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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 27422

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

The Minister Herzberg had, in the mean time, an interview with the king, informing him of the concluded purchase of the Schmettau villa, and of the emotion and gratitude of the crown prince at his royal munificence.

"That affair is arranged, then," said Frederick. "If Fate wills that the prince should not return from this campaign, then this certain person and the two poor worms are provided for, who are destined to wander through the world nameless and fatherless."

"Let us hope that fate will not deal so harshly with the prince, or bring such sorrow upon your majesty."

"My dear sir, Fate is a hard-hearted creature, the tears of mankind are of no more importance to her than the raindrops falling from the roof. She strides with gigantic power over men, crushing them all in dust-the great as well as the little-the king as well as the beggar. For my part I yield to Fate without a murmur. Politicians and warriors are mere puppets in the hands of Providence. We act without knowing why, for we are unknowingly the tools of an invisible hand. Often the result of our actions is the reverse of our hopes! Let all things take their course, as it best pleases God, and let us not think to master Fate. [Footnote: The king's words.-"Posthumous Works," vol. x., p. 256.] That is my creed, Herzberg, and if I do not return from this infamous campaign, you will know that I have yielded to Fate without murmuring. You understand my wishes in all things; the current affairs of government should go on regularly. If any thing extraordinary occurs, let me be informed at once. Is there any news, Herzberg?"

"Nothing worth recounting, sire, except that the young Duke of Weimar is in town."

"I know it; he has announced himself. I cannot speak with him. I have asked my brother Henry to arrange the conditions under which he will allow us to enlist men for my army in his duchy. I hope he will be reasonable, and not prevent it. That is no news that the Duke of Weimar has arrived!"

"Not only the duke has arrived, but he has brought his dear friend with him whom the people in Saxe-Weimar say makes the good and bad weather."

"Who is the weather-maker?"

"Your majesty, this weather-maker is the author of 'The Sorrows of Young Werther,' Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who for four years has aroused the hearts and excited the imaginations of all Germany. If I am not deceived, a great future opens for this poet, and he will be a star of the first magnitude in the sky of German literature. I believe it would be well worth the trouble for your majesty to see him."

"Do not trouble me with your German literature, and your stars of the first magnitude! We must acknowledge our poverty with humility; belles-lettres have never achieved success upon our soil. Moreover, this star of the first magnitude-this Herr Goethe-I remember him well; I wish to know nothing of him. He has quite turned the heads of all the love-sick fools with his 'Sorrows of Young Werther.' You cannot count that a merit. The youth of Germany were sufficiently enamoured, without the love-whining romances of Herr Goethe to pour oil on the fire."

"Pardon me, sire, that I should presume to differ from you; but this book which your majesty condemns has not only produced a furor in Germany, but throughout Europe-throughout the world even. That which public opinion sustains in such a marked manner cannot be wholly unworthy. 'Vox populi, vox dei,' is a true maxim in all ages."

"It is not true!" cried the king. "The old Roman maxim is not applicable to our effeminate, degraded people. Nowadays, whoever flatters the people and glorifies their weaknesses, is a good fellow, and he is extolled to the skies. Public opinion calls him a genius and a Messiah. Away with your nonsense! The 'Werther' of Herr Goethe has wrought no good; it has made the healthy sick, and has not restored invalids to health. Since its appearance a mad love-fever has seized all the young people, and silly sentimentalities and flirtations have become the fashion. These modern Werthers behave as if love were a tarantula, with the bite of which they must become mad, to be considered model young men. They groan and sigh, take moonlight walks, but they have no courage in their souls, and will never make good soldiers. This is the fault of Herr Werther, and his abominable lamentations. It is a miserable work, and not worth the trouble of talking about, for no earnest man will read it!"

"Pardon me, sire; your majesty has graciously permitted me to enter the lists as knight and champion of German literature, and sometimes to defend the German Muse, who stands unnoticed and unknown under the shadow of your throne; while the French lady, with her brilliant attire and painted cheeks, is always welcomed. I beg your majesty to believe that, although this romance may have done some harm, it has, on the other hand, done infinite service. A great and immortal merit cannot be denied to it."

"What merit?" demanded the king, slowly taking a pinch of snuff; "I am very curious to know what merit that crazy, love-sick book has."

"Sire, it has the great merit to have enriched the German literature with a work whose masterly language alone raises it above every thing heretofore produced by a German author. It has emancipated our country's literature from its clumsy, awkward childhood, and presented it as an ardent, inspired youth, ready for combat, upon the lips of whom the gods have placed the right word to express every feeling and every thought-a youth who is capable of probing the depths of the human heart."

