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Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 13302

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

"Now tell me, Wolf," asked Duke Charles Augustus, stretching himself comfortably on the sofa, puffing clouds of smoke from his pipe-"are you not weary of dawdling about in this infamously superb pile of stones, called Berlin? Shall we any longer elegantly scrape to the right and to the left, with abominable sweet speeches and mere flattering phraseology, in this monster of dust and stone, of sand and sun, parades and gaiters? Have you not enough of blustering generals, of affected women? and of running about the streets like one possessed to see here a miserable church, or there a magnificent palace? Are you not weary of crawling about as one of the many, while at home you stride about as the only one of the many? And weary also of seeing your friend and pupil Carl August put off with fair promises and hollow speeches like an insignificant, miserable mortal, without being able to answer with thundering invectives. Ah! breath fails me. I feel as if I could load a pistol with myself, and with a loud report shoot over to dear Weimar. Wolf, do talk, I beg you, I am tired out; answer me."

"I reply, I shoot, my dear Carl," cried Goethe, laughing. "I was out of breath myself from that long speech. Was it original with my dear prince, or did he memorize it from Klinger's great 'Sturm-und-Drang' tragedy? It reminded me of it."

"Do you mean to accuse me of plagiarism, wicked fellow? I grant that you are right, my cunning Wolf, it was a lapsus. I did think of Klinger, and I sympathized with his youthful hero Wild, who declared that, among the sweetest pleasures, he would like to be stretched over a drum, or exist in a pistol-barrel, the hand ready to blow him into the air."

Goethe shoved aside the breakfast-table, straightened his delicate form, with his noble head proudly erect, and one foot in advance, extended his right arm, giving one loud hurrah! "Now, for once, a tumult and noise, that thought may turn about like a weathercock. This savage noise has already wrought its own benefit. I begin to feel a little better. Rage and expand, mad heart, quicken yourself in hurly-burly-burly-burly!" [Footnote: From Klinger's tragedy "Sturm und Drang."]

"Bravo! bravo!" laughed the duke. "Is that Klinger, or who is it that refreshes himself in hurly-burly?"

"It is I who am every thing," replied Goethe, striding and swaggering up and down. "I was an assistant, in order to be something-lived upon the Alps, tended the goats, lay under the vault of heaven day and night, refreshed by the cool pastures, and burned with the inward fire. No peace, no rest anywhere. See, I swell with power and health! I cannot waste myself away. I would take part in the campaign here; then can my soul expand, and if they do me the service to shoot me down, well and good!" [Footnote: From Klinger's tragedy "Sturm und Drang."]

"Bravo! Wild, bravo!" cried the duke. "Hei! that thundered and rolled, and struck fire! It does me good to hear such vigorous words from an able rare genius in the midst of this miserable, starched elegance. The powerful Germans are healthy fellows. Something of the Promethean fire blazes forth in them. They were forced to come, those jolly, uproarious boys, after the affected cue period; they were the full, luxurious plants, and my Wolfgang, the favorite of my heart, my poet and teacher, is the divine blossom of this plant. Let them prevail, these 'Sturmer und Dranger,' for they are the fathers and brothers of my Wolfgang. Do me the sole pleasure not to refine yourself too much, but let this divine fire burst forth in volcanic flames, and leave the thundering crater uncovered. Sometimes when I see you so simpering, so modest and ceremonious, I ask myself, with anxiety, if it is the same Wolfgang Goethe, who used to drink 'Smollis' with me at merry bacchanals out of death-skulls?-the same with whom I used to practise whip-cracking upon the market-place hours long, to the terror of the good citizens?-the same who used to dance so nimbly the two-steps, and was inexhaustible in mad pranks. Now tell me, Herr Wolfgang, are you yourself, or are you another?"

"I am myself, and not myself," answered Goethe, smiling. "There still remains a good portion of folly in me, and it must sometimes thunder and flash, but I hope the atmosphere of my soul will become clearer, and over the crater a more lovely garden will spread out, in which beautiful, fragrant flowers will bloom, useful and profitable for my friends and myself. Sometimes I long for this as for the promised land; then again it foams and thunders in me like fermenting must, which, defying all covers and hoops, would froth up to heaven in an immense source of mad excitement!"

"Let it froth and foam, and spring the covers, and burst the old casks," cried the duke; "I delight in it, and every infernal noise you make, the prouder I am to recognize that from this foaming must will clear itself a marvellous wine, a delicious beverage for gods and men, with which the world will yet refresh itself, when we are long gone to the kingdom of shades-to the something or nothing. You know, Wolf, I love you, and I am proud that I have you! It is true that I possess only a little duchy, but it is large enough to lead an agreeable and comfortable existence-large enough for a little earthly duke, and the great king of intellects, Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Let us return to our dear home, for I acknowledge to you I sigh for Weimar. I long for the dear little place, where every one knows me and greets me, and even for my dogs and horses."

"And I," said Goethe, "I really mourn for my Tusculum, which I owe to the generous, kind duke; for the balcony of my little cottage, where, canopied by the blue, starry vault of heaven, I dream away the lonely May nights."

"Is there nothing else you sigh for but the summer-house at Weimar?"

"No!" cried Goethe, and an indescribable expression of rapture and delight was manifest in his whole manner.

"No, why should I deny it, how could I? It would be treason to the Highest and most Glorious. No, I long for my muse, my mistress, my-"

"Beloved!" interrupted the duke. "I pray you not to be so prudish, so reserved. Have the courage to snap your fingers at this infamously deceitful moral code, and proud and distinguished as you are, elevate yourself above what these miserable earthworms call morality. For the eagle there is a different law than for the pigeon. If the eagle soars aloft through the ether to his eyry, bearing a lamb in his powerful claws, has he not a right to it-the right of superiority and power by God's grace? Has he not as much right to the lam

b as the pigeon to the pea which she finds in the dust? If the pigeon by chance sees the eagle with his lamb, she cries, 'Zeter! mordio!' with the pea in her own bill, as if she were in a position to judge the eagle."

