The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. IX
Part 1 out of 13
Produced by Stan Goodman, Jayam Subramanian and PG Distributed
THE GERMAN CLASSICS
Masterpieces of German Literature
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
Patrons' Edition IN TWENTY VOLUMES
CONTENTS OF VOLUME IX
The Life of Friedrich Hebbel. By William Guild Howard
Maria Magdalena. Translated by Paul Bernard Thomas
Siegfried's Death. Translated by Katherine Royce
Anna. Translated by Frances H. King
On Theodor Koerner and Heinrich von Kleist. Translated by Frances H. King
Ludolf Wienbarg's _The Dramatists of the Present Day_. Translated by
Frances H. King
Review of Heinrich von Kleist's Play, _The Prince of Homburg, or The
Battle of Fehrbellin_. Translated by Frances H. King
Recollections of My Childhood. Translated by Frances H. King Extracts
from the Journal of Friedrich Hebbel
The Life of Otto Ludwig. By Alexander R. Hohlfeld
The Hereditary Forester. Translated by Alfred Remy
Between Heaven and Earth. Translated by Muriel Almon
Summer Day. By Arnold Bucklin Frontispiece
Friedrich Hebbel 2
Death as Cup-Bearer. By Alfred Rethel 30
Death Playing the Finale at the Masquerade. By Alfred Rethel 60
Death as Friend. By Alfred Rethel 78
Title Page of the Nibelungenlied. By Peter Cornelius 82
Siegfried's Return from the Saxon War. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 100
The Quarrel of the Queens. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 122
Kriemhild finds the Slain Siegfried. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 150
Kriemhild accuses Hagen of the Murder of Siegfried. By Schnorr von
The Battle between the Huns and the Nibelungs. By Schnorr von
Gunther and Hagen brought Captive before Kriemhild. By Schnorr von
The Death of Kriemhild. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 246
Otto Ludwig 268
The Finding of Moses. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 300
Moses on Mt. Sinai. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 330
Jacob and Rachel at the Well. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 360
Jacob's Journey. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 390
David being Stoned by Sinei. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 420
The Death of Eli. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 450
Josiah hears the Law. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 480
The Prophet Jeremiah. By Schnorr von Carolsfeld 510
The painters represented here alongside with the two writers to whom
this volume is devoted, are Cornelius, Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Rethel,
and Kaulbach. These men were not only contemporary with Hebbel and
Ludwig, but may indeed be called their artistic counterparts. Though
widely differentiated by individual temper and talent, these painters
and poets belong to the same phase of mid-century German literature and
art: the striving of Romanticism beyond itself, the struggle for a new
style uniting depth of feeling and terseness of delineation, the longing
for a new view of life harmonizing the worship of the past with the
demands of modern society and the problems of the day. Hence the heroic
note in the work of these painters and poets, hence their predilection
for great historical or mythological or religious subjects, hence their
leaning toward tragic conflicts in every day situations, hence their all
too conscious striving for pointed effects; hence, also, the inspiring
influence emanating from their best productions.
THE LIFE OF FRIEDRICH HEBBEL
By WILLIAM GUILD HOWARD, A.M.,
Assistant Professor of German, Harvard University
The greatest German dramatists of the middle of the nineteenth century
were Franz Grillparzer, Friedrich Hebbel, and Otto Ludwig. In a caustic
epigram written in 1855, Grillparzer set forth that Dame Poetry, for
some years a widow and now ailing, needed a husband, but could find
none; and we remember that the heroine of _Libussa_ rejects the wise
Lapak, the strong Biwoy, and the rich Domaslaw because she desires in
one man, united, the qualities which separately dominate the three. With
more charity, Grillparzer might have more fully recognized the poet in
Hebbel or Ludwig; but we may be permitted to think of these three
dramatists as not unlike the three suitors for the hand of Libussa:
Grillparzer was rich, Ludwig was wise, and Hebbel was strong. Each of
them was somewhat deficient in the qualities of the other two; each,
however, was a personality, and Hebbel one of the most powerful that
Hebbel's career is a long battle against all but insuperable obstacles.
Born at Wesselburen in the present province of Schleswig-Holstein on
March 18, 1813, he was the son of a poor stone mason--so poor that, as
Hebbel said, poverty had taken the place of his soul. Though Klaus
Hebbel was a well-meaning man, he was a slave to the inexorable _non
possumus_ of penury. In winter, especially, lack of work made even the
provision of daily bread often difficult and sometimes impossible for
him. But Friedrich Hebbel's childhood, full of hardship as it was, was
not cheerless. The father did what he could; and the mother, at whatever
sacrifice to herself, could nearly always do something for the children.
The greatest hardship was caused by the father's hostility to these
maternal concessions to childish desires; for to him, whose life was
labor, unproductive use of time was a crime. He thought it a matter of
course that his son should become a laboring man like himself, and it is
little less than a miracle that this did not happen. The mother, to be
sure, fostered the boy's more ambitious hopes; the death of the father
in Hebbel's fourteenth year was perhaps a blessing in disguise;
undoubtedly the happiest chance in Hebbel's boyhood, so far as external
events are concerned, was the fact that he won the favor of a real
teacher in his schoolmaster Dethlefsen, who not only gave his education
the proper start, but also recommended him, as his best scholar, to the
local magistrate, J.J. Mohr.
For nearly eight years (1827 to 1835) Hebbel was in Mohr's employ, first
as an errand boy, and ultimately as a clerk, to whom more and more
official business was intrusted. He lived in the household of his
superior, continued in the magistrate's library the assiduous reading
which he had begun with Dethlefsen's books, and acquired, along with the
habits of official accuracy, something of the ways of a higher social
station than that to which he had been born. His contact with the world
of affairs and with litigation also considerably broadened his outlook,
though it was often the seamy side of life that he saw, and his own
early necessities had sharpened his sense of the essential tragedy of
existence. Among the young people of the town Hebbel was as active and
inventive as any; he wrote verses, took part in amateur theatricals, and
was a leader in many undertakings that had not amusement as their sole
From the beginning Hebbel shows extraordinary sensitiveness to esthetic
appeal and a disposition to dreamy imaginativeness. The Bible, the
Protestant hymnal, pre-classical prose and poetry of the eighteenth
century, as well as contemporary romantic fiction, including Jean Paul,
Hoffmann, and Heine, touched his fancy and stirred him to emulation.
[Illustration: FRIEDRICH HEBBEL]
As a boy, he is said to have composed a tragedy _Evolia, the Captain of
Robbers_, which his mother confiscated and burned. His early poems are
echoes of Klopstock, Matthisson, Hoelty, Buerger, and other predecessors;
but especially of Schiller, whose moral seriousness and sonorous
language alike inspired the serious and rhetorically gifted youth. The
influence of Schiller, however, marks no epoch in the poetic development
of Hebbel; it dominates the period of adolescence. The sense of poetry
was aroused in him as a boy, he said, by Paul Gerhardt's hymn "The woods
are now at rest" (_Nun ruhen alle Walder_); the discovery of what poetry
is he made in 1830, when he read Uhland's _Minstrel's Curse_ and
perceived that the sole principle of art is not to write, like Schiller,
eloquently about ideas, but "to make in a particular phenomenon the
universal intuitively perceptible."
Having published poems and stories from 1829 on in a local newspaper,
Hebbel, in 1831, seeking a wider audience at the same time that he
longed for a larger sphere of activity, submitted specimens of his work
to Amalie Schoppe in Hamburg, the editress of a fashion paper; and in
this and the following years she printed a considerable number of his
productions. Moreover, she took a genuine personal interest in his
ambitions; and after several plans had proved abortive, she succeeded
in collecting for him a small sum of money and the promise of other
material aid in a plan that should give a firm foundation for the
structure of his hopes: he should come to Hamburg and prepare for the
study of law. Accordingly, on the fourteenth of February, 1835, he left
his modest but secure position in Wesselburen for the alluring great
world where he felt that he belonged, but where he was destined to toil
and to suffer, in a struggle for existence which only a hardy
North-German peasant could have endured.
Hebbel came to Hamburg as a young man of twenty-two, far ahead of his
years in knowledge, judgment, and capacity, but still unacquainted with
rudimentary things belonging to higher education, such as Latin grammar.
He could not find the right tone in dealing with his benefactors, and he
suffered unspeakable humiliation in the conflict of a proud and
independent spirit with the subjection which inconsiderate well-wishers
imposed upon him. He learned more by private reading and by association
with students in a Scientific Society than he learned in school; and to
one woman, Elise Lensing, who became his friend and angel of mercy, he
owed more than to the whole aggregation of those who gave him money and
meals. Somewhat more than eight years his senior, in respect to
experience of the world and training in the finer graces of life his
superior, she aided, encouraged, and loved him, well aware that his
feeling for her was, at the most, admiration and gratitude, and that the
intimate union and companionship which soon became for him an
indispensable solace could never lead to marriage.