"I wish all this might have remained in the depths," cried Frederick, annoyed. "You have defended the German Muse before; but you remember that I am incorrigible. You cannot persuade me that bungling is master-work. It is not the poverty of the mind, but the fault of the language, which is not capable of expressing with brevity and precision. For how could any one translate Tacitus into German without adding a mass of words and phrases? In French it is not necessary; one can express himself with brevity, and to the point."

"Sire, I shall permit myself to prove to you that the brevity of Tacitus can be imitated in the German language. I will translate a part of Tacitus, to give your majesty a proof."

"I will take you at your word! And I will answer you in a treatise upon German literature, its short-comings, and the means for its improvement. [Footnote: This treatise appeared during the Bavarian war of succession, in the winter of 1779] Until then, a truce. I insist upon it-good German authors are entirely wanting to us Germans. They may appear a long time after I have joined Voltaire and Algarotti in the Elysian Fields."[Footnote: The king's words.-See "Posthumous Works," vol. II., p. 293.]

"They are already here," cried Herzberg, zealously. "We have, for example, Lessing, who has written two dramas, of which every nation might be proud-'Minna von Barnhelm, and Emilia Calotti.'"

"I know nothing of them," said the king, with indifference. "I have never heard of your Lessing."

"Your majesty, this wonderful comedy, 'Minna von Barnhelm,' was written for your majesty's glorification."

"The more the reason why I should not read it! A German comedy! That must be fine stuff for the German theatre, the most miserable of all. In Germany, Melpomene has untutored admirers, some walking on stilts, others crawling in the mire, from the altars of the goddess. The Germans will ever be repulsed, as they are rebels to her laws, and understand not the art to move and interest the heart."

"But, sire, you have never deigned to become acquainted with 'Minna von Barnhelm' nor 'Emilia Calotti.'"

"Well, well, Herzberg, do not be so furious; you are a lover of German literature, and some allowance must be made for those who are in love. You will not persuade me to read your things which you call German comedies and tragedies. I will take good care; my teeth are not strong enough to grind such hard bits. Now do not be angry, Herzberg. The first leisure hours that I have in this campaign I shall employ on my treatise."

"And the first leisure hours that I have," growled the minister, "I shall employ to translate a portion of Tacitus into our beautiful German language, to send to your majesty."

"You are incorrigible," said Frederick, smiling. "We shall see, and until then let us keep the peace, Herzberg. When one is about to go to war, it is well to be at peace with one's conscience and with his friends; so let us be good friends."

"Your majesty, your graciousness and kindness make me truly ashamed," said the minister, feelingly. "I beg pardon a thousand times, if I have allowed myself to be carried away with unbecoming violence in my zeal for our poor neglected German literature."

"I approve of your zeal, and it pleases me that you are a faithful knight, sans peur et sans reproche. I do not ascribe its poverty to the German nation, who have as much spirit and genius as any nation, the mental development of which has been retarded by outward circumstances, which prevented her rising to an equality with her neighbors. We shall one day have classical writers, and every one will read them to cultivate himself. Our neighbors will learn German, and it will be spoken with pleasure at courts; and it can well happen that our language, when perfectly formed, will spread throughout Europe. We shall have our German classics also." [Footnote: The king's words-see "Posthumous Works," vol. III.]

The king smiled, well pleased, as he observed by stolen glances the noble, intelligent face of Herzberg brighten, and the gloomy clouds dispersed which had overshadowed it.

"Now, is it not true that you are again contented?" said the king, graciously.

"I am delighted with the prophecy for the German language, your majesty; and may I add something?"

"It will weigh on your heart if you do not tell it," said the king.

"I prophesy that this Goethe will one day belong to the classic authors, and therefore I would beg once more of your majesty to grant him a gracious look, and invite him to your presence. If you find no pleasure in 'The Sorrows of Werther,' Goethe has created other beautiful works. He is the author of the tragedy of 'Stella.'"

"That sentimental, immoral piece, which we forbid the representation of in Berlin, because it portrays a fellow who made love to two women at once, playing the double role of lover to his wife and his paramour, while he had a grown-up daughter! It is an immoral piece, which excites the tear-glands, and ends as 'Werther,' by the hero blowing his brains out. It is directed against all morals, and against marriage; therefore it was forbidden." [Footnote: The tragedy of "Stella" was represented in Berlin with great applause, and denounced by the king as immoral, in the year 1776, and the further representation forbidden.-See Plumke, "History of the Berlin Theatres."]

"But, sire, Herr Goethe has not only written 'Stella,' but 'Clavigo' also, which-"

"Which he has copied exactly from the 'Memoires de Beaumarchais,'" interrupted the king. "That is not a German, but a French production."

