If it pleases thee to see me at thy feet in deep shame and confusion, then look down upon me now. Thus does the poor shepherd-maiden fare, on whose head the king places a crown; even though her heart be proud to love him, yet the crown is too heavy and her little head staggers under the burden. And besides, she is intoxicated with the honor and the homage which her beloved pays her.
Oh, I shall be careful never to complain again or to pray for fine weather, for I cannot bear the blinding sunbeams! No, rather sigh in silent darkness than be led by thy muse into the brilliant daylight, confused and crowned—that breaks my heart. O, do not gaze on me so long; remove the crown and press me to thy heart! Teach me to forget in thee that thou returnest me, glorified, to myself.
July 7, 1808.
* * * Ah, the rainbow even now setting its diamond foot on the meadow at Ingelheim and reaching over the house to Mount St. John is just like the blissful illusion I have of thee and me! The Rhine, spreading out its net to catch the vision of its banks of paradise, is like this flame of life nourished by reflections of the unattainable. Let it then win nothing more from reality than this illusion; it will give to me the peculiar spirit and the character expressive of my own self, just as the reflection does to the river in which it is mirrored. * * *
July 18, 1808.
* * * Yesterday evening I went up the Rochus mountain alone and wrote thee thus far; then I dreamed a little, and when I came to myself I thought the sun was just going down, but it was the rising moon. I was astonished and should have been afraid, but the stars wouldn't let me—these hundreds of thousands and I together on that night. Who am I, then, that I should be of raid? Am I not numbered with them? I didn't dare descend and, besides, I shouldn't have found a boat to cross in. The nights aren't so very long now, anyway, so I turned over on the other side, said "good night" to the stars and was soon fast asleep. Now and then I was awakened by flitting breezes, and then I thought of thee. As often as I awoke I called thee to me and always said in my heart: "Goethe be with me, that I may not be afraid." Then I dreamed that I was floating along the reedy banks of the Rhine, and where it is deepest between black rocky cliffs the ring thou gavest me slipped off. I saw it sinking deeper and deeper till it reached the bottom. I wanted to call for help, but then I awoke in the radiance of the morning, rejoicing that the ring was still on my finger. Ah, prophet, interpret my dream for me! Anticipate fate, and let no dangers beset our love after this beautiful night when, betwixt fear and joy, in counsel with the stars, I thought of thy future!
* * * No one knows where I was—and, even if they did, could they imagine why I was there? Thou tamest toward me through the whispering forest, enveloped in a soft haze, and when thou wert quite near me my tired senses could not endure it, so strong was the fragrance of the wild thyme. Then I fell asleep—it was so beautiful—all blossoms and fragrance! And the great boundless host of stars and the flickering silver moon that danced near and far upon the stream, the intense stillness of nature in which one hears all that stirs—ah, I feel my soul implanted here in this nocturnal trembling! Future thoughts are blossoming here; these cold dew-pearls that weigh down grass and herbs, from these the spirit grows! Oh, it hastens to blossom for thee, Goethe! It will unfold its gayest colors before thee! It is for love of thee that I wish to think, that I struggle with the inexpressible. Thou lookest upon me in spirit and thy gaze draws thoughts from me, and then I am often compelled to say things I do not understand but only see.
The spirit also has senses. Just as there is much that we only hear, or only see, or only feel, so there are thoughts which the spirit also perceives with only one of these senses. Often I only see what I am thinking; often I only feel it, and when I hear it I experience a shock. I do not know how I come by this knowledge which is not the fruit of my own meditation. I look about me for the author of this opinion and then conclude that it is all created from the fire of love. There is warmth in the spirit; we feel it; the cheeks glow from our thoughts and cold chills come over us, which fan our inspiration into new flame. Yes, dear friend, this morning when I awoke it seemed to me as though I had experienced great things, as though the pledges of my heart had wings and soared over hill and dale into the pure, serene, radiant ether. No vow, no conditions—nothing but appropriate motion, pure striving for the divine. This is my pledge: Freedom from all ties, and that I will have faith only in that spirit which reveals the beautiful and prophesies eternal bliss. * * *
We were on the road five days, and since then it has rained incessantly. The whole house full of guests, and not even a little corner where I could enjoy solitude and write thee!
As long as I have anything to tell thee, I firmly believe that thy spirit is fixed upon me as upon so many enigmas of nature. In fact, I believe that every human being is such an enigma, and that the mission of love between friends is to solve that enigma so that each shall learn to know his deeper nature through and in his friend. Yes, dearest, it makes me happy that my life is gradually developing through thee, and for that reason I do not want to seem what I am not; I should prefer to have all my faults and weaknesses known to thee rather than give thee a false conception of what I am, for then thy love would not concern me but rather an illusion that I had substituted for myself. For that reason, also, a feeling often warns me that I must avoid this or that for love of thee, because I should deny it in thy presence.
From the Rochusberg.
Oh, Goethe, thy letters are so dear to me that I have tied them up in a silk kerchief embroidered with bright flowers and golden ornaments. The last day before our Rhine trip I did not know what to do with them. I did not want to take them along, since we had only one portmanteau between us, and I did not want to leave them in my little room, which I could not lock because it was being used; I thought the boat might sink and I drown—and then these letters, one after the other of which has reposed close to my heart, would fall into strange hands. At first I wanted to leave them with the nuns in Vollratz (they are St. Bernard nuns who were driven from their convent and are now living there), but I changed my mind afterwards. The last time I was up here on the mountain I found a spot. Beneath the confession-chair still standing in the Rochus chapel, in which I'm also in the habit of keeping my writings, I dug a hole and lined it on the inside with shells from the Rhine and beautiful little pebbles that I found on the mountain. I placed the letters in it, wrapped in their silken covering, and before the spot planted a thistle which I had pulled up carefully by the roots together with the earth about them. On the journey I was often worried about them; what a shock it would have been if I had not found them again! My heart stands still at the very thought of it!
August 24, 1808.
* * * It was midnight; the moon rose dim. The ship, whose shadow sailed along beside it, like a monster, upon the illuminated Rhine, cast a dazzling light upon the woody meadow of Ingelheim along which it was moving. The moon appeared behind the meadow, mild and modest, and gradually wrapped itself in a thin cloud of mist as in a veil. Whenever we contemplate nature in calm meditation, it always lays hold of our heartstrings. What could have turned my senses more fervently to God, what could have more easily freed me from the trivial things that oppress me? I am not ashamed to confess to thee that at that moment thy image flamed up impetuously in my soul. It is true: Thy radiance pierces me as the sun pours into the crystal of the grape and, like the sun, thou dost ripen me with ever increasing fire and ever increasing purity. * * *
February 23, 1809.
If thy imagination is supple enough to accompany me into all the recesses of ruined walls, over mountains and chasms, then I shall venture farther and introduce thee to the recesses of my heart.
I beg thee, therefore, to climb up here, still higher, up three flights to my room; sit on the blue stool by the green table opposite me. I merely want to gaze at thee—and, Goethe—does thy imagination still follow me?—then thou must discover the most constant love in my eyes, and must draw me lovingly into thy arms, and say, "Such a faithful child is given me as a reward, as amends, for much! This child is dear to me, 'tis a treasure, a precious jewel that I do not wish to lose." Dost thou understand? And thou must kiss me, for that is what my imagination bestows on thine!
I shall lead thee still farther! Step softly into the chamber of my heart-here we are in the vestibule—utter stillness—no Humboldt—no architect—no barking dog. Thou art not a stranger; go up and knock; it will be alone and call to thee "Come in!" Thou wilt find it on a cool, quiet couch, and a friendly light will greet thee. All will be peace and order, and thou wilt be welcome! What is that? Heavens! See the flames shooting up over him! Whence this conflagration? Who can save here? Poor heart! Poor, suffering heart! What can reason accomplish here? It knows everything better and yet can not help; its arms drop helpless by its side. * * *
Good night, good night until tomorrow! Everything is quiet and all in the house are asleep dreaming of the things they desire when awake; but I alone am awake with thee. Outside, on the street, all is still. I should like to be assured that at this moment no soul besides mine is thinking of thee, that no other heart gives a throb for thee, and that I alone in the wide world am sitting at thy feet, my heart beating with full strokes. And while all are asleep I am awake in order to press thy knee to my breast—and thou?—the world need not know that thou lovest me!
October 23, 1809.
