The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. IX
Part 7 out of 13
confusion. In the pauses between one thunderclap and the next Susanna
did indeed collect herself somewhat and tried to calm and comfort her
charges, who according to their age were either hanging on to her apron
or crouching by themselves with closed eyes in the corners of the room.
But suddenly a bluish flame of lightning flashed once more through the
cracks of the shutters and the words died on her lips, while the maid,
almost as frightened as the youngest child, howled and screamed out,
"The good God is angry!" When it was dark again in the room she added
with pedagogical moroseness, "You're all of you good for nothing,
anyhow!" These words, no matter how odious the mouth from which they
fell, made a deep impression on me; they forced me to look upward, above
myself and above everything which surrounded me, and kindled in me the
spark of religious emotion.
On my return from school to my father's house, I found there, too, the
horrors of devastation. Our pear-tree had lost not only its young fruit
but likewise all its beautiful leaves, and stood there bare as in
winter: what is more, a very fruitful plum-tree, which used to supply
not only ourselves but half the town besides, and, at the very least,
our fairly numerous kinsfolk, had even been despoiled of the richest of
its branches, and in its mutilation looked like a man with a broken arm.
Though my mother found a sorry comfort in the fact that our pig was now
supplied with dainty fare for a week, I could derive none at all from
it, and even the pieces of glass lying around in abundance--from which
the most excellent mirrors could be made in the easiest way in the world
by sticking them together with damp earth--offered scarcely any
compensation for the irrecoverably lost autumn pleasures. Now, however,
I understood all at once why my father always went to church on Sunday,
and, why I was never allowed to put on a clean shirt without saying:
"God's mercy upon us!" when I did so. I had learned to know the Lord of
Lords; his angry servants, thunder and lightning, hail and storm, had
opened wide the portals of my heart to him, and he had entered in all
What had taken place in my soul was made manifest shortly afterward. For
one evening when once again the wind blew mightily down the chimney,
and the rain beat hard upon the roof as I was being put to bed, the
mechanical babbling of my lips was suddenly transformed into a real,
anxious prayer, and therewith the spiritual navel-string, which up to
that time had bound me exclusively to my parents, was broken. Indeed
things soon went so far that I began to complain to God of my father and
mother when I thought I had been unjustly treated by them.
Further there is connected with this school-room my first and perhaps
most bitter martyrdom. In order to make plain what I would say I must
explain a little. Even in the infant-school all the elements are to be
found which the maturer man later encounters in an intensified degree,
in the world. Brutality, deceit, vulgar cleverness, hypocrisy, all are
represented, and a pure mind always stands there, like Adam and Eve in
the picture, among the wild beasts. How much of this is to be ascribed
to nature, how much to early education, or rather to neglect in the
home, must remain undecided here; the fact admits of no doubt. This,
then, was likewise the case in Wesselburen. Every species was to be met
with, from the brutal boy who plucked the feathers from the living birds
and pulled the legs off the flies, down to the light-fingered little
rascal, who stole the bright colored book-marks out of the primers of
his comrades. The fate which their better-behaved fellow-pupils--who
were condemned to suffer on that account--sometimes angrily prophesied
for the young sinners, when the good boys had happened to be the object
of their jeers or their malicious tricks, was fulfilled to the letter in
the case of more than one of them. The gamins always have instinct
enough to know whom their sting will strike first and sharpest, and
therefore I was, for a time, the one most exposed to their spite.
Sometimes a boy pretended to be reading very zealously in the catechism,
which he held close before his face, but instead he whispered over the
top of the page all sorts of scurrilous things in my ear, and asked me
if I were still stupid enough to believe that children came out of the
well, and that the stork fetched them up? Sometimes another called to me
"If you want an apple, take it out of my pocket, I brought one along for
you!" And when I did so, he cried! "Susanna, I am being robbed," and
denied having said anything to me. A third even spat upon his book and
then began to howl and declared with a brazen face that I had done it.
Although I was almost the only one exposed to vexations of this kind,
partly because I felt them most keenly, and partly because they
succeeded best with me on account of my extreme unwariness, there were
other annoyances which all, without exception, had to put up with.
Foremost among these was the bragging of certain overgrown young rogues
who were considerably ahead of us others in years, but in spite of that
still sat on the A.B.C. bench, and from time to time played truant.
They got nothing out of it at the time but double and threefold boredom,
for as they dared not go home and could not find any playmates, there
was nothing for them to do but crouch down behind a hedge or lurk in a
dried-up ditch until the hour of deliverance struck, and then to mingle
with us on the way home as though they really had been where they
belonged. But they knew how to make up for it and get some fun for
themselves afterward, when they came back to school and related their
adventures. They would tell us how once their father had gone by right
close to the hedge, the cane with which he used to thrash them in his
hand, and yet had not noticed them; how another time their mother,
accompanied by the spitz dog, had come up to the ditch, the dog had
smelt them out, their mother had discovered them, but the lie that they
had been sent there by Susanna herself to pick camomile flowers for her,
had helped them through in spite of all. Then they plumed themselves
like old soldiers who are telling their heroic deeds to wondering
recruits, and the moral always was: we risk the whip and the cane, you
at most the switch, and yet you do not dare to do anything.
This was irritating and all the more so as it was not possible
absolutely to deny the truth of their assertions. Hence when the son of
a cobbler once came to school with his back black and blue, and told us
his father had caught him and punished him severely with his shoemaker's
stirrup, but that he was only going to try it now all the oftener, for
he was no coward, I also determined to show my courage, and that, too,
that very afternoon.
When, therefore, my mother sent me away at the usual hour, provided with
two juicy pears to quench my thirst, I did not go to Susanna's, but
crept, with a beating heart and anxiously peering behind me, into the
woodshed of our neighbor, the joiner, encouraged and assisted to do so
by his son, who was much older than I and already worked in his father's
shop. It was very hot and my hiding place was both dark and close; the
two pears did not last long, besides I could not eat them without some
twinges of conscience, and an old cat cowering in the background with
her young ones, who growled fiercely at my least movement, did not
contribute very much to my amusement. The sin carried its punishment
along with it; I counted every quarter and every half hour of the clock,
the strokes of which penetrated from the high tower to where I was with
a harsh, and it seemed to me, threatening sound. I tormented myself
wondering whether I could get out of the shed again without being
noticed, and I thought only very rarely and fleetingly of the triumph
which I hoped to celebrate on the morrow.
It was already getting rather late when my mother came into the garden
and glancing gaily and contentedly about her, went over to the well to
draw some water. She almost passed directly in front of me, and that in
itself arrested my breathing. But how was it with me when my confidant
suddenly asked her if she knew where Christian was, and to her
astonished reply, "With Susanna!" rejoined half mischievously, half
maliciously "No! no, with the cat!" and winking and blinking showed her
my hiding place! Beside myself with rage, I sprang out and would have
kicked the grinning traitor. My mother, however, her whole face aflame,
set her pail down on one side and seized me by the arms and hair to take
me to school after all. I tore myself away, I rolled on the ground, I
howled and screamed, but in vain. The discovery of such a criminal in
her quiet darling, whom every one praised, incensed her so that she
would not listen to me, but dragged me away by force; and my continued
resistance had no other result than to cause all the windows on the
street to be opened and all heads to pop out. When I arrived my
companions were just being dismissed; they crowded around me, however,
and heaped mockery and derision upon me, while Susanna, who may have
realized that the lesson was too severe, tried to pacify me. Since that
day I believe I know how the man feels who runs the gauntlet.
I should really have mentioned, above, a third experience, but this
last, whether in retrospect one rate it high or low, is, in any case, so
unique and incomparable in the life of man that one dares not place it
in the same category with any other. In Susanna's gloomy school-room,
namely, I learned to know love, and that, too, in the very same hour in
which I entered it; therefore in my fourth year.
The first love! Who does not smile when he reads these words; before
whose vision does not an Aennchen or a Gretchen hover, who once seemed
to him to wear a starry crown and be arrayed in the blue of heaven and
the gold of the morning, and who now perhaps--it would be criminal to
paint the reverse of the picture. But who does not say to himself, too,
that at that time he was carried, as though on wings, past every
honey-cup in the garden of earth, too quickly indeed to become
intoxicated, but slowly enough to breathe in the sacred morning
fragrance. It is therefore with emotion that I now smile when I think of
the beautiful May morning on which actually took place that great event,
long since resolved upon, repeatedly deferred, and at last unalterably
appointed for a definite day--I mean my departure from the paternal home
to school. "He will cry!" said Meta on the evening before, and nodded
sibylline fashion, as though she knew everything. "He will not cry, but
he will get up too late!" rejoined neighbor Ohl's wife. "He will behave
bravely, and be out of his bed at the right time, too!" threw in the
good-natured old man. Then he added, "I have something for him, and I'll
give it to him when he comes in at my door at seven o'clock tomorrow
morning, washed and combed."
At seven o'clock I was at our neighbor's and as a reward was presented
with a little wooden cuckoo. Up to half past seven I was in good spirits
and played with our pug-dog, at quarter to eight I began to weaken, but
toward eight I was a man again, because Meta entered with a face full of
malicious enjoyment, and I sat out courageously, the new primer, with
John Ballhorn's egg-laying cock under my arm. My mother went with me in
order to introduce me ceremoniously; the pug followed; I was not yet
entirely forsaken, and stood in Susanna's presence before I realized it.
In school-master fashion Susanna patted me on the cheek and stroked back
my hair. My mother, in a severe tone which she had great pains in
assuming, bade me be industrious and obedient, and departed hastily, so
as not to allow her emotion to get the better of her; the pug was
undecided for some little time, but at last he went off to join her. I
was presented with a gold paper saint, then my place was shown me and I
was incorporated into the humming, buzzing child-beehive, which, glad of
the interruption, had watched the scene inquisitively.
It was some time before I dared to look up, for I felt that I was being
inspected and this embarrassed me. At last I did so, and my first glance
fell upon a pale, slender girl who sat directly opposite to me; she was
called Emilia and was the daughter of the parish clerk. A thrill of
emotion passed through me, the blood rushed to my heart, but a feeling
of shame also mingled at once with my first sensation, and I dropped my
eyes to the ground again as quickly as though they had committed a
From this hour I could not banish Emilia from my mind. School, formerly
so much feared, now became my favorite abiding place, because there only
could I see her; Sundays and holidays, which separated me from her, were
as hateful to me as they would otherwise have been welcome; I was
genuinely unhappy if she happened to stay away. She hovered before me
wherever I went and I never grew tired of repeating her name softly to
myself when I was alone; her black eyebrows and her very rosy lips, in
particular, were always present before me; on the other hand, I do not
remember that her voice made any impression upon me, although later
everything, for me, depended upon that.
