful workmen of the count’s. Wilhelm likewise put his hand to the business; he assisted in settling the perspective, in laying off the outlines of the scenery; he was very anxious that nothing should be executed clumsily. The count, who frequently came in to inspect their progress, was highly satisfied; he showed particularly how they should proceed in every case, displaying an uncommon knowledge of all the arts they were concerned with.

Next began the business of rehearsing, in good earnest; and there would have been enough of space and leisure for this undertaking had the actors not continually been Edition: current; Page: [154] interrupted by the presence of visitors. Some new guests were daily arriving, and each insisted on viewing the operations of the company.



The baron had, for several days, been cheering Wilhelm with the hope of being formally presented to the countess. “I have told this excellent lady,” said he, “so much about the talent and fine sentiment displayed in your compositions, that she feels quite impatient to see you, and hear one or two of them read. Be prepared, therefore, to come over at a moment’s notice; for, the first morning she is at leisure, you will certainly be called on.” He then pointed out to him the afterpiece it would be proper to produce on that occasion; adding, that doubtless it would recommend him to no usual degree of favor. The lady, he declared, was extremely sorry that a guest like him had happened to arrive at a time of such confusion, when they could not entertain him in a style more suitable to his merits and their own wishes.

In consequence of this information, Wilhelm, with the most sedulous attention, set about preparing the piece, which was to usher him into the great world. “Hitherto,” said he, “thou hast labored in silence for thyself; applauded only by a small circle of friends. Thou hast for a time despaired of thy abilities, and art yet full of anxious doubts whether even thy present path is the right one, and whether thy talent for the stage at all corresponds with thy inclination for it. In the hearing of such practised judges, in the closet where no illusion can take place, the attempt is more hazardous than elsewhere; and yet I would not willingly recoil from the experiment; I could wish to add this pleasure to my former enjoyments, and, if it might be, to give extension and stability to my hopes for the future.”

He accordingly went through some pieces; read them with the keenest critical eye; made corrections here and there; recited them aloud, that he might be perfect in his tones and expression; and finally selected the work which he was best acquainted with, and hoped to gain most honor by. He put it in his pocket, one morning, on being summoned to attend the countess.

The baron had assured him that there would be no one present but the lady herself and a worthy female friend of hers. On entering the chamber the Baroness von C— advanced with great friendliness to meet him; expressed her happiness at making his acquaintance; and introduced him to the countess, who was then under the hands of her hair-dresser. The countess received him with kind words and looks; but it vexed him to see Philina kneeling at her chair, and playing a thousand fooleries. “The poor child,” said the baroness, “has just been singing to us. Finish the song you were in the midst of; we should not like to lose it.”

Wilhelm listened to her quavering with great patience, being anxious for the friseur’s departure before he should begin to read. They offered him a cup of chocolate, the baroness herself handing him the biscuit. Yet, in spite of these civilities, he relished not his breakfast; he was longing too eagerly to lay before the lovely countess some performance that might interest and gratify her. Philina too stood somewhat in his way; on former occasions, while listening to him, she had more than once been troublesome. He looked at the friseur with a painful feeling, hoping every moment that the tower of curls would be complete.

Meanwhile the count came in, and began to talk of the fresh visitors he was expecting, of the day’s occupations or amusements, and of various domestic matters that were started. On his retiring, some officers sent to ask permission of the countess to pay their respects to her, as they had to leave the castle before dinner. The footman having come to his post at the door, she permitted him to usher in the gentlemen.

The baroness amid these interruptions gave herself some pains to entertain our friend, and showed him much consideration; all which he accepted with becoming reverence, though not without a little absence of mind. He often felt for the manuscript in his pocket; and hoped for his deliverance every instant. He was almost losing patience, when a man-milliner was introduced, and immediately began without mercy to open his papers, bags and bandboxes; pressing all his various wares upon the ladies, with an importunity peculiar to that species of creature.

The company increased. The baroness cast a look at Wilhelm, and then whispered with the countess: he noticed this, but did not understand the purpose of it. The whole, however, became clear enough when, after an Edition: current; Page: [155] hour of painful and fruitless endurance, he went away. He then found a beautiful pocket-book, of English manufacture, in his pocket. The baroness had dexterously put it there without his notice; and soon afterwards the countess’ little black came out and handed him an elegantly flowered waistcoat, without very clearly saying whence it came.


This mingled feeling of vexation and gratitude spoiled the remainder of his day; till, towards evening, he once more found employment. Melina informed him that the count had been speaking of a little prelude, which he wished to have produced, in honor of the prince, on the day of his highness’ arrival. He meant to have the great qualities of this noble hero and philanthropist personified in the piece. These Virtues were to advance together, to recite his praises, and finally to encircle his bust with garlands of flowers and laurels; behind which a transparency might be inserted, representing the princely hat, and his name illuminated on it. The count, Melina said, had ordered him to take charge of getting ready the verses and other arrangements; and Wilhelm, he hoped, to whom it must be an easy matter, would stand by him on this occasion.

“How!” exclaimed our friend in a splenetic tone, “have we nothing but portraits, illuminated names and allegorical figures to show in honor of a prince, who, in my opinion, merits quite a different eulogy? How can it flatter any reasonable man to see himself set up in effigy, and his name glimmering on oiled paper! I am very much afraid that your allegories, particularly in the present state of the wardrobe, will furnish occasion for many ambiguities and jestings. If you mean, however, to compose the piece, or make it be composed, I can have nothing to object against it; only I desire to have no part or lot in the matter.”

Melina excused himself; alleging this to be only a casual hint of his lordship the count, who for the rest had left the arrangement of the piece entirely in their own hands. “With all my heart,” replied our friend, “will I contribute something to the pleasure of this noble family; my muse has never had so pleasant an employment as to sing, though in broken numbers, the praises of a prince who merits so much veneration. I will think of the matter; perhaps I may be able to contrive some way of bringing out our little troop, so as at least to produce some effect.”

From this moment, Wilhelm eagerly reflected on his undertaking. Before going to sleep he had got it all reduced to some degree of order; early next morning his plan was ready, the scenes laid out; a few of the most striking passages and songs were even versified and written down.

As soon as he was dressed our friend made haste to wait upon the baron, to submit the plan to his inspection, and take his advice upon certain points connected with it. The baron testified his approbation of it; but not without considerable surprise. For, on the previous evening, he had heard his lordship talk of having ordered some quite different piece to be prepared and versified.

“To me it seems improbable,” replied our friend, “that it could be his lordship’s wish to have the piece got ready exactly as he gave it to Melina. If I am not mistaken, he intended merely to point out to us from a distance the path we were to follow. The amateur and critic shows the artist what is wanted; and then leaves to him the care of producing it by his own means.”

“Not at all,” replied the baron: “his lordship understands that the piece shall be composed according to that and no other plan, which he has himself prescribed. Yours has indeed a remote similarity with his idea; but, if we mean to accomplish our purpose, and get the count diverted from his first thought, we shall need to employ the ladies in the matter. The baroness especially contrives to execute such operations in the most masterly manner: the question is now, whether your plan shall so please her that she will undertake the business; in that case it will certainly succeed.”

“We need the assistance of the ladies,” said our friend, “at any rate; for neither our company nor our wardrobe would suffice without them. I have counted on some pretty children that are running up and down the house, and belong to certain of the servants.”

He then desired the baron to communicate his plan to the ladies. The baron soon returned with intelligence that they wished to speak with Wilhelm personally. That same evening, when the gentlemen sat down to play, which, owing to the arrival of a certain Edition: current; Page: [156] general, was expected to be deeper and keener than usual, the countess and her friend, under pretext of some indisposition, would retire to their chamber; where Wilhelm, being introduced by a secret staircase, might submit his project without interruption. This sort of mystery, the baron said, would give the adventure a peculiar charm; in particular the baroness was rejoicing like a child, in the prospect of their rendezvous; and the more so, because it was to be accomplished secretly and against the inclination of the count.

Towards evening, at the appointed time, Wilhelm was sent for, and led in with caution. As the baroness advanced to meet him in a small cabinet, the manner of their interview brought former happy scenes, for a moment, to his mind. She conducted him along to the countess’ chamber; and they now proceeded earnestly to question and investigate. He exhibited his plan with the utmost warmth and vivacity; so that his fair audience were quite decided in its favor. Our readers also will permit us to present a brief sketch of it here.


The piece was to open with a dance of children in some rural scene; their dance representing that particular game wherein each has to wheel round and gain the other’s place. This was to be followed by several variations of their play; till at last, in performing a dance of the repeating kind, they were all to sing a merry song. Here the old harper with Mignon should enter, and by the curiosity which they excited gather several country people round them; the harper would sing various songs in praise of peace, repose and joy; and Mignon would then dance the egg-dance.

In these innocent delights they are disturbed by the sound of martial music; and the party are surprised by a troop of soldiers. The men stand on the defensive, and are overcome; the girls fly, and are taken. In the tumult all seems going to destruction, when a person (about whose form and qualities the Edition: current; Page: [157] poet was not yet determined) enters, and by signifying that the general is near restores composure. Whereupon the hero’s character is painted in the finest colors; security is promised in the midst of arms; violence and lawless disorder are now to be restrained. A universal festival is held in honor of the noble-minded captain.

The countess and her friend expressed great satisfaction with the plan; only they maintained that there must of necessity be something of allegory introduced to make it palatable to his lordship. The baron proposed that the leader of the soldiers should be represented as the Genius of Dissension and Violence; that Minerva should then advance to bind fetters on him, to give notice of the hero’s approach, and celebrate his praise. The baroness undertook the task of persuading the count that this plan was the one proposed by himself with a few alterations; at the same time expressly stipulating that, without fail, at the conclusion of the piece, the bust, the illuminated name, and the princely hat should be exhibited in due order; since otherwise her attempt was vain.

Wilhelm had already figured in his mind how delicately and how nobly he would have the praises of his hero celebrated in the mouth of Minerva; and it was not without a long struggle that he yielded in this point. Yet he felt himself delightfully constrained to yield. The beautiful eyes of the countess and her lovely demeanor would easily have moved him to sin against his conscience as a poet; to abandon the finest and most interesting invention, the keenly wished-for unity of his composition, and all its most suitable details. His conscience as a burgher had a trial no less hard to undergo when the ladies, in distributing the characters, pointedly insisted that he must undertake one himself.

Laertes had received for his allotment the part of that violent war-god; Wilhelm was to represent the leader of the peasants, who had some very pretty and tender verses to recite. After long resistance he was forced to comply; he could find no excuse when the baroness protested that their stage was in all respects to be regarded as a private one, and that she herself would very gladly play on it if they could find her a fit occasion. On receiving his consent, they parted with our friend on the kindest terms. The baroness assured him that he was an incomparable man; she accompanied him to the little stairs, and wished him goodnight with a squeeze of the hand.


The interest in his undertakings, which the countess and her friend expressed and felt so warmly, quickened Wilhelm’s faculties and zeal: the plan of his piece, which the process of describing it had rendered more distinct, was now present in the most brilliant vividness before his mind. He spent the greater part of that night and the whole of the next morning in the sedulous versification of the dialogue and songs.

He had proceeded a considerable way, when a message came requiring his attendance in the castle; the noble company, who were then at breakfast, wished to speak with him. As he entered the parlor, the baroness advanced to meet him; and, under pretext of wishing him good-morning, whispered cunningly, “Say nothing of your piece but what you shall be asked.”

“I hear,” cried the count to him, “that you are very busy working at my prelude, which I mean to present in honor of the prince. I consent that you introduce a Minerva into it; and we are just thinking beforehand how the goddess shall be dressed, that we may not blunder in costume. For this purpose I am causing them to fetch from the library all the books that contain any figures of her.”

At the same instant one or two servants entered the parlor with a huge basket full of books of every shape and appearance.

Montfaucon, the collections of antique statues, gems and coins, all sorts of mythological writings, were turned up, and their plates compared. But even this was not enough. The count’s faithful memory recalled to him all the Minervas to be found in frontispieces, vignettes, or anywhere else; and book after book was, in consequence, carried from the library, till finally the count was sitting in a chaos of volumes. Unable at last to recollect any other figure of Minerva, he observed, with a smile, “I durst bet that now there is not a single Minerva in all the library; and perhaps it is the first time that a collection of books has been so totally deprived of the presence of its patron goddess.”

The whole company were merry at this Edition: current; Page: [158] thought; Jarno particularly, who had all along been spurring on the count to call for more and more books, laughed quite immoderately.


“Now,” said the count, turning to Wilhelm, “one chief point is, which goddess do you mean, Minerva or Pallas? the goddess of war or of the arts?”

“Would it not be best, your excellency,” said Wilhelm, “if we were not clearly to express ourselves on this head; if, since the goddess plays a double part in the ancient mythology, we also exhibited her here in a double quality? She announces a warrior, but only to calm the tumults of the people; she celebrates a hero by exalting his humanity; she conquers violence and restores peace and security.”

The baroness, afraid lest Wilhelm might betray himself, hastily pushed forward the countess’ tailor, to give his opinion how such an antique robe could best be got ready. This man, being frequently employed in making masquerade dresses, very easily contrived the business; and as Madam Melina, notwithstanding her advanced state of pregnancy, had undertaken to enact the celestial virgin, the tailor was directed to take her measure; and the countess, though with some reluctance, selected from the wardrobe the clothes he was to cut up for that purpose.

The baroness, in her dexterous way, again contrived to lead Wilhelm aside, and let him know that she had been providing all the other necessaries. Shortly afterwards she sent him the musician who had charge of the count’s private band, and this professor set about composing what airs were wanted, or choosing from his actual stock such tunes as appeared suitable. From this time all went on according to the wishes of our friend: the count made no more inquiries about the piece; being altogether occupied with the transparent decoration, destined to surprise the spectators at the conclusion of the play. His inventive genius, aided by the skill of his confectioner, produced in fact a very pretty article. In the course of his travels the count had witnessed the most splendid exhibitions of this sort; he had also brought home with him a number of copper-plates and drawings, and could sketch such things with considerable taste.

Meanwhile Wilhelm finished the play; gave every one his part, and began the study of his own. The musician also, having great skill in dancing, prepared the ballet; so that everything proceeded as it ought.

Yet one unexpected obstacle occurred, which threatened to occasion an unpleasant gap in the performance. He had promised to himself a striking effect from Mignon’s egg-dance; and was much surprised when the child, with her customary dryness of manner, refused to dance, saying she was now his, and would no more go upon the stage. He sought to move her by every sort of persuasion, and did not discontinue his attempt till she began weeping bitterly, fell at his feet, and cried out, “Dearest father! stay thou from the boards thyself!” Little heeding this caution, he studied how to give the scene some other turn that might be equally interesting.

Philina, whose appointment was to act one of the peasant girls, and in the concluding dance to give the single-voice part of the song, and lead the chorus, felt exceedingly delighted that it had been so ordered. In other respects, too, her present life was altogether to her mind; she had her separate Edition: current; Page: [159] chamber; was constantly beside the countess, entertaining her with fooleries, and daily receiving some present for her pains. Among other things, a dress had been expressly made for her wearing in this prelude. And being of a light imitative nature, she quickly marked in the procedure of the ladies whatever would befit herself: she had of late grown all politeness and decorum. The attentions of the Stallmeister augmented rather than diminished; and, as the officers also paid zealous court to her, living in so genial an element, it came into her head for once in her life to play the prude, and, in a quiet gradual way, to take upon herself a certain dignity of manner to which she had not before aspired. Cool and sharp-sighted as she was, eight days had not elapsed till she knew the weak side of every person in the house; so that, had she possessed the power of acting from any constant motive, she might very easily have made her fortune. But on this occasion, as on all others, she employed her advantages merely to divert herself, to procure a bright to-day, and be impertinent wherever she observed that impertinence was not attended with danger.

The parts were now committed to memory; a rehearsal of the piece was ordered; the count purposed to be present at it; and his lady began to feel anxious how he might receive it. The baroness called Wilhelm to her privately: the nearer the hour approached, they all displayed the more perplexity; for the truth was, that of the count’s original idea nothing whatever had been introduced. Jarno, who joined them while consulting together, was admitted to the secret. He felt amused at the contrivance, and was heartily disposed to offer the ladies his good services in carrying it through. “It will go hard,” said he, “if you cannot extricate yourselves without help from this affair; but, at all events, I will wait as a body of reserve.” The baroness then told them how she had on various occasions recited the whole piece to the count, but only in fragments and without order; that consequently he was prepared for each individual passage, yet certainly possessed with the idea that the whole would coincide with his original conception. “I will sit by him,” said she, “to-night at the rehearsal, and study to divert his attention. The confectioner I have engaged already to make the decoration as beautiful as possible, but as yet he has not quite completed it.”

“I know of a court,” said Jarno, “where I wish we had a few such active and prudent friends as you. If your skill to-night will not suffice, give me a signal; I will take out the count, and not let him in again till Minerva enters, and you have speedy aid to expect from the illumination. For a day or two I have had something to report to him about his cousin, which for various reasons I have hitherto postponed. It will give his thoughts another turn, and that none of the pleasantest.”

Business hindered the count from being present when the play began; the baroness amused him after his arrival; Jarno’s help was not required. For, as the count had abundance of employment in pointing out improvements, rectifying and arranging the detached parts, he entirely forgot the purport of the whole; and as at last Madam Melina advanced and spoke according to his heart, and the transparency did well, he seemed completely satisfied. It was not till the whole was finished, and his guests were sitting down to cards, that the difference appeared to strike him, and he began to think whether after all this piece was actually of his invention. At a signal from the baroness, Jarno then came forward into action; the evening passed away; the intelligence of the prince’s approach was confirmed; the people rode out more than once to see his vanguard encamping in the neighborhood; the house was full of noise and tumult; and our actors, not always served in the handsomest manner by unwilling servants, had to pass their time in practicings and expectations, at their quarters in the old mansion, without any one particularly taking thought about them.


At length the prince arrived, with all his generals, staff-officers and suite accompanying him. These, and the multitude of people coming to visit or do business with him, made the castle like a bee-hive on the point of swarming. All pressed forward to behold a man no less distinguished by his rank than by his great qualities; and all admired his urbanity and condescension; all were astonished at finding the hero and the leader of armies also the most accomplished and attractive courtier.

By the count’s orders, the inmates of the castle were required to be all at their posts Edition: current; Page: [160] when the prince arrived; not a player was allowed to show himself, that his highness might have no anticipation of the spectacle prepared to welcome him. Accordingly, when at evening he was led into the lofty hall, glowing with light, and adorned with tapestries of the previous century, he seemed not at all prepared to expect a play, and still less a prelude in honor of himself. Everything went off as it should have done: at the conclusion of the show the whole troop were called and presented individually to the prince, who contrived with the most pleasing and friendly air to put some question, or make some remark to every one of them. Wilhelm, as author of the piece, was particularly noticed, and had his tribute of applause liberally paid him.

The prelude being fairly over, no one asked another word about it; in a few days, it was as if it never had existed, except that occasionally Jarno spoke of it to Wilhelm, judiciously praised it, adding however: “It is pity you should play with hollow nuts, for a stake of hollow nuts.” This expression stuck in Wilhelm’s mind for several days; he knew not how to explain it, or what to infer from it.

Meanwhile the company kept acting every night, as well as their capacities permitted; each doing his utmost to attract the attention of spectators. Undeserved applauses cheered them on: in their old castle they fully believed that the great assemblage was crowding thither solely on their account; that the multitude of strangers was allured by their exhibitions; that they were the centre round which, and by means of which, the whole was moving and revolving.

Wilhelm alone discovered, to his sorrow, that directly the reverse was true. For although the prince had waited out the first exhibitions, sitting on his chair with the greatest conscientiousness, yet by degrees he grew remiss in his attendance, and seized every plausible occasion of withdrawing. And those very people whom Wilhelm, in conversation, had found to be the best informed and most sensible, with Jarno at their head, were wont to spend but a few transitory moments in the hall of the theatre; sitting for the rest of their time in the ante-chamber, gaming, or seeming to employ themselves in business.

Amid all his persevering efforts, to want the wished and hoped-for approbation grieved Wilhelm very deeply. In the choice of plays, in transcribing the parts, in numerous rehearsals, and whatever further could be done, he zealously co-operated with Melina, who, being in secret conscious of his own insufficiency, at length acknowledged and pursued these counsels. His own parts Wilhelm diligently studied and executed with vivacity and feeling, and with all the propriety which the little training he had yet received would allow.

At the same time, the unwearied interest which the baron took in their performances, obliterated every doubt from the minds of the rest of the company: he assured them that their exhibitions were producing the deepest effect, especially while one of his own pieces had been representing; only he was grieved to say the prince showed an exclusive inclination for the French theatre; while a part of his people, among whom Jarno was especially distinguished, gave a passionate preference to the monstrous productions of the English stage.

If in this way the art of our players was not adequately noticed and admired, their persons, on the other hand, grew not entirely indifferent to all the gentlemen and all the ladies of the audience. We observed above, that from the very first our actresses had drawn upon them the attention of the young officers; in the sequel they were luckier, and made more important conquests. But omitting these, we shall merely observe that Wilhelm every day appeared more interesting to the countess, while in him too a silent inclination towards her was beginning to take root. Whenever he was on the stage, she could not turn her eyes from him; and ere long he seemed to play and to recite with his face towards her alone. To look upon each other was to them the sweetest satisfaction; to which their harmless souls yielded without reserve, without cherishing a bolder wish, or thinking about any consequence.

As two hostile outposts will sometimes peacefully and pleasantly converse together across the river which divides them, not thinking of the war in which both their countries are engaged, so did the countess exchange looks full of meaning with our friend, across the vast chasm of birth and rank, both believing for themselves that they might safely cherish their several emotions.

The baroness, in the meantime, had selected Laertes, who, being a spirited and lively young man, pleased her very much; and who, woman-hater as he was, felt unwilling to refuse a passing Edition: current; Page: [eee] Edition: current; Page: [fff] Edition: current; Page: [ggg] Edition: current; Page: [hhh] Edition: current; Page: [161] adventure. He would actually on this occasion have been fettered, against his will, by the courteous and attractive nature of the baroness, had not the baron done him accidentally a piece of good, or if you will, of bad service, by instructing him a little in the habits and temper of this lady.




Laertes happening once to celebrate her praises, and give her the preference to every other of her sex, the baron with a grin replied: “I see how matters stand; our fair friend has got a fresh inmate for her stalls.” This luckless comparison, which pointed too clearly to the dangerous caresses of a Circe, grieved poor Laertes to the heart; he could not listen to the baron without spite and anger, as the latter continued without mercy:

“Every stranger thinks he is the first whom this delightful manner of proceeding has concerned: but he is grievously mistaken; for we have all, at one time or another, been trotted round this course. Man, youth, or boy, be who he like, each must devote himself to her service for a season, must hang about her, and toil and long to gain her favor.”

To the happy man, just entering the garden of an enchantress, and welcomed by all the pleasures of an artificial spring, nothing can form a more unpleasant surprise than if, while his ear is watching and drinking in the music of the nightingales, some transformed predecessor on a sudden grunts at his feet.

After this discovery, Laertes felt heartily ashamed that vanity should have again misled him to think well, even in the smallest degree, of any woman whatsoever. He now entirely forsook the baroness; kept by the Stallmeister, with whom he diligently fenced and hunted; conducting himself at rehearsals and representations as if these were but secondary matters.

The count and his lady would often in the mornings send for some of the company to attend them; and all had continual cause to envy the undeserved good fortune of Philina. The count kept his favorite, the pedant, frequently for hours together, at his toilette. This genius had been dressed out by degrees; he was now equipped and furnished even to watch and snuff-box.

Many times, too, particularly after dinner, the whole company were called out before the noble guests; an honor which the artists regarded as the most flattering in the world; not observing that on these very occasions the servants and huntsmen were ordered to bring in a multitude of hounds, and to lead strings of horses about the court of the castle.

Wilhelm had been counselled to praise Racine, the prince’s favorite, and thereby to attract some portion of his highness’ favor to himself. On one of these afternoons, being summoned with the rest, he found an opportunity to introduce this topic. The prince asked him if he diligently read the great French dramatic writers; to which Wilhelm answered with Edition: current; Page: [162] a very eager “Yes.” He did not observe that his highness, without waiting for the answer, was already on the point of turning round to some one else: he fixed upon him, on the contrary, almost stepping in his way; and proceeded to declare that he valued the French theatre very highly, and read the works of their great masters with delight; particularly he had learned with true joy that his highness did complete justice to the great talents of Racine. “I can easily conceive,” continued he, “how people of high breeding and exalted rank must value a poet, who has painted so excellently and so truly the circumstances of their lofty station. Corneille, if I may say so, has delineated great men; Racine, men of eminent rank. In reading his plays, I can always figure to myself the poet as living at a splendid court, with a great king before his eyes, in constant intercourse with the most distinguished persons, and penetrating into the secrets of human nature, as it works concealed behind the gorgeous tapestry of palaces. When I study his Britannicus, his Berenice, it seems as if I were transported in person to the court, were initiated into the great and the little, in the habitations of these earthly gods; through the fine and delicate organs of my author, I see kings whom a nation adores, courtiers whom thousands envy, in their natural forms, with their failings and their pains. The anecdote of Racine’s dying of a broken heart, because Louis XIV. would no longer attend to him, and had shown him his dissatisfaction, is to me the key to all his works. It was impossible that a poet of his talents, whose life and death depended on the looks of a king, should not write such works as a king and a prince might applaud.”

Jarno had stepped near, and was listening with astonishment. The prince, who had made no answer, and had only shown his approbation by an assenting look, now turned aside; though Wilhelm, who did not know that it was contrary to etiquette to continue a discussion under such circumstances and exhaust a subject, would gladly have spoken more, and convinced the prince that he had not read his favorite poet without sensibility and profit.

“Have you never,” said Jarno, taking him aside, “read one of Shakspeare’s plays?”

“No,” replied Wilhelm: “since the time when they became more known in Germany, I have myself grown unacquainted with the theatre; and I know not whether I should now rejoice that an old taste and occupation of my youth has been by chance renewed. In the meantime, all that I have heard of these plays has excited little wish to become acquainted with such extraordinary monsters, which appear to set probability and dignity alike at defiance.”

“I would advise you,” said the other, “to make a trial, notwithstanding: it can do one no harm to look at what is extraordinary with one’s own eyes. I will lend you a volume or two; and you cannot better spend your time than by casting everything aside, and retiring to the solitude of your old habitation, to look into the magic-lantern of that unknown world. It is sinful of you to waste your hours in dressing out these apes to look more human, and teaching dogs to dance. One thing only I require; you must not cavil at the form; the rest I can leave to your own good sense and feeling.”

The horses were standing at the door; and Jarno mounted with some other cavaliers, to go and hunt. Wilhelm looked after him with sadness. He would fain have spoken much with this man, who, though in a harsh unfriendly way, gave him new ideas, ideas that he had need of.

Oftentimes a man when approaching some development of his powers, capacities and conceptions, gets into a perplexity, from which a prudent friend might easily deliver him. He resembles a traveller, who, at but a short distance from the inn he is to rest at, falls into the water; were any one to catch him then, and pull him to the bank, with one good wetting it were over; whereas though he struggles out himself, it is often at the side where he tumbled in, and he has to make a wide and weary circuit before reaching his appointed object.

Wilhelm now began to have an inkling that things went forward in the world differently from what he had supposed. He now viewed close at hand the solemn and imposing life of the great and distinguished; and wondered at the easy dignity which they contrived to give it. An army on its march, a princely hero at the head of it, such a multitude of co-operating warriors, such a multitude of crowding worshippers, exalted his imagination. In this mood he received the promised books; and ere long, as may be easily supposed, the stream of that mighty genius laid hold of him, and led him down to a shoreless ocean, where he soon completely forgot and lost himself.

Edition: current; Page: [163]


The connection between the baron and the actors had suffered various changes since the arrival of the latter. At the commencement it had been productive of great satisfaction to both parties. As the baron for the first time in his life now saw one of those pieces, with which he had already graced a private theatre, put into the hands of real actors, and in the fair way for a decent exhibition, he showed the benignest humor in the world. He was liberal in gifts; he bought little presents for the actresses from every millinery-hawker, and contrived to send over many an odd bottle of champagne to the actors. In return for all this our company took every sort of trouble with his play; and Wilhelm spared no diligence in learning, with extreme correctness, the sublime speeches of that very eminent hero whose part had fallen to his share.

But, in spite of all these kind reciprocities, some clouds by degrees arose between the players and their patron. The baron’s preference for certain actors became daily more observable; this of necessity chagrined the rest. He exalted his favorites quite exclusively; and thus, of course, he introduced disunion and jealousy among the company. Melina, without skill to help himself in dubious junctures, felt his situation very vexing. The persons eulogized accepted of their praise, without being singularly thankful for it; while the neglected gentlemen showed traces of their spleen by a thousand methods; and constantly found means to make it very disagreeable for their once much-honored patron to appear among them. Their spite received no little nourishment from a certain poem, by an unknown author, which made a great sensation in the castle. Previously to this, the baron’s intercourse with the company had given rise to many little strokes of merriment; several stories had been raised about him; certain little incidents, adorned with suitable additions, and presented in the proper light, had been talked of, and made the subject of much bantering and laughter. At last it began to be said, that a certain rivalry of trade was arising between him and some of the actors, who also looked upon themselves as writers. The poem we spoke of was founded upon this report; it ran as follows:

    • I poor devil, Lord Baron,
    • Must envy you your crest of arms,
    • The coach you ride in, coat you’ve on,
    • Your copses, ponds, and rack-rent farms,
    • Your father’s polish’d ashlar house,
    • And all his hounds and hares and grouse.
    • Me poor devil, Lord Baron,
    • You envy my small shred of wit;
    • Because it seems, as things have gone,
    • Old Nature had a hand in it;
    • She made me light of heart and gay,
    • With long-necked purse, not brain of clay.
    • Look you now, dear Lord Baron,
    • What if we both should cease to fret,
    • You being his lordship’s eldest son,
    • And I being mother Nature’s brat?
    • We live in peace, all envy chase,
    • And heed not which o’ th’ two surpasses;
    • I in the Herald’s Books no place,
    • You having none about Parnassus.

Upon this poem, which various persons were possessed of, in copies scarcely legible, opinions were exceedingly divided. But who the author was no one could guess; and as some began to draw a spiteful mirth from it, our friend expressed himself against it very keenly.