The moon is shining from afar over the mountains and winter clouds drive by in droves. I have been standing at the window awhile and watching the tumult in the heavens. Dear Goethe! Good Goethe! I am all alone; it has taken me out of myself again and up to thee. I must nurse this love between us like a new-born babe. Beautiful butterflies balance themselves on the flowers I have planted about his cradle, golden fables adorn his dreams; I jest and play with him, and employ all my cunning to gain his favor. But thou dost master it without effort by the splendid harmony of thy spirit; with thee there is no need of tender outbursts, of protestations. While I look after each moment of the present, the power of blessing emanates from thee that transcends all reason and all the universe. * * *
Last night I dreamed of thee! What could have been more beautiful? Thou wast serious and very busy and didst ask me not to disturb thee. That made me sad and then thou didst press my hand tenderly to my bosom and didst say, "Be quiet; I know thee and understand all." Then I awoke, and thy ring, which I had pressed to myself in my sleep, had left its imprint on my bosom. I pressed it more firmly against the same spot, since I could not embrace thee. Is there nothing, then, in a dream? To me it is everything, and I will gladly give up the activities of the day if I can be with thee and speak with thee at night. Oh, be thou my happiness in my dreams!
Munich, November 9, 1809.
* * * This is my vow: I will gather flowers for thee and bright garlands shall adorn thy entrance; should thy foot stumble, it will be over the wreaths which I have laid on thy threshold, and shouldst thou dream, it is the balsam of magic blossoms that intoxicates thee—flowers of a strange and distant world where I am at home and not a stranger as in this book where a ravenous tiger devours the delicate image of spiritual love. I do not understand this cruel riddle; I cannot comprehend why they all make themselves unhappy and why they all serve a malicious demon with a thorny sceptre, why Charlotte, who strews incense before him daily, yes, hourly, should prepare misfortune for them all with mathematical precision! Is not love free? Are those two not affinities? Why should she prevent them from living this innocent life with and near each other? They are twins; twined round each other they ripen on to their birth into the light, and she would separate these seedlings because she cannot believe in innocence, which she inoculates with the monstrous sin of prejudice! O what a fatal precaution!
Let me tell you: No one seems to comprehend ideal love; they all believe in sensual love, and consequently they neither experience nor bestow any happiness that springs from that higher emotion or might be fully realized through it. Whatever may fall to my lot, let it be through this ideal love that tears down all barriers to new worlds of art, divination, and poetry. Naturally it can live only in a noble element just as it feels at home only in a lofty mind.
Here thy Mignon occurs to me—how she dances blindfolded between eggs. My love is adroit; you can rely thoroughly on its instinct; it will also dance on blindly, and will make no misstep. * * *
November 29, 1809.
I had written thus far yesterday, when I crept into bed from fear, but I could not succeed yesterday in falling asleep at thy feet, lost in contemplation of thee as I do every evening. I was ashamed that I had chattered so arrogantly, and perhaps all is not as I mean it. Maybe it is jealousy that excites me so and impels me to seek a way to draw thee to me again and make thee forget her.
Well, put me to the test, and, be it as it may, do not forget my love. Forgive me also for sending thee my diary. I wrote it on the Rhine and have spread out before thee my childhood years and shown thee how our mutual affinity drove me on like a rivulet hastening on over crags and rocks, through thorns and mosses, till thou, mighty stream, didst engulf me. Yes, I wanted to keep this book until I should at last be with thee again, so that I might tell by looking into thy eyes in the morning what thou hadst read in it the evening before. But now it torments me to think of thee substituting my diary for Ottilie's, and loving the living one who remains with thee more than the one who has departed from thee.
Do not burn my letters, do not tear them up, for it might give thee pain—so firmly, so absolutely, am I joined to thee. But do not show them to any one; keep them concealed like a secret beauty, for my love is becoming to thee; thou art beautiful because thou feelest thyself loved!
February 29, 1810.
I will confess to thee and honestly acknowledge all my sins—first, those for which thou art partly responsible and which thou too must expiate with me, then those which weigh most heavily on me, and finally those in which I actually rejoice.
First: I tell thee too often that I love thee, yet I know nothing else, no matter how, much I turn it one way or the other; that's all there is.
Secondly: I am jealous of all thy friends, the playmates of thy youth, the sun that shines into thy room, thy servants, and, above all, thy gardener that lays out the asparagus-beds at thy command.
Thirdly: I begrudge thee all pleasure because I am not along. When any one has seen thee and speaks of thy gaiety and charm, it does not please me particularly; but when he says thou wast serious, cool, and reserved, then I am delighted!
Fourthly: I neglect every one for thy sake; nobody is anything to me, and I don't care anything about their love; indeed, if any one praises me, he displeased me. That is jealousy of thee and me, and by no means a proof of a generous heart; it is a sign of a wretched character that withers on one side when it would blossom on the other.
Fifthly: I have a great inclination to despise everybody, especially those that praise thee, and I cannot bear to hear anything good said of thee. Only a few simple persons can I allow to speak of thee, and it need not be praise at that. No, they may even make fun of thee a little, and then, I can tell thee, an unmerciful roguishness comes over me when I can throw off the chains of slavery for a brief spell.
Sixthly: I have a deep resentment in my soul that it is not thee with whom I live under the same roof and with whom I breathe the same air. I am afraid to be near strangers. In church I look for a seat on the beggars' bench, because they are the most neutral; the finer the people, the stronger my aversion. To be touched makes me angry, ill, and unhappy, and so I cannot stand it long in society at dances. I am fond of dancing, could I but dance alone in the open where the breath of strangers would not touch me. What influence would it have on the soul if one could always live near one's friend?—all the more painful the struggle against that which must remain forever estranged, spiritually as well as physically.
Seventhly: When I have to listen to any one reading aloud in company, I sit in a corner and secretly hold my ears shut or, at the first word that comes along, completely lose myself in thoughts. Then, when some one does not understand, I awaken out of another world and presume to supply the explanation, and what the rest consider madness is all reasonable enough to me and consistent with an inner knowledge that I cannot impart. Above all, I cannot bear to hear anything read from thy works, nor can I bear to read them aloud; I must be alone with me and thee.
Vienna, May 28, 1810.
It is Beethoven of whom I want to speak now, and in whom I have forgotten the world and thee. I may not be qualified to judge, but I am not mistaken when I say (what perhaps no one now realizes or believes) that he is far in advance of the culture of all mankind, and I wonder whether we can ever catch up with him! I doubt it. I only hope that he may live until the mighty and sublime enigma that lies in his soul may have reached its highest and ripest perfection. May he reach his highest ideal, for then he will surely leave in our hands the key to a divine knowledge which will bring us one step nearer true bliss!
To thee I may confess that I believe in a divine magic which is the element of spiritual nature, and this magic Beethoven employs in his music. All he can teach thee about it is pure magic; every combination of sounds is a phase of a higher existence, and for this reason Beethoven feels that he is the founder of a new sensuous basis in the spiritual life. Thou wilt probably be able to feel intuitively what I am trying to say, and that it is true. Who could replace this spirit? From whom could we expect anything equivalent to it? All human activity passes to and fro before him like clockwork; he alone creates freely from his inmost self the undreamed of, the untreated. What would intercourse with the outside world profit this man, who is at his sacred work before sunrise and scarcely looks about him before sunset, who forgets bodily nourishment, and who is borne in his flight by the stream of inspiration past the shores of superficial, everyday life. He himself said to me, "Whenever I open my eyes I cannot but sigh, for all I see is counter to my religion and I must despise the world which does not comprehend that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. It is the wine which inspires new creations, and I am the Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for men and intoxicates their spirit! * * * I have no friend and must ever be alone, but I know that God is nearer to me in my art than to others, and I commune with him without fear; I have always recognized Him and understood Him. Nor have I any fears for my music; it can meet no evil fate, for he to whom it makes itself intelligible will be freed from all misery with which others are burdened."
All this Beethoven said to me the first time I saw him, and I was penetrated with a feeling of reverence when he expressed himself to me with such friendly candor, since I must have seemed very unimportant to him. Besides, I was astonished, for I had been told that he was exceedingly reticent and avoided conversation with any one; in fact, they were afraid to introduce me to him, so I had to look him up alone. He has three dwellings in which he alternately conceals himself—one in the country, one in the city, and the third on the bastion, in the third story of which I found him. I entered unannounced and mentioned my name. He was seated at the piano and was quite amiable. He inquired whether I did not wish to hear a song that he had just composed. Then he sang, in a shrill and piercing voice, so that the plaintiveness reacted upon the listener, "Knowest thou the land?" "It is beautiful, isn't it, very beautiful!" he cried, enraptured; "I'll sing it again;" and was delighted at my ready applause. "Most people are stirred by something good, but they are not artistic natures; artists are fiery—they do not weep." Then he sang one of thy songs that he had composed lately, "Dry not, Tears of Eternal Love."
