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   Chapter 17 GOETHE’S VISITS.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 25009

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


Taking leave of his ducal friend, Goethe betook himself the street, to commence his visits. Going first to Chodowiecki, the renowned delineator and engraver, whose fame had already spread throughout Germany. When Goethe entered, the artist was busy in his atelier, working upon the figures of the characters in the "Mimic," the latest work of Professor Engel. "Master," said he, smilingly, extending him his hand, "I have come to thank you for many beautiful, happy hours which I owe to you. You paint with the chisel and poetize with the brush. An artist by God's grace."

"If the poet Goethe says that, there must be something in it," replied Chodowiecki, with a radiant face. "I have to thank you for the most beautiful and best hours of my life, and I am proud and delighted to have been able in the least to return the pleasure. The only blissful tears among many bitter ones that I have wept, were shed over the 'Sorrows of Werther.' 'Gotz von Berlichingen' so inspired me that he appeared to me in my dreams, and left me no peace until I rose in the night to draw Gotz, as he sat talking with brother Martin on the bench in the forest. Wait, I will show you the drawing; you must see it."

Goethe examined it attentively, and expressed his pleasure at the correctness and dramatical conception of the design, and did not remark, or perhaps would not, that the artist was busily occupied with crayon and paper. "How wonderfully you have reproduced my 'German Knight,'" cried Goethe, after a long observation of it. "The middle ages entire, proud and full of strength, are mirrored in this figure, and if I had not written 'Gotz von Berlichingen,' I would have been inspired to it, perhaps, from this drawing. Oh! you artists are to be envied. We need many thousand words to express what a few lines represent, and a stroke suffices to change a smiling face into a weeping one. How feeble is language, and how mighty the pencil! I wish I had the talent to be a painter!"

"And I," cried Chodowiecki, "would throw all my pencils, brushes, and chisels to the devil, or sell him my soul, if I could cope with the genius and intellect of the poet, Wolfgang Goethe. What a man! What a profile the gods have given him! There! look-have you ever seen a man with such a face?" He handed Goethe the drawing, which proved to be a speaking profile-portrait of himself, dashed off with a few strokes full of genius.

Goethe looked at it with the air of a critic. "It is true," said he, perfectly serious, "there are not many such profiles, but I am not of your opinion that the gods fashioned it. Those sharp features look as if the joiner had cut them out of oak, and they lead me to infer a very disagreeable character. I naturally do not know who the picture represents, but I must tell you, master, that this man could never please me, although I could swear it is a speaking likeness. This sharp, bowed nose has something impudent, self-sufficient in it. The brow is indeed high, which betokens thought, but the retreating lines prove that the thoughts only commence, and then lose themselves in a maze. The mouth, with its pouting lips, has an insupportable expression of stupid good-nature and sentimentality; and the well-defined, protruding chin might belong to the robber-captain Cartouche. The great wide-open eyes, with their affected passionate glances, prove what a puffed-up dandy the man must be, who perhaps imagines all the women in love with his face. No, no, I am still of the opinion that the original could never please me, and if the physiognomist Lavater should see it, he would say: 'That is the portrait of a puffed-up, quaint, powerful genius, who imagines himself something important, and who is nothing! The likeness of a bombastic fellow, with an empty head behind the pretentious brow, and meaningless phrases on the thick lips.'"

"If Lavater says so, he is a fool and an ass," cried Chodowiecki, furiously, "and he can hide himself in the remotest corner of the earth. Lichtenberg of Gottingen is quite right when he says that this empty-headed Lavater has made himself ridiculous throughout Germany with his wonderful physiognomy of dogs' tails and his profiles of unknown pigtails. If Lavater is really so narrow-minded as not to be able to distinguish a crow from an eagle, it is his own affair; but he shall never presume to look at this portrait, and you, too, are not worthy, you scorner, that I should get angry with you. The likeness is so beautiful that Jupiter himself would be satisfied to have it imputed to him. It is so like, that you need not pretend you do not know that it represents Wolfgang Goethe. As you insult it, and regard it with scorn and contempt, I will destroy it."

"For mercy's sake do not tear it," cried Goethe, springing toward Chodowiecki, and holding him fast with a firm grasp. "My dear good man, do not tear it; it would be like splitting my own head."