“We Germans,” he exclaimed, “deserve to have our muses still continue in the low contempt wherein they have languished so long; since we cannot value men of rank who take a share in our literature, no matter how. Birth, rank and fortune are nowise incompatible with genius and taste; as foreign nations, reckoning among their best minds a great number of noblemen, can fully testify. Hitherto indeed it has been rare in Germany for men of high station to devote themselves to science; hitherto few famous names have become more famous by their love of art and learning; while many, on the other hand, have mounted out of darkness to distinction, and risen like unknown stars on the horizon. Yet such will not always be the case; and I greatly err, if the first classes of the nation are not even now in the way of also employing their advantages to earn the fairest laurels of the muses, at no distant date. Nothing, therefore, grieves me more than to see the burgher jeering at the noble who can value literature; nay, even men of rank themselves, with inconsiderate caprice, maliciously scaring off their equal from a path where honor and contentment wait on all.”

Apparently this latter observation pointed at the count, of whom Wilhelm had heard that he liked the poem very much. In truth, this nobleman, accustomed to rally the baron in his own peculiar way, was extremely glad of such an opportunity to plague his kinsman more effectually. As to who the writer of the Edition: current; Page: [164] squib might be, each formed his own hypothesis; and the count, never willing that another should surpass him in acuteness, fell upon a thought, which, in a short time, he would have sworn to the truth of. The verses could be written, he believed, by no one but his pedant, who was a very shrewd knave, and in whom, for a long while, he had noticed some touches of poetic genius. By way of proper treat, he therefore caused the pedant one morning to be sent for, and made him read the poem, in his own manner, in presence of the countess, the baroness and Jarno; a service he was paid for by applauses, praises and a present: and on the count’s inquiring if he had not still some other poems of an earlier time, he cunningly contrived to evade the question. Thus did the pedant get invested with the reputation of a poet and a wit; and in the eyes of the baron’s friends, of a pasquinader and a bad-hearted man. From that period, play as he might, the count applauded him with greater zeal than ever; so that the poor wight grew at last inflated till he nearly lost his senses, and began to meditate having a chamber in the castle like Philina.

Had this project been fulfilled at once, a great mishap might have been spared him. As he was returning late one evening from the castle, groping about in the dark narrow way, he was suddenly laid hold of, and kept on the spot by some persons, while some others rained a shower of blows upon him, and battered him so stoutly, that in a few seconds he was lying almost dead upon the place, and could not without difficulty crawl in to his companions. These, indignant as they seemed to be at such an outrage, felt their secret joy in the adventure; they could hardly keep from laughing, at seeing him so thoroughly curried, and his new brown coat bedusted through and through, and bedaubed with white, as if he had had to do with millers.

The count, who soon got notice of the business, broke into a boundless rage. He treated this act as the most heinous crime; called it an infringement of the Burgfried, or Peace of the Castle, and caused his judge to make the strictest inquiries touching it. The whited coat, it was imagined, would afford a leading proof. Every creature that possibly could have the smallest trade with flour or powder in the castle was submitted to investigation; but in vain.

The baron solemnly protested on his honor, that although this sort of jesting had considerably displeased him, and the conduct of his lordship the count had not been the friendliest, yet he had got over the affair; and with respect to the misfortune which had come upon the poet, or pasquinader, or whatsoever his title might be, he knew absolutely nothing, and had not the most remote concern in it.

The operations of the strangers, and the general commotion of the house, soon effaced all recollection of the matter; and so, without redress, the unlucky favorite had to pay dear for the satisfaction of pluming himself, a short while, in feathers not his own.

Our troop, regularly acting every night, and on the whole very decently treated, now began to make more clamorous demands, the better they were dealt with. Ere long their victuals, drink, attendance, lodging, grew inadequate; and they called upon the baron, their protector, to provide more liberally for them, and at last make good those promises of comfortable entertainment, which he had been giving them so long. Their complaints grew louder; and the efforts of our friend to still them more and more abortive.

Meanwhile, excepting in rehearsals and hours of acting, Wilhelm scarcely ever came abroad. Shut up in one of the remotest chambers, to which Mignon and the harper alone had free access, he lived and moved in the Shakspearean world, feeling or knowing nothing but the movements of his own mind.

We have heard of some enchanter summoning, by magic formulas, a vast multitude of spiritual shapes into his cell. The conjurations are so powerful that the whole space of the apartment is quickly full; and the spirits crowding on to the verge of the little circle which they must not pass, around this, and above the master’s head, keep increasing in number, and ever whirling in perpetual transformation. Every corner is crammed, every crevice is possessed. Embryos expand themselves, and giant forms contract into the size of nuts. Unhappily the Black Artist has forgotten the counter-word, with which he might command this flood of sprites again to ebb.

So sat Wilhelm in his privacy; with unknown movements, a thousand feelings and capacities awoke in him, of which he formerly had neither notion nor anticipation. Nothing could allure him from this state; he was vexed and restless if any one presumed to come to him, and talk of news or what was passing in the world.

Accordingly he scarcely took notice of the Edition: current; Page: [165] circumstance, when told that a judicial sentence was about being executed in the castle-yard; the flogging of a boy, who had incurred suspicions of nocturnal housebreaking, and who, as he wore a peruke-maker’s coat, had most probably been one of the assaulters of the pedant. The boy indeed, it seemed, denied most obstinately; so that they could not inflict a formal punishment, but meant to give him a slight memorial as a vagabond, and send him about his business; he having prowled about the neighborhood for several days, lain at night in the mills, and at last clapped a ladder to the garden-wall, and mounted over by it.

Our friend saw nothing very strange in the transaction, and was dismissing it altogether, when Mignon came running in, and assured him that the criminal was Friedrich, who, since the rencounter with the Stallmeister, had vanished from the company, and had not again been heard of.


Feeling an interest in the boy, Wilhelm hastily arose; he found, in the court-yard of the castle, the preparations almost finished. The count loved solemnity on these occasions. The boy being now led out, our friend stepped forward, and entreated for delay, as he knew the boy, and had various things to say which might perhaps throw light on the affair. He had difficulty in succeeding, notwithstanding all his statements; at length, however, he did get permission to speak with the culprit in private. Friedrich averred that concerning Edition: current; Page: [166] the assault in which the pedant had been used so harshly he knew nothing whatever. He had merely been lurking about; and had come in at night to see Philina, whose room he had discovered, and would certainly have reached, had he not been taken by the way.

For the credit of the company, Wilhelm felt desirous not to have the truth of his adventure published. He hastened to the Stallmeister; he begged him to show favor, and with his intimate knowledge of men and things about the castle, to find some means of quashing the affair, and dismissing the boy.

This whimsical gentleman, by Wilhelm’s help, invented a little story; how the boy had belonged to the troop, had run away from it, but soon wished to get back and be received again into his place; how he had accordingly been trying in the night to come at certain of his well-wishers, and solicit their assistance. It was testified by others that his former behavior had been good; the ladies put their hands to the work; and Friedrich was let go.

Wilhelm took him in; a third person in that strange family, which for some time he had looked on as his own. The old man and little Mignon received the returning wanderer kindly; and all the three combined to serve their friend and guardian with attention, and procure him all the pleasure in their power.


Philina now succeeded in insinuating further every day into the favor of the ladies. Whenever they were by themselves she was wont to lead the conversation on the men whom they saw about the castle; and our friend was not the last or least important that engaged them. The cunning girl was well aware that he had made a deep impression on the countess; she therefore talked about him often, telling much that she knew or did not know; only taking care to speak of nothing that might be interpreted against him; eulogizing, on the contrary, his nobleness of mind, his generosity, and more than all, his modest and respectful conduct to the fair sex. To all inquiries made about him she replied with equal prudence; and the baroness, when she observed the growing inclination of her amiable friend, was likewise very glad at the discovery. Her own intrigues with several men, especially of late with Jarno, had not remained hidden from the countess, whose pure soul could not look upon such levities without disapprobation and meek though earnest censures.

In this way both Philina and the baroness were personally interested in establishing a closer intercourse between the countess and our friend. Philina hoped, moreover, that there would occur some opportunity when she might once more labor for herself, and, if possible, get back the favor of the young man she had lost.

One day his lordship with his guests had ridden out to hunt, and their return was not expected till the morrow. On this the baroness devised a frolic, which was altogether in her way; for she loved disguises; and, in order to surprise her friends, would suddenly appear among them as a peasant girl at one time, at another as a page, at another as a hunter’s boy. By which means she almost gave herself the air of a little fairy, that is present everywhere, and exactly in the place where it is least expected. Nothing could exceed this lady’s joy, if, without being recognized, she could contrive to wait upon the company for some time as a servant, or mix among them anyhow, and then at last in some sportful way disclose herself.

Towards night she sent for Wilhelm to her chamber; and, happening to have something else to do just then, she left Philina to receive him and prepare him.

He arrived, and found to his surprise, not the honorable lady, but the giddy actress in the room. She received him with a certain dignified openness of manner, which she had of late been practising, and so constrained him likewise to be courteous.

At first she rallied him in general on the good fortune which pursued him everywhere, and which, as she could not but see, had led him hither in the present case. Then she delicately set before him the treatment with which of late he had afflicted her; she blamed and upbraided herself; confessed that she had but too well deserved such punishment; described with the greatest candor what she called her former situation; adding that she would despise herself if she were not capable of altering and making herself worthy of his friendship.

Wilhelm was struck with this oration. He had too little knowledge of the world to understand that persons, quite unstable and Edition: current; Page: [iii] Edition: current; Page: [jjj] Edition: current; Page: [kkk] Edition: current; Page: [lll] Edition: current; Page: [167] incapable of all improvement, frequently accuse themselves in the bitterest manner, confessing and deploring their faults with extreme ingenuousness, though they possess not the smallest power within them to retire from that course, along which the irresistible tendency of their nature is dragging them forward. Accordingly, he could not find in his heart to behave inexorably to the graceful sinner; he entered into conversation, and learned from her the project of a singular disguisement, wherewith it was intended to surprise the countess.


The Count

He found some room for hesitation here; nor did he hide his scruples from Philina; but the baroness, entering at this moment, left him not an instant for reflection; she hurried him away with her, declaring it was just the proper hour.

It was now grown dark. She took him to the count’s wardrobe; made him change his own coat with his lordship’s silk night-gown; and put the cap with red trimmings on his head. She then led him forward to the cabinet; and bidding him sit down upon the large chair, and take a book, she lit the Argand’s lamp, which stood before him, and showed him what he was to do, and what kind of part he had to play.

They would inform the countess, she said, of her husband’s unexpected arrival, and that he was in very bad humor. The countess would come in, walk up and down the room once or twice, then place herself beside the back of his chair, lay her arm upon his shoulder, and speak a few words. He was to play the cross husband as long and as well as possible; and when obliged to disclose himself he must behave politely, handsomely and gallantly.

Wilhelm was left sitting, restlessly enough, in this singular mask. The proposal had come upon him by surprise; the execution of it got the start of the deliberation. The baroness had vanished from the room before he saw how dangerous the post was which he had engaged to fill. He could not deny that the beauty, the youth, the gracefulness of the countess had made some impression on him; but his nature was entirely averse to all empty gallantry, and his principles forbade any thought of more serious enterprises; so that his perplexity at this moment was in truth extreme. The fear of displeasing the countess, and that of pleasing her too well, were equally busy in his mind.

Every female charm that had ever acted on him now showed itself again to his imagination. Mariana rose before him in her white morning-gown and entreated his remembrance. Philina’s loveliness, her beautiful hair, her insinuating blandishments, had again become attractive by her late presence. Yet all this retired as if behind the veil of distance when he figured to himself the noble blooming countess, whose arm in a few minutes he would feel upon his neck, whose innocent caresses he was there to answer.

The strange mode in which he was to be delivered out of this perplexity he certainly did not anticipate. We may judge of his astonishment, nay, his terror, when the door opened behind him; and at the first stolen look in the mirror he quite clearly discerned the count coming in with a light in his hand. His doubt what he should do, whether he should sit still or rise, should fly, confess, deny, or beg forgiveness, lasted but a few instants. The count, who had remained motionless standing in the door, retired and shut it softly. At the same moment the baroness sprang forward by the side door, extinguished the lamp, tore Wilhelm from his chair, and hurried him with her into the closet. Instantly he threw off the night-gown and put it in its former place. The baroness took his coat under her arm, and hastened with him through several rooms, passages and partitions into her chamber; where Wilhelm, so soon as she recovered breath, was informed that on her going to the countess, and delivering the fictitious intelligence about her husband’s arrival, the countess had answered: “I know it already: what can have happened? I saw him riding in, at the postern, even now.” On which the baroness, in an excessive panic, had run to the count’s chamber to give warning.

“Unhappily you came too late!” said Wilhelm. “The count was in the room before you, and saw me sitting.”

“And recognized you?”

“That I know not. He was looking at me in the glass, as I at him; and, before I could well determine whether it was he or a spirit, he drew back, and closed the door behind him.”

The anxiety of the baroness increased, when a servant came to call her, signifying that the count was with his lady. She went with no light heart; and found the count silent and thoughtful indeed, but milder and kinder in Edition: current; Page: [168] his words than usual. She knew not what to think of it. They spoke about the incidents of the chase, and the causes of his quick return. The conversation soon ran out. The count became taciturn; and it struck the baroness particularly when he asked for Wilhelm, and expressed a wish that he were sent for to come and read something.


Wilhelm, who had now dressed himself in the baroness’ chamber, and in some degree recovered his composure, obeyed the order, not without anxiety. The count gave him a book; out of which he read an adventurous tale, very little at his ease. His voice had a certain inconstancy and quivering in it, which fortunately corresponded with the import of the story. The count more than once gave kindly tokens of approval; and at last dismissed our friend with praises of his exquisite manner of reading.


Wilhelm had scarcely read one or two of Shakspeare’s plays, till their effect on him became so strong that he could go no further. His whole soul was in commotion. He sought an opportunity to speak with Jarno; to whom, on meeting with him, he expressed his boundless gratitude for such delicious entertainment.

“I clearly foresaw,” said Jarno, “that you would not remain insensible to the charms of the most extraordinary and most admirable of all writers.”

“Yes!” exclaimed our friend; “I cannot recollect that any book, any man, any incident of my life, has produced such important effects on me, as the precious works, to which by your kindness I have been directed. They seem as if they were performances of some celestial genius, descending among men, to make them, by the mildest instructions, acquainted with themselves. They are no fictions! You would think, while reading them, you stood before the unclosed awful Books of Fate, while the whirlwind of most impassioned life was howling through the leaves, and tossing them fiercely to and fro. The strength and tenderness, the power and peacefulness of this man have so astonished and transported me, that I long Edition: current; Page: [169] vehemently for the time when I shall have it in my power to read further.”

“Bravo!” said Jarno, holding out his hand and squeezing our friend’s: “this is as it should be! And the consequences, which I hope for, will likewise surely follow.”

“I wish,” said Wilhelm, “I could but disclose to you all that is going on within me even now. All the anticipations I have ever had regarding man and his destiny, which have accompanied me from youth upwards, often unobserved by myself, I find developed and fulfilled in Shakspeare’s writings. It seems as if he cleared up every one of our enigmas to us, though we cannot say: Here or there is the word of solution. His men appear like natural men, and yet they are not. These, the most mysterious and complex productions of creation, here act before us as if they were watches, whose dial-plates and cases were of crystal; which pointed out, according to their use, the course of the hours and minutes; while, at the same time, you could discern the combination of wheels and springs that turned them. The few glances I have cast over Shakspeare’s world incite me, more than anything beside, to quicken my footsteps forward into the actual world, to mingle in the flood of destinies that is suspended over it; and at length, if I shall prosper, to draw a few cups from the great ocean of true nature, and to distribute them from off the stage among the thirsting people of my native land.”

“I feel delighted with the temper of mind in which I now behold you,” answered Jarno, laying his hand upon the shoulder of the excited youth; “renounce not the purpose of embarking in active life. Make haste to employ with alacrity the years that are granted you. If I can serve you, I will with all my heart. As yet, I have not asked you how you came into this troop, for which you certainly were neither born nor bred. So much I hope and see: you long to be out of it. I know nothing of your parentage, of your domestic circumstances; consider what you shall confide to me. Thus much only I can say: the times of war we live in may produce quick turns of fortune; did you incline devoting your strength and talents to our service, not fearing labor, and if need were, danger, I might even now have an opportunity to put you in a situation, which you would not afterwards be sorry to have filled for a time.” Wilhelm could not sufficiently express his gratitude; he was ready to impart to his friend and patron the whole history of his life.

In the course of this conversation, they had wandered far into the park, and at last come upon the highway that crossed it. Jarno stood silent for a moment, and then said: “Deliberate on my proposal, determine, give me your answer in a few days, and then let me have the narrative you mean to trust me with. I assure you, it has all along to me seemed quite incomprehensible, how you ever could have anything to do with such a class of people. I have often thought with vexation and spleen, how, in order to gain a paltry living, you must fix your heart on a wandering ballad-monger, and a silly mongrel, neither male nor female.”

He had not yet concluded, when an officer on horseback came hastily along; a groom following him with a led horse. Jarno shouted a warm salutation to him. The officer sprang from his horse; Jarno and he embraced and talked together; while Wilhelm, confounded at the last expressions of his warlike friend, stood thoughtfully at a side. Jarno turned over some papers which the stranger had delivered to him; while the latter came to Wilhelm; held out his hand, and said with emphasis: “I find you in worthy company; follow the counsel of your friend; and, by doing so, accomplish likewise the desire of an unknown man, who takes a genuine interest in you.” So saying, he embraced Wilhelm and pressed him cordially to his breast. At the same instant, Jarno advanced, and said to the stranger: “It is best that I ride on with you: by this means you may get the necessary orders, and set out again before night.” Both then leaped into their saddles, and left our astonished friend to his own reflections.

Jarno’s last words were still ringing in his ears. It galled him to see the two human beings, that had most innocently won his affections, so grievously disparaged by a man whom he honored so much. The strange embracing of the officer, whom he knew not, made but a slight impression on him; it occupied his curiosity and his imagination for a moment: but Jarno’s speech had cut him to the heart; he was deeply hurt by it; and now, in his way homewards, he broke out into reproaches against himself, that he should for a single instant have mistaken or forgotten the unfeeling coldness of Jarno, Edition: current; Page: [170] which looked out from his very eyes, and spoke in all his gestures. “No!” exclaimed he, “thou conceivest, dead-hearted worldling, that thou canst be a friend? All that thou hast power to offer me is not worth the sentiment which binds me to these forlorn beings. How fortunate, that I have discovered in time what I had to expect from thee!”

Mignon came to meet him as he entered; he clasped her in his arms, exclaiming: “Nothing, nothing shall part us, thou good little creature! The seeming prudence of the world shall never cause me to forsake thee, or forget what I owe thee.”

The child, whose warm caresses he had been accustomed to avoid, rejoiced with all her heart at this unlooked-for show of tenderness, and clung so fast to him that he had some difficulty to get loose from her.

From this period he kept a stricter eye on Jarno’s conduct: many parts of it he did not think quite praiseworthy: nay, several things came out which totally displeased him. He had strong suspicions, for example, that the verses on the baron, which the poor pedant had so dearly paid for, were composed by Jarno. And as the latter, in Wilhelm’s presence, had made sport of the adventure, our friend thought here was certainly a symptom of a most corrupted heart; for what could be more depraved than to treat a guiltless person, whose griefs one’s self had occasioned, with jeering and mockery, instead of trying to satisfy or to indemnify him? In this matter, Wilhelm would himself willingly have brought about reparation; and ere long a very curious accident led him to obtain some traces of the persons concerned in that nocturnal outrage.

Hitherto his friends had contrived to keep him unacquainted with the fact, that some of the young officers were in the habit of passing whole nights, in merriment and jollity, with certain actors and actresses, in the lower hall of the old castle. One morning, having risen early according to his custom, he happened to visit this chamber, and found the gallant gentlemen just in the act of performing rather a singular operation. They had mixed a bowl of water with a quantity of chalk, and were plastering this gruel with a brush upon their waistcoats and pantaloons, without stripping; thus very expeditiously restoring the spotlessness of their apparel. On witnessing this piece of ingenuity, our friend was at once struck with the recollection of the poor pedant’s whited and bedusted coat: his suspicions gathered strength, when he learned that some relations of the baron’s were among the party.

To throw some light on his doubts, he engaged the youths to breakfast with him. They were very lively, and told a multitude of pleasant stories. One of them especially, who for a time had been on the recruiting service, was loud in praising the craft and activity of his captain; who, it appeared, understood the art of alluring men of all kinds towards him, and overreaching every one by the deception proper for him. He circumstantially described how several young people of good families and careful education had been cozened, by playing off to them a thousand promises of honor and preferment; and he heartily laughed at the simpletons, who felt so gratified, when first enlisted, at the thought of being esteemed and introduced to notice by so reputable, prudent, bold and munificent an officer.

Wilhelm blessed his better genius for having drawn him back in time from the abyss to whose brink he had approached so near. Jarno he now looked upon as nothing better than a crimp; the embrace of the stranger officer was easily explained. He viewed the feelings and opinions of these men with contempt and disgust; from that moment he carefully avoided coming into contact with any one that wore a uniform; and when he heard that the army was about to move its quarters the news would have been extremely welcome to him, if he had not feared that immediately on its departure he himself must be banished from the neighborhood of his lovely friend, perhaps forever.


Meanwhile the baroness had spent several days disquieted by anxious fears and unsatisfied curiosity. Since the late adventure the count’s demeanor had been altogether an enigma to her. His manner was changed; none of his customary jokes were to be heard. His demands on the company and the servants had very much abated. Little pedantry or imperiousness was now to be discerned in him; he was silent and thoughtful; yet withal he seemed composed and placid; in short, he was quite another man. In choosing the books which now and then he caused to be read to him, those of a serious, often a religious cast Edition: current; Page: [171] were pitched upon; and the baroness lived in perpetual fright lest beneath this apparent serenity a secret rancor might be lurking; a silent purpose to revenge the offence he had so accidentally discovered. She determined, therefore, to make Jarno her confidant; and this the more freely, as that gentleman and she already stood in a relation to each other where it is not usual to be very cautious in keeping secrets. For some time Jarno had been her dearest friend; yet they had been dexterous enough to conceal their attachment and joys from the noisy world in which they moved. To the countess alone this new romance had not remained unknown; and very possibly the baroness might wish to get her fair friend occupied with some similar engagement, and thus to escape the silent reproaches she had often to endure from that noble-minded woman.


Scarcely had the baroness related the occurrence to her lover when he cried out, laughing, Edition: current; Page: [172] “To a certainty the old fool believes he has seen his ghost! He dreads that the vision may betoken some misfortune, perhaps death to him; and so he is become quite tame, as all half-men do, in thinking of that consummation which no one has escaped or will escape. Softly a little! As I hope he will live long enough, we may now train him at least, so that he shall not again give disturbance to his wife and household.”

They accordingly, as soon as any opportunity occurred, began talking in the presence of the count about warnings, visions, apparitions, and the like. Jarno played the skeptic, the baroness likewise; and they carried it so far that his lordship at last took Jarno aside, reproved him for his free thinking, and produced his own experience to prove the possibility, nay, actual occurrence, of such preter-natural events. Jarno affected to be struck; to be in doubt; and finally to be convinced; but in private with his friend he made himself so much the merrier at the credulous weakling, who had thus been cured of his evil habits by a bugbear, but who, they admitted, still deserved some praise for expecting dire calamity, or death itself, with such composure.

“The natural result, which the present apparition might have had, would possibly have ruffled him!” exclaimed the baroness, with her wonted vivacity; to which, when anxiety was taken from her heart, she had instantly returned. Jarno was richly rewarded, and the two contrived fresh projects for frightening the count still further; and still further exciting and confirming the affection of the countess for Wilhelm.

With this intention the whole story was related to the countess. She, indeed, expressed her displeasure at such conduct; but from that time she became more thoughtful, and in peaceful moments seemed to be considering, pursuing and painting out that scene which had been prepared for her.

The preparations now going forward on every side left no room for doubt that the armies were soon to move in advance, and the prince at the same time to change his headquarters. It was even said that the count intended leaving his castle and returning to the city. Our players could therefore, without difficulty, calculate the aspect of their stars; yet none of them, except Melina, took any measures in consequence: the rest strove only to catch as much enjoyment as they could from the moment that was passing over them.

Wilhelm, in the meantime, was engaged with a peculiar task. The countess had required from him a copy of his writings; and he looked on this request as the noblest recompense for his labors.

A young author, who has not yet seen himself in print, will, in such a case, apply no ordinary care to provide a clear and beautiful transcript of his works. It is like the golden age of authorship: he feels transported into those centuries when the press had not inundated the world with so many useless writings, when none but excellent performances were copied and kept by the noblest men; and he easily admits the illusion that his own accurately ruled and measured manuscript may itself prove an excellent performance, worthy to be kept and valued by some future critic.

The prince being shortly to depart, a great entertainment had been appointed in honor of him. Many ladies of the neighborhood were invited, and the countess had dressed herself betimes. On this occasion she had taken a costlier suit than usual. Her head-dress and the decorations of her hair were more exquisite and studied: she wore all her jewels. The baroness, too, had done her utmost to appear with becoming taste and splendor.

Philina, observing that both ladies, in expectation of their guests, felt the time rather tedious, proposed to send for Wilhelm, who was wishing to present his manuscript, now completed, and to read them some other little pieces. He came; and on his entrance was astonished at the form and the graces of the countess, which her decorations had but made more visible and striking. Being ordered by the ladies, he began to read; but with so much absence of mind and so badly, that had not his audience been excessively indulgent, they would very soon have dismissed him.

Every time he looked at the countess it seemed to him as if a spark of electric fire were glancing before his eyes. In the end he knew not where to find the breath he wanted for his reading. The countess had always pleased him; but now it appeared as if he never had beheld a being so perfect and so lovely. A thousand thoughts flitted up and down his soul; what follows might be nearly their substance:—

“How foolish is it in so many poets and men of sentiment, as they are called, to make war on pomp and decoration; requiring that women of all ranks should wear no dress but Edition: current; Page: [173] what is simple and conformable to nature! They rail at decoration, without once considering that when we see a plain or positively ugly person clothed in a costly and gorgeous fashion, it is not the poor decoration that displeases us. I would assemble all the judges in the world, and ask them here if they wished to see one of these folds, of these ribbons and laces, these braids, ringlets and glancing stones removed? Would they not dread disturbing the delightful impression that so naturally and spontaneously meets us here? Yes, naturally I will say! As Minerva sprang in complete armor from the head of Jove, so does this goddess seem to have stepped forth with a light foot, in all her ornaments, from the bosom of some flower.”

While reading he turned his eyes upon her frequently, as if he wished to stamp this image on his soul forever; he more than once read wrong, yet without falling into confusion of mind; though at other times he used to feel the mistaking of a word or a letter as a painful deformity, which spoiled a whole recitation.

A false alarm of the arrival of the guests put an end to the reading; the baroness went out, and the countess, while about to shut her writing-desk, which was standing open, took up her casket, and put some other rings upon her finger. “We are soon to part,” said she, keeping her eyes upon the casket; “accept a memorial of a true friend, who wishes nothing more earnestly than that you may always prosper.” She then took out a ring, which, underneath a crystal, bore a little plait of woven hair beautifully set with diamonds. She held it out to Wilhelm, who on taking it knew neither what to say nor do, but stood as if rooted to the ground. The countess shut her desk and sat down upon the sofa.

“And I must go empty?” said Philina, kneeling down at the countess’ right hand. “Do but look at the man; he carries such a store of words in his mouth when no one wants to hear them; and now he cannot stammer out the poorest syllable of thanks. Quick, sir! Express your services by way of pantomime, at least; and if to-day you can invent nothing, then, for heaven’s sake, be my imitator.”

Philina seized the right hand of the countess, and kissed it warmly. Wilhelm sank upon his knee, laid hold of the left, and pressed it to his lips. The countess seemed embarrassed, yet without displeasure.

“Ah!” cried Philina, “so much splendor of attire I may have seen before; but never one so fit to wear it. What bracelets, but also what a hand! What a necklace, but also what a bosom!”

“Peace, little cozener!” said the countess.

“Is this his lordship then?” said Philina, pointing to a rich medallion which the countess wore on her left side by a particular chain.

“He is painted in his bridegroom dress,” replied the countess.

“Was he then so young?” inquired Philina; “I know it is but a year or two since you were married.”

“His youth must be placed to the artist’s account,” replied the lady.

“He is a handsome man,” observed Philina. “But was there never,” she continued, placing her hand on the countess’ heart, “never any other image that found its way in secret hither?”

“Thou art very bold, Philina!” cried she; “I have spoiled thee. Let me never hear the like again.”

“If you are angry, then am I unhappy,” said Philina, springing up, and hastening from the room.

Wilhelm still held that lovely hand in both of his. His eyes were fixed on the bracelet-clasp; he noticed with extreme surprise, that his initials were traced on it, in lines of brilliants.

“Have I then,” he modestly inquired, “your own hair in this precious ring?”

“Yes,” replied she, in a faint voice; then suddenly collecting herself, she said, and pressed his hand: “Arise, and fare you well!”

“Here is my name,” cried he, “by the most curious chance!” He pointed to the bracelet-clasp.

“How?” cried the countess: “it is the cipher of a female friend!”

“They are the initials of my name. Forget me not. Your image is engraven on my heart, and will never be effaced! Farewell! I must be gone.”

He kissed her hand, and meant to rise; but, as in dreams, some strange thing fades and changes into something stranger, and the succeeding wonder takes us by surprise; so, without knowing how it happened, he found the countess in his arms; her lips were resting upon his, and their warm mutual kisses were yielding them that blessedness which mortals sip from the topmost sparkling foam on the freshly-poured cup of love.

Her head lay on his shoulder; the disordered ringlets and ruffles were forgotten. Edition: current; Page: [174] She had thrown her arm round him; he clasped her with vivacity; and pressed her again and again to his breast. Oh, that such a moment could but last forever! And woe to envious fate that shortened even this brief moment to our friends!

How terrified was Wilhelm, how astounded did he start from his happy dream, when the countess, with a shriek, on a sudden tore herself away, and hastily pressed her hand against her heart.

He stood confounded before her; she held the other hand upon her eyes, and, after a moment’s pause, exclaimed: “Away! leave me! delay not!”

He continued standing.

“Leave me!” she cried; and taking off her hand from her eyes, she looked at him with an indescribable expression of countenance; and added, in the most tender and affecting voice: “Fly, if you love me.”

Wilhelm was out of the chamber, and again in his room, before he knew what he was doing.

Unhappy creatures! What singular warning of chance or of destiny tore them asunder?