It can easily be understood that I soon gained out of all this the
reputation of being the most constant attendant at school and the best
pupil. I felt rather strangely about it though, for I knew very well
that it was not the primer which attracted me to Susanna's, and that it
was not in order to learn to read quickly that I spelled away so
busily. However, no one must ever be allowed to divine what was going on
with me, and least of all Emilia. I avoided her most anxiously, so as,
by any and all means, to keep from betraying myself. When the games in
common nevertheless brought us together, I was hostile toward her rather
than in the least friendly. I pulled her back hair in order to touch her
at least for once, and hurt her in doing it, so as not to arouse
suspicion. Once, however, nature forcibly asserted itself, because put
to too severe a test. One afternoon in the romping hour which always
preceded lessons--for the children assembled slowly and Susanna liked to
take a midday nap--a distressing sight greeted me as I entered the
school-room; Emilia was being ill-treated by a boy, and he was one of my
best comrades. He pulled her about and buffeted her lustily, and I bore
it, though not without great difficulty and with ever increasing, silent
exasperation. At last, however, he drove her into a corner, and when he
let her out again, her mouth was bleeding, probably because he had
scratched her somewhere. Then I could control myself no longer, the
sight of the blood drove me mad, I fell upon him, threw him to the
ground and gave him back his thumps and slaps double and threefold. But
Emilia, far from being grateful to me, herself called for aid and
assistance for her enemy when I showed no signs of desisting, and thus
betrayed involuntarily that she liked him better than the avenger.
Susanna, awakened from her slumbers by the noise, hurried to the scene
and, naturally being cross and angry, demanded strict account of my
sudden outburst of rage. What I stammered and stuttered forth in excuse
was incomprehensible and foolish, and thus I received a rude
chastisement as a reward for my first gallant service. My affection for
Emilia lasted until my eighteenth year and passed through very many
phases; I must therefore often refer to it again.
Even in my earliest years my imagination was very vivid. When I was put
to bed in the evening the rafters above me began to crawl, from every
nook and corner of the room distorted visages made grimaces, and the
most familiar objects, such as the cane on which I myself used to ride,
the foot of the table, yes, even the coverlet on my bed with its flowers
and figures, grew strange and filled me with terror. I believe it is
well to distinguish here between the vague general fear, which is
natural to all children without exception, and a greater one which
embodies its terrifying images in clear-cut distinct forms and really
makes them objective to the young soul. The former fear was shared by my
brother, who lay beside me, but his eyes always closed very soon and
then he slept quietly until bright daylight; the latter tormented me
alone, and not only did it keep sleep far from me, but when sleep
finally came, often frightened it away again and made me call for help
in the middle of the night. How deeply the phantasms of this same fear
impressed themselves upon me can be gathered from the fact that they
return in full force in every serious illness. As soon as the feverishly
seething blood rushes over my brain and drowns my consciousness, the
oldest devils, driving out and disarming all laterborn ones, come back
again, and that best shows, without doubt, how they must once have
But by day, as well, my imagination was unusually, and perhaps
unhealthily, active. Ugly people, for example, whom my brother laughed
at and mimicked, filled me with dread. A little hunch-backed tailor--on
either side of whose triangular, deathly-pale face, immoderately long
ears stood out, ears moreover which were bright red and
transparent--could not pass by without my running with screams into the
house; and it almost caused my death when he once, in a passion,
followed me, scolding and calling me a stupid youngster, and upbraiding
my mother because he thought she was making him play the bug-bear in her
domestic discipline. I could not endure the sight of a bone and buried
even the smallest one that came to light in our garden; nay later, when
in Susanna's school, I obliterated with my nails the word "rib" in my
catechism, because it always brought before me the disgusting object
which it designated as vividly as though the object itself lay there in
repulsive decay before my eyes. On the other hand, a rose-leaf, which a
breeze blew to me over the hedge, was as much to me as--nay, more than
the rose itself was to others, and words like tulip and lily, cherry and
apricot, apple and pear, immediately transplanted me into spring,
summer, and autumn; so that in the primer I liked to spell aloud the
pieces in which they occurred better than any others, and grew angry
each time when it was not my turn to do so. Only, unhappily, in the
world one needs the diminishing glass much oftener than the magnifying,
and this holds good even of the beautiful days of youth, except in very
rare cases. For as it is said of horses that they respect man only
because, on account of the construction of their eye, they see in him a
giant, so the child endowed with imagination stands still before a grain
of sand only because it seems to him an insuperable mountain. Things in
themselves therefore cannot set the standard here; on the contrary, one
must inquire about the shadows which they cast; hence the father can
often laugh while the son is enduring the tortures of hell because the
scales by which they weigh are fundamentally different.
An incident, comical in itself, belongs in this place because it throws
a very clear light precisely on this point, so important for education.
I was once sent to get a roll for dinner. The baker's wife handed it to
me and good-humoredly gave me at the same time an old nut-cracker, which
had probably turned up somewhere when she was cleaning house. I had
never seen a nut-cracker before. I was not acquainted with any of its
hidden qualities, and took it like any other doll which appealed to me
by reason of its red cheeks and staring eyes. Joyously starting on my
way home and pressing the nut-cracker, like a newly acquired favorite,
tenderly to my breast, I noticed all of a sudden that it opened its jaws
and in gratitude for my caresses showed me its cruel white teeth. One
may imagine my fright! I shrieked loudly, I ran across the street as
though pursued, but I had not sense or courage enough to throw the demon
away, and as it naturally sometimes closed its mouth and sometimes
opened it again, according to the movements I made while running, I
could not help considering it alive, and arrived home half dead. Here I
was, of course, laughed at and enlightened as to the truth, at last even
scolded. It was all of no avail. It was impossible for me to become
reconciled again to the monster although I recognized its innocence, and
I did not rest until I had received permission to give it away to
another boy. When my father learned of the matter he was of the opinion
that there was no other youngster alive to whom such a thing could
happen. That was very possible, for there was perhaps no other at whom
the cousins of the nut-cracker had made faces from the floor and from
the walls in the evening when he was just going to sleep. This very
night the activity of my seething imagination culminated in a dream,
which was so monstrous and left such an impression upon me that for that
very reason it returned seven times in succession. It seemed to me as
though the dear Lord, of whom I had already heard so much, had stretched
a rope between heaven and earth, had set me upon it, and placed Himself
beside it to swing me. Then without rest or pause I flew up and down
with dizzy speed; now I was high up among the clouds, my hair fluttering
in the wind, and I held on convulsively and closed my eyes; now I was so
near the earth again that I could plainly see the yellow sand and the
little red and white stones--indeed could even reach them with my toes.
I wished to throw myself off; that, however, required resolution, and
before I succeeded, I went up in the air again, and there was nothing
for me to do but seize the rope once more so as not to fall and be
dashed to pieces. The week in which this dream occurred was perhaps the
most terrible one of all my childhood, for the memory of it did not
leave me the whole day. When, in spite of my struggles, I was put to bed
I carried the fear of its return with me, even immediately into my sleep
so that it was no wonder the dream continually recurred, until by
degrees it faded out.
I remained in Susanna's school until my sixth year and learned there to
read fluently. I was not permitted to learn to write yet on account of
my youth, as it was said; it was the last thing that Susanna had to
teach and therefore she prudently held it in reserve. But I had already
started with the first necessary exercises in memory; for as soon as the
youngster had been promoted from the sexless frock to trousers, and from
the primer to the catechism, he had to learn by heart the ten
commandments and the chief articles of the Christian Faith as Doctor
Martin Luther, the great reformer, formulated them three hundred years
ago for the guidance of the Protestant Church. Memorizing went no
farther and the tremendous dogmas, which without explanation or
elucidation passed from the book into the undeveloped childish brain,
became transformed into wonderful and in part grotesque pictures. These,
however, did the young mind no manner of harm, but gave it a healthy
impetus and stirred it up to prophetic activity. For what does it matter
if the child, when it hears of original sin, or of death and the devil,
forms a conception or a fantastic image of those profound symbols? To
fathom them is the task of our whole lifetime, but the developing man is
warned at the very beginning of an all-disposing higher power, and I
doubt if the same end could be reached by early initiation into the
mysteries of the rule of three or into the wisdom of AEsop's fables. The
remarkable part of it was, to be sure, that in my imagination Luther
came to stand almost directly beside Moses and Jesus Christ, but without
doubt the reason was that his thundering "What is that?" always
resounded immediately after the majestic laconic utterances of Jehovah,
and that moreover his rough, expressive face, out of which the spirit
speaks all the more forcibly because it must manifestly first gain the
victory over the thick resisting flesh, was reproduced in the front of
the catechism in heavy black ink. But so far as I know that had no more
injurious consequences for me than my belief in the real horns and claws
of the devil, or in the scythe of death, and I learned, as soon as there
was any necessity for it, to distinguish perfectly between the Saviour
and the reformer.
For the rest the modest acquisitions that I had made at Susanna's
sufficed to procure for me a certain respect at home. To Master Ohl it
was immensely impressive that I soon knew better than he himself all
that the true Christian believes, and my mother was almost moved to
tears when for the first time I read the evening blessing aloud by
lamp-light, without faltering or stammering. Indeed she felt so edified
that she gave over to me forever the office of reader, the duties of
which I hereafter performed for a considerable length of time with much
zeal and not without self-complacency.