"Ah, ah!" shouted Chodowiecki, "you acknowledge the likeness?"

"I do acknowledge it, with joy."

"And will you admit that it is the head of a noble, talented poet, a favorite of the Muses? Say yes, or I will tear it, and you will have terrible pains in your head your life long!"

"Yes, yes! all that you wish. I am capable of saying the most flattering things of myself to save this beautiful design. Give it to me, you curious fellow!"

"No," said Chodowiecki, earnestly, "I will not give it to you. Such a portrait is not made to be put in a dusty portfolio, or framed for the boudoir of your lady-love. All Germany, all the world should enjoy it, and centuries later the German women will still see Wolfgang Goethe as he looked in his twenty-ninth year, and hang an engraving on the wall in their parlor, and sighing and palpitating acknowledge-'There never was but one such godlike youth, and there never will be another. I wish that I had known him; I wish he had loved me!' So will they speak centuries later, for I will perpetuate this drawing in a steel engraving of my most beautiful artistic work." [Footnote: This engraving from the artist Chodowiecki still exists, and the author of this work possesses a beautiful copy, which Ottille von Goethe sent her. It is a bust in profile, the most beautiful of his youth.]

"You are a splendid fellow, and I must embrace you, and rejoice to be immortalized by you, for this portrait pleases me exceedingly. I might well be proud that this head with the rare profile is a counterpart of my own. Now we are good friends. Before I say farewell, let me see the work at which I just disturbed you upon entering."

Goethe was about to raise the cloth, when Chodowiecki waved him back. "Do not look at it," said he, quickly; "I dislike to appear as a mechanic before you, as I wish that you should honor only the artist. We poor toilers are badly off, as the old proverb is ever proving true with us, 'Art goes for bread.' We must be mechanics the chief part of our lives, in order to have a few hours free, in which we are allowed to be artists. I have to illustrate the most miserable works with my engravings, to buy the time to pursue works of art."

"That is the interest, friend, which you pay the world for the great capital which the gods confided to you. Believe me, the artist Chodowiecki would have but a morsel to eat if the mechanic Chodowiecki did not serve him a tempting meal, paying the bill. Do not be vexed about it; man must have a trade to support him, as art is never remunerated. [Footnote: Goethe's words-See G. H. Lewes's "Goethe's Life and Writings," vol. 1., p. 459.] I hope the mechanic will be well paid, that the artist may create beautiful and rare works for us. This is my farewell visit to-day, friend. If you will hear a welcome from me very soon, come to Weimar, and see how one honors the artists there, and how well appreciated Chodowiecki is."

Goethe embraced and kissed the artist, who regarded him, his face radiant with joy, and would not be prevented from accompanying him to the house door, as if he were a prince or a king. "Now to Madame Karschin," said Goethe to himself, as he hastened through the streets in that direction. "The good woman has welcomed me with so many pretty verses that I must make my acknowledgments, in spite of my decision to keep the Berlin authors at a distance."

From Wilhelm Street, where Chodowiecki lived, to the tilt-yard, was not far, and Goethe soon reached the old, antiquated house where the poetess lived. After many questionings and inquiries at the lower stories and more splendid apartments of the house, he found the abode of the poetess, and climbed up the steep stairs to the slanting attic-room. The dim light of a small window permitted Goethe to read upon a gray piece of paper, pasted upon the door, 'Anna Louisa Karsch, German poetess.' He knocked modestly at the door at first, then louder, and as the voices within never ceased for a moment their animated conversation, he opened it, and entered the obscure room.

"I will do it, sir," said the little woman sitting in the window-niche near a table to a young man standing near her. "I will do it, though I must tell you album writing is very common. But you must promise me to return here, and let me see what Herr Rammler writes, and tell me what he says about me. These are my conditions."

"Frau Karschin, I promise you, upon the word of honor of a German youth, who can never lower himself to break his word."

"Very well! then I will write."

There was perfect silence. The youth watched the little, dry hand which

guided the pen, with a devotional mien, and Goethe with eager curiosity,

who, unobserved, stood like a suppliant at the door of the obscure

little room, the shabby furniture of which betrayed the narrow

circumstances of the German poetess. It harmonized with the occupant,

a little, bony, meagre figure, wearing a tight-fitting blue-flowered

chintz dress. Upon the gray hair, which, parted in the middle, encircled

the low forehead, was a cap, which had lost its whiteness and was,

therefore, more in harmony with the ruff about her yellow, thin neck.

