Fiction > Harvard Classics > J. W. von Goethe > Hermann and Dorothea
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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832).  Hermann and Dorothea.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Clio
 
 
THE AGE


NOW when the foreign judge had been by the minister questioned
As to his people’s distress, and how long their exile had lasted,
Thus made answer the man: “Of no recent date are our sorrows;
Since of the gathering bitter of years our people have drunken,—
Bitterness all the more dreadful because such fair hope had been blighted.        5
Who will pretend to deny that his heart swelled high in his bosom,
And that his freer breast with purer pulses was beating,
When we beheld the new sun arise in his earliest splendor,
When of the rights of men we heard, which to all should be common,
Were of a righteous equality told, and inspiriting freedom?        10
Every one hoped that then he should live his own life, and the fetters,
Binding the various lands, appeared their hold to be loosing,—
Fetters that had in the hand of sloth been held and self-seeking
Looked not the eyes of all nations, throughout that calamitous season,
Towards the world’s capital city, for so it had long been considered,        15
And of that glorious title was now, more than ever, deserving?
Were not the names of those men who first delivered the message,
Names to compare with the highest that under the heavens are spoken?
Did not, in every man, grow courage and spirit and language?
And, as neighbors, we first of all, were zealously kindled.        20
Thereupon followed the war, and armed bodies of Frenchmen
Pressed to us nearer; yet nothing but friendship they seemed to be bringing;
Ay, and they brought it too; for exalted the spirit within them:
They with rejoicing the festive trees of liberty planted,
Promising every man what was his own, and to each his own ruling.        25
High beat the heart of the youths, and even the aged were joyful;
Gaily the dance began about the newly raised standard.
Thus had they speedily won, these overmastering Frenchmen,
First the spirits of men by the fire and dash of their bearing,
Then the hearts of the women with irresistible graces.        30
Even the pressure of hungry war seemed to weigh on us lightly,
So before our vision did hope hang over the future,
Luring our eyes abroad into newly opening pathways.
Oh, how joyful the time when with her beloved the maiden
Whirls in the dance, the longed-for day of their union awaiting!        35
But more glorious that day on which to our vision the highest
Heart of man can conceive seemed near and attainable to us.
Loosened was every tongue, and men—the aged, and stripling—
Spoke aloud in words that were full of high feeling and wisdom.
Soon, however, the sky was o’ercast. A corrupt generation        40
Fought for the right of dominion, unworthy the good to establish;
So that they slew one another, their new-made neighbors and brothers
Held in subjection, and then sent the self-seeking masses against us.
Chiefs committed excesses and wholesale plunder upon us,
While those lower plundered and rioted down to the lowest:        45
Every one seemed but to care that something be left for the morrow.
Great past endurance the need, and daily grew the oppression:
They were the lords of the day; there was none to hear our complaining.
Then fell trouble and rage upon even the quietest spirit.
One thought only had all, and swore for their wrongs to have vengeance,        50
And for the bitter loss of their hope thus doubly deluded.
Presently Fortune turned and declared on the side of the German,
And with hurried marches the French retreated before us.
Ah! then as never before did we feel the sad fortunes of warfare:
He that is victor is great and good,—or at least he appears so,—        55
And he, as one of his own, will spare the man he has conquered,
Him whose service he daily needs, and whose property uses.
But no law the fugitive knows, save of self-preservation,
And, with a reckless greed, consumes all the possessions about him;
Then are his passions also inflamed: the despair that is in him        60
Out of his heart breaks forth, and takes shape in criminal action.
Nothing is further held sacred; but all is for plunder. His craving
Turns in fury on woman, and pleasure is changed into horror.
Death he sees everywhere round him, and madly enjoys his last moments,
Taking delight in blood, in the shriekings of anguish exulting.        65
Thereupon fiercely arose in our men the stern resolution
What had been lost to avenge, and defend whate’er was remaining.
Every man sprang to his arms, by the flight of the foeman encouraged,
And by his blanching cheeks, and his timorous, wavering glances.
Ceaselessly now rang out the clanging peal of the tocsin.        70
Thought of no danger to come restrained their furious anger.
Quick into weapons of war the husbandman’s peaceful utensils
All were converted; dripped with blood the scythe and the ploughshare.
Quarter was shown to none: the enemy fell without mercy.
Fury everywhere raged and the cowardly cunning of weakness.        75
Ne’er may I men so carried away by injurious passion
See again! the sight of the raging wild beast would be better.
Let not man prattle of freedom, as if himself he could govern!
Soon as the barriers are torn away, then all of the evil
Seems let loose, that by law had been driven deep back into corners.”        80
 
  “Excellent man!” thereupon with emphasis answered the pastor:
“Though thou misjudgest mankind, yet can I not censure thee for it.
Evil enough, I confess, thou hast had to endure from man’s passions.
Yet wouldst thou look behind over this calamitous season,
Thou wouldst acknowledge thyself how much good thou also hast witnessed.        85
How many excellent things that would in the heart have lain hidden,
Had not danger aroused them, and did not necessity’s pressure
Bring forth the angel in man, and make him a god of deliv’rance.”
 
