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   Chapter 21 IN WEIMAR.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 24140

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


"There lies dear Weimar, encircled in its wreath of green. Do you not see it, Wolf? I will refresh my heart with its view; so halt, postilion, halt," cried the duke. "It is more beautiful to me than stately, proud Berlin. Though a poor, gray nest, I could press it to my heart, with all its untidy little houses, and tedious old pedants. Let us walk down the hill, Wolf."

"Most willingly," cried Goethe, stretching forth his arms to the little town, nestled in the peaceful valley, "be welcome, you lovely paradise, with your angels and serpents; we press on toward you with all our heart and soul, as to the seven-sealed book, filled with mysteries, and we would draw glorious revelations from your hidden contents."

"And grant, ye gods, that the inspired one may at last break the seal which a cruel friend has placed upon her lips, that he may not drink the kiss of love glowing beneath," said the duke, smiling. "Do you not see the gray roof yonder, with its background of tall trees, that-"

"The house where dwells my beloved, my dearest friend, my sister, and the mistress of my heart," interrupted Goethe. "She is all this, for she is my all in all. The fountains of bliss and love which here and there I have drawn from, refreshing my heart and occupying my mind, flow toward her, united in one broad, silvery stream, with heaven and earth mirrored therein, and revealing wonderful secrets in its rushing waves."

"Ah, Wolf!" cried the duke, "you are a happy, enviable creature, free and unfettered, sending your love where it pleases you. My dear Wolf, I advise you never to marry, for-"

Goethe hastily closed the duke's mouth with his hand. "Hush! not a word against the noble Duchess Louisa, my master and friend. She is an example of refined, womanly dignity; and you, Charles, are to be envied the love of so estimable a wife and sweet mother for your children."

"Indeed I am," cried the duke, enthusiastically. "I could not have found a more high-minded, lovely wife, or a more excellent, virtuous mother for my descendants. But you know, Wolf, that your Charles has still another heart, very susceptible and tender, which seeks for an affinity to call its own, and vent itself in the pleasures of youth, in glorious flirtations, melancholy signs, and blissful longings. You cannot expect me at twenty-two to play the grandfather, and have no eyes or heart for other captivating women, though I love my young wife most affectionately, and bless Fate that I am bound with silken cords to Hymen's cart-though I am forever bound, and you, Wolf, are happily free!"

"Because grim Fate refuses to unite me to my beloved. Oh, Charlotte, if you were free, how blessed would I be, enchained by you! Not to 'Hymen's cart,' as the fortunate mocker says, but to the chariot of Venus, drawn by doves, enthroned upon which you would bear me to heaven!"

"Do not blaspheme, Wolf," cried the duke; "rather kneel and thank the gods that you are not fettered and your wings clipped. They wish to preserve to you love's delusion, because you are a favorite, and deny you the object adored. Beware of the institution which the French actress, Sophie Arnould, has so wittily called the 'consecration of adultery.' You will agree with me that we have many such little sacraments in our dear Weimar, and I must laugh when I reflect for what purpose those amiable beauties have married, as not one of them love their husbands, but they all possess a friend besides."

"The human heart is a strange thing," said Goethe, as they descended the hill, arm in arm, "and above all a woman's heart! It is a sacred riddle, which God has given Himself to solve, and that only a God could unravel!"

At this instant a flash of lightning, followed by heavy-rolling thunder, was heard.

"Hear, Wolf-only hear!" laughed Charles-"God in heaven responds, and confirms your statement."

"Or punishes me for my bold speech," cried Goethe, as the hailstones rattled around him hitting his face with their sharp points. "Heaven is whipping me with rods."

"And our carriage has descended with a quick trot into the valley," said the duke. "I will call it." He sprang into the middle of the road, making a speaking-trumpet of his hands, and shouted in a full, powerful voice, "Oho, postilion! here, postilion!"

The continued rolling of the thunder, the whistling wind, and rattling hail, made all attempts inaudible. The two gentlemen sought shelter under the thick crowns of the oak-trees by the wayside, which formed an impenetrable roof to the flood of rain.