Toward the end of my sixth year a great change, nay a complete
transformation, took place in the school-system in Holstein, and
consequently in that of my own little fatherland. Up to that time the
State had not interfered at all in primary instruction and but little in
the secondary. Parents could send their children wherever they wished
and the primary schools were purely private institutions, about which
even the ministers scarcely troubled themselves, and which often sprang
up in the most curious manner. Thus Susanna had arrived in Wesselburen
one stormy autumn evening, in wooden shoes, without a penny, and an
entire stranger. She had been given a night's lodging, for sweet
charity's sake, by the compassionate widow of a pastor. The latter
discovers that the pilgrim can read and write and also knows quite a
little about the Bible and thereupon makes her on the spot the
proposition to remain in the town, in her very house, and teach. The
youth of the place, or at least the crawling part of the same, had, as
it happened, just been orphaned. The former teacher, for a long time
highly praised on account of his strict discipline, had undressed a
saucy little girl and set her upon a hot stove in punishment for some
naughtiness, perhaps in order to procure still greater praise thereby,
and that had been too much for even the most unqualified reverers of the
rod. Susanna was quite alone in the world, and did not know where she
should turn or what she should take up. She therefore gladly, although
according to her own words not without misgivings, exchanged the
accustomed labor with her hands for the difficult labor with her head,
and the speculation succeeded perfectly, and in the shortest space of
To the boys and girls of more advanced age severe, sombre gymnasiums and
grammar-schools did indeed open their doors. These were under a sort of
supervision and in case of necessity were recruited by the secular arm,
if new comers did not enlist of their own accord. But in these
institutions too, only the merest manual training was given, in spite of
the pompous sounding names which they flaunted, and which to this hour
have remained a mystery to me. A brother of my mother's, universally
admired on account of his talents--whom the principal, though by no
means over modest, had dismissed with the solemn declaration that he
could teach him nothing further because he knew as much as he
himself--was indeed a mighty calligrapher, and decorated his New Year's
cards with tints and flourishes in India ink as the old printers Fust
and Schoeffer did their incunabula, but nevertheless he could not achieve
a single grammatical sentence.
These conditions, undeniably defective and much in need of improvement,
were now once and for all to be brought to an end. The people were to be
educated from the cradle up, superstition was to be exterminated root
and branch. Whether thorough consideration was given to that which
should have been considered above everything else must remain in doubt;
for the conception of culture is extremely relative, and just as the
most disgusting intoxication follows the nipping from every bottle, so
superficial encyclopedical knowledge, which at the most can be made
broad, engenders precisely the most repulsive kind of arrogance. It will
no longer bow to any authority and yet never penetrates to the depths in
which the multifarious logical inconsistencies and contradictions find
their own solution.
Probably the right method was adopted when they founded normal schools
on the one hand and primary schools on the other, so that the essence
which had been distilled in the former and poured into the empty
schoolmaster heads in the form of rationalism, could from the latter
spread itself immediately over the whole land. The result was that a
somewhat superstitious generation was followed by an excessively
overwise one; for it is astonishing how the grandchild feels when he
knows that a nocturnal fiery meteor is composed merely of inflammable
gases, while his grandfather sees in it the devil trying to enter some
chimney or other with his shining money bags.
But however the matter may have stood in general,--and I repeat my
conviction that in this case the happy medium is hard to find,--to me
the reform was a great blessing. For Wesselburen, like the other towns,
acquired an elementary school and a man was chosen as teacher of it
whose name I cannot write down without a feeling of the deepest
gratitude, because in spite of his modest position, he exercised an
immeasurable influence on my development. He was called Franz Christian
Detlefsen and came to us from the neighboring town of Eiderstedt, where
he had already held a small official position.
No house is so small as not to seem to the child who has been born in it
like a world whose wonders and mysteries he discovers only little by
little. Even the poorest cottage has at least a garret to which a ladder
leads up, and with what feelings is this climbed for the first time!
Some old rubbish is sure to be found up there, which, useless and
forgotten, points back to days long past, and reminds us of men whose
last bone has already moldered to dust. Behind the chimney there is
surely a worm-eaten, wooden chest which excites curiosity. The dust is
lying on it hand high, the lock is still there, but there is no need to
look for the key; for one can forage in it wherever one wants, and when
with fear and trembling the child does so, he pulls out a torn boot, or
the broken distaff of a spinning wheel which was laid aside half a
century ago. Shuddering he flings away the double find, because
involuntarily he asks himself where is the leg that wore the boot and
where is the hand that set the wheel in motion. But the mother carefully
picks up the one or the other because she happens to need a strap which
can be cut out of grandfather's boot, or because she believes that she
can start the fire again with great-aunt's distaff.
[Illustration: THE DEATH OF KRIEMHILD _From the Painting by Schnorr von
Even though the chest had found its way into the tiled stove during the
last hard winter, when people were even forced to burn dried cakes of
dung, there is still hidden away in the garret a rusty sickle which once
went off to the fields, shining and merry, and stretched low at one
swing of the arm a thousand golden-green stalks; and above it hangs the
uncanny scythe which a farm-hand once ran into a long time ago, so that
he cut off his nose--it having hung too far down over the garret hatch,
and he having mounted the ladder too quickly. Beside them the mice are
squeaking in the corners, a couple perhaps jump out of their holes and
after executing a short dance creep back into them again; a little
shiny white weasel is visible for a moment, lifting its clever little
head and forepaws in the air, peering and sniffing; and the single
sunbeam that enters through some hidden chink is so perfectly like a
gold thread that one would like to wind it around one's finger at once.
The cottage is not provided with a cellar but the burgher-house is,
though not indeed on account of the wine but of the potatoes and
turnips. The poorer classes keep these out doors under a goodly pile of
earth, which they raise above them in the autumn, and in winter, in time
of hard frost, carefully cover over with straw or dung as well.
Now to reach the cellar is really much more difficult than to climb to
the attic, but where is the child who does not know how to satisfy this
longing too in one way or another! He can go to the neighbors and hang
on coaxingly to the maid's apron when she goes down to get something, or
can even watch for the moment when the door is left open by mistake, and
venture down on his own account. That is dangerous to be sure, for the
door may be suddenly closed, and the sixteen-legged spiders, that crawl
around the walls in the most hideous deformed shapes, as well as the
trickling greenish water that gathers in the cavities intentionally left
here and there, do not invite one to tarry long. But what does it
matter? One has one's throat after all, and whoever screams lustily will
be heard sooner or later. Now if the house itself suffices, under all
circumstances, to make such an impression upon the child, how must the
town strike him! When he is taken along by mother or father for the
first time, he surely does not start to walk through the tangle of
streets without a feeling of astonishment, and it is still less likely
that he reaches home again without experiencing a sensation of
giddiness. Nay, be perhaps brings back lasting typical conceptions of
many objects, lasting in the sense that in after life they imperceptibly
stretch and widen _ad infinitum_, but never allow themselves to be
effaced; for the primitive impressions of things are indestructible and
maintain themselves against all later ones, no matter how far these, in
themselves, may surpass the old. For me too, then, it was a moment never
to be forgotten, and one whose influence continues to be felt to the
present day, when my mother took me with her for the first time on the
evening walk which she indulged in on Sundays and holidays during the
beautiful summer months. Good gracious, how large this Wesselburen was!
Five-year old legs were nearly tired out before they had made the entire
round! And what did one not meet on the road! The very names of the
streets and squares sounded so puzzling and fantastic! "Now we are on
the Lollard's Foot! That is White Meadow! This way goes over to Bell
Mountain! There stands the Oak Nest!" The less apparent reason there was
for these names, the more certain it seemed that they concealed some
mystery! And then the objects themselves! The church whose pealing voice
I had already heard so often; the graveyard with its dark trees and its
crosses and tombstones; a very old house, in which a, "forty-eighter"
had lived, and in the cellar of which a treasure was said to lie buried,
over which the devil kept watch; and, finally, a big fish-pond: all
these details coalesced in my mind, as though like the limbs of a
gigantic animal they were organically related, into one huge general
picture, and the autumn moon shed a bluish light over it. Since that
time I have seen St. Peter's and every German cathedral, I have been to
Pere la Chaise and the Pyramid of Cestius, but whenever I think in
general of churches, graveyards and the like, they still hover before me
today in the shape in which I saw them on that evening.
About the same time that I exchanged Susanna's gloomy room for the
newly-built bright and pleasant primary-school, my father also had to
leave his little house and move into a hired lodging. That was a strange
contrast for me. School had broadened: I gazed out of clear windows with
wide frames of fir wood, instead of trying my curious eyes on green
glass bottle panes with dirty leaden rims; and the daylight, which at
Susanna's always commenced later and stopped earlier than it should, now
came into its full rights. I sat at a comfortable table with a desk and
an ink bottle; the odor of fresh wood and paint, which still has some
charm for me, threw me into a sort of joyous ecstasy, and when, on
account of my reading, I was told by the inspecting minister, to
exchange the third bench, which I had modestly chosen, for the first,
and moreover to take one of the highest places on the latter, my cup of
felicity was nearly full.
Our home, on the contrary, had shrunk and grown darker; there was no
more garden now in which I could romp with my comrades when the weather
was fine, no hallway to receive us hospitably when it rained and blew. I
was restricted to a narrow room in which I myself could hardly move
around and into which I dared not bring any playmates, and to the space
before the door, where it was seldom that any one would stay with me
very long, as the street ran directly past it.
The reason for this change, which brought about such serious
consequences, was strange enough. My father at the time of his marriage
had, by going security, laden himself with another's debt, and would no
doubt have been driven out much earlier if his creditor had not
fortunately had to serve a long term in the penitentiary in punishment
for an act of incendiarism. He was one of those terrible men who do evil
for evil's sake, and prefer the crooked path even when the straight one
would lead them more quickly and surely to the goal. He had that
lowering, wicked, diabolical look in his eyes which no one can endure,
and which in a childlike age may have begotten belief in witches and
sorcerers, because enjoyment of evil finds expression in it, indeed it
seems of necessity to be forced to increase evil. A tavern and general
store-keeper by profession and more than prosperous for his station, he
might have led the most peaceful and merry existence possible, but he
absolutely had to be at enmity with God and the world, and to give free
rein to a truly devilish humor, such as I have never come across
elsewhere, even in detective stories.
Thus he once, with the greatest friendliness, allowed his wife, at her
request, to go to confession on Saturday, but forbade her to take the
communion on Sunday, in accordance with the Protestant custom, because
she had not asked his permission to do so. When any one of his neighbors
happened to be raising a fine young horse, he would go to him and offer
an absurdly low price for the animal. If the other refused it, he would
say: "I would think about it, and bear in mind the old rule, that one
should hand over everything that has once been bargained for; who knows
what may happen!" And surely enough the horse, in spite of careful
watching, would sooner or later be found in the meadow or in the stable
with the tendons of its feet cut and would have to be stabbed to death;
so that in the end he could buy whatever happened to please his fancy.