  Thereupon answered and said the reverend magistrate, smiling:
“There thou remindest me aptly of how we console the poor fellow,        90
After his house has been burned, by recounting the gold and the silver
Melted and scattered abroad in the rubbish, that still is remaining.
Little enough, it is true; but even that little is precious.
Then will the poor wretch after it dig and rejoice if he find it.
Thus I likewise with happier thoughts will gratefully turn me        95
Towards the few beautiful deeds of which I preserve the remembrance.
Yes, I will not deny, I have seen old quarrels forgotten,
Ill to avert from the state; I also have witnessed how friendship,
Love of parent and child, can impossibilities venture;
Seen how the stripling at once matured into man; how the aged        100
Grew again young; and even the child into youth was developed,
Yea, and the weaker sex too, as we are accustomed to call it,
Showed itself brave and strong and ready for every emergence.
Foremost among them all, one beautiful deed let me mention,
Bravely performed by the hand of a girl, an excellent maiden;        105
Who, with those younger than she, had been left in charge of a farmhouse,
Since there, also, the men had marched against the invader.
Suddenly fell on the house a fugitive band of marauders,
Eager for booty, who crowded straightway to the room of the women.
There they beheld the beautiful form of the fully grown maiden,        110
Looked on the charming young girls, who rather might still be called children.
Savage desire possessed them; at once with merciless passion
They that trembling band assailed and the high-hearted maiden.
But she had snatched in an instant the sword of one from its scabbard,
Felled him with might to the ground, and stretched him bleeding before her.        115
Then with vigorous strokes she bravely delivered the maidens,
Smiting yet four of the robbers; who saved themselves only by flying.
Then she bolted the gates, and, armed, awaited assistance.”
 
  Now when this praise the minister heard bestowed on the maiden,
Rose straightway for his friend a feeling of hope in his bosom,        120
And he had opened his lips to inquire what further befell her,
If on this mournful flight she now with her people were present;
When with a hasty step the village doctor approached them,
Twitched the clergyman’s coat, and said in his ear in a whisper:
“I have discovered the maiden at last among several hundreds;        125
By the description I knew her, so come, let thine own eyes behold her!
Bring too the magistrates with thee, that so we may hear him yet further.”
But as they turned to go, the justice was summoned to leave them,
Sent for by some of his people by whom his counsel was needed.
Straightway the preacher, however, the lead of the doctor had followed        130
Up to a gap in the fence where his finger he meaningly pointed.
“Seest thou the maiden?” he said: “she has made some clothes for the baby
Out of the well-known chintz,—I distinguish it plainly; and further
There are the covers of blue that Hermann gave in his bundle.
Well and quickly, forsooth, she has turned to advantage the presents.        135
Evident tokens are these, and all else answers well the description.
Mark how the stomacher’s scarlet sets off the arch of her bosom,
Prettily laced, and the bodice of black fits close to her figure;
Neatly the edge of her kerchief is plaited into a ruffle,
Which, with a simple grace, her chin’s rounded outline encircles;        140
Freely and lightly rises above it the head’s dainty oval,
And her luxuriant hair over silver bodkin’s is braided.
Now she is sitting, yet still we behold her majestical stature,
And the blue petticoat’s ample plaits, that down from her bosom
Hangs in abundant folds about her neatly shaped ankles,        145
She without question it is; come, therefore, and let us discover
Whether she honest and virtuous be, a housewifely maiden.”
 
  Then, as the seated figure he studied, the pastor made answer:
“Truly, I find it no wonder that she so enchanted the stripling,
Since, to a man’s experienced eye, she seems lacking in nothing.        150
Happy to whom Mother Nature a shape harmonious has given!
Such will always commend him, and he can be nowhere a stranger.
All approach with delight, and all are delighted to linger,
If to the outward shape correspond but a courteous spirit.
I can assure thee, in her the youth has found him a maiden,        155
Who, in the days to come, his life shall gloriously brighten,
Standing with womanly strength in every necessity by him.
Surely the soul must be pure that inhabits a body so perfect,
And of a happy old age such vigorous youth is the promise.”
 