In Hamburg Hebbel began the diary which, continued throughout his life,
is the most valuable source of information about him that we have, and
which, being the repository of his meditations as well as the record of
his experiences, is one of the most remarkable documents of the kind
ever composed. He wrote and published a number of poems, and began
several short stories. More significant, however, was the development
of his critical faculty, which found in the Scientific Society a free
field for exercise. Here, on the twenty-eighth of July, 1835, Hebbel
read a paper on Theodor Koerner and Heinrich von Kleist which, in spite
of a rather juvenile tone, shows a maturity of insight quite
unparalleled in the critical literature of that day. It is greatly to
Hebbel's credit, and was to his profit, as the sequel showed, that
against the opinion of his generation he could demonstrate the poetic
excellence of Kleist and could distinguish in Koerner between the heroic
patriot and the mediocre poet; for it was a dramatic masterpiece that
Hebbel analyzed in Kleist's _Prince of Hamburg_, and in this analysis he
formulated views that remained the canons of all his subsequent activity
as a playwright. The study of Kleist gave him for the drama the same
sort of illumination that Uhland had given him for lyric poetry.
Though Hebbel was unable to acquire in Hamburg a certificate of
preparedness for the university, he soon felt ready for university
studies, and after some difficulty persuaded his benefactors to give him
the balance of the fund that they had collected, and consent to his
going to Heidelberg. In March, 1836, he departed thither, with less than
eighty thalers in his pocket. He could be admitted only as a special
student; nevertheless, he was hospitably received by members of the
faculty of law, and attended their lectures. But the romantic scenery of
Heidelberg, and, the reading of Goethe and Shakespeare, whom he now for
the first time studied thoroughly, were more fruitful and suggestive to
him than jurisprudence, however much he was interested in "cases" as
examples of human experience. Such a "case" he treated in _Anna_, the
first short story with which he was satisfied, and which indeed is
worthy of his model in this _genre_, Kleist. Other narratives, and a few
poems, testify to a closer approach to nature and a less morbid attitude
toward life than had appeared in the earlier works. Hebbel was now
finishing his apprenticeship, wisely restraining the impulse to
dramatize until in the less exacting forms he had mastered the means of
expression. But everything pointed toward literature as a calling, and
before the year was out Hebbel resolved to migrate to Munich, still, to
be sure, a student, but from the moment of his arrival living there
under the name and title of _Literat_.
The journey to Munich Hebbel made afoot, leaving Heidelberg on September
12, 1836. He passed through Strassburg, and thought of Goethe as he
climbed the tower of the cathedral; he visited the Suabian poets at
Stuttgart and Tuebingen, and was deeply disappointed with the kindly but
undemonstrative Uhland; and he reached Munich on September the
twenty-ninth. Here he remained until March, 1839.
Hebbel's two and a half years in Munich, years of solitude, unheard-of
privation, illness, and battling against despair, came near to wearing
out the physical man, and were, through long-continued insufficient
nourishment, the cause of the disease to which he finally succumbed; but
they were also the finishing school of the personality that henceforth
unflinchingly faced the world and demanded to be heard. Hebbel provided
for his material needs partly by journalistic work, to which he was
ill-adapted, but chiefly through the limitless bounty of Elise
Lensing--for months at a time the only being with whom, and only by
correspondence, he had human intercourse. He heard the lectures of
Schelling and Goerres at the university; but, as at Heidelberg, he,
gained most by prodigious reading in literature, history; and
philosophy. His savage melancholy found relief in grimly humorous
narratives and gloomy poems. At the time of his greatest wretchedness he
conceived the plots of comedies, "ridiculing something by the
representation of nothing." But we note that his reading now begins to
suggest to him innumerable subjects for tragedies, such as Napoleon,
Alexander the Great, Julian the Apostate, the Maid of Orleans, Judith
and Holofernes, Golo and Genoveva,--all of them characters the key to
whose destiny lay in their personalities, and in whom Hebbel saw the
destiny of mankind typified. Still more directly, however, the tragedy
of human life was brought home to him--not merely through his personal
struggle for existence, but through the death of Emil Rousseau, a dear
friend who had followed him from Heidelberg to Munich, the death of his
mother, for whose necessities he had of late been able to do but little,
and misfortune in the family of Anton Schwarz, a cabinet maker, with
whose daughter, Beppy, Hebbel had been on too intimate terms. Hebbel's
dramas _Judith_, _Genoveva_, and _Maria Magdalena_ all germinated during
these terrible years of the sojourn in Munich.
But the actual output of these years was not large. Attempts to publish
a volume of poems and a volume of short stories had failed.
Nevertheless, Hebbel was no longer an unknown quantity in the world of
letters when, in the early spring of 1839, he decided to return to
Hamburg. Hope of aid from Campe, Heine's publisher, and from Gutzkow,
the editor of a paper published by Campe, encouraged this decision. But
Hebbel was really going home, going back to Elise, after having
accomplished the purpose of his pilgrimage, even though for lack of
money he could not take with him a doctor's degree. He came as a man who
could do things for which the world gives a man a living. The return
journey, lasting from the eleventh to the thirty-first of March, 1839,
amid alternate freezing and thawing, was a tramp, than which only the
retreat from Moscow could have been more frightful; but Hebbel
accomplished it, more concerned for the little dog that accompanied him
than for his own sufferings. And it appeared that he had wisely chosen
to return; for he found opportunity for critical work in Gutzkow's
_Telegraph_, and Campe published the works which in rapid succession he
now completed: _Judith_ (1840), _Genoveva_ (1841), _The Diamond_ (1841;
printed in 1847), and _Poems_ (1842).
These publications won fame for Hebbel and yielded some immediate
pecuniary gain. But although he had reached the goal of his ambition in
having become a poet, and a dramatist whose first play had appeared on
the stage, he still lacked a settled occupation and a sure income.
Having been born a Danish subject, he conceived the idea of a direct
appeal to Christian VIII. of Denmark for such an appointment as the king
might be persuaded to give him. In spite of the unacademic course of his
studies and his lack of strictly professional training, he thought of a
professorship of esthetics at Kiel. Even in those days, when
professorships could be had on easier terms than now, this was a wild
dream. But Hebbel did not appeal to his sovereign in vain. He spent the
winter of 1842-43 in Copenhagen, where the Danish-German dramatist
Oehlenschlaeger smoothed his path to royal favor; and after two audiences
with Christian VIII. he was granted a pension of six hundred thalers a
year for two years, in order that by traveling he might learn more of
the world and cultivate his poetic talents. His first expression of
gratitude for this privilege was the tragedy _Maria Magdalena_, begun at
Hamburg in May, finished at Paris in December, 1843, and dedicated to
Hebbel's departure for Paris, in September, 1843, did not mean for him
what Heine's settlement there twelve years before had meant for
Heine--the beginning of a new life. Hebbel's knowledge of French was
very imperfect, and he was as much isolated in Paris as he had been in
Munich; he did not seek stimulus from without so much as freedom to
develop the ideas that were teeming in his mind. When he left Hamburg,
however, he was destined never to return thither except as a visitor,
and started on the long, roundabout way to an unforeseen new home in
Vienna. He had been but little over a month in Paris when he learned of
the death of the little son that Elise had borne him three years before.
He was deeply grieved both for himself and for the despairing mother, to
whom he offered all the comfort he could give, not excepting marriage,
as soon as he should ever be able to provide for her. In May, 1844,
Elise bore him another son who, dying in 1847, was never seen by his
father. Hebbel did not forget what he owed to the mother of his
children, but he felt the debt more and more as an obligation, in the
fulfilment of which there was no prospect of satisfaction to either.
Despite the fact that she had a hundred times declared to him that he
was free, all her dreaming and planning tended solely to keep him bound.
He, who had been her pupil, had now far outgrown her capacity to
understand his endeavors and achievements; and he felt that he could
sacrifice much for her, but not himself, his personality, and his
mission. And so the unwholesome relation wore on, with aggravating
burdensomeness, to the inevitable crisis.
In the fall of 1844 Hebbel journeyed from Paris to Rome. He had met few
notables in Paris--Heine, Felix Bamberg, and Arnold Ruge almost complete
the tale--but in Italy he, like Goethe, made the acquaintance of a group
of German artists, and followed their leadership in the study of ancient
art. He enjoyed this study in natural, unaffected appreciation of the
beautiful; and a certain artistic polish distinguishes the poems which
nature and art in Italy inspired him to write. The Italian journey,
however, was far from being a renaissance to him as it had been to
Goethe. Hebbel remained a Northern artist. Vesuvius impressed him, but
Pompeii proved a disappointment; it was laid out, he said, like any
other city. He departed from Rome in October, 1845, richer in the
friendship of distinguished men--including Hermann Hettner--and in
accumulated experience, but not as one to whom the _Ponte Molle_ is a
bridge of sighs.