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Laertes was standing at the window in a thoughtful mood, resting on his arm and looking out into the fields. Philina came gliding towards him across the large hall; she leaned upon him and began to mock him for his serious looks.

“Do not laugh,” replied he; “it is frightful to think how time goes on, how all things change and have an end. See here! A little while ago there was a stately camp: how pleasantly the tents looked; what restless life and motion was within them; how carefully they watched the whole enclosure! And behold, it is all vanished in a day! For a short while, that trampled straw, those holes which the cooks have dug, will show a trace of what was here; and soon the whole will be ploughed and reaped as formerly, and the presence of so many thousand gallant fellows in this quarter will but glimmer in the memories of one or two old men.”

Philina began to sing, and dragged forth her friend to dance with her in the hall. “Since Time is not a person we can overtake when he is past,” cried she, “let us honor him with mirth and cheerfulness of heart while he is passing.”

They had scarcely made a step or two, when Frau Melina came walking through the hall. Philina was wicked enough to invite her to join them in the dance, and thus to bring her in mind of the shape to which her pregnancy had reduced her.

“That I might nevermore see a woman in an interesting situation!” said Philina, when her back was turned.

“Yet she feels an interest in it,” said Laertes.

“But she manages so shockingly. Didst thou notice that wabbling fold of her shortened petticoat, which always travels out before her when she moves? She has not the smallest knack or skill to trim herself a little and conceal her state.”

“Let her be,” said Laertes; “time will soon come to her aid.”

“It were prettier, however,” cried Philina, “if we could shake children from the trees.”

The baron entered, and spoke some kind words to them, adding a few presents, in the name of the count and the countess, who had left the place very early in the morning. He then went to Wilhelm, who was busy in the side chamber with Mignon. She had been extremely affectionate and taking; had asked minutely about Wilhelm’s parents, brothers, sisters and relations; and so brought to his mind the duty which he owed his people, to send them some tidings of himself.

With the farewell compliments of the family, the baron delivered him an assurance from the Edition: current; Page: [176] count, that his lordship had been exceedingly obliged by his acting, his poetical labors and his theatrical exertions. For proof of this statement the baron then drew forth a purse, through whose beautiful texture the bright glance of new gold coin was sparkling out. Wilhelm drew back, refusing to accept of it.

“Look upon this gift,” said the baron, “as a compensation for your time, as an acknowledgment of your trouble, not as the reward of your talents. If genius procures us a good name and good-will from men, it is fair likewise that, by our diligence and efforts, we should earn the means to satisfy our wants; since, after all, we are not wholly spirit. Had we been in town, where everything is to be got, we should have changed this little sum into a watch, a ring, or something of that sort; but as it is, I must place the magic rod in your own hands; procure a trinket with it, such as may please you best and be of greatest use, and keep it for our sakes. At the same time, you must not forget to hold the purse in honor. It was knit by the fingers of our ladies; they meant that the cover should give to its contents the most pleasing form.”

“Forgive my embarrassment,” said Wilhelm, “and my doubts about accepting this present. It as it were annihilates the little I have done, and hinders the free play of happy recollection. Money is a fine thing, when any matter is to be completely settled and abolished; I feel unwilling to be so entirely abolished from the recollection of your house.”

“That is not the case,” replied the baron; “but, feeling so tenderly yourself, you could not wish that the count should be obliged to consider himself wholly your debtor; especially when I assure you that his lordship’s highest ambition has always consisted in being punctual and just. He is not uninformed of the labor you have undergone, or of the zeal with which you have devoted all your time to execute his views; nay, he is aware that, to quicken certain operations, you have even expended money of your own. With what face shall I appear before him, then, if I cannot say that his acknowledgment has given you satisfaction?”

“If I thought only of myself,” said Wilhelm; “if I might follow merely the dictates of my own feelings, I should certainly, in spite of all these reasons, steadfastly refuse this gift, generous and honorable as it is; but I will not deny, that at the very moment when it brings me into one perplexity, it frees me from another, into which I have lately fallen with regard to my relations, and which has in secret caused me much uneasiness. My management, not only of the time, but also of the money, for which I have to give account, has not been the best; and now by the kindness of his lordship, I shall be enabled, with confidence, to give my people news of the good fortune to which this curious bypath has led me. I therefore sacrifice those feelings of delicacy, which like a tender conscience admonish us on such occasions, to a higher duty; and, that I may appear courageously before my father, I must consent to stand ashamed before you.”

“It is singular,” replied the baron, “to see what a world of hesitation people feel about accepting money from their friends and patrons, though ready to receive any other gift with joy and thankfulness. Human nature manifests some other such peculiarities, by which many scruples of a similar kind are produced and carefully cherished.”

“Is it not the same with all points of honor?” said our friend.

“It is so,” replied the baron; “and with several other prejudices. We must not root them out, lest, in doing so, we tear up noble plants along with them. Yet I am always glad when I meet with men that feel superior to such objections when the case requires it; and I think with pleasure on the story of that ingenious poet, which I dare say you have heard of. He had written several plays for the court-theatre, which were honored by the warmest approbation of the monarch. ‘I must give him a distinguished recompense,’ said the generous prince: ‘ask him whether he would choose to have some jewel given him; or if he would disdain to accept a sum of money.’ In his humorous way the poet answered the inquiring courtier: ‘I am thankful, with all my heart, for these gracious purposes; and, as the emperor is daily taking money from us, I see not wherefore I should feel ashamed of taking some from him.’ ”

Scarcely had the baron left the room when Wilhelm eagerly began to count the cash, which had come to him so unexpectedly, and, as he thought, so undeservedly. It seemed as if the worth and dignity of gold, not usually felt till later years, had now, by anticipation, twinkled in his eyes for the first time, as the fine glancing coins rolled out from the beautiful purse. He reckoned up, and found that, particularly as Melina had engaged immediately Edition: current; Page: [177] to pay the loan, he had now as much or more on the right side of his account, as on that day when Philina first asked him for the nosegay. With a little secret satisfaction he looked upon his talents; with a little pride, upon the fortune which had led him and attended him. He now seized the pen, with an assured mind, to write a letter, which might free his family from their anxieties, and set his late proceedings in the most favorable light. He abstained from any special narrative; and only by significant and mysterious hints left them room for guessing at what had befallen him. The good condition of his cash-book, the advantage he had earned by his talents, the favor of the great and of the fair, acquaintance with a wider circle, the improvement of his bodily and mental gifts, his hopes from the future, altogether formed such a fair cloud-picture that Fata Morgana itself could scarcely have thrown together a stranger or a better.

In this happy exaltation, the letter being folded up, he went on to maintain a conversation with himself, recapitulating what he had been writing, and pointing out for himself an active and glorious future. The example of so many gallant warriors had fired him; the poetry of Shakspeare had opened a new world to him; from the lips of the beautiful countess he had inhaled an inexpressible inspiration. All this could not and would not be without effect.

The Stallmeister came to inquire whether they were ready with their packing. Alas! with the single exception of Melina, no one of them had thought of it. Now, however, they were speedily to be in motion. The count had engaged to have the whole party conveyed forward a few days’ journey on their way: the horses were now in readiness, and could not long be wanted. Wilhelm asked for his trunk: Frau Melina had taken it to put her own things in. He asked for money; Herr Melina had stowed it all far down at the bottom of his box. Philina said she had still some room in hers; she took Wilhelm’s clothes and bade Mignon bring the rest. Wilhelm, not without reluctance, was obliged to let it be so.

While they were loading and getting all things ready, Melina said: “I am sorry we should travel like mountebanks and rope-dancers; I could wish that Mignon would put on girl’s clothes, and that the harper would let his beard be shorn.” Mignon clung firmly to Wilhelm, and cried, with great vivacity: “I am a boy; I will be no girl!” The old man held his peace; and Philina, on this suggestion, made some merry observations on the singularity of their protector the count. “If the harper should cut off his beard,” said she, “let him sew it carefully upon a ribbon, and keep it by him, that he may put it on again whenever his lordship the count falls in with him in any quarter of the world. It was this beard alone that procured him the favor of his lordship.”

On being pressed to give an explanation of this singular speech, Philina said to them: “The count thinks it contributes very much to the completeness of theatrical illusion, if the actor continues to play his part, and to sustain his character, even in common life. It was for this reason that he showed such favor to the pedant; and he judged it, in like manner, very fitting that the harper not only wore his false beard at nights on the stage, but also constantly by day; and he used to be delighted at the natural appearance of the mask.”

While the rest were laughing at this error, and the other strange opinions of the count, the harper led our friend aside, took leave of him, and begged with tears that he would even now let him go. Wilhelm spoke to him, declaring that he would protect him against all the world, that no one should touch a hair of his head, much less send him off against his will.

The old man seemed affected deeply; an unwonted fire was glowing in his eyes. “It is not that,” cried he, “which drives me away. I have long been reproaching myself in secret for staying with you. I ought to linger nowhere; for misfortune flies to overtake me, and injures all that are connected with me. Dread everything, unless you dismiss me; but ask me no questions; I belong not to myself; I cannot stay.”

“To whom dost thou belong? Who can exert such a power on thee?”

“Leave me my horrid secret and let me go! The vengeance which pursues me is not of the earthly judge. I belong to an inexorable Destiny; I cannot stay, and I dare not.”

“In the situation thou art now in, I certainly will not let thee go.”

“It were high treason against you, my benefactor, if I should delay. I am secure while with you, but you are in peril. You know not whom you keep beside you. I am Edition: current; Page: [178] guilty, but more wretched than guilty. My presence scares happiness away; and good deeds grow powerless when I become concerned in them. Fugitive, unresting I should be, that my evil genius might not seize me, which pursues but at a distance, and only appears when I have found a place, and am laying down my head to seek repose. More grateful I cannot show myself than by forsaking you.”


“Strange man! Thou canst neither take away the confidence I place in thee, nor the hope I feel to see thee happy. I wish not to penetrate the secrets of thy superstition; but if thou livest in belief of wonderful forebodings and entanglements of Fate, then, to cheer and hearten thee, I say, unite thyself to my good fortune, and let us see which genius is the stronger, thy dark or my bright one.”

Wilhelm seized this opportunity of suggesting to him many other comfortable things; for of late our friend had begun to imagine that this singular attendant of his must be a man who, by chance or destiny, had been led into some weighty crime, the remembrance of which he was ever bearing on his conscience. A few days ago Wilhelm, listening to his singing, had observed attentively the following lines:

  • For him the light of ruddy morn
  • But paints the horizon red with flame;
  • And voices, from the depths of nature borne,
  • Woe! woe! upon his guilty head proclaim.

But, let the old man urge what arguments he pleased, our friend had constantly a stronger argument at hand. He turned everything on its fairest side; spoke so bravely, heartily and cheerily, that even the old man seemed again to gather spirits, and to throw aside his whims.


Melina was in hopes to get established with his company in a small but thriving town at some distance. They had already reached the place where the count’s horses were to turn; and now they looked about for other carriages and cattle to transport them onward. Melina had engaged to provide them a conveyance; he showed himself but niggardly, according to his custom. Wilhelm, on the contrary, had the shining ducats of the countess in his pocket, and thought he had the fullest right to spend them merrily; forgetting very soon how ostentatiously he had produced them in the stately balance transmitted to his father.

His friend Shakspeare, whom with the greatest joy he acknowledged as his godfather, and rejoiced the more that his name was Wilhelm, had introduced him to a prince, who frolicked for a time among mean, nay, vicious companions, and who, notwithstanding his nobleness of nature, found pleasure in the rudeness, indecency and coarse intemperance of these altogether sensual knaves. This ideal likeness, which he figured as the type and the excuse of his own actual condition, was most welcome to our friend; and the process of self-deception, to which already he displayed an almost invincible tendency, was thereby very much facilitated.

He now began to think about his dress. It struck him that a waistcoat, over which, in case of need, one could throw a little short mantle, was a very fit thing for a traveller. Edition: current; Page: [179] Long knit pantaloons, and a pair of lacing-boots, seemed the true garb of a pedestrian. He next procured a fine silk sash, which he tied about him, under the pretence at first of securing warmth for his person. On the other hand, he freed his neck from the tyranny of stocks; and got a few stripes of muslin sewed upon his shirt; making the pieces of considerable breadth, so that they presented the complete appearance of an ancient ruff. The beautiful silk neckerchief, the memorial of Mariana, which had once been saved from burning, now lay slackly tied beneath this muslin collar. A round hat, with a parti-colored band, and a large feather, perfected the mask.


The women all asserted that this garb became him very well. Philina in particular appeared enchanted with it. She solicited his hair for herself; beautiful locks, which, the closer to approach the natural ideal, he had unmercifully clipped. By so doing, she recommended herself not amiss to his favor; and our friend, who, by his openhandedness, had acquired the right of treating his companions somewhat in Prince Harry’s manner, ere long fell into the humor of himself contriving a few wild tricks, and presiding in the execution of them. The people fenced, they danced, they devised all kinds of sports; and in their gayety of heart partook of what tolerable wine they could fall in with, in copious proportions; while, amid the disorder of this tumultuous life, Philina lay in wait for the coy hero; over whom let his better Genius keep watch!

One chief diversion, which yielded the company a frequent and very pleasing entertainment, consisted in producing an extempore play, in which their late benefactors and patrons were mimicked and turned into ridicule. Some of our actors had seized very neatly whatever was peculiar in the outward manner of several distinguished people in the count’s establishment; their imitation of these was received by the rest of the party with the greatest approbation; and when Philina produced, from the secret archives of her experience, certain peculiar declarations of love that had been made to her, the audience were like to die with laughing and malicious joy.

Wilhelm censured their ingratitude; but they told him in reply that these gentry well deserved what they were getting, their general conduct towards such deserving people as our friends believed themselves, not having been by any means the best imaginable. The little consideration, the neglect they had experienced, were now described with many aggravations. The jesting, bantering and mimicry proceeded as before; our party were growing bitterer and more unjust every minute.

“I wish,” observed Wilhelm, “there were no envy or selfishness lurking under what you say, but that you would regard those persons and their station in the proper point of view. It is a peculiar thing to be placed, by one’s very birth, in an elevated situation in society. The man for whom inherited wealth has secured a perfect freedom of existence; who finds himself from his youth upwards abundantly encompassed with all the secondary essentials, so to speak, of human life,—will generally become accustomed to consider these qualifications as the first and greatest of all; while the worth of that mode of human life, which nature from her own stores equips and furnishes, will strike him much more faintly. Edition: current; Page: [180] The behavior of noblemen to their inferiors, and likewise to each other, is regulated by external preferences: they give each credit for his title, his rank, his clothes and equipage, but his individual merits come not into play.”

This speech was honored with the company’s unbounded applause. They declared it to be shameful, that men of merit should constantly be pushed into the background; and that in the great world there should not be a trace of natural and hearty intercourse. On this latter point particularly they overshot all bounds.

“Blame them not for it,” said Wilhelm; “rather pity them! They have seldom an exalted feeling of that happiness which we admit to be the highest that can flow from the inward abundance of nature. Only to us poor creatures is it granted to enjoy the happiness of friendship in its richest fulness. Those dear to us we cannot elevate by our countenance, or advance by our favor, or make happy by our presents. We have nothing but ourselves. This whole self we must give away; and, if it is to be of any value, we must make our friend secure of it forever. What an enjoyment, what a happiness, for giver and receiver! With what blessedness does truth of affection invest our situation! It gives to the transitory life of man a heavenly certainty; it forms the crown and capital of all that we possess.”

While he spoke thus, Mignon had come near him; she threw her little arms round him, and stood with her cheek resting on his breast. He laid his hand on the child’s head, and proceeded: “It is easy for a great man to win our minds to him; easy to make our hearts his own. A mild and pleasant manner, a manner only not inhuman, will of itself do wonders: and how many means does he possess of holding fast the affections he has once conquered! To us, all this occurs less frequently, to us it is all more difficult; and we naturally therefore put a greater value on whatever, in the way of mutual kindness, we acquire and accomplish. What touching examples of faithful servants giving themselves up to danger and death for their masters! How finely has Shakspeare painted out such things to us! Fidelity, in this case, is the effort of a noble soul struggling to become equal with one exalted above it. By steadfast attachment and love, the servant is made equal to his lord, who but for this is justified in looking on him as a hired slave. Yes, these virtues belong to the lower class of men alone; that class cannot do without them, and with them it has a beauty of its own. Whoever is enabled to requite all favors easily, will likewise easily be tempted to raise himself above the habit of acknowledgment. Nay, in this sense, I am of opinion, it might almost be maintained, that a great man may possess friends, but cannot be one.”

Mignon pressed still closer towards him.

“It may be so,” replied one of the party: “we do not need their friendship, and do not ask it. But it were well if they understood a little more about the arts which they affect to patronize. When we played in the best style, there was none to mind us: it was all sheer partiality. Any one they chose to favor pleased; and they did not choose to favor those that merited to please. It was intolerable to observe how often silliness and mere stupidity attracted notice and applause.”

“When I abate from this,” said Wilhelm, “what seemed to spring from irony and malice, I think we may nearly say, that one fares in art as he does in love. And after all, how shall a fashionable man of the world, with his dissipated habits, attain that intimate presence with a special object, which an artist must long continue in, if he would produce anything approaching to perfection? a state of feeling without which it is impossible for any one to take such an interest, as the artist hopes and wishes, in his work.

“Believe me, my friends, it is with talents as with virtue; one must love them for their own sake, or entirely renounce them. And neither of them is acknowledged and rewarded, except when their possessor can practise them unseen, like a dangerous secret.”

“Meanwhile, until some proper judge discovers us, we may all die of hunger,” cried a fellow in the corner.

“Not quite inevitably,” answered Wilhelm. “I have observed that so long as one stirs and lives, one always finds food and raiment, though they be not of the richest sort. And why should we repine? Were we not, altogether unexpectedly, and when our prospects were the very worst, taken kindly by the hand, and substantially entertained? And now, when we are in want of nothing, does it once occur to us to attempt anything for our improvement; or to strive, though never so faintly, towards advancement in our art? We are busied about indifferent matters; and, like school-boys, we are casting all aside that might bring our lesson to our thoughts.”

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“In sad truth,” said Philina, “it is even so! Let us choose a play; we will go through it on the spot. Each of us must do his best, as if he stood before the largest audience.”

They did not long deliberate; a play was fixed on. It was one of those which at that time were meeting great applause in Germany, and have now passed away. Some of the party whistled a symphony; each speedily bethought him of his part; they commenced; and played all the piece with the greatest attention, and really well beyond expectation. Mutual applauses circulated; our friends had seldom been so pleasantly diverted.

On finishing, they all felt exceedingly contented, partly on account of their time being spent so well, partly because each of them experienced some degree of satisfaction with his own performance. Wilhelm expressed himself copiously in their praise; the conversation grew cheerful and merry.

“You would see,” cried our friend, “what advances we should make, if we continued this sort of training, and ceased to confine our attention to mere learning by heart, rehearsing, and playing mechanically, as if it were a barren duty, or some handicraft employment. How different a character do our musical professors merit! What interest they take in their art; how correct are they in the practicings they undertake in common! What pains they are at in tuning their instruments; how exactly they observe time; how delicately they express the strength and the weakness of their tones! No one there thinks of gaining credit to himself by a loud accompaniment of the solo of another. Each tries to play in the spirit of the composer, each to express well whatever is committed to him, be it much or little.

“Should not we too go as strictly and as ingeniously to work, seeing we practise an art far more delicate than that of music; seeing we are called on to express the commonest and the strangest emotions of human nature, with elegance, and so as to delight? Can anything be more shocking than to slur over our rehearsal, and in our acting to depend on good luck, or the capricious chance of the moment? We ought to place our highest happiness and satisfaction in mutually desiring to gain each other’s approbation; we should even value the applauses of the public, only in so far as we have previously sanctioned them among ourselves. Why is the master of the band more secure about his music than the manager about his play? Because, in the orchestra, each individual would feel ashamed of his mistakes, which offend the outward ear; but how seldom have I found an actor disposed to acknowledge or feel ashamed of mistakes, pardonable or the contrary, by which the inward ear is so outrageously offended! I could wish, for my part, that our theatre were as narrow as the wire of a rope-dancer, that so no inept fellow might dare to venture on it; instead of being, as it is, a place where every one discovers in himself capacity enough to flourish and parade.”

The company gave this apostrophe a kind reception; each being convinced that the censure conveyed in it could not apply to him, after acting a little while ago so excellently with the rest. On the other hand, it was agreed that during this journey, and for the future, if they remained together, they would regularly proceed with their training in the manner just adopted. Only it was thought, that as this was a thing of good humor and free will, no formal manager must be allowed to have a hand in it. Taking it for an established fact, that among good men the republican form of government is the best, they declared that the post of manager should go round among them; he must be chosen by universal suffrage, and every time have a sort of little senate joined in authority along with him. So delighted did they feel with this idea, that they longed to put it instantly in practice.

“I have no objection,” said Melina, “if you incline making such an experiment while we are travelling; I shall willingly suspend my own directorship until we reach some settled place.” He was in hopes of saving cash by this arrangement, and of casting many small expenses on the shoulders of the little senate or of the interim manager. This fixed, they went very earnestly to counsel, how the form of the new commonwealth might best be adjusted.

“ ’Tis an itinerating kingdom,” said Laertes; “we shall at least have no quarrels about frontiers.”

They directly proceeded to the business, and elected Wilhelm as their first manager. The senate also was appointed, the women having seat and vote in it; laws were propounded, were rejected, were agreed to. In such playing the time passed on unnoticed; and as our friends had spent it pleasantly, they also conceived that they had really been effecting Edition: current; Page: [182] something useful; and by their new constitution had been opening a new prospect for the stage of their native country.


Seeing the company so favorably disposed, Wilhelm now hoped he might further have it in his power to converse with them on the poetic merit of the pieces which might come before them. “It is not enough,” said he next day, when they were all again assembled, “for the actor merely to glance over a dramatic work, to judge of it by his first impression, and thus, without investigation, to declare his satisfaction or dissatisfaction with it. Such things may be allowed in a spectator, whose purpose it is rather to be entertained and moved than formally to criticise. But the actor, on the other hand, should be prepared to give a reason for his praise or censure: and how shall he do this, if he have not taught himself to penetrate the sense, the views and feelings of his author? A common error is, to form a judgment of a drama from a single part in it; and to look upon this part itself in an isolated point of view, not in its connection with the whole. I have noticed this, within a few days, so clearly in my own conduct, that I will give you the account as an example, if you please to hear me patiently.

“You all know Shakspeare’s incomparable Hamlet: our public reading of it at the castle yielded every one of us the greatest satisfaction. On that occasion, we proposed to act the piece; and I, not knowing what I undertook, engaged to play the prince’s part. This I conceived that I was studying, while I began to get by heart the strongest passages, the soliloquies, and those scenes in which force of soul, vehemence and elevation of feeling have the freest scope; where the agitated heart is allowed to display itself with touching expressiveness.

“I further conceived that I was penetrating quite into the spirit of the character, while I endeavored as it were to take upon myself the load of deep melancholy under which my prototype was laboring, and in this humor to pursue him through the strange labyrinths of his caprices and his singularities. Thus learning, thus practising, I doubted not but I should by-and-by become one person with my hero.

“But the further I advanced the more difficult did it become for me to form any image of the whole, in its general bearings; till at last it seemed as if impossible. I next went through the entire piece without interruption: but here too I found much that I could not away with. At one time the characters, at another time the manner of displaying them, seemed inconsistent; and I almost despaired of finding any general tint, in which I might present my whole part with all its shadings and variations. In such devious paths I toiled and wandered long in vain; till at length a hope arose that I might reach my aim in quite a new way.

“I set about investigating every trace of Hamlet’s character, as it had shown itself before his father’s death: I endeavored to distinguish what in it was independent of this mournful event; independent of the terrible events that followed; and what most probably the young man would have been, had no such thing occurred.

“Soft, and from a noble stem, this royal flower had sprung up under the immediate influences of majesty: the idea of moral rectitude with that of princely elevation, the feeling of the good and dignified with the consciousness of high birth, had in him been unfolded simultaneously. He was a prince, by birth a prince; and he wished to reign only that good men might be good without obstruction. Pleasing in form, polished by nature, courteous from the heart, he was meant to be the pattern of youth and the joy of the world.

“Without any prominent passion, his love for Ophelia was a still presentiment of sweet wants. His zeal in knightly accomplishments was not entirely his own; it needed to be quickened and inflamed by praise bestowed on others for excelling in them. Pure in sentiment, he knew the honorable-minded, and could prize the rest which an upright spirit tastes on the bosom of a friend. To a certain degree, he had learned to discern and value the good and the beautiful in arts and sciences; the mean, the vulgar was offensive to him; and if hatred could take root in his tender soul, it was only so far as to make him properly despise the false and changeful insects of a court, and play with them in easy scorn. He was calm in his temper, artless in his conduct; neither pleased with idleness, nor too violently eager for employment. The routine of a university he seemed to continue when at court. He possessed more mirth of Edition: current; Page: [183] humor than of heart; he was a good companion, pliant, courteous, discreet, and able to forget and forgive an injury; yet never able to unite himself with those who overstepped the limits of the right, the good, and the becoming.


“When we read the piece again, you shall judge whether I am yet on the proper track. I hope at least to bring forward passages that shall support my opinion in its main points.”

This delineation was received with warm approval: the company imagined they foresaw that Hamlet’s manner of proceeding might now be very satisfactorily explained; they applauded this method of penetrating into the spirit of a writer. Each of them proposed to himself to take up some piece and study it on these principles, and so unfold the author’s meaning.


Our friends had to continue in the place for a day or two; and it was not long till sundry of them got engaged in adventures of a rather pleasant kind. Laertes in particular was challenged by a lady of the neighborhood, a person of some property; but he received her blandishments with extreme, nay, unhandsome coldness; and had in consequence to undergo a multitude of jibes from Philina. She took this opportunity of detailing to our friend the hapless love-story which had made the youth so bitter a foe to womankind. “Who can take it ill of him,” she cried, “that he hates a sex which has played him so foul, and given him to swallow, in one stoutly concentrated potion, all the miseries that man can fear from woman? Do but conceive it: within four and twenty hours he was lover, bridegroom, husband, cuckold, patient and widower! I wot not how you could use a man worse.”

Laertes hastened from the room half-vexed, half-laughing; and Philina in her sprighthest style began to relate the story: how Laertes, a young man of eighteen, on joining a company of actors, found in it a girl of fourteen on the point of departing with her father, who had quarrelled with the manager. How, on the instant, he had fallen mortally in love; had conjured the father by all possible considerations to remain, promising at length to marry the young woman. How, after a few pleasing hours of groomship, he had accordingly been wedded, and been happy as he ought; whereupon, next day, while he was occupied at the rehearsal, his wife, according to professional rule, had honored him with a pair of horns; and how as he, out of excessive tenderness, hastened home far too soon, had, alas, found a former lover in his place, he had struck into the affair with thoughtless indignation, had called out both father and lover, and sustained a grievous wound in the duel. How father and daughter had thereupon set off by night, leaving him behind to labor with a double hurt. How the leech he applied to was unhappily the worst in nature; and the poor fellow had got out of the adventure with blackened teeth and watering eyes. That he was greatly to be pitied, being otherwise the bravest young man on the face of the earth. “Especially,” said she, “it grieves me that the poor soul now hates women; for, hating women, how can one keep living?”

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Melina interrupted them with news, that all things being now ready for the journey, they would set out to-morrow morning. He handed them a plan, arranging how they were to travel.

“If any good friend take me on his lap,” said Philina, “I shall be content, though we sit crammed together never so close and sorrily: ’tis all one to me.”

“It does not signify,” observed Laertes, who now entered.

“It is pitiful,” said Wilhelm, hastening away. By the aid of money he secured another very comfortable coach, though Melina had pretended that there were no more. A new distribution then took place; and our friends were rejoicing in the thought that they should now travel pleasantly, when intelligence arrived that a party of military volunteers had been seen upon the road, from whom little good could be expected.

In the town these tidings were received with great attention, though they were but variable and ambiguous. As the contending armies were at that time placed, it seemed impossible that any hostile corps could have advanced, or any friendly one hung arear, so far. Yet every man was eager to exhibit to our travellers the danger that awaited them as truly dangerous; every man was eager to suggest that some other route might be adopted.

By these means most of our friends had been seized with anxiety and fear; and when, according to the new republican constitution, the whole members of the state had been called together to take counsel on this extraordinary case, they were almost unanimously of opinion that it would be proper either to keep back the mischief by abiding where they were, or to evade it by choosing another road.

Wilhelm alone, not participating in the panic, regarded it as mean to abandon, for the sake of mere rumors, a plan which they had not entered on without much thought. He endeavored to put heart into them; his reasons were manly and convincing.

“It is but a rumor,” he observed; “and how many such arise in time of war! Well-informed people say that the occurrence is exceedingly improbable, nay, almost impossible. Shall we in so important a matter allow a vague report to determine our proceedings? The route pointed out to us by the count, and to which our passport was adapted, is the shortest and in the best condition. It leads us to the town, where you see acquaintances, friends before you, and may hope for a good reception. The other way will also bring us thither; but by what a circuit, and along what miserable roads! Have we any right to hope, that, in this late season of the year, we shall get on at all; and what time and money shall we squander in the meanwhile!” He added many more considerations, presenting the matter on so many advantageous sides, that their fear began to dissipate, and their courage to increase. He talked to them so much about the discipline of regular troops, he painted the marauders and wandering rabble so contemptuously, and represented the danger itself as so pleasant and inspiring, that the spirits of the party were altogether cheered.

Laertes from the first had been of his opinion; he now declared that he would not flinch or fail. Old Boisterous found a consenting phrase or two to utter, in his own vein; Philina laughed at them all; and Madam Melina, who, notwithstanding her advanced state of pregnancy, had lost nothing of her natural stout-heartedness, regarded the proposal as heroic. Herr Melina, moved by this harmonious feeling, hoping also to save somewhat by travelling the short road which had been first contemplated, did not withstand the general consent; and the project was agreed to with universal alacrity.

They next began to make some preparations for defence at all hazards. They bought large hangers, and slung them in well-quilted straps over their shoulders. Wilhelm, further, stuck a pair of pistols in his girdle. Laertes, independently of this occurrence, had a good gun. They all took the road in the highest glee.

On the second day of their journey the drivers, who knew the country well, proposed to take their noon’s rest in a certain woody spot of the hills; since the town was far off, and in good weather the hill road was generally preferred.

