J.W. von Goethe (17491832). Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Confessions of a Fair Saint
TILL my eighth year, I was always a healthy child; but of that period I can recollect no more than of the day when I was born. About the beginning of my eighth year, I was seized with a hemorrhage; and from that moment my soul became all feeling, all memory. The smallest circumstances of that accident are yet before my eyes, as if they had occurred but yesterday.
During the nine months, which I then spent patiently upon a sick-bed, it appears to me, the ground-work of my whole turn of thought was laid; as the first means were then afforded my mind of developing itself in its own manner.
I suffered and I loved; this was the peculiar form of my heart. In the most violent fits of coughing, in the depressing pains of fever, I lay quiet, like a snail drawn back within its house: the moment I obtained a respite, I wanted to enjoy something pleasant; and as every other pleasure was denied me, I endeavoured to amuse myself with the innocent delights of eye and ear. The people brought me dolls and picture-books; and whoever would sit by my bed, was obliged to tell me something.
From my mother I rejoiced to hear the Bible histories: and my father entertained me with natural curiosities. He had a very pretty cabinet; from which he brought me first one drawer and then another, as occasion served; showing me the articles, and pointing out their properties. Dried plants and insects, with many kinds of anatomical preparations, such as human skin, bones, mummies and the like, were in succession laid upon the sick-bed of the little one; the birds and animals he killed in hunting were shown to me, before they passed into the kitchen: and that the Prince of the World might also have a voice in this assembly, my aunt related to me love-adventures out of fairy tales. All was accepted, all took root. There were hours in which I vividly conversed with the Invisible Power. I can still repeat some verses, which I then dictated, and my mother wrote down.
Often I would tell my father back again what I had learned from him. Rarely did I take any physic without asking where the simples it was made of grew, what look they had, what names they bore. Nor had the stories of my aunt lighted on stony ground. I figured myself out in pretty clothes; and met the most delightful princes, who could find no peace or rest, till they discovered who the unknown beauty was. One adventure of this kind, with a charming little angel, dressed in white, with golden wings, who warmly courted me, I dwelt upon so long, that my imagination painted out his form almost to visibility.
After a year, I was pretty well restored to health; but nothing of the giddiness of childhood remained with me. I could not play with dolls; I longed for beings able to return my love. Dogs, cats and birds, of which my father kept a great variety, afforded me delight: but what would I have given for such a creature as my aunt once told me of! It was a lamb, which a peasant girl took up and nourished in a wood; but in the guise of this pretty beast an enchanted prince was hid; who at length appeared in his native shape, a lovely youth, and rewarded his benefactress by his hand. Such a lamb I would have given the world for.
But there was none to be had; and as everything about me went on in such a quite natural manner, I by degrees all but abandoned nearly all hopes of such a treasure. Meanwhile I comforted myself by reading books, in which the strangest incidents were set forth. Among them all, my favourite was the Christian German Hercules: that devout love-history was altogether in my way. Whenever anything befell his dear Valiska, and cruel things befell her, he always prayed before hastening to her aid, and the prayers stood there verbatim. My longing after the Invisible, which I had always dimly felt, was strengthened by such means: for, in short, it was ordained that God should also be my confidant.
As I grew older, I continued reading, Heaven knows what, in chaotic order. The Roman Octavia was the book I liked beyond all others. The persecutions of the first Christians, decorated with the charms of a romance, awoke the deepest interest in me.
But my mother now began to murmur at my constant reading; and to humour her, my father took away my books today, but gave them back tomorrow. She was wise enough to see that nothing could be done in this way; she next insisted merely that my Bible should be read with equal diligence. To this I was not disinclined: and I accordingly perused the sacred volume with a lively interest. Withal my mother was extremely careful that no books of a corruptive tendency should come into my hands: immodest writings I would, of my own accord, have cast away; for my princes and my princesses were all extremely virtuous.
To my mother, and my zeal for knowledge, it was owing that with all my love of books I also learned to cook; for much was to be seen in cookery. To cut up a hen, a pig, was quite a feast for me. I used to bring the entrails to my father, and he talked with me about them, as if I had been a student of anatomy. With suppressed joy, he would often call me his misfashioned son.
My twelfth year was now behind me. I learned French, dancing and drawing; I received the usual instructions in religion. In the latter, many thoughts and feelings were awakened; but nothing properly relating to my own condition. I liked to hear the people speak of God; I was proud that I could speak on these points better than my equals. I zealously read many books which put me in a condition to talk about religion; but it never once struck me to think how matters stood with me, whether my soul was formed according to these holy precepts, whether it was like a glass from which the everlasting sun could be reflected in its glancing. From the first, I had presupposed all this.
My French I learned with eagerness. My teacher was a clever man. He was not a vain empiric, not a dry grammarian: he had learning, he had seen the world. Instructing me in language, he satisfied my zeal for knowledge in a thousand ways. I loved him so much, that I used to wait his coming with a palpitating heart. Drawing was not hard for me: I should have made greater progress had my teacher possessed head and science; he had only hands and practice.
