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"For example, sir, what is your name?"
Spangenberg," replied the other. "And mine," said the Count, "is Thorane. Spangenberg, what do you want of Thorane? So let us sit down, and the matter will soon be settled."
And thus the matter was, in truth, soon settled, to the great contentment of him whom I have here called Spangenberg; and the story was not only told the same evening in our family circle by the mischief-loving interpreter, but reproduced with all its circumstances and attitudes.
After such confusions, disturbances, and distresses, we very soon recovered the former security and gaiety with which the young especially live from day to day, if the state of things at all permits it. My passion for the French theatre increased with every performance. I did not miss an evening, although always on my return, when I sat down with the family to supper, I often had only the remains of their dishes, and was compelled to bear the reproaches of my father-that the theatre was of no use, and could lead to no end. In these cases I commonly called up all the arguments of every kind which help out the defenders of the stage, when they get into difficulties like mine. Vice in prosperity, virtue in distress, are at last set to rights by poetical justice. Those fine examples of offences punished, Miss Sarah Sampson, and the London Merchant,' were eagerly urged on my part. But I often, on the contrary, had the worst of it, when the Fourberie de Scapin and the like were in the playbill, and when I had to bear the blame of the pleasure felt by the public in the tricks of fraudulent servants and the successful follies of dissipated youths. Neither party convinced the other. But my father was very soon reconciled with the stage, when he saw that I advanced with incredible rapidity in the French language.
Men are, once for all, so minded, that every one willingly himself at
tempts what he sees done by others, whether he has any fitness for it or no. Now I had soon gone through the whole course of the French stage. Many pieces I saw already for the second and third time. All had passed before my eyes and mind, from the loftiest tragedy to the slightest afterpiece; and as, when a child, I had tried to imitate Terence, so now, as a boy, with much more exciting occasion, I did not fail to reproduce the French forms as my capacity and incapacity permitted. Some half-mythological, half allegor ical pieces in the taste of Piron, were then performed, which had a tone of parody, and were very much liked. These representations particularly attracted me; the golden little wings of a lively Mercury, the thunderbolt of a disguised Jupiter, an amorous Danae, or whatever else might be the name of a fair one visited by the gods, if it were not even a Shepherdess, or Huntress, to whom they descended. As from Ovid's Metamor phoses, and Porney's Pantheon Mythicum, such elements very frequently buzzed about in my head, I had soon put together a little piece of the kind in my imagination, of which I only remember that the scene was in the country, and that yet there was no want in it either of kings' daughters, or princes, or gods. The Mercury particularly was then so vividly before my mind, that I could still swear I had seen him with my eyes.
I laid before my friend Derones a very neat copy which I had made myself, and which he received with particular politeness and the genuine air of a protector. He hastily glanced through the manuscript, pointed out some errors of language, thought some speeches too long, and at last promised that, at the requisite leisure, he would consider the work more closely, and decide upon it. To my timid question whether the piece could by any chance be acted? he answered that it was certainly not impossible. In the theatre a great deal depended on favour, and he would support me with all his heart; only the affair must be kept secret, for he had himself once surprised the managers with a piece of his own; and it would certainly have been performed
* Miss Sarah Sampson is a play of Lessing's. The London Merchant is, perhaps, a translation of George Barnwell. Tr.
if they had not discovered too soon that he was the author. I promised him all possible silence; and soon, in spirit, I saw the title of my work displayed in large letters on the corners of the streets and squares.
Frivolous as my friend usually was, the opportunity of playing the master was too much for him to resist. He read through the piece with attention, and then sitting down with me to make some slight alterations, he turned, in the course of our conversation, the whole piece upside down, so that not a single stone remained upon another. He struck out, added, took away one character, substituted another; in fine, proceeded with the maddest wantonness in the world, so that my hair stood on end. My prejudice that he must understand the matter was his security; for he had often so inculcated on me the Three Unities of Aristotle, the regularity of the French stage, the probability, harmony of verse, and every thing that depends on these, that I could not help regarding him not merely as instructed, but as profound. He abused the English and despised the Germans, and, in fine, laid before me that whole dramaturgic litany which I have so often in my life been compelled to hear repeated.