Yesterday I went for a walk with him through a beautiful garden at Schoenbrunn that was in full blossom; all the hothouses were open and the fragrance was overpowering. Beethoven stopped in the burning sun and said, "Goethe's poems exercise a great power over me, not alone through their content, but also through their rhythm, and I am incited and moved to compose by his language, which is built up as if by the aid of spirits into a sublime structure that bears within it the mystery of harmonies. Then from the focus of my inspiration I must let the melody stream forth in every direction; I pursue it, passionately overtake it again, see it escaping me a second time and disappearing in a host of varying emotions; soon I seize it with renewed ardor; I can no longer separate myself from it, but with impetuous rapture I must reproduce it in all modulations, and, in the final moment, I triumph over the musical idea—and that, you see, is a symphony! Yes, music is truly the mediator between the spiritual and the sensuous world. I should like to discuss this with Goethe; I wonder whether he would understand me! Melody is the sensuous life of poetry. Does not the spiritual content of a poem become sensuous feeling through melody? Do we not in the song of Mignon feel her whole sensuous mood through melody, and does not this sensation incite one in turn to new creations? Then the spirit longs to expand to boundless universality where everything together forms a channel for the feelings that spring from the simple musical thought and that otherwise would die away unnoted. This is harmony; this is expressed in my symphonies; the blending of manifold forms rolls on to the goal in a single channel. At such moments one feels that something eternal, infinite, something that can never be wholly comprehended, lies in all things spiritual; and although I always have the feeling of success in my compositions, yet with the last stroke of the drum with which I have driven home my own enjoyment, my musical conviction, to my hearers, I feel an eternal hunger to begin anew, like a child, what a moment before seemed to me to have been exhausted.
"Speak to Goethe of me; and tell him to hear my symphonies. Then he will agree with me that music is the sole incorporeal entrance into a higher world of knowledge which, to be sure, embraces man, but which he, on the other hand, can never embrace. Rhythm of the spirit is necessary to comprehend music in its essence; music imparts presentiments, inspirations of divine science, and what the spirit experiences of the sensuous in it is the embodiment of spiritual knowledge. Although the spirits live upon music as man lives upon air, it is a very different matter to comprehend it with the spirit. But the more the soul draws its sensuous nourishment from it, the riper the spirit becomes for a happy mutual understanding.
"But few ever attain this understanding, for just as thousands marry for love and yet love is never once revealed to them, although they all pursue the trade of love, so do thousands hold communion with music and yet do not possess its revelation. For music also has as its foundation the sublime tokens of the moral sense, just as every art does; every genuine invention indicates moral progress. To subject oneself to its inscrutable laws, to curb and guide one's spirit by means of these laws, so that it will pour forth the revelations of music—this is the isolating principle of art. To be dissolved by its revelation—that is the surrender to the divine, which quietly exercises its mastery over the delirium of unbridled forces and thus imparts the greatest efficacy to the imagination. Thus art always represents divinity, and the human relationship to art constitutes religion. Whatever we acquire through art comes from God; it is a divine inspiration, which sets up an attainable goal for human capacities.
"We do not know whence our knowledge comes; the firmly inclosed seed requires the warm, moist, electric soil to sprout, to think, to express itself. Music is the electric soil in which the soul lives, thinks, invents. Philosophy is a precipitation of its electric spirit, and the need that philosophy feels of basing everything on an ultimate principle is in turn relieved by music. Although the spirit is not master of what it creates through the mediation of music, yet it experiences ecstasy in this creation. In this way every genuine creation of art is independent, mightier than the artist himself, and through its expression it returns to its divine source; it is concerned with man only insomuch as it bears witness to divine mediation in him.
"Music gives the spirit its relation to harmony. A thought, even when isolated, still senses the totality of relationship in the spirit; thus every thought in music is most intimately and inseparably related to the totality of harmony, which is unity. Everything electric stimulates the spirit to fluent, precipitous, musical creation. I myself am of an electrical nature." * * *
He took me to a grand rehearsal with full orchestra, and I sat back in a box all alone in the large, unlighted hall, and saw this mighty spirit wield his authority. Oh, Goethe I No emperor, no king, is so conscious of his power, so conscious that all power radiates from him, as this same Beethoven is, who only now in the garden was searching for the source of his inspiration. If I understood him as I feel him, I should be omniscient. There he stood, so firmly resolved, his gestures and features expressing the perfection of his creation, anticipating every error, every misconception; every breath obeyed his will, and everything was set into the most rational activity by the superb presence of his spirit. One might well prophesy that such a spirit will reappear in a later reincarnation as ruler of the universe!
November 4, 1810.
Dost thou want me to tell thee of bygone days, how, when thy spirit was revealed to me, I gained control over my own spirit in order the more perfectly to embrace and love thine? And why should I not become dizzy with ecstasy? Is the prospect of a fall so fearful after all? Just as the precious jewel, touched by a single ray of light, reflects a thousand colors, so also thy beauty, illumined only by the ray of my enthusiasm, will be enriched a thousandfold.
It is only when everything is comprehended that the Something can prove its full worth, and so thou wilt understand when I tell thee that the bed in which thy mother brought thee into the world had blue checkered hangings. She was eighteen years old at the time, and had been married a year. In this connection she remarked that thou wouldst remain forever young and that thy heart would never grow old, since thou hadst received thy mother's youth into the bargain. Thou didst ponder the matter for three days before thou didst decide to come into the world, and thy mother was in great pain. Angry that necessity had driven thee from thy nature-abode and because of the bungling of the nurse, thou didst arrive quite black and with no signs of life. They laid thee in a so-called butcher's tray and bathed thee in wine, quite despairing of thy life. Thy grandmother stood behind the bed, and when thou didst open thine eyes she cried out, "Frau Rat, he lives!" "Then my maternal heart awoke and it has lived in unceasing enthusiasm to this very hour," said thy mother to me in her seventy-fifth year. Thy grandfather, one of the most honored citizens of Frankfurt and at that time syndic, always applied good as well as bad fortune to the welfare of the city, and so thy difficult birth resulted in an accoucher being appointed for the poor. "Even in his cradle he was a blessing to mankind," said thy mother. She gave thee her breast but thou couldst not be induced to take nourishment, and so a nurse was procured for thee. "Since he drank from her with such appetite and comfort and we discovered that I had no milk," she said, "we soon noticed that he was wiser than all of us when he wouldn't take nourishment from me."
Now that thou art born at last I can pause a little; now that thou art in the world, each moment is dear enough to me to linger over it, and I have no desire to call up the second moment, since it will drive me away from the first. "Where'er thou art are love and goodness, where'er thou art is nature too." Now I shall wait till thou writest me again, "Pray go on with thy story." Then I shall first ask, "Well, where did we leave off?" and then I shall tell thee of thy grandparents, thy dreams, thy beauty, pride, love, etc. Amen.
"Frau Rat, he lives!" These words always thrilled me through and through whenever thy mother uttered them in exultant tones. Of thy birth we may well say:
The sword that threatens danger Hangs often by a thread; But the blessing of eternity On us one gracious glance may shed.
Extract from a letter written in 1822, ten years after the breach in their relations.
To give perfect expression to thee would probably be the most powerful seal of my love, indeed, being a creation of divine nature, it would prove my affinity to thee. It would be an enigma solved, like unto a long restrained mountain torrent which at last penetrates to the light, enduring the tremendous fall in voluptuous rapture, at a moment of life through which and after which a higher existence begins.
Thou destroyer, who hast taken my free will from me; thou creator, who hast produced within me the sensation of awakening, who hast convulsed me with a thousand electric sparks from the realm of sacred nature! Through thee I learned to love the curling of the tender vine, and the tears of my longing have fallen on its frost-kissed fruits; for thy sake I have kissed the young grass, for thy sake offered my open bosom to the dew; for thy sake I have listened intently when the butterfly and the bee swarmed about me, for I wanted to feel thee in the sacred sphere of thy enjoyments. Oh, thou; toy in disguise with thy beloved—could I help, after I had divined thy secret, becoming intoxicated with love for thee?
Canst thou divine the thrills that shook me when the trees poured down their fragrance and their blossoms upon me? For I thought and felt and firmly believed that it was thy caressing of nature, thy enjoyment of her beauty, that it was her yearning, her surrender to thee, that loosened these blossoms from their trembling boughs and sent them gently whirling into my lap.