Dancing was, at first, one of my smallest amusements: my body was too sensitive for it; I learned it only in the company of my sisters. But our dancing-master took a thought of gathering all his scholars, male and female, and giving them a ball. This event gave dancing quiet another charm for me.
Amid a throng of boys and girls, the most remarkable were two sons of the Marshal of the Court. The younger was of my age, the other two years older; they were children of such beauty that, according to the universal voice, no one had seen their like. For my part, scarcely had I noticed them, when I lost sight of all the other crowd. From that moment I began to dance with care, and to wish that I could dance with grace. How came it, on the other hand, that these two boys distinguished me from all the rest? No matter; before an hour had passed, we had become the warmest friends; and our little entertainment did not end, till we had fixed upon the time and place where we were next to meet. What a joy for me! And how charmed was I next morning when both of them inquired for my health, each in a gallant note, accompanied with a nosegay! I have never since felt as I then did! Compliment was met by compliment; letter answered letter. The church and the public walks were grown a rendezvous; our young acquaintances, in all their little parties, now invited us together; while, at the same time, we were sly enough to veil the business from our parents, so that they saw no more of it than we thought good.
Thus had I at once got a pair of lovers. I had yet decided upon neither; they both pleased me, and we did extremely well together. All at once, the elder of the two fell very sick. I myself had often been sick; and thus I was enabled, by rendering him many little dainties and delicacies suited for a sick person, to afford some solace to the sufferer. His parents thankfully acknowledged my attention: in compliance with the prayer of their beloved son, they invited me, with all my sisters, to their house, so soon as he had risen from his sick-bed. The tenderness, which he displayed on meeting me, was not the feeling of a child; from that day I gave the preference to him. He warned me to keep our secret from his brother; but the flame could no longer be concealed; and the jealousy of the younger completed our romance. He played us a thousand tricks; eager to annihilate our joys, he but increased the passion he was seeking to destroy.
At last, then, I had actually found the wished-for lamb; and this attachment acted on me like my sickness; it made me calm, and drew me back from noisy pleasures. I was solitary, I was moved; and thoughts of God again occurred to me. He was again my confidant, and I well remember with what tears I often prayed for this poor boy, who still continued sickly.
The more childishness there was in this adventure, the more did it contribute to the forming of my heart. Our French teacher had now turned us from translating, into daily writing him some letter of our own invention. I brought my little history to market, shrouded in the names of Phyllis and Damon. The old man soon saw through it; and to render me communicative, praised my labour very much. I still waxed bolder; came openly out with the affair, adhering even in the minute details to truth. I do not now remember what the passage was at which he took occasion to remark: How pretty, how natural it is! But the good Phyllis had better have a care; the thing may soon grow serious.
It vexed me that he did not look upon the matter as already serious; and I asked him, with an air of pique, what he meant by serious. I had not to repeat the question; he explained himself so clearly, that I could scarcely hide my terror. Yet, as anger came along with it, as I took it ill that he should entertain such thoughts, I kept myself composed; I tried to justify my nymph; and said with glowing cheeks: But, sir, Phyllis is an honourable girl.
He was rogue enough to banter me about my honourable heroine. While we were speaking French, he played upon the word honnête, and hunted the honourableness of Phyllis over all its meanings. I felt the ridicule of this, and was extremely puzzled. He, not to frighten me, broke off; but afterwards often led the conversation to such topics. Plays and little histories, such as I was reading and translating with him, gave him frequent opportunity to show how feeble a security against the calls of inclination our boasted virtue was. I no longer contradicted him; but I was in secret scandalised; and his remarks became a burden to me.
With my worthy Damon, too, I by degrees fell out of all connexion. The chicanery of the younger boy destroyed our intercourse. Soon after, both these blooming creatures died, I lamented sore; however, in a short time I forgot.
But Phyllis rapidly increased in stature; was altogether healthy, and began to see the world. The hereditary Prince now married; and a short time after, on his fathers death, began his rule. Court and town were in the liveliest motion: my curiosity had copious nourishment. There were plays and balls, with all their usual accompaniments; and though my parents kept retired as much as possible, they were obliged to show themselves at court, where I was of course introduced. Strangers were pouring in from every side; high company was in every house; even to us some cavaliers were recommended, others introduced; and at my uncles men of every nation might be met with.
My honest Mentor still continued, in a modest and yet striking way, to warn me; and I in secret to take it ill of him. With regard to his assertion, that women under every circumstance were weak, I did not feel at all convinced; and here perhaps I was in the right, and my Mentor in the wrong; but he spoke so earnestly, that once I grew afraid he might be right, and said to him, with much vivacity: Since the danger is so great, and the human heart so weak, I will pray to God that He may keep me.
This simple answer seemed to please him, for he praised my purpose; but on my side, it was anything but seriously meant. It was, in truth, but an empty word; for my feelings towards the Invisible were almost totally extinguished. The hurry and the crowd I lived in, dissipated my attention, and carried me along as in a rapid stream. These were the emptiest years of my life. All day long, to speak of nothing, to have no solid thought; never to do anything but revel: such was my employment. On my beloved books I never once bestowed a thought. The people I lived among had not the slightest tinge of literature or science: they were German courtiers; a class of men at that time altogether destitute of culture.
