Fiction > Harvard Classics > J. W. von Goethe > Egmont
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832).  Egmont.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act II
Scene I
Square in Brussels

  Carpenter.  Did I not tell you beforehand? Eight days ago, at the guild, I said there would be serious disturbances?  2
  Jetter.  Is it, then, true that they have plundered the churches in Flanders?  3
  Carpenter.  They have utterly destroyed both churches and chapels. They have left nothing standing but the four bare walls. The lowest rabble! And this it is that damages our good cause. We ought rather to have laid our claims before the Regent, formally and decidedly, and then have stood by them. If we speak now, if we assemble now, it will be said that we are joining the insurgents.  4
  Jetter.  Ay, so every one thinks at first. Why should you thrust your nose into the mess? The neck is closely connected with it.  5
  Carpenter.  I am always uneasy when tumults arise among the mob—among people who have nothing to lose. They use as a pretext that to which we also must appeal, and plunge the country in misery.  6
  Soest.  Good day, sirs! What news? Is it true that the image-breakers are coming straight in this direction?  8
  Carpenter.  Here they shall touch nothing, at any rate.  9
  Soest.  A soldier came into my shop just now to buy tobacco; I questioned him about the matter. The Regent, though so brave and prudent a lady, has for once lost her presence of mind. Things must be bad indeed when she thus takes refuge behind her guards. The castle is strongly garrisoned. It is even rumoured that she means to fly from the town.  10
  Carpenter.  Forth she shall not go! Her presence protects us, and we will ensure her safety better than her mustachioed gentry. If she only maintains our rights and privileges, we will stand faithfully by her.  11
  Soapboiler.  An ugly business this! a bad business! Troubles are beginning; all things are going wrong! Mind you keep quiet, or they’ll take you also for rioters.  13
  Soest.  Here come the seven wise men of Greece.  14
  Soapboiler.  I know there are many who in secret hold with the Calvinists, abuse the bishops, and care not for the king. But a loyal subject, a sincere Catholic!— (By degrees others join the speakers, and listen.)  15
  Vansen.  God save you, sirs! What news?  17
  Carpenter.  Have nothing to do with him, he’s a dangerous fellow.  18
  Jetter.  Is he not secretary to Dr. Wiets?  19
  Carpenter.  He has already had several masters. First he was a clerk, and as one patron after another turned him off, on account of his roguish tricks, he now dabbles in the business of notary and advocate, and is a brandy drinker to boot.  (More people gather round and stand in groups.)  20
  Vansen.  So here you are, putting your heads together. Well, it is worth talking about.  21
  Soest.  I think so too.  22
  Vansen.  Now if only one of you had heart and another head enough for the work, we might break the Spanish fetters at once.  23
  Soest.  Sirs! you must not talk thus. We have taken our oath to the king.  24
  Vansen.  And the king to us. Mark that!  25
  Jetter.  There’s sense in that? Tell us your opinion.  26
  Others.  Hearken to him; he’s a clever fellow. He’s sharp enough.  27
  Vansen.  I had an old master once, who possessed a collection of parchments, among which were charters of ancient constitutions, contracts, and privileges. He set great store, too, by the rarest books. One of these contained our whole constitution; how, at first, we Netherlanders had princes of our own, who governed according to hereditary laws, rights, and usages; how our ancestors paid due honour to their sovereign so long as he governed them equitably; and how they were immediately on their guard the moment he was for overstepping his bounds. The states were down upon him at once; for every province, however small, had its own chamber and representatives.  28
  Carpenter.  Hold your tongue! We knew that long ago! Every honest citizen learns as much about the constitution as he needs.  29
  Jetter.  Let him speak; one may always learn something.  30
  Soest.  He is quite right.  31
  Several Citizens.  Go on! Go on! One does not hear this every day.  32
