WILHELM MEISTER'S APPRENTICESHIP
THUS Wilhelm, to his pair of former wounds, which were yet scarcely healed, had now got the accession of a third, which was fresh and not a little disagreeable. Aurelia would not suffer him to call a surgeon; she dressed the hand with all manner of strange speeches, saws and ceremonies; and so placed him in a very painful situation. Yet not he alone, but all persons who came near her, suffered by her restlessness and singularity: and no one more than little Felix. This stirring child was exceedingly impatient under such oppression, and showed himself still naughtier, the more she censured and instructed him.
He delighted in some practices which commonly are thought bad habits, and in which she would not by any means indulge him. He would drink, for example, rather from the bottle than the glass; and his food seemed visibly to have a better relish when eaten from the bowl than from the plate. Such ill-breeding was not overlooked: if he left the door standing open, or slammed it to; if when bid do anything, he stood stock-still, or ran off violently, he was sure to have a long lecture inflicted on him for the fault. Yet he showed no symptoms of improvement from this training: on the other hand, his affection for Aurelia seemed daily to diminish; there was nothing tender in his tone when he called her Mother; whereas he passionately clung to the old nurse, who let him have his will in everything.
But she likewise had of late become so sick, that they had at last been obliged to take her from the house into a quiet lodging; and Felix would have been entirely alone, if Mignon had not, like a kindly guardian-spirit, come to help him. The two children talked together, and amused each other in the prettiest style. She taught him little songs; and he, having an excellent memory, frequently recited them, to the surprise of those about him. She attempted also to explain her maps to him. With these she was still very busy, though she did not seem to take the fittest method. For, in studying countries, she appeared to care little about any other point than whether they were cold or warm. Of the north and south Poles, of the horrid ice which reigns there, and of the increasing heat the farther one retires from them, she could give a very clear account. When any one was travelling, she merely asked whether he was going northward or southward; and strove to find his route in her little charts. Especially when Wilhelm spoke of travelling, she was all attention, and seemed vexed when anything occurred to change the subject. Though she could not be prevailed upon to undertake a part, or even to enter the theatre when any play was acting, yet she willingly and zealously committed many odes and songs to memory; and by unexpectedly, and as it were an the spur of the moment, reciting some such poem, generally of the earnest and solemn kind, she would often cause astonishment in every one.
Serlo, accustomed to regard with favour every trace of opening talent, encouraged her in such performances: but what pleased him most in Mignon was her sprightly, various and often even mirthful singing. By means of a similar gift, the Harper likewise had acquired his favour.
Without himself possessing genius for music, or playing on any instrument, Serlo could rightly prize the value of the art; he failed not, as often as he could, to enjoy this pleasure, which cannot be compared with any other. He held a concert once a-week; and now, with Mignon, the Harper and Laertes, who was not unskilful on the violin, he had formed a very curious domestic band.
He was wont to say: “Men are so inclined to content themselves with what is commonest; the spirit and the senses so easily grow dead to the impressions of the beautiful and perfect, that every one should study, by all methods, to nourish in his mind the faculty of feeling these things. For no man can bear to be entirely deprived of such enjoyments: it is only because they are not used to taste of what is excellent, that the generality of people take delight in silly and insipid things, provided they be new. For this reason,” he would add, “one ought every day at least to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” With such a turn of thought in Serlo, which in some degree was natural to him, the persons who frequented his society could scarcely be in want of pleasant conversation.
It was in the midst of these instructive entertainments, that Wilhelm one day received a letter sealed in black. Werner’s hand betokened mournful news; and our friend was not a little shocked when, opening the sheet, he found it to contain the tidings of his father’s death, conveyed in a very few words. After a short and sudden illness he had parted from the world leaving his domestic affairs in the best possible order.
This unlooked-for intelligence struck Wilhelm to the heart. He deeply felt how careless and negligent we often are of friends and relations while they inhabit with us this terrestrial sojourn; and how we first repent of our insensibility when the fair union, at least for this side of time, is finally cut asunder. His grief for the early death of this honest parent was mitigated only by the feeling, that he had loved but little in the world, and the conviction that he had enjoyed but little.
Wilhelm’s thoughts soon turned to his own predicament; and he felt himself extremely discomposed. A person can scarcely be put into a more dangerous position, than when external circumstances have produced some striking change in his condition, without his manner of feeling and of thinking having undergone any preparation for it. There is then an epoch without epoch; and the contradiction which arises is the greater, the less the person feels that he is not trained for this new manner of existence.
Wilhelm saw himself in freedom, at a moment when he could not yet be at one with himself. His thoughts were noble, his motives pure, his purposes were not to be despised. All this he could with some degree of confidence acknowledge to himself: but he had of late been frequently enough compelled to notice, that experience was sadly wanting to him; and hence on the experience of others, and on the results which they deduced from it, he put a value far beyond its real one; and thus led himself still deeper into error. What he wanted, he conceived he might most readily acquire if he undertook to collect and retain whatever memorable thought he should meet with, in reading or in conversation. He accordingly recorded his own or other men’s opinions, may wrote whole dialogues, when they chanced to interest him. But unhappily by this means he held fast the false no less firmly than the true; he dwelt far too long on one idea, particularly when it was of an aphoristic shape; and thus he left his natural mode of thought and action, and frequently took foreign lights for his loadstars. Aurelia’s bitterness, and Laertes’s cold contempt for men, warped his judgment oftener than they should have done: but no one, in his present case, would have been so dangerous as Jarno, a man whose clear intellect could form a just and rigorous decision about present things; but who erred withal in enunciating these particular decisions with a kind of universal application; whereas, in truth, the judgments of the understanding are properly of force but once, and that in the strictest cases, and become inaccurate in some degree when applied to any other.
Thus Wilhelm, striving to become consistent with himself, was deviating farther and farther from wholesome consistency; and this confusion made it easier for his passions to employ their whole artillery against him, and thus still farther to perplex his views of duty.
Serlo did not fail to take advantage of the late tidings: and in truth he daily had more reason to be anxious about some fresh arrangement of his people. Either he must soon renew his old contracts; a measure he was not specially fond of, for several of his actors, who reckoned themselves indispensable, were growing more and more arrogant; or else he must entirely new-model and reform his company; which plan he looked upon as preferable.
Though he did not personally importune our friend, he set Aurelia and Philina on him: and the other wanderers, longing for some kind of settlement, on their side gave Wilhelm not a moment’s rest; so that he stood hesitating in his choice, in no slight embarrassment, till he should decide. Who would have thought that a letter of Werner’s, written with quite different views, should have forced him on resolving? We shall omit the introduction, and give the rest of it with little alteration.
“IT was therefore, and it always must be, right for every one, on any opportunity, to follow his vocation and exhibit his activity. Scarcely had the good old man been gone a quarter of an hour, when everything in the house began moving by a different plan than his. Friends, acquaintances, relations, crowded forward; especially all sorts of people who on such occasions use to gain anything. They fetched and carried, they counted, wrote and reckoned; some brought wine and meat, others ate and drank; and none seemed busier than the women getting out the mournings.
“Such being the case, thou wilt not blame me that, in this emergency, I likewise thought of my advantage. I made myself as active, and as helpful to thy sister, as I could; and so soon as it was any way decorous, signified to her that it had now become our business to accelerate a union, which our parents in their too great circumspection had hitherto postponed.
“Do not suppose, however, that it came into our heads to take possession of that monstrous empty house. We are more modest, and more rational. Thou shalt hear our plan: thy sister, so soon as we are married, comes to our house; and thy mother comes along with her. ‘How can that be?’ thou wilt say; ‘you have scarcely room for yourselves in that hampered nest.’ There lies the art of it, my friend! Good packing renders all things possible; thou wouldst not believe what space one finds, when one desires to occupy little. The large house we shall sell; an opportunity occurs for this; and the money we shall draw for it will produce a hundred-fold.
“I hope this meets thy views: I hope also thou hast not inherited the smallest particle of those unprofitable tastes for which thy father and thy grandfather were noted. The latter placed his greatest happiness in having about him a multitude of dull-looking works of art, which no one, I may well say no one, could enjoy with him; the former lived in a stately pomp, which he suffered no one to enjoy with him. We mean to manage otherwise, and we expect thy approbation.
“It is true, I myself in all the house have no place whatever but the stool before my writing-desk; and I see not clearly where they will be able to put a cradle down: but in return, the room we shall have out of doors will be the more abundant. Coffee-houses and clubs for the husband; walks and drives for the wife: and pleasant country jaunts for both. But the chief advantage in our plan is, that the round table being now completely filled, our father cannot ask his friends to dinner, who the more he strove to entertain them, used to laugh at him the more.
“Now, no superfluity for us! Not too much furniture and apparatus; no coach, no horses! Nothing but money; and the liberty, day after day, to do what you like in reason. No wardrobes; still the best and newest on your back: the man may wear his coat till it is done; the wife may truck her gown the moment it is going out of fashion. There is nothing so unsufferable to me as an old huckster’s shop of property. If you would offer me a jewel, on condition of my wearing it daily on my finger, I would not accept it; for how can one conceive any pleasure in a dead capital? This then is my confession of faith: To transact your business, to make money, to be merry with your household; and about the rest of the earth to trouble yourself no farther than where you can be of service to it.
“But ere now thou art saying: ‘And pray what is to be done with me in this sage plan of yours? Where shall I find shelter, when you have sold my own house, and not the smallest room remains in yours?’
“This is in truth the main point, brother; and in this too I shall have it in my power to serve thee. But first I must present the just tribute of my praise for time so spent as thine has been.
“Tell me, how hast thou within a few weeks become so skilled in every useful, interesting object? Highly as I thought of thy powers, I did not reckon such attention and such diligence among the number. Thy journal shows us with what profit thou art travelling. The description of the iron and the copper forges is exquisite; it evinces a complete knowledge of the subject. I myself was once there; but my relation, compared with this, has but a very bungled look. The whole letter on the linen-trade is full of information; the remarks on commercial competition are at once just and striking. In one or two places there are errors in addition, which indeed are very pardonable.
“But what most delights my father and myself is thy thorough knowledge of husbandry, and the improvement of landed property. We have thoughts of purchasing a large estate, at present under sequestration, in a very fruitful district. For paying it, we mean to use the money realised by the sale of the house; another portion we shall borrow; a portion may remain unpaid. And we count on thee for going thither, and superintending the improvement of it; by which means, before many years are passed, the land, to speak in moderation, will have risen above a third in value. We shall then bring it to the market again; seek out a larger piece; improve and trade as formerly. For all this, thou art the man. Our pens, meanwhile, will not lie idle here; and so by and by we shall rise to be enviable people.
“For the present, fare thee well! Enjoy life on thy journey, and turn thy face wherever thou canst find contentment and advantage. For the next half year we shall not need thee; thou canst look about thee in the world as thou pleasest; a judicious person finds his best instruction in his travels. Farewell! I rejoice at being connected with thee so closely by relation, and now united with thee in the spirit of activity.”
Well as this letter might be penned, and full of economical truths as it was, Wilhelm felt displeased with it for more than one reason. The praise bestowed on him for his pretended statistical, technological and rural knowledge, was a silent reprimand. The ideal of the happiness of civic life, which his worthy brother sketched, by no means charmed him; on the contrary, a secret spirit of contradiction dragged him forcibly the other way. He convinced himself that, except on the stage, he could nowhere find that mental culture which he longed to give himself: he seemed to grow the more decided in his resolution, the more strongly Werner, without knowing it, opposed him. Thus assailed, he collected all his arguments together, and buttressed his opinions in his mind the more carefully, the more desirable he reckoned it to show them in a favourable light to Werner; and in this manner he produced an answer, which also we insert.
“THY letter is so well written, and so prudently and wisely conceived, that no objection can be made to it. Only thou must pardon me, when I declare that one may think, maintain and do directly the reverse, and yet be in the right as well as thou. Thy mode of being and imagining appears to turn on boundless acquisition, and a light mirthful manner of enjoyment: I need scarcely tell thee, that in all this I find little that can charm me.
“First, however, I am sorry to admit, that my journal is none of mine! Under the pressure of necessity, and to satisfy my father, it was patched together by a friend’s help, out of many books; and though in words I know the objects it relates to, and more of the like sort, I by no means understand them, or can occupy myself about them. What good were it for me to manufacture perfect iron, while my own breast is full of dross? What would it stead me to put properties of land in order, while I am at variance with myself?
“To speak it in a word; the cultivation of my individual self, here as I am, has from my youth upwards been constantly though dimly my wish and my purpose. The same intention I still cherish, but the means of realising it are now grown somewhat clearer. I have seen more of life than thou believest, and profited more by it also. Give some attention then to what I say, though it should not altogether tally with thy own opinions.
“Had I been a nobleman, our dispute would soon have been decided; but being a simple burgher, I must take a path of my own; and I fear it may be difficult to make thee understand me. I know not how it is in foreign countries; but in Germany, a universal, and if I may say so, personal cultivation is beyond the reach of any one except a nobleman. A burgher may acquire merit; by excessive efforts he may even educate his mind; but his personal qualities are lost, or worse than lost, let him struggle as he will. Since the nobleman, frequenting the society of the most polished, is compelled to give himself a polished manner; since this manner, neither door nor gate being shut against him, grows at last an unconstrained one; since, in court or camp, his figure, his person, are a part of his possessions, and it may be the most necessary part,—he has reason enough to put some value on them, and to show that he puts some. A certain stately grace in common things, a sort of gay elegance in earnest and important ones, becomes him well; for it shows him to be everywhere in equilibrium. He is a public person, and the more cultivated his movements, the more sonorous his voice, the more staid and measured his whole being is, the more perfect is he. If to high and low, to friends and relations, he continues still the same, then nothing can be said against him, none may wish him otherwise. His coldness must be reckoned clearness of head, his dissimulation prudence. If he can rule himself externally at every moment of his life, no man has aught more to demand of him; and whatever else there may be in him or about him, capacities, talents, wealth, all seem gifts of supererogation.
“Now imagine any burgher offering ever to pretend to these advantages, he will utterly fail; and the more completely, the greater inclination and the more endowments nature may have given him for that mode of being.