He willingly assisted his son-in-law in declaring a fraudulent
bankruptcy, and perhaps even beguiled him into it, but when the latter,
after having perjured himself, demanded the embezzled goods back again,
he laughed him to scorn and dared him to go to law. However he was
surprised by his own maid-servant while committing arson and taken in
the very act, in spite of his cleverness and his equally great luck, and
it was to this circumstance that my father, who had been talked into
going security by all sorts of cunning deceptive promises, owed the few
years of quiet possession which he enjoyed during his short lifetime.
As soon as the penitentiary had given its charge back to the community
we were obliged to leave the abode in which our grandparents had shared
joy and sorrow for over half a century. It seemed like the end of the
world to my brother and myself when the old pieces of furniture, which
up till then had scarcely been moved from their places even when the
rooms were whitewashed, suddenly emigrated into the street; when the
respectable old Dutch striking-clock that never went correctly and
always caused confusion, all at once found itself hanging on a branch of
the pear tree, brightly illuminated by the beams of the May sun, while
under it stood insecurely the round worm-eaten dining-table which, when
there happened to be very little on it, had so often elicited from us
the wish that we could have everything that had ever been eaten off it.
However, the whole affair was also, quite naturally, in the nature of a
spectacle for us, and as in the course of clearing out, a bright colored
pipe-head that I had lost a long time before came to light again in some
rat hole or other, and, moreover, various odds and ends, which the other
families who were moving out with us had come across when dusting in the
corners and did not consider worth taking along, fell to our share--since
we could make use of the least thing--the day soon began to seem like a
holiday. We parted, not indeed without emotion but still without sorrow,
from the house in which we had been born.
I did not learn what it really meant until later, though to be sure it
was soon enough. Without realizing it myself I had, up to that time,
been a little aristocrat, and now ceased to be one. This is how it was.
In the same way that the peasant proprietor and the rich burgher look
down However, in the end, all this had a very good effect upon me. I had
been up to that time a dreamer, who in the daytime liked to creep away
behind the hedge or the well, and in the evening cowered in my mother's
lap, or in that of one of our women neighbors, and begged to be told
fairy and ghost stories. Now I was driven out into active life. It was a
question of defending one's skin, and though I engaged in my first
scuffle only "after long hesitation and many, by no means heroic efforts
to escape," yet the result was such, that I no longer tried to avoid the
second, and began at the third or fourth quite to relish the idea. Our
declarations of war were even more laconic than those of the Romans or
Spartans. The challenger looked over at his opponent during
school-hours, when the teacher had turned his back for a moment,
clenched his right fist and laid it over his mouth, or rather over his
jaw; the opponent repeated the symbolic sign the next moment that it was
safe to do so, without by even so much as a look requiring a more
specific manifesto, and at midday, in the churchyard, in the vicinity of
an old vault, before which there, was a grass plot, the affair was
settled in the presence of the whole school, with natural weapons, by
wrestling and pounding, in extreme cases also by biting and scratching.
I never indeed rose to the rank of a genuine triarian, who made it a
point of honor to go about the whole year with a black eye or a swollen
nose, but I very soon lost the reputation for being a good child, which
I owed to my mother and which up to that time had meant so much to me,
and, to make up for it, rose in my father's estimation, who behaved
toward his sons as Frederick the Great did toward his officers,
punishing them if they fought and mocking them if they allowed
themselves to be trifled with. Once my opponent, while I was lying on
top of him pounding him at my ease, bit my finger through to the bone,
so that for weeks I could not use my hand for writing. That was,
however, the most dangerous wound that I can remember, and, as sometimes
happens later in life also, it led to the forming of an intimate
EXTRACTS FROM THE JOURNAL OF FRIEDRICH
Reflections on the world, life, and books, but chiefly on myself, in the
form of a journal.
TRANSLATED BY FRANCES A. KING
At the moment in which we conceive an ideal, there arises in God the
thought of creating it.
Social life in all its _nuances_ is no mere confluence of meaningless
accidents; it is the product of the experience of whole millenniums, and
our task is to apprehend the correctness of these experiences.
A poetic idea cannot be expressed allegorically; allegory is the
ebb-tide at once of the intellect and of the productive power.
Nature eternally repeats the same thought in ever widening expansion;
therefore the drop is an image of the sea.
Poetic and plastic art are alike in being both formative; that is to
say, they are intended to bring to view a limited amount of matter in
definite relations which are fixed by nature; and when the poet gives
expression to an idea, the process is exactly the same as when a painter
or sculptor represents the noble or beautiful outlines of a body.
"Throw away so that thou shalt not lose!" is the best rule of life.
There are said to have been people who, when a limb had been amputated,
still felt pain in the severed member. Twofold mode of all being: what
has _been_ from the beginning and what has only _become_. _Cogito ergo
sum_; am I not much more under the dominion of the thinking faculty
within me than the latter is under my dominion? Individuality is not so
much the goal as the way, and not so much the best way as the only one.
Two human beings are always two extremes.
Words are monuments not of what mankind has thought for centuries about
certain subjects but only of the fact that it has thought about them.
The difference is considerable.
A really great genius can never chance upon an age which would make it
impossible for him to allow free play to his superior powers. If he
chances upon a dull, exhausted, empty century,--well then, this century
is his problem.
Most of my knowledge about myself I have gained in moments when I
perceived the peculiarities of other people.
It is a sign of mediocre intelligence to be able to fix one's attention
upon details when contemplating a great work of art; on the other hand,
it is a sign of the mediocrity of a work of art (poetic or plastic) if
one cannot get beyond the details, if they, so to speak, impede the way
to the whole.
Goethe says in regard to _Michael Kohlhaas_ that one should not single
out such cases in the general course of human events. That is true in so
far as one should not draw any conclusions therefrom to the detriment of
mankind. But it seems to me that it is precisely to exceptions of this
sort that the poet must turn his attention, in order to show that they,
as well as common-place events, have their origin in what is most
Man cannot abstract his ego from the universe. As firmly as he is
interwoven with the universe and life, just so firmly does he believe
that life and the universe are interwoven with him.
It takes a great deal of time merely to perceive where the enigmatical
in many things is actually located. Many simply introduce logic into
their poetry and believe this is equivalent to motivation.
All reasoning (and here belongs what Schiller, under the trade mark of
the sentimental, would smuggle in as poetry) is onesided and allows the
heart and mind no further activity than simply to deny or affirm. On the
contrary, all that is actual and objective (and here belong the
so-called natural sounds, which reveal the innermost essence of a state
or a human personality) is infinite, and offers to those who are in
sympathy and to those who are not the widest scope for the employment of
all their powers.
Philosophy strives ever and always for the absolute, and yet that is
properly speaking the task of poetry.
With every human being (let him be who he will) disappears from the
world a mystery, that, owing to his peculiar construction, he alone
could reveal, and that no one will reveal after him.
It is dangerous to think in images, but it cannot always be avoided; for
often, especially in regard to the highest things, image and thought are
A miracle is easier to repeat than to explain. Thus the artist continues
the act of creation in the highest sense, without being able to
God Himself when, in order to attain great ends, He exerts a direct
influence upon an individual, and thus allows Himself an arbitrary
interference (if we put the case we must use expressions that fit it) in
the world's machinery, cannot protect His tool from being crushed by the
same wheel which this individual has arrested for a moment or has turned
in another direction. This is surely the principal tragic motif which
underlies the history of the Maid of Orleans. A tragedy which should
reflect this idea would produce a great impression through the glimpse
it would afford into the eternal order of nature, which God Himself may
not disturb with impunity.
When the poet attempts to delineate characters by making them speak, he
must be careful not to allow them to speak about their own inner life.
All their utterances must relate to something external; only then does
their inner nature come out vividly and expressively, for it fashions
itself only in reflections of the world and of life.
To depict two kindred characters one by means of the other, to have them
mutually reflect one another without their becoming aware of it, would
surely be the triumph of delineation.
It is a masterly trait in the _Prince of Homburg_ that the suspicion
that the Elector has had the Prince condemned to death, not so much on
account of the act of overhastiness committed on the battlefield as for
another reason, does not arise spontaneously in the Prince's soul, but
is first awakened by Hohenzollern's questioning.
A double process must take place in the mind of the true poet before it
can evolve anything. The crude matter must be resolved into an idea, and
the idea must condense again into a form. Man is the continuation of the
act of creation, an eternally growing, never completed creation, which
prevents the termination of the world and keeps it from congealing and
hardening. It is highly significant (this thought led me to the one I
have just expressed) that everything which exists as a human conception
is never wholly and perfectly--only fragmentarily--embodied in nature,
and everything which exists perfectly and completely in nature eludes
human conception, man's own nature not excepted. Thus we know and define
right and wrong, virtue and innocence (the latter as soon as we have
lost it), but not life itself, etc. Where knowledge has been vouchsafed
us, there nature requires our cooeperation.
The first and last aim of art is to render intuitively perceptible the
process of life itself, to show how the soul of man develops in the
atmosphere surrounding him, let it be suited to him or not, how good
engenders evil within him, and evil in turn produces something less
evil, and how this eternal growth has a limit so far as our apprehension
is concerned, but none at all in reality; this is symbolization. It is
an error when men say that only the fully developed is matter for the
poet; on the contrary, what is in process of development, what is first
begotten in conflict with the elements of creation, that is matter for
him. What is finished can be only a plaything of the waves, it can
only be destroyed and devoured by them; can art have anything to do
with that which is most common, in other words, most universal? But what
is in process of development must pass from one form into another at the
hands of the poet, it must never as formless soft clay dissolve before
our eyes into chaos and confusion; it must always, in a certain sense,
be at the same time a finished product, just as in the universe we never
encounter naked raw material. Man exists only because of his future; an
inexplicable mystery, but one that may not be denied. Man, therefore,
cannot be brought before us as something complete in himself; for not
how he affects the world but how the world affects him arouses our
interest and is of importance to us; the great forces and powers outside
of him find embodiment by exerting an influence over him, and thus lose
their formidableness, the riddle of the universe is solved as soon as it
finds utterance, and even though at the end a question remains, we can
bear this much easier than an empty nothing.
Not only in art but in history as well life sometimes assumes a form,
and art should not seek her subjects and her themes where this has
God was a mystery to Himself before the creation; He had to create in
order to understand Himself. If only some one thing had been completely
explained, then everything would be explained.
The motives before a deed are usually transformed during the deed, and
at least seem quite different after the deed: this is an important
circumstance which most dramatists overlook.