Hebbel's design was to return to Hamburg by way of Vienna. In Vienna,
which he reached on the fourth of November, 1845, he was cordially
received in literary circles. Men of influence promised their good
offices in getting his plays performed, but failed to take effective
measures, and he was about to continue his journey when the romantic
enthusiasm of two young barons Zerboni gave him an _entree_ into
aristocratic society, and he tarried. Ere long he had decided to stay
for life. In Christine Enghaus, the leading lady at the
_Hofburgtheater_, he found the feminine counterpart to his masculine
nature; and on the twenty-sixth of May, 1846, they were married.
From every point of view this marriage proved so perfect that we may
well question whether anything whatever ought to have been allowed to
stand in the way of it. To Elise, of course, it seemed an outrage--the
more so that she was entirely mistaken as to the character of Christine;
and with furious bitterness she reproached Hebbel for violating her most
sacred rights in his infatuation for an actress. The storm broke, but it
cleared the air for both; and upon the death of her second son in 1847,
Elise came at Christine's invitation to Vienna and spent a year in the
Hebbel himself rightly dated an epoch in his life from his marriage and
the renewed productivity which followed upon it. He enjoyed now for the
first time not only freedom from economic worries but also complete
serenity of mind. Outwardly, indeed, he still had to keep up his
offensive and defensive warfare. Beyond the circle of his immediate
adherents, only the more enlightened of his contemporaries, such as
Ruge, Hettner, and Theodor Vischer, perceived what he was aiming at, and
his own public discussions were so abstruse and repellent that it is no
wonder they were misunderstood. Grillparzer declared that he was groping
in esthetic fog. Julian Schmidt recognized his power and the poetic
charm of many of his passages, but thought him in danger of crossing the
line which separates sense from nonsense, genius from insanity. Hebbel
was restive under criticism, and the method of his polemics tended
rather to exasperate than to conciliate his adversaries. Meanwhile
_Maria Magdalena_ and _Judith_ were performed at the _Hofburgtheater_,
with Christine as the heroine. But in 1850 Heinrich Laube became
director of this theatre, and he not only rejected one play of Hebbel's
after another, but also withdrew from Christine the leading parts which
she had heretofore taken in the regular repertory.
The new epoch in Hebbel's dramatic activity really began in 1848. The
fruits of his sojourn in Italy, _A Tragedy in Sicily_ (1846), _Julia_
(1847), and _New Poems_ (published in 1847) were mediocre stragglers in
the train of his first successes. But _Herodes and Mariamne_, begun in
1847 and completed in November, 1848, is the first of a new series of
masterpieces. Mariamne, Hebbel said, was not simply written for
Christine, she _was_ Christine. _The Ruby_, which followed in the spring
of 1849, is a graceful dramatization of a fairy-tale written ten years
before in Munich; _Michel Angelo_ (1850), a satire on his critics, is a
slight but clever refutation of ignorant presumption. _Agnes Bernauer_
(1851) is a worthy successor of _Herodes and Mariamne_; _Gyges and his
Ring_ (1854) is the most poetic and perhaps the most characteristic of
his dramas. The trilogy on the _Nibelungen_ (1855-1860) was Hebbel's
last great work, ranking with Grillparzer's _Golden Fleece_ and
Schiller's _Wallenstein_; and if he had lived to complete _Demetrius_,
we should have had another remarkable drama, on a subject which Schiller
too was destined to leave unfinished.
In the fifties, Hebbel accompanied Christine on professional trips to
North Germany, and had ample occasion to observe the spread of his
influence. In 1852 he was feted at Munich in connection with the
production there of _Agnes Bernauer_. In 1858 he attended a performance
of _Genoveva_ in Weimar, and was decorated with an order by the Grand
Duke. In 1861 the Nibelungen trilogy was performed for the first time in
Weimar, with Christine as Brunhild and Kriemhild; and in the following
year Hebbel, who had even thought of going to live at Weimar, was the
guest of the Grand Duke at his castle in Wilhelmsthal. Though in Vienna
honors came later, Hebbel felt himself to be during these years at the
summit of his existence. In 1855 he bought a country home at Orth near
Gmunden in the Salzkammergut, and to the idyllic atmosphere of that
retreat he owed the inspiration for the epic poem _Mother and Child_
(1857), his gentlest treatment of a tragic theme. In 1857 he issued a
definitive edition of his _Poems_, dedicated to Uhland, "the first poet
of the present time." In 1854 _Genoveva_, in modified form, was
successfully presented as _Magellone_ at the _Burgtheater_, with
Christine as the heroine. But Hebbel's first Viennese triumph did not
come until February 19, 1863, when Christine played Brunhild in the
first and second parts of the _Nibelungen_. On his deathbed he received
the news that the Berlin Schiller Prize had been awarded to him for the
_Nibelungen_. Hebbel died on the thirteenth of December, 1863. Christine
out-lived him by nearly half a century, until the twenty-ninth of June,
Rightly or wrongly, Hebbel regarded himself as the creator of a new form
of drama, setting in at a step beyond Shakespeare and Schiller, and
attacking problems in the manner suggested, but not fully developed, by
Goethe. Shakespeare and Schiller, he said, locate the conflict in the
breast of the hero: shall he, or shall he not, endeavor to attain the
object of his desire, against forces which oppose him from without, and
which have their allies in his own conscience, in his own sense of right
and wrong? He desires the wrong, or neglects the right, and for his
tragic fault atones with death. We pity the unfortunate individual,
console ourselves, however, with the inviolability of the moral law, and
profit by his example: only those are free whose will chooses to be
moral. But Goethe, in the dramatically conceived _Elective Affinities_,
focuses attention not upon the doings of individuals, but upon the
sanctions of the law which a power superior to their wills forces them
to break. And so Hebbel, passing over the individual, as one of myriads,
directs inquiry into the causes that make him what he is, that make him
do what he does, that prevent him from doing what at the same time they
impel him to attempt; and he reveals, back of the individual typical
phenomenon, an irreconcilable conflict in the very condition and
definition of its existence. This conflict has its roots in the dualism
of all being.
The corner-stone of Martin Luther's system of morals was the paradox: "A
Christian is a sovereign lord over all things, and is subject to nobody;
a Christian is a duty-bound servant of all things, and is subject to
everybody." In other words, a man's soul is his own and is superior to
all the things of the flesh; but through his body he is made dependent
upon the life-giving earth, and subject to the laws which those other
"bodies" in the community in which he lives make for the common defense
and the general welfare. Hebbel carried the antithesis farther, asking
what is the soul, and what is the body? And he answered, in effect, that
the soul is indeed the very essence of personality, but is no original,
self-begotten, and self-sufficient entity--on the contrary, it is a
fragment, a participant in the animating principle of the universe--and
that the body is indeed the medium of contact between person and person,
but is also the separating barrier of soul from soul, and of the
individual soul from the soul of the world. The body is the form or
vessel which vouchsafes to the soul individual existence, and which the
soul, by its very impulse to activity, wears out and destroys. Birth is
a prophecy of destruction and a doom to death.
But life is activity, the soul is a motive force, self-assertion and
self-preservation are heaven's first law. Self-assertion, however, is
nothing but the operation of communicated and committed animation, and
self-preservation nothing but the postponement of the day of surrender.
Self-preservation is impossible; self-assertion is a challenge to the
assertiveness of other selves, as well as a hastener of dissolution. The
self follows its native bent, and its native impulse is for expansion;
but it thus, as a fraction, leaves, on its centrifugal path, the course
of the great world spirit from which it separates; and as both a
separate entity and a member of a community it must, in its attempt at
self-realization, meet the constraint which the community, whose only
object is likewise self-realization and self-preservation, puts upon all
within its power. The law is negative and repressive, self-interest is
positive and assertive; between the two there is no possible
reconciliation--at most a compromise--so that in the last analysis it
appears that the assertion of individual will as such is immoral, that
is, contrary to the will of the community; and is sinful, for it is not
the will of God, but the will of a particularized individual, however
godly he may be. There are differences in degree, but not in kind, among
immoralities and sins, with corresponding degrees of punitive
repression; but the potential tragic conflict is constant, and there is
as little doubt about the eminent domain of the State as about the
supremacy of God.