"I know nothing more sublime than a thunder-storm," said Goethe, looking up as if inspired; "when the thunder rolls in such awful majesty and wrath, it seems as if I heard Prometheus in angry dispute with the gods. In the dark clouds I see the Titan, enveloped in mist, overspreading the heavens, and raising his giant-arm to hurl his mighty wrath." At this instant a flash of lightning, followed by a deafening peal reverberated in one prolonged echo through the hills.

"Do you not hear him, Charles?" cried Goethe, delighted-"hear all the voices of earth united in the grumbling thunder of his wrath? See, there he stands, yonder in heaven-his form dark as midnight. I hear it-he calls-Overshadow the heavens, O Jupiter, With thy vaporous clouds! Cut off the oak and mountain-tops As a boy plucks the thistle. Leave me earth and my cabin Which thou hast not built, And my hearth-side, The glow of which thou enviest me! I know naught so miserable As you gods-you-"

Again the mighty peal silenced Goethe, who looked to heaven with defiance flashing from his eyes and his clinched hand upraised, as if he were Prometheus himself menacing the gods.

"Proceed, Wolf," cried the duke, as the echo died away. "How can you, yourself a god, be so excited with the anger of like beings? Proceed!"

The uplifted arm of the poet sank at his side, and the fiery glance was softened. "No human word is capable of expressing what Prometheus just spoke in thunder," said Goethe, musingly, "and I humbly feel how weak and insignificant we are, and how great we think ourselves, while our voice is like the humming beetle in comparison to this voice from the clouds."

"Be not desponding, Wolf, your own will ring throughout Europe; every ear will listen and every heart will comprehend, and centuries later it will delight with its freshness and beauty. The storm passes and dies away, but the poet lives in his heavenly melodies through all time. You must finish 'Prometheus' for me, Wolf. I cannot permit you to leave it as a fragment. I will have it in black and white, to refresh myself in its beauty bright. A spark of your divine talent is infused into my soul, and I begin to rhyme. Ah, Wolf, all that is elevated within me I owe to you, and I bless Fate for according you to me."

"And I also, dear Charles," said Goethe, feelingly. "For, fostered and protected by your noble mind and nature, my inmost thoughts develop and blossom. We give and receive daily from each other, and so mingle the roots of our being that, God willing, we will become two beautiful trees, like the oak which now arches over us. But see, the rain is fast ceasing, and the sun looks out by the clinched hand of Prometheus. We can now travel on to the loved spot."

"Oh, Wolf, are you in love? None but a lover could say the rain has ceased, when it pours down so that we should be drenched before we could arrive at Weimar. But hark! I hear a carriage in the distance; we may be favored with a shelter."

The duke stepped out from under the trees, and looked along the highway with his sharp hunter's eye. "A vehicle approaches, but no chance for us, as it appears to be a farm-wagon, crowded with men and women."

"Indeed it does," said Goethe, joining him; "a very merry company they are too, singing gayly. Now, grant the rain rain has ceased-"

"Charlotte von Stein is at Weimar," interrupted the duke. "Give me your arm, and we will walk on."

They advanced briskly arm in arm. A stranger meeting them would have supposed that they were brothers, so much alike were they in form, manners, and dress, for the duke as well as Goethe wore the Werther costume.

As they descended, the carriage came nearer and nearer. The duke's keen eye had not been deceived. It was a farm-wagon, filled with a frolicsome party, sitting on bags of straw for cushions. They were chatting and laughing absorbed in fun, and did not observe the two foot-passengers, who turned aside from them. A sudden cry of surprise hushed the conversation; a form rose, half man and half woman, enveloped in a man's coat of green baize, crowned with a neat little hat of a woman. "Oh, it is Charles!" cried the form, and at the same instant the duke sprang to the wagon. "Is it possible, my dear mother?"

"The Duchess Amelia!" cried Goethe, astonished.

"Yes," laughed the duchess, greeting them with an affectionate look. "The proverb proves itself-'Like mother, like son.' On the highway mother and son have met. You should have done the honors in a stately equipage."

"May I be permitted to ask where you come from?" asked the duke. "And the dress, of what order do you wear?"

"We walked to Ziefurt, and intended to walk back. Thusnelda is so delicate and weak, that she complained of her fairy feet paining her," answered the duchess, laughing.

"Ah, duchess, must I always be the butt?" cried the lady behind the duchess, crouching between the straw-sacks. "Must I permit you to follow in my footsteps, while I-"

"Hush, Goechhausen-hush, sweet Philomel," interrupted the duke, "or the Delphic riddle of this costume will be apparent."