"A beautiful picture," cried Goethe, joyfully-"a picture that would inspire me to indite a poem."

"Write one, and call it for a souvenir 'The Eagle and the Dove.' Make it a reality, my eagle youth, bear off the white lamb to your eyry, and let the world, with its affected morality, say what it likes. How can you bear to see the one you love at the side of another man? Tell me, confess to me, is not the beautiful Charlotte von Stein your beloved?"

"Not in the sense you mean, duke, not in the vulgar sense of the word. I love her, I adore her, with a pure and holy sentiment. I would not that Charlotte should have cause to blush before her children on my account. She would be desecrated to me if I, in my inmost soul, could imagine the blush of shame upon her cheek, or that her eye could brighten at other than great, beautiful, and noble acts. I adore her, and to me she is the ideal of the purest and sweetest womanhood. I rejoice that she is as she is, like clear mountain crystal-transparent and so brightly pure, that one could mirror himself therein. She stands above all other women, and to her belong all my thoughts, and would, even if I were wedded to another. To me she is the most beautiful of the beautiful, the purest of the pure, the most graceful of the graceful, and all my thoughts are in perfect harmony with hers. Now, duke, if it is agreeable to you, knowing my feelings, to call Charlotte von Stein my beloved, she is so in the most elevated sense of the word."

"Ah! you poets, you poets," sighed the duke, smiling.

"A streak of madness in you all, though I will grant that it is divine."

"Say rather that Whit-Sunday comes to us every day, and the divine Spirit descends daily upon us poets, and causes us to speak in unknown tongues."

"I will say that you are the god Apollo descended from heaven, and with gods one may not dare to dispute. They act differently in their sphere than we mortals upon earth. I will be contented if our ways cross from time to time, and we can once in a while walk on together a good piece the way of life in friendship and harmony. If it would please my Wolf, I propose to turn toward beloved Weimar, the dear place, half village, half city. For my part I am finished here, my business with General von Mollendorf is accomplished. As I told you previously, I have had made known to the king my refusal to allow recruiting in my duchy. I could not consent for the present. In short, I have spoken as my secretary Wolfgang Goethe has recorded.[Footnote: This memorial upon recruiting is found. "Correspondence of the Grand Duke Carl August and Goethe," part, i., p. 4.] General Mollendorf has waived his demand for the present-and to-day we have had the concluding conference, and if it is agreeable to my secretary, we might set off this afternoon and pass a day at Dessau, and then on to Weimar."

"Oh, gladly will I do it; it seems as if a star from heaven had twinkled to me to follow it, for at Weimar is centred all my happiness! I prefer a lowly cabin there to all the splendor and palaces of a city."

"Then you agree with me, that this magnificently vile Berlin does not enchain you in her magic net?"

"No, she holds me not, though it has been pleasant to take a peep into it (like a child into a curiosity-box). I have seen 'Old Fritz.' His character, his gold, and his silver, his marbles, his apes and parrots, and even his town curtains please me. It is pleasant to be at the seat of war at the very moment that it threatens to break forth. It has gratified me to witness the splendor of the royal city, the life, order, and abundance, that would be nothing if thousands of men were not ready to be sacrificed; the medley of men, carriages, horses, artillery, and all the arrangements. All are mere pins in the great clock-work, only puppets whose motion is received from the great cylinder, Fredericus Rex, who indicates to each one the melody they must play, according to one of the thousand pins in the rotary beam."[Footnote: Goethe's own words.-See Goethe's "Correspondence with Frau von Stein," part i., p. 168. Riemer, "Communications about Goethe," part ii., p. 60.]

"You are right to compare the great man to the chief cylinder in the machine of state," nodded the duke "He rules and sets all in motion, and cares not whether the rabble are suited or not. It has enraged me sometimes to hear the fellows curse him, and yet I acted as if I heard them not. Let us return to Weimar-mankind seems better there, Wolf."

"At any rate, more regardful of us than they are here, duke. The greater the world the uglier the farce; no obscenities and fooleries of the buffoon are more disgusting than the characters of the great, mediocre and insignificant, all mingled together. I prayed this morning for courage to hold out to the end, and to hasten the consummation. I am grateful for the benefit of the journey-but I pray the gods not to conduct themselves toward us as their image-man, for I should swear to them eternal hatred."[Footnote: Goethe's own words.-See Goethe's "Correspondence with Frau von Stein," part i., p. 169.]

"Then you are ready to depart, Wolf?"

"Almost, dear Carl, or, if you will it, quite ready. A few visits I would make, that the people shall not be too severe upon me and cry out against my pride and arrogance."

"Because they themselves are proud and supercilious, they are bold enough to suppose Wolfgang Goethe is like them. I hope you will not visit the very learned Herr Nicolai, the insipid prosaist, the puffed-up rationalist, who believes that his knowledge permits him to penetrate every thing, and who is a veritable ass."

"No, I am not going to Nicolai, Rammler, or Engel, or, as they should be named, the wise authors of Berlin. I shall visit the artist Chodowiecki, good Karschin, occasional poetess, and the philosopher Mendelssohn. Then, if it pleases you, we will set out this afternoon, shaking the sand of Berlin from our feet."

"I shall prepare whilst you make your visits. Will you take my carriage? You know there is one from the royal stables always at my service, which stands at the door."

"Beware! they would shriek if I should drive to their doors in a royal carriage. They would accuse me of throwing aside the poet, and being only secretary of legation. I will go on foot; it amuses me to push my way through the crowd, and listen to the Berlin jargon."

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