The day being beautiful, all easily agreed to the proposal. Wilhelm on foot went on before them through the hills, making every one that met him stare with astonishment at his singular figure. He hastened with quick and contented steps across the forest: Laertes walked whistling after him; none but the women continued to be dragged along in the carriages. Mignon too ran forward by his side, proud of the hanger, which, when the party were all arming, she would not go without. Around her hat she had bound the pearl necklace, one of Mariana’s relics, which Wilhelm Edition: current; Page: [mmm] Edition: current; Page: [nnn] Edition: current; Page: [ooo] Edition: current; Page: [ppp] Edition: current; Page: [185] still possessed. Friedrich, the fair-haired boy, carried Laertes’ gun. The harper had the most pacific look; his long cloak was tucked up within his girdle, to let him walk more freely; he leaned upon a knotty staff; his harp had been left behind him in the carriage.



Immediately on reaching the summit of the height, a task not without its difficulties, our party recognized the appointed spot, by the fine beech-trees which encircled and screened it. A spacious green, sloping softly in the middle of the forest, invited one to tarry; a trimly-bordered well offered the most grateful refreshment; and on the farther side, through chasms in the mountains, and over the tops of the woods, appeared a landscape distant, lovely, full of hope. Hamlets and mills were lying in the bottoms, villages upon the plain; and a new chain of mountains, visible in the distance, made the prospect still more significant of hope, for they entered only like a soft limitation.

The first comers took possession of the place; rested a while in the shade, lighted a fire, and so awaited, singing as they worked, the remainder of the party; who by degrees arrived, and with one accord saluted the place, the lovely weather, and the still lovelier scene.


If our friends had frequently enjoyed a good and merry hour together while within four walls, they were naturally much gayer here, where the freedom of the sky and the beauty of the place seemed as it were to purify the feelings of every one. All felt nearer to each other; all wished that they might pass their whole lives in so pleasant an abode. They envied hunters, charcoal-men and wood-cutters; people whom their calling constantly retains in such happy places: but, above all, they prized the delicious economy of a band of gypsies. They envied these wonderful companions, entitled to enjoy in blissful idleness all the adventurous charms of nature; they rejoiced at being in some degree like them.

Meanwhile the women had begun to boil potatoes; and to unwrap and get ready the victuals brought along with them. Some pots were standing by the fire. The party had placed themselves in groups, under the trees and bushes. Their singular apparel, their various weapons, gave them a foreign aspect. The horses were eating their provender at a side. Could one have concealed the coaches, the look of this little horde would have been romantic, even to complete illusion.

Wilhelm enjoyed a pleasure he had never felt before. He could now imagine his present company to be a wandering colony, and himself the leader of it. In this character he talked with those around him, and figured out the fantasy of the moment as poetically as he could. The feelings of the party rose in cheerfulness: they ate and drank and made merry; and repeatedly declared that they had never passed more pleasant moments.

Their contentment had not long gone on increasing, till activity awoke among the younger part of them. Wilhelm and Laertes seized their rapiers, and began to practise, on this occasion with theatrical intentions. They undertook to represent the duel in which Hamlet and his adversary find so tragical an end. Both were persuaded that, in this powerful scene, it was not enough merely to keep pushing awkwardly hither and thither, as it is generally exhibited in theatres: they were in hopes to show, by example, how, in presenting it, a worthy spectacle might also be afforded to the critic in the art of fencing. The rest made a circle round them. Both fought with skill and ardor. The interest of the spectators rose higher every pass.

But all at once, in the nearest bush, a shot went off; and immediately another; and the party flew asunder in terror. Next moment, armed men were to be seen pressing forward to the spot where the horses were eating their fodder, not far from the coaches that were packed with luggage.

A universal scream proceeded from the females: our heroes threw away their rapiers, seized their pistols, and ran towards the robbers; demanding, with violent threats, the meaning of such conduct.

This question being answered laconically, with a couple of musket-shots, Wilhelm fired his pistol at a crisp-headed knave, who had got upon the top of the coach, and was cutting the cords of the package. Rightly hit, this artist instantly came tumbling down: Laertes also had not missed. Both of them, encouraged by success, drew their side-arms; when a number of the plundering party rushed out upon them, with curses and loud bellowing, fired a few shots at them, and fronted their Edition: current; Page: [186] impetuosity with glittering sabres. Our young heroes made a bold resistance. They called upon their other comrades, and endeavored to excite them to a general resistance. But ere long Wilhelm lost the sight of day, and the consciousness of what was passing. Stupefied by a shot that wounded him between the breast and the left arm, by a stroke that split his hat in two, and almost penetrated to his brain, he sank down, and only by the narratives of others came afterwards to understand the luckless end of this adventure.

On again opening his eyes, he found himself in the strangest posture. The first thing that pierced the dimness, which yet swam before his vision, was Philina’s face bent down over his. He felt himself weak; and making a movement to rise he discovered that he was in Philina’s lap; into which, indeed, he again sank down. She was sitting on the sward. She had softly pressed towards her the head of the fallen young man; and made for him an easy couch, as far as in her power. Mignon was kneeling with dishevelled and bloody hair at his feet, which she embraced with many tears.

On noticing his bloody clothes, Wilhelm asked, in a broken voice, where he was, and what had happened to himself and the rest. Philina begged him to be quiet: the others, she said, were all in safety, and none but he and Laertes wounded. Further, she would tell him nothing; but earnestly entreated him to keep still, as his wounds had been but slightly and hastily bound. He stretched out his hand to Mignon, and inquired about the bloody locks of the child, who he supposed was also wounded.

For the sake of quietness Philina let him know that this true-hearted creature, seeing her friend wounded, and in the hurry of the instant being able to think of nothing which would stanch the blood, had taken her own hair that was flowing round her head, and tried to stop the wounds with it; but had soon been obliged to give up the vain attempt: that afterwards they had bound him with moss and dry mushrooms, Philina herself giving up her neckerchief for that purpose.

Wilhelm noticed that Philina was sitting with her back against her own trunk, which still looked firmly locked and quite uninjured. He inquired if the rest also had been so lucky as to save their goods? She answered with a shrug of the shoulders, and a look over the green, where broken chests, and coffers beaten into fragments, and knapsacks ripped up, and a multitude of little wares, lay scattered all round. No person now was to be seen upon the place: this strange group formed the only living object in the solitude.

Inquiring further, our friend learned more and more particulars. The rest of the men, it appeared, who at all events might still have made resistance, were struck with terror, and soon overpowered. Some fled, some looked with horror at the accident. The drivers, for the sake of their cattle, had held out more obstinately; but they too were at last thrown down and tied; after which, in a few minutes, everything was thoroughly ransacked, and the booty carried off. The hapless travellers, their fear of death being over, had begun to mourn their loss; and hastened with the greatest speed to the neighboring village, taking with them Laertes, whose wounds were slight, and carrying off but a very few fragments of their property. The harper having placed his damaged instrument against a tree, had proceeded in their company to the place, to seek a surgeon, and return with his utmost rapidity to help his benefactor, whom he had left apparently upon the brink of death.


Meanwhile our three adventurers continued yet a time in their strange position, no one returning to their aid. Evening was advancing; the darkness threatened to come on. Philina’s indifference was changing to anxiety; Mignon ran to and fro, her impatience increasing every moment; and at last, when their prayer was granted, and human creatures did approach, a new alarm fell upon them. They distinctly heard a troop of horses coming up the road, which they had lately travelled; they dreaded lest, a second time, some company of unbidden guests might be purposing to visit this scene of battle, and gather up the gleanings.

The more agreeable was their surprise when, after a few moments, a young lady issued from the thickets, riding on a gray courser and accompanied by an elderly gentleman and some cavaliers. Grooms, servants, and a troop of hussars closed up the rear.

Philina stared at this phenomenon, and was about to call and entreat the fair Amazon for help, when the latter, turning her astonished Edition: current; Page: [187] eyes on the group, instantly checked her horse, rode up to them, and halted. She inquired eagerly about the wounded man, whose posture in the lap of this light-minded Samaritan seemed to strike her as peculiarly strange.


“Is it your husband?” she inquired of Philina. “Only a good friend,” replied the other, with a tone that Wilhelm liked extremely ill. He had fixed his eyes upon the soft, elevated, calm, sympathizing features of the stranger: he thought he had never seen aught nobler or more lovely. Her shape he could not see: it was hid by a man’s white greatcoat, which she seemed to have borrowed from some of her attendants, to screen her from the chill evening air.

By this time the horsemen had come near. Some of them dismounted; the lady did so likewise. She asked, with humane sympathy, concerning every circumstance of the mishap which had befallen the travellers; but especially concerning the wounds of the poor youth who lay before her. Thereupon she turned quickly round, and went aside with the old gentleman to some carriages, which were slowly coming up the hill, and which at length stopped upon the scene of action.

The young lady having stood with her conductor a short time at the door of one of the coaches, and talked with the people in it, a man of a squat figure stepped out and came along with them to our wounded hero. By the little box which he held in his hand, and the leathern pouch with instruments in it, you soon recognized him for a surgeon. His manners were rude rather than attractive; but his hand was light and his help was welcome.

Having examined strictly, he declared that none of the wounds were dangerous. He would dress them, he said, on the spot; after which the patient might be carried to the nearest village.

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The anxious attentions of the young lady seemed to augment. “Do but look,” she said, after going to and fro once or twice, and again bringing the old gentleman to the place; “look how they have treated him! And is it not on our account that he is suffering?” Wilhelm heard these words, but did not understand them. She went restlessly up and down; it seemed as if she could not tear herself away from the presence of the wounded man, while at the same time she feared to violate decorum by remaining, when they had begun, though not without difficulty, to remove some part of his apparel. The surgeon was just cutting off the left sleeve of his patient’s coat, when the old gentleman came near, and represented to the lady, in a serious tone, the necessity of proceeding on their journey. Wilhelm kept his eyes bent on her, and was so enchanted with her looks that he scarcely felt what he was suffering or doing.

Philina, in the meantime, had risen up to kiss the hand of this kind young lady. While they stood beside each other Wilhelm thought he had never seen such a contrast. Philina had never till now appeared in so unfavorable a light. She had no right, as it seemed to him, to come near that noble creature, still less to touch her.

The lady asked Philina various things, but in an undertone. At length she turned to the old gentleman and said, “Dear uncle, may I be generous at your expense?” She took off the greatcoat, with the visible intention to give it to the stripped and wounded youth.

Wilhelm, whom the healing look of her eyes had hitherto held fixed, was now, as the surtout fell away, astonished at her lovely figure. She came near and softly laid the coat above him. At this moment, as he tried to open his mouth, and stammer out some words of gratitude, the lively impression of her presence worked so strongly on his senses, already caught and bewildered, that all at once it appeared to him as if her head were encircled with rays; and a glancing light seemed by degrees to spread itself over all her form. At this moment the surgeon, making preparations to extract the ball from his wound, gave him a sharper twinge: the angel faded away from the eyes of the fainting patient; he lost all consciousness; and on returning to himself the horsemen and coaches, the fair one with her attendants, had vanished like a dream.


Wilhelm’s wounds once dressed, and his clothes put on, the surgeon hastened off; just as the harper with a number of peasants arrived. Out of some cut boughs, which they speedily wattled with twigs, a kind of litter was constructed; upon which they placed the wounded youth, and under the conduct of a mounted huntsman, whom the noble company had left behind them, carried him softly down the mountain. The harper, silent and shrouded in his own thoughts, bore with him his broken instrument. Some men brought on Philina’s box, herself following with a bundle. Mignon skipped along through copse and thicket, now before the party, now beside them, and looked up with longing eyes at her hurt protector.

He meanwhile, wrapped in his warm surtout, was lying peacefully upon the litter. An electric warmth seemed to flow from the fine wool into his body; in short, he felt himself in the most delightful frame of mind. The lovely being, whom this garment lately covered, had affected him to the very heart. He still saw the coat falling down from her shoulders; saw that noble form, begirt with radiance, stand beside him; and his soul hied over rocks and forests on the footsteps of his vanished benefactress.

It was nightfall when the party reached the village and halted at the door of the inn where the rest of the company, in the gloom of despondency, were bewailing their irreparable loss. The one little chamber of the house was crammed with people. Some of them were lying upon straw; some were occupying benches; some had squeezed themselves behind the stove. Frau Melina, in a neighboring room, was painfully expecting her delivery. Fright had accelerated this event. With the sole assistance of the landlady, a young, inexperienced woman, nothing good could be expected.

As the party just arrived required admission, there arose a universal murmur. All now maintained that by Wilhelm’s advice alone, and under his especial guidance, they had entered on this dangerous road, and exposed themselves to such misfortunes. They threw the blame of the disaster wholly on him; they stuck themselves in the door to oppose his entrance, declaring that he must go elsewhere and seek quarters. Philina they received with still greater indignation; nor did Mignon and the harper escape their share.

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The huntsman, to whom the care of the forsaken party had been earnestly and strictly recommended by his beautiful mistress, soon grew tired of this discussion: he rushed upon the company with oaths and menaces, commanding them to fall to the right and left, and make way for this new arrival. They now began to pacify themselves. He made a place for Wilhelm on a table, which he shoved into a corner; Philina had her box put there, and then sat down upon it. All packed themselves as they best could; and the huntsman went away to see if he could not find for “the young couple” a more convenient lodging.

Scarcely was he gone, when spite again grew noisy, and one reproach began to follow close upon another. Each described and magnified his loss, censuring the foolhardiness they had so keenly smarted for. They did not even hide the malicious satisfaction they felt at Wilhelm’s wounds; they jeered Philina, and imputed to her as a crime the means by which she had saved her trunk. From a multitude of jibes and bitter innuendoes you were required to conclude that during the plundering and discomfiture she had endeavored to work herself into favor with the captain of the band, and had persuaded him, heaven knew by what arts and complaisance, to give her back the chest unhurt. To all this she answered nothing; only clanked with the large padlocks of her box, to impress her censurers completely with its presence, and by her own good fortune to augment their desperation.


Though our friend was weak from loss of blood, and though ever since the appearance of that helpful angel his feelings had been soft and mild, yet at last he could not help getting vexed at the harsh and unjust speeches which, as he continued silent, the discontented company went on uttering against him. Feeling himself strong enough to sit up and expostulate on the annoyance they were causing to their friend and leader, he raised his bandaged head, and propping himself with much difficulty, and leaning against the wall, he began to speak as follows:

“Considering the pain which your losses occasion, I forgive you for assailing me with injuries at a moment when you should condole with me; for opposing me and casting me from you the first time I have needed to look to you for help. The services I did you, the complaisance I showed you, I regarded as sufficiently repaid by your thanks, by your friendly conduct: do not warp my thoughts, do not force my heart to go back and calculate what I have done for you; the calculation would be painful to me. Chance brought me near you, circumstances and a secret inclination kept me with you. I participated in your labors and your pleasures: my slender abilities were ever at your service. If you now blame me with bitterness for the mishap that has befallen us, you do not recollect that the first project of taking this road came to us from stranger people, was tried by all of you, and sanctioned by every one as well as me.

“Had our journey ended happily, each would have taken credit to himself for the happy thought of suggesting this plan and preferring it to others; each would joyfully have put us in mind of our deliberations and of the vote he gave: but now you make me alone responsible; you force a piece of blame upon me which I would willingly submit to if my conscience with a clear voice did not pronounce me innocent, nay, if I might not appeal with safety even to yourselves. If you have aught to say against me, bring it forward in order, and I shall defend myself; if you have nothing reasonable to allege, then be silent, and do not torment me now when I have such pressing need of rest.”

By way of answer the girls once more began whimpering and whining, and describing their losses circumstantially. Melina was quite beside himself; for he had suffered more in purse than any of them; more indeed than we can rightly estimate. He stamped like a madman up and down the little room, he knocked his head against the wall, he swore and scolded in the most unseemly manner; and the landlady entering at this very time with news that his wife had been delivered of a dead child, he yielded to the most furious ebullitions, while in accordance with him all howled and shrieked and bellowed and uproared with double vigor.

Wilhelm, touched to the heart at once with sympathy in their sorrows, and with vexation at their mean way of thinking, felt all the vigor of his soul awakened, notwithstanding the weakness of his body. “Deplorable as Edition: current; Page: [190] your case may be,” exclaimed he, “I shall almost be compelled to despise you. No misfortune gives us right to load an innocent man with reproaches. If I had share in this false step, am I not suffering my share? I lie wounded here; and if the company has come to loss, I myself have come to most. The wardrobe of which we have been robbed, the decorations that are gone, were mine; for you, Herr Melina, have not yet paid me, and I here fully acquit you of all obligation in that matter.”

“It is well to give what none of us will ever see again,” replied Melina. “Your money was lying in my wife’s coffer, and it is your own blame that you have lost it. But ah! if that were all!” And thereupon he began anew to stamp and scold and squeal. Every one recalled to memory the superb clothes from the count’s wardrobe; also the buckles, watches, snuff-boxes, hats, for which Melina had so happily transacted with the head valet. Each then thought also of his own, though far inferior treasures. They looked with spleen at Philina’s box; and gave Wilhelm to understand that he had indeed done wisely to connect himself with that fair personage, and to save his own goods also under the shadow of her fortune.

“Do you think,” he exclaimed, at last, “that I shall keep anything apart while you are starving? And is this the first time I have honestly shared with you in a season of need? Open the trunk; all that is mine shall go to supply the common wants.”

“It is my trunk,” observed Philina, “and I will not open it till I please. Your rag or two of clothes, which I have saved for you, could amount to little, though they were sold to the most conscientious of Jews. Think of yourself; what your cure will cost, what may befall you in a strange country.”

“You, Philina,” answered Wilhelm, “will keep back from me nothing that is mine; and that little will help us out of the first perplexity. But a man possesses many things besides coined money to assist his friends with. All that is in me shall be devoted to these hapless persons; who, doubtless, on returning to their senses, will repent their present conduct. Yes,” continued he, “I feel that you have need of help, and what is mine to do I will perform. Give me your confidence again; compose yourselves for a moment, and accept of what I promise! Who will receive the engagement of me in the name of all?”

Here he stretched out his hand and cried: “I promise not to flinch from you, never to forsake you till each shall see his losses doubly and trebly repaired; till the situation you are fallen into, by whose blame soever, shall be totally forgotten by all of you, and changed for a better.”


He kept his hand still stretched out: but no one would take hold of it. “I promise Edition: current; Page: [191] it again,” cried he, sinking back upon his pillow. All continued silent; they felt ashamed, but nothing comforted; and Philina, sitting on her chest, kept cracking nuts, a stock of which she had discovered in her pocket.


The huntsman now came back with several people, and made preparations for carrying away the wounded youth. He had persuaded the parson of the place to receive the “young couple” into his house; Philina’s trunk was taken out; she followed with a natural air of dignity. Mignon ran before; and when the patient reached the parsonage, a wide couch, which had long been standing ready as guest’s bed and bed of honor, was assigned him. Here it was first discovered that his wound had opened and bled profusely. A new bandage was required for it. He fell into a feverish state; Philina waited on him faithfully; and when fatigue overpowered her she was relieved by the harper. Mignon, with the firmest purpose to watch, had fallen asleep in a corner.

Next morning Wilhelm, who felt himself in some degree refreshed, learned by inquiring of the huntsman that the honorable persons who last night assisted him so nobly had shortly before left their estates, in order to avoid the movements of the contending armies, and remain till the time of peace in some more quiet district. He named the elderly nobleman as well as his niece; mentioned the place they were first going to: and told how the young lady had charged him to take care of Wilhelm.

The entrance of the surgeon interrupted the warm expressions of gratitude in which our friend was pouring out his feelings. He made a circumstantial description of the wounds; and certified that they would soon heal if the patient took care of them and kept himself at peace.

When the huntsman was gone, Philina signified that he had left with her a purse of twenty louis-d’or; that he had given the parson a remuneration for their lodging, and left with him money to defray the surgeon’s bill when the cure should be completed. She added that she herself passed everywhere for Wilhelm’s wife: that she now begged leave to introduce herself once for all to him in this capacity, and would not allow him to look out for any other sick-nurse.

“Philina,” said Wilhelm, “in this disaster that has overtaken us, I am already deeply in your debt for kindness shown me; and I should not wish to see my obligations increased. I am restless so long as you are near me: for I know of nothing by which I can repay your labor. Give me my things which you have saved in your trunk; unite yourself to the rest of the company; seek another lodging, take my thanks, and the gold watch as a small acknowledgment; only leave me; your presence disturbs me more than you can fancy.”

She laughed in his face when he had ended. “Thou art a fool,” she said; “thou wilt not gather wisdom. I know better what is good for thee; I will stay, I will not budge from the spot. I have never counted on the gratitude of men, and therefore not on thine; and if I have a touch of kindness for thee what hast thou to do with it?”

She stayed accordingly; and soon wormed herself into favor with the parson and his household; being always cheerful, having the knack of giving little presents, and of talking to each in his own vein; at the same time always contriving to do exactly what she pleased. Wilhelm’s state was not uncomfortable: the surgeon, an ignorant but no unskilful man, let Nature play her part; and the patient was not long till he felt himself recovering. For such a consummation, being eager to pursue his plans and wishes, he vehemently longed.

Incessantly he kept recalling that event which had made an ineffaceable impression on his heart. He saw the beautiful Amazon again come riding out of the thickets; she approached him, dismounted, went to and fro, and strove to serve him. He saw the garment she was wrapped in fall down from her shoulders; he saw her countenance, her figure vanish in their radiance. All the dreams of his youth now fastened on this image. Here he conceived he had at length beheld the noble, the heroic Clorinda with his own eyes: and again he bethought him of that royal youth, to whose sick-bed the lovely sympathizing princess came in her modest meekness.

“May it not be,” said he often to himself in secret, “that in youth as in sleep, the images of coming things hover round us, and mysteriously become visible to our unobstructed eyes? May not the seeds of what is Edition: current; Page: [192] to betide us be already scattered by the hand of Fate; may not a foretaste of the fruits we yet hope to gather possibly be given us?”

His sick-bed gave him leisure to repeat those scenes in every mood. A thousand times he called back the tone of that sweet voice; a thousand times he envied Philina, who had kissed that helpful hand. Often the whole incident appeared before him as a dream; and he would have reckoned it a fiction if the white surtout had not been left behind to convince him that the vision had a real existence.

With the greatest care for this piece of apparel, he combined the greatest wish to wear it. The first time he arose he put it on; and was kept in fear all day, lest it might be hurt by some stain or other injury.


Laertes visited his friend. He had not assisted in that lively scene at the inn, being then confined to bed in an upper chamber. For his loss he was already in a great degree consoled; he helped himself with his customary, “What does it signify?” He detailed various laughable particulars about the company; particularly charging Frau Melina with lamenting the loss of her stillborn daughter, solely because she herself could not on that account enjoy the Old-German satisfaction of having a Mechthilde christened. As for her husband, it now appeared that he had been possessed of abundant cash; and even at first had by no means needed the advances which he had cajoled from Wilhelm. Melina’s present plan was to set off by the next postwagon; and he meant to require of Wilhelm an introductory letter to his friend, the Manager Serlo, in whose company, the present undertaking having gone to wreck, he now wished to establish himself.

For some days Mignon had been singularly quiet; when pressed with questions, she at length admitted that her right arm was out of joint. “Thou hast thine own folly to thank for that,” observed Philina; and then told how the child had drawn her sword in the battle; and seeing her friend in peril had struck fiercely at the freebooters; one of whom had at length seized her by the arm, and pitched her aside. They chided her for not sooner speaking of her ailment; but they easily saw that she was apprehensive of the surgeon, who had hitherto looked on her as a boy. With a view to remove the mischief, she was made to keep her arm in a sling; which arrangement too displeased her; for now she was obliged to surrender most part of her share in the management and nursing of our friend to Philina. That pleasing sinner but showed herself the more active and attentive on this account.

One morning, on awakening, Wilhelm found himself in a strange neighborhood with her. In the movements of sleep he had hitched himself quite to the back of his spacious bed. Philina was lying across from the front part of it; she seemed to have fallen asleep while sitting on the bed and reading. A book had dropped from her hand; she had sunk back, and her head was lying near his breast, over which her fair and now loosened hair was spread in streams. The disorder of sleep enlivened her charms more than heart or purpose could have done; a childlike smiling rest hovered on her countenance. He looked at her for a time; and seemed to blame himself for the pleasure which this gave him. He had viewed her attentively for some moments, when she began to awake. He softly closed his eyes; but could not help glimmering at her through his eyelashes, as she trimmed herself again, and went away to consult about breakfast.

All the actors had at length successively announced themselves to Wilhelm; asking introductory letters, requiring money for their journey with more or less impatience and ill-breeding; and constantly receiving it against Philina’s will. It was in vain for her to tell our friend that the huntsman had already left a handsome sum with these people, and that accordingly they did but cozen him. To these remonstrances he gave no heed; on the contrary, the two had a sharp quarrel on the subject; which ended by Wilhelm signifying once for all that Philina must now join the rest of the company, and seek her fortune with Serlo.

For an instant or two she lost temper; but speedily recovering her composure, she cried: “If I had but my fair-haired boy again I should not care a fig for any of you.” She meant Friedrich, who had vanished from the scene of battle, and never since appeared.

Next morning Mignon brought news to the bedside that Philina had gone off by night, leaving all that belonged to Wilhelm very neatly laid out in the next room. He felt her absence; he had lost in her a faithful nurse, Edition: current; Page: [qqq] Edition: current; Page: [rrr] Edition: current; Page: [sss] Edition: current; Page: [ttt] Edition: current; Page: [193] a cheerful companion; he was no longer used to be alone. But Mignon soon filled up the blank.



Ever since that light-minded beauty had been near the patient with her friendly cares, the little creature had by degrees drawn back, and remained silent and secluded in herself; but the field being clear once more, she again came forth with her attentions and her love; again was eager in serving, and lively in entertaining him.


Wilhelm was rapidly approaching complete recovery: he now hoped to be upon his journey in a few days. He proposed no more to lead an aimless routine of existence: the steps of his career were henceforth to be calculated for an end. In the first place, he purposed to seek out that beneficent lady, and express the gratitude he felt to her; then to proceed without delay to his friend the manager, that he might do his utmost to assist the luckless company; intending at the same time to visit the commercial friends whom he had letters for, and to transact the business which had been intrusted to him. He was not without hope that fortune, as formerly, would favor him; and give him opportunity, by some lucky speculation, to repair his losses, and fill up the vacuity of his coffer.

The desire of again beholding his beautiful deliverer augmented every day. To settle his route, he took counsel with the clergyman, a person well skilled in statistics and geography, and possessing a fine collection of charts and books on those subjects. They searched for the place which this noble family had chosen as their residence while the war continued; they searched for information respecting the family itself. But their place was to be found in no geography or map; and the heraldic manuals made no mention of their name. Wilhelm became restless; and having mentioned the cause of his uneasiness, the harper told him he had reason to believe that the huntsman, for whatever reason, had concealed the real designations.

Conceiving himself now to be in the immediate neighborhood of his lovely benefactress, Wilhelm hoped he might obtain some tidings of her if he sent out the harper: but in this too he was deceived. Diligently as the old man kept inquiring, he could find no trace of her. Of late days a number of quick movements and unforeseen marches had taken place in that quarter; no one had particularly noticed the travelling party; and the ancient messenger, to avoid being taken for a Jewish spy, was obliged to return, and appear without any olive-leaf before his master and friend. He gave a strict account of his conduct in this commission, striving to keep far from him all suspicions of remissness. He endeavored by every means to mitigate the trouble of our friend; bethought him of everything that he had learned from the huntsman, and advanced a number of conjectures; out of all which, one circumstance at length came to light, whereby Wilhelm could explain some enigmatic words of his vanished benefactress.

The freebooters, it appeared, had lain in wait, not for the wandering troop, but for that noble company, whom they rightly guessed to be provided with store of gold and valuables, and of whose movements they must have had precise intelligence. Whether the attack should be imputed to some free corps, to marauders, or to robbers, was uncertain. It was clear, however, that by good fortune for the high and rich company, the poor and low had first arrived upon the place, and undergone the fate which was provided for the others. It was to this that the lady’s words referred, which Wilhelm yet well recollected. If he might now be happy and contented, that a prescient Genius had selected him for the sacrifice, which saved a perfect mortal; he was, on the other hand, nigh desperate when he thought that all hope of finding her and seeing her again was, at least for the present, completely gone.

What increased this singular emotion still further, was the likeness which he thought he had observed between the countess and the beautiful unknown. They resembled one another, as two sisters may, of whom neither can be called the younger or the elder, for they seem to be twins.

The recollection of the amiable countess was to Wilhelm infinitely sweet. He recalled her image but too willingly into his memory. But anon the figure of the noble Amazon would step between; one vision melted and changed into the other, and the form of neither would abide with him.

A new resemblance, the similarity of their handwritings, naturally struck him with still greater wonder. He had a charming song in the countess’ hand laid up in his portfolio; Edition: current; Page: [194] and in the surtout he had found a little note, inquiring with much tender care about the health of an uncle.

Wilhelm was convinced that his benefactress must have penned this billet; that it must have been sent from one chamber to another, at some inn during their journey, and put into the coat-pocket by the uncle. He held both papers together; and if the regular and graceful letters of the countess had already pleased him much, he found in the similar but freer lines of the stranger a flowing harmony which could not be described. The note contained nothing; yet the strokes of it seemed to affect him, as the presence of their fancied writer once had done.

He fell into a dreamy longing; and well accordant with his feelings was the song which at that instant Mignon and the harper began to sing, with a touching expression, in the form of an irregular duet:

  • You never long’d and lov’d,
  • You know not grief like mine:
  • Alone and far remov’d
  • From joys or hopes, I pine:
  • A foreign sky above,
  • And a foreign earth below me,
  • To the south I look all day;
  • For the hearts that love and know me
  • Are far, are far away.
  • I burn, I faint, I languish,
  • My heart is waste, and sick, and sore;
  • Who has not long’d in baffled anguish
  • Cannot know what I deplore.


The soft allurements of his dear presiding angel, far from leading our friend to any one determined path, did but nourish and increase the unrest which he had previously experienced. A secret fire was gliding through his veins; objects distinct and indistinct alternated within his soul, and awoke unspeakable desire. At one time he wished for a horse, at another for wings; and not till it seemed impossible that he could stay did he look round him to discover whither he was wanting to go.

The threads of his destiny had become so strangely entangled, he wished to see its curious knots unravelled or cut in two. Often, when he heard the tramp of a horse or the rolling of a carriage, he would run to the window and look out, in hopes it might be some one seeking him; some one, even though it were by chance, bringing him intelligence and certainty and joy. He told stories to himself, how his friend Werner might visit these parts and come upon him; how perhaps Mariana might appear. The sound of every post’s horn threw him into agitation. It would be Melina sending news to him of his adventures; above all, it would be the huntsman coming back to carry him to the beauty whom he worshipped.