IMMERMANN AND HIS DRAMA "MERLIN"
BY MARTIN SCHUeTZE, PH.D. Associate Professor of German Literature, University of Chicago
Karl Lebrecht Immermann was born in Magdeburg, in April, 1796. His father, who held a good position in the Civil Service, was a very severe and domineering man; his mother, imaginative and over-indulgent. Karl's childhood and early youth were uneventful. After passing through the regular course of preparatory education in a "Gymnasium," he entered, in 1813, the University of Halle. During his first year there, Germany rose up to throw off the yoke of Napoleon, and the King of Prussia issued a proclamation calling the nation to arms, to which the people responded with unprecedented unanimity and enthusiasm. Schoolboys and bearded men, laborers and professional men, merchants and soldiers, united in one patriotic purpose. The regular army was everywhere supplemented by volunteer organizations. An epoch began which in its enthusiasm, its idealism, the force and richness of its inspiration, and its overwhelming impetus deserved, more than any other in modern history, its title: "The Spring of Nations."
Immermann's sensitive and responsive nature thrilled with the general impulse, and he asked his father to let him join the army, but was told, peremptorily, not to interrupt the first year of his studies. He submitted, and plunged into the study of the literature of the Romanticists, which, in its remoteness from actuality, offered distraction from his disappointment. During this time he fell ill of typhoid fever, from which he did not fully recover until the campaign had victoriously ended in the battle of Leipzig. He joined, however, after Napoleon's escape from Elba, the second campaign, in which he took part in two battles. At the end of the war, having retired as an officer of the reserves, he returned to Halle to finish his study of the law.
He found a new spirit dominant among the students. This spirit, characterized by a strongly democratic desire for national unity, pride of race, and impatience with external and conventional restraints, had a rich network of roots in the immediate past: in the individualism and the humanism of the Storm and Stress Movement and the Classic Era of the eighteenth century; in the subjective idealism of the Romantic school; in the nationalism of Klopstock, Herder, Schiller, and Fichte, and in the self-reliant transcendentalism of Kant's philosophy and Schleiermacher's theology. This spirit had received its political direction principally through the genius of the Baron von Stein, the Prussian statesman, whose aim was the restoration of German national unity. He believed that the political unity of Germany must rest on the soundness of the common people, rather than on the pretensions of the aristocracy whose corruption he held responsible for the decadence of the nation. Following the example of Frederick the Great, he tried to foster the simple virtues of the common man. He was, however, opposed to radicalism, seeing permanent progress only in order, self-discipline, and moderation. His leading idea, which was shared by such men as Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Niebuhr, and others, was that the principal task of the time was to arouse the whole nation to independent political thinking and activity, in order to develop self-confidence, courage, and devotion to a great unselfish ideal. These ideas became a national ideal, an active passion, under the pressure and stress of the Napoleonic usurpation and in the heat and fervor of war and victory.
It was unavoidable that this spirit produced among the younger men, and especially among the university students, traditionally unaccustomed to patience with restraints, many excesses, absurdities and follies. An extreme and tyrannical nativism, a tasteless archaism in dress, manner, and speech, an intolerant and aggressive democratic propaganda offended and bullied the more conservative. This spirit spread particularly through the agencies of the student fraternities called "Burschenschaften," and the athletic associations, the "Turners," advocated and fostered by Jahn.
Immermann became the mouthpiece of the conservatives among the students, and he went so far as to publish some pamphlets denouncing specific acts of violence of the leading radical fraternity, the "Teutonia." When the university authorities, who to a considerable extent sympathized with the radicals, neglected to act, Immermann addressed a complaint to the King. This move resulted in the dissolution of the accused fraternity and in governmental hostility to all fraternities, and brought the hatred and contempt of the radicals on Immermann.
Immermann acted undoubtedly from sincere motives, yet deserved much of the condemnation he suffered. He had not sufficient vision to penetrate through the objectionable and tasteless externalities of the liberal movement—with which he was unfairly preoccupied even at the time of Die Epigonen, a score of years later—to the greater and enduring core of the aspirations of the modern age. The petty things were too near to his eye and obscured the greater things which were further removed. He thought he upheld a higher principle of morality by applying the principles of von Stein to a new situation; but be failed to see the new, larger morality imbedded in much confusion. History has reversed his judgment.
After completing his studies he received a government appointment in the provincial capital of Westphalia, Muenster. Here, in this conservative old town, began one of the most extraordinary relations between man and woman in modern German literary history. Immermann fell in love with Countess Elisa von Luetzow-Ahlefeldt, wife of the famous old commander of volunteers, Brigadier-General von Luetzow. Elisa, an extremely gifted and spirited woman, had formed a circle of interesting people, in which her husband, a dashing soldier but a man of uninteresting mentality, played a very subordinate part. Immermann and Elisa struggled along against the tyranny of the affinity that drew them together. Immermann wrote a number of dramas, highly romantic, in which the passion and strife within him found varied expression. The play which made him known beyond his immediate circle, was Cardenio and Celinde, the conflict of which was suggested by his own.
Elisa was finally divorced from Luetzow. Immermann was appointed a judge in Magdeburg, and later in Duesseldorf. He asked Elisa to marry him. She refused, but offered to live with him in free companionship. They joined their lives, pledging themselves not to enter other relations. They remained together until 1839, less than a year before Immermann's death, when he married a young girl of nineteen. Elisa left his house in sorrow and bitterness. Immermann characterized his relation to her thus in a letter to his fiancee, in 1839: "I loved the countess deeply and purely when I was kindled by her flame. But she took such a strange position toward me that I never could have a pure, genuine, enduring joy in this love. There were delights, but no quiet gladness. I always felt as if a splendid comet had appeared on the horizon, but never as if the dear warm God's sun had risen."
His life with Elisa in Duesseldorf was rich in friends and works. The sculptor Schadow, the founder of the art school there, the dramatists von Uechtritz and Michael Beer, brother of Meyerbeer, were among his friends. He had intimate relations with Mendelssohn during the years of the latter's stay in Duesseldorf. He tried to assist Grabbe, the erratic and unfortunate dramatist. During three years he was manager of the Duesseldorf theatre, trying many valuable and idealistic experiments. He died August 25, 1840.
The most important of his works are Das Trauerspiel in Tirol, 1826, treating of the tragic story of Andreas Hofer; Kaiser Friedrich II., 1827, a drama of the Hohenstaufen; the comic heroic epic, Tulifaentchen, 1830, a satiric version of an heroic Tom Thumb; Alexis, 1832, a trilogy setting forth the destruction of the reforms begun by Peter the Great; Merlin, 1832; and his two novels, Die Epigonen, 1836, and Muenchhausen, 1838-9.
In Die Epigonen, one of the long list of representatives of the species of novels which began with Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, Immermann tried to present the development of a young man and a picture of the principal social forces of his period. But he was too imitative in following his great model, and too much confused by subjective preoccupations, to comprehend and to state clearly the substance of the matter.
Only two of his works have enduring value, his mystical tragedy Merlin, and the part of Muenchhausen called "Der Oberhof" (The Upper Farm), which deals with the lives and types of the small freehold farmers. Immermann, following Baron von Stein, believed that the health and future of society, endangered by the corrupt and dissipated nobility, rested, on the sturdy, self-reliant, individualistic yet severely moral and patriotic, small peasant. In the main character of the story, the rugged, proud, inflexibly honorable old farmer, who has inherited the sword of Charles the Great, he has drawn one of the most living characters in early modern German fiction. The other figures, too, are full of life and reality. The story has, aside from its importance in the history of the German novel, an enduring value of its own.
Immermann, in spite of his unremitting endeavor, failed to attain literary or moral greatness. He lacked the fundamental and organic unity of great natures. He had more qualities of mind than most of his important contemporaries, but in not one of these qualities did he attain to the degree which assures distinction. In his Merlin he treated a conflict which was fundamentally similar to that of Grillparzer's Libussa. Yet Grillparzer, much more one-sided than he, possessed the true Romantic-mystic quality, whereas Immermann had to elaborate his symbolism with the patchwork of careful, allegoric analysis. He had a richer contact with social forces than Heine, yet his realizations of them were awkward and meagre, his humor wooden, his imagery derived. He had much greater intellectual force than Platen, yet he lacked the incisive and controlled critical sense of the latter. Having no one faculty to a distinguished degree, he constantly had to substitute the strained labor of one faculty for the spontaneous production of another. Predominantly rationalistic, he labored at the symbolistic vision of Romanticism; preeminently a man of prose, he endeavored all his life to be a great poet. He mistook the responsive excitement produced by the ideas and visions of others for authentic inspiration, the vivacity of a sociable and conversational gift for the creative force of genius, and the immobility of obvious and established conventional judgments for an extraordinary soundness and incisiveness of fundamental analysis.