"It is easily explained," said the duchess. "No other conveyance was to be had, and my good Wieland gave me his green overcoat to protect me from the pouring rain." [Footnote: True anecdote.-See Lewes' "Goethe's Life and Writings," vol. 1., p. 406.]

"And from to-day forth it will be a precious palladium," cried the little man with a mild, happy face on the straw by the duchess.

"And there is Knebel too," shouted the duke to the gentleman who just then pulled the wet hood of his cloak over his powdered hair.

"Our treasurer Bertuch, Count Werther, and Baron von Einsiedel also."

"Does not your highness ask after our bewitching countess?" asked Goechhausen, in her fine, sharp voice. "The countess is quite ill-is she not, Count Werther?"

"I believe so, they say so," answered the count, rather absent-minded. "I have not seen her for some days."

"What is the matter?" asked the duke, as Goethe was engaged in a lively conversation with the duchess. "Is the dear countess dangerously ill?"

"Oh, no," answered Goechhausen, "not very ill, only in love with genius, a malady which has attacked us all more or less since that mad fellow Wolfgang Goethe has raged in Weimar, and made it a place of torment to honorable people. Oh, Goethe-oh, Wolf! with what lamb-like innocence we wandered in comfortable sheep's clothing until you came and fleeced us, and infected us with your 'Sturm und Dranger' malady, and made us fall in love with your works!"

"Goechhausen, hold your malicious tongue, and do not hide your own joy beneath jest and mockery," cried the duchess. "Acknowledge that you are rejoiced to see your favorite, and that you will hasten to write to Madam Aja, 'Our dear duke has returned, and my angel, my idol, Wolfgang, also.' I assure you, Goethe, Thusnelda loves you, and was exceedingly melancholy during your absence. If asked the cause of her sadness, she wept like-"

"Like a crocodile," said the duke. "Oh, I know those tears of Fraulein Goechhausen; I could relate stories of her crocodile nature. Mother, how can you have such a monster in your society? Why not make the cornes, that the little devils may fly away?"

"Very good," cried the little, crooked lady. "I see your highness has not changed by this journey. Where have you been, dear duke? Oh, I remember; you flew over the Rhine, and have flown home again quite unch

anged."

All laughed, the duke louder than any one. "Goechhausen, you are a glorious creature, and the Arminius is to be envied who appropriates this Thusnelda. Oh, I see the charming youth before me, who has the courage to make this German wife his own!"

"I will scratch his eyes out?" cried Goechhausen, "and then the Countess Werther can play Antigone, and lead him around as Oedipus. Why shut your eyes, Einsiedel? I do not scratch quite yet."

"I was not thinking of that," said the baron, astonished.

"You never think that every one knows; but did you not do it so soon as you understood the Countess Werther should lead blind Oedipus as Antigone?"

Before the count could answer, the court lady turned again to the duke. "What did your highness bring me? I hope you have not forgotten that you promised me a handsome present."

"No, I have not forgotten it; I have brought my Thusnelda a souvenir-such a gift!"

"What is it, your highness?"

"A surprise which, if Thusnelda is clever, she must think about all night.-But, Goethe, is it not time to leave the ladies?"

"Wait, I command you both," said the Duchess Amelia, extending her hand to her son, who pressed it to his lips most affectionately. "I have given out invitations for a soiree, for this evening. My daughter-in-law, the Duchess Louisa, has accepted, duke, and Frau von Stein also, Goethe. I hope to see you at Belvedere, gentlemen. The poet Gleim is in town, and will read his late 'Muse Almanach.' May I not expect both of you?"

They joyfully consented, gazing after the merry society as it drove away. "This is a good bite for the poisonous tongues of the honorable," cried the duke. "My mother in a farm-wagon, with Wieland's green overcoat on, and the reigning duke, with his Goethe, entering his capital on foot like a journeyman mechanic, after a long journey!"

"I wish we were there, my dearest friend," sighed Goethe.

"Oh, love makes you impatient! Come on, then. But listen, we must play Gochhausen a trick; I have promised her a surprise. Will you help me, Wolf?"

"With pleasure, duke."