Of all these possibilities, unhappily, no one occurred: he was forced at last to return to the company of himself; and in again looking through the past there was one circumstance which, the more he viewed and weighed it, grew the more offensive and intolerable to him. It was his unprosperous generalship; of which he never thought without vexation. For although, on the evening of that luckless day, he had produced a pretty fair defence of his conduct when accused by the company, yet he could not hide from himself that he was guilty. On the contrary, in hypochondriacal moments he took the blame of the whole misfortune.

Self-love exaggerates our faults as well as our virtues. Wilhelm thought he had awakened confidence in him, had guided the will of the rest; that, led by inexperience and rashness, they had ventured on, till a danger seized them, for which they were no match. Loud as well as silent reproaches had then assailed him: and if in their sorrowful condition he had promised to the company, misguided by him, never to forsake them till their loss had been repaid with usury, this was but another folly for which he had to blame himself, the folly of presuming to take upon his single shoulders a misfortune that was spread over many. One instant he accused himself of uttering this promise, under the excitement and the pressure of the moment; the next he again felt that this generous presentation of his hand, which no one deigned to accept, was but a light formality compared with the vow which his heart had taken. He meditated means of being kind and useful to them; he found every cause conspire to quicken his visit to Serlo. Accordingly he packed his things together; and without waiting his complete recovery, without listening to the counsel of the parson or the surgeon, he hastened, in the strange society of Mignon and the harper, to escape the inactivity, in which his fate had once more too long detained him.

Edition: current; Page: [195]


Serlo received him with open arms, crying as he met him: “Is it you? Do I see you again? You have scarcely changed at all. Is your love for that noblest of arts still as lively and strong? I myself am so glad at your arrival, I even feel no longer the mistrust which your last letters had excited in me.”

Wilhelm asked with surprise for a clearer explanation.

“You have treated me,” said Serlo, “not like an old friend, but as if I were a great lord, to whom with a safe conscience you might recommend useless people. Our destiny depends on the opinion of the public; and I fear Herr Melina and his suite can hardly be received among us.”

Wilhelm tried to say something in their favor; but Serlo began to draw so merciless a picture of them, that our friend was happy when a lady came into the room, and put a stop to the discussion. She was introduced to him as Aurelia, the sister of his friend: she received him with extreme kindness; and her conversation was so pleasing, that he did not once remark a shade of sorrow visible on her expressive countenance, to which it lent peculiar interest.

For the first time during many months, Wilhelm felt himself in his proper element once more. Of late in talking, he had merely found submissive listeners, and even these not always; but now he had the happiness to speak with critics and artists, who not only fully understood him, but repaid his observations by others equally instructive. With wonderful vivacity they travelled through the latest pieces; with wonderful correctness judged them. The decisions of the public they could try and estimate: they speedily threw light on each other’s thoughts.

Loving Shakspeare as our friend did, he failed not to lead round the conversation to the merits of that dramatist. Expressing, as he entertained, the liveliest hopes of the new epoch which these exquisite productions must form in Germany, he ere long introduced his Hamlet, who had busied him so much of late.

Serlo declared that he would long ago have played the piece, had this been possible, and that he himself would willingly engage to act Polonius. He added, with a smile: “An Ophelia, too, will certainly turn up, if we had but a prince.”

Wilhelm did not notice that Aurelia seemed a little hurt at her brother’s sarcasm. Our friend was in his proper vein, becoming copious and didactic, expounding how he would have Hamlet played. He circumstantially delivered to his hearers the opinions we before saw him busied with; taking all the trouble possible to make his notion of the matter acceptable, sceptical as Serlo showed himself regarding it. “Well, then,” said the latter, finally, “suppose we grant you all this, what will you explain by it?”

“Much, everything,” said Wilhelm. “Conceive a prince such as I have painted him, and that his father suddenly dies. Ambition and the love of rule are not the passions that inspire him. As a king’s son he would have been contented; but now he is first constrained to consider the difference which separates a sovereign from a subject. The crown was not hereditary; yet a longer possession of it by his father would have strengthened the pretensions of an only son, and secured his hopes of the succession. In place of this, he now beholds himself excluded by his uncle, in spite of specious promises, most probably forever. He is now poor in goods and favor, and a stranger in the scene which from youth he had looked upon as his inheritance. His temper here assumes its first mournful tinge. He feels that now he is not more, that he is less than a private nobleman; he offers himself as the servant of every one; he is not courteous and condescending, he is needy and degraded.

“His past condition he remembers as a vanished dream. It is in vain that his uncle strives to cheer him, to present his situation in another point of view. The feeling of his nothingness will not leave him.

“The second stroke that came upon him wounded deeper, bowed still more. It was the marriage of his mother. The faithful, tender son had yet a mother when his father passed away. He hoped, in the company of his surviving noble-minded parent, to reverence the heroic form of the departed; but his mother too he loses, and it is something worse than death that robs him of her. The trustful image which a good child loves to form of its parents is gone. With the dead there is no help; on the living no hold. She also is a woman, and her name is Frailty, like that of all her sex.

“Now first does he feel himself completely bent and orphaned; and no happiness of life can repay what he has lost. Not reflective Edition: current; Page: [196] or sorrowful by nature, reflection and sorrow have become for him a heavy obligation. It is thus that we see him first enter on the scene. I do not think that I have mixed aught foreign with the piece, or overcharged a single feature of it.”


Serlo looked at his sister, and said, “Did I give thee a false picture of our friend? He begins well; he has still many things to tell us, many to persuade us of.” Wilhelm asseverated loudly, that he meant not to persuade, but to convince; he begged for another moment’s patience.

“Figure to yourselves this youth,” cried he, “this son of princes; conceive him vividly, bring his state before your eyes, and then observe him when he learns that his father’s spirit walks; stand by him in the terrors of the night, when the venerable ghost itself appears before him. A horrid shudder passes over him; he speaks to the mysterious form; he sees it beckon him; he follows it, and hears. The fearful accusation of his uncle rings in his ears; the summons to revenge, and the piercing, oft-repeated cry, Remember me!

“And when the ghost has vanished, who is it that stands before us? A young hero panting for vengeance? A prince by birth, rejoicing to be called to punish the usurper of his crown? No! trouble and astonishment take hold of the solitary young man; he grows bitter against smiling villains, swears Edition: current; Page: [197] that he will not forget the spirit, and concludes with the significant ejaculation:

  • The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
  • That ever I was born to set it right!

“In these words, I imagine, will be found the key to Hamlet’s whole procedure. To me it is clear that Shakspeare meant, in the present case, to represent the effects of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it. In this view the whole piece seems to me to be composed. There is an oak tree planted in a costly jar, which should have borne only pleasant flowers in its bosom; the roots expand, the jar is shivered.


“A lovely, pure, noble and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must not cast away. All duties are holy for him; the present is too hard. Impossibilities have been required of him; not in themselves impossibilities, but such for him. He winds, and turns, and torments himself; he advances and recoils; is ever put in mind, ever puts himself in mind; at last does all but lose his purpose from his thoughts; yet still without recovering his peace of mind.”


Several people entering interrupted the discussion. They were musical dilettanti, who commonly assembled at Serlo’s once a week, and formed a little concert. Serlo himself loved music much: he used to maintain, that a player without taste for it never could attain a distinct conception and feeling of the scenic art. “As a man performs,” he would observe, “with far more ease and dignity when his Edition: current; Page: [198] gestures are accompanied and guided by a tune, so the player ought, in idea as it were, to set to music even his prose parts, that he may not monotonously slight them over in his individual style, but treat them in suitable alternation by time and measure.”

Aurelia seemed to give but little heed to what was passing; at last, she conducted Wilhelm to another room, and going to the window, and looking out at the starry sky, she said to him: “You have still much to tell us about Hamlet; I will not hurry you; my brother must hear it as well as I: but let me beg to know your thoughts about Ophelia.”

“Of her there cannot much be said,” he answered; “for a few master-strokes complete her character. The whole being of Ophelia floats in sweet and ripe sensation. Kindness for the prince, to whose hand she may aspire, flows so spontaneously, her tender heart obeys its impulses so unresistingly, that both father and brother are afraid; both give her warning harshly and directly. Decorum, like the thin lawn upon her bosom, cannot hide the soft, still movements of her heart; it on the contrary betrays them. Her fancy is smit; her silent modesty breathes amiable desire; and if the friendly goddess Opportunity should shake the tree its fruit would fall.”

“And then,” said Aurelia, “when she beholds herself forsaken, cast away, despised; when all is inverted in the soul of her crazed lover, and the highest changes to the lowest, and instead of the sweet cup of love he offers her the bitter cup of woe—”

“Her heart breaks,” cried Wilhelm; “the whole structure of her being is loosened from its joinings; her father’s death strikes fiercely against it; and the fair edifice altogether crumbles into fragments.”

Our friend had not observed with what expressiveness Aurelia pronounced those words. Looking only at this work of art, at its connection and completeness, he dreamed not that his auditress was feeling quite a different influence; that a deep sorrow of her own was vividly awakened in her breast by these dramatic shadows.

Aurelia’s head was still resting on her arms; and her eyes, now full of tears, were directed to the sky. At last, no longer able to conceal her secret grief, she seized both hands of her friend, and exclaimed, while he stood surprised before her: “Forgive, forgive a heavy heart! I am girt and pressed together by these people; from my hard-hearted brother I must seek to hide myself; your presence has untied these bonds. My friend!” continued she, “it is but a few minutes since we saw each other first, and already you are going to become my confidant.” She could scarcely end the words, and sank upon his shoulder. “Think not worse of me,” she said with sobs, “that I disclose myself to you so hastily, that I am so weak before you. Be my friend, remain my friend; I shall deserve it.” He spoke to her in his kindest manner: but in vain; her tears still flowed, and choked her words.

At this moment Serlo entered, most unwelcomely, and most unexpectedly, Philina with her hand in his. “Here is your friend,” said he to her; “he will be glad to make his compliments to you.”

“How!” cried Wilhelm in astonishment: “are you here?” With a modest settled mien, she went up to him; bade him welcome; praised Serlo’s goodness, who, she said, without merit on her part, but purely in the hope of her improvement, had agreed to admit her into his accomplished troop. She behaved, all the while, in a friendly manner towards Wilhelm, yet with a dignified distance.

But this dissimulation lasted only till the other two were gone. Aurelia having left them, that she might conceal her trouble, and Serlo being called away, Philina first looked very sharply at the doors, to see that both were really out; then began skipping to and fro about the room, as if she had been mad; at last dropped down upon the floor, like to die of giggling and laughing. She then sprang up, patted and flattered our friend; rejoicing above measure that she had been clever enough to go before, and spy the land and get herself nestled in.

“Pretty things are going on here,” she said; “just of the sort I like. Aurelia has had a hapless love-affair with some nobleman, who seems to be a very stately person, one whom I myself could like to see some day. He has left her a memorial, or I much mistake. There is a boy running about the house of three years old or so: the papa must be a very pretty fellow. Commonly I cannot suffer children, but this brat quite delights me. I have calculated Aurelia’s business. The death of her husband, the new acquaintance, the child’s age, all things agree.

“But now her spark has gone his ways; for a year she has not seen a glimpse of him. She is beside herself and inconsolable on this Edition: current; Page: [199] account. The more fool she! Her brother has a dancing girl in his troop, with whom he stands on pretty terms; an actress to whom he is betrothed; in the town, some other women whom he courts; I too am on his list. The more fool he! Of the rest thou shalt hear to-morrow. And now one word about Philina, whom thou knowest; the arch fool is fallen in love with thee.” She swore that it was true, and a proper joke. She earnestly requested Wilhelm to fall in love with Aurelia; for then the chase would be worth beholding. “She pursues her faithless swain, thou her, I thee, her brother me. If that will not divert us for a quarter of a year, I engage to die at the first episode which occurs in this four-times complicated tale.” She begged of him not to spoil her trade, and to show her such respect as her external conduct should deserve.


Next morning Wilhelm went to visit Frau Melina; but found her not at home. On inquiring here for the other members of the wandering community, he learned that Philina had invited them to breakfast. Out of curiosity, he hastened thither; and found them all cleared up and not a little comforted. The cunning creature had collected them, was treating them with chocolate, and giving them to understand that some prospects still remained for them; that, by her influence, she hoped to convince the manager how advantageous it would be for him to introduce so many clever hands among his company. They listened to her with attention; swallowed cup after cup of her chocolate; thought the girl was not so bad after all; and went away proposing to themselves to speak whatever good of her they could.

“Do you think then,” said our friend, who stayed behind, “that Serlo will determine to retain our comrades?” “Not at all,” replied Philina; “nor do I care a fig for it. The sooner they are gone the better! Laertes alone I could wish to keep: the rest we shall by-and-by pack off.”

Next she signified to Wilhelm her firm persuasion that he should no longer hide his talent; but, under the direction of a Serlo, go upon the boards. She was lavish in her praises of the order, the taste, the spirit, which prevailed in this establishment: she spoke so flatteringly to Wilhelm; with such admiration of his gifts, that his heart and his imagination were advancing towards this proposal, as fast as his understanding and his reason were retreating from it. He concealed his inclination from himself and from Philina; and passed a restless day, unable to resolve on visiting his trading correspondents, to receive the letters which might there be lying for him. The anxieties of his people during all this time he easily conceived; yet he shrank from the precise account of them; particularly at the present time, as he promised to himself a great and pure enjoyment from the exhibition of a new piece that evening.

Serlo had refused to let him witness the rehearsal. “You must see us on the best side,” he observed, “before we can allow you to look into our cards.”

The acting of the piece, however, where our friend did not fail to be present, yielded him a high satisfaction. It was the first time he had ever seen a theatre in such perfection. The actors were evidently all possessed of excellent gifts, of superior capacities, and a high clear notion of their art: they were not equal; but they mutually restrained and supported one another; each breathed ardor into those around him; throughout all their acting they showed themselves decided and correct. You soon felt that Serlo was the soul of the whole; as an individual he appeared to much advantage. A merry humor, a measured vivacity, a settled feeling of propriety, combined with a great gift of imitation, were to be observed in him the moment he appeared upon the stage. The inward contentment of his being seemed to spread itself over all that looked on him; and the intellectual style, in which he could so easily and gracefully express the finest shadings of his part, excited more delight, as he could conceal the art which, by long-continued practice, he had made his own.

Aurelia, his sister, was not inferior; she obtained still greater approbation, for she touched the souls of the audience, which it was his to exhilarate and amuse.

After a few days had passed pleasantly enough, Aurelia sent to inquire for our friend. He hastened to her; she was lying on a sofa; she seemed to be suffering from headache; her whole frame had visibly a feverish movement. Her eye lighted up as she noticed Wilhelm. “Pardon me!” she cried, as he entered: “the trust you have inspired me with has made me weak. Till now Edition: current; Page: [200] I have contrived to bear up against my woes in secret; nay, they gave me strength and consolation: but now, I know not how it is, you have loosened the bands of silence; you must, against your will, take part in the battle I am fighting with myself.”

Wilhelm answered her in friendly and obliging terms. He declared that her image and her sorrows had not ceased to hover in his thoughts; that he longed for her confidence, and devoted himself to be her friend.

While he spoke his eyes were attracted to the boy, who sat before her on the floor, and was busy rattling a multitude of playthings. This child, as Philina had observed, might be about three years of age; and Wilhelm now conceived how that giddy creature, seldom elevated in her phraseology, had likened it to the sun. For its cheerful eyes and full countenance were shaded by the finest golden locks, which flowed round in copious curls; dark, slender, softly-bending eyebrows showed themselves upon a brow of dazzling whiteness; and the living tinge of health was glancing on its cheeks. “Sit by me,” said Aurelia: “you are looking at the happy child with admiration; in truth, I took it into my arms with joy; I keep it carefully: yet by it too I can measure the extent of my sufferings; for they seldom let me feel the worth of such a gift.

“Allow me,” she continued, “to speak to you about myself and my destiny; for I have it much at heart that you should not misunderstand me. I thought I should have a few calm instants, and accordingly I sent for you; you are now here, and the thread of my narrative is lost.

“ ‘One more forsaken woman in the world!’ you will say. You are a man; you are thinking: ‘What a noise she makes, the fool, about a necessary evil; which, certainly as death, awaits a woman, when such is the fidelity of men!’ O my friend! if my fate were common, I would gladly undergo a common evil; but it is so singular: why cannot I present it to you in a mirror, why not command some one to tell it you? Oh, had I, had I been seduced, surprised, and afterwards forsaken, there would then still be comfort in despair: but I am far more miserable; I have been my own deceiver; I have wittingly betrayed myself; and this, this is what shall never be forgiven me.”

“With noble feelings, such as yours,” said Wilhelm, “you can never be entirely unhappy.”

“And do you know to what I am indebted for my feelings?” asked Aurelia. “To the worst education that ever threatened to contaminate a girl; to the vilest examples for misleading the senses and the inclinations.

“My mother dying early, the fairest years of my youth were spent with an aunt, whose principle it was to despise the laws of decency. She resigned herself headlong to every impulse; careless whether the object of it proved her tyrant or her slave, so she might forget herself in wild enjoyment.

“By children, with the pure clear vision of innocence, what ideas of men were necessarily formed in such a scene! How stolid, brutally bold, importunate, unmannerly, was every one whom she allured! How sated, empty, insolent and tasteless, when he left her! I have seen this woman live for years humbled under the control of the meanest creatures. What incidents she had to undergo! With what a front she contrived to accommodate herself to her destiny; nay, with how much skill to wear those shameful fetters!

“It was thus, my friend, that I became acquainted with your sex: and deeply did I hate it, when, as I imagined, I observed that even tolerable men, in their conduct to ours, appeared to renounce every honest feeling, of which nature might otherwise have made them capable.

“Unhappily, moreover, on such occasions, a multitude of painful discoveries about my own sex were forced upon me: and in truth I was then wiser, as a girl of sixteen, than I now am; now that I scarcely understand myself. Why are we so wise when young; so wise, and ever growing less so?”

The boy began to make a noise; Aurelia became impatient, and rung. An old woman came to take him out. “Hast thou toothache still?” said Aurelia to the crone, whose face was wrapped in cloth. “Unsufferable,” said the other, with a muffled voice; then lifted the boy, who seemed to like going with her, and carried him away.

Scarcely was he gone, when Aurelia began bitterly to weep. “I am good for nothing,” cried she, “but lamenting and complaining; and I feel ashamed to lie before you like a miserable worm. My recollection is already fled; I can relate no more.” She faltered, and was silent. Her friend, unwilling to reply with a commonplace, and unable to reply with anything particularly applicable, pressed her hand, and looked at her for some time without Edition: current; Page: [uuu] Edition: current; Page: [vvv] Edition: current; Page: [www] Edition: current; Page: [xxx] Edition: current; Page: [201] speaking. Thus embarrassed, he at length took up a book, which he noticed lying on the table before him: it was Shakspeare’s works, and open at Hamlet.



Serlo at this moment entering, inquired about his sister; and looking in the book which our friend had hold of, cried: “So you are again at Hamlet? Very good! Many doubts have arisen in me, which seem not a little to impair the canonical aspect of the piece as you would have it viewed. The English themselves have admitted that its chief interest concludes with the third act; the last two lagging sorrily on, and scarcely uniting with the rest: and certainly about the end it seems to stand stock-still.”

“It is very possible,” said Wilhelm, “that some individuals of a nation, which has so many masterpieces to feel proud of, may be led by prejudice and narrowness of mind to form false judgments: but this cannot hinder us from looking with our own eyes, and doing justice where we see it due. I am very far from censuring the plan of Hamlet; on the contrary, I believe there never was a grander one invented; nay, it is not invented, it is real.”

“How do you demonstrate that?” inquired Serlo.

“I will not demonstrate anything,” said Wilhelm; “I will merely show you what my own conceptions of it are.”


Aurelia rose up from her cushion; leaned upon her hand, and looked at Wilhelm; who, with the firmest assurance that he was in the right, went on as follows: “It pleases us, it flatters us to see a hero acting on his own strength; loving and hating as his heart directs him; undertaking and completing; casting every obstacle aside; and at length attaining some great object which he aimed at. Poets and historians would willingly persuade us that so proud a lot may fall to man. In Hamlet we are taught another lesson: the hero is without a plan, but the piece is full of plan. Here we have no villain punished on some self-conceived and rigidly-accomplished scheme of vengeance: a horrid deed occurs; it rolls itself along with all its consequences, dragging guiltless persons also in its course; the perpetrator seems as if he would evade the abyss which is made ready for him; yet he plunges in, at the very point by which he thinks he shall escape and happily complete his course.

“For it is the property of crime to extend its mischief over innocence, as it is of virtue to extend its blessings over many that deserve them not; while frequently the author of the one or of the other is not punished or rewarded Edition: current; Page: [202] at all. Here in this play of ours, how strange! The pit of darkness sends its spirit and demands revenge; in vain! All circumstances tend one way, and hurry to revenge; in vain! Neither earthly nor infernal thing may bring about what is reserved for Fate alone. The hour of judgment comes: the wicked fall with the good: one race is mowed away, that another may spring up.”

After a pause, in which they looked at one another, Serlo said: “You pay no great compliment to Providence, in thus exalting Shakspeare; and besides, it appears to me, that for the honor of your poet, as others for the honor of Providence, you ascribe to him an object and a plan, which he himself had never thought of.”


Let me also put a question,” said Aurelia. “I have looked at Ophelia’s part again; I am contented with it, and conceive that under certain circumstances I could play it. But tell me, should not the poet have furnished the insane maiden with another sort of songs? Could not one select some fragments out of melancholy ballads for this purpose? What have double meanings and lascivious insipidities to do in the mouth of such a noble-minded person?”

“Dear friend,” said Wilhelm, “even here I cannot yield you one iota. In these singularities, in this apparent impropriety, a deep sense is hid. Do we not understand from the very first what the mind of the good soft-hearted girl was busied with? Silently she lived within herself, yet she scarce concealed her wishes, her longing; the tones of desire were in secret ringing through her soul; and how often may she have attempted, like an unskilful nurse, to lull her senses to repose with songs which only kept them more awake? But at last, when her self-command is altogether gone, when the secrets of her heart are hovering on her tongue, that tongue betrays her, and in the innocence of insanity she solaces herself, unmindful of king or queen, with the echo of her loose and well-beloved songs: To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day; and By Gis and by Saint Charity.

He had not finished speaking, when all at once an extraordinary scene took place before him, which he could not in any way explain.

Serlo had walked once or twice up and down the room without evincing any special object. On a sudden, he stepped forward to Aurelia’s dressing-table; caught hastily at something that was lying there, and hastened to the door with his booty. No sooner did Aurelia notice this, than springing up, she threw herself in his way; laid hold of him with boundless vehemence, and had dexterity enough to clutch an end of the article which he was carrying off. They struggled and wrestled with great obstinacy; twisted and threw each other sharply round: he laughed; she exerted all her strength: and as Wilhelm hastened towards them, to separate and soothe them, Aurelia sprang aside with a naked dagger in her hand, while Serlo cast the scabbard, which had stayed with him, angrily upon the floor. Wilhelm started back astonished; and his dumb wonder seemed to ask the cause why so violent a strife, about so strange an implement, had taken place between them.

“You shall judge between us,” said the brother. “What has she to do with sharp steel? Do but look at it. That dagger is not fit for any actress: point like a needle’s, edge like a razor’s! What good is it? Passionate as she is, she will one day chance to do herself a mischief. I have a heart’s hatred at such singularities: a serious thought of that sort is insane, and so dangerous a plaything is not in taste.”

“I have it back!” exclaimed Aurelia, and held the polished blade aloft; “I will now keep my faithful friend more carefully. Pardon me,” she cried, and kissed the steel, “that I have so neglected thee.”

Serlo was like to grow seriously angry. “Take it as thou wilt, brother,” she continued: “how knowest thou but, under this form, a precious talisman may have been given me; so that, in extreme need, I may find help and counsel in it? Must all be hurtful that looks dangerous?”

“Such talk without a meaning might drive one mad,” said Serlo, and left the room with suppressed indignation. Aurelia put the dagger carefully into its sheath, and placed it in her bosom. “Let us now resume the conversation which our foolish brother has disturbed,” said she, as Wilhelm was beginning to put questions on the subject of this quarrel.

“I must admit your picture of Ophelia to be just,” continued she; “I cannot now misunderstand the object of the poet: I must pity, though, as you paint her, I shall rather pity her than sympathize with her. But allow Edition: current; Page: [203] me here to offer a remark, which in these few days you have frequently suggested to me. I observe with admiration the correct, keen, penetrating glance with which you judge of poetry, especially dramatic poetry: the deepest abysses of invention are not hidden from you, the finest touches of representation cannot escape you. Without ever having viewed the objects in nature, you recognize the truth of their images: there seems, as it were, a presentiment of all the universe to lie in you, which by the harmonious touch of poetry is awakened and unfolded. For, in truth,” continued she, “from without, you receive not much: I have scarcely seen a person that so little knew, so totally misknew the people he lived with, as you do. Allow me to say it: in hearing you expound the mysteries of Shakspeare, one would think you had just descended from a synod of the gods, and had listened there while they were taking counsel how to form men; in seeing you transact with your fellows, I could imagine you to be the first large-born child of the Creation, standing agape, and gazing with strange wonderment and edifying good-nature, at lions and apes and sheep and elephants, and true-heartedly addressing them as your equals, simply because they were there, and in motion like yourself.”

“The feeling of my ignorance in this respect,” said Wilhelm, “often gives me pain; and I should thank you, worthy friend, if you would help me to get a little better insight into life. From youth I have been accustomed to direct the eyes of my spirit inwards rather than outwards; and hence it is very natural that to a certain extent I should be acquainted with man, while of men I have not the smallest knowledge.”

“In truth,” said Aurelia, “I at first suspected that, in giving such accounts of the people whom you sent to my brother, you meant to make sport of us; when I compared your letters with the merits of these persons, it seemed very strange.”

Aurelia’s remarks, well-founded as they might be, and willing as our friend was to confess himself deficient in this matter, carried with them something painful, nay, offensive to him; so that he grew silent, and retired within himself, partly to avoid showing any irritated feeling, partly to search his mind for the truth or error of the charge.

“Let not this alarm you,” said Aurelia: “the light of the understanding it is always in our power to reach; but this fulness of the heart no one can give us. If you are destined for an artist, you cannot long enough retain the dim-sightedness and innocence of which I speak; it is the beautiful hull upon the young bud; woe to us if we are forced too soon to burst it! Surely it were well, if we never knew what the people are, for whom we work and study.

“Oh! I too was in that happy case, when I first betrod the stage, with the loftiest opinion of myself and of my nation. What a people, in my fancy, were the Germans; what a people might they yet become! I addressed this people; raised above them by a little joinery, separated from them by a row of lamps, whose glancing and vapor threw an indistinctness over everything before me. How welcome was the tumult of applause which sounded to me from the crowd; how gratefully did I accept the present, offered me unanimously by so many hands! For a time I rocked myself in these ideas; I affected the multitude, and was again affected by them. With my public I was on the fairest footing; I imagined that I felt a perfect harmony between us, and that on each occasion I beheld before me the best and noblest of the land.

“Unhappily it was not the actress alone that inspired these friends of the stage with interest; they likewise made pretensions to the young and lively girl. They gave me to understand, in terms distinct enough, that my duty was not only to excite emotion in them, but to share it with them personally. This unluckily was not my business: I wished to elevate their minds; but to what they called their hearts I had not the slightest claim. Yet now men of all ranks, ages and characters, by turns afflicted me with their addresses; and it did seem hard that I could not, like an honest young woman, shut my door, and spare myself such a quantity of labor.

“The men appeared, for most part, much the same as I had been accustomed to about my aunt; and here again I should have felt disgusted with them, had not their peculiarities and insipidities amused me. As I was compelled to see them, in the theatre, in open places, in my house, I formed the project of spying out their follies, and my brother helped me with alacrity to execute it. And if you reflect that, up from the whisking shopman and the conceited merchant’s son, to the polished calculating man of the world, the bold soldier and the impetuous prince, all in Edition: current; Page: [204] succession passed in review before me, each in his way endeavoring to found his small romance, you will pardon me if I conceived that I had gained some acquaintance with my nation.

“The fantastically-dizened student; the awkward, humbly-proud man of letters; the sleek-fed, gouty canon; the solemn, heedful man of office; the heavy country-baron; the smirking, vapid courtier; the young erring parson; the cool, as well as the quick and sharply-speculating merchant: all these I have seen in motion; and I swear to you that there were few among them fitted to inspire me even with a sentiment of toleration: on the contrary, I felt it altogether irksome to collect, with tedium and annoyance, the suffrages of fools; to pocket those applauses in detail, which in their accumulated state had so delighted me, which in the gross I had appropriated with such pleasure.

“If I expected a rational compliment upon my acting; if I hoped that they would praise an author whom I valued, they were sure to make one empty observation on the back of another, and to name some tasteless piece in which they wished to see me play. If I listened in their company to hear if some noble, brilliant, witty thought had met with a response among them, and would reappear from some of them in proper season, it was rare that I could catch an echo of it. An error that had happened, a mispronunciation, a provincialism of some actor; such were the weighty points by which they held fast, beyond which they could not pass. I knew not, in the end, to what hand I should turn: themselves they thought too clever to be entertained; and me they imagined they were well entertaining, if they romped and made noise enough about me. I began very cordially to despise them all; I felt as if the whole nation had, on purpose, deputed these people to debase it in my eyes. They appeared to me so clownish, so ill-bred, so wretchedly instructed, so void of pleasing qualities, so tasteless; I frequently exclaimed: No German can buckle his shoes till he has learned to do it of some foreign nation!

“You perceive how blind, how unjust and splenetic I was; and the longer it lasted, my spleen increased. I might have killed myself with these things: but I fell into the contrary extreme; I married, or rather let myself be married. My brother, who had undertaken to conduct the theatre, wished much to have a helper. His choice lighted on a young man, who was not offensive to me; who wanted all that my brother had, genius, vivacity, spirit and impetuosity of mind; but who also in return had all that my brother wanted, love of order, diligence, and precious gifts in housekeeping and the management of money.

“He became my husband, I know not how; we lived together, I do not well know why. Enough, our affairs went prosperously forward. We drew a large income; of this my brother’s activity was the cause. We lived with a moderate expenditure; and that was the merit of my husband. I thought no more about world or nation. With the world I had nothing to participate: my idea of the nation had faded away. When I entered on the scene, I did so that I might subsist; I opened my lips because I durst not continue silent, because I had come out to speak.