  Thereupon answered and said the doctor in language of caution:        160
“Often appearances cheat; I like not to trust to externals.
For I have oft seen put to the test the truth of the proverb:
Till thou a bushel of salt with a new acquaintance hast eaten,
Be not too ready to trust him; for time alone renders thee certain
How ye shall fare with each other, and how well your friendship shall prosper.        165
Let us then rather at first make inquiries among the good people
By whom the maiden is known, and who can inform us about her.”
 
  “Much I approve of thy caution,” the preacher replied as he followed.
“Not for ourselves is the suit, and ’tis delicate wooing for others.”
 
  Towards the good magistrate, then, the men directed their footsteps,        170
Who was again ascending the street in discharge of his duties.
 
  Him the judicious pastor at once addressed and with caution.
“Look! we a maiden have here descried in the neighboring garden,
Under an apple-tree sitting, and making up garments for children
Out of second-hand stuff that somebody doubtless has given;        175
And we were pleased with her aspect: she seems like a girl to be trusted.
Tell us whatever thou knowest: we ask it with honest intentions.”
 
  Soon as the magistrate nearer had come, and looked into the garden,
“Her thou knowest already,” he said; “for when I was telling
Of the heroic deed performed by the hand of that maiden,        180
When she snatched the man’s sword, and delivered herself and her charges,
This was the one! she is vigorous born, as thou seest by her stature;
Yet she is good as strong, for her aged kinsman she tended
Until the day of his death, which was finally hastened by sorrow
Over his city’s distress, and his own endangered possessions.        185
Also, with quiet submission, she bore the death of her lover,
Who a high-spirited youth, in the earliest flush of excitement,
Kindled by lofty resolve to fight for a glorious freedom,
Hurried to Paris, where early a terrible death he encountered.
For as at home, so there, his foes were deceit and oppression.”        190
 
  Thus the magistrate spoke. The others saluted and thanked him,
And from his purse a gold-piece the pastor drew forth;—for the silver
He had some hours before already in charity given,
When he in mournful groups had seen the poor fugitives passing;—
And to the magistrate handed it, saying: “Apportion the money        195
’Mongst thy destitute people, and God vouchsafe it an increase.”
But the stranger declined it, and, answering, said: “We have rescued
Many a dollar among us, with clothing and other possessions,
And shall return, as I hope, ere yet our stock is exhausted.”
 
  Then the pastor replied, and pressed the money upon him:        200
“None should be backward in giving in days like the present, and no one
Ought to refuse to accept those gifts which in kindness are offered.
None can tell how long he may hold what in peace he possesses,
None how much longer yet he shall roam through the land of the stranger,
And of his farm be deprived, and deprived of the garden that feeds, him.”        205
 
  “Ay, to be sure!” in his bustling way interrupted the doctor:
“If I had only some money about me, ye surely should have it,
Little and big; for certainly many among you must need it.
Yet I’ll not go without giving thee something to show what my will is,
Even though sadly behind my good-will must lag the performance.”        210
Thus, as he spoke, by its straps his embroidered pocket of leather,
Where his tobacco was kept, he drew forth,—enough was now in it
Several pipes to fill,—and daintily opened, and portioned.
“Small is the gift,” he added. The justice, however, made answer:
“Good tobacco can ne’er to the traveller fail to be welcome.”        215
Then did the village doctor begin to praise his canister.
 
  But the clergyman drew him away, and they quitted the justice.
“Let us make haste,” said the thoughtful man: “the youth’s waiting in torture;
Come! let him hear, as soon as he may, the jubilant tidings.”
 
  So they hastened their steps, and came to where under the lindens        220
Hermann against the carriage was leaning. The horses were stamping
Wildly the turf; he held them in check, and, buried in musing,
Stood, into vacancy gazing before him; nor saw the two envoys,
Till, as they came, they called out and made to him signals of triumph.
E’en as far off as they then were, the doctor began to address him;        225
But they were presently nearer come and then the good pastor
Grasped his hand and exclaimed, interrupting the word of his comrade:
“Hail to thee, O young man! thy true eye and heart have well chosen;
Joy be to thee and the wife of thy youth; for of thee she is worthy.
Come then and turn us the wagon, and drive straightway to the village,        230
There the good maid to woo, and soon bring her home to thy dwelling.”
 