"I have thought of something very droll, and your servant Philip must help us; he is a clever fellow, and can keep his own counsel."

"He is silent as the grave, duke."

"That is necessary for such a gentleman as the women all run after. Let us skip down the mountain, and then forward where our hearts incline us. This afternoon I will go for you and bring you to Belvedere, and then we can talk over the surprise." They ran down the declivity into the suburb, to the terror of the good people, who looked after them, saying that the young duke had returned with his mad protege. The "mad favorite" seemed more crazy than ever to-day, for after a brief farewell to the duke, he bounded through the streets across the English park, to the loved house, the roof of which he had so longingly greeted from the hillside. The door stood open, as is customary in small towns, and the servant in the vestibule came to meet him, and respectfully announced that her master had gone to his estate at Hochberg, but that Frau von Stein was most probably in the pavilion, in the garden, as she had gone thither with her guitar. "Is she alone?" asked Goethe. The servant answered in the affirmative, and through the court hastened the lover-not through the principal entrance, as he would surprise her, and read in her sweet face whether she thought of him. Softly he opened the little garden gate, and approached the pavilion by a side-alley. Do his feet touch the ground, or float over it? He knew not; he heard music, accompanied by a sweet, melodious voice. It was Charlotte's. Goethe's face beamed with delight and happiness. He gazed at her unseen, not alone with his eyes, but heart and soul went forth to her. She sat sideways to the door; upon a table lay her notes, and the guitar rested upon her arm. She sang, in a rich, sweet voice, Reinhardt's beautiful melody:

"I'd rather fight my way through sorrows Than bear so many joys in life; All this affinity of heart to heart, How strangely it causes us to suffer!"

She ceased, as if overpowered with her own thoughts, the guitar sank upon her lap, and her fingers glided over the chords, so that the tones died away imperceptibly. Her deep-blue eyes gazed pensively in the distance, and the sweet lips repeated softly, "How strangely it causes us to suffer!" Near the garden entrance, through which the odor of sweet flowers and the song of birds was wafted with every gentle zephyr, stood Goethe, looking at the woman whom he had so passionately loved for three years, so absorbingly, that to her were consecrated all his thoughts.

He could contain himself no longer; he rushed forward and threw himself at her feet. "Oh, Charlotte, I love you, only you, and once more I am by your side!"

A shriek! was it a cry of surprise or delight? Who let the guitar fall to the floor, he or she? Who embraced the other in affectionate haste, he or she? Who pressed the lips so lovingly to the other lips, he or she? And who said, "I love you? What bliss to again repose in your affection, I would fain die now. In this moment a whole life has been consecrated, for love has revealed to us our other self."

She sat upon the tabouret, and Goethe still knelt before her, clasping her feet and pressing them to his bosom. His eyes beamed with inexpressible delight as he regarded the face, usually so calm and indifferent-today glowing as sunrise.

"Oh, tell me, Charlotte, have you thought of me? But rather speak to me with your eyes, and may they be more than the cruel lips which refuse to confess. Oh, shade not those loved orbs, which are my stars shining upon me, whithersoever I wander. They are my light, my spring-time, and my love. They will never cease to beam upon me, as light and love never grow old. Let me read eternal youth in those eyes, and the secrets which rest as pearls in the depths of your heart. Only tell me, is the pearl of love to be found there, and is it mine?"

"It would be a misfortune if it were there," she whispered, with a sweet smile. "Pearls are the result of a malady, and my heart would be ill if the pearl of love were found there. No, no, rise, Wolf, dear Wolf, we have given away at the first moment of meeting; let us now be reasonable, and speak in a dignified manner with each other, as it becomes a married woman and her friend."

"Friend?" repeated Goethe, impetuously; "forever must I listen to this hated, hypocritical word, which, like a priest's robe, shall cover the sacred glow in my heart? I have told you, Charlotte, that I am not your friend, and I never shall be. There is not the least spark of this still, calm fire of the earthly moderation in me, by which one could cook his potatoes, or his daily vegetables, but by which one could never prepare food for the gods, or that which could refresh a poet's heart or quicken his soul. No, in me burns the fire which Prometheus stole from the gods, originating in heaven and glowing upon earth. This heavenly and earthly love unites in one flame. Again, I say, Charlotte, banish this hypocritical word 'friendship!' It is only love which I feel for you, let this sentiment enter at every avenue of your heart, and do not feign ignorance of it, sweet hypocrite. Surprise has torn away the mask! The passionate kiss, which still burns upon my lips, was not given by a friend or sister; but overcome by joy, the truth has been acknowledged!"