Lyric poetry has something childlike about it, dramatic poetry something
manly, epic poetry something senile.
Two hands can indeed clasp one another but cannot grow together. This is
the relation of one individuality to another.
From my conception of form many consequences ensue of the most varied
kind. In reference to lyric poetry: the whole emotional life is a
shower, the emotion which is singled out is a drop illumined by the sun.
Dramatic poetry: form is the point where divine and human strength
neutralize one another.
The true idyll results when a man is represented as happy and complete
in himself within his own appointed sphere. So long as he remains within
this sphere fate has no power over him.
Poetry of the highest kind is the true historiography. It grasps the
result of historical processes and holds it fast in imperishable images
as, for example, Sophocles has done with the idea of Hellenism.
All life is a struggle of the individual with the universe.
Duality pervades all our intuitions and thoughts and every moment of our
being, and is our supreme, our last idea. Beside it we, have absolutely
no fundamental idea. Life and death, health and sickness, time and
eternity: we can imagine and picture to ourselves how one gradually
shades off into the other, but not that which lies behind these divided
dualities as a common solvent and reconciliation. (1841)
_Antigone_, representing as it does a romantic individual subject in a
classical form, is the masterpiece of tragic art.
Life is the attempt of the defiantly refractory part to tear itself
loose from the whole and to exist for itself, an attempt that succeeds
just so long as the strength endures which was robbed from the whole by
the individual separation.
"What a man can become, that he is already." God will not lay the
decisive weight on the sins committed by sinful individuals against one
another but only on the sins committed against the idea itself, and
there actual and merely possible sins are one and the same.
Expiation in tragedy occurs in the interest of the community, not in
that of the individual, the hero, and it is not at all necessary,
although it is better, that he himself should be conscious of it. Life
is the great river, individualities are drops; tragic individualities
are, however, blocks of ice which must be liquefied again, and in order
that this may be possible they must break and wear themselves away one
against the other.
There is only one necessity, which is that the world should continue to
exist; what happens to individuals in the world is of no consequence.
The evil that they commit must be punished because it endangers the
existence of the world; but there is no reason why they should be
indemnified for the misfortune that befalls them.
Absolutely everything depends upon a right conception of guilt. Guilt
must not, in any direction, be confounded with the subordinate
conception of sin, which even in the modern drama--where indeed it
finds, for reasons which are not far to seek, a wider scope than in the
ancient--must always be merged again into the conception of guilt, if
the drama is to rise above the anecdotal to the symbolical. For the
conception of tragic guilt can be developed only from life itself, from
the original incongruity between idea and phenomenon--which incongruity
manifests itself in the phenomenon as extravagance, the natural
consequence of the instinct of self-preservation and self-assertion, the
first and most legitimate of all instincts. But it cannot be developed
from one of the many consequences of this original incongruity, which
lead us too far down into the errors and aberrations of the individual
to allow the working out of the highest dramatic possibilities. So, too,
the conception of tragic expiation should be developed only from
extravagance, which, since it is irrepressible in the phenomenon,
represses the phenomenon, and thus frees the idea again from its
imperfect form. It is true the original incongruity between idea and
phenomenon remains unremoved and unovercome; but it is evident that in
the sphere of life, which art, so long as it understands itself, will
never go beyond, nothing can be removed that lies outside this sphere,
and that art reaches its supreme goal when it seizes upon the immediate
consequence of this incongruity, extravagance, and points out in it the
element of self-destruction; but leaves the incongruity enshrouded in
the darkness of creation, unexplained, as a fact immediately posited.
A genuine drama may be compared to one of those great buildings which
have almost as many passages and rooms below the earth as above it.
Ordinary people only know the former; the architect knows the latter
A king has less right than any other person to be an individual.
In the poet humanity dreams. Decidedly, a dream is for the spirit what
sleep is for the body.
As every crystallization is dependent upon certain physical conditions,
so every individualization of human nature depends upon the state of
the historical epoch in which it occurs. To represent these
modifications of human nature in their relative necessity is the main
task which poetry has to fulfill in contradistinction to history, and
here it can, if it attains to pure form, render a supreme service. But
it is difficult to separate the merely incidental from the main task and
then besides to avoid subjective moods; so that we scarcely have even
the beginnings of such poems as now hover before my mind.
To present the necessary, but in the form of the accidental: that is the
whole secret of dramatic style.
If the characters do not negate the moral idea, what does it matter that
the piece affirms it? The negation of the individual factors must be so
very decided, precisely in order to give emphasis to the affirmation of
Human institutions require a man to be a man like other men; but man,
whoever and whatever he may be, wishes to be an individual, indeed is,
as such, individualized. Hence the rupture.
Let the understanding question in a work of art, but do not let it
The understanding no more makes poetry than salt makes food, but it is
necessary to poetry as salt is to food.
One does not sit down to play on the piano in order to verify
mathematical laws. Just as little does one write poetry in order to
demonstrate something. Oh, if people would only learn to comprehend
that! Indeed the beauty of all the higher activity of man is precisely
the fact, that ends which the individual never even thinks of are
The process of dramatic individualization is perhaps best illustrated by
comparison to water. Everywhere water is water and man is man, but as
the former acquires a mysterious flavor from every stratum of earth that
it flows or trickles through, so man acquires a peculiarity from his
time, his nation, history, and fate.
(1857) Man would perhaps still have as acute senses as animals, if
thinking did not divert him from the outer world.
Ideas are the same thing in the drama that counterpoint is in music;
nothing in themselves but the primary condition for everything.
(Concerning my _Nibelungen_.)
It seems to me that a purely human tragedy, natural in all its motifs,
can be constructed upon the mythical foundation inseparable from this
subject, and that so far as my powers permit I have constructed one. The
mysticism of the background should at most remind us that what we hear
in this poem is not the seconds' clock, which measures off the existence
of gnats and ants, but the clock that marks the hours only. Let the
reader who is nevertheless disturbed by the mythical foundation consider
that, if he examines closely, he will also discover such a basis in man
himself, and that, too, in the mere man, in the representative of the
species, and not only in the more specific branch of the same, in the
individual. Or may man's fundamental qualities, either physical or
mental, be accounted for, that is to say, can they be deduced from any
other organic canon than the one which has been posited once for all
with man himself, and which cannot be traced farther back to a final
primitive cause of things, or be critically resolved into its
components? Are they not in part, as for example most of the passions,
opposed to reason and conscience, therefore to the very faculties of man
which, being quite general and disinterested, may most safely be
designated as those which connect him immediately with the universe, and
has this contradiction ever been explained away? Why, then, in art
negate an act upon which is founded even our view of nature?
Otto Prechtler related to me the following incident. When Grillparzer
made my acquaintance upon my arrival in Vienna he said to Prechtler: "No
one on earth will be able to influence this man. One person might have
done so, but he is dead; I mean Goethe." A few years later he added, "I
was mistaken, not even Goethe would have been able to influence him."
I do not know the world, for although I myself represent a piece of it,
this is such a minutely small part that no conclusion as to the true
nature of the world can be deduced therefrom. Man, however, I know, for
I am myself a man, and even though I do not know how he originates in
the world, yet I know very well how, having once originated, he reacts
upon it. I therefore conscientiously respect the laws of the human soul;
in reference to everything else, however, I believe that imagination
draws inspiration from the same depths out of which the world itself
arose, that is to say, the multifarious series of phenomena which exists
at present, but which at some future time, may perhaps be replaced by
(To Siegmund Englaender.)
--You wish to believe in the poet as you believe in the Deity; why
ascend so high into the region of clouds, where everything ceases to be,
even analogy? Would you not probably attain more if you descended to the
beast and ascribed to the artistic faculty an intermediate stage between
the instinct of the beast and the consciousness of man? There at least
we are in the sphere of experience, and have the prospect of
ascertaining something real by applying two known quantities to an
unknown one. The beast leads a dream life which nature herself
immediately regulates and strictly adapts to those purposes, by the
attainment of which, on the one hand, the creature itself subsists, but,
on the other, the world continues. The artist leads a similar dream
life, naturally only as an artist, and probably from the same cause; for
the cosmic laws hardly come any more clearly into his field of vision
than the organic laws come into that of the beast, and yet he cannot
round off and complete any of his images without going back to them. Why
then should nature not do for him what she does for the beast? You will,
however, find in general--to go still deeper--that the processes of life
have nothing to do with consciousness, and artistic generation is the
highest of all processes; they differ from the logical precisely in that
they absolutely cannot be traced back to definite factors. Who has ever
closely watched evolution in any of its phases, and what has the
impregnation theory of physiology, in spite of the microscopic detailed
description of the working apparatus, done for the solution of the
fundamental mystery? Can it explain even a humpback? On the other hand,
there can be no complex which it would not be possible to follow up in
all its involutions and finally to resolve. The structure of the
universe is revealed to us, we can, if we like, play the fiddle for the
dance of the heavenly bodies; but the sprouting blade of grass is a
riddle and will always remain one. You would therefore be perfectly
right in laughing at Newton if he wanted to "play the naive child" and
declare that the falling apple had inspired him with the idea of the
system of gravitation, whereas it may very well have given him the
impetus which started him to reflect upon the subject. On the other
hand, you would wrong Dante if you should doubt that Heaven and Hell had
arisen in colossal outline before his soul at the mere sight of a wood,
half in light and half in shadow. For systems are not dreamed, but
neither are works of art made by minute calculations, nor, what amounts
to the same thing, since thinking is only a higher kind of arithmetic,
thought out. The artistic imagination is the organ which drains those
depths of the world which are inaccessible to the other faculties, and
in accordance herewith, my mode of viewing things puts, in place of the
false realism which takes the part for the whole, only the true realism,
which also comprises what does not lie on the surface. For the rest,
this false realism is not curtailed thereby, for even though one can no
more prepare oneself for writing poetry than for dreaming, yet dreams
will always reflect daily and yearly impressions, and no less do poems
reflect the sympathies and antipathies of the author. I believe all
these propositions are simple and comprehensible. Whoever refuses to
recognize them must throw the half of literature overboard, for example
_Edipus at Colonus_ (for geography knows nothing of sacred groves),
Shakespeare's _Tempest_ (for there is no such thing as magic), _Hamlet_
and _Macbeth_ (for only a fool is afraid of ghosts, etc.); nay he must
also--and this even he who might be ready to make the other sacrifices
would find it hard to bring himself to do--he must also place the French
at the head of what remains; for where can one find realists like
Voltaire, etc.? This, to me, seems to demonstrate my proposition, at
least the counter-test is made.