Her sharp, angular features were redeemed by large, dark eyes, flashing

with marvellous brilliancy from under the thick, gray eyebrows, and

with quick, penetrating glances she sometimes turned them to the ceiling

thoughtfully as she wrote. "There, sir, is my poem," said she, laying

down the pen. "Listen:

'Govern your will;

If it hinders duty,

It fetters virtue;

Then envy beguiles

Into fault-finding.'"

"Oh, how beautiful, cried the young man, enraptured. "I thank you a thousand times for those glorious words, and they shall henceforth be the guiding star of my existence."

"Go to Professor Rammler, and: then return and show me what he writes, for I am convinced-. Oh, Heavens! there is a stranger," she cried, as she discovered Goethe, who had remained standing by the door.

"Yes, a stranger," said Goethe, smiling, and approaching, as the happy possessor of the album withdrew-"a stranger would not leave Berlin without visiting the German poetess."

"And without verses in your album; is it not so? I have become the fashion, and if I could only live by immortalizing myself in your albums, I should be free from care. Now I have divined it-you wish an autograph?"

"No! only a good word, and a friendly shake of the hand, for I possess a poem and a letter which the good Frau Karschin sent me at Weimar some six months since, written by herself."

"Is it Goethe?" she cried, clasping her hands in astonishment. "The poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the renowned author of the work which-"

"Cost you many tears," broke in Goethe, laughing. "I beg you spare me these phrases, which follow me upon my journey as the Furies Orestes. I know that 'Werther' has become the favorite of the reading public; he has opened all the tear-ducts and made all lovers of moonlight as soft as a swaddling-cloth. I could punish myself for having written 'Werther.'"

Frau Karschin laughed aloud. "That is glorious! You please me! You are a famous poet and a genius, for only geniuses can revise and ridicule themselves. Welcome, Germany's greatest poet, welcome to the attic of the poetess! There is the good word which you would have, and here is the hand. Did you think it worth while to visit poor Karschin? I am rejoiced at it, for I see that they accused you unjustly of arrogance and pride!"

"Do they accuse m

e of it?" asked Goethe, smiling. "Can the Berlin poets and authors never forgive me that I live at a court, and am honored with the favor of a prince?"

"They would willingly forgive you if they had the power to push you one side, and take your place. They are angry with you, because they envy you and are not accustomed to be esteemed. Our prince and ruler, as great a hero and king as he otherwise is, cares little for German poetry, and for all he would care, the Berlin authors might starve, one and all; he would trouble himself no more about them than the flies dancing in the sunlight."

"The great king is still the same, then? He will never know anything of German literature?"

"No! he declares that it is the language of barbarians and bear-catchers; scolds about us, and despises us, and yet knows as little of us as the man in the moon. He adores his Voltaire. Old Fritz knows the French poet by heart, but Lessing he knows nothing of. He abuses 'Goetz von Berlichingen,' and 'Werther's Sorrows.'"

"Oh! I know it all-I know the king's adjutant-general, von Siedlitz. I often dine with him, and read aloud my poems to him, when he relates to me what the king says to enrage me. You must know when I am angry I speak in verse. I accustomed myself to it during my unhappy marriage with the tailor Karsch. When he scolded, I answered in verse, and tried to turn my thoughts to other things, and to make the most difficult rhymes. As he was always scolding and quarrelling, I always spoke in rhyme."

"And in this way you led a very poetical marriage?" smiled Goethe.

"Yes, indeed, poetical," she said, and her large brilliant eyes were dimmed. "If it is true that tears are the baptism of poets, then I was baptized daily for twelve years, and ought to be an extraordinary poetess."

"That you are, indeed," said Goethe, "who would dispute it? You have given evidence of great poetical talent, and I read your heroic poem upon the Great Frederick with real delight."

"Do you know what he did?" she asked, bitterly. "I turned to him, begging for assistance; for who should a poet turn to, but his God and his king? Moreover, he had promised it to me personally."

"You have spoken with him, then, yourself?" asked Goethe.