Such society, it may be thought, must naturally have led me to the brink of ruin. I lived away in mere corporeal cheerfulness; I never took myself to task, I never prayed, I never thought about myself or God. Yet I look upon it as a providential guidance, that none of these many handsome, rich and well-dressed men could take my fancy. They were rakes, and did not conceal it; this scared me back: they adorned their speech with double meanings; this offended me, made me act with coldness towards them. Many times their improprieties exceeded belief; and I did not restrain myself from being rude.
Besides, my ancient counsellor had once in confidence contrived to tell me, that, with the greater part of these lewd fellows, health as well as virtue was in danger. I now shuddered at the sight of them; I was afraid, if one of them in any way approached too near me. I would not touch their cups or glasses, even the chairs they had been sitting on. Thus morally and physically I remained apart from them; all the compliments they paid me I haughtily accepted, as incense that was due.
Among the strangers then resident among us, was one young man peculiarly distinguished, whom we used in sport to call Narciss. He had gained a reputation in the diplomatic line; and among the various changes now occurring at court, he was in hopes of meeting with some advantageous place. He soon became acquainted with my father: his acquirements and manners opened for him the way to a select society of most accomplished men. My father often spoke in praise of him: his figure, which was very handsome, would have made a still better impression, had it not been for something of self-complacency, which breathed from the whole carriage of the man. I had seen him; I thought well of him; but we had never spoken.
At a great ball, where we chanced to be in company, I danced a minuet with him; but this too passed without results. The more violent dances, in compliance with my father, who felt anxious about my health, I was accustomed to avoid: in the present case, when these came on, I retired to an adjoining room, and began to talk with certain of my friends, elderly ladies, who had set themselves to cards.
Narciss, who had jigged it for a while, at last came into the room where I was; and having got the better of a bleeding at the nose, which had overtaken him in dancing, he began speaking with me about a multitude of things. In half an hour, the talk had grown so interesting, that neither of us could think of dancing any more. We were rallied by our friends; but we did not let their bantering disturb us. Next evening, we recommenced our conversation, and were very careful not to hurt our health.
The acquaintance, then, was made. Narciss was often with my sisters and myself; and I now once more began to reckon over and consider what I knew, what I thought of, what I had felt, and what I could express myself about in conversation. My new friend had mingled in the best society; besides the department of history and politics, with every part of which he was familiar, he had gained extensive literary knowledge; there was nothing new that issued from the press, especially in France, that he was unacquainted with. He brought or sent me many a pleasant book; but this we had to keep as secret as forbidden love. Learned women had been made ridiculous, nor were well-informed women tolerated,apparently, because it would have been uncivil to put so many ill-informed men to shame. Even my father, much as he delighted in this new opportunity of cultivating my mind, expressly stipulated that our literary commerce should remain secret.
Thus our intercourse continued for almost year and day; and still I could not say that, in any wise, Narciss had ever shown me aught of love or tenderness. He was always complaisant and kind; but manifested nothing like attachment: on the contrary, he even seemed to be in some degree affected by the charms of my youngest sister, who was then extremely beautiful. In sport, he gave her many little friendly names, out of foreign tongues; for he could speak two or three of these extremely well, and loved to mix their idiomatic phrases with his German. Such compliments she did not answer very liberally; she was entangled in a different noose; and being very sharp, while he was very sensitive, the two were often quarrelling about trifles. With my mother and my aunt he kept on very pleasant terms; and thus by gradual advances, he was grown to be a member of the family.
Who knows how long we might have lived in this way, had not a curious accident altered our relations all at once. My sisters and I were invited to a certain house, to which we did not like to go. The company was too mixed; and persons of the stupidest, if not the rudest stamp were often to be met there. Narciss, on this occasion, was invited also; and on his account I felt inclined to go, for I was sure of finding one, at least, whom I could converse with as I desired. Even at table, we had many things to suffer; for several of the gentlemen had drunk too much: then, in the drawing-room, they insisted on a game at forfeits. It went on, with great vivacity and tumult. Narciss had lost a forfeit: they ordered him, by way of penalty, to whisper something pleasant in the ear of every member of the company. It seems, he stayed too long beside my next neighbour, the lady of a captain. The latter on a sudden struck him such a box with his fist, that the powder flew about me, into my eyes. When I had got my eyes cleared, and in some degree recovered from my terror, I saw that both gentlemen had drawn their swords. Narciss was bleeding; and the other, mad with wine and rage and jealousy, could scarcely be held back by all the company. I seized Narciss, led him by the arm up-stairs; and as I did not think my friend safe even here from his frantic enemy, I shut the door and bolted it.