"Allow me to cite a genuine German production, which Johann Wolfgang Goethe has written. I mean the drama 'Gotz von Berlichingen.'"

"Stop!-it is sufficient. I do not wish to hear any thing more," cried the king, indignant, and rising. "It is bad enough that such pieces should appear upon the German stage as this 'Gotz von Berlichingen.' They are nothing less than abominable imitations of the bad English pieces of Shakespeare! The pit applauds them, and demands with enthusiasm these very disgusting platitudes. [Footnote: The king's own words.-See "Posthumous Works," vol. iii.] Do not be angry again, you must have patience with the old boy! I shall rejoice heartily if this Herr Goethe becomes a classic writer one day, as you say. I shall not live to witness it. I only see the embryo where you see the full-grown author. We will talk further about it when we meet in the Elysian Fields; then we will see, when you present this Herr Johann Wolfgang Goethe, as a German classic writer, to Homer, Horace, Virgil, and Corneille, if they do not turn their backs upon him. Now adieu, Herzberg! So soon as circumstances permit, I shall send for you to go to Silesia, and then you can give me your German translation of Tacitus."

The king nodded in a friendly manner to his minister, and slowly walked back and forth, while he took leave and withdrew. After a few moments he rang, and the summons was immediately answered by the footman Schultz.

The king fixed upon him one of those searching glances of his fiery eyes which confounded and confused the footman. He remained standing and embarrassed, with downcast look.

"What are you standing there for?" asked the king. "Did I not ring for you, and do you not know what you have to do?" Frederick continued to regard him, with flashing eyes, which increased the lackey's confusion.

He forgot entirely that the summons was for his majesty's lunch, and all that he had to do was to open the door to the adjoining room, where it stood already prepared.

Frederick waited a moment, but the footman still stood irresolute, when his majesty indicated to him to approach.

He approached, staggering under the puzzling glance of his master.

"Oh! I see what it is," said Frederick, shrugging his shoulders; "you are drunk again, as you often are, and-"

"Your majesty," cried Schultz, amazed, "I drunk!"

"Silence!-will you be bold enough to reason with me? I say that you are drunk, and I want no drunke

n footmen. They must be well-behaved, sober fellows, who keep their ears open and their mouths shut-who are neither drunkards nor gossips, and do not take for truth what they have experienced in their drunken fits. I do not want such fellows as you are at all; you are only fit food for cannon, and for that you shall serve. Go to General Alvensleben, and present yourself to enter the guards. You are lucky to go to the field at once; to-morrow you will set off. Say to the general that I sent you, and that you are to enter as a common soldier."

"But, your majesty, I do not know what I have done," cried Schultz, whiningly. "I really am not drunk. I-"

"Silence!" thundered the king. "Do as I command you! Go to General Alvensleben, and present yourself to enter the guards at once. Away with you! I do not need drunken, gossiping footmen in my service. Away with you!"

The footman slunk slowly away, his head hanging down, with difficulty restraining the tears which stood in large drops in his eyes.

The king followed him with his glance, which softened and grew gentler from sympathy. "I pity him, the poor fellow! but I must teach him a lesson. I want no gossips around me. He need only wear the uniform two weeks or so, that will bring him to reason. Then I will pardon him, and receive him into my service again. He is a good-natured fellow, and would not betray any one as Kretzschmar betrayed him."

The king stepped to the window to look at the gentleman who was eagerly engaged in conversation with the castellan of Sans-Souci. At this instant the footman entered with a sealed note for the king. "From his royal highness Prince Henry," said he.

"Who brought it?"

"The gentleman who speaks with the castellan upon the terrace. I wait your majesty's commands."

"Wait, then." The note ran thus: "Your majesty, my dearly-beloved brother: The bearer, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, one of the literati, and a poet, and at this time secretary of legation to the duchy of Saxe-Weimar, is a great favorite of the duke's, our nephew. I met him returning from the parade in company with the duke, who expressed to me the strong desire his secretary had to visit the celebrated house of the great philosopher of Sans-Souci, and see the room once occupied by Voltaire. I could not well refuse, and therefore address these few lines to your majesty before returning to Berlin with the duke, who will dine with me, accompanied by his secretary. I am your majesty's most humble servant and brother, HENRY."

"Tell the castellan that I grant him permission to show the house and park to the stranger; he shall take care not to come in my way, so that I shall be obliged to meet him. Tell this aside, that you may not be overheard. Hasten, for they have already been waiting some time."