Like the boy in the fable, I took home my mangled production, and endeavoured to restore it again, but in vain. As, however, I would not altogether abandon it, I had a clean copy of my first manuscript, with a few alterations, made by our clerk, which I then presented to my father, and so gained from him at least this advantage, that for a long time he let me eat my supper in quiet after the play.
This unsuccessful attempt had made me pensive, and I determined now to study, in the first sources, these theories and laws which every one appealed to, and which had become suspicious to me, chiefly through the frowardness of my arrogant instructor. The undertaking was not indeed difficult for me, but laborious. I read first Corneille's Essay on the Three Unities, and saw clearly from it what people required. But why they required this was no way plain to me; and, what
was worst, I fell immediately into still greater confusion, by making acquaintance with the disputes on the Cid, and reading the prefaces in which Corneille and Racine are compelled to defend themselves against the critics and the public. Here at least I saw most evidently that no man knew what he wanted; that a piece like the Cid, which had produced the greatest effect, was to be pronounced bad on the command of an all-powerful cardinal; that Racine, theidol of the French in my day, and who had now become my idol-for I had learned to know him well when Counsellor Olenschlager made us children act Britannicus, in which the part of Nero fell to my share-that Racine, I say, even in his time could come to no understanding either with amateurs or professed critics. By all this I was more perplexed than ever, and after I had long tormented myself with this talking backwards and forwards, with this theoretical quackery of the previous century, I threw out the child with the teeth,* and flung away from me the whole trumpery, the more decidedly, because I thought I saw that even the authors themselves, who produced excellent things, when they began to speak about them, and to allege the grounds of their conduct, when they sought to defend, justify, and excuse themselves, were not always able to hit the right mark. I hastened therefore to the living Actual, visited the theatre much more zealously, and read more earnestly and continuously, so that I had at this time the perseverance to work through Racine and Molière entirely, and a great part of Corneille.
The King's lieutenant still lived on in our house. His demeanour had undergone no change, particularly towards us; but it was perceivable, and our friend the interpreter made it still plainer to us, that he no longer executed his office with the same cheerfulness, nor with the same zeal as before, although always with the same justice and fidelity. His habits and manners, which rather belonged to a Spaniard than a Frenchman; his whims, which at the same time had an influence on his business; his unyielding
* A proverbial phrase.-Tr.
ness to circumstances; his sensitiveness as to every thing which affected his person or reputation, all this together might perhaps sometimes bring him into conflict with his superiors. To this was added the circumstance that he was wounded in a duel which had arisen in the theatre, and it was thought wrong that the King's lieutenant, as head of the police, had himself committed a penal offence. All this may, as has been said, have contributed to make him live more retired, and perhaps to weaken his energy in some particulars.
In the mean while a considerable portion of the pictures ordered by him had been delivered. Count Thorane spent his leisure in examining them, having them in the before-mentioned gable-room, where all the canvasses, large and small, were placed side by side, and, from want of space, even one above another, and were nailed up, taken down again, and rolled together. These works were perpetually scrutinized anew. The parts that appeared the most successful were enjoyed with repeated pleasure. But there were also wishes that this or that had been differently managed.