  Vansen.  You citizens, forsooth! You live only in the present; and as you tamely follow the trade inherited from your fathers, so you let the government do with you just as it pleases. You make no inquiry into the origin, the history, or the rights of a Regent; and in consequence of this negligence, the Spaniard has drawn the net over your ears.  33
  Soest.  Who cares for that, if one has only daily bread?  34
  Jetter.  The devil! Why did not some one come forward and tell us this in time?  35
  Vansen.  I tell it you now. The King of Spain, whose good fortune it is to bear sway over these provinces, has no right to govern them otherwise than the petty princes who formerly possessed them separately. Do you understand that?  36
  Jetter.  Explain it to us.  37
  Vansen.  Why, it is as clear as the sun. Must you not be governed according to your provincial laws? How comes that?  38
  A Citizen.  Certainly!  39
  Vansen.  Has not the burgher of Brussels a different law from the burgher of Antwerp? The burgher of Antwerp from the burgher of Ghent? How comes that?  40
  Another Citizen.  By heavens!  41
  Vansen.  But if you let matters run on thus, they will soon tell you a different story. Fie on you! Philip, through a woman, now ventures to do what neither Charles the Bold, Frederick the Warrior, nor Charles the Fifth could accomplish.  42
  Soest.  Yes, yes! The old princes tried it also.  43
  Vansen.  Ay! But our ancestors kept a sharp look-out. If they thought themselves aggrieved by their sovereign they, would perhaps get his son and heir into their hands, detain him as a hostage, and surrender him only on the most favourable conditions. Our fathers were men! They knew their own interests! They knew how to lay hold on what they wanted, and to get it established! They were men of the right sort! and hence it is that our privileges are so clearly defined, our liberties so well secured.  44
  Soest.  What are you saying about our liberties?  45
  All.  Our liberties! our privileges! Tell us about our privileges.  46
  Vansen.  All the provinces have their peculiar advantages, but we of Brabant are the most splendidly provided for. I have read it all.  47
  Soest.  Say on.  48
  Jetter.  Let us hear.  49
  A Citizen.  Pray do.  50
  Vansen.  First, if stands written:—The Duke of Brabant shall be to us a good and faithful sovereign.  51
  Soest.  Good! Stands it so?  52
  Jetter.  Faithful? Is that true?  53
  Vansen.  As I tell you. He is bound to us as we are to him. Secondly: In the exercise of his authority he shall neither exert arbitrary power, nor exhibit caprice, himself, nor shall he, either directly or indirectly, sanction them in others.  54
  Jetter.  Bravo! Bravo! Not exert arbitrary power.  55
  Soest.  Nor exhibit caprice.  56
  Another.  And not sanction them in others! That is the main point. Not sanction them, either directly or indirectly.  57
  Vansen.  In express words.  58
  Jetter.  Get us the book.  59
  A Citizen.  Yes, we must see it.  60
  Others.  The book! The book!  61
  Another.  We will to the Regent with the book.  62
  Another.  Sir doctor, you shall be spokesman.  63
  Soapboiler.  Oh, the dolts!  64
  Others.  Something more out of the book!  65
  Soapboiler.  I’ll knock his teeth down his throat if he says another word.  66
  People.  We’ll see who dares to lay hands upon him. Tell us about our privileges! Have we any more privileges?  67
  Vansen.  Many, very good and very wholesome ones too. Thus it stands: The sovereign shall neither benefit the clergy, nor increase their number, without the consent of the nobles and of the states. Mark that! Nor shall he alter the constitution of the country.  68
  Soest.  Stands it so?  69
  Vansen.  I’ll show it you, as it was written down two or three centuries ago.  70
  A Citizen.  And we tolerate the new bishops? The nobles must protect us, we will make a row else!  71
  Others.  And we suffer ourselves to be intimidated by the Inquisition?  72
  Vansen.  It is your own fault.  73
  People.  We have Egmont! We have Orange! They will protect our interests.  74
  Vansen.  Your brothers in Flanders are beginning the good work.  75
  Soapboiler.  Dog!  (Strikes him.)  76