Neither of us considered the wound serious; for a slight cut across the hand was all we saw. Soon, however, I discovered that there was a stream of blood running down his back, that there was a deep wound on the head. I now began to be afraid. I hastened to the lobby, to get help; but I could see no person; every one had stayed below to calm the raving captain. At last a daughter of the family came skipping up; her mirth annoyed me; she was like to die with laughing at the bedlam spectacle. I conjured her, for the sake of Heaven, to get a surgeon; and she, in her wild way, sprang down-stairs to fetch me one herself.
Returning to my wounded friend, I bound my handkerchief about his hand; and a neckerchief, that was hanging on the door, about his head. He was still bleeding copiously: he now grew pale, and seemed as if he were about to faint. There was none at hand to aid me: I very freely put my arm round him; patted his cheek, and tried to cheer him by little flatteries. It seemed to act on him like a spiritual remedy; he kept his senses, but sat as pale as death.
At last the active housewife arrived: it is easy to conceive her terror when she saw my friend in this predicament, lying in my arms, and both of us bestreamed with blood. No one had supposed he was wounded; all imagined I had carried him away in safety.
Now smelling-bottles, wine and everything that could support and stimulate were copiously produced. The surgeon also came; and I might easily have been dispensed with. Narciss, however, held me firmly by the hand; I would have stayed without holding. During the dressing of his wounds, I continued wetting his lips with wine; I minded not though all the company were now about us. The surgeon having finished, his patient took a mute but tender leave of me, and was conducted home.
The mistress of the house now led me to her bedroom: she had to strip me altogether; and I must confess, while they washed the blood from me, I saw with pleasure, for the first time, in a mirror, that I might be reckoned beautiful without help of dress. No portion of my clothes could be put on again; and as the people of the house were all either less or larger than myself, I was taken home in a strange disguise. My parents were, of course, astonished. They felt exceedingly indignant at my fright, at the wounds of their friend, at the captains madness, at the whole occurrence. A very little would have made my father send the captain a challenge, that he might avenge his friend without delay. He blamed the gentlemen that had been there, because they had not punished on the spot such a murderous attempt; for it was but too clear, that the captain, instantly on striking, had drawn his sword, and wounded the other from behind. The cut across the hand had been given, just when Narciss himself was grasping at his sword. I felt unspeakably affected, altered; or, how shall I express it? The passion which was sleeping at the deepest bottom of my heart, had at once broken loose, like a flame getting air. And if joy and pleasure are well suited for the first producing and the silent nourishing of love, yet this passion, bold by nature, is most easily impelled by terror to decide and to declare itself. My mother gave her little flurried daughter some medicine, and made her go to bed. With the earliest morrow, my father hastened to Narciss, whom he found lying very sick of a wound-fever.
He told me little of what passed between them; but tried to quiet me about the probable results of this event. They were now considering whether an apology should be accepted, whether the affair should go before a court of justice, and many other points of that description. I knew my father too well to doubt that he would be averse to see the matter end without a duel: but I held my peace; for I had learned from him before, that women should not meddle in such things. For the rest, it did not strike me as if anything had passed between the friends, in which my interests were specially concerned: but my father soon communicated to my mother the purport of their farther conversation. Narciss, he said, appeared to be exceedingly affected at the help afforded by me; had embraced him, declared himself my debtor forever; signified that he desired no happiness except what he could share with me, and concluded by entreating that he might presume to ask my hand. All this mamma repeated to me, but subjoined the safe reflection, that as for what was said in the first agitation of mind in such a case, there was little trust to be placed in it. Of course, none, I answered, with affected coldness; though all the while I was feeling Heaven knows what.
Narciss continued sick for two months; owing to the wound in his right hand, he could not even write. Yet, in the mean time, he showed me his regard by the most obliging courtesies. All these unusual attentions I combined with what my mother had disclosed to me; and constantly my head was full of fancies. The whole city talked of the occurrence. With me they spoke of it in a peculiar tone; they drew inferences which, greatly as I struggled to avoid them, touched me very close. What had formerly been habitude and trifling, was now grown seriousness and inclination. The anxiety in which I lived was the more violent, the more carefully I studied to conceal it from every one. The idea of losing him frightened me; the possibility of any closer union made me tremble. For a half-prudent girl there is really something awful in the thought of marriage.
By such incessant agitations, I was once more led to recollect myself. The gaudy imagery of a thoughtless life, which used to hover day and night before my eyes, was at once blown away. My soul again began to awaken: but the greatly interrupted intimacy with my Invisible Friend was not so easy to renew. We still continued at a frigid distance: it was again something; but little to the times of old.
A duel had been fought, and the captain severely wounded, before I ever heard of it. The public feeling was, in all senses, strong on the side of my lover, who at length again appeared upon the scene. But first of all, he came, with his head tied up and his arm in a sling, to visit us. How my heart beat while he was there! The whole family was present; general thanks and compliments were all that passed on either side; Narciss, however, found an opportunity to show some secret tokens of his love to me, by which means my inquietude was but increased. After his recovery, he visited us throughout the winter on the former footing; and in spite of all the soft private marks of tenderness which he contrived to give me, the whole affair remained unsettled, undiscussed.