Hence there arose a new and very extraordinary operation. For as one painter executed figures best, another the middle grounds and distances, a third trees, a fourth flowers, the thought occurred to the Count that these talents might perhaps be combined in the paintings, and in this way perfect works be produced. A beginning of this experiment was immediately made, by having, for instance, fine cattle painted into a finished landscape. But as there was not always room enough for them, and the animal painter did not stop at a couple of sheep more or fewer, the largest landscape proved at last too small. Now, moreover, the figure painter had to add the shepherds and a few wanderers. These, in turn as it were, deprived each other of air, and were packed so close, it seemed surprising that even in the most open country they were not all stifled. It could
never be foreseen what would come of the thing, and when it was done it gave no satisfaction. The painters were vexed. They had gained by the first commissions; by these after-labours they lost, although the Count paid for these, too, very liberally. And as the parts, confused together in one picture by several artists, with all their labour produced no good effect, each at last believed that his own work was spoiled and destroyed by that of the others. Hence it was near coming to a quarrel, and so to irreconcilable hostility between the artists. These changes, or rather additions, were executed in the above-mentioned painting-room, where I staid quite alone with the painters. It amused me to look out among the studies, especially those of animals, this or that one, this or that group, and to propose it for the foreground or the distance; in which, from conviction or good-nature, they often complied with
The sharers in this business were therefore extremely dejected, especially Seekaz, a very melancholy reserved man; who, indeed, among his friends was the best of companions by his incomparably pleasaut whim, but who, when at work, chose to labour alone, abstracted and entirely free. Now this man, after performing difficult undertakings, and completing them with the utmost industry and the warmest love, both of which qualities always belonged to him, had to travel repeatedly from Darmstadt to Frankfort, either to change something in his own pictures, or to dress up those of others, or to let his pictures be turned by some one else, with his help, into party-coloured confusion; the dejection increased, his opposition became decided, and there was need of much pains on our side in order to guide this godfather*_ for he too had become one-according to the Count's wishes. ber, that when the cases were standing ready to have all the pictures packed, in the order in which the upholsterer at the place of their destination should fix them up, only a little, but indispen◄
I still remem
*There is here a difficulty, which we have met before frequently in passages about the Interpreter. Gevatter is not only a godfather; but a person whose child has another person for sponsor, is the gevatter of the sponsor. The interpreter and Seekaz both stood in this relation to the young Goethes. But we have no English word for it except the obsolete one in this sense, gossip. Tr.
sable final work was required, and yet Seekaz could not be persuaded to Come over. He had indeed once for all done the best he could, having represented the four elements as children and boys, painted from the life in the midst of pictures of animals, and having employed the greatest labour not only on the figures but on the accessaries. These paintings were delivered, paid for, and he thought that he had done with the business for ever. But now he was to return, in order to enlarge with a few strokes of his brush, some figures of which the size was rather too small. He thought that some one else might do it, had already set himself to new work; in short, he would not come. The removal of the pictures was close at hand, they must also have time to dry, and every delay was dangerous; so the Count, in despair, was going to have him brought by military force. We all desired to see the pictures finally gone, and found at last no resource but that of the godfather Interpreter seating himself in a carriage and bringing over the rebel with his wife and child. He was kindly received by the Count, well treated, and, lastly, let go with ample pay
After the removal of the pictures there was a great quiet in the house. The gable-room in the garret was cleaned and given up to me; and my father, when he saw the cases go, could not refrain from the wish of sending the Count after them. For much as the taste of the Frenchman agreed with his own; much as it must rejoice my father to see his principle of favouring living artists pursued so liberally by a richer than himself; much as it may have flattered him that his collection had given occasion for so profitably employing a number of worthy artists in a time of difficulty, yet he felt such a dislike to the foreigner who had invaded his house, that he could think well of none of his proceedings. One ought to employ painters, but not lower them to paper-stainers; one ought to be satis fied with what they have done according to their conviction and capacity, even if it does not entirely please, and not perpetually to harp and carp. In
fine, in spite of the Count's own liberal efforts, there could once for all be no kindness between them. My father never visited that room, except when the Count was at table; and I remem ber only once, when Seekaz had excelled himself, and the wish to see his pictures had hurried the whole house together, that my father and the Count meeting, expressed a common pleasure in these works of art which they could not take in each other.