"Yes, eight years ago; General von Siedlitz procured me an audience. The king was very gracious, and among other things, asked me about my life; and as I explained to him my poverty and want, he most kindly promised to help me." [Footnote: This interview which Frau Karschin had with the king is found in "Anecdotes and Traits of Character of Frederick the Great." vol. ii., p. 72.]

"And did he not fulfil his promise?"

"No, had it been given to the least of the French writers he would have kept it, but to a German poet it was not worth while. What is a native poet to the great German king? A phantom that he knows not, and believes not. As great as he is, the king showed himself very small to me. I sang him as a poetess and he bestowed a pittance upon me as one would to a beggar in tatters by the wayside."

"Is it really true, upon your supplication-"

"Sent me two thalers! Yes, that is indeed true, and I see by your smile that you know it, and know also that I returned it to him. I had rather die with hunger than take a beggar's penny. But let me relate to you what happened two weeks since. I had borne patiently the affair of the two thalers, and forgotten it. I am more comfortable now; the booksellers pay me for my songs and poems very well, and a number of patrons and friends, at whose head is the Prince of Prussia, give me a small pension, from which I can at least live-though poorly. One of my patrons sent me a strip of land on the Spree not far from the Hercules Bridge, where I would gladly build me a little house, at last to have a sure abiding-place where I could retire-that would be a refuge against all the troubles and sorrows of life. As I thought it over, the old confidence and imperishable love for the great king rose again within me, and as I esteemed him I always hoped for the fulfilment of his promise. I applied to him again, and begged him to do for me what he had granted to so many cobblers and tailors, as the king gives building-money to help those who will build. All the houses of the Gensdarmen-markt are built by royal aid, and sometimes the king designs the facades, as he did for the butcher Kuhn's great house; and sent him a design to ornament the frieze of ninety-nine, sheeps' heads, only ninety-nine, for he said the butcher himself was the one hundredth. The butcher remonstrated, but he was obliged to keep them, if he would have the building-money."

"Really," cried Goethe, laughing, "the king is an ingenious and extraordinary man in every thing, and no one is like him."

"No one is like him, and no one would have treated me as he did. I addressed to him a poem, begging him with true inspiration and emotion to let a German poetess find favor in his sight-and that he would be for me a Maecenas, if I were not a Horace. My heart bled with sorrow, that I must so beg and pray, and my tears wet the paper upon which I indited my begging, rhyming petition. How much money do you think the great king sent me for my house? Think of the smallest sum."

"If it was small, yet for building-money he would send you at least two hundred thalers."

The poetess burst into a scornful laugh. "He sent me three thalers! The great Frederick sent me three thalers to build a house!"

"What did you do? Did you take them?"

"Yes," she answered, proudly, "and I will leave them as a legacy to my daughter, as an historical souvenir for succeeding generations, who will relate the benevolence of the German king for the German poetess. I sent the king a receipt-I will read it to you.

"'His majesty commanded, Instead of building-money, To send me three thalers. The order was exactly, Promptly fulfilled. I am indebted for thanks, But for three thalers can No joiner in Berlin My coffin make. Otherwise to-morrow I would order Such a house without horror Where worms feast, And, feasting, quarrel Over the lean, care-worn Old woman's remains That the king let sigh away.'" [Footnote: See "Life and Poems of Louisa Karschin," edited by her daughter.]

"Why do you not laugh?" said Frau Karschin, raising her flashing eyes to Goethe, who sat looking down earnestly and quietly before her.

"I cannot," he gently answered. "Your poem makes me sad; it recalls the keen sorrow of a poet's existence, the oft-repeated struggle between Ideality and Reality. The blessed of the gods must humble themselves; though they may raise their heads to heaven, their feet must still rest upon earth; and to find their way upon it, and walk humbly therein, they must again lower their inspired heads."

"Oh, that makes me feel better," cried Karschin, with tears in her eyes; "that is balsam for my wounds. You are a great poet, Goethe, I feel it to be so. You are a great man, for your heart is good and filled with pity. How unjustly they call you cold and proud! Only be a little more yielding, and call upon the Berlin poets and writers. You can imagine that the news of your arrival ran like wild-fire through the town. Nicolai, Rammler, Engel, Mendelssohn, and all the other distinguished gentlemen have stayed at home like badgers in their kennels, watching for you, so as not to miss your visit. At last they became desperate, and scolded furiously over your arrogance and pride in thinking yourself better than they. Why have you not called upon them?"