The laws of God are changeless and eternal, but human morality is a
local and temporal development. As the character of an individual is the
product of disposition and experience, so his fate is humanly determined
by the particular forms of custom and law established in the community
in which his lot is cast. But these change from time to time, and in
periods of change the disparity between public and private interest is
most conspicuous: the progressive individual bears not only the burden
of proof but also the dead weight of public inertia. Only at infinity
can the parallel antithetical interests coincide. Nevertheless, the
world gradually effects self-correction by the evolution of new
syntheses from the thesis and antithesis ever and anon presented for
trial and judgment as between liberal and conservative forces.
Hebbel's drama, then, is the representation of a process, the process of
life, by which things come into being. It reveals the individual in the
making, and discusses the validity of the institutions that condition
his life or cause his death. There is no question of guilt and
atonement. Protagonist and antagonist are right, each in his way and
from his point of view; the conflict may arise from excess of goodness
as well as from excess of evil; but the representative of the whole
prevails of necessity over the champion of a single interest; and in the
knowledge of this truth, rather than in the futile attempt to modify the
relation, we must seek our freedom. Hebbel's plays are historical:
character in its setting of circumstances is the only character really
and fully comprehensible. They are sociological: exhibiting the
ceaseless collision of individualistic and collectivistic tendencies,
they teach forbearance, and patience, and the will to face the
facts--_tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner_. And they are modern:
treating problems of character and _milieu_, they disdain the
adventitious aids of eloquence and theatrical splendor, and speak to us
with the directness, often with the bluntness, of nature herself. Hebbel
was no naturalist, in the sense of one who seeks but to reproduce
phenomena in all their details, sordid, trivial, or vulgar, if such they
be. But through Ibsen, who esteemed him alone among his German
predecessors, he became a factor in the recent naturalistic movement;
and he might have saved it from many an aberration, if his example had
been more closely followed.
Hebbel strikingly revealed his independence and originality at the
beginning of his public career, by his new conception of old and
familiar subjects. His Judith is a totally different person from the
heroine of the Apocrypha. The Biblical Judith is a widow who slays a
public enemy, and returns unscathed amid the plaudits of the multitude.
But Hebbel's Judith is a widow who has never been a wife, a woman who
seems to have been appointed by Providence to do a great deed in His
service, who takes the duty upon herself only to find that as a woman
she is unequal to it; for as a woman she loves the manly heathen. She
kills him, as she set out to do; but the motive for her act is personal
revenge for a personal outrage; and she returns to Bethulia broken in
spirit and appalled at the thought that she may bear a son by
Holofernes. The attempt to make of herself an impersonal instrument in
the hands of the Almighty--certainly a laudable undertaking--is her only
fault, and is tragic because inconsistent with the character of
womanhood, which the Almighty has also ordained. Compared with the iron
necessity of her being, to which Judith succumbs, the accidental and
improbable fault of Schiller's Maid of Orleans seems as trivial as it is
Similarly, in the conception of the story of Genoveva, Hebbel shifted
attention from the saint to the sinner. In the centre of his _Genoveva_
stands Golo, the unfortunate young man whose good instincts are made
criminal because the faults and errors of others excite them, and
because his desire, justifiable according to nature, is directed toward
a woman who is bound to another in a wedlock which, from the side of the
husband at least, is only formally correct. In Golo's crime and
atonement we accordingly see a great deal more than the operation of the
moral law: we see how crime is begotten of innocence; and instead of
thinking of the wretched creature, we think of the Creator who has so
ordained it, and at whose central position in the moral universe there
can be neither good nor evil, but an equilibrium of forces which become
one or the other, and may become either when the equilibrium is
disturbed. Good and evil, mutually exclusive qualities in the world of
appearance, are, in the world of ideas, complementary conceptions,
different aspects of one and the same thing.
Golo appears, despite his crimes, less guilty than Siegfried, the
husband of Genoveva; and in his case a divine impulse, love, becomes an
evil because it happens to collide with an institution, marriage, which
we are here justified in calling human, since, though it has a social
sanction, it lacks the evidence of divine approval. Clara, in _Maria
Magdalena_, is chargeable with but the minimum of guilt, and perishes
because, too honest and dutiful to safeguard her own interests in a
stern and selfish community, she cannot otherwise preserve for her
father that unassailable reputation which is, in his imperfect ethics,
the highest good. The tragedy in this play is the tragedy of pharisaical
_bourgeois_ society itself. There is no collision between high and low,
such as constituted the plot of the _tragedies bourgeoises_ of the
eighteenth century--e.g., Lessing's _Emilia Galotti_, Schiller's _Cabal
and Love_--but the stubborn hardness of the middle-class society in its
typical representative is unable to meet a crisis; and by the
banishment, or the condemnation to suicide, of its most promising
members, this society pronounces its own doom. Altruism is contrary to
the custom, that is, to the morals of this community, and for that
reason is forbidden and suppressed.
Another community in which altruism is unusual and discredited is Judaea
just before the birth of Christ. Herod the king is a masterful ruler and
a benefactor; but the end justifies the means that he adopts, and he is
no respecter of persons. He does not even respect the person of his
wife. The love of Mariamne is the one sure rock upon which he can rest
when the earthquake, threatening at every moment, comes to shatter his
throne and engulf him. He loves her too with a passion which dreams of
union so perfect that death cannot break it, so perfect that one of them
would wish to die at the moment when the soul of the other left the
body. This is Mariamne's dream also, but Herod cannot trust her to
fulfil it. Not once, but twice, upon going to the wars, he leaves orders
that Mariamne shall be slain if he is killed; and these orders are an
assassination of her soul. The community can execute an individual; but
one individual can only assassinate another. In the ancient orient a
wife was a precious possession, entirely subject to the will of her
husband, and liable to be burned in his funeral pyre. Herod represents
such an ancient, oriental point of view; but Judaea is on the eve of
becoming occidental and modern. Herod represents the law and has the
power to crush the insurgent personality of Mariamne: he has not the
power to slay the infant Savior, nor to hinder the coming of the day
when every human soul is known to be an object of divine concern.
That play of Hebbel's in which the dualism of all being is most
conspicuously tragic is _Agnes Bernauer_. Agnes is the daughter of a
barber and surgeon, and is so beautiful that she is commonly known as
the angel of Augsburg. Albrecht, the son and sole heir of the reigning
duke Ernst, comes to Augsburg, falls in love with her, and, in spite of
friendly warning, marries her; for she has loved him at first sight,
too. As persons, they do what is right for them to do; their marriage
has been performed by a priest of the church; and they feel that it has
divine sanction. But Albrecht is not an ordinary person; he is the heir
to the throne, and public exigencies require that the succession shall
be guaranteed. This marriage, however, is illegal--a board of
incorruptible judges so finds it; it causes sedition and threatens
interminable strife. Duke Ernst is deliberate and patient in dealing
with the unprecedented case. He waits until he can wait no longer.
Albrecht will not give up Agnes, nor Agnes give up him; Ernst respects
the sacrament of wedlock by which they are united, and only after two
and a half years does he sign the warrant by which Agnes was duly
condemned to death. Agnes dies in perfect innocence and constancy, a
victim of social convention. But Albrecht, whose disregard of this
convention was rebellion, and whose vengeance for his wife's death
brings him to the point of parricide, is made to see, not merely because
excommunication accompanies the ban of the empire on him as a rebel, but
also because of the instructive words and actions of his father, that
the social organization he has defied has itself a divine sanction, and
that a prince, standing by common consent at the head of that
organization, cannot with impunity undermine the basis of his
sovereignty. Devotion to him is like loyalty to the national ensign. The
ensign is nothing in itself, but it symbolizes the idea of the State;
and the prince is also the representative of an idea, which he must
continue to represent in its entirety, or he ceases to be the prince.
This lesson Albrecht learns when, like Kleist's _Prince of Homburg_, he
is made judge in his own case, and when he perceives at the cost of what
personal sacrifice his father has done his duty. The State prevails over
Albrecht as it prevails over Agnes, whose only fault was that she did
not immure her beauty in a nunnery.
The sanction of tradition and custom which Albrecht and Agnes could not
break in _Agnes Bernauer_ Hebbel most impressively demonstrated in
_Gyges and his Ring_. Kandaules, King of Lydia, is a rash innovator in
both public and private life. He despises rusty swords and uncomfortable
crowns, he means to do away with silly prejudices, and, like Herod,
regarding his wife as a precious possession only, he procures for his
friend Gyges an opportunity to see her unveiled. But she, an Indian
princess, is, in Christine Hebbel's words, a convolution of veils; her
veil is inseparable from herself; and the brutal violation of her
modesty is a less forgivable crime than the taking of her life would be.