“Since, in common life, the nobleman is hampered by no limits: since kings, or kinglike figures do not differ from him, he can everywhere advance with a silent consciousness, as if before his equals, everywhere he is entitled to press forward; whereas nothing more beseems the burgher than the quiet feeling of the limits that are drawn round him. The burgher may not ask himself: ‘What are thou?’ He can only ask: ‘What has thou? What discernment, knowledge, talent, wealth?’ If the nobleman, merely by his personal carriage, offers all that can be asked of him, the burgher by his personal carriage offers nothing, and can offer nothing. The former had a right to seem; the latter is compelled to be, and what he aims at seeming becomes ludicrous and tasteless. The former does and makes, the latter but effects and procures; he must cultivate some single gifts in order to be useful, and it is beforehand settled, that in his manner of existence there is no harmony, and can be none, since he is bound to make himself of use in one department, and so has to relinquish all the others.
“Perhaps the reason of this difference is not the usurpation of the nobles, and the submission of the burghers, but the constitution of society itself. Whether it will ever alter, and how, is to me of small importance: my present business is to meet my own case, as matters actually stand; to consider by what means I may save myself, and reach the object which I cannot live in peace without.
“Now this harmonious cultivation of my nature, which has been denied me by birth, is exactly what I most long for. Since leaving thee, I have gained much by voluntary practice: I have laid aside much of my wonted embarrassment, and can bear myself in very tolerable style. My speech and voice I have likewise been attending to; and I may say, without much vanity, that in society I do not cause displeasure. But I will not conceal from thee, that my inclination to become a public person, and to please and influence in a larger circle, is daily growing more insuperable. With this, there is combined my love for poetry and all that is related to it; and the necessity I feel to cultivate my mental faculties and tastes, that so, in this enjoyment henceforth indispensable, I may esteem as good the good alone, as beautiful the beautiful alone. Thou seest well, that for me all this is nowhere to be met with except upon the stage; that in this element alone can I effect and cultivate myself according to my wishes. On the boards, a polished man appears in his splendour with personal accomplishments, just as he does so in the upper classes of society; body and spirit must advance with equal steps in all his studies; and there I shall have it in my power at once to be and seem, as well as anywhere. If I farther long for solid occupations, we have there mechanical vexations in abundance; I may give my patience daily exercise.
“Dispute not with me on this subject: for ere thou writest, the step is taken. In compliance with the ruling prejudices, I will change my name, as indeed that of Meister of Master does not suit me. Farewell! Our fortune is in good hands: on that subject I shall not disturb myself. What I need I will, as occasion calls, require from thee: it will not be much; for I hope my art will be sufficient to maintain me.”
Scarcely was the letter sent away, when our friend made good his words. To the great surprise of Serlo and the rest, he at once declared that he was ready to become an actor, and bind himself by a contract on reasonable terms. With regard to these they were soon agreed: for Serlo had before made offers, with which Wilhelm and his comrades had good reason to be satisfied. The whole of that unlucky company, wherewith we have had so long to occupy ourselves, was now at once received; and except perhaps Laertes, not a member of it showed the smallest thankfulness to Wilhelm. As they had entreated without confidence, so they accepted without gratitude. Most of them preferred ascribing their appointment to the influence of Philina, and directed their thanks to her. Meanwhile the contracts had been written out, and were now a-signing. At the moment when our friend was subscribing his assumed designation, by some inexplicable concatenation of ideas, there arose before his mind’s eye the image of that green in the forest, where he lay wounded in Philina’s lap. The lovely Amazon came riding on her gray palfrey from the bushes of the wood; she approached him, and dismounted. Her humane anxiety made her come and go; at length she stood before him. The white surtout fell down from her shoulders; her countenance, her form began to glance in radiance, and she vanished from his sight. He wrote his name mechanically only, not knowing what he did; and felt not, till after he had signed, that Mignon was standing at his side, was holding by his arm, and had softly tried to stop him and pull back his hand.
ONE of the conditions, under which our friend had gone upon the stage, was not acceded to by Serlo without some limitations. Wilhelm had required that Hamlet should be played entire and unmutilated; the other had agreed to this strange stipulation, in so far as it was possible. On this point they had many a contest; for as to what was possible or not possible, and what parts of the piece could be omitted without mutilating it, the two were of very different opinions.
Wilhelm was still in that happy season, when one cannot understand how, in the woman one loves, in the writer one honours, there should be anything defective. The feeling they excite in us is so entire, so accordant with itself, that we cannot help attributing the same perfect harmony to the objects themselves. Serlo again was willing to discriminate, perhaps too willing: his acute understanding could usually discern in any work of art nothing but a more or less imperfect whole. He thought, that as pieces usually stood, there was little reason to be chary about meddling with them; that of course Shakspeare, and particularly Hamlet, would need to suffer much curtailment.
But when Serlo talked of separating the wheat from the chaff, Wilhelm would not hear of it. “It is not chaff and wheat together,” said he: “It is a trunk with boughs, twigs, leaves, buds, blossoms and fruit. Is not the one there with the others, and by means of them?” To which Serlo would reply, that people did not bring a whole tree upon the table; that the artist was required to present his guests with silver apples in platters of silver. They exhausted their invention in similitudes: and their opinions seemed still farther to diverge.
Our friend was on the borders of despair, when, on one occasion, after much debating, Serlo counselled him to take the simple plan; to make a brief resolution, to grasp his pen, to peruse the tragedy; dashing out whatever would not answer, compressing several personages into one: and if he was not skilled in such proceedings, or had not heart enough for going through with them, he might leave the task to him, the Manager, who would engage to make short work with it.
“That is not our bargain,” answered Wilhelm. “How can you, with all your taste, show so much levity?”
“My friend,” cried Serlo, “you yourself will ere long feel it and show it. I know too well how shocking such a mode of treating works is: perhaps it never was allowed on any theatre till now. But where indeed was ever one so slighted as ours? Authors force us on this wretched clipping system, and the public tolerates it. How many pieces have we, pray, which do not overstep the measure of our numbers, of our decorations and theatrical machinery, of the proper time, of the fit alternation of dialogue, and the physical strength of the actor? And yet we are to play, and play, and constantly give novelties. Ought we not to profit by our privilege then, since we accomplish just as much by mutilated works as by entire ones? It is the public itself that grants the privilege. Few Germans, perhaps few men of any modern nation, have a proper sense of an æsthetic whole: they praise and blame by passages; they are charmed by passages: and who has greater reason to rejoice at this than actors, since the stage is ever but a patched and piecework matter?”
“Is!” cried Wilhelm; “but must it ever be so? Must everything that is continue? Convince me not that you are right: for no power on earth should force me to abide by any contract which I had concluded with the grossest misconceptions.”
Serlo gave a merry turn to the business; and persuaded Wilhelm to review once more the many conversations they had had together about Hamlet; and himself to invent some means of properly reforming the piece.
After a few days, which he had spent alone, our friend returned with a cheerful look. “I am much mistaken,” cried he, “if I have not now discovered how the whole is to be managed: nay, I am convinced that Shakspeare himself would have arranged it so, had not his mind been too exclusively directed to the ruling interest, and perhaps misled by the novels, which furnished materials.”
“Let us hear,” said Serlo, placing himself with an air of solemnity upon the sofa; “I will listen calmly; but judge with rigour.”
“I am not afraid of you,” said Wilhelm; “only hear me. In the composition of this play, after the most accurate investigation and the most mature reflection, I distinguish two classes of objects. The first are the grand internal relations of the persons and events, the powerful effects which arise from the characters and proceedings of the main figures: these, I hold, are individually excellent, and the order in which they are presented cannot be improved. No kind of interference must be suffered to destroy them, or even essentially to change their form. These are the things which stamp themselves deep into the soul; which all men long to see, which no one dares to meddle with. Accordingly, I understand, they have almost wholly been retained in all our German theaters. But our countrymen have erred, in my opinion, with regard to the second class of objects, which may be observed in this tragedy; I allude to the external relations of the persons, whereby they are brought from place to place, or combined in various ways by certain accidental incidents. These they have looked upon as very unimportant; have spoken of them only in passing, or left them out altogether. Now, indeed, it must be owned, these threads are slack and slender; yet they run through the entire piece, and bind together much that would otherwise fall asunder, and does actually fall asunder, when you cut them off, and imagine you have done enough and more, if you have left the ends hanging.
“Among these external relations I include the disturbances in Norway, the war with young Fortinbras, the embassy to his uncle, the settling of that feud, the march of young Fortinbras to Poland, and his coming back at the end; of the same sort are Horatio’s return from Wittenberg, Hamlet’s wish to go thither, the journey of Laertes to France, his return, the dispatch of Hamlet into England, his capture by pirates, the death of the two courtiers by the letter which they carried. All these circumstances and events would be very fit for expanding and lengthening a novel; but here they injure exceedingly the unity of the piece, particularly as the hero has no plan, and are in consequence entirely out of place.”
“For once in the right!” cried Serlo.
“Do not interrupt me,” answered Wilhelm; “perhaps you will not always think me right. These errors are like temporary props of an edifice; they must not be removed till we have built a firm wall in their stead. My project therefore is, not at all to change those first-mentioned grand situations, or at least as much as possible to spare them, but collectively and individually; but with respect to these external, single, dissipated and dissipating motives, to cast them all at once away, and substitute a solitary one instead of them.”
“And this?” inquired Serlo, springing up from his recumbent posture.
“It lies in the piece itself,” answered Wilhelm, “only I employ it rightly. There are disturbances in Norway. You shall hear my plan, and try it.
“After the death of Hamlet the father, the Norwegians, lately conquered, grow unruly. The viceroy of that country sends his son, Horatio, an old school-friend of Hamlet’s, and distinguished above every other for his bravery and prudence, to Denmark, to press forward the equipment of the fleet, which, under the new luxurious king, proceeds but slowly. Horatio has known the former king, having fought in his battles, having even stood in favour with him; a circumstance by which the first ghost-scene will be nothing injured. The new sovereign gives Horatio audience, and sends Laertes into Norway with intelligence that the fleet will soon arrive, whilst Horatio is commissioned to accelerate the preparation of it; and the Queen, on the other hand, will not consent that Hamlet, as he wishes, should go to sea along with him.”
“Heaven be praised!” cried Serlo; “we shall now get rid of Wittenberg and the university, which was always a sorry piece of business. I think your idea extremely good; for except these two distant objects, Norway and the fleet, the spectator will not be required to fancy anything: the rest he will see; the rest takes place before him; whereas his imagination, on the other plan, was hunted over all the world.”
“You easily perceive,” said Wilhelm, “how I shall contrive to keep the other parts together. When Hamlet tells Horatio of his uncle’s crime, Horatio counsels him to go to Norway in his company, to secure the affections of the army, and return in warlike force. Hamlet also is becoming dangerous to the King and Queen; they find no readier method of deliverance than to send him in the fleet, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be spies upon him; and as Laertes in the mean time comes from France, they determine that this youth, exasperated even to murder, shall go after him. Unfavourable winds detain the fleet; Hamlet returns: for his wandering through the churchyard perhaps some lucky motive may be thought of; his meeting with Laertes in Ophelia’s grave is a grand moment, which we must not part with. After this, the King resolves that it is better to get quit of Hamlet on the spot; the festival of his departure, the pretended reconcilement with Laertes, are now solemnised; on which occasion knightly sports are held, and Laertes fights with Hamlet. Without the four corpses I cannot end the piece; not one of them can possibly be left. The right of popular election now again comes in force, and Hamlet gives his dying voice for Horatio.”
“Quick! quick!” said Serlo; “sit down and work the piece: your plan has my entire approbation; only do not let your zeal for it evaporate.”
WILHELM had already been for some time busied with translating Hamlet; making use, as he laboured, of Wieland’s spirited performance, by means of which he had first become acquainted with Shakspeare. What in Wieland’s work had been omitted he replaced; and he had at length procured himself a complete version, at the very time when Serlo and he finally agreed about the way of treating it. He now began, according to his plan, to cut out and insert, to separate and unite, to alter and often to restore; for, satisfied as he was with his own conception, it still appeared to him as if in executing it he were but spoiling the original.
So soon as all was finished, he read his work to Serlo and the rest. They declared themselves exceedingly contented with it; Serlo, in particular, made many flattering observations.
“You have felt very justly,” said he, among other things, “that some external circumstances must accompany this piece; but that they must be simpler than those which the great poet has employed. What takes place without the theatre, what the spectator does not see, but must imagine for himself, is like a background, in front of which the acting figures move. Your large and simple prospect of the fleet and Norway will very much improve the piece; if this were altogether taken from it, we should have but a family-scene remaining; and the great idea, that here a kingly house by internal crimes and incongruities goes down to ruin, would not be presented with its proper dignity. But if the former background were left standing, so manifold, so fluctuating and confused, it would hurt the impression of the figures.”
Wilhelm again took Shakspeare’s part; alleging that he wrote for islanders, for Englishmen, who generally in the distance were accustomed to see little else than ships and voyages, the coasts of France and privateers; and thus what perplexed and distracted others, was to them quite natural.
Serlo assented; and both of them were of opinion, that as the piece was now to be produced upon the German stage, this more serious and simple background was the best adapted for the German mind.
The parts had been distributed before: Serlo undertook Polonius; Aurelia undertook Ophelia; Laertes was already designated by his name; a young, thickest, jolly new-comer was to be Horatio; the King and the Ghost alone occasioned some perplexity. For both of these there was no one but Old Boisterous remaining. Serlo proposed to make the Pedant King; but against this our friend protested in the strongest terms. They could resolve on nothing.
Wilhelm also had allowed both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to continue in his piece. “Why not compress them into one?” said Serlo. “This abbreviation will not cost you much.”
“Heaven keep me from all such curtailments!” answered Wilhelm, “they destroy at once the sense and the effect. What these two persons are and do, it is impossible to represent by one. In such small matters we discover Shakspeare’s greatness. These soft approaches, this smirking and bowing, this assenting, wheedling, flattering, this whisking agility, this wagging of the tail, this allness and emptiness, this legal knavery, this ineptitude and insipidity,—how can they be expressed by a single man? There ought to be at least a dozen of these people, if they could be had: for it is only in society that they are anything; they are society itself; and Shakspeare showed no little wisdom and discernment in bringing in a pair of them. Besides, I need them as a couple that may be contrasted with the single, noble, excellent Horatio.”