“Yet let me do the matter justice. I had altogether given myself up to the disposal of my brother. His objects were applause and money; for, between ourselves, he has no dislike to hear his own praises, and his outlay is always great. I no longer played according to my own feeling, to my own conviction; but as he directed me: and if I did it to his satisfaction, I was content. He steered entirely by the caprices of the public. Money flowed upon us; he could live according to his humor, and so we had good times with him.

“Thus had I fallen into a dull, handicraft routine. I spun out my days without joy or sympathy. My marriage was childless, and not of long continuance. My husband grew sick; his strength was visibly decaying; anxiety for him interrupted my general indifference. It was at this time that I formed an acquaintance, which opened a new life for me; a new and quicker one, for it will soon be done.”

She kept silence for a moment, and then continued: “All at once my prattling humor falters; I have not the courage to go on. Let me rest a little. You shall not go till you have learned the whole extent of my misfortune. Meanwhile, call in Mignon, and ask her what she wants.”

The child had more than once been in the room, while Aurelia and our friend were talking. As they spoke lower on her entrance, she had glided out again, and was now sitting quietly in the hall, and waiting. Being bid return, she brought a book with her, which its form and binding showed to be a small geographical atlas. She had seen some maps, for Edition: current; Page: [205] the first time at the parson’s house, with great astonishment; had asked him many questions, and informed herself so far as possible about them. Her desire to learn seemed much excited by this new branch of knowledge. She now earnestly requested Wilhelm to purchase her the book; saying she had pawned her large silver buckle with the printseller for it, and wished to have back the pledge to-morrow morning, as this evening it was late. Her request was granted; and she then began repeating several things she had already learned; at the same time, in her own way, making many very strange inquiries. Here again one might observe, that, with a mighty effort, she could comprehend but little and laboriously. So likewise was it with her writing, at which she still kept busied. She yet spoke very broken German: it was only when she opened her mouth to sing, when she touched her cithern, that she seemed to be employing an organ, by which, in some degree, the workings of her mind could be disclosed and communicated.


Since we are at present on the subject, we may also mention the perplexity which Wilhelm had of late experienced from certain parts of her procedure. When she came or went, wished him good-morning or goodnight, she clasped him so firmly in her arms, and kissed him with such ardor, that often the violence of this expanding nature gave him serious fears. The spasmodic vivacity of her demeanor seemed daily to increase; her whole being moved in a restless stillness. She would never be without some piece of packthread to twist in her hands; some napkin to tie in knots; some paper or wood to chew. All her sports seemed but the channels which drained off some inward violent emotion. The only thing that seemed to cause her any cheerfulness was being near the boy Felix, with whom she could go on in a very dainty manner.

Aurelia, after a little rest, being now ready to explain to her friend a matter which lay very near her heart, grew impatient at the little girl’s delay, and signified that she must go; a hint, however, which the latter did not take; and at last, when nothing else would do, they sent her off expressly and against her will.

“Now or never,” said Aurelia, “must I tell you the remainder of my story. Were my tenderly-beloved and unjust friend but a few miles distant. I would say to you: ‘Mount on horseback, seek by some means to get acquainted with him; on returning you will certainly forgive me, and pity me with all your heart.’ As it is, I can only tell you with words how amiable he was, and how much I loved him.

“It was at the critical season, when care for the illness of my husband had depressed my spirits, that I first became acquainted with this stranger. He had just returned from America, where, in company with some Frenchmen, he had served with much distinction under the colors of the United States.

“He addressed me with an easy dignity, a frank kindliness; he spoke about myself, my state, my acting, like an old acquaintance, so affectionately and distinctly, that now for the first time I enjoyed the pleasure of perceiving my existence reflected in the being of another. His judgments were just, though not severe; penetrating, yet not void of love. He showed Edition: current; Page: [206] no harshness; his pleasantry was courteous, with all his humor. He seemed accustomed to success with women; this excited my attention: he was never in the least importunate or flattering; this put me off my guard.

“In the town he had intercourse with few; he was often on horseback, visiting his many friends in the neighborhood, and managing the business of his house. On returning, he would frequently alight at my apartments; he treated my ever-ailing husband with warm attention; he procured him mitigation of his sickness by a good physician. And taking part in all that interested me he allowed me to take part in all that interested him. He told me the history of his campaigns; he spoke of his invincible attachment to military life, of his family relations, of his present business. He kept no secret from me; he displayed to me his inmost thoughts, allowed me to behold the most secret corners of his soul: I became acquainted with his passions and his capabilities. It was the first time in my life that I enjoyed a cordial, intellectual intercourse with any living creature. I was attracted by him, borne along by him, before I thought about inquiring how it stood with me.

“Meanwhile I lost my husband, nearly just as I had taken him. The burden of theatrical affairs now fell entirely on me. My brother, not to be surpassed upon the stage, was never good for anything in economical concerns: I took the charge of all; at the same time, studying my parts with greater diligence than ever. I again played as of old; nay, with new life, with quite another force. It was by reason of my friend, it was on his account that I did so; yet my success was not always best when I knew him to be present. Once or twice he listened to me unobserved; and how pleasantly his unexpected applauses surprised me you may conceive.

“Certainly I am a strange creature. In every part I played, it seemed as if I had been speaking it in praise of him; for that was the temper of my heart: the words might be anything they pleased. Did I understand him to be present in the audience, I durst not venture to speak out with all my force; just as I would not press my love or praise on him to his face: was he absent, I had then free scope; I did my best, with a certain peacefulness, with a contentment not to be described. Applause once more delighted me; and when I charmed the people I longed to call down among them: ‘This you owe to him!’

“Yes, my relation to the public, to the nation, had been altered by a wonder. On a sudden they again appeared to me in the most favorable light; I felt astonished at my former blindness.

“How foolish, said I often to myself, was it to revile a nation; foolish, simply since it was a nation. Is it necessary, is it possible, that individual men should generally interest us much? Not at all! The only question is, whether in the great mass there exists a sufficient quantity of talent, force and capability, which lucky circumstances may develop, which men of lofty minds may direct upon a common object. I now rejoiced in discovering so little prominent originality among my countrymen; I rejoiced that they disdained not to accept of guidance from without; I rejoiced that they had found a leader.

“Lothario—allow me to designate my friend by this his first name which I loved—Lothario had always presented the Germans to my mind on the side of valor; and shown me, that when well commanded, there was no braver nation on the face of the earth; and I felt ashamed that I had never thought of this, the first quality of a people. History was known to him; he was in connection and correspondence with the most distinguished persons of the age. Young as he was, his eye was open to the budding youthhood of his native country; to the silent labors of active and busy men in so many provinces of art. He afforded me a glimpse of Germany; what it was, and what it might be; and I blushed at having formed my judgment of a nation from the motley crowd that press themselves into the wardrobe of a theatre. He made me look upon it as a duty that I too, in my own department, should be true, spirited, enlivening. I now felt as if inspired every time I stepped upon the boards. Mediocre passages grew golden in my mouth; had any poet been at hand to support me adequately, I might have produced the most astonishing effects.

“So lived the young widow for a series of months. He could not want me; and I felt exceedingly unhappy when he stayed away. He showed me the letters he received from his relations, from his amiable sister. He took an interest in the smallest circumstance that concerned me; more complete, more intimate no union ever was than ours. The name of love was not mentioned. He went and came, came and went—and now, my friend, it is high time that you too should go.”

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Wilhelm could put off no longer the visiting of his commercial friends. He proceeded to their place with some anxiety; knowing he should there find letters from his people; he dreaded the reproofs which these would of course contain: it seemed likely also that notice had been given to his trading correspondents concerning the perplexities and fears which his late silence had occasioned. After such a series of knightly adventures, he recoiled from the school-boy aspect in which he must appear: he proposed within his mind to act with an air of sternness and defiance, and thus hide his embarrassment.


To his great wonder and contentment, however, all went off very easily and well. In the vast, stirring, busy counting-room, the men had scarcely time to seek him out his packet; his delay was but alluded to in passing. And on opening the letters of his father and his friend Werner, he found them all of very innocent contents. His father, in hopes of an extensive journal, the keeping of which he had strongly recommended to his son at parting, giving him also a tabulary scheme for that purpose, seemed pretty well pacified about the silence of the first period; complaining only of a certain enigmatical obscurity in the last and only letter, despatched, as we have seen, from the castle of the count. Werner joked in his way; told merry anecdotes, facetious burgh news; and requested intelligence of friends and acquaintances, whom Wilhelm in the large trading city would now meet with in great numbers. Our friend, extremely pleased at getting off so well, answered without loss of a moment, in some very cheerful letters: promising his father a copious journal of his travels, with all the required geographical, statistical and mercantile remarks. He had seen much on his journey, he said; and hoped Edition: current; Page: [208] to make a tolerably large manuscript out of these materials. He did not observe, that he was almost in the same case as he had once experienced before, when he assembled an audience and lit his lamps to represent a play, which was not written, still less got by heart. Accordingly, so soon as he commenced the actual work of composition, he became aware that he had much to say about emotions and thoughts, and many experiences of the heart and spirit; but not a word concerning outward objects, on which, as he now discovered, he had not bestowed the least attention.

In this embarrassment, the acquisitions of his friend Laertes came very seasonably to his aid. Custom had united these young people, unlike one another as they were; and Laertes, with all his failings and singularities, was actually an interesting man. Endowed with warm and pleasurable senses, he might have reached old age without reflecting for a moment on his situation. But his ill fortune and his sickness had robbed him of the pure feelings of youth; and opened for him instead of it a view into the transitoriness, the discontinuity of man’s existence. Hence had arisen a humorous, flighty, rhapsodical way of thinking about all things, or rather of uttering the immediate impressions they produced on him. He did not like to be alone; he strolled about all the coffee-houses and tables-d’hôte; and when he did stay at home, books of travel were his favorite, nay, his only kind of reading. Having lately found a large circulating library, he had been enabled to content his taste in this respect to the full; and ere long half the world was figuring in his faithful memory.

It was easy for him, therefore, to speak comfort to his friend, when the latter had disclosed his utter lack of matter for the narrative so solemnly promised by him. “Now is the time for a stroke of art,” said Laertes, “that shall have no fellow!

“Has not Germany been travelled over, cruised over, walked, crept and flown over, repeatedly from end to end? And has not every German traveller the royal privilege of drawing from the public a repayment of the great or small expenses he may have incurred while travelling? Give me your route previous to our meeting; the rest I know already. I will find you helps and sources of information: of miles that were never measured, populations that were never counted, we shall give them plenty. The revenues of provinces we will take from almanacs and tables, which, as all men know, are the most authentic documents. On these we will ground our political discussions; we shall not fail in side-glances at the ruling powers. One or two princes we will paint as true fathers of their country, that we may gain more ready credence in our allegations against others. If we do not travel through the residence of any noted man, we shall take care to meet such persons at the inn, and make them utter the most foolish stuff to us. Particularly, let us not forget to insert, with all its graces and sentiments, some love-story with a pastoral bar-maid. I tell you it shall be a composition, which will not only fill father and mother with delight, but which booksellers themselves shall gladly pay you current money for.”

They went accordingly to work; and both of them found pleasure in their labor. Wilhelm, in the meantime, frequenting the play at night, and conversing with Serlo and Aurelia by day, experienced the greatest satisfaction; and was daily more and more expanding his ideas, which had been too long revolving in the same narrow circle.


It was not without deep interest that he became acquainted with the history of Serlo’s career. Piecemeal he learned it; for it was not the fashion of that extraordinary man to be confidential, or to speak of anything connectively. He had been, one may say, born and suckled in the theatre. While yet literally an infant, he had been produced upon the stage to move spectators merely by his presence; for authors even then were acquainted with this natural and very guiltless mode of doing so. Thus his first “Father!” or “Mother!” in favorite pieces, procured him approbation, before he understood what was meant by that clapping of the hands. In the character of Cupid he more than once descended, with terror, in his flying-gear; as harlequin he used to issue from the egg; and as a little chimney-sweep to play the sharpest tricks.

Unhappily, the plaudits of these glancing nights were too bitterly repaid by sufferings in the intervening seasons. His father was persuaded that the minds of children could be kept awake and steadfast by no other means than blows; hence, in the studying of any Edition: current; Page: [209] part, he used to thrash him at stated periods; not because the boy was awkward, but that he might become more certainly and constantly expert. It was thus that in former times, while putting down a landmark, people were accustomed to bestow a hearty drubbing on the children who had followed them; and these, it was supposed, would recollect the place exactly to the latest day of their lives. Serlo waxed in stature, and showed the finest capabilities of spirit and of body; in particular an admirable pliancy at once in his thoughts, looks, movements and gestures. His gift of imitation was beyond belief. When still a boy he could mimic persons, so that you would think you saw them; though in form, age and disposition, they might be entirely unlike him, and unlike each other. Nor, with all this, did he want the knack of suiting himself to his circumstances, and picking out his way in life. Accordingly, so soon as he had grown in some degree acquainted with his strength, he very naturally eloped from his father; who, as the boy’s understanding and dexterity increased, still thought it needful to forward their perfection by the harshest treatment.

Happy was the wild boy, now roaming free about the world, where his feats of waggery never failed to secure him a good reception. His lucky star first led him in the Christmas season to a cloister, where the friar, whose business it had been to arrange processions, and to entertain the Christian community by spiritual masquerades, having just died, Serlo was welcomed as a helping angel. On the instant he took up the part of Gabriel in the Annunciation; and did not by any means displease the pretty girl, who, acting the Virgin, very gracefully received his most obliging kiss, with external humility and inward pride. In their Mysteries he continued to perform the most important parts; and thought himself no slender personage, when at last, in the character of Martyr, he was mocked of the world, and beaten, and fixed upon the cross.

Some Pagan soldiers had, on this occasion, played their parts a little too naturally. To be avenged on these heathen in the proper style, he took care at the Day of Judgment to have them decked out in gaudy clothes as emperors and kings; and at the moment when they, exceedingly contented with their situation, were about to take precedence of the rest in heaven as they had done on earth, he on a sudden rushed upon them in the shape of the Devil; and, to the cordial edification of all the beggars and spectators, having thoroughly curried them with his oven-fork, he pushed them without mercy back into the Chasm, where, in the midst of waving flame, they met with the sorriest welcome.

He was acute enough, however, to perceive that these crowned heads might feel offended at such bold procedure; and perhaps forget the reverence due to his privileged office of Accuser and Turnkey. So, in all silence, before the Millennium commenced, he withdrew, and betook him to a neighboring town. Here a society of persons, denominated Children of Joy, received him with open arms. They were a set of clever, strong-headed, lively geniuses, who saw well enough that the sum of our existence, divided by reason, never gives an integer number, but that a surprising fraction is always left behind. At stated times, to get rid of this fraction, which impedes, and if it is diffused over all the mass of our conduct, endangers us, was the object of the Children of Joy. For one day a week each of them in succession was a fool on purpose; and during this, he in his turn exhibited to ridicule, in allegorical representations, whatever folly he had noticed in himself or the rest, throughout the other six. This practice might be somewhat ruder than that constant training, in the course of which a man of ordinary morals is accustomed to observe, to warn, to punish himself daily; but it was also merrier and surer. For as no Child of Joy concealed his bosom-folly, so he and those about him held it for simply what it was: whereas, on the other plan, by the help of self-deception, this same bosom-folly often gains the head authority within, and binds down reason to a secret servitude, at the very time when reason fondly hopes that she has long since chased it out of doors. The mask of folly circulated round in this society; and each member was allowed, in his particular day, to decorate and characterize it with his own attributes or those of others. At the time of Carnival they assumed the greatest freedom, vying with the clergy in attempts to instruct and entertain the multitude. Their solemn figurative processions of Virtues and Vices, Arts and Sciences, Quarters of the World, and Seasons of the Year, bodied forth a number of conceptions, and gave images of many distant objects to the people, and hence were not without their use; while, on the other hand, the mummeries of the priesthood tended but to Edition: current; Page: [210] strengthen a tasteless superstition, already strong enough.

Here again young Serlo was altogether in his element. Invention in its strictest sense, it is true, he had not; but, on the other hand, he had the most consummate skill in employing what he found before him; in ordering it; and shadowing it forth. His roguish turns; his gift of mimicry; his biting wit, which at least one day weekly he might use with entire freedom, even against his benefactors, made him precious, or rather indispensable, to the whole society.

Yet his restless mind soon drove him from this favorable scene to other quarters of his country, where other means of instruction awaited him. He came into the polished but also barren part of Germany, where, in worshipping the good and the beautiful, there is indeed no want of truth, but frequently a grievous want of spirit. His masks would here do nothing for him: he had now to aim at working on the heart and mind. For short periods he attached himself to small or to extensive companies of actors; and marked, on these occasions, what were the distinctive properties both of the pieces and the players. The monotony which then reigned on the German theatre, the mawkish sound and cadence of their Alexandrines, the flat and yet distorted dialogue, the shallowness and commonness of these undisguised preachers of morality, he was not long in comprehending; or in seizing, at the same time, what little there was that moved and pleased.

Not only single parts in the current pieces, but the pieces themselves remained easily and wholly in his memory; and along with them the special tone of any player who had represented them with approbation. At length, in the course of his rambles, his money being altogether done, the project struck him of acting entire pieces by himself, especially in villages and noblemen’s houses; and thus in all places making sure at least of entertainment and lodging. In any tavern, any room, or any garden, he would accordingly at once set up his theatre: with a roguish seriousness and a show of enthusiasm, he would contrive to gain the imaginations of his audience; to deceive their senses, and before their eyes to make an old press into a tower, or a fan into a dagger. His youthful warmth supplied the place of deep feeling; his vehemence seemed strength, and his flattery tenderness. Such of the spectators as already knew a theatre, he put in mind of all that they had seen and heard; in the rest he awakened a presentiment of something wonderful, and a wish to be more acquainted with it. What produced an effect in one place he did not fail to repeat in others; and his mind overflowed with a wicked pleasure when, by the same means, on the spur of the moment, he could make gulls of all the world.

His spirit was lively, brisk and unimpeded: by frequently repeating parts and pieces, he improved very fast. Ere long he could recite and play with more conformity to the sense than the models whom he had at first imitated. Proceeding thus, he arrived by degrees at playing naturally, though he did not cease to feign. He seemed transported, yet he lay in wait for the effect; and his greatest pride was in moving, by successive touches, the passions of men. The mad trade he drove did itself soon force him to proceed with a certain moderation; and thus, partly by constraint, partly by instinct, he learned the art of which so few players seem to have a notion, the art of being frugal in the use of voice and gestures.

Thus did he contrive to tame, and to inspire with interest for him, even rude and unfriendly men. Being always contented with food and shelter; thankfully accepting presents of any kind as readily as money; which latter, when he reckoned that he had enough of it, he frequently declined,—he became a general favorite; was sent about from one to another with recommendatory letters; and thus he wandered many a day from castle to castle, exciting much festivity, enjoying much, and meeting in his travels with the most agreeable and curious adventures.

With such inward coldness of temper, he could not properly be said to love any one; with such clearness of vision, he could respect no one. In fact, he never looked beyond the external peculiarities of men; and he merely carried their characters in his mimical collection. Yet, withal, his selfishness was keenly wounded, if he did not please every one, and call forth universal applause. How this might be attained, he had studied in the course of time so accurately, and so sharpened his sense of the matter, that not only on the stage, but also in common life, he no longer could do otherwise than flatter and deceive. And thus did his disposition, his talent and his way of life work reciprocally on each other, till by this means he had imperceptibly been formed into a perfect actor. Nay, by a mode of action and reaction, which is quite natural, though it Edition: current; Page: [211] seems paradoxical, his recitation, declamation and gesture improved, by critical discernment and practice, to a high degree of truth, ease and frankness; while, in his life and intercourse with men, he seemed to grow continually more secret, artful, or even hypocritical and constrained.

Of his fortunes and adventures we perhaps shall speak in another place: it is enough to remark at present, that in later times, when he had become a man of circumstance, in possession of a distinct reputation, and of a very good though not entirely secure employment and rank, he was wont, in conversation, partly in the way of irony, partly of mockery, in a delicate style, to act the sophist, and thus to destroy almost all serious discussion. This kind of speech he seemed peculiarly fond of using towards Wilhelm; particularly when the latter took a fancy, as often happened, for introducing any of his general and theoretical disquisitions. Yet still they liked well to be together; with such different modes of thinking the conversation could not fail to be lively. Wilhelm always wished to deduce everything from abstract ideas which he had arrived at; he wanted to have art viewed in all its connections as a whole. He wanted to promulgate and fix down universal laws; to settle what was right, beautiful and good: in short, he treated all things in a serious manner. Serlo, on the other hand, took up the matter very lightly; never answering directly to any question, he would contrive by some anecdote or laughable turn to give the finest and most satisfactory illustrations; and thus to instruct his audience while he made them merry.


While our friend was in this way living very happily, Melina and the rest were in quite a different case. Wilhelm they haunted like evil spirits; and not only by their presence, but frequently by rueful faces and bitter words, they caused him many a sorry moment. Serlo had not admitted them to the most trifling part, far less held out to them any hope of a permanent engagement; and yet he had contrived, by degrees, to get acquainted with the capabilities of every one of them. Whenever any actors were assembled in leisure hours about him, he was wont to make them read, and frequently to read along with them. On such occasions he took plays which were by-and-by to be acted, which for a long time had remained unacted; and generally by portions. In like manner, after any first representation, he caused such passages to be repeated as he had anything to say upon; by which means he sharpened the Edition: current; Page: [212] discernment of his actors, and strengthened their certainty of hitting the proper point. And as a person of slender but correct understanding may produce more agreeable effect on others than a perplexed and unpurified genius, he would frequently exalt men of mediocre talents, by the clear views which he imperceptibly afforded them, to a wonderful extent of power. Nor was it an unimportant item in his scheme that he likewise had poems read before him in their meetings; for by these he nourished in his people the feeling of that charm which a well-pronounced rhythm is calculated to awaken in the soul; whereas in other companies, those prose compositions were already getting introduced, for which any tyro was adequate.


On occasions such as these he had contrived to make himself acquainted with the new-come players: he had decided what they were, and what they might be; and silently made up his mind to take advantage of their talents, in a revolution which was now threatening his own company. For a while he let the matter rest; declined every one of Wilhelm’s intercessions for his comrades with a shrug of the shoulders; till at last he saw his time, and altogether unexpectedly made the proposal to our friend, “that he himself should come upon the stage; that on this condition the others too might be admitted.”

“These people must not be so useless as you formerly described them,” answered Wilhelm, “if they can now be all received at once; and I suppose their talents would remain the same without me as with me.”

Under seal of secrecy Serlo hereupon explained his situation: how his first actor was giving hints about a rise of salary at the renewal of their contract; how he himself did not incline conceding this, the rather as the individual in question was no longer in such favor with the public; how, if he dismissed him, a whole train would follow; whereby, it was true, his company would lose some good, but likewise some indifferent actors. He then showed Wilhelm what he hoped to gain in him, in Laertes, Old Boisterous, and even Frau Melina. Nay, he promised to procure for the silly Pedant himself, in the character of Jew, minister, but chiefly of villain, a decided approbation.

Wilhelm faltered; the proposal agitated him; he knew not what to say. That he might say something, he rejoined with a deep-drawn breath: “You speak very graciously about the good you find and hope to find in us: but how is it with our weak points, which certainly have not escaped your penetration?”

“These,” said Serlo, “by diligence, practice and reflection, we shall soon make strong points. Though you are yet but freshmen and bunglers, there is not one among you that does not warrant expectation more or less: for, so far as I can judge, no stick, properly so called, is to be met with in the company; and your stick is the only person that can never be improved, never bent or guided, whether it be self-conceit, stupidity or hypochondria that renders him unpliant.”

The manager next stated, in a few words, the terms he meant to offer; requested Wilhelm to determine soon, and left him in no small perplexity.

In the marvellous composition of those travels, which he had at first engaged with as it were in jest, and was now carrying on in conjunction with Laertes, his mind had by degrees grown more attentive to the circumstances and the every-day life of the actual world than it was wont. He now first understood the object of his father in so earnestly recommending him to keep a journal. He now, for the first time, felt how pleasant and how useful it might be to become participator in so many trades and requisitions, and to take a hand in diffusing activity and life into the deepest nooks of the mountains and forests of Europe. The busy trading town in which he was; the unrest of Laertes, who dragged him about to examine everything, afforded him the most impressive image of a mighty centre, from which everything was flowing out, to which everything was coming back; and it was the first time that his spirit, in contemplating this species of activity, had really felt delight. At such a juncture Serlo’s offer had been made him; had again awakened his desires, his tendencies, his faith in a natural talent, and again brought into mind his solemn obligation to his helpless comrades.

“Here standest thou once more,” said he within himself, “at the Parting of the Ways, between the two women who appeared before thee in thy youth. The one no longer looks so pitiful as then; nor does the other look so glorious. To obey the one, or to obey the other, thou art not without a kind of inward calling; outward reasons are on both sides strong enough; and to decide appears to thee impossible. Thou wishest some preponderancy Edition: current; Page: [213] from without would fix thy choice: and yet, if thou consider well, it is external circumstances only that inspire thee with a wish to trade, to gather, to possess; whilst it is thy inmost want that has created, that has nourished the desire still further to unfold and perfect what endowments soever for the beautiful and good, be they mental or bodily, may lie within thee. And ought I not to honor Fate, which without furtherance of mine has led me hither to the goal of all my wishes? Has not all that I in old times meditated and forecast now happened accidentally, and without my co-operation? Singular enough! We seem to be so intimate with nothing as we are with our own wishes and hopes, which have long been kept and cherished in our hearts; yet when they meet us, when they as it were press forward to us, then we know them not, then we recoil from them. All that, since the hapless night which severed me from Mariana, I have but allowed myself to dream, now stands before me, entreating my acceptance. Hither I intended to escape by flight; hither I am softly guided: with Serlo I meant to seek a place; he now seeks me, and offers me conditions which, as a beginner, I could not have looked for. Was it then mere love to Mariana that bound me to the stage? Or love to art that bound me to her? Was that prospect, that outlet, which the theatre presented me, nothing but the project of a restless, disorderly and disobedient boy, wishing to lead a life which the customs of the civic world would not admit of? Or, was all this different, worthier, purer? If so, what moved thee to alter the persuasions of that period? Hast thou not hitherto, even without knowing it, pursued thy plan? Is not the concluding step still further to be justified, now that no side-purposes combine with it; now that in making it thou mayest fulfil a solemn promise, and nobly free thyself from a heavy debt?”

All that could affect his heart and his imagination was now moving and conflicting in the liveliest strife within him. The thought that he might retain Mignon, that he should not need to put away the harper, was not an inconsiderable item in the balance; which, however, had not ceased to waver to the one and to the other side, when he went, as he was wont, to see his friend Aurelia.


She was lying on the sofa; she seemed quiet. “Do you think you will be fit to act to-morrow?” he inquired. “O yes!” cried she with vivacity, “you know there is nothing to prevent me. If I but knew a way,” continued she, “to rid myself of those applauses! The people mean it well, but they will kill me Last night, I thought my very heart would break! Once, when I used to please myself, I could endure this gladly: when I had studied long, and well prepared myself, it gave me joy to hear the sound, ‘It has succeeded!’ pealing back to me from every corner. But now I speak not what I like, nor as I like; I am swept along, I get confused, I scarce know what I do; and the impression I make is far deeper. The applause grows louder, and I think: Did you but know what charms you! These dark, vague, vehement tones of passion move you, force you to admire; and you feel not that they are the cries of agony, wrung from the miserable being whom you praise.

“I learned my part this morning; just now I have been repeating it and trying it. I am tired, broken down; and to-morrow I must do the same. To-morrow evening is the play. Thus do I drag myself to and fro: it is wearisome to rise, it is wearisome to go to bed. All moves within me in an everlasting circle. Then come their dreary consolations, and present themselves before me; and I cast them out, and execrate them. I will not surrender, not surrender to necessity: why should that be necessary which crushes me to the dust? Might it not be otherwise? I am paying the penalty of being born a German; it is the nature of the Germans that they bear heavily on everything, that everything bears heavily on them.”

“Oh, my friend!” cried Wilhelm, “could you cease to whet the dagger wherewith you are ever wounding me! Does nothing then remain for you? Are your youth, your form, your health, your talents nothing? Having lost one blessing, without blame of yours, must you throw all the others after it? Is that also necessary?”

She was silent for a few moments, and then burst forth: “I know well it is a waste of time, nothing but a waste of time, this love! What might not, should not, I have done! And now it is all vanished into air. I am a poor, wretched, lovelorn creature; lovelorn, Edition: current; Page: [214] that is all! Oh, have compassion on me: God knows I am poor and wretched!”


She sank in thought; then, after a brief pause, she exclaimed with violence: “You are accustomed to have all things fly into your arms. No, you cannot feel; no man is qualified to feel the worth of a woman that can reverence herself. By all the holy angels, by all the images of blessedness, which a pure and kindly heart creates, there is not anything more heavenly than the soul of a woman giving herself to the man she loves!

“We are cold, proud, high, clear-sighted, wise, while we deserve the name of women; and all these qualities we lay down at your feet the instant that we love, that we hope to excite a return of love. Oh, how have I cast away my whole existence wittingly and willingly! But now will I despair, purposely despair. There is no drop of blood within me but shall suffer, no fibre that I will not punish. Smile, I pray you; laugh at this theatrical display of passion.”

Wilhelm was far enough from any tendency to laugh. This horrible, half-natural, half-factitious condition of his friend afflicted him but too deeply. He sympathized in the tortures of that racking misery: his thoughts were wandering in painful perplexities, his blood was in a feverish tumult.

She had risen, and was walking up and down the room. “I see before me,” she Edition: current; Page: [215] exclaimed, “all manner of reasons why I should not love him. I know he is not worthy of it: I turn my mind aside, this way and that; I seize upon whatever business I can find. At one time I take up a part, though I have not to play it; at another, I begin to practise old ones, though I know them through and through; I practise them more diligently, more minutely, I toil and toil at them—my friend, my confidant, what a horrid task is it to tear away one’s thoughts from one’s self! My reason suffers, my brain is racked and strained; to save myself from madness I again admit the feeling that I love him. Yes, I love him, I love him!” cried she, with a shower of tears; “I love him, I shall die loving him!”

