J.W. von Goethe (17491832). Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
THE ABBÉ ceased to read: no one had listened without tears. The Countess scarcely ever took her handkerchief from her eyes; at last she rose, and, with Natalia, left the room. The rest were silent, till the Abbé thus began: "The question now arises, whether we shall let the good Marchese leave us without telling him our secret. For who can doubt a moment, that our Harper and his brother Augustin are one? Let us consider what is to be done; both for the sake of that unhappy man himself, and of his family. My advice is, not to hurry, but to wait till we have heard what news the Doctor, who is gone to see him, brings us back."
All were of the same opinion; and the Abbé thus proceeded: "Another question, which perhaps may be disposed of sooner, still remains. The Marchese is affected to the bottom of his heart, at the kindness which his poor niece experienced here, particularly from our young friend. He made me tell him, and repeat to him every circumstance connected with her; and he showed the liveliest gratitude on hearing it. Her young benefactor, he said, refused to travel with me, while he knew not the connexion that subsists between us. I am not now a stranger, of whose manner of existence, of whose humours he might be uncertain. I am his associate, his relation; and as his unwillingness to leave his boy behind was the impediment which kept him from accompanying me, let this child now become a fairer bond to join us still more closely. Besides the services which I already owe him, let him be of service to me on my present journey: let him then return along with me; my elder brother will receive him as he ought. And let him not despise the heritage of his unhappy foster-child: for by a secret stipulation of our father with his military friend, the fortune which he gave Sperata has returned to us: and certainly we will not cheat our nieces benefactor of the recompense which he has merited so well."
Theresa, taking Wilhelm by the hand, now said to him: "we have here another beautiful example that disinterested well-doing yields the highest and best return. Follow the call, which so strangely comes to you: and while you lay a double load of gratitude on the Marchese, hasten to a fair land, which has already often drawn your heart and your imagination towards it."
"I leave myself entirely to the guidance of my friends and you," said Wilhelm: "it is vain to think, in this world, of adhering to our individual will. What I purposed to hold fast, I must let go; and benefits which I have not deserved, descend upon me of their own accord."
With a gentle pressure of Theresas hand, Wilhelm took his own away. "I give you full permission," said he to the Abbé "to decide about me as you please. Since I shall not need to leave my Felix, I am ready to go anywhither, and to undertake whatever you think good."
Thus authorised, the Abbé forthwith sketched out his plan. The Marchese, he proposed, should be allowed to depart; Wilhelm was to wait for tidings from the Doctor; he might then, when they had settled what was to be done, set off with Felix. Accordingly, under the pretence that Wilhelms preparations for his journey would detain him, he advised the stranger to employ the mean while in examining the curiosities of the city, which he meant to visit. The Marchese did in consequence depart; and not without renewed and strong expressions of his gratitude; of which indeed the presents left by him, including jewels, precious stones, embroidered stuffs, afforded a sufficient proof.
Wilhelm too was at length in readiness for travelling; and his friends began to be distressed that the Doctor sent them no news. They feared some mischief had befallen the poor old Harper, at the very moment when they were in hopes of radically improving his condition. They sent the courier off; but he was scarcely gone, when the Doctor in the evening entered with a stranger, whose form and aspect were expressive, earnest, striking, and whom no one knew. Both stood silent for a space; the stranger at length went up to Wilhelm, and holding out his hand said: Do you not know your old friend, then? It was the Harpers voice; but of his form there seemed to remain no vestige. He was in the common garb of a traveller, cleanly and genteely equipt; his beard had vanished; his hair was dressed with some attention to the mode; and what particularly made him quite irrecognisable was, that in his countenance the look of age was no longer visible. Wilhelm embraced him with the liveliest joy; he was presented to the rest; and behaved himself with great propriety, not knowing that the party had a little while before become so well acquainted with him. You will have patience with a man, continued he with great composure, who, grown up as he appears, is entering on the world, after long sorrows, inexperienced as a child. To this skilful gentleman I stand indebted for the privilege of again appearing in the company of my fellow-men.