“I understand you,” answered Serlo, “and we can arrange it. One of them we shall hand over to Elmira, Old Boisterous’s eldest daughter: it will all be right, if they look well enough, and I will deck and trim the puppets so that it shall be a pleasure to behold them.”
Philina was rejoicing not a little that she had to act the Duchess in the small subordinate play. “I will show it so natural,” cried she, “how you wed a second without loss of time, when you have loved the first immensely. I hope to gain the loudest plaudits, and every man shall wish he were the third.”
Aurelia gave a frown; her spleen against Philina was increasing every day.
“’Tis a pity, I declare,” said Serlo, “that we have no ballet; else you should dance me a pas de deux with your first, and then another with your second husband,—and the first might dance himself to sleep by the measure; and your bits of feet and ankles would look so pretty, tripping to and fro upon the side stage.”
“Of my ankles you do not know much,” replied she snappishly; “and as to my bits of feet,” cried she, hastily reaching below the table, pulling off her slippers, and holding them together out to Serlo; “here are the cases of them, and I give you leave to find me nicer ones.”
“It were a serious task,” said he, looking at the elegant half-shoe. “In truth, one does not often meet with anything so dainty.”
They were of Parisian workmanship: Philina had obtained them as a present from the Countess, a lady whose foot was celebrated for its beauty.
“A charming thing !” cried Serlo; “my heart leaps at the sight of them.”
“What gallant throbs !” replied Philina.
“There is nothing in the world beyond a pair of slippers,” said he; “of such pretty manufacture, in their proper time and place, when——”
Philina took her slippers from his hands, crying, “You have squeezed them all ! They are far too wide for me !” She played with them, and rubbed the soles of them together. “How hot it is !” cried she, clapping the sole upon her cheek, then again rubbing, and holding it to Serlo. he was innocent enough to stretch out his hand to feel the warmth. “Clip ! clap the heel, so that he screamed and drew back his hand; “I will teach you to use my slippers better.”
“And I will teach you to use old folk like children,” cried the other; then sprang up, seized her, and plundered many a kiss, everyone of which she artfully contested with a show of serious reluctance. In this romping, her long hair got loose, and floated round the group; the chair overset; and Aurelia, inwardly indignant at such rioting, arose in great vexation.
THOUGH in this remoulding of Hamlet many characters had been cut off, a sufficient number of them still remained; a number which the company was scarcely adequate to meet.
“If this is the way of it,” said Serlo, “our prompter himself must issue from his den, and mount the stage, and become a personage like one of us.”
“In his own station,” answered Wilhelm, “I have frequently admired him.”
“I do not think,” said Serlo, “that there is in the world a more perfect artist of his kind. No spectator ever hears him; we upon the stage catch every syllable. He has formed in himself, as it were, a peculiar set of vocal organs for this purpose; he is like a Genius that whispers intelligibly to us in the hour of need. He feels as if instinct what portion of his task an actor is completely master of; and anticipates from afar where his memory will fail him. I have known cases, in which I myself had scarcely read my part; he said it over to me word for word, and I played happily. Yet he has some peculiarities, which would make another in his place quite useless. For example, he takes such an interest in the pieces, that in giving any moving passage, he does not indeed declaim it, but he reads it with all pomp and pathos. By this ill habit he has nonplussed me on more than one occasion.”
“As with another of his singularities,” observed Aurelia, “he once left me sticking fast in a very dangerous passage.”
“How could this happen, with the man’s attentiveness?” said Wilhelm.
“He is so affected,” said Aurelia, “by certain passages, that he weeps warm tears, and for a few moments loses all reflection; and it is not properly passages such as we should call affecting that produce this impression on him; but, if I express myself clearly, the beautiful passages, those out of which the pure spirit of the poet looks forth, as it were, through open sparkling eyes; passages which others at most rejoice over, and which many thousands altogether overlook.”
“And with a soul so tender, why does he never venture on the stage?”
“A hoarse voice,” said Serlo, “and a stiff carriage exclude him from it; as his melancholic temper excludes him from society. What trouble have I taken, and in vain, to make myself familiar with him! But he is a charming reader; such another I have never heard; no one can observe like him the narrow limit between declamation and graceful recital.”
“The very man!” exclaimed our friend, “the very man! What a fortunate discovery! We have now the proper hand for delivering the passage of The rugged Pyrrhus.”
“One requires your eagerness,” said Serlo, “before one can employ every object in the use it was meant for.”
“In truth,” said Wilhelm, “I was very much afraid we should be obliged to leave this passage out; the omission would have lamed the whole play.”
“Well! That is what I cannot understand,” observed Aurelia.
“I hope you will ere long be of my opinion,” answered Wilhelm. “Shakspeare has introduced these travelling players with a double purpose. The person who recites the death of Priam with such feeling, in the first place, makes a deep impression on the Prince himself; he sharpens the conscience of the wavering youth: and, accordingly, this scene becomes a prelude to that other, where, in the second place, the little play produces such effect upon the King. Hamlet sees himself reproved and put to shame by the player, who feels so deep a sympathy in foreign fictitious woes: and the thought of making an experiment upon the conscience of his stepfather is in consequence suggested to him. What a royal monologue is that, which ends the second act! How charming it will be to speak it!
“If we can but persuade our man to come upon the stage,” observed Aurelia.
“We must lead him to it by degrees,” said Serlo. “At the rehearsal, he may read the passage; we shall tell him that an actor whom we are expecting is to play it; and so, by and by, we shall lead him nearer to the point.”
Having agreed on this affair, the conversation next turned upon the Ghost. Wilhelm could not bring himself to give the part of the living King to the Pedant, that so Old Boisterous might play the Ghost: he was of opinion that they ought to wait a while; because some other actors had announced themselves, and among these it was probable they would find a fitter man.
We can easily conceive, then, how astonished Wilhelm must have been, when returning home that evening, he found a billet lying on his table, sealed with singular figures, and containing what follows:
“Strange youth! we know thou art in great perplexity. For thy Hamlet thou canst hardly find men enough, not to speak of Ghosts. Thy zeal deserves a miracle: miracles we cannot work; but somewhat marvellous shall happen. If thou have faith, the Ghost shall arise at the proper hour! Be of courage and keep firm! This needs no answer: thy determination will be known to us.”
With this curious sheet he hastened back to Serlo, who read it and re-read it, and at last declared with a thoughtful look, that it seemed a matter of some moment; that they must consider well and seriously whether they could risk it. They talked the subject over at some length; Aurelia was silent, only smiling now and then; and a few days after, when speaking of the incident again, she gave our friend, not obscurely, to understand, that she held it all for a joke of Serlo’s. She desired him to cast away anxiety, and to expect the Ghost with patience.
Serlo, for most part, was in excellent humour: the actors that were going to leave him took all possible pains to play well, that their absence might be properly regretted; and this, combined with the newfangled zeal of the others, gave promise of the best results.
His intercourse with Wilhelm had not failed to exert some influence on him. He began to speak more about art: for, after all, he was a German; and Germans like to give themselves account of what they do. Wilhelm wrote down many of their conversations; which, as our narrative must not be so often interrupted here, we shall communicate to such of our readers as feel an interest in dramaturgic matters, by some other opportunity.
In particular, one evening, the Manager was very merry in speaking of the part of Polonius, and how he meant to take it up. “I engage,” said he, “on this occasion, to present a very meritorious person in his best aspect. The repose and security of this old gentleman, his emptiness and his significance, his exterior gracefulness and interior meanness, his frankness and sycophancy, his sincere roguery and deceitful truth, I will introduce with all due elegance in their fit proportions. This respectable, gray-haired, enduring time-serving half-knave I will represent in the most courtly style: the occasional roughness and coarseness of our author’s strokes will further me here. I will speak like a book, when I am prepared beforehand; and like an ass, when I utter the overflowings of my heart. I will be insipid and absurd enough to chime-in with every one; and acute enough never to observe when people make a mock of me. I have seldom taken up a part with so much zeal and roguishness.”
“Could I but hope as much from mine!” exclaimed Aurelia. “I have neither youth nor softness enough to be at home in this character. One thing alone I am too sure of; the feeling that turns Ophelia’s brain, I shall not want.”
“We must not take the matter up so strictly,” said our friend. “For my share, I am certain, that the wish to act the character of Hamlet has led me exceedingly astray, throughout my study of the piece. And now the more I look into the part, the more clearly do I see, that in my whole form and physiognomy, there is not one feature such as Shakspeare meant for Hamlet. When I consider with what nicety the various circumstances are adapted to each other, I can scarcely hope to produce even a tolerable effect.”
“You are entering on your new career with becoming conscientiousness,” said Serlo. “The actor fits himself to his part as he can, and the part to him as it must. But how has Shakspeare drawn his Hamlet? Is he then so utterly unlike you?”
“In the first place,” answered Wilhelm, “he is fair-haired.”
“That I call farfetched,” observed Aurelia. “How do you infer that?”
“As a Dane, as a Northman, he is fair-haired and blue-eyed by descent.”
“And you think Shakspeare had this in view?”
“I do not find it specially expressed; but, by comparison of passages, I think it incontestable. The fencing tires him; the sweat is running from his brow; and the Queen remarks: He’s fat and scant of breath. Can you conceive him to be otherwise than plump and fair-haired? Brown-complexioned people in their youth are seldom plump. And does not his wavering melancholy, his soft lamenting, his irresolute activity, accord with such a figure? From a dark-haired young man you would look for more decision and impetuosity.”
“You are spoiling my imagination,” cried Aurelia: “away with your fat Hamlets! Do not set your well-fed Prince before us! Give us rather any succedaneum that will move us, will delight us. The intention of the author is of less importance to us than our own enjoyment, and we need a charm that is adapted for us.”
ONE evening a dispute arose among our friends about the novel and the drama, and which of them deserved the preference. Serlo said it was a fruitless and misunderstood debate; both might be superior in their kinds, only each must keep within the limits proper to it.
“About their limits and their kinds,” said Wilhelm, “I confess myself not altogether clear.”
“Who is so?” said the other; “and yet perhaps it were worth while to come a little closer to the business.”
They conversed together long upon the matter; and in fine, the following was nearly the result of their discussion:
“In the novel as well as in the drama, it is human nature and human action that we see. The difference between these sorts of fiction lies not merely in their outward form; not merely in the circumstance that the personages of the one are made to speak, while those of the other have commonly their history narrated. Unfortunately many dramas are but novels, which proceed by dialogue; and it would not be impossible to write a drama in the shape of letters.
“But in the novel, it is chiefly sentiments and events that are exhibited; in the drama, it is characters and deeds. The novel must go slowly forward; and the sentiments of the hero, by some means or another, must restrain the tendency of the whole to unfold itself and to conclude. The drama on the other hand, must hasten, and the character of the hero must press forward to the end; it does not restrain, but is restrained. The novel-hero must be suffering, at least he must not in a high degree be active; in the dramatic one, we look for activity and deeds. Grandison, Clarissa, Pamela, the Vicar of Wakefield, Tom Jones himself, are, if not suffering, at least retarding personages; and the incidents are all in some sort modelled by their sentiments. In the drama the hero models nothing by himself; all things with stand him, and he clears and casts away the hindrances from off his path, or else sinks under them.”
Our friends were also of opinion, that in the novel some degree of scope may be allowed to Chance; but that it must always be led and guided by the sentiments of the personages; on the other hand, that Fate, which, by means of outward unconnected circumstances, carries forward men, without their own concurrence, to an unforeseen catastrophe, can have place only in the drama; that Chance may produce pathetic situations, but never tragic ones; Fate, on the other hand, ought always to be terrible; and is in the highest sense tragic, when it brings into a ruinous concatenation the guilty man, and the guiltless that was unconcerned with him.
These considerations led them back to the play of Hamlet, and the peculiarities of its composition. The hero in this case, it was observed, is endowed more properly with sentiments than with a character; it is events alone that push him on; and accordingly the piece has in some measure the expansion of a novel. But as it is Fate that draws the plan; as the story issues from a deed of terror, and the hero is continually driven forward to a deed of terror, the work is tragic in the highest sense, and admits of no other than a tragic end.
They were now to study and peruse the piece in common; to commence what are called the book-rehearsals. These Wilhelm had looked forward to as to a festival. Having formerly collated all the parts, no obstacle on this side could oppose him. The whole of the actors were acquainted with the piece; he endeavoured to impress their minds with the importance of these book-rehearsals. “As you require,” said he, “of every musical performer, that he shall, in some degree, be able to play from the book; so every actor, every educated man, should train himself to recite from the book, to catch immediately the character of any drama, any poem, any tale he may be reading, and exhibit it with grace and readiness. No committing of the piece to memory will be of service, if the actor have not in the first place penetrated into the sense and spirit of his author; the mere letter will avail him nothing.”
Serlo declared, that he would overlook all subsequent rehearsals, the last rehearsal itself, if justice were but done to these rehearsals from the book. “For commonly,” said he, “there is nothing more amusing than to hear an actor speak of study; it is as if freemasons were to talk of building.”
The rehearsal passed according to their wishes; and we may assert, that the fame and favour which our company acquired afterwards, had their foundation in these few but well-spent hours.
“You did right, my friend,” said Serlo, when they were alone, “in speaking to our fellow-labourers so earnestly; and yet I am afraid they will scarcely fulfil your wishes.”
“How so?” asked Wilhelm.
“I have noticed,” answered Serlo, “that as easily as you may set in motion the imaginations of men, gladly as they listen to your tales and fictions, it is yet very seldom that you find among them any touch of an imagination you can call productive. In actors this remark is strikingly exemplified. Any one of them is well content to undertake a beautiful, praiseworthy, brilliant part; and seldom will any one of them do more than self-complacently transport himself into his hero’s place, without in the smallest troubling his head whether other people view him so or not. But to seize with vivacity what the author’s feeling was in writing; what portion of your individual qualities you must cast off, in order to do justice to a part; how by your own conviction that you are become another man, you may carry with you the convictions of the audience; how by the inward truth of your conceptive power, you can change these boards into a temple, this pasteboard into woods; to seize and execute all this is given to very few. That internal strength of soul, by which alone deception can be brought about; that lying truth, without which nothing will affect us rightly, have by most men never even been imagined.