There was a loud knocking at the door, and the young man with his album entered, almost breathless. "Here I am," said he, "I came directly from Professor Rammler here, as I promised you."

"You saw him, then? Has he written something for you?"

"Yes, I saw him, and he granted my request."

"And abused me, did he not, with his nose turned up? You must know, Goethe, that Professor Rammler despises my poems, because I am not so learned in Greek and Roman mythology as he is. Now tell me, my young friend, what did he say about me?"

"I promised you, upon my word of honor, to tell you every thing, but I hope you will release me from the promise." sighed the young man.

"No, that I will not. Much more, upon the strength of your word of honor, I desire it. You promised, word for word, to relate it to me."

"If it must be, then, let it be. I went at once to Professor Rammler's. He asked me immediately if I had not been here."

"Just as I asked you," laughed Karschin.

"I affirmed it, saying that you showed me his house. Upon which he asked, 'Did she say any thing against me? She is accustomed to do it before strangers, like all old women.' He then turned over my album, and as he saw the lines you wrote he reddened, and striking the book-'I see it, she knew she had said something about me. She tells every stranger that I think she is censorious. What she has written is aimed at me.' Upon that he wrote some lines opposite yours, shut the book, and handed it to me. I have not even had the time to read them."

"Read them now, quickly."

"'He who slanders and listens to slander, let him be punished. She may be hung by the tongue, and he by the ears.'" [Footnote: This scene took place literally, and may be found in "Celebrated German Authors," vol. II., p. 340.]

"That is shameful-that is mean!" said Frau Karschin, while Goethe re-read the cutting epigram. "That is just like Rammler; his tongue is like a two-edged sword for every one but himself, and he fans his own glories, and does not know that he is a fool. Frederick the Great himself called him so. One of his generals called his attention to him, upon which Frederick turned his horse, riding directly up to him, asking, 'Is this the distinguished Rammler?' 'Yes, your majesty, I am he,' the little professor proudly bowed. 'You are a fool!' called out Frederick, very loud, and rode away, as all around the 'Great Rammler' laughed and sneered. There are many such stories. Shall I tell you how Lessing teased him?"

"No, dear woman, tell me nothing more. I perceive your Berlin writers and poets are a malicious, contentious set of people. I may well fear you, and shall be glad to escape unharmed. Think kindly of me, and have pity upon me; if the others are too severe, raise your dear hand and hold back the scourge that it may not fall upon poor Wolfgang Goethe. Adieu, dear Frau Karschin."

Goethe bowed, and hastened down into the street. "With the authors and poets of Berlin I wish nothing more to do, but with the philosophers I may be more fortunate, and with them find the wisdom and forbearance which fail the poets."

Goethe bent his steps to Spandauer Street, in which the merchant and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn lived; hastened up the stairs, and knocked, which was answered by an old servant, to whom Goethe announced himself. The servant disappeared, and the poet stood in the little, narrow corridor, smilingly looking to the study-door, and waiting for the "gates of wisdom" to open and let the worldling enter the temple of philosophy.

The crooked little man, the great philosopher, Moses, son of Mendelssohn, stood behind the door, turning over in his mind whether he would receive Goethe or not. "Why should I? The proud secretary of legation has already been in Berlin eight days, and wishes to prove to me that he cares little for Berlin philosophers. My noble friend, the great Lessing, cannot abide 'Gotz von Berlichingen;' and Nicolai, Rammler, and Engel are the bitter opponents, the very antipodes of the rare genius and secretary of legation from Weimar. If he wishes to see me, why did he come so late, so-"

"Herr Goethe is waiting-shall he enter?" asked the servant.

The philosopher raised his head. "No," cried he, loudly. "No! tell him you were mistaken. I am not at home."

The old servant looked quite frightened at his master-the first time he had heard an untruth from him. "What shall I say, sir?"

"Say no," cried Moses, very excited and ill-humored. "Say that I am not at home-that I am out."

With a determined, defiant manner the philosopher seated himself to work upon his new book, "Jerusalem," saying to himself, "I am right to send him away; he waited too long, is too late." [Footnote: From Ludwig Tieck I learned this anecdote, and he assured me that Moses Mendelssohn told it to him.-See "Goethe in Berlin, Leaves of Memory," p. 6.-The Authoress.]

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