Scarcely, therefore, had the chests and cases left the house when the plan for getting rid of the Count, which had been before begun, but afterwards interrupted, was renewed. It was attempted to gain justice by reasons, equity by supplications, favour by influence; and at last there was such success that the Quartermaster's department decided. The Count was to change his lodgings, and our house, in consideration of the burden which had been borne continually day and night for several years, should for the future be exempted from any billeting. But that there might be a plausible pretext for this we were to let out to lodgers the first floor, which the King's lieutenant had hitherto occupied, and so make, as it were, impossible the quartering any one else upon us. The Count, who, after the separation from his beloved pictures, had no particular interest in the house, and moreover expected, at all events, to be soon called away and replaced, agreed, without any opposition, to remove to another good residence, and parted from us in peace and kindness. He also soon afterwards left the city, and received progressively different employments, but, as was said, not to his satisfaction. In the mean while, he had the pleasure to see the pictures which he had watched over so diligently, securely displayed in his brother's chateau. He wrote sometimes, and sent dimensions, and had different works executed accordingly by the artists so often mentioned. At last we heard nothing more of him, except that, after several years, we were assured he had gone to the West Indies as governor of one of the French colonies, and there died.
A PASSAGE OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY. IN A LETTER TO EUSEBIUS.
I SUPPOSE the "mens sana in corpore sano," the sound mind in a sound constitution, would be proof at least against weather, and elastic through all the wear and tear of life. The spirits of some are ever alert, and guard every avenue through which care may enter. With others the five senses are all traitors, and ready to let the enemy into the citadel of the heart at the shortest notice. Some grow demented under the charm of music—a gentle touch will thrill over the whole frame of youth. My danger and my delight are both in the sense of seeing. The eye is the most sensitive organ. There are certain moments every day that a feeling of uncomfortableness comes over me-frequently positive melancholy; and it is from that which many people love, so that I am left to wonder at our different natures. The effect of twilight distresses me-the light of departing day. It is not because the light is small in quantity; it is in its quality. Not the quantity; for exclude, in ever so great a degree, the light of day, reduce it by shutters and blinds as much as may be, I am rather pleased, certainly unaffected by any touch of melancholy. But in a moment, when I may be engaged busily, and my understanding unconscious of the hour, as the declining sun has reached a certain point, a sense of misery comes over me. I frequently shut my eyes at the instant of the sensation, but that is not enough; there is an impression through the eyelids—and, what is strange, it is not dissipated by candles, until the light of day, if it may so be called, is completely excluded. I know not but that the artificial and natural lights combating each other, provoke a greater pain. Memnon's head roared at the rising, my groans are at the setting sun. I am, too, more affected within doors than in the fields. I am persuaded there must be something in the quality of light at this time of day, that has escaped the notice of philosophers. Nor is the effect the same at all times of the year-the most distressing feeling is towards the end of autumn-then, indeed, in a certain measure it affects all, and
has become notorious. But there is not a day in the year in which I do not feel it in some degree. There is a quarter of an hour worse than that which took its name from Rabelais. I am not suffering from it now; but a little more than half an hour ago, this fourth day of December, the evil influence was strong upon me. I was in a lane, returning home from visiting a cheerful friend. I had walked a mile or two only, when the cold moment broke upon the sight: cold and comfortless did all appear to me; the rutty, damp, yet half frozen lane; the melancholy leafless boughs shooting up into the dull grey sky; the lower branches and leafage of hedges huddled together, without order, without beauty, as if hurrying from, if they could do so, and cowering under the melancholy light; the broad grey band of cloud, not unaccompanied by lighter vapour coming in, and gradually overspreading and making less the warmer light, every instant becoming more lurid-this cloud, or this night rather, coming in upon nature, like an evil genius, to drive her from her patrimony, and to hold a wide and surly dominion in her stead. All was of the foul fiend. The fiend of fen and quagmire, and the fiend of the heart-care-first cousins, showing their affinity by sympathies of howl and groan, from the utmost verge of the horizon to the innermost core of human life, and even sometimes by a stillness of electric horror.
And yet was there a blithe country girl that drove her melancholy cows to or from milking, and heeded not the evil hour, or the foul fiend, though his leaden finger had passed over her perhaps fair, or nut-brown forehead, and given it a hue that utterly belied the song she was singing, if song it could be; for to my sense the damp earth and air were dividing it between them, and flinging it back upon the ear mutteringly and in mutilation. And now night is over all-ruts, leafage, cattle, earth, and sky, are obliterated like a feeble outline under a deep wash of Indian ink. I feel not the miseries without; I am beyond their power. I am within-in the shelter of home. I am lighted by the