“Let us not then press too hard for spirit and feeling in our friends! The surest way is first coolly to instruct them in the sense and letter of the piece; if possible, to open their understandings. Whoever has the talent will then, of his own accord, eagerly adopt the spirited feeling and manner of expression; and those who have it not, will at least be prevented from acting or reciting altogether falsely. And among actors, as indeed in all cases, there is no worse arrangement than for any one to make pretensions to the spirit of a thing, while the sense and letter of it are not ready and clear to him.”
COMING to the first stage rehearsal very early, Wilhelm found himself alone upon the boards. The appearance of the place surprised him, and awoke the strangest recollections. A forest and village-scene stood exactly represented as he once had seen it in the theatre of his native town. On that occasion also, a rehearsal was proceeding; and it was the morning when Mariana first confessed her love to him, and promised him a happy interview. The peasants’ cottages resembled one another on the two stages, as they did in nature; the true morning sun, beaming through a half-closed window-shutter, fell upon a part of a bench ill-joined to a cottage-door; but unhappily it did not now enlighten Mariana’s waist and bosom. He sat down, reflecting on this strange coincidence: he almost thought that perhaps on this very spot he would soon see her again. And alas! the truth was nothing more, than that an afterpiece to which this scene belonged was at that time very often played upon the German stage.
Out of these meditations he was roused by the other actors; along with whom two amateurs, frequenters of the wardrobe and stage, came in, and saluted Wilhelm with a show of great enthusiasm. One of these was in some degree attached to Frau Melina: but the other was entirely a pure friend of art; and both were of the kind which a good company should always wish to have about it. It was difficult to say whether their love for the stage or their knowledge of it was the greater. They loved it too much to know it perfectly; they knew it well enough to prize the good, and to discard the bad. But their inclination being so powerful, they could tolerate the mediocre; and the glorious joy, which they experienced from the foretaste and the aftertaste of excellence, surpassed expression. The mechanical department gave them pleasure, the intellectual charmed them; and so strong was their susceptibility, that even a discontinuous rehearsal afforded them a species of illusion. Deficiencies appeared in their eyes to fade away in distance; the successful touched them like an object near at hand. In a word, they were judges such as every artist wishes in his own department. Their favourite movement was from the side-scenes to the pit, and from the pit to the side-scenes; their happiest place was in the wardrobe; their busiest employment was in trying to improve the dress, position, recitation, gesture of the actor; their liveliest conversation was on the effect produced by him; their most constant effort was to keep him accurate, active and attentive, to do him service or kindness, and, without squandering, to procure for the company a series of enjoyments. The two had obtained the exclusive privilege of being present on the stage at rehearsals as well as exhibitions. In regard to Hamlet, they had not in all points agreed with Wilhelm; here and there he had yielded; but for most part he had stood by his opinion; and, upon the whole, these discussions had been very useful in the forming of his taste. He showed both gentlemen how much he valued them; and they again predicted nothing less, from these combined endeavours, than a new epoch for the German theatre.
The presence of these persons was of great service during the rehearsals. In particular, they laboured to convince our players that, throughout the whole of their preparations, the posture and action, as they were intended ultimately to appear, should always be combined with the words, and thus the whole be mechanically united by habit. In rehearsing a tragedy especially, they said, no common movement with the hands should be allowed: a tragic actor that took snuff in the rehearsal always frightened them; for, in all probability, on coming to the same passage in the exhibition he would miss his pinch. Nay, on the same principles, they maintained that no one should rehearse in boots, if his part were to be played in shoes. But nothing, they declared, afflicted them so much as when the women, in rehearsing, stuck their hands into the folds of their gowns.
By the persuasion of our friends, another very good effect was brought about; the actors all began to learn the use of arms. Since military parts occur so frequently, said they, can anything look more absurd than men without the smallest particle of discipline, strolling about the stage in captains’ and majors’ uniforms?
Wilhelm and Laertes were the first that took lessons of a subaltern: they continued their practising of fence with the greatest zeal.
Such pains did our two amateurs give themselves for perfecting a company, which had so fortunately come together. They were thus providing for the future satisfaction of the public, while the public was usually laughing at their taste. People did not know what gratitude they owed our friends; particularly for performing one service, the service of frequently impressing on the actor the fundamental point, that it was his duty to speak so loud as to be heard. In this simple matter, they experienced more opposition and repugnance than could have been expected. Most part maintained that they were heard well already; some laid the blame upon the building; others said, one could not yell and bellow, when one had to speak naturally, secretly, or tenderly.
Our two friends having an immeasurable stock of patience, tried every means of undoing this delusion, of getting round this obstinate self-will. They spared neither arguments nor flatteries; and at last they reached their object, being aided not a little by the good example of Wilhelm. By him they were requested to sit down in the remotest corners of the house; and every time they did not hear him perfectly, to rap on the bench with a key. He articulated well, spoke out in a measured manner, raised his tones gradually, and did not overcry himself in the most vehement passages, The rapping of the key was heard less and less every new rehearsal: by and by the rest submitted to the same operation; and at last it seemed rational to hope, that the piece would be heard by every one in all the nooks of the house.
From this example, we may see how desirous people are to reach their object in their own way; what need there often is of enforcing on them truths which are self-evident; and how difficult it may be to reduce the man, who aims at effecting something, to admit the primary conditions under which alone his enterprise is possible.
THE NECESSARY preparations for scenery and dresses, and whatever else was requisite, were now proceeding. In regard to certain scenes and passages, our friend had whims of his own, which Serlo humoured, partly in consideration of their bargain, partly from conviction, and because he hoped by these civilities to gain Wilhelm, and to lead him according to his own purposes the more implicitly in time to come.
Thus, for example, the King and Queen were, at the first audience, to appear sitting on the throne, with the courtiers at the sides, and Hamlet standing undistinguished in the crowd. “Hamlet,” said he, “must keep himself quiet; his sable dress will sufficiently point him out. He should rather shun remark than seek it. Not till the audience is ended, and the King speaks with him as with a son, should he advance, and allow the scene to take its course.”
A formidable obstacle still remained, in regard to the two pictures, which Hamlet so passionately refers to in the scene with his mother. “We ought,” said Wilhelm, “to have both of them visible, at full length, in the bottom of the chamber, near the main door; and the former King must be clad in armour, like the Ghost, and hang at the side where it enters. I could wish that the figure held its right hand in a commanding attitude; were somewhat turned away; and as it were looked over its shoulder, that so it might perfectly resemble the Ghost at the moment when he issues from the door. It will produce a great effect, when at this instant Hamlet looks upon the Ghost, and the Queen upon the picture. The stepfather may be painted in royal ornaments, but not so striking.”
There were several other points of this sort, about which we shall perhaps elsewhere have opportunity to speak.
“Are you then inexorably bent on Hamlet’s dying at the end?” inquired Serlo.
“How can I keep him alive,” said Wilhelm, “when the whole piece is pressing him to death? We have already talked at large on that matter.”
“But the public wishes him to live.”
“I will show the public any other complaisance; but as to this, I cannot. We often wish that some gallant useful man, who is dying of a chronic disease, might yet live longer. The family weep, and conjure the physician, but he cannot stay him; and no more than this physician can withstand the necessity of nature, can we give law to an acknowledged necessity of art. It is a false compliance with the multitude, to raise in them emotions which they wish, when these are not emotions which they ought, to feel.”
“Whoever pays the cash,” said Serlo, “may require the ware according to his liking.”
“Doubtless, in some degree,” replied our friend; “but a great public should be reverenced, not used as children are, when pedlars wish to hook the money from them. By presenting excellence to the people, you should gradually excite in them a taste and feeling for the excellent; and they will pay their money with double satisfaction, when reason itself has nothing to object against this outlay. The public you may flatter, as you do a well-beloved child, to better, to enlighten it; not as you do a pampered child of quality, to perpetuate the error you profit from.”
In this manner, various other topics were discussed relating to the question: What might still be changed in the piece, and what must of necessity remain untouched? We shall not enter farther on those points at present; but perhaps at some future time we may admit this altered Hamlet itself to such of our readers as feel any interest in the subject.
THE MAIN rehearsal was at length concluded; it had lasted very long. Serlo and Wilhelm still found much to care for: notwithstanding all the time which had already been consumed in preparation, some highly necessary matters had been left to the very last moment.
Thus, the pictures of the kings, for instance, were not ready; and the scene between Hamlet and his Mother, from which so powerful an effect was looked for, had a very helpless aspect, as the business stood; for neither Ghost nor painted image of him was at present forthcoming. Serlo made a jest of this perplexity: “We should be in a pretty scrape,” said he, “if the Ghost were to decline appearing, and the guard had nothing to fight with but the air, and our prompter were obliged to speak the spirit’s part from the side-scenes.”
“We will not scare away our strange friend by unbelief,” said Wilhelm: “doubtless at the proper season he will come, and astonish us as much as the spectators.”
“Well, certainly,” said Serlo, “I shall be a happy man tomorrow night, when once this piece is fairly acted. It costs us more arrangement than I dreamed of.”
“But none of you,” exclaimed Philina, “will be happier than I, little as my part disturbs me. Really, to hear a single subject talked of forever and forever, when after all there is nothing to come of it, beyond an exhibition which will be forgotten like so many hundred others, this is what I have not patience for. In Heaven’s name, not so many pros and cons! The guests you entertain have always something to object against the dinner; nay, if you could hear them talk of it at home, they cannot understand how it was possible to undergo so sad a business.”
“Let me turn your illustration, pretty one, to my own advantage,” answered Wilhelm. “Consider how much must be done by art and nature, by traffickers and tradesmen, before an entertainment can be given. How many years the stag must wander in the forest, the fish in the river or the sea, before they can deserve to grace our table! And what cares and consultations with her cooks and servants has the lady of the house submitted to! Observe with what indifference the people swallow the production of the distant vintager, the seaman and the vintner, as if it were a thing of course. And ought these men to cease from labouring, providing and preparing; ought the master of the house to cease from purchasing and laying up the fruit of their exertions, because at last the enjoyment if affords is transitory? But no enjoyment can be transitory; the impression which it leaves is permanent; and what is done with diligence and effort communicates to the spectator a hidden force, of which we cannot say how far its influence may reach.”
“’Tis all one to me,” replied Philina; “only here again I must observe that you men are constantly at variance with yourselves. With all this conscientious horror at curtailing Shakspeare, you have missed the finest thought there was in Hamlet!”
“The finest?” cried our friend.
“Certainly the finest,” said Philina; “the Prince himself takes pleasure in it.”
“And it is?” inquired Serlo.
“If you wore a wig,” replied Philina, “I would pluck it very coolly off you; for I think you need to have your understanding opened.”
The rest began to think what she could mean; the conversation paused. The party arose; it was now grown late; they seemed about to separate. While they were standing, in this undetermined mood, Philina all at once struck-up a song, with a very graceful, pleasing tune:
She made a little courtesy on concluding, and Serlo gave a loud “Bravo!” She scuttled off, and left the room with a teehee of laughter. They heard her singing and skipping as she went down-stairs.
Serlo passed into another room; Wilhelm bade Aurelia good-night; but she continued looking at him for a few moments, and said:
“How I dislike that woman! dislike her from my heart, and to her very slightest qualities! Those brown eyelashes, with her fair hair, which our brother thinks so charming, I cannot bear to look at; and that scar upon her brow has something in it so repulsive, so low and base, that I could recoil ten paces every time I meet her. She was lately telling as a joke, that her father, when she was a child, threw a plate at her head, of which this is the mark. It is well that she is marked in the eyes and brow, that those about her may be on their guard.”
Wilhelm made no answer, and Aurelia went on, apparently with greater spleen:
“It is next to impossible to speak a friendly or civil word to her, so deeply do I hate her, with all her wheedling. Would that we were rid of her! And you too, my friend, have a certain complaisance for the creature, a way of acting towards her, that grieves me to the soul; an attention which borders on respect; which, by Heaven! she does not merit.”
“Whatever she may be,” replied our friend, “I owe her thanks. Her upbringing is to blame: to her natural character I would do justice.”
“Character!” exclaimed Aurelia; “and do you think such a creature has a character? O you men! It is so like you! These are the women you deserve!”
“My friend, can you suspect me?” answered Wilhelm. “I will give account of every minute I have spent beside her.”
“Come, come,” replied Aurelia; “it is late, we will not quarrel. All like each, and each like all! Good-night, my friend! Good-night, my sparkling bird of Paradise!”
Wilhelm asked how he had earned this title.
“Another time,” cried she; “another time. They say it has no feet, but hovers in the air, and lives on æther. That, however, is a story, a poetic fiction. Good-night! Dream sweetly, if you are in luck!”
She proceeded to her room; and he, being left alone, made haste to his.
Half angrily he walked along his chamber to and fro. The jesting but decided tone of Aurelia had hurt him: he felt deeply how unjust she was. Could he treat Philina with unkindness or ill-nature? She had done no evil to him; but for any love to her, he could proudly and confidently take his conscience to witness that it was not so.
On the point of beginning to undress, he was going forward to his bed to draw aside the curtains, when, not without extreme astonishment, he saw a pair of women’s slippers lying on the floor before it. One of them was resting on its sole, the other on its edge. They were Philina’s slippers; he recognised them but too well. He thought he noticed some disorder in the curtains; nay it seemed as if they moved. He stood, and looked with unaverted eyes.
A new impulse, which he took for anger, cut his breath: after a short pause, he recovered, and cried in a firm tone: “Come out, Philina! What do you mean by this? Where is your sense, your modesty? Are we to be the speech of the house tomorrow?”
“I do not jest,” continued he; “these pranks are little to my taste.”
No sound! No motion!
Irritated and determined, he at last went forward to the bed, and tore the curtains asunder. “Arise,” said he, “if I am not to give you up my room tonight.”
With great surprise, he found his bed unoccupied; the sheets and pillows in the sleekest rest. He looked around; he searched, and searched, but found no traces of the rogue. Behind the bed, the stove, the drawers, there was nothing to he seen: he sought with great and greater diligence; a spiteful looker-on might have believed that he was seeking in the hope of finding.
All thought of sleep was gone. He put the slippers on his table: went past it up and down; often paused before it; and a wicked sprite that watched him has asserted, that our friend employed himself for several hours about these dainty little shoes; that he viewed them with a certain interest; that he handled them and played with them: and it was not till towards morning that he threw himself on the bed, without undressing, where he fell asleep amidst a world of curious fantasies.