In private, the Doctor gave the following explanation: It was by the strangest chance that we succeeded in the cure of this man. We had long treated him, morally and physically, as our best consideration dictated: in some degree the plan was efficacious; but the fear of death continued powerful in him, and he would not lay aside his beard and cloak. For the rest, however, he appeared to take more interest in external things than formerly; and both his songs and his conceptions seemed to be approaching nearer life. A strange letter from the clergyman, as you already know, called me from you. I arrived: I found our patient altogether changed; he had voluntarily given up his beard; he had let his locks be cut into a customary form; he asked for common clothes; he seemed to have at once become another man. Though curious to penetrate the reason of this sudden alteration, we did not risk inquiring of himself: at last we accidentally discovered it. A glass of laudanum was missing from the Parsons private laboratory: we thought it right to institute a strict inquiry on the subject; every one endeavoured to ward off suspicion; and the sharpest quarrels rose among he inmates of the house. At last, this man appeared before us, and admitted that he had the laudanum: we asked if he had swallowed any of it. No! said he: but it is to this that I owe the recovery of my reason. It is at your choice to take the vial from me; and to drive me back inevitably to my former state. The feeling that it was desirable to see the pains of life terminated by death, first put me on the way of cure; before long the thought of terminating them by voluntary death arose in me; and with this intention, I took the glass of poison. The possibility of casting off my load of griefs forever gave me strength to bear them: and thus have I, ever since this talisman came into my possession, pressed myself back into life, by a contiguity with death. Be not anxious lest I use the drug; but resolve, as men acquainted with the human heart, by granting me an independence of life, to make me properly and wholesomely dependent on it. After mature consideration of the matter, we determined not to meddle farther with him: and he now carries with him, in a firm little ground-glass vial, this poison, of which he has so strangely made an antidote.
The Doctor was informed of all that had transpired since his departure; towards Augustin, it was determined that they should observe the deepest silence in regard to it. The Abbé undertook to keep beside him, and to lead him forward on the healthful path he had entered.
Meanwhile Wilhelm was to set about his journey over Germany with the Marchese. If it should appear that Augustin could be again excited to affection for his native country, the circumstances were to be communicated to his friends, and Wilhelm might conduct him thither.
Wilhelm had at last made every preparation for his journey. At first the Abbé thought it strange that Augustin rejoiced in hearing of his friend and benefactors purpose to depart; but he soon discovered the foundation of this curious movement. Augustin could not subdue his fear of Felix; and he longed as soon as possible to see the boy removed.
By degrees so many people had assembled, that the Castle and adjoining buildings could scarcely accommodate them all; and the less, as such a multitude of guests had not originally been anticipated. They breakfasted, they dined together; each endeavoured to persuade himself that they were living in a comfortable harmony, but each in secret longed in some degree to be away. Theresa frequently rode out attended by Lothario, and oftener alone; she had already got acquainted with all the landladies and landlords in the district; for she held it as a principle of her economy, in which perhaps she was not far mistaken, that it is essential to be in good acceptance with ones neighbours male and female, and to maintain with them a constant interchange of civilities. Of an intended marriage with Lothario she appeared to have no thought. Natalia and the Countess often talked with one another; the Abbé seemed to covet the society of Augustin; Jarno had frequent conversations with the Doctor; Friedrich held by Wilhelm; Felix ran about, wherever he could meet with most amusement. It was thus too that in general they paired themselves in walking, when the company broke up: when it was obliged to be together, recourse was quickly had to music, to unite them all by giving each back to himself.
Unexpectedly the Count increased the party; intending to remove his lady, and, as it appeared, to take a solemn farewell of his worldly friends. Jarno hastened to the coach to meet him: the Count inquired what guests they had; to which the other answered, in a fit of wild humour that would often seize him: We have all the nobility in Nature; Marcheses, Marquises, Milords and Barons: we wanted nothing but a Count. They came upstairs. Wilhelm was the first who met them in the ante-chamber. Milord, said the Count to him in French, after looking at him for a moment, I rejoice very much in the unexpected pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with your Lordship: I am very much mistaken if I did not see you at my Castle in the Princes suite. I had the happiness of waiting on your Excellency at that time, answered Wilhelm; but you do me too much honour when you take me for an Englishman, and that of the first quality. I am a German, and A very brave young fellow, interrupted Jarno. The Count looked at Wilhelm with a smile, and was about to make some reply, when the rest of the party entered, and saluted him with many a friendly welcome. They excused themselves for being unable at the moment to show him to a proper chamber; promising without delay to make the necessary room for him.
