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   Chapter 22 THE READING.

Old Fritz and the New Era By L. Muhlbach Characters: 11600

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


This happy smile still beamed upon Goethe's face as he walked with the duke late in the evening toward Belvedere to soiree of the Duchess Amelia, who was inspired with a love for the fine arts, and particularly literature. The two gentlemen had busily occupied themselves in preparing them for the lady of honor, Fraulein von Gochhausen, and, although aided by Goethe's servant, Philip, and workmen, it was late when they arrived.

As they entered, the ladies and gentlemen were seated in a large circle around the centre-table. At one end sat the Duchesses Amelia and Louisa, the mother and wife of Charles Augustus and near the former her friend and favorite the poet Wieland, once the tutor of her son the duke. Near the poet sat an elderly gentleman of cheerful, good-natured mien, who, with the exception of Wieland, was the only one who did not present himself, like the duke and Goethe, in Werther costume. He wore a white, silver-embroidered coat, with a dark-blue satin vest, and breeches of the same, shoes with buckles, and bosom and wrist ruffles of lace.

This gentleman, with the bright, sparkling eyes, and pleasant face, was the poet Gleim, who looked very comfortable and stately in the circle of powdered perukes. His admiration for Frederick the Great had inspired him to write some beautiful military songs, and his love of poetry and literature made him an enthusiastic admirer of all those devoted themselves to literary pursuits. Besides, he was rich and liberal, and it was very natural that the poets, and authors exerted themselves with marked assiduity to please Father Gleim. They were gratified to have him print their works for a small remuneration in an annual which he entitled the "Almanach of the Muses." He was just reading aloud at the duchess's soiree from the late edition of the almanach, and the society listened with earnest and kind attention, occasionally interrupted with an enthusiastic "Bravo!" or "Excellent!" from the duchess, followed by a murmur of assent around the table, which caused the poet's face to brighten with joy and satisfaction, and him to read on with increased energy.

The entrance of the duke and Goethe was unobserved, as it was understood that the former wished no notice to be taken of his going or coming, and the duchess had also waved her hand, not to interrupt Father Gleim. The poet has just finished the new poem of melodious rhythm of imprisoned Shubart. As he paused to wipe the perspiration from his brow and sip a little raspberry water, a tall, slender young man, in the Werther costume, approached, bowing, and regarding the poet so kindly, that the glance of his fine black eyes fell like a sunbeam on the heart of the old man. "You appear somewhat fatigued, my good sir," said the unknown, in a sweet, sonorous voice. "Will you not permit me to relieve you, and read in your stead from this glorious book of yours?"

"Do so, my dear Gleim," said the Duchess Amelia, smiling, "you seem really exhausted; let the young man continue the agreeable and welcome entertainment."

Father Gleim was very well pleased; he handed the book to the young stranger with a graceful bow, as the latter seated himself opposite to him, and next to Fraulein Gochhausen.

He commenced in a clear, distinct voice. The verses flowed from his lips gracefully, and in a cultivated style. The company listened with devoted attention, and Father Gleim, the protector of all the young poets, sat delighted, nodding consent, with a pleasant smile. It must all be charming-it had come into existence under his fostering care. What beautiful verses to listen to! "Die Zephyre lauschen, Die Balche rauschen, Die Sonus Verbreitet ihr Licht mit Wonne!"

And how charmingly the young man read them! Suddenly Father Gleim startled, and the smile died upon his lips. What was it? What was the young man reading? Verse which were not in the collection, and which were more remarkable than he had ever heard from his young poets. "Those are not in the Annual," cried Gleim, quite forgetting decorum,-"that-"

One glance from the fine black eyes of the young man so confounded Father Gleim, that he ceased in the midst of a sentence, and, staring in breathless astonishment, listened. Glorious thoughts were expressed therein, and the poets of the Muse Almanach might have thanked God if the like had occurred to them. Love was not the burden of the song; neither hearts, griefs, nor bliss, but satire, lashing right and left with graceful dexterity, and dealing a harmless thrust to every one. All were forced to laugh; the happy faces animated and inspired every thing. The brilliant satirical verses rushed like rockets from the lips of the reader-a real illumination of wit and humor, of good-natured jokes and biting sarcasm, and it delighted the old man that every one had received hits and thrusts but himself; he had been spared until now! Every one regarded him, smiling and amused, as the reader exalted the merits of the Maecenas, and praised him highly for the interest he took in the poet's heart, soul, and purse, and shouted victory when one excelled. But suddenly the good father also changed, and, instead of the patron on the right throne, there was a turkey-cock on the round nest, which zealously sought to hatch out the many eggs that he had to take care of for others besides his own; he sat brooding untiringly, and shed many a tear of joy over the fine number of eggs, yet it happened that a poetical viper had put but under him one of chalk, which he cared for with the others.

Herr Gleim could no longer contain himself, and, striking the table, he cried, "That is either Goethe or the devil!" The entire company burst into uncontrollable laughter, and the old man shouted the second time, though inwardly angry

, "It is either Goethe or the devil!"