He was still slumbering, when Serlo entered hastily: “Where are you?” cried he; “Still in bed? Impossible! I want you in the theatre; we have a thousand things to do.”
THE FORENOON and the afternoon fled rapidly away. The playhouse was already full; our friend hastened to dress. It was not with the joy which it had given him when he first essayed it, that he now put on the garb of Hamlet: he only dressed himself that he might be in readiness.
On joining the women in the stage-room, they unanimously cried that nothing sat upon him right; the fine feather stood awry, the buckle of his belt did not fit: they began to slit, to sew, and piece together. The music started: Philina still objected somewhat to his ruff; Aurelia had much to say against his mantle. “Leave me alone, good people,” cried he, “this negligence will make me like Hamlet.” The women would not let him go, but continued trimming him. The music ceased: the acting was begun. He looked at himself in the glass; pressed his hat closer down upon his face, and retouched the painting of his cheeks.
At this instant, somebody came rushing in and cried: “The Ghost! The Ghost!”
Wilhelm had not once had time all day to think of the Ghost, and whether it would come or not. His anxiety on that head was at length removed, and now some strange assistant was to be expected. The stage-manager came in, inquiring after various matters: Wilhelm had not time to ask about the Ghost; he hastened to present himself before the throne, where King and Queen, surrounded with their court, were already glancing in all the splendours of royalty, and waiting till the scene in front of them should be concluded. He caught the last words of Horatio, who was speaking of the Ghost in extreme confusion, and seemed to have almost forgotten his part.
The intermediate curtain went aloft, and Hamlet saw the crowded house before him. Horatio having spoken his address, and been dismissed by the King, pressed through to Hamlet; and, as if presenting himself to the Prince, he said; “The Devil is in harness; he has put us all in fright.”
In the mean while two men of large stature, in white cloaks and capuches, were observed standing in the side-scenes. Our friend, in the distraction, embarrassment and hurry of the moment, had failed in the first soliloquy; at least such was his own opinion, though loud plaudits had attended his exit. Accordingly he made his next entrance in no pleasant mood, with the dreary wintry feeling of dramatic condemnation. Yet he girded up his mind; and spoke that appropriate passage on the “rouse and wassel,” the “heavy-headed revel” of the Danes, with suitable indifference; he had, like the audience, in thinking of it, quite forgotten the Ghost; and he started in real terror, when Horatio cried out, “Look, my lord, it comes!” He whirled violently round; and the tall noble figure, the low inaudible tread, the light movement in the heavy-looking armour, made such an impression on him, that he stood as if transformed to stone, and could utter only in a half-voice his: “Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” He glared at the form; drew a deep breathing once or twice, and pronounced his address to the Ghost in a manner so confused, so broken, so constrained, that the highest art could not have hit the mark so well.
His translation of this passage now stood him in goodstead. He had kept very close to the original; in which the arrangement of the words appeared to him expressive of a mind confounded, terrified and seized with horror:
A deep effect was visible in the audience. The Ghost beckoned, the Prince followed him amid the loudest plaudits. The scene changed; and when the two had re-appeared, the Ghost on a sudden stopped, and turned round; by which means Hamlet came to be a little too close upon it. With a longing curiosity, he looked in at the lowered vizor, but except two deep-lying eyes, and a well-formed nose, he could discern nothing. Gazing timidly, he stood before the Ghost; but when the first tones issued from the helmet, and a somewhat hoarse yet deep and penetrating voice pronounced the words: “I am thy father’s spirit,” Wilhelm, shuddering, started back some paces, and the audience shuddered with him. Each imagined that he knew the voice; Wilhelm thought he noticed in it some resemblance with his father’s. These strange emotions and remembrances; the curiosity he felt about discovering his secret friend, the anxiety about offending him, even the theatric impropriety of coming too near him in the present situation, all this affected Wilhelm with powerful and conflicting impulses. During the long speech of the Ghost, he changed his place so frequently; he seemed so unsettled and perplexed, so attentive, and so absent-minded, that his acting caused a universal admiration, as the Spirit caused a universal horror. The latter spoke with a feeling of melancholy anger rather than of sorrow; but of an anger spiritual, slow and inexhaustible. It was the mistemper of a noble soul, that is severed from all earthly things, and yet devoted to unbounded woe. At last he vanished; but in a curious manner; for a thin, gray, transparent gauze arose from the place of descent like a vapour, spread itself over him, and sank along with him.
Hamlet’s friends now entered, and swore upon the sword. Old Truepenny, in the mean time, was so busy under ground, that wherever they might take their station, he was sure to call out right beneath them: “Swear!” and they started, as if the soil had taken fire below them, and hastened to another spot. On each of these occasions, too, a little flame pierced through at the place where they were standing. The whole produced on the spectators a profound impression.
After this, the piece proceeded calmly on its course: nothing failed, all prospered; the audience manifested their contentment, and the actors seemed to rise in heart and spirits every scene.
THE CURTAIN fell; and rapturous applauses sounded out of every corner of the house. The four princely corpses sprang aloft, and embraced each other. Polonius and Ophelia likewise issued from their graves, and listened with extreme satisfaction, as Horatio, who had stept before the curtain to announce the following piece, was welcomed with the most thundering plaudits. The people would not hear of any other play, but violently required the repetition of the present.
“We have won,” cried Serlo: “and so not another reasonable word this night! Every thing depends on the first impression: we should never take it ill of any actor that, on occasion of his first appearance, he is provident and even self-willed.”
The box-keeper came and delivered him a heavy sum. “We have made a good beginning,” cried the Manager, “and prejudice itself will now be on our side. But where is the supper that you promised us? Tonight we may be allowed to relish it a little.”
It had been agreed that all the party were to stay together in their stage-dresses, and enjoy a little feast among themselves. Wilhelm had engaged to have the place in readiness, and Frau Melina to provide the victuals.
A room, which commonly was occupied by scene-painters, had accordingly been polished up as well as possible; our friends had hung it round with little decorations; and so decked and trimmed it, that it looked half like a garden, half like a colonnade. On entering it, the company were dazzled with the glitter of a multitude of lights, which, across the vapours of the sweetest and most copious perfumes, spread a stately splendour over a well-decorated and well-furnished table. These preparations were hailed with joyful interjections by the party: all took their places with a certain genuine dignity; it seemed as if some royal family had met together in the Kingdom of the Shades. Wilhelm sat between Aurelia and the Frau Melina; Serlo between Philina and Elmira; nobody was discontented with himself or with his place.
Our two theatric amateurs, who had from the first been present, now increased the pleasure of the meeting. While the exhibition was proceeding, they had several times stept round, and come upon the stage, expressing, in the warmest terms, the delight which they and the audience felt. They now descended to particulars; and each was richly rewarded for his efforts.
With boundless animation, the company extolled man after man and passage after passage. To the prompter, who had modestly sat down at the bottom of the table, they gave a liberal commendation for his rugged Pyrrhus; the fencing of Hamlet and Laertes was beyond all praise; Ophelia’s mourning had been inexpressibly exalted and affecting; of Polonius they would not trust themselves to speak.
Every individual present heard himself commended through the rest and by them; nor was the absent Ghost defrauded of his share of praise and admiration. He had played the part, it was asserted, with a very happy voice, and in a lofty style; but what surprised them most was the information which he seemed to have about their own affairs. He entirely resembled the painted figure, as if he had sat to the painter of it; and the two amateurs described, in glowing language, how awful it had looked when the spirit entered near the picture, and stept across before his own image. Truth and error, they declared, had been commingled in the strangest manner; they had felt as if the Queen really did not see the Ghost. And Frau Melina was especially commended, because on this occasion she had gazed upwards at the picture, while Hamlet was pointing downwards at the Spectre.
Inquiry was now made how the apparition could have entered. The stage-manager reported that a back-door, usually blocked up by decorations, had that evening, as the Gothic hall was occupied, been opened; that two large figures, in white cloaks and hoods, one of whom was not to be distinguished from the other, had entered by this passage; and by the same, it was likely, they had issued when the third act was over.
Serlo praised the Ghost for one merit; that he had not whined and lamented like a tailor; nay, to animate his son, had even introduced a passage at the end, which more beseemed such a hero. Wilhelm had kept it in memory; he promised to insert it in his manuscript.
Amid the pleasures of the entertainment, it had not been noticed that the children and the Harper were absent. Ere long they made their entrance, and were blithely welcomed by the company. They came in together, very strangely decked: Felix was beating a triangle, Mignon a tambourine; the old man had his large harp hung round his neck, and was playing on it whilst he carried it before him. They marched round and round the table, and sang a multitude of songs. Eatables were handed them; and the guests seemed to think they could not do a greater kindness to the children, than by giving them as much sweet wine as they chose to have. For the company themselves had not by any means neglected a stock of savoury flasks, presented by the two amateurs, which had arrived that evening in baskets. The children tripped about, and sang; Mignon, in particular, was frolicsome beyond all wont. She beat the tambourine with the greatest liveliness and grace; now, with her finger pressed against the parchment, she hummed across it swiftly to and fro; now rattled on it with her knuckles, now with the back of her hand; nay sometimes, with alternating rhythm, she struck it first against her knee and then against her head; and anon twirling it in her hand, she made the shells jingle by themselves; and thus, from the simplest instrument, elicited a great variety of tones. After she and Felix had long rioted about, they sat down upon an elbow-chair which was standing empty at the table, exactly opposite to Wilhelm.
“Keep out of the chair!” cried Serlo: “it is waiting for the Ghost, I think; and when he comes, it will be worse for you.”
“I do not fear him,” answered Mignon: “if he comes, we can rise. He is my uncle, and will not harm me.” To those who did not know that her reputed father had been named the Great Devil, this speech was unintelligible.
The party looked at one another; they were more and more confirmed in their suspicion that the Manager was in the secret of the Ghost. They talked and tippled, and the girls from time to time cast timid glances towards the door.
The children, who, sitting in the great chair, looked from over the table but like puppets in their box, did actually at length start a little drama in the style of Punch. The screeching tone of these people Mignon imitated very well; and Felix and she began to knock their heads together, and against the edges of the table, in such a way as only wooden puppets could endure. Mignon, in particular, grew frantic with gaiety; the company, much as they had laughed at her at first, were in fine obliged to curb her. But persuasion was of small avail; for she now sprang up, and raved and shook her tambourine, and capered round the table. With her hair flying out behind her, with her head thrown back, and her limbs as it were cast into the air, she seemed like one of those antique Mænads, whose wild and all but impossible positions still, on classic monuments, often strike us with amazement.
Incited by the talents and the uproar of the children, each endeavoured to contribute something to the entertainment of the night. The girls sang several canons; Laertes whistled in the manner of a nightingale; and the Pedant gave a symphony pianissimo upon the Jew’s-harp. Meanwhile the youths and damsels, who sat near each other, had begun a great variety of games; in which, as the hands often crossed and met, some pairs were favoured with a transient squeeze, the emblem of a hopeful kindness. Madam Melina in particular seemed scarcely to conceal a decided tenderness for Wilhelm. It was late; and Aurelia, perhaps the only one retaining self-possession in the party, now stood up, and signified that it was time to go.
By way of termination, Serlo gave a firework, or what resembled one; for the sound of crackers, rockets and firewheels with his mouth, in a style of nearly inconceivable correctness. You had only to shut your eyes, and the deception was complete. In the mean time, they had all risen; the men gave their arms to the women to escort them home. Wilhelm was walking last with Aurelia. The stage-manager met him on the stairs, and said to him: “Here is the veil our Ghost vanished in: it was hanging fixed to the place where he sank; we found it this moment.”
“A curious relic!” said our friend, and took it with him.
At this instant his left arm was laid hold of, and he felt a smart twinge of pain in it. Mignon had hid herself in the place; she had seized him, and bit his arm. She rushed past him, down-stairs, and disappeared.
On reaching the open air, almost all of them discovered that they had drunk too liberally. They glided asunder without taking leave.
The instant Wilhelm gained his room, he stripped, and extinguishing his candle, hastened into bed. Sleep was overpowering him without delay, when a noise, that seemed to issue from behind the stove, aroused him. In the eye of his heated fancy, the image of the harnessed King was hovering there; he sat up that he might address the Spectre; but he felt himself encircled with soft arms, and his mouth was shut with kisses, which he had not force to push away.
NEXT morning, Wilhelm started up with an unpleasant feeling, and found himself alone. His head was still dim with the tumult, which he had not yet entirely slept off; and the recollection of his nightly visitant disquieted his mind. His first suspicion lighted on Philina; but, on second thoughts, he conceived that it could not have been she. He sprang out of bed, and, while putting on his clothes, he noticed that the door, which commonly he used to bolt, was now ajar; though whether he had shut it on the previous night or not, he could not recollect.
But what surprised him most was the Spirit’s veil, which he found lying on his bed. Having brought it up with him, he had most probably thrown it there himself. It was a gray gauze; on the hem of it he noticed an inscription broidered in dark letters. He unfolded it, and read the words: “FOR THE FIRST AND THE LAST TIME! FLY, YOUTH! FLY!” He was struck with it, and knew not what to think or say.
At this moment Mignon entered with his breakfast. The aspect of the child astonished Wilhelm, we may almost say frightened him. She appeared to have grown taller overnight: she entered with a stately, noble air; and looked him in the face so earnestly, that he could not endure her glances. She did not touch him, as at other times, when, for morning salutation, she would press his hand, or kiss his cheek, his lips, his arm, or shoulder; but having put his things in order, she retired in silence.
The appointed time of a first-rehearsal now arrived: our friends assembled, all of them entirely out of tune from yesternight’s debauch. Wilhelm roused himself as much as possible, that he might not at the very outset violate the principles of diligence, which he had preached so lately with such emphasis. His practice in the matter helped him through: for practice and habit must, in every art, fill up the voids, which genius and temper in their fluctuations will so often leave.
But in the present case, our friend had especial reason to admit the truth of the remark, that no one should begin with a festivity any situation that is meant to last, particularly that is meant to be a trade, a mode of living. Festivities are fit for what is happily concluded: at the commencement, they but waste the force and zeal which should inspire us in the struggle, and support us through a long-continued labour. Of all festivities, the marriage-festival appears the most unsuitable: calmness, humility and silent hope befit no ceremony more than this.