Ay, ay! said he, smiling: we have left Chance, I see, to act as our purveyor. Yet with prudence and arrangement, how much is possible! For the present, I entreat you not to stir a slipper from its place; the disorder, I perceive, would otherwise be great. Every one would be uncomfortably lodged; and this no one shall be on my account, if possible, not even for an hour. You can testify, said he to Jarno, and you too, Meister, turning to Wilhelm, how many people I commodiously stowed, that time, in my Castle. Let me have the list of persons and servants; let me see how they are lodged at present: I will make a plan of dislocation, such that, with the very smallest inconvenience, every one shall find a suitable apartment, and there shall be room enough to hold another guest if one should accidentally arrive.
Jarno volunteered to be the Counts assistant; procured him all the necessary information; taking great delight, as usual, if he could now and then contrive to lead him astray, and leave him in awkward difficulties. The old gentleman at last, however, gained a signal triumph. The arrangement was completed; he caused the names to be written on their several doors, himself attending; and it could not be denied that, by a very few changes and substitutions, the object had been fully gained. Jarno, among other things, had also managed that the persons, who at present took an interest in each other, should be lodged together.
Will you help me, said the Count to Jarno, after everything was settled, to clear up my recollections of the young man there, whom you call Meister, and who, you tell me, is a German? Jarno was silent; for he knew very well that the Count was one of those people who, in asking questions, merely wish to show their knowledge. The Count accordingly continued, without waiting for an answer: You, I recollect, presented him to me; and warmly recommended him in the Princes name. If his mother was a German woman, Ill be bound for it his father is an Englishman, and one of rank too: who can calculate the English blood that has been flowing, these last thirty years, in German veins! I do not wish to pump you: I know you have always family secrets of that kind; but in such cases it is in vain to think of cheating me. He then proceeded to detail a great variety of things as having taken place with Wilhelm at the Castle; to the whole of which Jarno, as before, kept silence; though the Count was altogether in the wrong, confounding Wilhelm more than once with a young Englishman of the Princes suite. The truth was, the good old gentleman had in former years possessed a very excellent memory; and was still proud of being able to remember the minutest circumstances of his youth: but in regard to late occurrences, he used to settle in his mind as true, and utter with the greatest certainty, whatever fables and fantastic combinations in the growing weakness of his powers, imagination might present to him. For the rest, he was become extremely mild and courteous; his presence had a very favourable influence upon the company. He would call on them to read some useful book together; nay he often gave them little games, which, without participating in them, he directed with the greatest care. If they wondered at his condescension, he would reply, that it became a man, who differed from the world in weighty matters, to conform to it the more anxiously in matters of indifference.
In these games, our friend had, more than once, an angry and unquiet feeling to endure. Friedrich, with his usual levity, took frequent opportunity of giving hints that Wilhelm entertained a secret passion for Natalia. How could he have found it out? What entitled him to say so? And would not his friends think that, as they two were often together, Wilhelm must have made a disclosure to him, so thoughtless and unlucky a disclosure?
One day, while they were merrier than common at some such joke, Augustin, dashing up the door, rushed in with a frightful look; his countenance was pale, his eyes were wild; he seemed about to speak, but his tongue refused its office. The party were astounded; Lothario and Jarno, supposing that his madness had returned, sprang up and seized him. With a choked and faltering voice, then loudly and violently, he spoke and cried: Not me! Haste! Help! Save the child! Felix is poisoned!
They let him go; he hastened through the door: all followed him in consternation. They called the Doctor; Augustin made for the Abbés chamber; they found the child; who seemed amazed and frightened, when they called to him from a distance: What hast thou been doing?
They found a glass of almond-milk upon the table, with a bottle near it more than half empty. The Doctor came; was told what they had seen and heard: with horror he observed the well-known laudanum-vial lying empty on the table. He called for vinegar, he summoned all his art to his assistance.