The king walked again to the window, and, hidden by the curtain, peeped out. "So, this is Herr Goethe, is it? What assurance! There he stands, sketching the house. What wonderful eyes the man has! With what a proud, confident manner he looks around! What a brow! Truly he is a handsome fellow, and Herzberg may be right after all. That brow betokens thought, and from those eyes there flashes a divine light. But he looks overbearing and proud. Now, I am doubly pleased that I refused Herzberg to have any thing to do with him. Such presumptive geniuses must be rather kept back; then they feel their power, and strive to bring themselves forward. Yes! I believe that man has a future. He looks like the youthful god Apollo, who may have condescended to descend to earth! He shall not entrap me with his beautiful head. If he is the man who makes good and bad weather in Weimar, he shall learn that rain and sunshine at Sans-Souci do not depend upon him; that the sun and clouds here do not care whether Herr Goethe is in the world or not. For sunshine and storm we depend upon the Great Weather-Maker, to whom we must all bow; evil and good days in Prussia shall emanate from me, so long as I live. Sometimes I succeed in causing a little sunshine," continued the king. "I believe the Prince of Prussia has to-day felt the happy influence of the sun's rays; and while it is dull and lonely at Sans-Souei, may it be brighter and more cheerful at Charlottenburg! Eh bien! old boy," said the king, stopping, "you are playing the sentimental, and eulogizing your loneliness. Well, well, do not complain.-Oh, come to me, spirits of my friends, and hold converse with me! Voltaire, D'Argens, and my beloved Lord-Marshal Keith! Come to me, departed souls, with the memories of happier days, and hover with thy cheering, sunny influence over the wrinkled brow of old Fritz!"

While the lonely king implored the spirits of his friends, to brighten with their presence the quiet, gloomy apartment at Sans-Souci, the sun shone in full splendor at Charlottenburg-the sunshine beaming from the munificence of Frederick. Wilhelmine Enke had passed the whole day in admiring the beautiful and tasteful arrangement of the villa. Every piece of furniture, every ornament, she examined attentively-all filled her with delight. The prince, who accompanied her from room to room, listened to her outbursts of pleasure, rejoicing.

"I wish that I could often prepare such happiness for you, dearest, for my heart is twice gladdened to see your beaming face."

"Reflected from your own. You are my good genius upon earth. You have caused the poor, neglected child to become the rich and happy woman. To you I owe this home, this foot of earth, which I can call my own. Here blossom the flowers for me-here I am mistress, and those who enter must come as my guests, and honor me. All this I owe to you."

"Not to me," said the prince, smiling; "I only gave to you what was given to me! To the king belong your thanks. Harsh in words, but gentle in deeds, he has given you this refuge, freeing you from the slavery of poverty, from the sorrow of being homeless. But tell it not, Wilhelmine. The king would be angry if it were known that he not only tolerated but showed great generosity to you. It is a secret that I ought not even to disclose to you. I could not receive your thanks, for I have not deserved them. From the king comes your good fortune, not from me. The day will come when I can requite you, when the poor crown prince becomes the rich king. On that day the golden rain shall again shower upon you, never to cease, and, vying with the shower of gold, the brightest sunbeams play continually around you. As king, I will reward your fidelity and love, which you have proved to the poor crown prince, with splendor, power, and riches. Until then rejoice with the little that his grace has accorded you, and await the much that love will one day bring you. Farewell, Wilhelmine, the evening sets in, and I must forth to Potsdam. The king would never pardon me if I did not pass the last evening with my wife in the circle of my family. Farewell!"

He embraced her tenderly, and Wilhelmine accompanied the prince to the carriage, and returned to survey anew the beautiful rooms which were now her own possession. An unspeakable, unknown feeling was roused in her, and voices, which she had never heard, spoke to her from the depths of her heart. "You are no longer a despised, homeless creature," they whispered. "You have a home, a foot of earth to call your own. Make yourself a name, that you may be of consequence in the world. You are clever and beautiful, and with your prudence and beauty you can win a glorious future! Remember the Marquise de Pompadour, neglected and scorned as you, until a king loved her, and she became the wife of a king, and all France bowed down to her. Even the Empress Maria Theresa honored her with her notice, and called her cousin. I am also the favorite of a future king, and I will also become the queen of my king!"

Wilhelmine had remained standing in the midst of the great drawing-room, which she was passing through, listening to these seductive voices, to these strange pictures of the future. In her imagination she saw herself in this room surrounded with splendor and magnificence, and sparkling with gems. She saw around her elegantly-attired ladies and gentlemen, in brilliant uniforms, glittering with orders; saw every-where smiling faces, and respectful manners. She saw all eyes turned to her, and heard only flattering words, which resounded for her from every lip-for her, once so despised and scorned! "It shall be, yes, it shall be," cried she aloud. "I will be the queen of my king! I will become the Prussian Marquise de Pompadour; that I swear by the heads of my children, by-"

"Rather swear by thy own beautiful head, Wilhelmine," said a voice behind her. Startled, she turned, and beheld the tall figure of a man, wrapped in a long cloak, who stood in the open door.