So passed the day, which to Wilhelm seemed the most insipid he had ever spent. Instead of their accustomed conversation in the evening, the company began to yawn: the interest of Hamlet was exhausted; they rather felt it disagreeable than otherwise that the piece was to be given again next night. Wilhelm showed the evil which the Royal Dane had left; it was to be inferred from this, that he would not come again. Serlo was of that opinion; he appeared to be deep in the secrets of the Ghost; but, on the other hand, the inscription, “Fly, youth! Fly!” seemed inconsistent with the rest. How could Serlo be in league with any one whose aim it was to take away the finest actor of his troop?
It had now become a matter of necessity to confer on Boisterous the Ghost’s part, and on the Pedant that of the King. Both declared that they had studied these sufficiently: nor was it wonderful; for, in such a number of rehearsals, and so copious a treatment of the subject, all of them had grown familiar with it; each could have exchanged his part with any other. Yet they rehearsed a little here and there, and prepared the new adventurers as fully as the hurry would admit. When the company was breaking up at a pretty late hour, Philina softly whispered Wilhelm as she passed: “I must have my slippers back: thou wilt not bolt the door?” These words excited some perplexity in Wilhelm, when he reached his chamber: they strengthened the suspicion that Philina was the secret visitant: and we ourselves are forced to coincide with this idea; particularly as the causes, which awakened in our friend another and a stranger supposition, cannot be disclosed. He kept walking up and down his chamber, in no quiet frame: his door was actually not yet bolted.
On a sudden, Mignon rushed into the room; laid hold of him, and cried: “Master! save the house! It is on fire!” Wilhelm sprang through the door; and a strong smoke came rushing down upon him from the upper story. On the street he heard the cry of fire; and the Harper, with his instrument in his hand, came down-stairs breathless through the smoke. Aurelia hurried out of her chamber, and threw little Felix into Wilhelm’s arms.
“Save the child!” cried she; “and we will mind the rest.”
Wilhelm did not look upon the danger as so great; his first thought was to penetrate to the source of the fire, and try to stifle it before it reached a head. He gave Felix to the Harper; commanding him to hasten down the stone stairs, which led across a little garden-vault out into the garden, and to wait with the children in the open air. Mignon took a light to show the way. He begged Aurelia to secure her things there also. He himself pierced upwards through the smoke; but it was in vain that he exposed himself to such danger. The flame appeared to issue from a neighbouring house; it had already caught the wooden floor and staircase: some others, who had hastened to his help, were suffering like himself from fire and vapour. Yet he kept inciting them; he called for water; he conjured them to dispute every inch with the flame; and promised to abide by them to the last. At this instant, Mignon came springing up, and cried: “Master! save thy Felix! The old man is mad! He is killing him.” Scarcely knowing what he did, Wilhelm darted down-stairs, and Mignon followed close behind him.
On the last steps, which led into the garden-vault, he paused with horror. Some heaps of fire-wood branches, and large masses of straw, which had been stowed in the place, were burning with a clear flame; Felix was lying on the ground and screaming; the Harper stood aside holding down his head, and leaned against the wall. “Unhappy creature! what is this?” said Wilhelm. The old man spoke not; Mignon lifted Felix, and carried him with difficulty to the garden; while Wilhelm strove to pull the fire asunder and extinguish it; but only by his efforts made the flame more violent. At last he too was forced to fly into the garden, with his hair and his eyelashes burnt; tearing the Harper with him through the conflagration, who, with singed beard, unwillingly, accompanied him.
Wilhelm hastened instantly to seek the children. He found them on the threshold of a summer-house at some distance: Mignon was trying every effort to pacify her comrade. Wilhelm took him on his knee; he questioned him, felt him; but could obtain no satisfactory account from either him or Mignon.
Meanwhile the fire had fiercely seized on several houses; it was now enlightening all the neighbourhood. Wilhelm looked at the child in the red glare of the flames; he could find no wound, no blood, no hurt of any kind. He groped over all the little creature’s body; but it gave no sign of pain; on the contrary, it by degrees grew calm, and began to wonder at the blazing houses, and express its pleasure at the spectacle of beams and rafters burning all in order, like a grand illumination, so beautifully there.
Wilhelm thought not of the clothes or goods he might have lost; he felt deeply how inestimable to him was this pair of human beings, who had just escaped so great a danger. He pressed little Felix to his heart with a new emotion; Mignon too he was about to clasp with joyful tenderness, but she softly avoided this; she took him by the hand and held it fast.
“Master,” said she,—(till the present evening she had hardly ever named him master; at first she used to name him sir, and afterwards to call him father)—“Master! we have escaped an awful danger; thy Felix was on the point of death.”
By many inquiries, Wilhelm learned from her at last, that when they came into the vault, the Harper tore the light from her hand, and set on fire the straw. That he then put Felix down; laid his hands with strange gestures on the head of the child, and drew a knife as if he meant to sacrifice him. That she sprang forward, and snatched it from him; that she screamed, and some one from the house, who was carrying something down into the garden, came to her help, but must have gone away again in the confusion, and left the old man and the child alone.
Two or even three houses were now flaming in a general blaze. Owing to the conflagration in the vault, no person had been able to take shelter in the garden. Wilhelm was distressed about his friends, and in a less degree about his property. Not venturing to quit the children, he was forced to sit, and see the mischief spreading more and more.
In this anxious state he passed some hours. Felix had fallen asleep on his bosom; Mignon was lying at his side, and holding fast his hand. The efforts of the people finally subdued the fire. The burnt houses sank, with successive crashes, into heaps; the morning was advancing; the children awoke, and complained of bitter cold; even Wilhelm in his light dress could scarcely brook the chillness of the falling dew. He took the young ones to the rubbish of the prostrate building; where, among the ashes and the embers, they found a very grateful warmth.
The opening day collected, by degrees, the various individuals of the party. All of them had got away unhurt, no one had lost much. Wilhelm’s trunk was saved among the rest.
Towards ten o’clock, Serlo called them to rehearse their Hamlet, at least some scenes of the piece, in which fresh players were to act. He had some debates to manage, on this point, with the municipal authorities. The clergy required, that after such a visitation of Providence, the playhouse should be shut for some time; and Serlo on the other hand maintained that, both for the purpose of repairing the damage he had suffered, and of exhilarating the depressed and terrified spirits of the people, nothing could be more in place than the exhibition of some interesting piece. His opinion in the end prevailed; and the house was full. The actors played with singular fire, with more of a passionate freedom than at first. The feelings of the audience had been heightened by the horrors of the previous night, and their appetite for entertainment had been sharpened by the tedium of a wasted and dissipated day; every one had more than usual susceptibility for what was strange and moving. Most of them were new spectators, invited by the fame of the piece; they could not compare the present with the preceding evening. Boisterous played altogether in the style of the unknown Ghost; the Pedant too had accurately seized the manner of his predecessor; nor was his own woful aspect without its use to him; for it seemed as if, in spite of his purple cloak and his ermine collar, Hamlet were fully justified in calling him a “king of shreds and patches.”
Few have ever reached the throne by a path more singular than his had been. But although the rest, and especially Philina, made sport of his preferment, he himself signified that the Count, a consummate judge, had at the first glance predicted this and much more of him. Philina, on the other hand, recommended lowliness of mind to him; saying she would now and then powder the sleeves of his coat, that he might remember that unhappy night in the Castle, and wear his crown with meekness.
OUR friends had sought out other lodgings, on the spur of the moment, and were by this means much dispersed. Wilhelm had conceived a liking for the garden-house, where he had spent the night of the conflagration: he easily obtained the key, and settled himself there. But Aurelia being greatly hampered in her new abode, he was obliged to retain little Felix with him. Mignon, indeed, would not part with the boy.
He had placed the children in a neat chamber on the upper floor: he himself was in the lower parlour. The young ones were asleep at this time: Wilhelm could not sleep.
Adjoining the lovely garden, which the full moon had just risen to illuminate, the black ruins of the fire were visible, and here and there a streak of vapour was still mounting from them. The air was soft, the night extremely beautiful. Philina in issuing from the theatre had jogged him with her elbow, and whispered something to him, which he did not understand. He felt perplexed and out of humour: he knew not what he should expect or do. For a day or two Philina had avoided him: it was not till tonight that she had given him any second signal. Unhappily the doors, that he was not to bolt, were now consumed; the slippers had evaporated into smoke. How the girl would gain admission to the garden, if her aim was such, he knew not. He wished she might not come; and yet he longed to have some explanation with her.
But what lay heavier at his heart than this, was the fate of the Harper, whom, since the fire, no one had seen. Wilhelm was afraid that, in clearing off the rubbish, they would find him buried under it. Our friend had carefully concealed the suspicion which he entertained, that it was the Harper who had fired the house. The old man had been first seen, as he rushed from the burning and smoking floor; and his desperation in the vault appeared a natural consequence of such a deed. Yet, from the inquiry which the magistrates had instituted touching the affair, it seemed likely that the fire had not originated in the house where Wilhelm lived, but had accidentally been kindled in the third from that, and had crept along, beneath the roofs, before it burst into activity.
Seated in a grove, our friend was meditating all these things, when he heard a low footfall in a neighbouring walk. By the melancholy song which arose along with it, he recognised the Harper. He caught the words of the song without difficulty: it turned on the consolations of a miserable man, conscious of being on the borders of insanity. Unhappily our friend forgot the whole of it except the last verse:
So singing, he had reached the garden-door, which led into an unfrequented street. Finding it bolted, he was making an attempt to climb the railing, when Wilhelm held him back, and addressed some kindly words to him. The old man begged to have the door unlocked, declaring that he would and must escape. Wilhelm represented to him, that he might indeed escape from the garden, but could not from the town; showing, at the same time, what suspicions he must needs incur by such a step. But it was in vain: the old man held by his opinion. Our friend, however, would not yield; and at last he brought him, half by force, into the garden-house, in which he locked himself along with him. The two carried on a strange conversation; which, however, not to afflict our readers with repeating unconnected thoughts and dolorous emotions, we had rather pass in silence than detail at large.
UNDETERMINED what to do with this unhappy man, who displayed such indubitable symptoms of madness, Wilhelm would have been in great perplexity, had not Laertes come that very morning, and delivered him from his uncertainty. Laertes, as usual, rambling everywhere about the town, had happened, in some coffee-house, to meet with a man who, a short time ago, had suffered under violent attacks of melancholy. This person, it appeared, had been intrusted to the care of some country clergyman, who made it his peculiar business to attend to people in such situations. In the present instance, as in many others, his treatment had succeeded: he was still in town; and the friends of the patient were showing him the greatest honour.
Wilhelm hastened to find out this person: he disclosed the case to him, and agreed with him about the terms. The Harper was to be brought over to him, under certain pretexts. The separation deeply pained our friend; so used was he to see the man beside him, and to hear his spirited and touching strains. The hope of soon beholding him recovered, served in some degree to moderate this feeling. The old man’s harp had been destroyed in the burning of the house: they purchased him another, and gave it him when he departed.
Mignon’s little wardrobe had in like manner been consumed. As Wilhelm was about providing her with new apparel, Aurelia proposed that now at last they should dress her as a girl.
“No! no! not at all!” cried Mignon; and insisted on it with such earnestness, that they let her have her way.
The company had not much leisure for reflection: the exhibitions followed close on one another.
Wilhelm often mingled with the audience, to ascertain their feelings; but he seldom heard a criticism of the kind he wished; more frequently the observations which he listened to distressed or angered him. Thus, for instance, shortly after Hamlet had been acted for the first time, a youth was telling, with considerable animation, how happy he had been that evening in the play-house. Wilhelm hearkened; and was scandalised to learn that his neighbour had, on that occasion, in contempt of those behind him, kept his hat on, stubbornly refusing to remove it till the piece was done; to which heroical transaction he still looked back with great contentment.
Another gentleman declared that Wilhelm played Laertes very well; but that the actor who had undertaken Hamlet did not seem too happy in his part. This permutation was not quite unnatural; for Wilhelm and Laertes did resemble one another, though in a very distant manner.
A third critic warmly praised his acting, particularly in the scene with his mother; only he regretted much, that in this fiery moment a white strap had peered out from below the Prince’s waistcoat, whereby the illusion had been greatly marred.
Meanwhile, in the interior of the company, a multitude of alterations were occurring. Philina, since the evening subsequent to that of the fire, had never given our friend the smallest sign of closer intimacy. She had, as it seemed on purpose, hired a remote lodging; she associated with Elmira, and came seldomer to Serlo, an arrangement very gratifying to Aurelia. Serlo continued still to like her; and often visited her quarters, particularly when he hoped to find Elmira there. One evening he took Wilhelm with him. At their entrance, both of them were much surprised to see Philina, in the inner room, sitting in close contact with a young officer. He wore a red uniform with white pantaloons; but his face being turned away, they could not see it. Philina came into the outer room to meet her visitors, and shut the door behind her. “You surprise me in the middle of a very strange adventure,” cried she.
“It does not appear so strange,” said Serlo: “but let us see this handsome, young, enviable gallant. You have us in such training, that we dare not show any jealousy, however it may be.”
“I must leave you to suspicion for a time,” replied Philina, in a jesting tone; “yet I can assure you, the gallant is a lady of my friends, who wishes to remain a few days undiscovered. You shall know her history in due season; nay, perhaps you shall even behold the beautiful spinster in person; and then most probably I shall have need of all my prudence and discretion, for it seems too likely that your new acquaintance will drive your old friend out of favour.”
Wilhelm stood as if transformed to stone. At the first glance, the red uniform had reminded him of Mariana; the figure too was hers, the fair hair was hers; only the present individual seemed to be a little taller.
“For Heaven’s sake,” cried he, “let us know something more about your friend; let us see this lady in disguise! We are now partakers of your secret: we will promise, we will swear; only let us see the lady!”
“What a fire he is in!” cried Philina: “but be cool, be calm; for today there will nothing come of it.”
“Let us only know her name!” cried Wilhelm.
“It were a fine secret then,” replied Philina.
“At least her first name!”
“If you can guess it, be it so. Three guesses I will give you; not a fourth. You might lead me through the whole calendar.”
“Well!” said Wilhelm, “Cecilia, then?”
“None of your Cecilias!”