There was in him, as he himself once said, a certain "aftertaste of a worthy philistinism." The dominant bent of his mind was toward the immediate actualities, and this bent in the end, as in his antagonism against the radical students in Halle, always overcame his endeavor to grasp the more remote realities of a larger vision.
The purposes of his literary works, like the beginning and purpose of his intimacy with Elisa, are always large, comprehensive, and idealistic, but they always, even in his most important work, Merlin, dwindle to petty details of actuality. His significance for the present age does not so much rest on his objective achievement, as on some of his qualities which prevented achievement. He was perhaps the most considerable representative of the literary "Epigones" intervening between the esthetic individualistic humanism of the eighteenth, and the economic-cooeperative humanism of the nineteenth century. He, more fully perhaps than any of his contemporaries, represented the peculiar border-type of literary personality which is both compounded and torn asunder by all the principal conflicting forces of a period of historic transition. He was a victim of the manifold division of impulses, the ill-related patchwork of impressions, and the disconcerting refractions of vision, which characterized his contemporaries. It is in the fact that he united in himself the principal factors which made up the complexion of his age, to an extraordinary degree, that he has his strongest claim upon the sympathetic and studious interest of the modern age.
MERLIN: A MYTH
The principal dramatic agencies in Merlin are Satan, Klingsor, Titurel, King Artus and his Round Table, Niniana, and Merlin. In them, Immermann tried to embody the dominant moral and intellectual tendencies, as he saw them in history and his own times. Satan, the demiurgos, is to him no theological devil, but a princely character, the "Lord of Necessity," the non-moral, irresistible, cosmic force of physical creation. He demands, expressing the faith of Young-Germany:
"O! naked bodies, insolent art, O! wrath of heroes, and heroic voice!"
The pride of life in him and in Lucifer, who personifies the creative fire, is aroused against the narrow asceticism of orthodox Christianity, embodied in the wan and feeble Titurel. Satan decides to imitate the Lord of Christianity, by begetting upon a virgin, Candida, a son who is to save the world from the sterility of asceticism. Candida is briefly introduced, acknowledging the power of the mighty spirit and bewailing her fate in one of the finest passages in the play. Merlin is born, combining the supernatural creative powers of his father with the tenderness and sympathy of his mother. His purpose is to reconcile the true principles of primitive Christianity with the natural impulses of life. Merlin thus is opposed to his father as well as to Titurel and his dull and narrow "guild" who keep the true spirit of humanity captive. He is both anti-Satan and anti-Christ.
He next comes into conflict with the third fundamental force, Klingsor. The latter is really only a variant of Satan and, while interesting, is somewhat less fundamental, being more a philosophic and literary, than an active, antagonist. His symbol is the circled serpent, the embodiment of permanence within the changing world of actuality. He represents the nature-philosophy of Romanticism and especially of Schelling, a philosophy so vast and unsubstantial that all values of conduct and all incentives to action disappeared in its featureless abyss. Immermann intensely disliked it. He was, as he said, a lover of men; the worship of nature drained and exhausted the sympathies, the wills and the spirits of men. The passages in which Klingsor himself, in his moments of despair, and Merlin expose the emptiness of this philosophy, are among the best philosophic statements of the play. They are, how ever, too exhaustive. But they are good philosophy, if they are bad drama and poetry. Klingsor says of the "nature book"
"It asserts: all is vain; nought but stale mediocrity—while we are shaken from, shell to core by the breath of the times." He is worshipped by the dwarfs because he has opened the mysteries of inanimate nature, and he commands the spirits of classical life represented by Antinous, and the pagan' gods and demi-gods, the personifications of the naive impulses of nature. But he realizes that his wisdom, while it makes dwarfs happy, is inadequate for human beings.
The teaching of Merlin is essentially the humanism of the moderate liberalism of Baron von Stein and his followers. Klingsor, voicing the sentiments of Romantic aristocratism, accuses him:
"You tell the mob: Be your own Savior; seek inspiration in your own work. The people like to be told of their majesty. Keep on bravely lying, sweetly flattering, and the prophet is complete."
"You describe yourself, not me. Men have a deep sense of truth, and pay in false coin only him that offers them false gifts." He then continues, lashing the transcendent egotism of the Romantic conception of man in the universe: "To you the earth, the ocean, the firmament, are nothing but a ladder for your own elevation, and you must absolutely reject the thing called humility. In order to maintain yourself strong and whole you have to find men weak and only partial beings," etc. Later, in lines 1637ff., he proceeds, in what are probably the finest and richest passages in the work, to state his own purpose of combining all that is great, true, beautiful, human, and noble, into one comprehensive and rational faith of humanity.
Merlin tries to teach his faith to King Artus and his circle, who embody the frivolous, irresponsible, though refined, conduct of the nobility, essentially the same nobility whom von Stein accused of injuring the nation and Immermann satirized and exposed in Muenchhausen. They decide to seek salvation in the primitive idealism of India, appointing Merlin their guide. Merlin, however, succumbs to the silly Niniana, the personification of wanton desire. She makes him tell her a fated word, after promising not to repeat it. She thoughtlessly repeats it. He now loses his superhuman power, i. e., the power of absolute spiritual integrity, and becomes subject to the limitations of earth, like a common man. He can no longer lead Artus and his court, who perish of their own spiritual vacuity.
The end of the play is unsatisfactory. The hero's surrender to the lust of the flesh, undoubtedly suggested by Goethe's Faust and consistent in Goethe's poem, is foreign to the conflict of this play, which, not being human, as is that of Faust, but an abstract antagonism of general historic principles, should have been solved without the interference of the mere creature weaknesses of the hero and the mere creature sympathies of the reader. Immermann planned to untie the knot in a second part, which was to treat of the salvation of Merlin; but he never carried his purpose beyond a few slight introductory passages.
BY ALLEN WILSON PORTERFIELD, PH.D. Instructor in German, Columbia University
Immermann first thought of writing a new Muenchhausen in 1821, the year of his satirical comedy, The Princes of Syracuse, which contains the embryonic idea of this "history in arabesques." Conscientious performance of his duties as a judge and incessant activity as a writer along other lines forced the idea into the background until 1830, the year of his satirical epic, Tulifaentchen, in which the theme again received attention. In 1835 he finished Die Epigonen, a novel portraying the social and political conditions in Germany from 1815 to 1830, and in 1837 he began systematic work on Muenchhausen, continuing, from a different point of view and in a different mood, his delineation of the civic and intellectual status of Germany of his own time. The last part of the entire work was published in 1839, having occupied, intermittently, eighteen of his twenty years of literary productivity. The first edition was exhausted one year after publication, a second appeared in 1841, a third in 1854, and since 1857 there have been many of all kinds, ranging from the popular "Reclam" to critical editions with all the helps and devices known to modern scholarship.
In so far as the just appreciation of a literary production is dependent upon a study of its genesis, the reading of Die Epigonen is necessary to a complete understanding of Muenchhausen, for through these two works runs a strong thread of unbroken development. Hermann, the immature hero of the former, and his associates, bequeath a number of characteristics to the title-hero and his associates of the latter; but where the earlier work is predominantly sarcastic, political, and pessimistic, the later one is humorous, intellectual, and optimistic. It would seem, therefore, that, in view of its bright outlook, mature view, and sympathetic treatment, Immermann's greatest epic in prose was destined to be read in its entirety, frequently, and with pleasure.
This is, however, not the case. Starting from a long line of models, Sterne's Tristram Shandy among others, Muenchhausen resembles the diffusive works of similar title by Raspe (1785) and Buerger (1787). It takes its name from Hieronymus Karl Friedrich, Baron of Muenchhausen (1720-1797), and satirizes many of the whimsicalities of Herman Ludwig Heinrich, Prince of Pueckler-Muskau (1785-1871). And it flagellates again and again such bizarre literary and intellectual phenomena of the time as Raupach's Hohenstaufen dramas, Goerres' mysticism, Menzel's calumniations, Eduard Gans' liberalism, Bettina's pretensions, Young Germany's reaction, even the Indian studies of the Schlegels and Alexander von Humboldt's substantial scholarship, so that, for the general reader, the larger part of the work is a sealed book. Its references are obscure, its satire abstruse, its humor vague. Even Ferdinand Freiligrath, Immermann's contemporary and friend, declined, on the ground of lack of familiarity with the allusions, to write a commentary to it.