"Do you wish that the kiss of meeting should be that of parting also?" said Charlotte, sadly, as she raised her blue eyes with a languishing look to the handsome, ardent face of the man who stood before her. "Do you wish to separate forever? I must recall to you our last conversation: 'Only when you are resolved to moderate this impetuous manner, and curb this overflow of feeling, which reason and custom imposes upon us, shall I be able to receive you and enjoy your society.'"

"Yes, with these unmeaning phrases you banished me. Cruel and hard-hearted were you to the last. Oh, Charlotte! you know what I suffered at our last walk, with your reasoning remonstrances and cold-hearted reproaches; they pierced my heart like poisoned arrows. If the duke and duchess had not been walking before us, I should have wept myself weary. My whole being cried within me: 'Oh! cruel and inexorable woman, to beg of me, who so unutterably loves her, to call her friend and sister!' I repeated the words daily during my absence, and sought to clothe your beloved image with meaning. They disfigured you, and the angel whom I adore was no longer recognizable. I cannot call you friend or sister."

"Then I can be nothing to you, dear Wolfgang," sighed Charlotte. "In this hour of meeting we will part, and to avoid a chance encounter even, I will go to my husband at Kochberg, and remain there the whole summer."

Goethe seized her, holding her fast in his strong arms, staring her in the face with a fierce, angry look. "Are you in earnest? Would you really do it?"

"Goethe, I beg you to loosen your hold; you hurt my arms."

"Do you not also hurt me? With your cold indifference do you not pierce my heart with red-hot daggers, and then smile and rejoice at my torture, which is a proof to you of my unbounded love? While you only play with me, and attach me to your triumphal car, to display to the world that you have succeeded in taming the lion, and have changed him into a good-natured domestic animal. Go! you do not deserve that I should love you, cold-hearted, cruel woman!"

He threw her arms from him, with tears in his eyes. Charlotte von Stein regarded him with anger and indifference.

"Farewell, secretary of legation. It seems to please you to insult and offend a poor woman, who has no other protection than her honor and virtue. Farewell! I will not expose myself to such offences; therefore I will retire."

She turned slowly toward the door, but Goethe bounded forward like a tiger, interrupted her path, falling upon his knees, imploring pity and begging for pardon. "Oh, Charlotte, I will be gentle as a child, I will be reserved, I know that I am a sinner! It is warring against one's own heart to seek comfort in offending what is dearest to it in a moment of ill-humor. But I have again become a child, with all my thoughts, scarcely recognizable for the moment, quite lost to myself, as I consent to the conditions of others with this fire raging within me. Oh, beloved Charlotte, forgive me! I submit to all that you wish." [Footnote: Goethe's words.-See "Letters to Charlotte von Stein," roll., p. 358.]

"Will you be satisfied to love me as your friend and sister?"

"I will be," he sighed. "Only in the future you must endeavor to persuade yourself into such a sisterly way that you will be indulgent to my rudeness, otherwise I shall have to avoid you when I need you most. Oh, Charlotte, it seems terrible to me that I should mar through anguish the best hours of my life, the blissful moments of meeting with you, for whom I would pluck every hair from my head if it would make you happy. And yet to be so blind, so hardened! Have pity upon me. Again I promise you that I will be reasonable. Do not banish me from your presence. Extend to me your hand, and promise me that you will be my friend and sister!" [Footnote: Goethe's words.-See "Letters to Charlotte von Stein," roll., p. 358.]

"Then here is my hand," said she, with a charming smile.

"I will be your friend and sister, and-"

"What now, my Charlotte? do finish-what is it?"

She laid her hand gently upon his shoulder, and her words fell on his ear like soft music. "When my dear friend and much-beloved brother has conducted himself very prudently for two or three happy weeks, I will send him a ringlet of my hair, which he has so long begged for, and a kiss with it."

Goethe spoke not, but pressed her blushing face to his bosom, and laid his hand gently upon her head. A smile of delight-of perfect happiness-played around his lips.

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