J.W. von Goethe (17491832). Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
WHEN Wilhelm saluted his mother, next morning, she informed him that his father was very greatly discontented with him, and meant to forbid him these daily visits to the playhouse. Though I myself often go with pleasure to the theatre, she continued, I could almost detest it entirely, when I think that our fireside peace is broken by your excessive passion for that amusement. Your father is ever repeating: What is the use of it? How can any one waste his time so?
He has already told me this, said Wilhelm; and perhaps I answered him too hastily; but, for Heavens sake, mother, is nothing then of use but what immediately puts money in our purse; but what procures us some property that we can lay our hands on? Had we not, for instance, room enough in the old house; and was it indispensable to build a new one? Does not my father every year expend a large part of his profit in ornamenting his chambers? Are not these silk carpets, this English furniture, likewise of no use?
Might we not content ourselves with worse? For my own part, I confess, these striped walls, these hundred times repeated flowers, and knots, and baskets, and figures, produce a really disagreeable effect upon me. At best, they but remind me of the front curtain of our theatre. But what a different thing it is to sit and look at that! There, if you must wait for a while, you are always sure that it will rise at last, and disclose to you a thousand curious objects, to entertain, to instruct and to exalt you.
But you go to excess with it, said the mother; your father wishes to be entertained in the evenings as well as you; besides, he thinks it dissipates your attention; and when he grows ill-humoured on the subject, it is I that must bear the blame. How often have I been upbraided with that miserable puppet-show, which I was unlucky enough to provide for you at Christmas, twelve years ago! It was the first thing that put these plays into your head.
O, do not blame the poor puppets; do not repent of your love and motherly care! It was the only happy hour I had enjoyed in the new empty house. I never can forget that hour; I see it still before me; I recollect how surprised I was when, after we had got our customary presents, you made us seat ourselves before the door that leads to the other room. The door opened; but not as formerly, to let us pass and repass; the entrance was occupied by an unexpected show. Within it rose a porch, concealed by a mysterious curtain. All of us were standing at a distance; our eagerness to see what glittering or jingling article lay hid behind the half-transparent veil was mounting higher and higher, when you bade us each sit down upon his stool and wait with patience.
At length all of us were seated and silent: a whistle gave the signal; the curtain rolled aloft, and showed us the interior of the Temple, painted in deep red colours. The high-priest Samuel appeared with Jonathan, and their strange alternating voices seemed to me the most striking thing on earth. Shortly after entered Saul, overwhelmed with confusion at the impertinence of that heavy-limbed warrior, who had defied him and all his people. But how glad was I when the little dapper son of Jesse, with his crook and shepherds pouch and sling, came hopping forth and said: Dread king and sovereign lord! let no ones heart sink down because of this; if your Majesty will grant me leave, I will go out to battle with this blustering giant. Here ended the first act; leaving the spectators more curious than ever to see what farther would happen, each praying that the music might soon be done. At last the curtain rose again. David devoted the flesh of the monster to the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field; the Philistine scorned and bullied him, stamped mightily with both his feet, and at length fell like a mass of clay, affording a splendid termination to the piece. And then the virgins sang: Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands! The giants head was borne before his little victor, who received the Kings beautiful daughter to wife. Yet withal, I remember, I was vexed at the dwarfish statue of this lucky prince; for the great Goliath and the small David had both been formed, according to the common notion, with a due regard to their figures and proportions. I pray you, mother, tell me what has now become of those puppets? I promised to show them to a friend, whom I was lately entertaining with a history of all this childs work.
I can easily conceive, said the mother, how these things should stick so firmly in your mind: I well remember what an interest you took in them; how you stole the little book from me, and learned the whole piece by heart. I first noticed it one evening when you had made a Goliath and a David of wax; you set them both to declaim against each other, and at length gave a deadly stab to the giant, fixing his shapeless head, stuck upon a large pin with a wax handle, in little Davids hand. I then felt such a motherly contentment at your fine recitation and good memory, that I resolved to give you up the whole wooden troop to your own disposal. I did not then foresee that it would cause me so many heavy hours.
Do not repent of it, said Wilhelm; this little sport has often made us happy. So saying, he got the keys; made haste to find the puppets; and, for a moment, was transported back into those times when they almost seemed to him alive, when he felt as if he himself could give them life by the cunning of his voice and the movements of his hands. He took them to his room, and locked them up with care.