In this manner was I kept in constant practice. I could trust my thoughts to no mortal; and from God I was too far removed. Him I had quite forgotten, those four wild years: I now again began to think of him occasionally; but our acquaintance had grown cool; they were visits of mere ceremony these; and as, moreover, in waiting on him, I used to dress in fine apparel, to set before him self-complacently my virtue, honour and superiorities to others, he did not seem to notice me, or know me in that finery.
A courtier would have been exceedingly distressed, if the prince who held his fortune in his hands had treated him in this way; but for me, I did not sorrow at it. I had what I required, health and conveniences; if God should please to think of me, well; if not, I reckoned I had done my duty.
The spring came on: Narciss once visited me, unannounced, and at a time when I happened to be quite alone. He now appeared in the character of lover; and asked me if I could bestow on him my heart, and so soon as he should obtain some lucrative and honourable place, my hand along with it.
He had been received into our service: but at first they kept him back, and would not rapidly promote him, because they dreaded his ambition. Having some little fortune of his own, he was left with a slender salary.
Notwithstanding my regard for him, I knew that he was not a man to treat with altogether frankly. I drew up, therefore, and referred him to my father. About my father he did not seem to doubt; but wished first to be at one with me, now and here. I at last said, Yes; but stipulated as an indispensable condition that my parents should concur. He then spoke formally with both of them; they signified their satisfaction; mutual promises were given, on the faith of his advancement, which it was expected would be speedy. Sisters and aunts were informed of this arrangement, and the strictest secrecy enjoined on them.
Thus from a lover I had got a bridegroom. The difference between the two soon showed itself to be considerable. If one could change the lovers of all honourable maidens into bridegrooms, it would be a kindness to our sex, even though marriage should not follow the connexion. The love between two persons does not lessen by the change, but it becomes more reasonable. Innumerable little follies, all coquetries and caprices, disappear. If the bridegroom tells us, that we please him better in a morning-cap than in the finest head-dress, no discreet young woman will disturb herself about her hair-dressing; and nothing is more natural than that he too should think solidly, and rather wish to form a housewife for himself, than a gaudy doll for others. And thus it is in every province of the business.
Should a young woman, of this kind, be fortunate enough to have a bridegroom who possesses understanding and acquirements, she learns from him more than universities and foreign lands can teach. She not only willingly receives instruction when he offers it, but she endeavours to elicit more and more from him. Love makes much that was impossible possible. By degrees too, that subjection, so necessary and so graceful for the female sex, begins: the bridegroom does not govern like the husband; he only asks: but his mistress seeks to discover what he wants, and to offer it before he asks it.
Amid these quiet joys, a summer passed away. Narciss gave not the slightest reason to complain of him; he daily became more dear to me; my whole soul was his; this he well knew, and knew also how to prize it. Meanwhile, from seeming trifles, something rose, which by and by grew hurtful to our union.
Narciss behaved to me as to a bride, and never dared to ask of me such favours as were yet forbidden us. But, about the boundaries of virtue and decorum, we were of very different opinions. I meant to walk securely; and so never granted him the smallest freedom which the whole world might not have witnessed. He, used to dainties, thought this diet very strict. On this point there was continual variance: he praised my modesty, and sought to undermine my resolution.
With God I had again become a little more acquainted. He had given me a bridegroom whom I loved; and for this I felt some thankfulness. Earthly love itself concentrated my soul, and put its powers in motion; nor did it contradict my intercourse with God. I naturally complained to him of what alarmed me: but I did not perceive that I myself was wishing and desiring it. In my own eyes I was strong; I did not pray: Lead us not into temptation! My thoughts were far beyond temptation. In this flimsy tinsel-work of virtue I came to God; he did not drive me back. On the smallest movement towards him, he left a soft impression in my soul; and this impression caused me always to return.
Except Narciss, the world was altogether dead to me; excepting him, there was nothing in it that had any charm. Even my love for dress was but the wish to please him; if I knew that he was not to see me, I could spend no care upon it. I liked to dance; but if he was not beside me, it seemed as if I could not bear the motion. At a brilliant festival, if he was not invited, I could neither take the trouble of providing new things, nor of putting on the old according to the mode. To me they were alike agreeable, or rather, I might say, alike burdensome. I used to reckon such an evening very fairly spent, when I could join myself to any ancient card-party, though formerly I had not the smallest taste for such things; and if some old acquaintance came and rallied me about it, I would smile, perhaps for the first time all that night. So likewise it was with promenades, and every social entertainment that can be imagined.
Thus was I often solitary in the midst of company; and real solitude was generally acceptable to me. But my busy soul could neither sleep nor dream; I felt and thought; and acquired, by degrees, some faculty to speak about my feelings and my thoughts with God. Then were feelings of another sort unfolded; but these did not contradict the former feelings: my affection to Narciss accorded with the universal scheme of nature: it nowhere hindered the performance of a duty. They did not contradict each other, yet they were immensely different. Narciss was the only living form which hovered in my mind, and to which my love was all directed; but the other feeling was not directed towards any form, and yet it was unspeakably agreeable. I no longer have it, I no longer can impart it.