He took her by the hand, and entreated her in the most earnest manner not to waste herself in such self-torments. “Oh, it seems hard,” said he, “that not only so much that is impossible should be denied us, but so much also that is possible. It was not your lot to meet with a faithful heart that would have formed your perfect happiness. It was mine to fix the welfare of my life upon a hapless creature, whom by the weight of my fidelity I drew to the bottom like a reed, perhaps even broke in pieces!”

He had told Aurelia of his intercourse with Mariana, and could therefore now refer to it. She looked him intently in the face, and asked: “Can you say that you never yet betrayed a woman, that you never tried with thoughtless gallantry, with false asseverations, with cajoling oaths, to wheedle favor from her?”

“I can,” said Wilhelm, “and indeed without much vanity; my life has been so simple and sequestered, I have had but few enticements to attempt such things. And what a warning, my beautiful, my noble friend, is this melancholy state in which I see you! Accept of me a vow, which is suited to my heart; which, under the emotion you have caused me, has settled into words and shape, and will be hallowed by the hour in which I utter it: Each transitory inclination I will study to withstand; and even the most earnest I will keep within my bosom; no woman shall receive an acknowledgment of love from my lips, to whom I cannot consecrate my life!”

She looked at him with a wild indifference; and drew back some steps as he offered her his hand. “’Tis of no moment!” cried she: “so many women’s tears more or fewer; the ocean will not swell by reason of them. And yet,” continued she, “among thousands one woman saved; that still is something: among thousands one honest man discovered; this is not to be refused. Do you know then what you promise?”

“I know it,” answered Wilhelm with a smile, and holding out his hand.

“I accept it then,” said she, and made a movement with her right hand, as if meaning to take hold of his: but instantly she darted it into her pocket, pulled out her dagger quick as lightning, and scored with the edge and point of it across his hand. He hastily drew it back, but the blood was already running down.

“One must mark you men rather sharply, if one would have you take heed,” cried she with a wild mirth, which soon passed into a quick assiduity. She took her handkerchief, and bound his hand with it to stanch the fast-flowing blood. “Forgive a half-crazed being,” cried she, “and regret not these few drops of blood. I am appeased, I am again myself. On my knees will I crave your pardon: leave me the comfort of healing you.”

She ran to her drawer; brought lint, with other apparatus; stanched the blood, and viewed the wound attentively. It went across the palm, close under the thumb, dividing the life-lines, and running towards the little finger. She bound it up in silence, with a significant, reflective look. He asked once or twice: “Aurelia, how could you hurt your friend?”

“Hush!” replied she, laying her finger on her mouth: “Hush!”

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Thus Wilhelm, to his pair of former wounds, which were yet scarcely healed, had now got the accession of a third, which was fresh and not a little disagreeable. Aurelia would not suffer him to call a surgeon; she dressed the hand with all manner of strange speeches, saws and ceremonies; and so placed him in a very painful situation. Yet not he alone, but all persons who came near her, suffered by her restlessness and singularity: and no one more than little Felix. This stirring child was exceedingly impatient under such oppression, and showed himself still naughtier the more she censured and instructed him.

He delighted in some practices which commonly are thought bad habits, and in which she would not by any means indulge him. He would drink, for example, rather from the bottle than the glass; and his food seemed visibly to have a better relish when eaten from the bowl than from the plate. Such ill-breeding was not overlooked: if he left the door standing open, or slammed it to; if when bid to do anything he stood stock still, or ran off violently, he was sure to have a long lecture inflicted on him for the fault. Yet he showed no symptoms of improvement from this training; on the other hand, his affection for Aurelia seemed daily to diminish; there was nothing tender in his tone when he called her mother; whereas he passionately clung to the old nurse, who let him have his will in everything.

But she likewise had of late become so sick that they had at last been obliged to take her from the house into a quiet lodging; and Felix would have been entirely alone if Mignon had not, like a kindly guardian spirit, come to help him. The two children talked together, and amused each other in the prettiest style. She taught him little songs; and he, having an excellent memory, frequently recited them, to the surprise of those about him. She attempted also to explain her maps to him. With these she was still very busy, though she did not seem to take the fittest method. For, in studying countries, she appeared to care little about any other point than whether they were cold or warm. Of the North and South Poles, of the horrid ice which reigns there, and of the increasing heat the farther one retires from them, she could give a very clear account. When any one was travelling she merely asked whether he was going northward or southward; and strove to find his route in her little charts. Especially when Wilhelm spoke of travelling, she was all attention, and seemed vexed when anything occurred to change the subject. Though she could not be prevailed upon to undertake a part, or even to enter the theatre when any play was acting, yet she willingly and zealously committed Edition: current; Page: [217] many odes and songs to memory; and by unexpectedly, and as it were on the spur of the moment, reciting some such poem, generally of the earnest and solemn kind, she would often cause astonishment in every one.

Serlo, accustomed to regard with favor every trace of opening talent, encouraged her in such performances; but what pleased him most in Mignon was her sprightly, various and often even mirthful singing. By means of a similar gift the harper likewise had acquired his favor.

Without himself possessing genius for music, or playing on any instrument, Serlo could rightly prize the value of the art; he failed not, as often as he could, to enjoy this pleasure, which cannot be compared with any other. He held a concert once a week; and now, with Mignon, the harper and Laertes, who was not unskilful on the violin, he had formed a very curious domestic band.

He was wont to say, “Men are so inclined to content themselves with what is commonest; the spirit and the senses so easily grow dead to the impressions of the beautiful and perfect, that every one should study, by all methods, to nourish in his mind the faculty of feeling these things. For no man can bear to be entirely deprived of such enjoyments: it is only because they are not used to taste of what is excellent, that the generality of people take delight in silly and insipid things, provided they be new. For this reason,” he would add, “one ought every day at least to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” With such a turn of thought in Serlo, which in some degree was natural to him, the persons who frequented his society could scarcely be in want of pleasant conversation.

It was in the midst of these instructive entertainments that Wilhelm one day received a letter sealed in black. Werner’s hand betokened mournful news; and our friend was not a little shocked when, opening the sheet, he found it to contain the tidings of his father’s death, conveyed in a very few words. After a short and sudden illness he had parted from the world, leaving his domestic affairs in the best possible order.

This unlooked-for intelligence struck Wilhelm to the heart. He deeply felt how careless and negligent we often are of friends and relations while they inhabit with us this terrestrial sojourn; and how we first repent of our insensibility when the fair union, at least for this side of time, is finally cut asunder. His grief for the early death of this honest parent was mitigated only by the feeling that he had loved but little in the world, and the conviction that he had enjoyed but little.

Wilhelm’s thoughts soon turned to his own predicament; and he felt himself extremely discomposed. A person can scarcely be put into a more dangerous position, than when external circumstances have produced some striking change in his condition, without his manner of feeling and of thinking having undergone any preparation for it. There is then an epoch without epoch; and the contradiction which arises is the greater the less the person feels that he is not trained for this new manner of existence.

Wilhelm saw himself in freedom at a moment when he could not yet be at one with himself. His thoughts were noble, his motives pure, his purposes were not to be despised. All this he could with some degree of confidence acknowledge to himself; but he had of late been frequently enough compelled to notice that experience was sadly wanting to him; and hence, on the experience of others, and on the results which they deduced from it, he put a value far beyond its real one, and thus led himself still deeper into error. What he wanted he conceived he might most readily acquire if he undertook to collect and retain whatever memorable thought he should meet with in reading or in conversation. He accordingly recorded his own or other men’s opinions; nay, wrote whole dialogues, when they chanced to interest him. But unhappily by this means he held fast the false no less firmly than the true; he dwelt far too long on one idea, particularly when it was of an aphoristic shape; and thus he left his natural mode of thought and action, and frequently took foreign lights for his loadstars. Aurelia’s bitterness and Laertes’ cold contempt for men warped his judgment oftener than they should have done; but no one in his present case would have been so dangerous as Jarno, a man whose clear intellect could form a just and rigorous decision about present things, but who erred withal in enunciating these particular decisions with a kind of universal application; whereas, in truth, the judgments of the understanding are properly of force but once, and that in the strictest cases, and become inaccurate in some degree when applied to any other.

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Thus Wilhelm, striving to become consistent with himself, was deviating further and further from wholesome consistency; and this confusion made it easier for his passions to employ their whole artillery against him, and thus still further to perplex his views of duty.

Serlo did not fail to take advantage of the late tidings; and in truth he daily had more reason to be anxious about some fresh arrangement of his people. Either he must soon renew his old contracts, a measure he was not specially fond of, for several of his actors, who reckoned themselves indispensable, were growing more and more arrogant, or else he must entirely new-model and reform his company; which plan he looked upon as preferable.

Though he did not personally importune our friend, he set Aurelia and Philina on him; and the other wanderers, longing for some kind of settlement, on their side gave Wilhelm not a moment’s rest; so that he stood hesitating in his choice, in no slight embarrassment, till he should decide. Who would have thought that a letter of Werner’s, written with quite different views, should have forced him on resolving? We shall omit the introduction, and give the rest of it with little alteration.


“. . . It was therefore, and it always must be, right for every one, on any opportunity, to follow his vocation and exhibit his activity. Scarcely had the good old man been gone a quarter of an hour when everything in the house began moving by a different plan than his. Friends, acquaintances, relations, crowded forward; especially all sorts of people who on such occasions use to gain anything. They fetched and carried, they counted, wrote and reckoned; some brought wine and meat, others ate and drank; and none seemed busier than the women getting out the mournings.

“Such being the case, thou wilt not blame me that, in this emergency, I likewise thought of my advantage. I made myself as active, and as helpful to thy sister, as I could; and so soon as it was any way decorous, signified to her that it had now become our business to accelerate a union, which our parents in their too great circumspection had hitherto postponed.

“Do not suppose, however, that it came into our heads to take possession of that monstrous empty house. We are more modest and more rational. Thou shalt hear our plan: thy sister, so soon as we are married, comes to our house; and thy mother comes along with her. ‘How can that be?’ thou wilt say; ‘you have scarcely room for yourselves in that hampered nest.’ There lies the art of it, my friend! Good packing renders all things possible; thou wouldst not believe what space one finds when one desires to occupy but little. The large house we shall sell; an opportunity occurs for this; and the money we shall draw for it will produce a hundred-fold.

“I hope this meets thy views; I hope also thou hast not inherited the smallest particle of those unprofitable tastes for which thy father and thy grandfather were noted. The latter placed his greatest happiness in having about him a multitude of dull-looking works of art, which no one, I may well say no one, could enjoy with him; the former lived in a Edition: current; Page: [219] stately pomp which he suffered no one to enjoy with him. We mean to manage otherwise, and we expect thy approbation.

“It is true I myself in all the house have no place whatever but the stool before my writing-desk; and I see not clearly where they will be able to put a cradle down: but in return, the room we shall have out of doors will be the more abundant. Coffee-houses and clubs for the husband; walks and drives for the wife: and pleasant country jaunts for both. But the chief advantage in our plan is, that the round table being now completely filled, our father cannot ask his friends to dinner, who the more he strove to entertain them, used to laugh at him the more.

“Now no superfluity for us! Not too much furniture and apparatus; no coach, no horses! Nothing but money; and the liberty, day after day, to do what you like in reason. No wardrobe; still the best and newest on your back: the man may wear his coat till it is done; the wife may truck her gown the moment it is going out of fashion. There is nothing so unsufferable to me as an old huckster’s shop of property. If you would offer me a jewel, on condition of my wearing it daily on my finger, I would not accept it; for how can one conceive any pleasure in a dead capital? This then is my confession of faith: To transact your business, to make money, to be merry with your household; and about the rest of the earth to trouble yourself no further than where you can be of service to it.

“But ere now thou art saying: ‘And pray what is to be done with me in this sage plan of yours? Where shall I find shelter, when you have sold my own house, and not the smallest room remains in yours?’

“This is in truth the main point, brother; and in this too I shall have it in my power to serve thee. But first I must present the just tribute of my praise for time so spent as thine has been.

“Tell me, how hast thou within a few weeks become so skilled in every useful, interesting object? Highly as I thought of thy powers, I did not reckon such attention and such diligence among the number. Thy journal shows us with what profit thou art travelling. The description of the iron and the copper forges is exquisite; it evinces a complete knowledge of the subject. I myself was once there; but my relation, compared with this, has but a very bungled look. The whole letter on the linen trade is full of information; the remarks on commercial competition are at once just and striking. In one or two places there are errors in addition, which indeed are very pardonable.

“But what most delights my father and myself is thy thorough knowledge of husbandry and the improvement of landed property. We have thoughts of purchasing a large estate, at present under sequestration, in a very fruitful district. For paying it, we mean to use the money realized by the sale of the house; another portion we shall borrow; a portion may remain unpaid. And we count on thee for going thither and superintending the improvement of it; by which means, before many years are passed, the land, to speak in moderation, will have risen above a third in value. We shall then bring it to the market again; seek out a larger piece; improve and trade as formerly. For all this thou art the man. Our pens, meanwhile, will not lie idle here; and so by-and-by we shall rise to be enviable people.

“For the present, fare thee well! Enjoy life on thy journey, and turn thy face wherever thou canst find contentment and advantage. For the next half year we shall not need thee; thou canst look about thee in the world as thou pleasest; a judicious person finds his best instruction in his travels. Farewell! I rejoice at being connected with thee so closely by relation, and now united with thee in the spirit of activity.”

Well as this letter might be penned, and full of economical truths as it was, Wilhelm felt displeased with it for more than one reason. The praise bestowed on him for his pretended statistical, technological and rural knowledge was a silent reprimand. The ideal of the happiness of civic life, which his worthy brother sketched, by no means charmed him; on the contrary, a secret spirit of contradiction dragged him forcibly the other way. He convinced himself that, except on the stage, he could nowhere find that mental culture which he longed to give himself: he seemed to grow the more decided in his resolution, the more strongly Werner, without knowing it, opposed him. Thus assailed, he collected all his arguments together, and buttressed his opinions in his mind the more carefully, the more desirable he reckoned it to show them in a favorable light to Werner; and in this manner he produced an answer, which also we insert.

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Thy letter is so well written, and so prudently and wisely conceived, that no objection can be made to it. Only thou must pardon me when I declare that one may think, maintain and do directly the reverse, and yet be in the right as well as thou. Thy mode of being and imagining appears to turn on boundless acquisition, and a light mirthful manner of enjoyment: I need scarcely tell thee that in all this I find little that can charm me.

“First, however, I am sorry to admit that my journal is none of mine! Under the pressure of necessity, and to satisfy my father, it was patched together by a friend’s help, out of many books; and though in words I know the objects it relates to, and more of the like sort, I by no means understand them, or can occupy myself about them. What good were it for me to manufacture perfect iron, while my own breast is full of dross? What would it stead me to put properties of land in order, while I am at variance with myself?

“To speak it in a word, the cultivation of my individual self, here as I am, has from my youth upwards been constantly though dimly my wish and my purpose. The same intention I still cherish, but the means of realizing it are now grown somewhat clearer. I have seen more of life than thou believest, and profited more by it also. Give some attention then to what I say, though it should not altogether tally with thy own opinions.

“Had I been a nobleman our dispute would soon have been decided; but being a simple burgher, I must take a path of my own; and I fear it may be difficult to make thee understand me. I know not how it is in foreign countries; but in Germany a universal, and, if I may say so, personal cultivation is beyond the reach of any one except a nobleman. A burgher may acquire merit; by excessive efforts he may even educate his mind; but his personal qualities are lost, or worse than lost, let him struggle as he will. Since the nobleman, frequenting the society of the most polished, is compelled to give himself a polished manner; since this manner, neither door nor gate being shut against him, grows at last an unconstrained one; since, in court or camp, his figure, his person, are a part of his possessions, and it may be the most necessary part,—he has reason enough to put some value on them, and to show that he puts some. A certain stately grace in common things, a sort of gay elegance in earnest and important ones, becomes him well; for it shows him to be everywhere in equilibrium. He is a public person, and the more cultivated his movements, the more sonorous his voice, the more staid and measured his whole being is, the more perfect is he. If to high and low, to friends and relations, he continues still the same, then nothing can be said against him, none may wish him otherwise. His coldness must be reckoned clearness of head, his dissimulation prudence. If he can rule himself externally at every moment of his life, no man has aught more to demand of him; and whatever else there may be in him or about him, capacities, talents, wealth, all seem gifts of supererogation.

“Now imagine any burgher offering ever to pretend to these advantages, he will utterly fail; and the more completely, the greater inclination and the more endowments nature may have given him for that mode of being.

“Since, in common life, the nobleman is hampered by no limits, since kings, or king-like figures do not differ from him, he can everywhere advance with a silent consciousness, as if before his equals; everywhere he is entitled to press forward; whereas nothing more beseems the burgher than the quiet feeling of the limits that are drawn round him. The burgher may not ask himself, ‘What art thou?’ He can only ask, ‘What hast thou? What discernment, knowledge, talent, wealth?’ If the nobleman, merely by his personal carriage, offers all that can be asked of him, the burgher by his personal carriage offers nothing, and can offer nothing. The former had a right to seem; the latter is compelled to be, and what he aims at seeming becomes ludicrous and tasteless. The former does and makes; the latter but effects and procures; he must cultivate some single gifts in order to be useful, and it is beforehand settled that in his manner of existence there is no harmony, and can be none, since he is bound to make himself of use in one department, and so has to relinquish all the others.

“Perhaps the reason of this difference is not the usurpation of the nobles, and the submission of the burghers, but the constitution of society itself. Whether it will ever alter, and how, is to me of small importance; my present business is to meet my own case, as matters actually stand; to consider by what Edition: current; Page: [221] means I may save myself, and reach the object which I cannot live in peace without.

“Now this harmonious cultivation of my nature, which has been denied me by birth, is exactly what I most long for. Since leaving thee I have gained much by voluntary practice; I have laid aside much of my wonted embarrassment, and can bear myself in very tolerable style. My speech and voice I have likewise been attending to; and I may say, without much vanity, that in society I do not cause displeasure. But I will not conceal from thee that my inclination to become a public person, and to please and influence in a larger circle, is daily growing more insuperable. With this there is combined my love for poetry and all that is related to it; and the necessity I feel to cultivate my mental faculties and tastes, that so, in this enjoyment, henceforth indispensable, I may esteem as good the good alone, as beautiful the beautiful alone. Thou seest well that for me all this is nowhere to be met with except upon the stage; that in this element alone can I effect and cultivate myself according to my wishes. On the boards a polished man appears in his splendor with personal accomplishments, just as he does so in the upper classes of society; body and spirit must advance with equal steps in all his studies; and there I shall have it in my power at once to be and seem, as well as anywhere. If I further long for solid occupations, we have there mechanical vexations in abundance; I may give my patience daily exercise.

“Dispute not with me on this subject; for ere thou writest the step is taken. In compliance with the ruling prejudices I will change my name, as indeed that of Meister or Master does not suit me. Farewell! Our fortune is in good hands: on that subject I shall not disturb Edition: current; Page: [222] myself. What I need I will, as occasion calls, require from thee: it will not be much; for I hope my art will be sufficient to maintain me.”


Scarcely was the letter sent away when our friend made good his words. To the great surprise of Serlo and the rest, he at once declared that he was ready to become an actor, and bind himself by a contract on reasonable terms. With regard to these they were soon agreed; for Serlo had before made offers, with which Wilhelm and his comrades had good reason to be satisfied. The whole of that unlucky company, wherewith we have had so long to occupy ourselves, was now at once received; and, except perhaps Laertes, not a member of it showed the smallest thankfulness to Wilhelm. As they had entreated without confidence, so they accepted without gratitude. Most of them preferred ascribing their appointment to the influence of Philina, and directed their thanks to her. Meanwhile the contracts had been written out, and were now a-signing. At the moment when our friend was subscribing his assumed designation, by some inexplicable concatenation of ideas, there arose before his mind’s eye the image of that green in the forest, where he lay wounded in Philina’s lap. The lovely Amazon came riding on her gray palfrey from the bushes of the wood; she approached him and dismounted. Her humane anxiety made her come and go; at length she stood before him. The white surtout fell down from her shoulders; her countenance, her form began to glance in radiance, and she vanished from his sight. He wrote his name mechanically only, not knowing what he did; and felt not, till after he had signed, that Mignon was standing at his side, was holding by his arm, and had softly tried to stop him and pull back his hand.


One of the conditions under which our friend had gone upon the stage was not acceded to by Serlo without some limitations. Wilhelm had required that Hamlet should be played entire and unmutilated; the other had agreed to this strange stipulation, in so far as it was possible. On this point they had many a contest; for as to what was possible or not possible, and what parts of the piece could be omitted without mutilating it, the two were of very different opinions.

Wilhelm was still in that happy season when one cannot understand how, in the woman one loves, in the writer one honors, there should be anything defective. The feeling they excite in us is so entire, so accordant with itself, that we cannot help attributing the same perfect harmony to the objects themselves. Serlo again was willing to discriminate, perhaps too willing: his acute understanding could usually discern in any work of art nothing but a more or less imperfect whole. He thought, that as pieces usually stood, there was little reason to be chary about meddling with them; that of course Shakspeare, and particularly Hamlet, would need to suffer much curtailment.

But when Serlo talked of separating the wheat from the chaff, Wilhelm would not hear of it. “It is not chaff and wheat together,” said he: “it is a trunk with boughs, twigs, leaves, buds, blossoms and fruit. Is not the one there with the others, and by means of them?” To which Serlo would reply, that people did not bring a whole tree upon the table; that the artist was required to present his guests with silver apples in platters of silver. They exhausted their invention in similitudes: and their opinions seemed still further to diverge.

Our friend was on the borders of despair, when, on one occasion, after much debating, Serlo counselled him to take the simple plan; to make a brief resolution, to grasp his pen, to peruse the tragedy; dashing out whatever would not answer, compressing several personages into one: and if he was not skilled in such proceedings, or had not heart enough for going through with them, he might leave the task to him, the manager, who would engage to make short work with it.

“That is not our bargain,” answered Wilhelm. “How can you, with all your taste, show so much levity?”

“My friend,” cried Serlo, “you yourself will ere long feel it and show it. I know too well how shocking such a mode of treating works is; perhaps it never was allowed on any theatre till now. But where indeed was ever one so slighted as ours? Authors force us on this wretched clipping system, and the public tolerates it. How many pieces have we, pray, which do not overstep the measure of our numbers, of our decorations and theatrical machinery, of the proper time, of the fit alternation of dialogue, and the physical strength Edition: current; Page: [223] of the actor? And yet we are to play, and play, and constantly give novelties. Ought we not to profit by our privilege then, since we accomplish just as much by mutilated works as by entire ones? It is the public itself that grants the privilege. Few Germans, perhaps few men of any modern nation, have a proper sense of an æsthetic whole: they praise and blame by passages; they are charmed by passages: and who has greater reason to rejoice at this than actors, since the stage is ever but a patched and piecework matter?”

“Is!” cried Wilhelm; “but must it ever be so? Must everything that is continue? Convince me not that you are right: for no power on earth should force me to abide by any contract which I had concluded with the grossest misconceptions.”

Serlo gave a merry turn to the business; and persuaded Wilhelm to review once more the many conversations they had had together about Hamlet; and himself to invent some means of properly reforming the piece.

After a few days, which he had spent alone, our friend returned with a cheerful look. “I am much mistaken,” cried he, “if I have not now discovered how the whole is to be managed: nay, I am convinced that Shakspeare himself would have arranged it so, had not his mind been too exclusively directed to the ruling interest, and perhaps misled by the novels, which furnished him with his materials.”

“Let us hear,” said Serlo, placing himself with an air of solemnity upon the sofa; “I will listen calmly; but judge with rigor.”

“I am not afraid of you,” said Wilhelm; “only hear me. In the composition of this play, after the most accurate investigation and the most mature reflection, I distinguish two classes of objects. The first are the grand internal relations of the persons and events, the powerful effects which arise from the characters and proceedings of the main figures: these, I hold, are individually excellent, and the order in which they are presented cannot be improved. No kind of interference must be suffered to destroy them, or even essentially to change their form. These are the things which stamp themselves deep into the soul; which all men long to see, which no one dares to meddle with. Accordingly, I understand, they have almost wholly been retained in all our German theatres. But our countrymen have erred, in my opinion, with regard to the second class of objects, which may be observed in this tragedy; I allude to the external relations of the persons, whereby they are brought from place to place, or combined in various ways by certain accidental incidents. These they have looked upon as very unimportant; have spoken of them only in passing, or left them out altogether. Now, indeed, it must be owned, these threads are slack and slender; yet they run through the entire piece, and bind together much that would otherwise fall asunder, and does actually fall asunder, when you cut them off, and imagine you have done enough and more, if you have left the ends hanging.

“Among these external relations I include the disturbances in Norway, the war with young Fortinbras, the embassy to his uncle, the settling of that feud, the march of young Fortinbras to Poland, and his coming back at the end; of the same sort are Horatio’s return from Wittenberg, Hamlet’s wish to go thither, the journey of Laertes to France, his return, the despatch of Hamlet into England, his capture by pirates, the death of the two courtiers by the letter which they carried. All these circumstances and events would be very fit for expanding and lengthening a novel; but here they injure exceedingly the unity of the piece, particularly as the hero has no plan, and are in consequence entirely out of place.”

“For once in the right!” cried Serlo.

“Do not interrupt me,” answered Wilhelm; “perhaps you will not always think me right. These errors are like temporary props of an edifice; they must not be removed till we have built a firm wall in their stead. My project therefore is, not at all to change those first-mentioned grand situations, or at least as much as possible to spare them, both collectively and individually; but with respect to these external, single, dissipated and dissipating motives, to cast them all at once away, and substitute a solitary one instead of them.”

“And this?” inquired Serlo, springing up from his recumbent posture.

“It lies in the piece itself,” answered Wilhelm, “only I employ it rightly. There are disturbances in Norway. You shall hear my plan, and try it.

“After the death of Hamlet the father, the Norwegians, lately conquered, grow unruly. The viceroy of that country sends his son, Horatio, an old school-friend of Hamlet’s, and distinguished above every other for his bravery and prudence, to Denmark, to press Edition: current; Page: [224] forward the equipment of the fleet, which, under the new luxurious king, proceeds but slowly. Horatio has known the former king, having fought in his battles, having even stood in favor with him; a circumstance by which the first ghost-scene will be nothing injured. The new sovereign gives Horatio audience, and sends Laertes into Norway with intelligence that the fleet will soon arrive, whilst Horatio is commissioned to accelerate the preparation of it; and the queen, on the other hand, will not consent that Hamlet, as he wishes, should go to sea along with him.”

“Heaven be praised!” cried Serlo; “we shall now get rid of Wittenberg and the university, which was always a sorry piece of business. I think your idea extremely good: for except these two distant objects, Norway and the fleet, the spectator will not be required to fancy anything: the rest he will see; the rest takes place before him; whereas his imagination, on the other plan, was hunted over all the world.”

“You easily perceive,” said Wilhelm, “how I shall contrive to keep the other parts together. When Hamlet tells Horatio of his uncle’s crime, Horatio counsels him to go to Norway in his company, to secure the affections of the army, and return in warlike force. Hamlet also is becoming dangerous to the king and queen; they find no readier method of deliverance than to send him in the fleet, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be spies upon him; and as Laertes in the meantime comes from France, they determine that this youth, exasperated even to murder, shall go after him. Unfavorable winds detain the fleet; Hamlet returns: for his wandering through the churchyard perhaps some lucky motive may be thought of; his meeting with Laertes in Ophelia’s grave is a grand moment, which we must not part with. After this, the king resolves that it is better to get quit of Hamlet on the spot: the festival of his departure, the pretended reconcilement with Laertes, are now solemnized; on which occasion knightly sports are held, and Laertes fights with Hamlet. Without the four corpses I cannot end the piece; not one of them can possibly be left. The right of popular election now again comes in force, and Hamlet gives his dying voice for Horatio.”

“Quick! quick!” said Serlo; “sit down and work the piece: your plan has my entire approbation; only do not let your zeal for it evaporate.”


Wilhelm had already been for some time busied with translating Hamlet; making use, as he labored, of Wieland’s spirited performance, by means of which he had first become acquainted with Shakspeare. What in Wieland’s work had been omitted he replaced; and he had at length procured himself a complete version, at the very time when Serlo and he finally agreed about the way of treating it. He now began, according to his plan, to cut out and insert, to separate and unite, to alter and often to restore; for, satisfied as he was with his own conception, it still appeared to him as if in executing it he were but spoiling the original.

So soon as all was finished, he read his work to Serlo and the rest. They declared themselves exceedingly contented with it; Serlo, in particular, made many flattering observations.

“You have felt very justly,” said he, among other things, “that some external circumstances must accompany this piece; but that they must be simpler than those which the great poet has employed. What takes place without the theatre, what the spectator does not see, but must imagine for himself, is like a background, in front of which the acting figures move. Your large and simple prospect of the fleet and Norway will very much improve the piece: if this were altogether taken from it, we should have but a family-scene remaining; and the great idea, that here a kingly house by internal crimes and incongruities goes down to ruin, would not be presented with its proper dignity. But if the former background were left standing, so manifold, so fluctuating and confused, it would hurt the impression of the figures.”

Wilhelm again took Shakspeare’s part; alleging that he wrote for islanders, for Englishmen, who generally in the distance were accustomed to see little else than ships and voyages, the coasts of France and privateers; and thus what perplexed and distracted others was to them quite natural.

Serlo assented; and both of them were of opinion, that as the piece was now to be produced upon the German stage, this more serious and simple background was the best adapted for the German mind.

The parts had been distributed before: Serlo undertook Polonius; Aurelia undertook Ophelia; Laertes was already designated by his name; a young, thickset, jolly new-comer Edition: current; Page: [yyy] Edition: current; Page: [zzz] Edition: current; Page: [aaaa] Edition: current; Page: [bbbb] Edition: current; Page: [225] was to be Horatio: the King and the Ghost alone occasioned some perplexity. For both of these there was no one but Old Boisterous remaining. Serlo proposed to make the Pedant King; but against this our friend protested in the strongest terms. They could resolve on nothing.



Wilhelm also had allowed both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to continue in his piece. “Why not compress them into one?” said Serlo. “This abbreviation will not cost you much.”

“Heaven keep me from all such curtailments!” answered Wilhelm, “they destroy at once the sense and the effect. What these two persons are and do, it is impossible to represent by one. In such small matters we discover Shakspeare’s greatness. These soft approaches, this smirking and bowing, this assenting, wheedling, flattering, this whisking agility, this wagging of the tail, this allness and emptiness, this legal knavery, this ineptitude and insipidity,—how can they be expressed by a single man? There ought to be at least a dozen of these people, if they could be had: for it is only in society that they are anything; they are society itself; and Shakspeare showed no little wisdom and discernment in bringing in a pair of them. Besides, I need them as a couple that may be contrasted with the single, noble, excellent Horatio.”