"Both, dear Father Gleim," said Wieland, who was drying his tears from laughter, "it is Goethe, and he has the devil in him to-day. He is like a wild colt, which kicks out behind and before, and it would be well not to approach him too near." [Footnote: Wieland's own words.-See Lewes' "Life of Goethe," vol. i., p. 432.]

Goethe alone retained his composure, and continued reading in a louder voice, which hushed all conversation. He lashed with bitter sarcasm "him who assumed to be a god-a wise man-and who counted for nothing better than a pretentious, saucy fellow, who made himself the scorn of the poets by his sweet, Werther-like sighs, and other worthless lamentations, heeding neither God nor the devil!"

And so he stormed and thundered, ridiculed and slandered his own flesh and blood, until Goechhausen, red with anger, rose and snatched the book from his hand, and closed his lips with her hand, crying: "If you do not cease, Goethe, I will write to your beloved mother, Frau Aja, that a satirist, a calumniator has had the impudence to defame and slur her beloved son in a most sinful and shameful manner! I will write to her, indeed, if you do not stop!"

Goethe rose, and bowing offered his hand to Father Gleim in such a friendly, affectionate manner, that the old man, quite delighted, thanked him heartily for the pleasure and surprise which he had afforded him.

The duke, however, seated himself by the little lady of honor. "Thusnelda, you are an incomparable creature, and quite calculated to be the ancestress of all the Germans. I declare myself your cavalier for the evening, and will devote myself to you as your most humble servant, and will not quit your side for a moment."

"Very beautiful it will be, my dear duke, a most charming idyl; in true Watteau style, I will be the sweet shepherdess, and lead your highness by a little ribbon. But where is my present-my surprise?"

"You must not be impatient, Thusnelda, but wait what time will produce. You will have it; if not to-day, to-morrow. Every day brings its own care and sorrow."

"Ah, duke, instead of giving me my surprise, you beat me with doggerels. That comes from having a Goethe for companion and friend. Crazy tricks, like chicken-pox, are contagious, and the latter you have caught, duke. It is a new kind of genius distemper. Very fortunately, our dear Countess Werther has another malady, or she might be infected. Perhaps she has it already, Count Werther-how is it?'

"I do not know, Fraulein," replied the count, startled from reverie. "I really do not know! My wife is quite ill, for that reason has gone to our estate to recover her peace and quiet. It is unfortunately quite impossible for me to visit her there; but my dear, faithful friend, Baron von Einsiedel, will drive over to-morrow at my request, my commission-"

"To set the fox to keep the geese," interrupted Thusnelda in her lively manner.

"No, not that, Fraulein," said Count Werther, quite confused, as the duke burst into a merry laugh, calling Thusnelda a witty Kobold, and as her faithful Celadon offered her his arm to conduct her to his mother, the Duchess Amelia.

The company were all in a very happy frame of mind. Goethe's charming impromptu had kindled wit and humor upon every lip. He himself was the happiest of all, for Charlotte was by his side, gazing upon him with her large, thoughtful eyes, and permitting him to be her cavalier for the evening.

The duke also devoted himself to Fraulein von Goechhausen, who was this evening unsurpassably witty and caustic, delighting him, and making the Duchess Amelia laugh, and the Duchess Louisa sometimes to slightly shrug her shoulders and shake her head with disapproval.

In the midst of a most interesting conversation with Frau von Stein, Goethe was informed that some one awaited him in the anteroom. He went out quickly, and upon returning he whispered to the duke, who nodded, and answered him in a low tone, and then Goethe betook himself to the Duchess Amelia.

"What is it?" the latter asked. "Have important dispatches arrived?"

"No; I come to your highness as courier from your son. The duke begs that you will lock the door of your anteroom when you retire, and that you will upon no condition open it, no matter how much Thusnelda may beg and implore."

"Will you not injure my poor Goechhausen, you wanton fellow?"

"No! it is not very dangerous, duchess. It is only a harmless surprise, which the duke promised Fraulein von Goechhausen."

"Very well, then, it can take place; I promise to be quite deaf to all Thusnelda's knocking and thumping, and I shall be glad to be informed to-morrow what the trick is. I prefer not to inquire to-day, as I might feel obliged to veto it if it were too severe. But look, the Duchess Louisa will break up; does she know any thing about the affair?"

"No, your highness, you know very well that the young duchess-"

"Is much more sensible than the old one, and shakes her head disapprovingly when she hears of your ingenuous tricks. Perhaps it would be well if I were equally sensible, but there is no help for it. I like bright, happy people, and I think when youth vents itself, old age is more sedate and reasonable."

"You are quite right, duchess. Mankind resembles new wine. If the must does not ferment and foam well, no good wine will come of it. But look at our Charles, with the saucy jest upon his lip, and the fire of inspiration in those bright brown eyes. One day a fine, strong wine will clear itself from this glorious fermenting must."

"I hope so, Goethe, and if the gods grant it, the great merit will belong to you, who have proved yourself a good vintager, and we will rejoice together in your glorious success."

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