Natalia had the little patient taken to a room, she busied herself with painful care about him. The Abbé had run out to seek Augustin, and draw some explanation from him. The unhappy father had been out upon the same endeavour, but in vain: he returned, to find anxiety and fear on every face. The Doctor, in the mean time, had been examining the almond-milk in the glass; he found it to contain a powerful mixture of opium: the child was lying on the sofa, seeming very sick; he begged his father not to let them pour more stuff into him, not to let them plague him any more. Lothario had sent his people, and had ridden off himself, endeavouring to find some trace of Augustin. Natalia sat beside the child; he took refuge in her bosom, and entreated earnestly for her protection; earnestly for a little piece of sugar: the vinegar, he said, was biting sour. The Doctor granted his request; the child was in a frightful agitation; they were obliged to let him have a moments rest. The Doctor said that every means had been adopted; he would continue to do his utmost. The Count came near, with an air of displeasure: his look was earnest, even solemn: he laid his hands upon the child; turned his eyes to Heaven, and remained some moments in that attitude. Wilhelm, who was lying inconsolable on a seat, sprang up, and casting a despairing look at Natalia, left the room. Shortly afterwards the Count too left it.
I cannot understand, said the Doctor, having paused a little, how it comes that there is not the smallest trace of danger visible about the child. At a single gulp, he must have swallowed an immense dose of opium; yet I find no movement in his pulse but what may be ascribed to our remedies, and to the terror we have put him into.
In a few minutes Jarno entered, with intelligence that Augustin had been discovered in the upper story, lying in his blood; a razor had been found beside him; to all appearance he had cut his throat. The Doctor hastened out: he met the people carrying down the body. The unhappy man was laid upon a bed, and accurately examined: the cut had gone across the windpipe; copious loss of blood had been succeeded by a swoon; yet it was easy to observe that life, that hope was still there. The Doctor put the body in a proper posture; joined the edges of the wound, and bandaged it. The night passed sleepless and full of care to all. Felix would not quit Natalia: Wilhelm sat before her on a stool; he had the boys feet upon his lap; the head and breast were lying upon hers. Thus did they divide the pleasing burden and the painful anxiety; and continue, till the day broke, in their uncomfortable sad position. Natalia had given her hand to Wilhelm; they did not speak a word; they looked at the child and then at one another. Lothario and Jarno were sitting at the other end of the room, and carrying on a most important conversation; which, did not the pressure of events forbid us, we would gladly lay before our readers. The boy slept softly; he awoke quite cheerful, early in the morning, and demanded a piece of bread and butter.
So soon as Augustin had in some degree recovered, they endeavoured to obtain some explanation from him. They learned with difficulty, and by slow degrees, that having, by the Counts unlucky shifting, been appointed to the same chamber with the Abbé, he had found the manuscript in which his story was recorded. Struck with horror on perusing it, he felt that it was now impossible for him to live; on which he had recourse as usual to the laudanum: this he poured into a glass of almond-milk, and raised it to his mouth; but he shuddered when it reached his lips; he set it down untasted; went out to walk once more across the garden, and behold the face of nature; and on his return, he found the child employed in filling up the glass out of which it had been drinking.
They entreated the unhappy creature to be calm; he seized Wilhelm by the hand with a spasmodic grasp, and cried: Ah! why did I not leave thee long ago? I knew well that I should kill the boy, and he me. The boy lives! said Wilhelm. The Doctor, who had listened with attention, now inquired of Augustin if all that drink was poisoned. No, replied he, nothing but the glass. By the luckiest chance, then, cried the Doctor, the boy has drunk from the bottle! A benignant Genius has guided his hand, that he did not catch at death, which stood so near and ready for him. No! no! cried Wilhelm with a groan, and clapping both his hands upon his eyes: How dreadful are the words! Felix said expressly that he drank not from the bottle but the glass. His health is but a show; he will die among our hands, Wilhelm hastened out; the Doctor went below, and taking Felix up, with much caressing, asked: Now did not you, my pretty boy? You drank from the bottle, not the glass? The child began to cry. The Doctor secretly informed Natalia how the matter stood: she also strove in vain to get the truth from Felix, who but cried the more; cried till he fell asleep.