THE LIFE OF OTTO LUDWIG
By A.R. HOHLFELD, Ph.D.
Professor of German Literature, University of Wisconsin
The career of Otto Ludwig belongs to a sad period in nineteenth century
literature in Germany. Sad not because of any lack of works of
originality and power, but sad because of the wanton neglect with which
the German public of those years treated its ablest and most forceful
writers. The historian Treitschke, in an essay probably written not long
after the death of Otto Ludwig, sarcastically says in direct reference
to the latter's tragic life: "No nation reads more books than ours, none
buys fewer." To be sure, Germany was then a poor country and its readers
had some excuse for being economical in supplying their literary wants.
But there was no excuse for the notorious narrowness of vision and
judgment shown by many of the leading critics, theatres, and literary
journals of that time. Writers of mediocre talent were praised to the
skies. But old Grillparzer, Hebbel and Ludwig, Keller, Raabe, Storm, and
others who brought a really new and vital message were left to bear the
burden of neglect, if not of animosity. No wonder that in foreign lands,
after the middle of the nineteenth century, contemporary German
literature fell into an almost universal disrepute from which it is only
slowly recovering at present. Foreign critics were justified in judging
the significance of the literary output of Germany by those writers on
whom the Germans themselves were placing the seal of national approval.
Zschokke, Gerstaecker, Auerbach, Spielhagen, not to mention the
ubiquitous Muehlbach or Marlitt or Polko--these were the names which in
America, for instance, figured most prominently in the magazines between
1850 and 1880. [Illustration: OTTO LUDWIG] [Blank Page] Their works
were reviewed and translated. They were considered as the
representatives of Germany in the literary parliament of nations, while
those of her men of letters whom we have since learned to recognize as
the real forces of her mid-century literature remained unknown. Of
Ludwig, who clearly belongs to this more select group, the _Atlantic
Monthly_ and the _North American Review_, for obvious reasons, reviewed
at some length his _Studies in Shakespeare_; but, as far as the present
writer's knowledge goes, not one of his works was ever translated in
this country until the _Hereditary Forester_ appeared in _Poet Lore_
only a few years ago.
Otto Ludwig was born in 1813 in Eisfeld, a small town picturesquely
situated in the foothills of the southern slope of the Thuringian
Forest, and his entire life was spent within the limited confines of
Thuringia and Saxony. Leipzig and Dresden, not much over one hundred
English miles to the northeastward of Eisfeld, were the only two larger
cities with which he ever became acquainted, and, even when living
there, it was characteristic of him to take refuge in some rustic suburb
or near-by village. Ludwig's parents belonged to the "leading families"
of their town and were in very comfortable circumstances at the time of
his birth and early childhood. Sudden reverses, however, soon interfered
with the boy's prospects in life. At the age of twelve, he lost his
father, six years later his mother. After the father's death a
well-to-do uncle took it upon himself to care for the boy, whom he
intended to be his heir and his successor in business. But neither the
imaginative, nervously sensitive mother, nor the well-meaning but
happy-go-lucky uncle were able to furnish that guidance which the
delicate and prematurely contemplative youth needed. After only a short
period of irregular schooling, Ludwig, sixteen years old, had to enter
his uncle's business; but a few years of apprenticeship convinced even
the uncle that the young man was hardly on his right track as a salesman
of groceries. A renewed effort to take up systematic school work with
the view of preparing for one of the learned professions did not prove
any more successful, and, in 1833, Ludwig, who had always shown an
unusual talent for music and enjoyed excellent instruction in it,
decided to become a musician. Continuing his secluded life at Eisfeld he
devoted himself for years to the leisurely study and composition of
music, until a few successful amateur performances of some operatic
compositions of his attracted attention to him in musical circles in
Meiningen, the near-by ducal residence. He was granted a scholarship
amply sufficient to permit him to perfect his musical education at
Leipzig under Mendelssohn, then the renowned director of the famous
_Gewandhaus_ concerts. But the large city only deterred the shy recluse,
Mendelssohn showed little appreciation for Ludwig's efforts to cultivate
a realistically characteristic style of musical expression, and finally
a severe spell of illness came to make the Leipzig venture a complete
After a year's absence we thus find Ludwig again at home. But his
experiences in the great world were not to be without consequences.
While he was at Leipzig his homesickness had made him paint in rosy
colors the dreamy hermit-life at Eisfeld. Now, however, after his
return, he became keenly conscious of the pettiness and inadequacy of
his surroundings and of the lack of well-defined purpose in his life
thus far. It was during this period of introspection and doubt that he
finally decided to devote himself to a literary career. He took up the
study of English, plunged into Shakespeare and Goethe, and worked
assiduously on a number of dramatic and novelistic ventures. In 1843 he
again left Eisfeld, this time for good, and first turned to Leipzig and
then to Dresden. Efforts to get some of his dramas accepted by the
Leipzig and Dresden theatres continued to prove fruitless. But in 1844,
after his uncle's death, he had come into possession of a small fortune,
and as his habits were always exceedingly frugal, he now saw before
himself the assurance of a few years free from all care. In
characteristic fashion he again created for himself a quiet retreat,
partly in the idyllic surroundings of Meissen, partly in Meissen itself,
the charmingly picturesque town of historic fame not far from Dresden,
on the Elbe. He soon became engaged to a lovable young woman, who
entered heart and soul into all of his hopes and plans, and with but
brief interruptions he continued to live here in rustic retirement,
until the year 1850 at last was destined to bring him recognition and
Thus far none of Ludwig's writings, aside from a mere trifle or two, had
found their way before the public. As many as five or six regular dramas
had been completed, but none had been printed, none performed. But now
he finished his _Hereditary Forester_ and with it made a deep impression
upon his influential friend Eduard Devrient, the famous actor of the
Dresden court theatre. Through Devrient's mediation the drama was
accepted at Dresden and, although its reception by the public was at
first a divided one, it was at once recognized by friend and foe as a
literary and theatrical event of great significance. Though late, yet
all of a sudden, Ludwig, like Byron, awoke to find himself famous. When,
in 1852, he at last felt able to marry the woman of his love, his life
battle seemed to have been won for good. In the same year, 1852, he
published his second great drama, _The Maccabeans_, which, though not
attaining the popularity of the _Hereditary Forester_, did even more
perhaps to enhance the poet's fame. He could now count among the
steadily widening circle of his friends and admirers men like Julian
Schmidt, the prominent critic and editor, Gustav Freytag, and Berthold
Auerbach. At Auerbach's suggestion, Ludwig for awhile turned to
narrative literature and in the years 1855 and 1856 published his two
best stories, the _Heiterethei_ and _Between Heaven and Earth_--the
former again the more popular, the latter of higher literary merit.
These brief years from 1850 to 1856 were the zenith of Ludwig's career,
the height of his productivity as an artist and of his success and
happiness as a man. But already the shadows were gathering which were to
cast such a deep gloom over the last years of the poet's life.
In 1856 he was again stricken by what seemed to be the same mysterious
illness, never fully explained, that had befallen him in Leipzig. He
recovered, to be sure, for the time being, but his ailments returned
again and again. From about 1860 Ludwig practically never was a well
man. Confined to the house and soon to his bed, he slowly wasted away.
The tenderest care of his devoted wife and the affection of a few loyal
friends could do but little to relieve the most excruciating pain or to
keep away the actual want that began to knock at his door. Ludwig had
never learned to look upon his art as a commercial asset; his few
published works had never brought him much return, and his own slender
means had for some time been exhausted. Some gifts of honor were
bestowed upon the invalid by authors' societies and princely patrons,
but they came too late to prevent the inevitable. As late as 1859 Ludwig
still had hope for the future. "I see before me," he wrote in his diary,
"a veritable world of conceptions and forms which I might conquer if,
freed from the weight that keeps me down, I could take wings again. I
believe it would not be too late yet." It was not to be. Successful
production of a high order would probably have been impossible under
such circumstances in any case. With Ludwig it was further prevented by
an obstacle of a psychological nature. As the feeling of health and
strength and ease of mind departed from him, there came in its place an
ever growing, almost morbid, spirit of self-questioning criticism and
doubt. As the springs of creative energy ceased flowing, Ludwig thought
he could replenish them by turning to theory and analysis. In the free
intervals between the attacks of his illness, when his mind worked as
vigorously as ever, the luckless poet filled volume upon volume with
esthetic and ethical reflections upon poetry and literature. From
Shakespeare especially he thought he might be able to wrest those last
secrets of an art which tantalizingly hovered before his vision. In
these studies, fragmentary, ill-organized, not prepared for publication
as they are, we nevertheless possess a veritable treasure-house of
soundest reflection and subtlest intuition on many of the fundamental
questions of poetry, especially of the drama. They have often been
compared with Lessing's _Hamburg Dramaturgy_, of which, in many
respects, they are the worthiest continuation. But in this unequal
struggle Ludwig became less and less able to give life and color to his
own conceptions or to be satisfied with his results when he had done so.
How many could safely try to measure up to a standard taken directly
from Shakespeare! Plan upon plan was started and laid aside. A field of
ruins, disquieting, threatening, piled up around the lonesome fighter
who slowly succumbed beneath the crushing greatness of his vision.
Noble, but also tragic beyond words it is when, shortly before his
death, Ludwig declared to one of his friends that even in his suffering
no poet had ever been to him such a source of strength as Shakespeare,
to whom he owed far more than the clarification of his ideals of art.
Thus the mariner sang the praises of the ocean as it was about to engulf
his shipwrecked craft. Ludwig died in Dresden in February, 1865,
fifty-two years of age. Of his three surviving children, two sons came
to this western hemisphere and attained, in successful business and
professional life, to positions of honor and influence among the German
element of Southern Brazil.