“Not at all! Have a care, I pray you; guess better, or your curiosity will have to sleep unsatisfied.”
Wilhelm paused and shivered: he tried to speak, but the sound died away within him. “Mariana?” stammered he at last, “Mariana!”
“Bravo!” cried Philina. “Hit to a hair’s-breadth!” said she, whirling round upon her heel, as she was wont on such occasions.
Wilhelm could not utter a word; and Serlo, not observing his emotion, urged Philina more and more to let them in.
Conceive the astonishment of both, when Wilhelm, suddenly and vehemently interrupting their raillery, threw himself at Philina’s feet, and with an air and tone of the deepest passion begged and conjured her: “Let me see the stranger,” cried he; “she is mine; she is my Mariana! She, for whom I have longed all the days of my life; she, who is still more to me than all the women in this world! Go in to her at least, and tell her that I am here; that the man is here who linked to her his earliest love, and all the happiness of his youth. Say that he will justify himself, though he left her so unkindly; he will pray for pardon of her; and will grant her pardon, whatsoever she may have done to him; he will even make no pretensions farther, if he may but see her, if he may but see that she is living and in happiness.”
Philina shook her head, and said: “Speak low! Do not betray us! If the lady is indeed your friend, her feelings must be spared; for she does not in the least suspect that you are here. Quite a different sort of business brings her hither: and you know well enough, one had rather see a spectre than a former lover, at an inconvenient time. I will ask her, and prepare her; we will then consider what is farther to be done. Tomorrow I shall write you a note, saying when you are to come, or whether you may come at all. Obey me punctually; for I protest that, without her own and my consent, no eye shall see this lovely creature. I shall keep my doors better bolted; and with axe and crow you surely will not visit me.”
Our friend conjured her, Serlo begged of her; but all in vain: they were obliged to yield, and leave the chamber and the house.
With what feelings Wilhelm passed the night is easy to conceive. How slowly the hours of the day flowed on, while he sat expecting a message from Philina, may also be imagined. Unhappily he had to play that evening: such mental pain he had never endured. The moment his part was done, he hastened to Philina’s house, without inquiring whether he had got her leave or not. He found her doors bolted: and the people of the house informed him that Mademoiselle had set out early in the morning, in company with a young officer; that she had talked about returning shortly; but they had not believed her, she having paid her debts, and taken everything along with her.
This intelligence drove Wilhelm almost frantic. He hastened to Laertes, that he might take measures for pursuing her, and, cost what it would, for attaining certainty regarding her attendant. Laertes, however, represented to him the imprudence of such passion and credulity. “I dare wager, after all,” said he, “that it is no one else but Friedrich. The boy is of a high family, I know; he is madly in love with Philina; it is likely he has cozened from his friends a fresh supply of money, so that he can once more live with her in peace for a while.”
These considerations, though they did not quite convince our friend, sufficed to make him waver. Laertes showed him how improbable the story was, with which Philina had amused them; reminded him how well the stranger’s hair and figure answered Friedrich; that with the start of him by twelve hours, they could not easily be overtaken; and what was more than all, that Serlo could not do without him at the theatre.
By so many reasons, Wilhelm was at last persuaded to postpone the execution of his project. That night Laertes got an active man, to whom they gave the charge of following the runaways. It was a steady person, who had often officiated as courier and guide to travelling parties, and was at present without employment. They gave him money, they informed him of the whole affair; instructing him to seek and overtake the fugitives, to keep them in his eye, and instantly to send intelligence to Wilhelm, where and how he found them. That very hour he mounted horse, pursuing this ambiguous pair; by which exertions Wilhelm was, in some degree at least, composed.
By the accession of some other players, the company was rendered more complete: and while Wilhelm and Serlo were busied each in his degree, the former insisting on the general tone and spirit of the whole, the latter faithfully elaborating the separate passages, a laudable ardour likewise inspired the actors, and the public took a lively interest in their concerns.
“We are on the right path,” said Serlo once; “if we can continue thus, the public too will soon be on it. Men are easily astonished and misled by wild and barbarous exhibitions; yet lay before them anything rational and polished, in an interesting manner, and doubt not they will catch at it.
“What forms the chief defect of our German theatre, what prevents both actor and spectator from obtaining proper views, is the vague and variegated nature of the objects it contains. You nowhere find a barrier, on which to prop your judgment. In my opinion, it is far from an advantage to us, that we have expanded our stage into as it were a boundless arena for the whole of nature: yet neither manager nor actor need attempt contracting it, until the taste of the nation shall itself mark out the proper circle. Every good society submits to certain conditions and restrictions; so also must every good theatre. Certain manners, certain modes of speech, certain objects and fashions of proceeding, must altogether be excluded. You do not grow poorer by limiting your household expenditure.”
On these points our friends were more or less accordant or at variance. The majority, with Wilhelm at their head, were for the English theatre; Serlo and a few others for the French.
It was also settled, that in vacant hours, of which unhappily an actor has too many, they should in company peruse the finest plays in both these languages; examining what parts of them seemed best and worthiest of imitation. They accordingly commenced with some French pieces. On these occasions, it was soon observed, Aurelia went away whenever they began to read. At first they supposed she had been sick: Wilhelm once questioned her about it.
“I would not assist at such a reading,” said she: “for how could I hear and judge, when my heart was torn in pieces? I hate the French language from the bottom of my soul.”
“How can you be hostile to a language,” cried our friend, “to which we Germans are indebted for the greater part of our accomplishments; to which we must become indebted still more, if our natural qualities are ever to assume their proper form?”
“It is no prejudice!” replied Aurelia: “a painful impression, a hated recollection of my faithless friend, has robbed me of all enjoyment in that beautiful and cultivated tongue. How I hate it now, with my whole strength and heart! During the period of our kindliest connexion, he wrote in German, and what genuine, powerful, cordial German! It was not till he wanted to get quit of me, that he began seriously to write in French. I marked, I felt what he meant. What he would have blushed to utter in his mother-tongue, he could by this means write with a quiet conscience. It is the language of reservations, equivocations and lies: it is a perfidious language. Heaven be praised! I cannot find another word to express this perfide of theirs in all its compass. Our poor treulos, the faithless of the English, are innocent as babes beside it. Perfide means faithless with pleasure, with insolence and malice. How enviable is the culture of a nation that can figure out so many shades of meaning by a single word! French is exactly the language of the world; worthy to become the universal language, that all may have it in their power to cheat, and cozen, and betray each other! His French letters were always smooth and pleasant, while you read them. If you chose to believe it, they sounded warmly, even passionately: but if you examined narrowly, they were but phrases, accursed phrases! He has spoiled my feeling to the whole language, to French literature, even to the beautiful delicious expressions of noble souls which may be found in it. I shudder when a French word is spoken in my hearing.”
In such terms, she could for hours continue to give utterance to her chagrin, interrupting or disturbing every other kind of conversation. Sooner or later, Serlo used to put an end to such peevish lamentations by some bitter sally; but, by this means, commonly the talk for the evening was destroyed.
In all provinces of life, it is unhappily the case, that whatever is to be accomplished by a number of coöperating men and circumstances, cannot long continue perfect. Of an acting company as well as of a kingdom, of a circle of friends as well as of an army, you may commonly select the moment when it may be said that all was standing on the highest pinnacle of harmony, perfection, contentment and activity. But alterations will ere long occur: the individuals that compose the body often change; new members are added; the persons are no longer suited to the circumstances, or the circumstances to the persons; what was formerly united, quickly falls asunder. Thus it was with Serlo’s company. For a time, you might have called it as complete as any German company could ever boast of being. Most of the actors were occupying their proper places; all had enough to do, and all did it willingly. Their private personal condition was not bad; and each appeared to promise great things in his art, for each commenced with animation and alacrity. But it soon became apparent that a part of them were mere automatons, who could not reach beyond what was attainable without the aid of feeling. Nor was it long till grudgings and envyings arose among them, such as commonly obstruct every good arrangement, and easily distort and tear in pieces everything that reasonable and thinking men would wish to keep united.
The departure of
Philina was not quite so insignificant as it had at first appeared. She
had always skilfully contrived to entertain the Manager, and keep the
others in good humour. She had endured Aurelia’s violence with amazing
patience; and her dearest task had been to flatter Wilhelm. Thus she
was, in some respects, a bond of union for the whole: the loss of her
was quickly felt.
Serlo and Elmira had by this means so approximated to each other, that, shortly after the departure of Philina, both were of a mind; and their small romance was rendered doubly interesting, as they had to hide it sedulously from the father; Old Boisterous not understanding jokes of that description. Elmira’s sister had been admitted to the secret: and Serlo was in consequence obliged to overlook a multitude of things in both of them. One of their worst habits was an excessive love of junketing, nay, if you will, an in-intolerable gluttony. In this respect they altogether differed from Philina, to whom it gave a new tint of loveliness, that she seemed as it were to live on air; eating very little; and for drink, merely skimming off, with all imaginable grace, the foam from a glass of champagne.
Now, however, Serlo, if he meant to please his doxies, was obliged to join breakfast with dinner; and with this, by a substantial bever, to connect the supper. But amid gormandising, Serlo entertained another plan, which he longed to have fulfilled. He imagined that he saw a kind of inclination between Wilhelm and Aurelia; and he anxiously wished that it might assume a serious shape. He hoped to cast the whole mechanical department of his theatrical economy on Wilhelm’s shoulders; to find in him, as in the former brother, a faithful and industrious tool. Already he had, by degrees, shifted over to him most of the cares of management: Aurelia kept the strong-box; and Serlo once more lived as he had done of old, entirely according to his humour. Yet there was a circumstance which vexed him in secret, as it did his sister likewise.
The world has a particular way of acting towards public persons of acknowledged merit: it gradually begins to be indifferent to them; and to favour talents which are new, though far inferior; it makes excessive requisitions of the former, and accepts of anything with approbation from the latter.
Serlo and Aurelia had opportunity enough to meditate on this peculiarity. The strangers, especially the young and handsome ones, had drawn the whole attention and applause upon themselves; and Serlo and his sister, in spite of the most zealous efforts, had in general to make their exits without the welcome sound of clapping hands. It is true, some special causes were at work on this occasion. Aurelia’s pride was palpable, and her contempt for the public was known to many. Serlo indeed flattered every individual; but his cutting gibes against the whole were often circulated and repeated. The new members again were not only strangers, unknown and wanting help, but some of them were likewise young and amiable; thus all of them found patrons.
Ere long, too, there arose internal discontents, and many bickerings among the actors. Scarcely had they noticed that our friend was acting as director, when most of them began to grow the more remiss, the more he strove to introduce a better order, greater accuracy, and chiefly to insist that everything mechanical should be performed in the most strict and regular manner.
Thus, by and by, the whole concern, which actually for a time had nearly looked ideal, grew as vulgar in its attributes as any mere itinerating theatre. And unhappily, just as Wilhelm, by his labour, diligence and vigorous efforts, had made himself acquainted with the requisitions of the art, and trained completely both his person and his habits to comply with them, he began to feel, in melancholy hours, that this craft deserved the necessary outlay of time and talents less than any other. The task was burdensome, the recompense was small. He would rather have engaged with any occupation in which, when the period of exertion is past, one can enjoy repose of mind, than with this, wherein, after undergoing much mechanical drudgery, the aim of one’s activity cannot still be attained but by the strongest effort of thought and emotion. Besides, he had to listen to Aurelia’s complaints about her brother’s wastefulness; he had to misconceive the winks and nods of Serlo, trying from afar to lead him to a marriage with Aurelia. He had withal to hide his own secret sorrow, which pressed heavy on his heart, because of that ambiguous officer, whom he had sent in quest of. The messenger returned not, sent no tidings; and Wilhelm feared that his Mariana was lost to him a second time.
About this period, there occurred a public mourning, which obliged our friends to shut their theatre for several weeks. Wilhelm seized this opportunity to pay a visit to the Clergyman, with whom the Harper had been placed to board. He found him in a pleasant district; and the first thing that he noticed in the parsonage, was the old man teaching a boy to play upon his instrument. The Harper showed no little joy at sight of Wilhelm; he rose, held out his hand, and said:
“You see, I am still good for something in the world; permit me to continue; for my hours are all distributed, and full of business.”
The Clergyman saluted Wilhelm very kindly; and told him that the Harper promised well, already giving hopes of a complete recovery.
Their conversation naturally turned upon the various modes of treating the insane.
“Except physical derangements,” observed the Clergyman, “which often place insuperable difficulties in the way, and in regard to which I follow the prescriptions of a wise physician, the means of curing madness seem to me extremely simple. They are the very means by which you hinder sane persons from becoming mad. Awaken their activity; accustom them to order; bring them to perceive that they hold their being and their fate in common with many millions; that extraordinary talents, the highest happiness, the deepest misery, are but slight variations from the general lot: in this way, no insanity will enter; or, if it has entered, will gradually disappear. I have portioned out the old man’s hours; he gives lessons to some children on the harp; he works in the garden; he is already much more cheerful. He wishes to enjoy the cabbages he plants; my son, to whom in case of death he has bequeathed his harp, he is ardent to instruct, that the boy may be able to make use of his inheritance. I have said but little to him, as a clergyman, about his wild mysterious scruples; but a busy life brings on so many incidents, that ere long he must feel how true it is, that doubt of any kind can be removed by nothing but activity. I go softly to work; yet if I could get his beard and hood removed, I should reckon it a weighty point; for nothing more exposes us to madness, than distinguishing ourselves from others, and nothing more contributes to maintain our common sense, than living in the universal way with multitudes of men. Alas! how much there is in education, in our social institutions, to prepare us and our children for insanity!”
Wilhelm stayed some days with this intelligent divine; heard from him many curious narratives, not of the insane alone, but of persons such as commonly are reckoned wise and rational, though they may have peculiarities which border on insanity.