"Who are you?" she cried, amazed. "How dare you enter here?"

The figure closed the door, without answering, and, slowly approaching Wilhelmine, fixed his black eyes upon her with a searching gaze. She tried to summon help, but the words died on her lips; her cheeks blanched with terror, and, as if rooted to the floor, she stood with outstretched arms imploring the approaching form. The figure smiled, but there was something commanding in its manner, and in the fiery eyes, which rested upon her. When quite near her, it raised its right hand with an impatient movement. Immediately her arms fell at her side, her cheeks glowed, and a bright smile lighted up her face. Then it lifted the three-cornered, gold-bordered hat which shaded its face, nodding to her.

"Do you recognize me, Wilhelmine?" he asked, in a sweet, melodious voice.

"Yes," she answered, her eyes still fixed upon him. "You are Cagliostro, the great ruler and magician."

"Where did we meet?"

"I remember; it was in Paris, at the house of the governor of the Bastile, M. Delaunay. You caused me to read in a glass the future-a bright, glorious future. I was surrounded with splendor and magnificence. I saw myself glittering with gems; a king knelt at my feet. I was encircled by richly-attired courtiers, who bowed before me, and honored me, whispering: 'We salute you, O beautiful countess; be gracious to us, exalted princess!' It sounded like heavenly music, and I shouted with delight."

"Was that all?" said Cagliostro, solemnly, "that the crystal showed you."

Shuddering, she murmured: "The splendor, glory, and power vanished, and all was changed to a fearful picture. I saw myself in a plain, dark dress, in a deserted, lonely room, with iron-barred windows, and a small iron door closed in the dreary white walls-it was a prison! And I heard whispered around me: 'Woe to you, fallen and dethroned one! You have wasted away the days of your splendor, submit in patience to the days of your shame and humiliation.' I could not endure to behold it, and screamed with terror, fainting."

"You demanded to see the future, and I showed it to you," said Cagliostro, earnestly. "Though I let the light shine into your soul, still it was dark within; you pursued the way of unbelief, and desired not to walk in the way of knowledge. I sent messengers twice to you to lead you in the right path, and you sent them laughing away. Recall what I told you in Paris. I will it!"

"I remember, master; you said that in the most important days of my life you would come to me, and extend to me a helping hand: if I seized it, the first picture would be fulfilled; if I refused it, the prison awaited me!"

"I have kept my word: to-day is an eventful day in your life; you have risen from want and degradation-you have mounted the first rounds of the ladder of your greatness and power. You are the mistress of this house." "How did you know it?" asked Wilhelmine, astonished. With a pitying smile he answered: "I know every thing that I will, and I see many things that I would willingly close my eyes upon. I see your future, and my soul pities you, unhappy one; you are lost if you do not seize the hand extended to you. You see not the abyss which opens before you, and you will fall bleeding and with broken limbs."

"Mercy, mercy!" she groaned-"stretch out your hand and protect me." Wilhelmine sank as if crushed to the earth. Cagliostro bent over her, and stroked her cold, pale face, breathing upon her the hot breath of his lips. "I will pity you-I will protect you. Rise, my daughter!" He assisted her to rise, and imprinted a passionate kiss upon her hand. "From this hour I count you as one of mine," he said; "you shall be received into the holy band of spirits! You shall be consecrated, and enter the Inner Temple. Are you prepared?" "I am, master," she humbly replied.

"To-morrow the Temple brothers will open the temple of bliss to you. You shall hear, see, and be silent." "I will see, hear, and be silent," she murmured.

"When evening sets in, send away your servants," commanded Cagliostro. "Let the doors stand open; they shall be guarded, that no one may enter but the summoned. Art thou prepared?"

"I am, master!"

"Withdraw now to your room, Wilhelmine, and elevate your thoughts in devotion and contrition, and await the future. Kneel, my daughter, kneel!" She sank upon her knees. "Bless me, master, bless me!" "I bless you!"

She felt a hot, burning sensation upon her forehead, and suddenly a bright light shone in the obscure room. Wilhelmine screamed, and covered her eyes. When she ventured to look up, only soft moonlight penetrated from the high window into the apartment, and she was alone. "To-morrow-to-morrow, at midnight!" she murmured, shuddering, and casting a timid look around.


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