Aside from the posthumous _Studies_ just spoken of, Ludwig's fame as a
writer rests entirely on the two dramas, the _Hereditary Forester_ and
_The Maccabaeans_, and on the two long novel-like stories, the
_Heiterethei_ and _Between Heaven and Earth_. They represent practically
everything that he ever published during his lifetime. The few
insignificant lyrics, the additional dramas and stories, partly
completed and partly fragmentary, which have become known after his
death, have added no new traits to the picture of Ludwig as it will
remain in the history of German literature, and they can well be omitted
from consideration in this brief appreciation. It must be admitted that
it is a rare phenomenon to see lasting fame and influence built on such
a slender amount of work and on so brief a period of productivity. But
within this limited range Ludwig must be recognized as a writer of
unusual powers of observation and sympathy, of imagination and embodying
execution. Truthful to himself and to the ideals of his art,
uninfluenced by the popular demands of the day or by any desire for gain
or fame, free from everything that smacks of sham or artifice, he
succeeded in creating works that speak to us with the robustness and
authority of life itself and yet are ennobled by the graces of a
selective and restraining art.
In his _Hereditary Forester_ Ludwig produced one of the best
middle-class tragedies of modern literature, combining in it, as indeed
he had set out to do, highest literary merit with impelling
effectiveness upon the stage. "It is exceedingly easy," he said, "to
write a poetic drama if one does not care to keep an eye upon the stage,
or one that is a successful stage play, but without poetry. * * * I
shall do what I can to help create that really healthy condition of the
drama which consists in the intimate union of poetry and the stage."
Following in the footsteps of Schiller in his _Intrigue and Love_ and of
Hebbel in his _Maria Magdalena_, he has not attained, it is true, the
massive solidity of the latter, nor has he breathed into his drama that
lofty spirit of social challenge that wings the former. On close
inspection, the construction of Ludwig's drama shows undeniable flaws of
motivation. The playwright has allowed too free a play to chance and
slender probability. The spirit of the revolutionary unrest of 1848 is
in the background, especially in the tavern scene of the third act, but
it does not in any way organically connect the family tragedy which we
witness with the broad movements of contemporary public life. But the
play is indeed, as Ludwig desired it to be, "a declaration of war
against the unnaturalness and conventionalities of our latter-day stage
literature." The life-like characters which it portrays, the convincing
language which they speak, the carefully drawn _milieu_ in which they
move, the intense struggle of passions in which they are engaged-these
are all handled with a skill as rare as it is artistically true to life.
And even though the atmosphere enveloping it all seems to combine the
realism of Ludwig's maturity with the romantic pre-disposition of his
earlier works, it remains in fine keeping with that shadowy forest-world
which forms the setting of the play.
Ludwig's next drama, _The Maccabaeans_, was of a radically different
mold. From prose we pass to verse, from humble middle-class life to the
traditional grandeur of classical tragedy, from the narrow circle of
domestic happenings to a Shakespearean canvas of broad historical
associations, from contemporary Germany to those heroic struggles in
which, in the second century, B.C., the Jews under the leadership of
Judas Maccabaeus defended their national and religious freedom against
Syrian oppression. In this drama also, certain faults of construction
are evident. There is a lack of central unity of interest, in part due,
no doubt, to the long processes of development which the play underwent
before completion. But again, there is the same masterly technique in
all matters of detail, a wonderful strength and beauty of language,
subtle and convincing character-portrayal and a splendid realization of
that ethnic atmosphere of Jewish life and character in which the drama
moves and from which its conflicts spring.
Of the two stories of Ludwig, the _Heiterethei_ is in every way the
lighter; nevertheless, it is one of the best of those famous stories
from peasant life in which German literature is so rich. More artistic
than Jeremias Gotthelf and in a deeper sense truer to life than
Auerbach, Ludwig has here created a popular tale of great charm and
power. The "poetic realism" of his manner and the subdued ethical
didacticism of his purpose have been skillfully united in forming an
excellent example of truly popular art. The story is that of the gradual
mellowing and final happy marriage of two young people who, with the
best of hearts, are veritable firebrands of self-willed defiance to
everything suggesting outside interference. The nickname of the girl,
"Heiterethei," given her on account of her bright and sunny disposition,
explains the title of the story. And it must not be left unsaid that,
despite the underlying seriousness of the character-development
portrayed, the story as a whole is characterized by a sovereign play of
humor, at times a bit grotesque and boisterous, maybe, but none the less
irresistible in its quaint charm and deeper meaning.
In _Between Heaven and Earth_, Ludwig finally achieved his masterpiece,
creating a work in which vision and workmanship are both on the highest
level and thoroughly worthy of each other. No "hero" in the traditional
sense, no glamor of what is commonly regarded as "poetic," no broad
social background, no philosophic outlook, but within a narrow, and if
you will, commonplace range, the author here permits us to get same of
the profoundest glimpses of human life and character. It is a story of
slaters working on steep roofs and tall church spires; and as does their
scaffolding, so the poet tries to move along "between heaven and earth,"
his feet and eyes firmly fastened to life's realities, his heart and
soul lifted into the realm of the ideal, the eternal. Thus interpreted,
the title of the story may indeed be taken as a symbol of that principle
of "poetic realism" which Ludwig strove for and of which the story is
one of the best embodiments. The technique of the work, to be sure, is
that of Ludwig's day, not of our own. There are long descriptions and
reflections and a good deal of direct psychological analysis, in all of
which the narrator does not hesitate to speak from his subjective point
of view. Such a method modern theorists would feign stamp as a crime
against the spirit of epic art, as though a novel were a drama, and
genuine narration did not by nature participate of both the objective
and subjective manner of presentation. But even if these things were
undeniable flaws of technique, which we are far from admitting, they
certainly cannot mar genuine art in its essential beauty and appeal. The
Thuringian landscape and the life of the small town embedded in it, the
tragic happenings in the Nettenmair family, the slow processes of
soul-life in the two hostile brothers and the martyred woman between
them--all this is made to live before our eyes with such simple and yet
absolutely adequate means that we get from it that deep and satisfying
feeling of harmony of content and form that characterizes a true
masterpiece of art. Character drawing and milieu painting, always
Ludwig's strong points, have again been most felicitously handled. With
equal success the author has developed the plot of the story which, in a
few memorable scenes, attains to truly dramatic scope and power. More
admirable than everything else, however, is the subtly realistic
treatment of the psychological processes in Fritz Nettenmair. His
gradual deterioration, step by step, from self-indulgent joviality,
through envy and jealousy, to the hatred of despair that does not even
shrink from fratricide, is depicted with masterly insight and
consistency. This phase of Ludwig's art strikes us as fresh and modern
today, and it must have appeared like a revelation to a generation that
did not yet, know Flaubert's _Madame Bovary_ or George Eliot's _Adam
Considered in his totality as man and as artist, Ludwig cannot be
counted among the names of the very first rank in German nineteenth
century literature. To him cannot be assigned the unequivocal greatness
of a Kleist, a Hebbel, a Keller. The narrowness of the circumstances of
his life and the invalidism of his mature years combined with, and no
doubt were aided by, an apparent lack of robustness and forcefulness of
character and temperament, and thus conspired to keep him from attaining
that victorious self-assertion, that sovereign balance between volition
and power, without which true greatness in the full sense of the word is
impossible. But among the leading names of second rank, his will always
occupy a place of distinction. If his was not the work of a Messiah, it
was that of a John the Baptist. Having been nurtured in the traditions
of the romanticism of Tieck, E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Jean Paul, he was
one of the first to experience the artistic charm and possibilities of
unidealized reality and to respond to its call. It was he who seems to
have coined the phrase, even if he was not first to formulate the
principle, of that restrained or "artistic realism" that tries to set
its standards half-way between subjectively idealistic and objectively
naturalistic art. Even his extravagant admiration for Shakespeare was
chiefly due to the fact that he saw in his art the supreme embodiment of
this principle. Ludwig did not renounce beauty of art except where it
infringed upon the one thing needful--essential truthfulness to reality,
especially in all that pertains to what Hebbel called "the laws of the
human soul." Many of the utterances of Ludwig's _Studies_ are as
startlingly modern, not to say Ibsenesque, as similar ones in Hebbel's
_Diaries_, in their frank recognition of the solemn claims of reality,
even ugly reality, upon the honest artist who endeavors to interpret
life in its entirety. For art, too, like all other achievements of human
culture, according to Ludwig, must render service unto life. It is its
function to furnish insight into life, mastery over life. "Rather no
poetry at all," he exclaims, "than a poetry that robs us of the joy of
living, that makes us unproductive in life, that, instead of nerving us
for life, unnerves us for it."
In German literature Ludwig thus occupies a not unimportant place. Far
more penetrating and far more artistic than "realists" like Auerbach or
Spielhagen he paved the way for the coming of Anzengruber who, in turn,
anticipated the realism of the moderns in more, ways than is generally
recognized. Ludwig will always be a figure of prominence in the history
of the modern middle-class tragedy, in the development of the story
dealing with village life, in the efforts to emphasize the value of a
literature close to the native soil, in the attempts of German criticism
to fathom the secret of Shakespearean art. More than that, however. When
the final account of the gradual evolution of nineteenth century realism
will some time be written from another than a one-sidedly French point
of view, a place of honorable recognition will be due to the thoughtful
and forceful author of the _Studies_ and _Between Heaven and Earth_.
[Footnote 6: The extracts from _The Prince of Homburg_ are taken from
Mr. Hagedorn's translation, Volume IV of THE GERMAN CLASSICS.]
* * * * *
* * * * *
THE HEREDITARY FORESTER
A TRAGEDY IN FIVE ACTS
* * * * *
STEIN, _a rich manufacturer and country gentleman_.
ROBERT, _his son_.
CHRISTIAN ULRICH, _forester on the estate of Duesterwalde, called "The
SOPHY, _his wife_.
ANDREW, _forester's assistant _}
MARY } _their children_.
WILKENS, _a wealthy farmer, uncle of_ SOPHY.
_The Pastor of Waldenrode_.
MOeLLER, _Stein's bookkeeper_.
GODFREY, _a hunter_.
WEILER, _keeper in Ulrich's forest_.
_The proprietor of the "Boundary Inn."_
BASTIAN, _Stein's valet_.
_The scene is alternately the forester's house at Duesterwalde and
Stein's mansion at Waldenrode; once, in Act III, the Frontier Inn and
THE HEREDITARY FORESTER (1850)
TRANSLATED BY ALFRED REMY, A.M.
Professor of Modern Languages, Brooklyn Commercial High School.
_The_ FORESTER'S _house at Duesterwalde_.