Wilhelm watched by him; the night went peacefully away. Next morning Augustin was found lying dead in bed; he had cheated his attendants by a seeming rest; had silently loosened the bandages, and bled to death. Natalia went to walk with Felix; he was sportful as in his happiest days. You are always good to me, said Felix; you never scold, you never beat me; I will tell you the truth, I did drink from the bottle. Mamma Aurelia used to rap me over the fingers every time I touched the bottle: father looked so sour, I thought he would beat me.
With winged steps Natalia hastened to the Castle; Wilhelm came, still overwhelmed with care, to meet her. Happy father! cried she, lifting up the child, and throwing it into his arms: there is thy son again! He drank from the bottle: his naughtiness has saved him.
They told the Count the happy issue; but he listened with a smiling, silent, modest air of knowingness, like one tolerating the error of worthy men. Jarno, attentive to all, could not explain this lofty self-complacency; till after many windings, he at last discovered it to be his Lordships firm belief that the child had really taken poison, and that he himself, by prayer and the laying-on of hands, had miraculously counteracted the effects of it. After such a feat, his Lordship now determined on departing. Everything, as usual with him, was made ready in a moment; the fair Countess, when about to go, took Wilhelms hand before parting with her sisters; she then pressed both their hands between her own, turned quickly round, and stept into the carriage.
So many terrible and strange events, crowding one upon the back of another, inducing an unusual mode of life, and putting everything into disorder and perplexity, had brought a sort of feverish movement into all departments of the house. The hours of sleep and waking, of eating, drinking and social conversation were inverted. Except Theresa, none of them had kept in their accustomed course. The men endeavoured, by increased potations, to recover their good humour; and thus communicating to themselves an artificial vivacity, they drove away that natural vivacity, which alone imparts to us true cheerfulness and strength for action.
Wilhelm, in particular, was moved and agitated by the keenest feelings. Those unexpected, frightful incidents had thrown him out of all condition to resist a passion which had so forcibly seized his heart. Felix was restored to him; yet still it seemed that he had nothing: Werners letters, the directions for his journey were in readiness; there was nothing wanting but the resolution to remove. Everything conspired to hasten him. He could not but conjecture that Lothario and Theresa were awaiting his departure, that they might be wedded. Jarno was unusually silent; you would have said that he had lost a portion of his customary cheerfulness. Happily the Doctor helped our friend in some degree, from this embarrassment: he declared him sick, and set about administering medicine to him.
The company assembled always in the evening: Friedrich, the wild madcap, who had often drunk more wine than suited him, in general took possession of the talk; and by a thousand frolicsome citations, fantasies and waggish allusions, often kept the party laughing; often also threw them into awkward difficulties, by the liberty he took to think aloud.
In the sickness of his friend he seemed to have little faith. Once when they were all together, Pray, Doctor, cried he, how is it you call the malady our friend is labouring under? Will none of the three thousand names, with which you decorate your ignorance, apply to it? The disease at least is not without examples. There is one such case, continued he with an emphatic tone, in the Egyptian or Babylonian history.
What call you the king? cried he, and stopped short a moment. Well, if you will not help me, I must help myself. He threw the door-leaves up, and pointed to the large picture in the antechamber. What call you the goat-beard there, with the crown on, who is standing at the foot of the bed, making such a rueful face about his sick son? How call you the beauty, who enters, and in her modest roguish eyes at once brings poison and antidote? How call you the quack of a doctor, who at this moment catches a glimpse of the reality, and for the first time in his life takes occasion to prescribe a reasonable recipe, to give a drug which cures to the very heart, and is at once salutiferous and savoury?
In this manner he continued babbling. The company took it with as good a face as might be; hiding their embarrassment behind a forced laugh. A slight blush overspread Natalias cheeks, and betrayed the movements of her heart. By good fortune, she was walking up and down with Jarno: on coming to the door, with a cunning motion she slipped out, walked once or twice across the antechamber, and retired to her room.