According to Immermann's own statement, he began Muenchhausen without a shimmer of an idea as to how he would finish it; but he finished it, having in the meantime gone through a complete inner transformation, in a way that surprised even himself and greatly pleased his readers. We have here, consequently, a novel which, though written as a whole, falls naturally into two parts, the one negative and satirical, the other positive and human. And odd indeed is the situation in the negative part.
As in Die Epigonen, the scene is laid in Westphalia. The impoverished Baron Schnuck-Puckelig-Erbsenscheucher, a faithful representative of the narrow-minded and prejudiced nobility, lives with his prudish, sentimental daughter, Emerentia, in the dilapidated castle, Schnick Schnack-Schnurr. Their sole companion is the daft school-teacher, Agesel, who, having lost, from too much study of phonetics, the major part of his never gigantic mind, imagines that he is a direct descendant of the Spartan King Agesilaus. With these occupants and no more, the castle resembles a harmless home for the insane. But one day Muenchhausen, the prince of liars and chief of swindlers, accompanied by his servant, Karl Buttervogel, the Sancho Panza of the story, comes to the castle. His presence enlivens; his interminable stories, through which Immermann satirizes the tendencies of the time, delight at first, then tire, then become intolerable. To maintain his influence, he suggests to the old Baron the establishment of a stock company for the selling of compressed air, assuring this gullible old soul that hereby his fortunes can be retrieved and his appointment as Privy Councilor can be realized. The Baron, though pleased, enters into the proposition with caution. But Muenchhausen, unable to execute his scheme, finds himself in an embarrassing dilemma from which he disentangles himself by mysteriously disappearing and never again coming to light. Emerentia has in the meantime fallen in love with Karl Buttervogel, whom she erroneously looks upon as a Prince in disguise. At the prospect of so humble a son-in-law, the Baron becomes frantic, violently removes Buttervogel from the castle, which, as a result of the Baron's ravings, falls to the ground with a crash and a roar—a catastrophe which reminds one of Poe's Fall of the House of Usher—and the Baron and Agesel are restored to their senses.
The chief trouble with this fantastic story is that it lacks artistic measure and objective plausibility. Immermann, omnivorous reader that he was, wrote this part of his book, not from life, but from other books. And even granting that he carried out his plan with a reasonable degree of cleverness, the average reader is not sufficiently acquainted with Kerner and Platen and their long line of queer contemporaries to see the point, so he skips over this part of the work and turns at once to Der Oberhof.
It is needless to state that Immermann never wrote a work with such a title. Editors and publishers have simply followed the lead of readers and brought out separately the best parts of the complete novel under the heading of the third chapter of the second book. There is not even final agreement as to how much of the original work should be included in order to make a well-rounded story. The editions, of which there are many, vary in size from seventy-five to three hundred and seventy-five octavo pages. The best arrangement is that which includes the second, fifth, seventh and eighth books.
Here again we meet with three leading characters—the very honest and reliable Hofschulze, the owner of the "Upper Farm," in whom are personified and glorified the best traditions of Westphalia; Lisbeth, the daughter of Muenchhausen and Emerentia, the connecting link between romantic and realistic Germany; and Oswald, the Suabian Count disguised as a hunter, a thoroughly good fellow. But this by no means exhausts the list of pleasing personalities. The good Deacon, who had lost interest in life and faith in men while tutoring a young Swedish Count, and who was made over by his new work among the solid middle class of Westphalia, is a character of real charm; his ideals are humanitarian in the best sense, his wisdom is sound, his help generous. Jochem, Oswald's servant, is the incarnation of fidelity; the old Captain, who finds himself today in a French and tomorrow in a Prussian mood, is instructive at least, for such dualistic patriotism was not unknown at the time; the Collector follows his vocation with inspiring avidity, the Sexton is droll without knowing it, and each of the Hofschulze's servants has something about him that separates him from his confederates even though he be nameless. There are no supernumeraries among the characters.
By reason of her common sense and energy, Lisbeth had for some time kept the old Baron's head above water. One of her duties was to collect taxes, a business which frequently brought her to the "Upper Farm," where she was always sure of a kind reception. Oswald, too, came to the Farm one day to settle an affair of honor with Muenchhausen. Instead of finding him, however, he meets Lisbeth, and here the love story begins.
While waiting at the Farm for Jochem to find Muenchhausen, Oswald agrees to recompense the Hofschulze for his hospitality by keeping the wild deer away from the grain fields. His duties are nominal; he exchanges views with the men of the Farm, corresponds with his friends in Suabia, wanders over the fields and occasionally shoots at some game without ever hitting. His room must have been occupied before his arrival by a beautiful girl, for in it he finds a tidy hood and kerchief that betray the charms of their wearer, and he dreams of her at night. And one day, while wandering through the woods, he catches sight of a lovely girl looking into the calyx of a wonderful forest flower. He is on the point of going up to her when her very charm holds him back, and that night he dreams again of his beautiful predecessor in the Hofschulze's corner room.
And then, while wandering again through the pathless woods, he shoots at a roe but hits Lisbeth, the girl of his dreams. The wound is, however, slight, and by the time it has healed their love has become perfect, so that, immediately after the wedding of the Hofschulze's daughter, for whom Lisbeth had been a bridesmaid, and before the same altar at which the ceremony had just been performed, the good Deacon pronounces the blessing upon the newly betrothed pair.
With the Deacon's official act over, imaginary troubles cease and real ones begin. Oswald, grieved beyond expression to learn that Lisbeth is the daughter of Muenchhausen and Emerentia, is on the point of leaving the Farm immediately and Lisbeth forever; Lisbeth, having thought all the time that her lover was a plain hunter, is in complete despair when told that he is a real Count; the Hofschulze does not take kindly to the idea of their marriage, for Oswald has not always revered Westphalian traditions, the secret tribunal, for example, as he should have done; Oswald's friends in Suabia object to his marrying a foundling, and advise him to come home and straighten out a love affair he has there before entering into a new and foreign one; the doctor is not even certain that the wedding is hygienically wise. But love dispels all fears and doubts, and the good Deacon makes Oswald and Lisbeth man and wife.
Immermann's lifelong attempts at the studied poetizations of traditional, aristocratic, high-flown themes brought him but scant recognition even in his day, and they have since been well-nigh forgotten. But when, one year before his death, he wrote an unpretentious love story taken from the life of simple people whom he met on his daily walks, he thereby assured himself of immortality. Few works prove more convincingly than Der Oberhof that great literature is neither more nor less than an artistic visualization and faithful reflection of life. The reading of this unassuming "village story," the first of its kind in German literature, warms the heart and stirs the springs of living fancy, simply because it relates in terse and direct language a series of incidents in the lives of very possible and very real human beings.
* * * * *
KARL LEBRECHT IMMERMANN
THE OBERHOF (1839) TRANSLATED BY PAUL BERNARD THOMAS
THE JUSTICE OF THE ESTATE
With the sleeves of his shirt rolled up the old Justice of the estate was standing in the yard between the barns and the farm buildings and gazing attentively into a fire which he had kindled on the ground between stones and logs, and which was now crackling merrily. He straightened around a small anvil which was standing beside it, laid down a hammer and a pair of tongs so as to have them ready to grasp, tested the points of some large wheel-nails which he drew forth from the breast-pocket of a leather apron he had tied around him, put the nails down in the bottom of the rack-wagon, the wheel of which he was about to repair, carefully turned the rim around until the place where the tire was broken was on top, and then made the wheel fast by putting stones under it.
After he had again looked into the fire for a few moments, but not long enough to cause his bright, sharp eyes to blink, he quickly thrust the tongs into it, lifted out the red-hot piece of iron, laid it on the anvil, pounded it with the hammer so that the sparks flew in all directions, clapped the still glowing piece of iron down on the broken place in the tire, hammered and welded it fast with two heavy blows, and then drove the nails into their places, which was easily done, as the iron was still soft and pliable.
A few very sharp and powerful blows gave the inserted piece its finishing touch. The Justice kicked away the stones with which he had made the wheel fast, seized the wagon by its tongue in order to test the mended tire, and in spite of its weight hauled it without exertion diagonally across the yard, so that the hens, geese and ducks, which had been quietly sunning themselves, flew, with loud cries, before the rattling vehicle, and a couple of pigs jumped up, grunting, from their mud-holes.