My lover, whom I used to trust with all my secrets, did not know of this. I soon discovered that he thought far otherwise: he often gave me writings which opposed, with light and heavy weapons, all that can be called connexion with the Invisible. I used to read the books, because they came from him; but at the end, I knew no word of all that had been argued in them.
Nor, in regard to sciences and knowledge, was there want of contradiction in our conduct. He did as all men do, he mocked at learned women; and yet he kept continually instructing me. He used to speak with me on all subjects, law excepted; and while constantly procuring books of every kind for me, he frequently repeated the uncertain precept, That a lady ought to keep the knowledge she might have more secret than the Calvinist his creed in Catholic countries. And while I, by natural consequence, endeavoured not to show myself more wise or learned than formerly before the world, Narciss himself was commonly the first who yielded to the vanity of speaking about me and my superiorities.
A nobleman of high repute, and at that time valued for his influence, his talents and accomplishments, was living at our Court with great applause. He bestowed especial notice on Narciss, whom he kept continually about him. They once had an argument about the virtue of women. Narciss repeated to me what had passed between them; I was note wanting with my observations; and my friend required of me a written essay on the subject. I could write French fluently enough; I had laid a good foundation with my teacher. My correspondence with Narciss was likewise carried on in French: except in French books, there was then no elegant instruction to be had. My essay pleased the Count; I was obliged to let him have some little songs, which I had lately been composing. In short, Narciss appeared to revel without stint in the renown of his beloved: and the story, to his great contentment, ended with a French epistle in heroic verse, which the Count transmitted to him on departing; in which their argument was mentioned, and my friend reminded of his happiness in being destined, after all his doubts and errors, to learn most certainly what virtue was, in the arms of a virtuous and charming wife.
He showed this poem first of all to me, and then to almost every one; each thinking of the matter what he pleased. Thus did he act in several cases; every stranger, whom he valued, must be made acquainted in our house.
A noble family was staying for a season in the place, to profit by the skill of our physician. In this house too Narciss was looked on as a son: he introduced me there; we found among these worthy persons the most pleasant entertainment for mind and heart. Even the common pastimes of society appeared less empty here than elsewhere. All knew how matters stood with us: they treated us as circumstances would allow, and left the main relation unalluded to. I mention this one family, because in the afterperiod of my life it had a powerful influence on me.
By several unexpected deaths, some offices fell vacant which Narciss might make pretensions to. The instant was at hand, when my whole destiny must be decided; and while Narciss, and all our friends, were making every effort to efface some impressions which obstructed him at Court, and to obtain for him the wished-for situation, I turned with my request to my Invisible Friend. I was received so kindly, that I gladly came again. I confessed, without disguise, my wish that Narciss might obtain the place: but my prayer was not importunate; and I did not require that it should happen for the sake of my petition.
The place was obtained by a far inferior competitor. I was dreadfully troubled at this news; I hastened to my room, the door of which I locked behind me. The first fit of grief went off in a shower of tears; the next thought was, Yet it was not by chance that it happened; and instantly I formed the resolution to be well content with it, seeing even this apparent evil would be for my true advantage. The softest emotions then pressed in upon me, and divided all the clouds of sorrow. I felt that, with help like this, there was nothing one might not endure. At dinner I appeared quite cheerful, to the great astonishment of all the house.
Narciss had less internal force than I, and I was called upon to comfort him. In his family, too, he had many crosses to encounter, some of which afflicted him considerably; and, such true confidence subsisting between us, he intrusted me with all. His negotiations for entering on foreign service were not more fortunate; all this I felt deeply on his account and mine; all this too I ultimately carried to the place where my petitions had already been so well received.
The softer these experiences were, the oftener did I endeavour to renew them; I hoped continually to meet with comfort where I had so often met with it. Yet I did not always meet with it: I was as one that goes to warm him in the sunshine, while there is something standing in the way that makes a shadow. What is this? I asked myself. I traced the matter zealously, and soon perceived that it all depended on the situation of my soul: if this was not turned in the straightest direction towards God, I still continued cold; I did not feel his counter-influence; I could obtain no answer. The second question was: What hinders this direction? Here I was in a wide field; I perplexed myself in an inquiry, which lasted nearly all the second year of my attachment to Narciss. I might have ended the investigation sooner; for it was not long till I had got upon the proper trace; but I would not confess it, and I sought a thousand outlets.
I very soon discovered that the straight direction of my soul was marred by foolish dissipations, and employment with unworthy things. The How and the Where were clear enough to me. Yet by what means could I help myself, or extricate my mind from the calls of a world where everything was either cold indifference or hot insanity? Gladly would I have left things standing as they were, and lived from day to day, floating down with the stream, like other people whom I saw quite happy; but I durst not; my inmost feelings contradicted me too often. Yet if I determined to renounce society, and alter my relations to others, it was not in my power. I was hemmed in as by a ring drawn round me; certain connexions I could not dissolve; and, in the matter which lay nearest to my heart, fatalities accumulated and oppressed me more and more. I often went to bed with tears; and, after a sleepless night, arose again with tears: I required some strong support; and God would not vouchsafe it me, while I was running with the cap and bells.