_In the back of the room a folding door and a closet; at either side
ordinary doors. On the right, a window; on the left, in the rear, the
stove; more to the front a cuckoo-clock; then a rack where several
rifles are hanging, among them two double-barreled ones, hunter's bags
and similar utensils; and a book shelf on which are a Bible and
_Behind the scenes musicians are heard playing._ WEILER, _looking about
him, slowly through the centre door; the_ FORESTER'S _wife at the same
time from the left with an air of being very busy. Then_ ANDREW,
WILLIAM, _and finally_ MARY.
SOPHY. There, the musicians have come already. I wonder where I put the
cellar-key. The musicians must have something to drink. You here,
Yes, I'm here. But where is the old man--the forester?
My husband? Isn't he outside?
I want to see him about the wood-cutters.
Can't you wait?
Wait? Bless you, no. I have my hands full.
Then get along with you!
WEILER (_quietly filling his short clay pipe with tobacco_).
Is he perhaps already with Herr Stein--
Yes; the sand was already strewn on Tuesday. And the garlands outside at
the door. If I do not mistake we are today celebrating the engagement of
Miss Mary to Mr. Robert Stein? Then they will be even more chummy when
he can say "my father-in-law, Mr. Stein." And that is by no means all.
Now Stein has also bought the estate where Ulrich is forester. The fat
lawyer from town fixed up the deeds yesterday. And this morning Stein
got out of bed as proprietor of Duesterwalde.
The table here--
WEILER (_while they carry the table together, on the left_).
Won't Ulrich have an easy time of it, now that his old friend has become
his master, and is going to be his father-in-law into the bargain!
Nearer the stove. We must get in one more table.
WEILER (_chuckling to himself_).
Regular ale-house politicians those two, Stein and Ulrich. Every day
they have a row.
What are you talking there about a row? They're only fooling.
[_Exit in a hurry; reenters immediately afterward_.]
WEILER (_going as far as the door, gesticulating behind her_).
Fooling? Don't you believe it! The one is hot-headed, the other
obstinate. Ever since there was talk of buying the estate, the clearing
of the forest has been the daily apple of discord. Rich people always
pretend to know something, even if they don't know the first thing. Now
Stein thinks that by cutting down every other row of trees in the forest
the first would have more light and room for growing. Maybe Godfrey has
hunted that up in some old book. But when he comes with that theory to
Ulrich he strikes the wrong man. Only day before yesterday I thought
they were going to eat each other up, so that nothing would remain of
either of them. Stein says: "The forest will be _cleared_." The
forester: "The forest will _not_ be cleared." Stein: "But it _shall_ be
cleared." The forester: "It _shall not_ be cleared." Stein jumps up,
buttons his coat, two buttons at a time, knocks down two chairs, and is
gone. Well, I thought, that is the end of the friendship! But Lord bless
my soul! That happened the night before last, and early yesterday
morning--it was scarcely dawn--who comes whistling from the castle and
knocks at the forester's window, as though nothing had happened? That's
Stein. And who has already been waiting for a quarter of an hour and
grunts forth from under his white moustache, "I'm coming?" That's
Ulrich. And now both of them, without asking each other's pardon, go
together out into the forest, as though there never had been a quarrel!
Nobody takes any notice of it any longer. At night they quarrel, in the
morning they go together into the forest, as though it could not be
otherwise. But does he treat his boy any differently? Robert? Does he?
Didn't he want to leave home half a dozen times? And afterward he is too
good. Queer business that!
[During the last words he has retreated step by step before the table
which ANDREW and WILLIAM are carrying in and placing against the table
which already stands on the left in the direction from the footlights to
the back of stage.]
Put it here. That's it. And now chairs, boys. From the upper room.
[ANDREW and WILLIAM exeunt.]
WEILER (in a hurry, making ready to go).
Well, if Weiler did not have his hands full! Outside with the
wood-cutters--then with the fir-seed and with the salt--there--I don't
know where my head's standing with all the work. And the old man--
[A pantomime expressive of ULRICH'S severity.]
Well, I don't want to be to blame if you neglect anything.
WEILER (very calmly).
[Laying his finger against his nose.]
But I wonder whether he will still always be the first to patch up
differences? I mean Stein. Now that he is the forester's master? Well; I
don't want to prophesy, but--the master is always right because he is
the master. Humph! I wish something serious would come to pass. At any
rate, I am getting tired of merry faces again.
[Enter ANDREW and WILLIAM, carrying chairs.]
SOPHY. Seven, eight, nine, ten, chairs.
[Counts once more, softly.]
That was a queer expression that Godfrey had on his face yesterday, Mr.
Andrew. I bet you had another quarrel with him.
With that vindictive brutal fellow?
[_She sets the table._]
Who can live in peace with him?
Well, what's done can't be undone. But you'd better look out for him.
So say I. For there is not a muscle in that fellow's body which is not
I am not afraid of him.
Come, William; run into the garden. Get me some crown-imperials,
snap-dragons, larkspurs--something big, so that it will look like
something in the glass. The Steins will soon be here with Mr. Moeller,
The old bachelor--
Just look, Andrew, whether cousin Wilkens isn't coming yet.
[_ANDREW and WILLIAM exeunt._]
Wilkens is coming too?
SOPHY (with emphasis).
Mr. Wilkens? He will not stay away when his niece's daughter announces
No, indeed. He has money, has Mr. Wilkens. The richest farmer for miles
around. I also was Mr. Weiler once, before my creditors closed up my
coffee store. Then they jammed the "Mr." in the door and there it is
still. Now people say simply "Weiler"--"Weiler might"--"As long as
Weiler is here," etc. Sometimes, when I am in the humor, I get angry
over it. A strange pleasure, to get angry, but it is a pleasure. Hey!
There comes the bride-to-be.
[_MARY appears; during the following dialogue the women set the
My! Like a squirrel!
Weiler means to pay you a compliment, Mary. He has a peculiar manner.
That is true. It does not matter whether the flattery is coarse or fine.
If a woman only notices that one means to flatter her, she is satisfied.
It is just as when boys stroke a kitten. Whether they pet it gently or
roughly, whether it likes it or not, it cannot help purring.
And I presume you mean to pet me with this comparison.
If you feel obliged to purr it must have been a petting.
MARY (looking out of the window).
He is coming, mother.
I had better be off to my wood-cutters. Otherwise the old man will make
SOPHY (calling after him).
If you cannot come in I will save your portion. An uncomfortable fellow!
And it is not likely that he will acquire polite manners at this late
day. That is a relic of his better days. And for that reason your father
is indulgent with him because they were old comrades. Godfrey also was
one of them. When he had wasted his property in drink he fell in with
[_Surveying the table_.]
Here at the head the father of the bridegroom; next to him your father;
then the good droll pastor. If it had not been for him, Robert would
have gone long ago.
Mother, at that time Robert was so wild, so impetuous--
You are right. At that time the pastor and we could scarcely
keep him. [_Counts once more the afore-mentioned persons_.] Then here
Mr. Moeller; and there your godfather, my cousin Mr. Wilkens; then I
myself here; there Robert and you; finally, at the foot, Andrew and
William. How the time passes! If I think back to my engagement day! Then
I was not as happy as I am today.
Mother, I wonder whether every girl that is to become a bride feels as I
do? SOPHY. Not every one has such good cause to be glad as you have.
But is it gladness that I feel? I am so depressed, mother, so--
Of course. You are like the flower on which clings a dewdrop. It hangs
its head, and yet the dew is no burden.
I feel as if it were wrong of me to leave my father, even if it is to go
The Bible says, "A woman shall leave father and mother and cleave to her
husband."--But my case was quite different from yours. Your father was a
stately man, no longer quite young, but tall and straight like a pine.
At that time his beard was still black as coal. Many a girl that would
gladly have married him set her cap at him; that I knew. But to me he
seemed too serious, too severe. He took everything so seriously, and he
cared nothing for amusements. It was no easy matter to accommodate
myself to him. I never had to worry about the means of subsistence; and
if I should say that he ever treated me harshly, I should be telling a
lie; even if he pretended to be harsh.
And that was all you had expected? Was that all.
As if the good Lord could grant everything that is dreamt of by the
heart of a girl who herself does not know what she desires! But here
comes Robert. We will be quite merry, so that no gloomy thoughts will
come to him.
Good morning, mother dear. Good morning, Mary.
Good morning, Mr. Bridegroom-to-be.
How glad I am to see you so cheerful. But you Mary? You are
sad, Mary? And I am so joyful, so over-joyful. The whole morning I have
been in the forest. Where the bushes glistened brightest with the dew,
there I penetrated, so that the moist branches should strike my heated
face. There I threw myself down on the grass. But I could not stay
anywhere. It seemed that nothing could relieve me but weeping aloud. And
you--at other times as blithe and gay as a deer--you are sad? Sad on
SOPHY. She surely is glad, dear Robert. But you have known her ever
since she was a little child; when others proclaim their happiness, she
hides hers in silence. MARY. No, Robert. Sad I surely am not. I only
have a feeling of solemnity; it has been upon me the whole morning.
Wherever I go, it seems to me as though I were in church. And--
And that now my life is soon to be broken off behind me, as if it were
sinking away from under me, and that a new life is to begin, one so
entirely new--don't be offended, good Robert! This to me is so
strange--gives me such a feeling of anxiety!
A new life? A life so entirely new? Why, Mary, it is still the old life,
only more beautiful. It is still the dear old tree under which we are
sitting, only it is in bloom now.
Besides, the thought that I am to leave my father and my mother! The old
I see passing away, the new I do not see coming; the old I must leave,
the new I cannot reach.
Must you indeed leave your father? Do we not all remain together? Has
not my father for this very reason bought the estate of Duesterwalde?
That is the anxiety which comes over one in spring; one knows not whence
it comes, nor why. And yet in spring one knows that everything will
become more and more beautiful, and still one feels anxious. One is
merely afraid of happiness. Now that my dearest wishes are about to be
fulfilled--do I not experience the same sensation? I might almost wish
that a roast were burnt, or that a piece of the fine china were broken.
Happiness is like the sun: There must be a little shade if man is to be
comfortable. I will just go to see whether a little shade of that sort
has not been cast in the kitchen.
[_Exit to the left_.]
MARY (_after she and_ ROBERT _have been standing in silence facing each
Is anything wrong with you, Robert?
With me? No. Perhaps--
You are still angry with your father? And he is so good!
That is just the trouble, that he is so good. Oh, his kindness is almost
more difficult to bear than his violent temper! His anger only hurts,
his kindness humiliates; over against his anger I set my pride--but what
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