The wearing of a veil may be a foolish custom; but use and want hallow
even the trivial. Half of our law is based upon precedent, and we are
protected at every turn by unwritten law, which is nothing else than
precedent. Mankind needs to repose in the security of this protection.
Woe to him, said Hebbel, who disturbs the sleep of the world! Changes
must come, but rarely in the way of revolution.
The tragedy of the Nibelungen Hebbel approached somewhat differently
from the other subjects that he treated. He had his own conception of
the tragic content of the matter, of course; but he found that the
author of the _Nibelungenlied_, a dramatist from head to foot, has so
clearly presented the tragic aspects of the story that the modern
dramatist need only make himself the interpreter of the medieval epic
poet. Herewith Hebbel's trilogy is at once distinguished from such other
modern treatments of the subject as Geibel's _Brunhild_ or Wagner's
_Nibelungen Ring_. Geibel eliminated everything supernatural; Wagner
made use chiefly of the Old Norse versions of the story; Hebbel, on the
contrary, dramatized what he regarded as the significant content of the
Middle High German poem, retaining its mythological, Christian,
chivalrous, historical, and legendary elements. The mythological
elements of the epic are indeed indistinct survivals of earlier ages.
Hebbel leaned somewhat upon Norse myths in his reproduction of them,
though it was part of his plan to preserve a certain indistinctness and
mystery in these undramatic presuppositions. Similarly, he made more of
the element of Christianity than is made of it by the _Nibelungenlied_.
In both epic and drama the Burgundians are only formally Christian; the
cardinal principles of heathen ethics, tribal loyalty and vengeance, are
entirely unaffected by the Christian doctrine of forgiveness. In the
play, however, the transition from one system to the other is much more
strongly emphasized than in the poem. The heathen ethics lead to the
mutual destruction of those who profess them, and out of the ruins of
the old civilization a new world rises heralded by Theodoric of Verona,
who accepts the sovereignty relinquished by Attila the Hun, "in His name
who died on the cross."
The downfall of two peoples follows in the train of personal calamity.
Siegfried, foreordained by the ancient gods to become the husband of
Brunhild, neglects in the adventurous days of youth to woo her, and
undertakes for the price of Kriemhild's hand to secure her as a wife for
Gunther. Hidden in his cloak of invisibility, he twice overcomes
Brunhild, thereby committing against her the same kind of outrage as
Herod's against Mariamne, and that of Gyges against Rhodope. Through no
direct fault of Siegfried's the fraud is discovered; it is an offense to
the queen, which insults the State. Gunther the king will not punish it,
for he is under personal obligations to the offender; but he takes no
effective measures to prevent punishment by Hagen, who, though his loyal
motives are mixed with envy, acts within his rights as the prime
minister. But Siegfried, being vulnerable in only one spot, cannot be
challenged to open combat; he has to be slain by stealth; so that
Hagen's act is not strictly to be called murder, and the Burgundians,
even though their sense of solidarity should not require them to make
common cause with him against Kriemhild, might with some show of reason
confirm his oath that he is no murderer. Siegfried put himself outside
the pale of humanity when he assumed the dragon's skin. Dragons are
hunted to death. Only men are tried and executed.
We have chosen to examine Hebbel's principal plays from the point of
view of their idea, for the reason that, as said above, it was primarily
the idea which Hebbel found important in every individual phenomenon. He
did not treat cases and conditions for the sake of merely representing
life on the stage, but for the sake of exemplifying, in representations
of life, the fundamental irreconcilability of the expansive and
repressive forces which struggle in every individual. His characters are
certainly persons, not abstract constructions; the action in his plays
moves relentlessly forward, with no lack of inventiveness on his part or
of sensuous impressiveness on the part of his inventions; he seldom
fails to convince our understanding that in his dramatic debate each
side is adequately represented, and that the side which at length
prevails is the stronger under the presuppositions of time and place; it
would be unfair, furthermore, to deny the appeal that he makes to our
sympathy. But, on the other hand, he is not free from suggestions of
artifice; his characters are abnormally introspective and
self-explanatory, and they reveal a talent for logical exposition which
belongs rather to Friedrich Hebbel than to men of like passions with
ourselves. In the unsought, accidental, ingenuous details which
ingratiate themselves in spite, or perhaps because of their
insignificance, he is not to be compared with Grillparzer; nor, in the
capacity to create a poetic atmosphere, with Otto Ludwig. His language
is rugged and masculine; his style, frequently forensic. Taken as a
whole, his work furnishes more abundant food for thought than objects
of _naive_ esthetic enjoyment; but, like Grillparzer's, his plays were
written for the stage; and proper enactment has seldom failed to produce
with them an effect of power worthy of his powerful personality, which
swam against the tide, knowing that the tide would turn and that the
flood would bear him to the haven.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Master ANTONY, _a joiner_
CLARA, _his daughter_
CARL, _his son_
_A Secretary_ WOLFRAM, a merchant_
ADAM, _a bailiff_
_Place. A fair-sized town_
MARIA MAGDALENA (1844)
TRANSLATED BY PAUL BERNARD THOMAS
_A Room in the Joiner's House._
_Enter_ CLARA; _the_ MOTHER.
Your wedding dress? Oh, how well it becomes you! It looks as if it had
been made today!
Yes, child, fashion keeps on going forward until it can go no farther
and has to turn around and go back. This dress has already been out of
style and in again ten times.
But this time it is not exactly in style, dear mother! The sleeves are
too wide! It must not annoy you!
I should have to be you for that! CLARA.
And so this is the way you looked! But surely you carried a bunch of
flowers too, didn't you?
I should hope so! Else why do you think I nursed that sprig of myrtle in
the pot for so many years?
I have often asked you to, but you have never before put it on. You have
always said: It is no longer my wedding dress; it is my shroud now, and
that is something one should not play with. I got so that I couldn't
even look at it any more, because, hanging there so white, it always
made me think of your death, and of the day when the old women would try
to pull it on over your head. Why then today?
When one is very sick, as I was, and does not know whether one is going
to get well again or not, a great many things revolve in one's head.
Death is more terrible than you think--oh, it is awful! It casts a
shadow over the world; one after the other it blows out all the lights
that shine with such cheerful brightness all around us, the kindly eyes
of husband and children cease to sparkle, and it grows dark everywhere.
But deep in the heart it strikes a light, which burns brightly and
reveals a great deal one does not care to see. I am not conscious of
ever having done a wrong; I have walked in God's ways, I have done my
best about the home, I have brought you and your brother up to fear God,
and I have kept together the fruits of your father's hard work. I have
always managed to lay aside an extra penny for the poor, and if now and
then I have turned somebody away, because I felt out of sorts or because
too many came, it wasn't a very great misfortune for him, because I was
sure to call him back and give him twice as much. Oh, what does it all
amount to? People dread the last hour when it threatens to come, writhe
like a worm over it, and implore God to let them live, just as a servant
implores his master to let him do something over again that he has
done poorly, so that he may not come short in his wages on pay-day.
Don't talk in that way, dear mother! It weakens you.
No, child, it does me good! Am I not well and strong again now? Did
not the Lord call me merely to let me know that my festal robe was not
yet pure and spotless? And did he not permit me to come back from the
very edge of the grave, and grant me time to prepare myself for the
heavenly wedding? He was not as kind as that to those five Virgins in
the Gospel, about whom I had you read to me last night. And that is the
reason why today, when I am going to the Holy Communion, I put this
dress on. I wore it the day I made the best and most pious resolutions
of my life; I want it to remind me of those which I have not yet carried
You still talk as you did in your illness!
Good morning, mother! Well, Clara, I suppose you might put up with me,
if I were not your brother?
A gold chain? Where did you get that?
Why do I sweat so? Why do I work two hours longer than the others every
evening? You are impertinent!
A quarrel on Sunday morning? Shame on you, Carl!
Mother, haven't you got a gulden for me?
I haven't any money except for the housekeeping!
Well, give me some of that then! I won't grumble if you make the
pancakes thinner for the next two weeks. You have often done so before!
I know that all right! When you were saving up for Clara's white dress,
we didn't have anything decent to eat for a month. I shut my eyes, but I
knew right well that a new hair ribbon or some other bit of finery was
on the way. So let me get something out of it too, for once!
You are absolutely shameless!
I haven't much time, else--[_He starts to go_.]
Where are you going?
I won't tell you, and then, when the old growler asks you where I am,
you can answer without blushing that you don't know. Anyway I don't need
your gulden--it is best not to draw all your water from one well.
Here at home they always think the worst things they can about me; why
shouldn't I take pleasure in keeping them worried? Why should I say
that, since I don't get my gulden, I shall have to go to church, unless
a friend helps me out of my predicament?