I proceeded now to estimate my doings, all and each; dancing and play were first put upon their trial. Never was there anything spoken, thought or written for or against these practices, which I did not examine, talk of, read, weigh, reject, aggravate, and plague myself about. If I gave up these habits, I was certain that Narciss would be offended; for he dreaded exceedingly the ridicule which any look of straitlaced conscientiousness gives one in the eyes of the world. And doing what I now looked upon as folly, noxious folly, out of no taste of my own, but merely to gratify him, it all grew wofully irksome to me.
Without disagreeable prolixities and repetitions, it is not in my power to represent what pains I took, in trying so to counteract those occupations which distracted my attention and disturbed my peace of mind, that my heart, in spite of them, might still be open to the influences of the Invisible Being. But at last, with pain, I was compelled to admit, that in this way the quarrel could not be composed. For no sooner had I clothed myself in the garment of folly, than it came to be something more than a mask, than the foolishness pierced and penetrated me through and through.
May I here overstep the province of a mere historical detail, and offer one or two remarks on what was then taking place within me? What could it be which so changed my tastes and feelings, that, in my twenty-second year, nay earlier, I lost all relish for the recreations with which people of that age are harmlessly delighted? Why were they not harmless for me? I may answer, Just because they were not harmless; because I was not, like others of my years, unacquainted with my soul. No! I knew, from experiences which had reached me unsought, that there are loftier emotions, which afford us a contentment such as it is vain to seek in the amusements of the world; and that, in these higher joys, there is also kept a secret treasure for strengthening the spirit in misfortune.
But the pleasures of society, the dissipations of youth, must needs have had a powerful charm for me, since it was not in my power to engage in them without participation, to act among them as if they were not there. How many things could I now do, if I liked, with entire coldness, which then dazzled and confounded me, nay threatened to obtain the mastery over me! Here there could no medium be observed: either those delicious amusements, or my nourishing and quickening internal emotions, must be given up.
But in my soul, the strife had, without my own consciousness, already been decided. Even if there still was anything within me that longed for earthly pleasures, I had now become unfitted for enjoying them. Much as a man might hanker after wine, all desire of drinking would forsake him, if he should be placed among full barrels in a cellar, where the foul air was like to suffocate him. Free air is more than wine: this I felt but too keenly; and from the first, it would have cost me little studying to prefer the good to the delightful, if the fear of losing the affection of Narciss had not restrained me. But at last, when after many thousand struggles, and thoughts continually renewed, I began to cast a steady eye upon the bond which held me to him, I discovered that it was but weak, that it might be torn asunder. I at once perceived it to be only as a glass bell, which shut me up in the exhausted airless space: One bold stroke to break the bell in pieces, and thou art delivered!
No sooner thought than tried. I drew off the mask, and on all occasions acted as my heart directed. Narciss I still cordially loved: but the thermometer, which formerly had stood in hot water, was now hanging in the natural air; it could rise no higher than the warmth of the atmosphere directed.
Unhappily it cooled very much. Narciss drew back, and began to assume a distant air: this was at his option; but my thermometer descended as he drew back. Our family observed this; questioned me, and seemed to be surprised. I explained to them with stout defiance, that heretofore I had made abundant sacrifices; that I was ready, still farther and to the end of my life, to share all crosses that befell him; but that I required full freedom in my conduct, that my doings and avoidings must depend upon my own conviction; that indeed I would never bigotedly cleave to my own opinion, but on the other hand would willingly be reasoned with; yet, as it concerned my own happiness, the decision must proceed from myself, and be liable to no manner of constraint. The greatest physician could not move me by his reasonings to take an article of food, which perhaps was altogether wholesome and agreeable to many, so soon as my experience had shown that on all occasions it was noxious to me; as I might produce coffee for an instance; and just as little, nay still less, would I have any sort of conduct which misled me, preached up and demonstrated upon me as morally profitable.
Having so long prepared myself in silence, these debates were rather pleasant than vexatious to me. I gave vent to my soul; I felt the whole worth of my determination. I yielded not a hairs-breadth; and those to whom I owed no filial respect were sharply handled and dispatched. In the family I soon prevailed. My mother from her youth had entertained these sentiments, though in her they had never reached maturity; for no necessity had pressed upon her, and exalted her courage to achieve her purpose. She rejoiced in beholding her silent wishes fulfilled through me. My younger sisters seemed to join themselves with me; the second was attentive and quiet. Our aunt had the most to object. The arguments which she employed appeared to her irrefragable; and they were irrefragable, being altogether commonplace. At last I was obliged to show her, that she had no voice in the affair in any sense; and after this, she seldom signified that she persisted in her views. She was indeed the only person that observed this transaction close at hand, without in some degree experiencing its influence. I do not calumniate her, when I say that she had no character, and the most limited ideas.