Lothario had been standing all the while in the recess of a window; he was looking, without motion, down into the garden. Wilhelm was in the most dreadful state. Left alone with his friends, he still kept silence for a time: he ran with a hurried glance over all his history, and at last, with shuddering, surveyed his present situation; he started up and cried: If I am to blame for what is happening, for what you and I are suffering, punish me. In addition to my other miseries, deprive me of your friendship, and let me wander, without comfort, forth into the wide world, in which I should have mingled, and withdrawn myself from notice long ago. But if you see in me the victim of a cruel entanglement of chance, out of which I could not thread my way, then give me the assurance of your love, of your friendship, on a journey which I dare not now postpone. A time will come, when I may tell you what has passed of late within me. Perhaps this is but a punishment, which I am suffering, because I did not soon enough disclose myself to you, because I hesitated to display myself entirely as I was: you would have assisted me, you would have helped me out in proper season. Again and again have my eyes been opened to my conduct; but it was ever too late, it was ever in vain! How richly do I merit Jarnos censure! I imagined I had seized it; how firmly did I purpose to employ it, to commence another life! Could I, might I have done so? It avails not for mortals to complain of Fate or of themselves! We are wretched, and appointed for wretchedness; and what does it matter whether blame of ours, higher influence or chance, virtue or vice, wisdom or folly plunge us into ruin? Farewell! I will not stay another moment in a house, where I have so fearfully violated the rights of hospitality. Your brothers indiscretion is unpardonable; it aggravates my suffering to the highest pitch, it drives me to despair.
And what, replied Lothario, taking Wilhelm by the hand, what if your alliance with my sister were the secret article on which depended my alliance with Theresa? This amends that noble maiden has appointed for you; she has vowed that these two pairs should appear together at the altar. His reason has made choice of me, said she; his heart demands Natalia: my reason shall assist his heart. We agreed to keep our eyes upon Natalia and yourself; we told the Abbé of our plan, who made us promise not to intermeddle with this union, or attempt to forward it, but to suffer everything to take its course. We have done so, Nature has performed her part; our mad brother only shook the ripe fruit from the branch. And now, since we have come together so unusually, let us lead no common life; let us work together in a noble manner, and for noble purposes! It is inconceivable how much a man of true culture can accomplish for himself and others, if, without attempting to rule, he can be the guardian over many; can induce them to do that in season, which they are at any rate disposed enough to do; can guide them to their objects, which in general they see with due distinctness, though they miss the road to them. Let us make a league for this: it is no enthusiasm; but an idea which may be fully executed, which indeed is often executed, only with imperfect consciousness, by people of benevolence and worth. Natalia is a living instance of it. No other need attempt to rival the plan of conduct which has been prescribed by nature for that pure and noble soul.
He had more to say, but Friedrich with a shout came jumping in. What a garland have I earned! cried he: how will you reward me? Myrtle, laurel, ivy, leaves of oak, the freshest you can find, come twist them: I have merits far beyond them all. Natalia is thine! I am the conjuror who raised this treasure for thee.
Who bade her bolt the door? cried Friedrich. I heard it all: she was in a wondrous pucker. In the night when Felix seemed so ill, and was lying half upon her knees, and thou wert sitting comfortless before her, sharing the beloved load, she made a vow, that if the child died, she would confess her love to thee, and offer thee her hand. And now when the child lives, why should she change her mind? What we promise under such conditions, we keep under any. Nothing wanting but the parson! He will come, and marvel what strange news he brings.
Now, quick! said Friedrich. How stands it with the ceremonies? These we can reckon on our fingers. You must travel; the Marcheses invitation answers to a hairsbreadth. If we had you once beyond the Alps, it will all be right: the people are obliged to you for undertaking anything surprising; you procure them an amusement which they are not called to pay for. It is as if you gave a free ball; all ranks partake in it.
No loitering! cried Friedrich. In two days you may be ready for your travels. Now, think you, friend, continued he, addressing Wilhelm, when we first scraped acquaintance, and I asked you for the pretty nosegay, who could have supposed you were ever to receive a flower like this from me?
Of which you need not be ashamed, any more than one need be ashamed of his descent. The times were very good times: only I cannot but laugh to look at thee; to my mind, thou resemblest Saul the son of Kish, who went out to seek his fathers asses, and found a kingdom.