What does he mean by that?
Oh, he grieves me terribly! Yes, yes, your father is right! Those are
the consequences! He is just as insolent now in demanding a gulden as he
was cunning in pleading for a piece of sugar when he was a little
curly-headed baby. I wonder if he would not demand the gulden now, if I
had refused him the sugar then? That often hurts me! And I think he
doesn't even love me! Did you ever once see him cry during my illness?
I didn't see him very often at best--almost never except at the table.
He had more appetite than I!
That was natural! He had to work so hard!
To be sure! And how strange men are! They are more ashamed of their
tears than they are of their sins! A clenched fist--why not exhibit
that? But red eyes!--And father too! The afternoon they opened your vein
and no blood came, he sobbed at his work-bench until it moved my very
soul! But when I went up to him and stroked his cheeks, what did he say?
"See if you can't get this accursed splinter out of my eye! I have so
much to do and can't accomplish anything!"
Yes! yes!--I never see Leonard any more, by the way. How does that
Let him stay away!
I hope you are not seeing him anywhere else, except here at the house!
Is it because I stay out too long when I go to the well in the evening
that you have reason to suspect that?
No, not that. But it was just for that reason that I gave him permission
to come here to the house, so that he wouldn't lie in wait for you out
there in the dark. My mother would never allow that, either!
I don't see him at all!
Have you had a quarrel? Otherwise I think I might like him--he is so
steady! If he only amounted to something! In my time he would not have
had to wait long. Then gentlemen were eager for a good penman, as lame
people are for their crutch, for they were rare. Even we humble people
could use one. Today he would compose for a son a New Year's greeting to
his father and receive for the gilded initials alone enough to buy a
child's doll with. Tomorrow the father would give him a sly wink and
have him read the greeting aloud, secretly and behind closed doors, so
as not to be surprised and have his ignorance discovered. That meant
double pay. Then penmen were jolly people and made the price of beer
high. It is different now. Now we old folks, not knowing anything about
reading and writing, must allow ourselves to be made fun of by
nine-year-old children. The world is steadily growing wiser; perhaps the
time is yet to come when people who can't walk a tight-rope will have to
feel ashamed of it!
The bell is ringing!
Well, child, I will pray for you. And as far as Leonard is concerned,
love him as he loves God--no more and no less. That is what my old
mother said to me when she died and gave me her blessing. I have kept it
long enough; now you have it!
CLARA (_hands her a nosegay_).
That certainly comes from Carl.
CLARA (_nods; then aside_.)
Would it were so! Anything that is to give her real pleasure has to come
Oh, he is so good--and he likes me! [_Exit_.]
CLARA (_looks after her through the window_).
There she goes! Three times I have dreamt that she was lying in her
coffin, and now--oh, these awful dreams! I am not going to care about
dreams any more; I will take no pleasure in a good dream, and then I
shall not have to worry about the bad one that follows it. How firmly
and confidently she steps out! She is already close to the church-yard.
I wonder who will be the first person she meets? It would signify
nothing--no, I mean only [_she shudders_]--the gravedigger! He has just
finished digging a grave and is climbing out of it! She greets him and
glances smilingly down into the dismal hole! She throws the nosegay into
it and enters the church!
[_A choir is heard_.]
They are singing: _Praise ye the Lord_.
[_She folds her hands_.]
Yes! yes! If my mother had died, I should never have recovered from it,
for--[_Glances toward Heaven_.] But Thou art kind, Thou art merciful! I
would that I believed with the Catholics, so that I might offer Thee
something! I would empty the whole of my little box of savings and buy
Thee a beautiful gilded heart, and twine it with roses. Our pastor says
that sacrifices mean nothing to Thee, because everything is Thine, and
one should not offer Thee something Thou already hast. And yet
everything in the house belongs to my father too; and still he likes it
when I buy a piece of cloth with his money and embroider it and put it
on his plate for his birthday. Yes, and he honors me by wearing it only
on great holidays, at Christmas or Whitsuntide. Once I saw a little mite
of a Catholic girl carrying some cherries up to the altar. They were the
first the child had had that year, and I could see how she longed to eat
them. Still she resisted the innocent desire, and, in order to put an
end to the temptation, hurriedly threw them down. The priest, who was
just about to pick up the chalice, looked on with a scowl, and the child
hastened timidly away. But the Mary above the altar smiled gently, as if
she would have liked to step out of her frame and overtake the child and
kiss her.--I did it for her! Here comes Leonard. Oh, dear!
LEONARD (_outside the door_).
Are you dressed?
Why so polite, so considerate? I am no princess, you know.
I thought you were not alone! In passing by I thought I saw your
neighbor Babbie standing by the window.
And so that is why--
You are forever so irritable! One can stay away from here for two weeks,
rain and sunshine can have alternated ten times, and, when one does
finally come again, he finds the same old cloud darkening your face!
Things used to be different!
Correct! If you had always looked as you do now, we should never have
become good friends!
What of it?
So you feel yourself as free of me as that, do you? Perhaps it serves me
right! Then [_significantly_] your recent toothache was a mere pretext!
Oh, Leonard, it was not right of you!
Not right for me to seek to bind to me the greatest treasure that I
have--for that is what you are to me--with the firmest of all bonds? And
especially at a time when I stood in danger of losing it? Do you think I
did not see the furtive glances you exchanged with the Secretary? That
was a triumphant day of joy for me! I take you to the dance and--
You never stop saying things that hurt me! I looked at the Secretary,
why should I deny it? But only on account of the moustache he had grown
at the University, and which--
[_She checks herself_.]
Becomes him so well--isn't that it? Isn't that what you started to say?
Oh, you women! Anything that looks like a soldier, even a caricature of
one, you like. To me the fop's ridiculous little oval face, with that
tuft of hair in the middle of it, looked like a little white rabbit
hiding behind a bush. I am bitter toward him--I won't try to conceal it.
He held me back from you long enough!
I didn't praise him, did I? You don't need to run him down!
You still seem to take a lot of interest in him.
We used to play together as children, and afterward--you know very well!
Oh yes, I know! And that's just why!
Then I think it was only natural, seeing him again for the first time
in a long while that way, for me to look at him and be astonished to see
how big and--[_She checks herself_.]
Why did you blush then, when he looked back at you?
I thought he was looking at the little mole on my left cheek to see if
it, too, had grown bigger! You know I always imagine people are looking
at that when they stare at me so, and it always makes me blush. I have a
feeling as if it _were_ growing larger, as long as they look at it!
However that may be, it got on my nerves, and I thought to myself: This
very evening I will put her to the test! If she wants to become my wife,
she knows that she risks nothing. If she says no, then--
Oh, you said a bad, bad word, when I pushed you back and jumped up from
the bench. The moon, which up to that time had shone in through the
foliage with such kindly consideration for me, at that moment sank
shrewdly behind the wet clouds. I wanted to hurry away, but felt
something holding me. At first I thought it was you, but it was the
rose-bush, whose thorns held my dress like teeth. You outraged my heart,
so that I no longer trusted it myself. You stood before me like one
demanding the payment of a debt! I--Oh, God!
[Illustration: ALFRED RETHEL DEATH AS CUP-BEARER]
I cannot yet regret it. I knew it was the only way I could have kept you
to myself. The old girlhood love was opening its eyes again, and I could
not close them quickly enough!
When I got home, I found my mother ill, mortally ill. She had been
stricken suddenly, as if by an invisible hand. My father had wanted to
send for me, but she would not consent to his doing so, not wishing to
interrupt my happiness. And how I felt when I heard that! I held myself
aloof, I did not dare to touch her, I trembled! She took it for childish
anxiety and motioned me over to her; when I slowly drew near her, she
held me down and kissed my desecrated mouth. I lost control of myself; I
wanted to confess to her, to cry out what I thought and felt: It is my
fault that you are lying there! I tried to do so, but tears and sobs
choked my voice. She reached for my father's hand, and said with a
blissful glance at me: What a heart!
She is well again. I have come to congratulate her, and--what do you
To ask your father for your hand.
Don't you want me to?
Want you to? It will mean my death, if I do not become your wife pretty
soon! But you do not know my father! He does not understand why we are
in such a hurry--he cannot understand why, and we cannot tell him why!
And he has declared a hundred times that he will never give his daughter
to any man unless he has not only, as he says, love in his heart for
her, but also bread in his cupboard for her. He will say: Wait another
year or two, my son.--And what will be your answer?
LEONARD. You foolish girl, that difficulty is disposed of! I have the
position now--I am cashier!
You cashier? And the other applicant, the pastor's nephew?