“I understand you,” answered Serlo, “and we can arrange it. One of them we shall hand over to Elmira, Old Boisterous’ eldest daughter: it will all be right, if they look well enough, and I will deck and trim the puppets so that it shall be a pleasure to behold them.”

Philina was rejoicing not a little that she had to act the Duchess in the small subordinate play. “I will show it so natural,” cried she, “how you wed a second without loss of time, when you have loved the first immensely. I hope to gain the loudest plaudits, and every man shall wish he were the third.”

Aurelia gave a frown; her spleen against Philina was increasing every day.

“’Tis a pity, I declare,” said Serlo, “that we have no ballet; else you should dance me a pas de deux with your first, and then another with your second husband,—and the first might dance himself to sleep by the measure; and your bits of feet and ankles would look so pretty, tripping to and fro upon the side stage.”

“Of my ankles you do not know much,” replied she snappishly; “and as to my bits of feet,” cried she, hastily reaching below the table, pulling off her slippers, and holding them together out to Serlo; “here are the cases of them, and I give you leave to find me nicer ones.”

“It were a serious task,” said he, looking at the elegant half-shoes. “In truth, one does not often meet with anything so dainty.”

They were of Parisian workmanship: Philina had obtained them as a present from the countess, a lady whose foot was celebrated for its beauty.

“A charming thing!” cried Serlo; “my heart leaps at the sight of them.”

“What gallant throbs!” replied Philina.

“There is nothing in the world beyond a pair of slippers,” said he; “of such pretty manufacture, in their proper time and place, when—”

Philina took her slippers from his hands, crying, “You have squeezed them all! They are far too wide for me!” She played with them, and rubbed the soles of them together. “How hot it is!” cried she, clapping the sole upon her cheek, then again rubbing, and holding it to Serlo. He was innocent enough to stretch out his hand to feel the warmth. “Clip! clap!” cried she, giving him a smart rap over the knuckles with the heel, so that he screamed and drew back his hand: “I will teach you to use my slippers better.”

“And I will teach you to use old folk like children,” cried the other; then sprang up, seized her, and plundered many a kiss, every one of which she artfully contested with a show of serious reluctance. In this romping her long hair got loose, and floated round the group; the chair overset; and Aurelia, inwardly indignant at such rioting, arose in great vexation.


Though in this remoulding of Hamlet many characters had been cut off, a sufficient number of them still remained: a number which the company was scarcely adequate to meet.

“If this is the way of it,” said Serlo, “our prompter himself must issue from his den, and mount the stage, and become a personage like one of us.”

“In his own station,” answered Wilhelm, “I have frequently admired him.”

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“I do not think,” said Serlo, “that there is in the world a more perfect artist of his kind. No spectator ever hears him; we upon the stage catch every syllable. He has formed in himself, as it were, a peculiar set of vocal organs for this purpose; he is like a Genius that whispers intelligibly to us in the hour of need. He feels as if by instinct what portion of his task an actor is completely master of; and anticipates from afar where his memory will fail him. I have known cases, in which I myself had scarcely read my part; he said it over to me word for word, and I played happily. Yet he has some peculiarities, which would make another in his place quite useless. For example, he takes such an interest in the pieces, that in giving any moving passage, he does not indeed declaim it, but he reads it with all pomp and pathos. By this ill habit he has nonplussed me on more than one occasion.”

“As with another of his singularities,” observed Aurelia, “he once left me sticking fast in a very dangerous passage.”

“How could this happen, with the man’s attentiveness?” said Wilhelm.

“He is so affected,” said Aurelia, “by certain passages, that he weeps warm tears, and for a few moments loses all reflection; and it is not properly passages such as we should call affecting that produce this impression on him; but, if I express myself clearly, the beautiful passages, those out of which the pure spirit of the poet looks forth, as it were, through open sparkling eyes; passages which others at most rejoice over, and which many thousands altogether overlook.”

“And with a soul so tender, why does he never venture on the stage?”

“A hoarse voice,” said Serlo, “and a stiff carriage exclude him from it; as his melancholic temper excludes him from society. What trouble have I taken, and in vain, to make myself familiar with him! But he is a charming reader; such another I have never heard; no one can observe like him the narrow limit between declamation and graceful recital.”

“The very man!” exclaimed our friend, “the very man! What a fortunate discovery! We have now the proper hand for delivering the passage of The rugged Pyrrhus.

“One requires your eagerness,” said Serlo, “before one can employ every object in the use it was meant for.”

“In truth,” said Wilhelm, “I was very much afraid we should be obliged to leave this passage out; the omission would have lamed the whole play.”

“Well! That is what I cannot understand,” observed Aurelia.

“I hope you will ere long be of my opinion,” answered Wilhelm. “Shakspeare has introduced these travelling players with a double purpose. The person who recites the death of Priam with such feeling, in the first place, makes a deep impression on the Prince himself; he sharpens the conscience of the wavering youth: and, accordingly, this scene becomes a prelude to that other, where, in the second place, the little play produces such effect upon the King. Hamlet sees himself reproved and put to shame by the player, who feels so deep a sympathy in foreign and fictitious woes: and the thought of making an experiment upon the conscience of his step-father is in consequence suggested to him. What a royal monologue is that, which ends the second act! How charming it will be to speak it!

  • “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
  • Is it not monstrous that this player here,
  • But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
  • Could force his soul so to his own conceit,
  • That from her working all his visage wann’d;
  • Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,
  • A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
  • With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing!
  • For Hecuba! What’s Hecuba to him,
  • Or he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?”

“If we can but persuade our man to come upon the stage,” observed Aurelia.

“We must lead him to it by degrees,” said Serlo. “At the rehearsal he may read the passage; we shall tell him that an actor whom we are expecting is to play it; and so, by-and-by, we shall lead him nearer to the point.”

Having agreed on this affair, the conversation next turned upon the Ghost. Wilhelm could not bring himself to give the part of the living King to the Pedant, that so Old Boisterous might play the Ghost: he was of opinion that they ought to wait a while; because some other actors had announced themselves, and among these it was probable they would find a fitter man.

We can easily conceive, then, how astonished Wilhelm must have been, when returning home that evening, he found a billet lying on his table, sealed with singular figures, and containing what follows:

“Strange youth! we know thou art in great Edition: current; Page: [227] perplexity. For thy Hamlet thou canst hardly find men enough, not to speak of Ghosts. Thy zeal deserves a miracle: miracles we cannot work; but somewhat marvellous shall happen. If thou have faith, the Ghost shall arise at the proper hour! Be of courage and keep firm! This needs no answer: thy determination will be known to us.”

With this curious sheet he hastened back to Serlo, who read it and re-read it, and at last declared with a thoughtful look, that it seemed a matter of some moment; that they must consider well and seriously whether they could risk it. They talked the subject over at some length; Aurelia was silent, only smiling now and then; and a few days after, when speaking of the incident again, she gave our friend not obscurely to understand, that she held it all for a joke of Serlo’s. She desired him to cast away anxiety, and to expect the Ghost with patience.

Serlo, for most part, was in excellent humor: the actors that were going to leave him took all possible pains to play well, that their absence might be properly regretted; and this, combined with the new-fangled zeal of the others, gave promise of the best results.

His intercourse with Wilhelm had not failed to exert some influence on him. He began to speak more about art: for, after all, he was a German; and Germans like to give themselves account of what they do. Wilhelm wrote down many of their conversations; which, as our narrative must not be so often interrupted here, we shall communicate to such of our readers as feel an interest in dramaturgic matters, by some other opportunity.

In particular, one evening, the manager was very merry in speaking of the part of Polonius, and how he meant to take it up. “I engage,” said he, “on this occasion, to present a very meritorious person in his best aspect. The repose and security of this old gentleman, his emptiness and his significance, his exterior gracefulness and interior meanness, his frankness and sycophancy, his sincere roguery and deceitful truth, I will introduce with all due elegance in their fit proportions. This respectable, gray-haired, enduring, time-serving half-knave I will represent in the most courtly style: the occasional roughness and coarseness of our author’s strokes will further me here. I will speak like a book, when I am prepared beforehand; and like an ass, when I utter the overflowings of my heart. I will be insipid and absurd enough to chime in with every one; and acute enough never to observe when people make a mock of me. I have seldom taken up a part with so much zeal and roguishness.”

“Could I but hope as much from mine!” exclaimed Aurelia. “I have neither youth nor softness enough to be at home in this character. One thing alone I am too sure of; the feeling that turns Ophelia’s brain, I shall not want.”

“We must not take the matter up so strictly,” said our friend. “For my share, I am certain, that the wish to act the character of Hamlet has led me exceedingly astray, throughout my study of the piece. And now the more I look into the part, the more clearly do I see, that in my whole form and physiognomy, there is not one feature such as Shakspeare meant for Hamlet. When I consider with what nicety the various circumstances are adapted to each other, I can scarcely hope to produce even a tolerable effect.”

“You are entering on your new career with becoming conscientiousness,” said Serlo. “The actor fits himself to his part as he can, and the part to him as it must. But how has Shakspeare drawn his Hamlet? Is he then so utterly unlike you?”

“In the first place,” answered Wilhelm, “he is fair-haired.”

“That I call farfetched,” observed Aurelia. “How do you infer that?”

“As a Dane, as a Northman, he is fair-haired and blue-eyed by descent.”

“And you think Shakspeare had this in view?”

“I do not find it specially expressed; but, by comparison of passages, I think it incontestable. The fencing tires him; the sweat is running from his brow; and the Queen remarks: He’s fat and scant of breath. Can you conceive him to be otherwise than plump and fair-haired? Brown-complexioned people in their youth are seldom plump. And does not his wavering melancholy, his soft lamenting, his irresolute activity, accord with such a figure? From a dark-haired young man you would look for more decision and impetuosity.”

“You are spoiling my imagination,” cried Aurelia: “away with your fat Hamlets! Do not set your well-fed Prince before us! Give us rather any succedaneum that will move us, will delight us. The intention of the author Edition: current; Page: [228] is of less importance to us than our own enjoyment, and we need a charm that is adapted for us.”


One evening a dispute arose among our friends about the novel and the drama, and which of them deserved the preference. Serlo said it was a fruitless and misunderstood debate; both might be superior in their kinds, only each must keep within the limits proper to it.

“About their limits and their kinds,” said Wilhelm, “I confess myself not altogether clear.”

“Who is so?” said the other; “and yet perhaps it were worth while to come a little closer to the business.”

They conversed together long upon the matter; and in fine, the following was nearly the result of their discussion:

“In the novel as well as in the drama, it is human nature and human action that we see. The difference between these sorts of fiction lies not merely in their outward form; not merely in the circumstance that the personages of the one are made to speak, while those of the other have commonly their history narrated. Unfortunately many dramas are but novels, which proceed by dialogue; and it would not be impossible to write a drama in the shape of letters.

“But in the novel it is chiefly sentiments and events that are exhibited; in the drama it is characters and deeds. The novel must go slowly forward; and the sentiments of the hero, by some means or another, must restrain the tendency of the whole to unfold itself and to conclude. The drama, on the other hand, must hasten, and the character of the hero must press forward to the end; it does not restrain, but is restrained. The novel-hero must be suffering, at least he must not in a high degree be active; in the dramatic one we look for activity and deeds. Grandison, Clarissa, Pamela, the Vicar of Wakefield, Tom Jones himself, are, if not suffering, at least retarding personages; and the incidents are all in some sort modelled by their sentiments. In the drama the hero models nothing by himself; all things withstand him, and he clears and casts away the hindrances from off his path, or else sinks under them.”

Our friends were also of opinion, that in the novel some degree of scope may be allowed to Chance; but that it must always be led and guided by the sentiments of the personages; on the other hand, that Fate, which, by means of outward unconnected circumstances, carries forward men, without their own concurrence, to an unforeseen catastrophe, can have place only in the drama; that Chance may produce pathetic situations, but never tragic ones; Fate, on the other hand, ought always to be terrible; and is in the highest sense tragic, when it brings into a ruinous concatenation the guilty man, and the guiltless that was unconcerned with him.

These considerations led them back to the play of Hamlet, and the peculiarities of its composition. The hero in this case, it was observed, is endowed more properly with sentiments than with a character; it is events alone that push him on; and accordingly the piece has in some measure the expansion of a novel. But as it is Fate that draws the plan; as the story issues from a deed of terror, and the hero is continually driven forward to a deed of terror, the work is tragic in the highest sense, and admits of no other than a tragic end.

They were now to study and peruse the piece in common; to commence what are called the book-rehearsals. These Wilhelm had looked forward to as to a festival. Having formerly collated all the parts, no obstacle on this side could oppose him. The whole of the actors were acquainted with the piece; he endeavored to impress their minds with the importance of these book-rehearsals. “As you require,” said he, “of every musical performer, that he shall, in some degree, be able to play from the book; so every actor, every educated man, should train himself to recite from the book, to catch immediately the character of any drama, any poem, any tale he may be reading, and exhibit it with grace and readiness. No committing of the piece to memory will be of service, if the actor have not in the first place penetrated into the sense and spirit of his author; the mere letter will avail him nothing.”

Serlo declared that he would overlook all subsequent rehearsals, the last rehearsal itself, if justice were but done to these rehearsals from the book. “For commonly,” said he, “there is nothing more amusing than to hear an actor speak of study; it is as if freemasons were to talk of building.”

The rehearsal passed according to their Edition: current; Page: [229] wishes; and we may assert, that the fame and favor which our company acquired afterwards had their foundation in these few but well-spent hours.


“You did right, my friend,” said Serlo, when they were alone, “in speaking to our fellow-laborers so earnestly; and yet I am afraid they will scarcely fulfil your wishes.”

“How so?” asked Wilhelm.

“I have noticed,” answered Serlo, “that as easily as you may set in motion the imaginations of men, gladly as they listen to your tales and fictions, it is yet very seldom that you find among them any touch of an imagination you can call productive. In actors this remark is strikingly exemplified. Any one of them is well content to undertake a beautiful, praiseworthy, brilliant part; and seldom will any one of them do more than self-complacently transport himself into his hero’s place, without in the smallest troubling his head whether other people view him so or not. But to seize with vivacity what the author’s feeling was in writing; what portion of your individual qualities you must cast off, in order to do justice to a part; how by your own conviction that you are become another man you may carry with you the convictions of the audience; how by the inward truth of your conceptive power you can change these boards into a temple, this pasteboard into woods; to seize and execute all this is given to very few. That internal strength of soul, by which alone deception can be brought about; that lying truth, without which nothing will affect us rightly, have by most men never even been imagined.

“Let us not then press too hard for spirit and feeling in our friends! The surest way is first coolly to instruct them in the sense and letter of the piece; if possible, to open their understandings. Whoever has the talent will then, of his own accord. eagerly adopt the spirited feeling and manner of expression; and those who have it not, will at least be prevented from acting or reciting altogether falsely. And among actors, as indeed in all cases, there is no worse arrangement than for any one to make pretensions to the spirit of a thing, while the sense and letter of it are not ready and clear to him.”


Coming to the first stage-rehearsal very early, Wilhelm found himself alone upon the boards. The appearance of the place surprised him, and awoke the strangest recollections. Edition: current; Page: [230] A forest and village-scene stood exactly represented as he once had seen it in the theatre of his native town. On that occasion also a rehearsal was proceeding; and it was the morning when Mariana first confessed her love to him, and promised him a happy interview. The peasants’ cottages resembled one another on the two stages, as they did in nature; the true morning sun, beaming through a half-closed window-shutter, fell upon a part of a bench ill-joined to a cottage-door; but unhappily it did not now enlighten Mariana’s waist and bosom. He sat down, reflecting on this strange coincidence: he almost thought that perhaps on this very spot he would soon see her again. And alas! the truth was nothing more than that an afterpiece to which this scene belonged was at that time very often played upon the German stage.

Out of these meditations he was aroused by the other actors; along with whom two amateurs, frequenters of the wardrobe and the stage, came in, and saluted Wilhelm with a show of great enthusiasm. One of these was in some degree attached to Frau Melina: but the other was entirely a pure friend of art; and both were of the kind which a good company should always wish to have about it. It was difficult to say whether their love for the stage or their knowledge of it was the greater. They loved it too much to know it perfectly; they knew it well enough to prize the good, and to discard the bad. But their inclination being so powerful, they could tolerate the mediocre; and the glorious joy which they experienced from the foretaste and the aftertaste of excellence surpassed expression. The mechanical department gave them pleasure, the intellectual charmed them; and so strong was their susceptibility that even a discontinuous rehearsal afforded them a species of illusion. Deficiencies appeared in their eyes to fade away in distance; the successful touched them like an object near at hand. In a word, they were judges such as every artist wishes in his own department. Their favorite movement was from the side-scenes to the pit, and from the pit to the side-scenes; their happiest place was in the wardrobe; their busiest employment was in trying to improve the dress, position, recitation, gesture of the actor; their liveliest conversation was on the effect produced by him; their most constant effort was to keep him accurate, active and attentive, to do him service or kindness, and, without squandering, to procure for the company a series of enjoyments. The two had obtained the exclusive privilege of being present on the stage at rehearsals as well as exhibitions. In regard to Hamlet, they had not in all points agreed with Wilhelm; here and there he had yielded; but for most part he had stood by his opinion; and, upon the whole, these discussions had been very useful in the forming of his taste. He showed both gentlemen how much he valued them; and they again predicted nothing less, from these combined endeavors, than a new epoch for the German theatre.

The presence of these persons was of great service during the rehearsals. In particular, they labored to convince our players that, throughout the whole of their preparations, the posture and action as they were intended ultimately to appear, should always be combined with the words, and thus the whole be mechanically united by habit. In rehearsing a tragedy especially, they said, no common movement with the hands should be allowed: a tragic actor that took snuff in the rehearsal always frightened them; for, in all probability, on coming to the same passage in the exhibition he would miss his pinch. Nay, on the same principles, they maintained that no one should rehearse in boots, if his part were to be played in shoes. But nothing, they declared, afflicted them so much as when the women, in rehearsing, stuck their hands into the folds of their gowns.

By the persuasion of our friends another very good effect was brought about; the actors all began to learn the use of arms. Since military parts occur so frequently, said they, can anything look more absurd than men without the smallest particle of discipline, trolling about the stage in captains’ and majors’ uniforms?

Wilhelm and Laertes were the first that took lessons of a subaltern: they continued their practising of fence with the greatest zeal.

Such pains did our two amateurs give themselves for perfecting a company, which had so fortunately come together. They were thus providing for the future satisfaction of the public, while the public was usually laughing at their taste. People did not know what gratitude they owed our friends; particularly for performing one service, the service of frequently impressing on the actor the fundamental point that it was his duty to speak so Edition: current; Page: [231] loud as to be heard. In this simple matter they experienced more opposition and repugnance than could have been expected. Most part maintained that they were heard well enough already; some laid the blame upon the building; others said one could not yell and bellow when one had to speak naturally, secretly or tenderly.

Our two friends having an immeasurable stock of patience, tried every means of undoing this delusion, of getting round this obstinate self-will. They spared neither arguments nor flatteries; and at last they reached their object, being aided not a little by the good example of Wilhelm. By him they were requested to sit down in the remotest corners of the house; and every time they did not hear him perfectly, to rap on the bench with a key. He articulated well, spoke out in a measured manner, raised his tones gradually, and did not overcry himself in the most vehement passages. The rapping of the key was heard less and less every new rehearsal: by-and-by the rest submitted to the same operation; and at last it seemed rational to hope that the piece would be heard by every one in all the nooks of the house.

From this example we may see how desirous people are to reach their object in their own way; what need there often is of enforcing on them truths which are self-evident; and how difficult it may be to reduce the man, who aims at effecting something, to admit the primary conditions under which alone his enterprise is possible.


The necessary preparations for scenery and dresses, and whatever else was requisite, were now proceeding. In regard to certain scenes and passages, our friend had whims of his own, which Serlo humored, partly in consideration of their bargain, partly from conviction, and because he hoped by these civilities to gain Wilhelm, and to lead him according to his own purposes the more implicitly in time to come.

Thus, for example, the King and Queen were, at the first audience, to appear sitting on the throne with the courtiers at the sides, and Hamlet standing undistinguished in the crowd. “Hamlet,” said he, “must keep himself quiet; his sable dress will sufficiently point him out. He should rather shun remark than seek it. Not till the audience is ended, and the King speaks with him as with a son, should he advance and allow the scene to take its course.”

A formidable obstacle still remained, in regard to the two pictures, which Hamlet so passionately refers to in the scene with his mother. “We ought,” said Wilhelm, “to have both of them visible, at full length, in the bottom of the chamber near the main door; and the former King must be clad in armor, like the Ghost, and hang at the side where it enters. I could wish that the figure held its right hand in a commanding attitude; were somewhat turned away; and as it were looked over its shoulder, that so it might perfectly resemble the Ghost at the moment when he issues from the door. It will produce a great effect, when at this instant Hamlet looks upon the Ghost and the Queen upon the picture. The stepfather may be painted in royal ornaments, but not so striking.”

There were several other points of this sort, about which we shall perhaps elsewhere have opportunity to speak.

“Are you then inexorably bent on Hamlet’s dying at the end?” inquired Serlo.

“How can I keep him alive,” said Wilhelm, “when the whole piece is pressing him to death? We have already talked at large on that matter.”

“But the public wishes him to live.”

“I will show the public any other complaisance; but as to this, I cannot. We often wish that some gallant useful man, who is dying of a chronic disease, might yet live longer. The family weep, and conjure the physician, but he cannot stay him; and no more than this physician can withstand the necessity of nature can we give law to an acknowledged necessity of art. It is a false compliance with the multitude to raise in them emotions which they wish, when these are not emotions which they ought, to feel.”

“Whoever pays the cash,” said Serlo, “may require the ware according to his liking.”

“Doubtless, in some degree,” replied our friend; “but a great public should be reverenced, not used as children are, when pedlers wish to hook the money from them. By presenting excellence to the people, you should gradually excite in them a taste and feeling for the excellent; and they will pay their Edition: current; Page: [232] money with double satisfaction when reason itself has nothing to object against this outlay. The public you may flatter, as you do a well-beloved child, to better, to enlighten it; not as you do a pampered child of quality, to perpetuate the error you profit from.”

In this manner various other topics were discussed relating to the question: What might still be changed in the piece, and what must of necessity remain untouched? We shall not enter further on those points at present; but perhaps at some future time we may admit this altered Hamlet itself to such of our readers as feel any interest in the subject.


The main rehearsal was at length concluded; it had lasted very long. Serlo and Wilhelm still found much to care for: notwithstanding all the time which had already been consumed in preparation, some highly necessary matters had been left to the very last moment.

Thus, the pictures of the kings, for instance, were not ready; and the scene between Hamlet and his mother, from which so poweful an effect was looked for, had a very helpless aspect, as the business stood; for neither Ghost nor painted image of him was at present forthcoming. Serlo made a jest of this perplexity: “We should be in a pretty scrape,” said he, “if the Ghost were to decline appearing, and the guard had nothing to fight with but the air, and our prompter were obliged to speak the spirit’s part from the side-scenes.”

“We will not scare away our strange friend by unbelief,” said Wilhelm: “doubtless at the proper season he will come, and astonish us as much as the spectators.”

“Well, certainly,” said Serlo, “I shall be a happy man to-morrow night, when once this piece is fairly acted. It costs us more arrangement than I dreamed of.”

“But none of you,” exclaimed Philina, “will be happier than I, little as my part disturbs me. Really, to hear a single subject talked of forever and forever, when after all there is nothing to come of it, beyond an exhibition which will be forgotten like so many hundred others, this is what I have not patience for. In heaven’s name, not so many pros and cons! The guests you entertain have always something to object against the dinner; nay, if you could hear them talk of it at home, they cannot understand how it was possible to undergo so sad a business.”

“Let me turn your illustration, pretty one, to my own advantage,” answered Wilhelm. “Consider how much must be done by art and nature, by traffickers and tradesmen, before an entertainment can be given. How many years the stag must wander in the forest, the fish in the river or the sea, before they can deserve to grace our table! And what cares and consultations with her cooks and servants has the lady of the house submitted to! Observe with what indifference the people swallow the production of the distant vintager, the seaman and the vintner, as if it were a thing of course. And ought these men to cease from laboring, providing and preparing; ought the master of the house to cease from purchasing and laying up the fruit of their exertions, because at last the enjoyment it affords is transitory? But no enjoyment can be transitory; the impression which it leaves is permanent; and what is done with diligence and effort communicates to the spectator a hidden force, of which we cannot say how far its influence may reach.”

“ ’Tis all one to me,” replied Philina; “only here again I must observe that you men are constantly at variance with yourselves. With all this conscientious horror at curtailing Shakspeare, you have missed the finest thought there was in Hamlet!”

“The finest?” cried our friend.

“Certainly the finest,” said Philina; “the Prince himself takes pleasure in it.”

“And it is?” inquired Serlo.

“If you wore a wig,” replied Philina, “I would pluck it very coolly off you; for I think you need to have your understanding opened.”

The rest began to think what she could mean; the conversation paused. The party arose; it was now grown late; they seemed about to separate. While they were standing in this undetermined mood, Philina all at once struck up a song, with a very graceful, pleasing tune:

    • “Sing me not with such emotion
    • How the night so lonesome is;
    • Pretty maids, I’ve got a notion
    • It is the reverse of this.
    • “For as wife and man are plighted,
    • And the better half the wife;
    • So is night to day united,
    • Night’s the better half of life.
  • Edition: current; Page: [233]
    • “Can you joy in bustling daytime,
    • Day when none can get his will?
    • It is good for work, for haytime,
    • For much other it is ill.
    • “But when, in the nightly glooming,
    • Social lamp on table glows,
    • Face for faces dear illuming,
    • And such jest and joyance goes;
    • “When the fiery pert young fellow,
    • Wont by day to run or ride,
    • Whispering now some tale would tell O,—
    • All so gentle by your side;
    • “When the nightingale to lovers
    • Lovingly her songlet sings,
    • Which for exiles and sad rovers
    • Like mere woe and wailing rings:
    • “With a heart how lightsome feeling
    • Do ye count the kindly clock,
    • Which, twelve times deliberate pealing,
    • Tells you none to-night shall knock!
    • “Therefore, on all fit occasions,
    • Mark it, maidens, what I sing:
    • Every day its own vexations,
    • And the night its joys will bring.”

She made a little courtesy on concluding, and Serlo gave a loud “b[Editor: illegible word]” She scuttled off, and left the room with a te-hee of laughter. They heard her singing and skipping as she went down-stairs.

Serlo passed into another room; Wilhelm bade Aurelia good-night; but she continued looking at him for a few moments, and said:

“How I dislike that woman! dislike her from my heart, and to her very slightest qualities! Those brown eyelashes, with her fair hair, which our brother thinks so charming, I cannot bear to look at; and that scar upon her brow has something in it so repulsive, so low and base, that I could recoil ten paces every time I meet her. She was lately telling as a joke that her father, when she was a child, threw a plate at her head, of which this is the mark. It is well that she is marked in the eyes and brow, that those about her may be on their guard.”

Wilhelm made no answer, and Aurelia went on, apparently with greater spleen:

“It is next to impossible to speak a friendly or civil word to her, so deeply do I hate her, with all her wheedling. Would that we were rid of her! And you too, my friend, have a certain complaisance for the creature, a way Edition: current; Page: [234] of acting towards her, that grieves me to the soul; an attention which borders on respect—which, by heaven! she does not merit.”

“Whatever she may be,” replied our friend, “I owe her thanks. Her upbringing is to blame: to her natural character I would do justice.”

“Character!” exclaimed Aurelia; “and do you think such a creature has a character? O you men! It is so like you! These are the women you deserve!”

“My friend, can you suspect me?” answered Wilhelm. “I will give account of every minute I have spent beside her.”

“Come, come,” replied Aurelia; “it is late; we will not quarrel. All like each, and each like all! Good-night, my friend! Good-night, my sparkling bird of Paradise!”

Wilhelm asked how he had earned this title.

“Another time,” cried she; “another time. They say it has no feet, but hovers in the air, and lives on ether. That, however, is a story, a poetic fiction. Good-night! Dream sweetly, if you are in luck!”

She proceeded to her room; and he, being left alone, made haste to his.

Half angrily he walked along his chamber to and fro. The jesting but decided tone of Aurelia had hurt him: he felt deeply how unjust she was. Could he treat Philina with unkindness or ill-nature? She had done no evil to him: but for any love to her, he could proudly and confidently take his conscience to witness that it was not so.

On the point of beginning to undress, he was going forward to his bed to draw aside the curtains, when, not without extreme astonishment, he saw a pair of women’s slippers lying on the floor before it. One of them was resting on its sole, the other on its edge. They were Philina’s slippers; he recognized them but too well. He thought he noticed some disorder in the curtains; nay, it seemed as if they moved. He stood and looked with unaverted eyes.

A new impulse, which he took for anger, cut his breath, after a short pause he recovered, and cried in a firm tone:

“Come out, Philina! What do you mean by this? Where is your sense, your modesty? Are we to be the speech of the house to-morrow?”

Nothing stirred.

“I do not jest,” continued he; “these pranks are little to my taste.”

No sound. No motion.

Irritated and determined, he at last went forward to the bed and tore the curtains asunder. “Arise,” said he, “if I am not to give you up my room to-night.”

With great surprise he found his bed unoccupied; the sheets and pillows in the sleekest rest. He looked around; he searched, and searched, but found no traces of the rogue. Behind the bed, the stove, the drawers, there was nothing to be seen; he sought with great and greater diligence; a spiteful looker-on might have believed that he was seeking in the hope of finding.

All thought of sleep was gone. He put the slippers on his table; went past it up and down; often paused before it; and a wicked sprite that watched him has asserted that our friend employed himself for several hours about these dainty little shoes; that he viewed them with a certain interest; that he handled them and played with them: and it was not till towards morning that he threw himself on the bed, without undressing, where he fell asleep amidst a world of curious fantasies.

Edition: current; Page: [235]

He was still slumbering, when Serlo entered hastily. “Where are you?” cried he; “Still in bed? Impossible! I want you in the theatre: we have a thousand things to do.”


The forenoon and the afternoon fled rapidly away. The playhouse was already full; our friend hastened to dress. It was not with the joy which it had given him when he first essayed it that he now put on the garb of Hamlet: he only dressed himself that he might be in readiness. On joining the women in the stage-room they unanimously cried that nothing s