Two men, the one a horse-dealer, the other a tax-collector or receiver, who were sitting at a table beneath the large linden in front of the house and imbibing their drink, had been watching the work of the robust old man.
"It must be true!" one of them, the horse-dealer, called out. "You would have made an excellent blacksmith, Judge!"
The Justice washed his hands and face in a pail of water which was standing beside the anvil, poured the water into the fire to extinguish it, and said:
"He is a fool who gives to the blacksmith what he can earn himself!"
He picked up the anvil as if it were a feather, and carried it, along with the hammer and tongs, under a little shed which stood between the house and the barn, and in which there were standing, or hanging, a work-bench, saws, chisels, and whatever other tools pertain to the carpenter's or joiner's trade, as well as a quantity of wood and boards of many kinds.
While the old man was still busying himself under the shed, the horse-dealer said to the receiver:
"Would you believe it that he also repairs with his own hands all the posts, doors, thresholds, boxes, and cases in the house, or if luck favors him makes new ones himself? I believe that he could be an expert joiner, if he wanted to, and put together a first-class cabinet."
"You are wrong there," said the Justice, who had overheard the latter remark and who, having taken off his leather apron, now emerged from the shed in a smock-frock of white linen and sat down at the table with the two men.
A maid brought a glass to him also, and, after drinking the health of his guests, he continued: "To make a post or a door or a threshold, all you need is a pair of sound eyes and a steady hand, but a cabinet-maker has to have more than that. I once allowed my conceit to deceive me into thinking that I could put together, as you call it, a first-class cabinet, because I had handled plane and chisel and T-square more or less doing carpenter's work. I measured and marked and squared off the wood and had everything fitted down to the inch. Yes, but now when it came to the joining and gluing together, everything was all wrong; the sides were warped and wouldn't come together, the lid in front was too large, and the drawers too small for the openings. You can still see the contraption; I let it stand on the sill to guard me from future temptation. For it always does a man good to have a reminder of his weakness constantly before his eyes."
At this moment a loud neigh was heard from the stable across the yard. The horse-dealer cleared his throat, spat, struck a light for his pipe, blew a dense cloud of smoke into the receiver's face, and looked first longingly toward the stable, and then thoughtfully down at the ground. Then he spat once more, removed the varnished hat from his head, wiped his brow with his sleeve, and said: "Still this sultry weather!" Thereupon he unbuckled his leather money-pouch from his body, threw it down on the table with a bang, so that its contents rattled and jingled, untied the strings, and counted out twenty bright gold pieces, the sight of which caused the receiver's eyes to sparkle, while the old Justice did not even look at them.
"Here is the money!" cried the horse-dealer, bringing his clenched fist down on the table with a thump. "Do I get the brown mare for it? God knows, she's not worth a penny more!"
"Then keep your money, so that you won't suffer any loss!" replied the Justice cold-bloodedly. "Twenty-six is my price, as I have already said, and not a farthing less! You've known me a good many years, Mr. Marx, and you ought to realize by this time that dickering and beating down don't work with me, because I never take back what I say. I ask for a thing what it is worth to me, and never overcharge. So an angel with a trumpet might come down from heaven, but he wouldn't get the bay mare for less than twenty-six!"
"But," exclaimed the horse-dealer, provoked, "business consists of demanding and offering, doesn't it? I'd overcharge my own brother! When there is no more overcharging in the world, business will come to an end."
"On the contrary," replied the Justice, "business will then take much less time, and for that very reason will be more profitable. And besides that, both parties always derive much benefit from a transaction involving no overcharge. It has always been my experience that, when an overcharge is made, one's nature gets hot, and it results in nobody's knowing exactly what he is doing or saying. The seller, in order to put an end to the argument, often lets his wares go for a lower price than that which he had quietly made up his mind to charge, and the buyer, on the other hand, just as often, in the eagerness and ardor of bidding, wastes his money. Where there is absolutely no talk of abatement, then both parties remain beautifully calm and safe from loss."
"Inasmuch as you talk so sensibly, you have, I presume, thought better of my proposal," broke in the receiver. "As I, have already said, the government wants to convert into cash all the corn due from the farms in this region. It alone suffers a loss from it, for corn is corn, whereas money is worth so much today and so much tomorrow. Meanwhile, you see, it is their wish to free themselves from the burden of storing up corn. Kindly do me the favor, then, to sign this new cash-contract, which I have brought with me for that purpose."
"By no means!" answered the Justice vehemently. "For many hundreds of years corn, and only corn, has been paid over from the Oberhof to the monastery, and the receiver's office will have to content itself with that, just as the monastery has done. Does cash grow in my fields? No! Corn grows in them! Where, then, are you going to get the cash?"
"You're not going to be cheated, you know!" cried the receiver.
"We must always stand by the old ways of doing things," said the Justice solemnly. "Those were good times when the tablets with the lists of imposts and taxes of the peasantry used to hang in the church. In those days everything was fixed, and there were never any disagreements, as there are nowadays all too often. Afterwards it was said that the tablets with the hens and eggs and bushels and pecks of grain. interfered with devotion, and they were done away with." With that he went into the house.
"There is a stubborn fellow for you!" cried the horse-dealer, when he could no longer see his business friend. He put his varnished hat back on his head again with an air of vexation. "If he once makes up his mind not to do something, the devil himself cannot bring him around. The worst of it is that the fellow rears the best horses in this region, and after all, if you get right down to it, lets them go cheap enough."
"An obstinate, headstrong sort of people it is that lives hereabouts," said the receiver. "I have just recently come from Saxony and I notice the contrast. There they all live together, and for that reason they have to be courteous and obliging and tractable toward one another. But here, each one lives on his own property, and has his own wood, his own field, his own pasture around him, as if there were nothing else in the world. For that reason they cling so tenaciously to all their old foolish ways and notions, which have everywhere else fallen into disuse. What a lot of trouble I've had already with the other peasants on account of this stupid change in the mode of taxation! But this fellow here is the worst of all!" "The reason for that, Mr. Receiver, is that he is so rich," remarked the horse-dealer. "It is a wonder to me that you have put it through with the other peasants around here without him, for he is their general, their attorney and everything; they all follow his example in every matter and he bows to no one. A year ago a prince passed through here; the way the old fellow took off his hat to him, really, it looked as if he wanted to say: 'You are one, I am another.' To expect to get twenty-six pistoles for the mare! But that is the unfortunate part of it, when a peasant acquires too much property. When you come out on the other side of that oak wood, you walk for half an hour by the clock through his fields! And everything arranged in first rate order all the way! The day before yesterday I drove my team through the rye and wheat, and may God punish me if anything more than the horses' heads showed up above the tops. I thought I should be drowned."
"Where did he get it all?" asked the receiver.
"Oh!" cried the horse-dealer, "there are a lot more estates like this around here; they call them Oberhofs. And if they do not surpass many a nobleman's, my name isn't Marx. The land has been held intact for generations. And the good-for-nothing fellow has always been economical and industrious, you'll have to say that much for him I You saw, didn't you, how he worked away merely to save the expense of paying the blacksmith a few farthings? Now his daughter is marrying another rich fellow; she'll get a dowry, I tell you! I happened to pass the linen closet; flax, yarn, tablecloths and napkins and sheets and shirts and every possible kind of stuff are piled up to the ceiling in there. And in addition to that the old codger will give her six thousand thalers in cash! Just glance about you; don't you feel as if you were stopping with a count?"
During the foregoing dialogue the vexed horse-dealer had quietly put his hand into his money-bag and to the twenty gold pieces had added, with an air of unconcern, six more. The Justice appeared again at the door, and the other, without looking up, said, grumbling; "There are the twenty-six, since there is no other way out of it."
The old peasant smiled ironically and said: "I knew right well that you would buy the horse, Mr. Marx, for you are trying to find one for thirty pistoles for the cavalry lieutenant in Unna, and my little roan fills the bill as if she had been made to order. I went into the house only to fetch the gold-scales, and could see in advance that you would have bethought yourself in the meantime."
The old man, who one moment displayed something akin to hurry in his movements and the next the greatest deliberation, depending upon the business with which he happened to be occupied, sat down at the table, slowly and carefully wiped off his spectacles, fastened them on his nose, and began carefully to weigh the gold pieces. Two or three of them he rejected as being too light. The horse-dealer raised a loud objection to this, but the Justice, holding the scales in his hands, only listened in cold-blooded silence, until the other replaced them with pieces having full weight. Finally, the business was completed; the seller deliberately wrapped the money in a piece of paper and went with the horse-dealer to the stable, in order to deliver the horse over to him.