Was drunk when he came to the examination, bowed to the stove instead of
to the burgomaster, and when he sat down knocked three cups off the
table. You know how hot-headed the old fellow is. "Sir!" he exclaimed
angrily, but he restrained himself and bit his lip. Nevertheless his
eyes glared through his spectacles like the eyes of a serpent about to
spring, and his whole body became rigid. Then we started computing and,
ha! ha!--my rival computed with a multiplication table of his own
invention that gave entirely new results. "He's way off in his
reckoning!" said the burgomaster, and, glancing in my direction, held
out his hand to me with the appointment. It smelled terribly of tobacco,
but I took it and raised it humbly to my lips.--Here it is now, signed
Unexpectedly, doesn't it? Well, it was not altogether an accident
either. Why didn't I come to see you for two weeks?
How do I know? I think it was because we got angry at each other the
Oh, I was cunning enough to bring about that little disagreement on
purpose--so that I could stay away without its astonishing you too much!
I don't understand you!
I suppose not. I took advantage of the time to pay court to the
burgomaster's little hump-backed niece, whom the old fellow thinks so
much of, and who is his right hand, just as the bailiff is his left.
Understand me correctly! I didn't say anything nice to her about
herself, except perhaps a compliment regarding her hair, which everybody
knows is red--so I just told her some nice things she liked to hear
Why should I keep still about it? I did it with the best of
intentions--as if I had never intended to deal seriously with you, as
if--enough! That lasted until I got this in my hands, and the credulous
little man-crazy fool will find out what I meant when she hears the
banns of our marriage published in the church.
Child! child! You be as innocent as a dove, and I will be as wise as a
serpent. Then, since a man and his wife are one, we shall entirely
satisfy the demand of the Gospel.
Neither was it altogether an accident that young Hermann was drunk at
the most important moment of his life. You have surely never heard that
the fellow is given to drinking?
Not a word.
The fact made the execution of my scheme all the easier. It was done
with three glasses. I had a couple of friends of mine waylay him. "May
one drink to your health?"--"Not now!"--"Oh, that is all arranged, you
know. Your uncle"--"And now, drink, my brother, drink!"--This morning
when I was on my way to you, he stood leaning on the bridge and gazing
dejectedly down at the river. I greeted him sarcastically, and asked him
if he had dropped anything into the water. "Yes," he answered, without
looking up, "and perhaps it would be well for me to jump in after it."
You bad man! Get out of my sight!
You mean it?
[_Moves, as if to go_.]
Oh, my God, I am chained to this man!
Don't be a baby! And now one more word in confidence: Does your father
still keep the thousand thalers in the apothecary shop?
I know nothing about it.
Nothing about so important a matter?
Here comes my father.
Understand me! The apothecary is said to be on the verge of
bankruptcy--that's why I asked!
I must go into the kitchen! [_Exit_.]
Well, I guess there is nothing to be got here! I can't understand it at
all; for Master Antony is one of those fellows whose ghost, if you
should accidentally put one too many letters on his gravestone, would
haunt you until you took it off. For he would regard it as dishonest to
appropriate more of the alphabet than he was properly entitled to.
_Enter_ LEONARD; _Master_ ANTONY.
Good morning, Mr. Cashier! [_He takes off his cap and puts on a woolen
cap_.] Is it permissible for an old man to keep his head covered?
You know then--
Since yesterday evening. When I was going over in the dusk to take the
deceased miller's measure for his final sleeping room, I heard a couple
of your good friends slandering you. I thought right away: I guess
Leonard has not broken his neck.--At the house I heard more about it
from the sexton, who had come to console the widow, and, incidentally,
to get drunk.
And you had to let Clara find out about it from me?
If you didn't care enough about it to give the girl that pleasure
yourself, why should I do it? I don't light any candles in my house
except those that belong to me. Then I know that nobody is going to come
and blow them out, just as we are beginning to enjoy them.
Surely you don't think that I--
Think? About you? About anybody? I smooth over boards with my plane, but
I never smooth over men with my thoughts. I stopped that sort of
foolishness long ago. When I see a tree growing, I think to myself: It
will soon be blossoming; and when it sprouts: It will soon bear fruit.
In that I never see myself disappointed, and for that reason I don't
give up the old habit. But about men I never think anything, good or
bad, and then I don't have to turn alternately red and white when they
disappoint my fears one minute and my hopes the next. I merely observe
them and use the evidence of my eyes, which likewise do not think, but
only see. I thought I had made a complete observation of you, but now
that I find you here I must confess that it was only half an
Master Antony, you have it all upside down. Trees are dependent upon
wind and weather, whereas men have laws and rules in themselves to
Do you think so? Yes, we old people owe hearty thanks to death for
allowing us to run around so long among you young folks, thereby giving
us an opportunity to educate ourselves. Formerly the stupid world used
to think that the father was there to educate his son. But now the son
is supposed to give his father the final touch of perfection, so that
the poor, simple man will not need to feel ashamed of himself before the
worms in his grave. God be praised! I have a fine teacher in my son Carl
who, without sparing his old child by indulgence, takes the field
against my prejudices. He taught me two new lessons this very morning,
and in the most clever way, without opening his mouth and without even
letting me see him--yes, by that very means. In the first place, he
showed me that it is not necessary for a man to keep his word; in the
second, that it is superfluous to go to church and freshen up one's
memory of God's laws. Yesterday evening he promised me that he would go,
and I counted on his doing it, for I thought to myself: He will want to
thank the gracious Creator for the recovery of his mother. But he wasn't
there, and I was very comfortable all alone in my pew, which, to be
sure, is a little too short for two persons anyway. I wonder if he would
like it if I myself were to act in accordance with the new doctrine, by
not keeping my word with him? I have promised him a new suit for his
birthday, and I might take the opportunity to test his joy over my
docility. But prejudice! Prejudice! I shall not do it!
Perhaps he was not well--
Possibly! I need only to ask my wife, then I am sure to hear that he is
sick. For she tells me the truth about everything else in the world, but
never about the boy. And even if he was not sick!--There too the younger
generation has the advantage over us old folks, in that they can find
their spiritual edification anywhere, and can do their worshipping when
they are out trapping birds, or taking a walk, or sitting in the
ale-house. "Our Father who art in Heaven"--"Good day, Peter, shall I
see you at the dance this evening?"--"Hallowed be Thy name"--"Yes, laugh
if you will, Catherine, but it is true"--"Thy will be done"--"The devil
take me, I am not shaved yet!"--and so forth. And each one pronounces
the blessing on himself, for he is a man just as much as the preacher,
and the power that emanates from a black garb certainly exists in a blue
one as well. Nor have I anything to say against it; even if you want to
intersperse the seven petitions with seven glasses, what of it? I can't
prove to anybody that beer and religion don't mix well, and perhaps it
will some day get into the liturgy as a new way of taking the Eucharist.
Frankly, I myself, old sinner that I am, am not strong enough to keep
pace with fashion; I cannot catch up worship in the street, as if it
were a cockchafer; for me the chirping of swallows and sparrows cannot
take the place of the organ. If I want to feel my heart exalted, I must
hear the heavy, iron doors of the church close behind me and think to
myself that they are the doors of the world. The dismal high walls with
their narrow windows, that admit but a dim remnant of the bold garish
daylight as if they were sifting it, must surround me on all sides. And
in the distance I must be able to see the charnel-house, with its
death-head cut in the wall. Oh well, better is better.
You are too particular about it!
Of course! Of course! And today, as an honest man, I must confess that
what I have been saying did not hold good; for I lost my reverent mood
in church, being annoyed by the vacant seat beside me, and found it
again under the pear-tree in my garden. You are astonished? But look! I
went sadly and dejectedly home, like one whose harvest has been ruined
by hail; for children are like fields--we sow good corn in them and
weeds sprout up. Under the pear-tree, which the caterpillars have half
eaten up, I stood still. "Yes," I thought, "the boy is like this tree,
empty and barren." Then I suddenly imagined that I was very thirsty, and
absolutely had to go over to the tavern. I deceived myself--it wasn't to
get a glass of beer that I wanted to go; it was to seek out the young
man and take him to task in the tavern, where I knew he was sure to be.
I was just about to start, when the sensible old tree let fall a juicy
pear right at my feet, as if to say: Take that for your thirst, and for
slandering me by comparing me with that good-for-nothing son of yours. I
deliberated a moment, took a bite of it, and went into the house.
Do you know that the apothecary is on the verge of bankruptcy?
What do I care?
Don't you care at all
Surely! I am a Christian--the man has several children!
And still more creditors. The children, too, are creditors in a way.
Happy is he who is neither the one nor the other!
I thought you yourself--
That was settled up long ago.
You are a prudent man; of course you immediately demanded your money
when you saw that the green-grocer was about to fail.