  Still, however, the young man stood, without sign of rejoicing
Hearing his messenger’s words, though heavenly they were and consoling.
Deeply he sighed as he said: “With hurrying wheels we came hither,
And shall be forced, perchance, to go mortified homeward and slowly.        235
For disquiet has fallen upon me since here I’ve been waiting,
Doubt and suspicion and all that can torture the heart of a lover.
Think ye we have but to come, and that then the maiden will follow
Merely because we are rich, while she is poor and an exile?
Poverty, too, makes proud, when it comes unmerited! Active        240
Seems she to be, and contented, and so of the world is she mistress.
Think ye a maiden like her, with the manners and beauty that she has,
Can into woman have grown, and no worthy man’s love have attracted?
Think ye that love until now can have been shut out from her bosom?
Drive not thither too rashly: we might to our mortification        245
Have to turn softly homewards our horses’ heads. For my fear is
That to some youth already this heart has been given; already
This brave hand has been clasped, has pledged faith to some fortunate lover.
Then with my offer, alas! I should stand in confusion before her.”
 
  Straightway the pastor had opened his lips to speak consolation,        250
When his companion broke in, and said in his voluble fashion:
“Years ago, forsooth, unknown had been such a dilemma.
All such affairs were then conducted in regular fashion.
Soon as a bride for their son had been by the parents selected,
First some family friend they into their councils would summon,        255
Whom they afterwards sent as a suitor to visit the parents
Of the elected bride. Arrayed in his finest apparel,
Soon after dinner on Sunday he sought the respectable burgher,
When some friendly words were exchanged upon general subjects,
He knowing how to direct the discourse as suited his purpose.        260
After much circumlocution he finally mentioned the daughter,
Praising her highly, and praising the man and the house that had sent him.
Persons of tact perceived his intent, and the politic envoy
Readily saw how their minds were disposed, and explained himself further.
Then were the offer declined, e’en the ‘no’ brought not mortification;        265
But did it meet with success, the suitor was ever thereafter
Made the chief guest in the house on every festive occasion.
For, through the rest of their lives, the couple ne’er failed to remember
That ’twas by his experienced hand the first knot had been gathered.
All that, however, is changed, and, with many another good custom,        270
Quite fallen out of the fashion; for every man woos for himself now.
Therefore let every man hear to his face pronounced the refusal,
If a refusal there be, and stand shamed in the sight of the maiden!”
 
  “Let that be as it may!” made answer the youth, who had scarcely
Unto the words paid heed; but in silence had made his decision.        275
“I will go thither myself, will myself hear my destiny spoken
Out of the lips of a maiden in whom I a confidence cherish
Greater than heart of man has e’er before cherished in woman.
Say what she will, ’twill be good and wise; of that I am certain.
Should I behold her never again, yet this once will I see her;        280
Yet this once the clear gaze of those dark eyes will encounter.
If I must press her ne’er to my heart, yet that neck and that bosom
Will I behold once more, that my arm so longs to encircle;
Once more that mouth will see, whose kiss and whose ‘yes’ would for ever
Render me happy, from which a ‘no’ will for ever destroy me.        285
But ye must leave me alone. Do not wait for me here; but return ye
Back to my father and mother again, and give them the knowledge
That their son has not been deceived, that the maiden is worthy.
So then leave me alone! I shall follow the footpath that crosses
Over the hill by the pear-tree, and thence descends through our vineyard,        290
Taking a shorter way home. And oh, may I bring to our dwelling,
Joyful and quick my beloved! but perhaps I alone may come creeping
Over that path to the house, and ne’er again tread it with gladness.”
 
  Thus he spoke, and gave up the reins to the hand of the pastor,
Who understandingly grasped them, the foaming horses controlling,        295
Speedily mounted the carriage, and sat in the seat of the driver.
 
  But thou didst hesitate, provident neighbor, and say in remonstrance:
“Heart and soul and spirit, my friend, I willingly trust thee;
But as for life and limb, they are not in the safest of keeping,
When the temporal reins are usurped by the hand of the clergy.”        300
 
  But thou didst laugh at his words, intelligent pastor, and answer:
“Sit thee down, and contentedly trust me both body and spirit;
For, in holding the reins, my hand grew long ago skilful,
Long has my eye been trained in making the nicest of turnings;
For we were practised well in driving the carriage in Strasburg,        305
When I the youthful baron accompanied thither; then daily
Rolled the carriage, guided by me, through the echoing gateway,
Out over dusty roads till we reached the meadows and lindens,
Steering through groups of the town’s-folk beguiling the day there with walking.”
 
  Thereupon, half-reassured, the neighbor ascended the wagon,        310
Sat like one who for a prudent leap is holding him ready,
And the stallions sped rapidly homeward, desiring their stable.
Clouds of dust whirled up from under their powerful hoof-beats.
Long the youth stood there yet, and saw the dust in its rising,
Saw the dust as it settled again: he stood there unheeding.        315
 

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