  Others oppose the SOAPBOILER, and exclaim,  Are you also a Spaniard?  77
  Another.  What! This honourable man?  78
  Another.  This learned man?  (They attack the SOAPBOILER.)  79
  Carpenter.  For heaven’s sake, peace!  (Others mingle in the fray.)  80
  Carpenter.  Citizens, what means this?  (Boys whistle, throw stones, set on dogs; citizens stand and gape, people come running up, others walk quietly to and fro, others play all sorts of pranks, shout and huzza.)  81
  Others.  Freedom and privilege! Privilege and freedom!  82
Enter EGMONT, with followers
  Egmont.  Peace! Peace! good people. What is the matter? Peace, I say! Separate them.  84
  Carpenter.  My good lord, you come like an angel from heaven. Hush! See you nothing? Count Egmont! Honour to Count Egmont!  85
  Egmont.  Here, too! What are you about? Burgher against burgher! Does not even the neighbourhood of our royal mistress oppose a barrier to this frenzy? Disperse yourselves, and go about your business. ’Tis a bad sign when you thus keep holiday on working days. How did the disturbance begin?  (The tumult gradually subsides, and the people gather around EGMONT.)  86
  Carpenter.  They are fighting about their privileges.  87
  Egmont.  Which they will forfeit through their own folly—and who are you? You seem honest people.  88
  Carpenter.  ’Tis our wish to be so.  89
  Egmont.  Your calling?  90
  Carpenter.  A carpenter, and master of the guild.  91
  Egmont.  And you?  92
  Soest.  A shopkeeper.  93
  Egmont.  And you?  94
  Jetter.  A tailor.  95
  Egmont.  I remember, you were employed upon the liveries of my people. Your name is Jetter.  96
  Jetter.  To think of your grace remembering it!  97
  Egmont.  I do not easily forget any one whom I have seen or conversed with. Do what you can, good people, to keep the peace; you stand in bad repute enough already. Provoke not the king still farther. The power, after all, is in his hands. An honest burgher, who maintains himself industriously, has everywhere as much freedom as he wants.  98
  Carpenter.  That now is just our misfortune! With all due deferences, your grace, ’tis the idle portion of the community, your drunkards and vagabonds, who quarrel for want of something to do, and clamour about privilege because they are hungry; they impose upon the curious and the credulous, and, in order to obtain a pot of beer, excite disturbances that will bring misery upon thousands. That is just what they want. We keep our houses and chests too well guarded; they would fain drive us away from them with fire-brands.  99
  Egmont.  You shall have all needful assistance; measures have been taken to stem the evil by force. Make a firm stand against the new doctrines, and do not imagine that privileges are secured by sedition. Remain at home; suffer no crowds to assemble in the streets. Sensible people can accomplish much.  (In the meantime the crowd has for the most part dispersed.)  100
  Carpenter.  Thanks, your excellency—thanks for your good opinion! We will do what in us lies. (Exit EGMONT.) A gracious lord! A true Netherlandeu! Nothing of the Spaniard about him.  101
  Jetter.  If we had only him for a regent? ’Tis a pleasure to follow him.  102
  Soest.  The king won’t hear of that. He takes care to appoint his own people to the place.  103
  Jetter.  Did you notice his dress? It was of the newest fashion—after the Spanish cut.  104
  Carpenter.  A handsome gentleman.  105
  Jetter.  His head now were a dainty morsel for a headsman.  106
  Soest.  Are you mad? What are you thinking about?  107
  Jetter.  It is stupid enough that such an idea should come into one’s head! But so it is. Whenever I see a fine long neck, I cannot help thinking how well it would suit the block. These cursed executions! One cannot get them out of one’s head. When the lads are swimming, and I chance to see a naked back, I think forthwith of the dozens I have seen beaten with rods. If I meet a portly gentleman, I fancy I already see him roasting at the stake. At night, in my dreams, I am tortured in every limb; one cannot have a single hour’s enjoyment; all merriment and fun have long been forgotten. These terrible images seem burnt in upon my brain.  108


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