Yes, I need not tremble any more with the fear of losing it--it was lost
You are joking!
In all seriousness!
CLARA (_looks in at the door_).
Did you call, father?
Are your ears beginning to ring already? We had not talked about you
The weekly paper!
You are a philosopher!
What do you mean by that?
You know how to compose yourself.
I wear a mill-stone as a cravat sometimes, instead of going to the river
with it. That gives one a strong back.
Let him who can imitate you.
He who has such a gallant fellow to help him bear it, as I seem to have
found in you, ought to be able to dance under the burden. You have grown
quite pale. I call that sympathy!
I hope you don't misunderstand me!
[_He drums on a dresser._]
That wood is not transparent, is it?
I do not understand you!
How foolish it was of our grandfather Adam to take Eve, when she was
naked and destitute, and did not even bring a fig-leaf with her. We two,
you and I, would have scourged her out of Paradise as a tramp! What do
You are exasperated with your son.--I have come to you regarding your
You had better be careful!--Perhaps I'll not say no!
I hope you will not. And I will tell you what I think: The patriarchs
themselves never used to scorn the dowries of their women. Jacob loved
Rachel and courted her seven years, but he also liked the fat rams and
sheep that he earned in her father's service. That, I think, was not to
his discredit, and to outdo him in anything would be to put him to the
blush. I should have liked very much to see your daughter bring a
couple of hundred thalers with her; and that was quite natural, because
she herself would thereby be so much the better off with me. If a girl
brings her bed in her trunk, then she will not have to card wool and
spin yarn. In this case it will not be so, but what of it? We'll make a
Sunday dinner out of Lenten fare, and a Christmas feast out of Sunday's
roast. In that way we'll make out all right!
ANTONY (_offers him his hand_).
You talk well, and God smiles on your words. Well, I will forget that
for fourteen days at tea-time my daughter put a cup on the table for you
in vain. And now that you are to be my son-in-law, I will tell you where
the thousand thalers are!
So they are gone then! Well, I shall not have to go out of my way to
please the old werewolf, even if he is my father-in-law!
Things went hard with me in my early years. I was no more of a bristly
hedgehog than you when I came into the world, but I have gradually grown
to be one. At first all the quills in my case pointed inward, and people
found pleasure in pricking and pinching my soft smooth skin, and were
amused to see me flinch when the points penetrated into my very heart
and bowels. But the thing did not appeal to me; I turned my skin inside
out and then the quills pricked their fingers and I had peace.
LEONARD (_to himself_).
Safe from the very devil, methinks!
My father, by not allowing himself any rest day or night, worked himself
to death in his thirtieth year, and my mother nourished me as well as
she could with her spinning. I grew up without learning anything. When I
became larger and was still unable to earn any money, I would gladly
have disaccustomed myself to eating; but when now and then at noon I
would pretend to be sick and push back my plate, what did it mean? It
meant that in the evening my stomach would compel me to announce myself
well again! My greatest grief was that I was so unskilled. I used to
blame myself for it, as if it were my own fault, as if in my mother's
womb I had been supplied with nothing but teeth to eat with, as if I had
purposely left behind me there all the useful capabilities and assets. I
used to blush with shame when the sun shone on me. Just after my
confirmation the man whom they buried yesterday, Master Gebhard, came
into our house. He scowled and made a wry face, as he always used to
frown when he had anything good in mind to do. Then he said to my
mother: "Did you bring your youngster into the world in order to let him
eat the very nose and ears off your head?" I felt ashamed and put the
loaf of bread, from which I was just on the point of cutting off a
piece, back into the cupboard again. My mother took offense at his
well-meant words; she stopped her wheel and replied vehemently that her
son was a fine good fellow. "Well, we will see about that," said the
Master. "If he wants to, he can come right now, just as he stands there,
into my workshop with me. I do not ask any money for teaching him; he
will get his board, and his clothes I will also supply; and if he wants
to get up early and go to bed late, opportunities will not be wanting
for him to earn a little money on the side for his old mother." My
mother began to cry and I to dance. When we finally came to an
agreement, the Master closed up his ears, walked out, and motioned me to
follow. I did not need to put a hat on, for I had none. Without saying
good-by to my mother, I went after him. And on the following Sunday,
when I was allowed to go back to her little room for the first time, he
gave me half a ham to take with me. God's blessing on the good man's
grave! I still hear his half-angry: "Tony, under your coat with it, so
my wife won't see it!"
You are not crying?
ANTONY (_dries his eyes_).
Yes, I can never think of that without its starting the tears, no matter
how well the source of them may have been stopped up. Oh well, that's
all right! If I should ever get the dropsy, I shall at any rate not have
to draw off these drops too.
[_With a sudden turn._]
What do you think about it?--Supposing on a Sunday afternoon you went
over to smoke a pipe of tobacco with a friend, a friend to whom you owed
everything in the world; and supposing you found him greatly confused
and perturbed, a knife in his hand--the same knife you had used a
thousand times to cut his evening bread--and holding it, covered with
blood, at his neck, and nervously drawing his handkerchief up to his
And that is the way old Gebhard went about to the end of his days.
On account of the scar. And supposing you arrived in time to help save
him, but to do it you had not only to wrench the knife out of his hand
and bandage the wound, but you had also to give over a paltry thousand
thalers that you had saved up; and, furthermore, you had to do it all
absolutely on the sly, so as to induce the sick man to accept it, what
would you do?
Being a free and single man, without wife and child, I would sacrifice
And if you had ten wives, like the Turks, and as many children as were
promised to Father Abraham, and if you took only one second to think
about it, you would be--Well, you are to be my son-in-law! Now you know
where the money is. Today I could tell you, for my old Master is buried;
a month ago I would have kept the secret even on my death-bed. I slipped
the note under the dead man's head before they nailed up the coffin. If
I had known how to write, I would have written underneath: "Honestly
paid!" But, ignorant as I am, there was nothing for me to do but tear
the paper in two. Now he will sleep in peace--and I hope that I shall
too, when they stretch me out beside him.
MOTHER (_enters hurriedly_).
Do you still know me?
ANTONY (_pointing to the wedding dress_).
The frame, yes--that is perfectly preserved; but the picture--not so
well. It seems to be covered with cobwebs. Oh, well! there has been time
enough for it.
Have I not a frank husband? Still, I do not need to praise him
specially--frankness is a virtue of married men!
Are you sorry that you were better gilded at twenty than you are at
Certainly not! If I were, I ought to be ashamed both for myself and for
Give me a kiss then! I am shaved and look better than usual.
I say yes, merely to test you, to see if you still understand the art.
It is a long time since such a thing has occurred to you!
Good mother, I will not ask you to close my eyes; that is a hard thing
to do, and I will take it off your hands. I will do that final service
of love for you. But you must grant me time, understand, to harden and
prepare myself for it, so that I won't make a botch of it. It would have
been much too soon!
Thank God that we are still going to have a little time together!
I hope so too! You have your old red cheeks again!
A comical fellow, our new grave-digger! He was digging a grave this
morning when I passed through the church-yard. I asked him whom it was
for. "For whomsoever God wills," he said. "Perhaps for myself. The same
thing may happen to me that happened to my grandfather; he too had dug
one on chance once, and at night when he came home from the Inn he fell
into it and broke his neck."
LEONARD (_who, up to this time, has been reading the weekly paper_).
The fellow doesn't come from here--he can tell all the lies he likes.
I asked him: "Why don't you wait until somebody orders a grave dug?" "I
was invited to a wedding today," he said, "and I am enough of a prophet
to know that I would still feel the effects of it in my head tomorrow if
I went. Now of course _some_ body has been inconsiderate enough to go and
die, so that in the morning I would have to get up early and would not
be able to sleep it off."
"You clown!" I would have said, "supposing now the grave doesn't fit?"
I said that too, but he shook sharp answers out of his sleeve, as the
devil does fleas. "I took the measurement for Veit, the weaver," he
said, "who, like King Saul, towers a head above everybody else. Now,
come who may, he will not find his house too small; and if it is too
large, that doesn't hurt anybody but me, for, as an honest man, I never
charge for a single foot more than the length of the coffin." I threw my
flowers into the grave and said: "Now it is occupied!"
I think the fellow was only joking, and even that is sinful enough. To
dig graves in advance is to set the trap of death too soon; the
scoundrel who does it ought to be driven out of the business.
[_To LEONARD, who is still reading._]
What's the news? Is there any philanthropist looking for a poor widow,
who can use a few hundred thalers, or, _vice versa_, a poor widow
looking for a philanthropist who can supply them?
The police announce the theft of some jewelry. Strange enough! It seems
that, in spite of the hard times, there are still people among us who
can own jewels!
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