The receiver did not wait for them to return. "One can't accomplish anything with a clod-hopper like that," he said. "I But in the end if you don't come around and pay us up regularly, we will—" He felt for the legal documents in his pocket, realized by their crackling that they were still there, and left the yard.
Out of the stable came the horse-dealer, the Justice, and a farm-hand who was leading behind him two horses, the horse-dealer's own and the brown mare which he had just bought. The Justice, giving the latter a farewell pat, said "It always grieves one to sell a creature which one has raised, but who can do otherwise?—Now behave well, little brownie!" he added, giving the animal a hearty slap on her round, glossy haunches. In the meantime the horse-dealer had mounted. With his gaunt figure, his short riding-jacket under the broad-brimmed, varnished hat, his yellow breeches over his lean thighs, his high leather boots, his large, heavy spurs, and his whip, he looked like a highwayman. He rode away cursing and swearing, without saying good-by, leading the brown mare by a halter. He never once glanced back at the farm-house, but the mare several times bent her neck around and emitted a doleful neigh, as if complaining because her good days were now over. The Justice remained standing with the laborer, his arms set akimbo, until the two horses had passed out of sight through the orchard. Then the man said: "The animal is grieving."
"Why shouldn't she?" replied the Justice. "Aren't we grieving too? Come up to the granary—we'll measure the oats."
ADVICE AND SYMPATHY
As he turned around toward the house with the laborer, he saw that the place under the linden had already been reoccupied by new guests. The latter, however, had a very dissimilar appearance. For three or four peasants, his nearest neighbors, were sitting there, and beside them sat a young girl, as beautiful as a picture. This beautiful girl was the blond Lisbeth, who had passed the night at the Oberhof.
I shall not venture to describe her beauty; it would only result in telling of her red cheeks and blue eyes, and these things, fresh as they may be in reality, have become somewhat stale when put down in black and white.
The Justice, without paying any attention to his long-haired neighbors in blouses, approached his charming guest and said:
"Well, did you sleep all right, my little miss?" "Splendidly!" replied Lisbeth.
"What's the matter with your finger?—you have it bandaged," inquired the old man.
"Nothing," answered the young girl, blushing. She wanted to change the subject, but the Justice would not allow himself to be diverted; grasping her hand, the one with the bandaged finger, he said: "It's nothing serious, is it?"
"Nothing worth talking about," answered Lisbeth. "Yesterday evening when I was helping your daughter with her sewing, the needle pricked my finger and it bled a little. That is all."
"Oho!" exclaimed the Justice, smirking. "And I notice that it is the ring-finger too! That augurs something good. You doubtless know that when an unmarried girl helps an engaged one to sew her bridal linen, and in doing it pricks her ring-finger, it means that she herself is to become engaged in the same year? Well, you have my best wishes for a nice lover!"
The peasants laughed, but the blond Lisbeth did not allow herself to be disconcerted; she cried out joyfully: "And do you know my motto? It runs:
As far as God on lily fair And raven young bestows his care, Thus far runs my land; And, therefore, he who seeks my hand Must have four horses to his carriage Before I'll give myself in marriage.
"And," broke in the Justice—
And he must catch me like a mouse, And hook me like a fish, And shoot me like a roe.
The report of a gun rang out nearby. "See, my little miss, it's coming true!"
"Now, Judge, make an end of your frivolous talk," said the young girl. "I have called to get your advice, and so give it to me now without any more foolish nonsense." The Justice settled himself in an attitude of dignity, ready to talk and listen. Lisbeth drew forth a little writing-tablet and read off the names of the peasants among whom she had been going around during the past few days for the purpose of collecting back-rent due her foster-father. Then she told the Justice how they had refused to pay their debts and what their excuses had been. One claimed to have paid up long ago, another said that he had only recently come into the farm, a third knew nothing about the matter, a fourth had pretended that he couldn't hear well, and so forth and so forth; so that the poor girl, like a little bird flying about in the winter in search of food and not finding a single grain of corn, had been turned away empty-handed from one door after another. But any one who thinks that these futile efforts had plunged her into grief is mistaken, for nothing greatly disturbed her and she related the story of her irksome wanderings with a cheerful smile.
The Justice wrote down on the table with chalk several of the names mentioned, and, when she had reached the end of her list, said:
"As far as the others are concerned, they do not live with us and I have no authority over them. If they are base enough to refuse to do their duty and to meet their obligations, then simply strike out the names of the scamps, for you can never get anything out of a peasant by a law-suit. But as against those who live in our precinct, I will help you to secure your rights. We still have means of accomplishing that."
"Oho, Squire!" said one of the peasants to him, half-aloud. "You talk as if you always carried the rope around with you in your coat-sleeve. When is the secret court to be held?"
"Be still, tree-warden!" interrupted the old man with earnestness. "Sneering remarks like that might get you into trouble!"
The man addressed was disconcerted; he cast down his eyes and made no reply. Lisbeth thanked the old man for his offer of help, and inquired about the roads and paths to the other peasants whose names she still had left on her writing-tablet. The Justice pointed out to her the shortest way to the nearest farm, which led across the Priests' Meadow, past the three mills and over the Holle Hills. When she had put on her straw hat, taken her staff, expressed her thanks for the hospitality shown her, and had thus made herself ready to leave, he begged her to make her arrangements such that on her return she could stay for the wedding and a day thereafter. He hoped that he would be able to give her by that time definite assurance in regard to the rents, or, perhaps, even to give her the money itself to take home with her.
When the young girl's slender and graceful form had disappeared behind the last walnut-trees at the farther end of the orchard, the peasants broached the subject which had brought them to the Justice. The building of a new road, which was to establish a connection with the main highway, threatened, if the idea were carried out, to deprive them of a few strips of their land over which it was necessary to lay the new road. Against this loss, although the project would redound to the advantage of all the surrounding peasantry, they were anxious to protect themselves; and how to avert it was the question about which they were anxious to secure the advice of the owner of the Oberhof.
"Good day! How are you?" called out a voice, well known in this locality. A pedestrian, a man in respectable attire, but covered with dust from his gray gaiters to his green, visored cap, had entered through the gate and approached the table, unnoticed at first by the conversers.
"Ah, Mr. Schmitz, so we see you too, once more, eh?" said the old peasant very cordially, and he had the servant bring the fatigued man the best there was in the wine-cellar. The peasants politely moved closer together to make room for the new arrival. They insisted upon his sitting down, and he lowered himself into a chair with great care and deliberation, so as not to break what he was carrying. And this procedure was indeed very necessary, for the man was loaded down like an express-wagon, and the outlines of his form resembled a conglomeration of bundles tied together. Not only did his coat-pockets, which were crammed full of all sorts of round, square and oblong objects, bulge out from his body in an astonishing manner, but also his breast and side pockets, which were used for the same purpose, protruded in a manifold variety of swellings and eminences, which stuck out all the more sharply as the Collector, in order not to lose any of his treasures, had, in spite of the summer heat, buttoned his coat tightly together. Even the inside of his cap had been obliged to serve for the storing of several smaller articles, and had acquired from its contents the shape and semblance of a watermelon. He sipped, with manifest relish, the good wine that was put before him, and his elderly countenance, bloated and reddened with heat and fatigue, gradually acquired its natural color and form again.
"Been doing good business, Mr. Schmitz?" inquired the Justice, smiling. "Judging from appearances, one might think so."
"Oh, fairly good," replied the Collector. "There is a rich blessing hidden in the dear earth. It not only brings forth corn and vegetables constantly and untiringly—an alert searcher may secure a harvest of antiquities from it all the time, no matter how much other people have scratched and dug for them. So I have once more taken my little trip through the country, and this time I got as far as the border of the Sieg valley. I am on my way back now and intend to go on as far as the city today. But I had to stop over a while at your place on the way, Justice, in order to rest myself a bit, for I am certainly tired."
"What are you bringing with you?" asked the Justice.
The Collector tapped gently and affectionately on all the swellings and protuberances of his various pockets, and said:
"Oh, well, some very nice things—all sorts of curiosities. A battle-axe, a pair of thunderbolts, some heathen rings—beautiful things all covered with green rust—ash-urns, tear-bottles, three idols and a pair of valuable lamps." He struck the nape of his neck with the back of his hand and continued: "And I also have here with me a perfectly preserved piece of bronze—I had no other place to put it, so I tied it fast here on my back under my coat. Well, it will probably not look amiss, once it is all cleaned up and given its proper place."