The conversation became doubly animated on the entrance of the Doctor, with whom it was a custom to pay frequent visits to his friend the Clergyman, and to assist him in his labours of humanity. The physician was an oldish man, who, though in weak health, had spent many years in the practice of the noblest virtues. He was a strong advocate for country life, being himself scarcely able to exist except in the open air. Withal he was extremely active and companionable. For several years, he had shown a special inclination to make friends with all the country clergymen within his reach. Such of these as were employed in any useful occupation, he strove by every means to help; into others, who were still unsettled in their aims, he endeavoured to infuse a taste for some profitable species of exertion. Being at the same time in connexion with a multitude of noblemen, magistrates, judges, he had in the space of twenty years, in secret, accomplished much towards the advancement of many branches of husbandry; he had done his best to put in motion every project that seemed capable of benefiting agriculture, animals or men; and had thus forwarded improvement in its truest sense. “For man,” he used to say, “there is but one misfortune; when some idea lays hold of him, which exerts no influence upon active life, or still more, which withdraws him from it. At the present time,” continued he on this occasion, “I have such a case before me; it concerns a rich and noble couple; and hitherto has baffled all my skill. The affair belongs in part to your department, worthy Pastor, and your friend here will forbear to mention it again.
“In the absence of a certain nobleman, some persons of the house, in a frolic not entirely commendable, disguised a young man in the master’s clothes. The lady was to be imposed upon by this deception; and although it was described to me as nothing but a joke, I am much afraid the purpose of it was to lead this noble and most amiable lady from the path of honour. Her husband, however, unexpectedly returns; he enters his chamber; thinks he sees his spirit; and from that time falls into a melancholy temper, firmly believing that his death is near.
“He has now abandoned himself to men who pamper him with religious ideas; and I see not how he is to be prevented from going among the Herrnhuthers with his lady; and as he has no children, from depriving his relations of the chief part of his fortune.”
“With his lady?” cried our friend, in great agitation; for this story had affrighted him extremely.
“And alas!” replied the Doctor, who regarded Wilhelm’s exclamation only as the voice of common sympathy; “this lady is herself possessed with a deeper sorrow, which renders a removal from the world desirable to her also. The same young man was taking leave of her; she was not circumspect enough to hide a nascent inclination towards him; the youth grew bolder, clasped her in his arms, and pressed a large portrait of her husband, which was set with diamonds, forcibly against her breast. She felt a sharp pain, which gradually went off, leaving first a little redness, then no trace at all. As a man, I am convinced that she has nothing farther to reproach herself with, in this affair; as a physician, I am certain that this pressure could not have the smallest ill effect. Yet she will not be persuaded that an induration is not taking place in the part; and if you try to overcome her notion by the evidence of feeling, she maintains, that though the evil is away this moment, it will return the next. She conceives that the disease will end in cancer; and thus her youth and loveliness be altogether lost to others and herself.”
“Wretch that I am!” cried Wilhelm, striking his brow, and rushing from the company into the fields. He had never felt himself in such a miserable case.
The clergyman and the physician were of course exceedingly astonished at this singular discovery. In the evening, all their skill was called for, when our friend returned, and, with a circumstantial disclosure of the whole occurrence, uttered the most violent accusations of himself. Both took interest in him; both felt a real concern about his general condition, particularly as he painted it in the gloomy colours which arose from the humour of the moment.
Next day the physician, without much entreaty, was prevailed upon to accompany him in his return; both that he might bear him company, and that he might, if possible, do something for Aurelia, whom our friend had left in rather dangerous circumstances.
In fact, they found her worse than they expected. She was afflicted with a sort of intermittent fever, which could the less be mastered, as she purposely maintained and aggravated the attacks of it. The stranger was not introduced as a physician; he behaved with great courteousness and prudence. They conversed about her situation bodily and mental: her new friend related many anecdotes of persons who, in spite of lingering disorders, had attained a good old age; adding, that in such cases, nothing could be more injurious than the intentional recalling of passionate and disagreeable emotions. In particular he stated, that for persons labouring under chronic and partly incurable distempers, he had always found it a very happy circumstance when they chanced to entertain, and cherish in their minds, true feelings of religion. This he signified in the most unobtrusive manner; as it were historically; promising Aurelia at the same time the reading of a very interesting manuscript, which he said he had received from the hands of an excellent lady of his friends, who was now deceased. “To me,” he said, “it is of uncommon value; and I shall trust you even with the original. Nothing but the title is in my handwriting: I have called it, Confessions of a Fair Saint.”
Touching the medical and dietetic treatment of the racked and hapless patient, he also left his best advice with Wilhelm. He then departed; promising to write; and, if possible, to come again in person.
Meanwhile, in Wilhelm’s absence, there had changes been preparing such as he was not aware of. During his directorship, our friend had managed all things with a certain liberality and freedom; looking chiefly at the main result. Whatever was required for dresses, decorations and the like, he had usually provided in a plentiful and handsome style; and for securing the cooperation of his people, he had flattered their self-interest, since he could not reach them by nobler motives. In this he felt his conduct justified the more, as Serlo for his own part never aimed at being a strict economist; but liked to hear the beauty of his theatre commended; and was contented, if Aurelia, who conducted the domestic matters, on defraying all expenses, signified that she was free from debt, and could besides afford the necessary sums for clearing off such scores as Serlo in the interim, by lavish kindness to his mistresses, or otherwise, might have incurred.
Melina, who was charged with managing the wardrobe, had all the while been silently considering these things, with the cold spiteful temper peculiar to him. On occasion of our friend’s departure, and Aurelia’s increasing sickness, he contrived to signify to Serlo, that more money might be raised and less expended; and consequently something be laid up, or at least a merrier life be led. Serlo hearkened gladly to such allegations, and Melina risked the exhibition of his plan.
“I will not say,” continued he, “that any of your actors has at present too much salary; they are meritorious people, they would find a welcome anywhere; but for the income which they bring us in, they have too much. My project would be, to set up an opera: and as to what concerns the playhouse, I may be allowed to say it, you are the person for maintaining that establishment upon your single strength. Observe how at present your merits are neglected; and justice is refused you, not because your fellow actors are excellent, but merely good.
“Come out alone, as used to be the case; endeavour to attract around you middling, I will even say inferior people, for a slender salary; regale the public with mechanical displays, as you can so cleverly do; apply your remaining means to the opera, which I am talking of; and you will quickly see, that with the same labour and expense, you will give greater satisfaction, while you draw incomparably more money than at present.”
These observations were so flattering to Serlo, that they could not fail of making some impression on him. He readily admitted, that, loving music as he did, he had long wished for some arrangement such as this: though he could not but perceive that the public taste would thus be still more widely led astray; and that with such a mongrel theatre, not properly an opera, not properly a playhouse, any residue of true feeling for regular and perfect works of art must shortly disappear.
Melina ridiculed, in terms more plain than delicate, our friend’s pedantic notions in this matter, and his vain attempts to form the public mind, instead of being formed by it. Serlo and he at last agreed, with full conviction, that the sole concern was how to gather money, and grow rich, or live a joyous life; and they scarcely concealed their wish to be delivered from those persons who at present hindered them.
Melina took occasion to lament Aurelia’s weak health, and the speedy end which it threatened; thinking all the while directly the reverse. Serlo affected to regret that Wilhelm could not sing; thus signifying that his presence was by no means indispensable. Melina then came forward with a whole catalogue of savings, which, he said, might be effected, and Serlo saw in him his brother-in-law replaced threefold. Both of them felt well that secrecy was necessary in the matter; but this mutual obligation only joined them closer in their interests. They failed not to converse together privately, on everything that happened; to blame whatever Wilhelm or Aurelia undertook; and to elaborate their own project, and prepare it more and more for execution.
Silent as they both might be about their plan, little as their words betrayed them, in their conduct they were not so politic as constantly to hide their purposes. Melina now opposed our friend in many points that lay within the province of the latter; and Serlo, who had never acted smoothly to his sister, seemed to grow more bitter, the more her sickness deepened, the more her passionate and variable humours would have needed toleration.
About this period, they took up the Emilie Galotti of Lessing. The parts were very happily distributed and filled; within the narrow circle of this tragedy, the company found room for showing all the complex riches of their acting. Serlo in the character of Marinelli was altogether in his place; Odoardo was very well exhibited; Madam Melina played the Mother with considerable skill; Elmira gained distinction as Emilie; Laertes made a stately Appiani; and Wilhelm had bestowed the study of some months upon the Prince’s part.
On this occasion, both internally and with Aurelia and Serlo, he had often come upon this question: What is the distinction between a noble and a well-bred manner; and how far must the former be included in the latter, though the latter is not in the former?
Serlo, who himself in Marinelli had to act the courtier accurately, without caricature, afforded him some valuable thoughts on this. “A well-bred carriage,” he would say, “is difficult to imitate; for in strictness it is negative; and it implies a long-continued previous training. You are not required to exhibit in your manner anything that specially be-tokens dignity; for, by this means, you are like to run into formality and haughtiness; you are rather to avoid whatever is undignified and vulgar. You are never to forget yourself; are to keep a constant watch upon yourself and others; to forgive nothing that is faulty in your own conduct, in that of others neither to forgive too little nor too much. Nothing must appear to touch you, nothing to agitate: you must never overhaste yourself, must ever keep yourself composed, retaining still an outward calmness, whatever storms may rage within. The noble character at certain moments may resign himself to his emotions; the well-bred never. The latter is like a man dressed out in fair and spotless clothes: he will not lean on anything; every person will beware of rubbing on him. He distinguishes himself from others, yet he may not stand apart; for as in all arts, so in this, the hardest must at length be done with ease: the well-bred man of rank, in spite of every separation, always seems united with the people round him; he is never to be stiff or uncomplying; he is always to appear the first, and never to insist on so appearing.
“It is clear, then, that to seem well-bred, a man must actually be so. It is also clear why women generally are more expert at taking up the air of breeding than the other sex; why courtiers and soldiers catch it more easily than other men.”
Wilhelm now despaired of doing justice to his part; but Serlo aided and encouraged him; communicated the acutest observations on detached points; and furnished him so well, that on the exhibition of the piece, the public reckoned him a very proper Prince.
Serlo had engaged to give him, when the play was over, such remarks as might occur upon his acting; a disagreeable contention with Aurelia prevented any conversation of that kind. Aurelia had acted the character of Orsina, in such a style as few have ever done. She was well acquainted with the part; and during the rehearsals she had treated it indifferently: but in the exhibition of the piece, she had opened as it were all the sluices of her personal sorrow; and the character was represented, so as never poet in the first glow of invention could have figured it. A boundless applause rewarded her painful efforts; but her friends, on visiting her when the play was finished, found her half fainting in her chair.
Serlo had already signified his anger at her over-charged acting, as he called it; at this disclosure of her inmost heart before the public, to many individuals of which the history of her fatal passion was more or less completely known. He had spoken bitterly and fiercely; grinding with his teeth, and stamping with his feet, as was his custom when enraged. “Never mind her,” cried he, when he saw her in the chair, surrounded by the rest; “she will go upon the stage stark-naked one of these days; and then the approbation will be perfect.”
“Ungrateful, inhuman man!” exclaimed she; “soon shall I be carried naked to the place where approbation or disapprobation can no longer reach our ears!” With these words she started up, and hastened to the door. The maid had not yet brought her mantle; the sedan was not in waiting; it had been raining lately; a cold, raw wind was blowing through the streets. They endeavoured to persuade her to remain, for she was very warm. But in vain: she purposely walked slow; she praised the coolness, seemed to inhale it with peculiar eagerness. No sooner was she home, than she became so hoarse that she could hardly speak a word: she did not mention that there was a total stiffness in her neck and along her back.
Shortly afterwards, a sort of palsy in the tongue came on, so that she pronounced one word instead of another. They put her to bed; by numerous and copious remedies, the evil changed its form, but was not mastered. The fever gathered strength; her case was dangerous.
Next morning she enjoyed a quiet hour. She sent for Wilhelm, and delivered him a letter. “This sheet,” said she, “has long been waiting for the present moment. I feel that my end is drawing nigh: promise me that you yourself will take this paper; that by a word or two, you will avenge my sorrows on the faithless man. He is not void of feeling; my death will pain him for a moment.”
Wilhelm took the letter; still endeavouring to console her, and to drive away the thought of death.
“No,” said she,
“do not deprive me of my nearest hope. I have waited for him long; I
will joyfully clasp him when he comes.”
From this time, she was very quiet; and appeared to occupy herself with but a few ideas, which she endeavoured to extract and appropriate from the manuscript, out of which she frequently made Wilhelm read to her. The decay of her strength was not perceptible: nor had Wilhelm been anticipating the even, when one morning as he went to visit her, he found that she was dead.
Entertaining such respect for her as he had done, and accustomed as he was to live in her society, the loss of her affected him with no common sorrow. She was the only person that had truly wished him well; the coldness of Serlo he had felt of late but too keenly. He hastened therefore to perform the service she had intrusted to him; he wished to be absent for a time.
On the other hand, this journey was exceedingly convenient for Melina; in the course of his extensive correspondence, he had lately entered upon terms with a male and female singer, who, it was intended, should, by their performances in interludes, prepare the public for his future opera. The loss of Aurelia, and Wilhelm’s absence, were to be supplied in this manner; and our friend was satisfied with anything that could facilitate his setting out.
He had formed, within himself, a singular idea of the importance of his errand. The death of his unhappy friend had moved him deeply; and having seen her pass so early from the scene, he could not but be hostilely inclined against the man, who had abridged her life, and made that shortened term so full of woe.
Notwithstanding the last mild words of the dying woman, he resolved that, on delivering his letter, he would pass a strict sentence on her faithless friend; and not wishing to depend upon the temper of the moment, he studied an address, which in the course of preparation became more pathetic than just.
Having fully convinced himself of the good composition of his essay, he began committing it to memory, and at the same time making ready for departure. Mignon was present as he packed his articles; she asked him whether he intended travelling south or north; and learning that it was the latter, she replied: “Then I will wait here for thee.” She begged of him the pearl necklace which had once been Mariana’s. He could not refuse to gratify the dear little creature, and he gave it her: the neckerchief she had already. On the other hand, she put the veil of Hamlet’s Ghost into his travelling bag, though he told her it could not be of any service to him.
Melina took upon
him the directorship; his wife engaged to keep a mother’s eye upon the
children, whom Wilhelm parted with unwillingly. Felix was very merry at
the setting out, and when asked what pretty thing he wished to have
brought back for him, he said: “Hark you! bring me a papa!” Mignon
seized the traveller’s hand; then, standing on her tiptoes, she pressed
a warm and cordial, though not a tender kiss, upon his lips, and cried:
“Master! forget us not, and come soon back.”