My father had acted altogether in his own way. He spoke not much, but often, with me on the matter: his arguments were rational; and being his arguments, they could not be impugned. It was only the deep feeling of my right that gave me strength to dispute against him. But the scenes soon changed; I was forced to make appeal to his heart. Straightened by his understanding, I came out with the most pathetic pleadings. I gave free course to my tongue and to my tears. I showed him how much I loved Narciss; how much constraint I had for two years been enduring; how certain I was of being in the right; that I was ready to testify that certainty, by the loss of my beloved bridegroom and prospective happiness; nay, if it were necessary, by the loss of all that I possessed on earth; that I would rather leave my native country, my parents and my friends, and beg my bread in foreign lands, than act against these dictates of my conscience. He concealed his emotion; he said nothing on the subject for a while, and at last he openly declared in my favour.
During all this time Narciss forbore to visit us; and my father now gave up the weekly club, where he was used to meet him. The business made a noise at court, and in the town. People talked about it, as is common in such cases, which the public takes a vehement interest in, because its sentence has usurped an influence on the resolutions of weak minds. I knew enough about the world to understand that ones conduct is often censured by the very persons who would have advised it, had one consulted them: and independently of this, with my internal composure, I should have looked on all such transitory speculations just as if they had not been.
On the other hand, I hindered not myself from yielding to my inclination for Narciss. To me he had become invisible, and to him my feelings had not altered. I loved him tenderly; as it were anew, and much more steadfastly than before. If he chose to leave my conscience undisturbed, then I was his: wanting this condition, I would have refused a kingdom with him. For several months, I bore these feelings and these thoughts about with me; and finding, at last, that I was calm and strong enough to go peacefully and firmly to work, I wrote him a polite but not a tender note, inquiring why he never came to see me.
As I knew his manner of avoiding to explain himself, in little matters, but of silently doing what seemed good to him I purposely urged him in the present instance. I got a long and, as it seemed to me, pitiful reply, in vague style and unmeaning phrases, stating, that without a better place, he could not fix himself, and offer me his hand; that I best knew how hard it had fared with him hitherto; that as he was afraid lest a fruitless intercourse, so long continued, might prove hurtful to my reputation, I would give him leave to continue at his present distance; so soon as it was in his power to make me happy, he would look upon the word which he had given me as sacred.
I answered him on the spot, that as our intercourse was known to all the world, it might perhaps be rather late to spare my reputation; for which, at any rate, my conscience and my innocence were the surest pledges: however, that I hereby freely gave him back his word, and hoped the change would prove a happy one for him. The same hour I received a short reply, which was, in all essential particulars, entirely synonymous with the first. He adhered to his former statement, that so soon as he obtained a situation, he would ask me, if I pleased to share his fortune with him.
This I interpreted as meaning simply nothing. I signified to my relations and acquaintances, that the affair was altogether settled; and it was so in fact. Having, nine months afterwards, obtained the much-desired preferment, he offered me his hand; but under the condition, that as the wife of a man who must keep house like other people, I should alter my opinions. I returned him many thanks: and hastened with my heart and mind away from this transaction; as one hastens from the playhouse when the curtain falls. And as he, a short time afterwards, had found a rich and advantageous match, a thing now easy for him; and as I now knew him to be happy in the way he liked, my own tranquillity was quite complete.
I must not pass in silence the fact, that several times before he got a place, and after it, there were respectable proposals made to me; which, however, I declined without the smallest hesitation, much as my father and my mother could have wished for more compliance on my part.
At length, after a stormy March and April, the loveliest May weather seemed to be allotted me. With good health, I enjoyed an indescribable composure of mind: look around me as I pleased, my loss appeared a gain to me. Young and full of sensibility, I thought the universe a thousand times more beautiful than formerly, when I required to have society and play, that in the fair garden tedium might not overtake me. And now, as I did not conceal my piety, I likewise took heart to own my love for the sciences and arts. I drew, painted, read; and found enow of people to support me: instead of the great world, which I had left, or rather which had left me, a smaller one formed itself about me, which was infinitely richer and more entertaining. I had a turn for social life; and I do not deny that, on giving up my old acquaintances, I trembled at the thought of solitude. I now found myself abundantly, perhaps excessively, indemnified. My acquaintances ere long were very numerous; not at home only, but likewise among people at a distance. My story had been noised abroad; and many persons felt a curiosity to see the woman who had valued God above her bridegroom. There was a certain pious tone to be observed, at that time, generally over Germany. In the families of several counts and princes, a care for the welfare of the soul had been awakened. Nor were there wanting noblemen who showed a like attention; while in the inferior classes, sentiments of this kind were diffused on every side.
The noble family, whom I mentioned above, now drew me nearer to them. They had, in the mean while, gathered strength; several of their relations having settled in the town. These estimable persons courted my familiarity, as I did theirs. They had high connexions; I became acquainted, in their house, with a great part of the princes, counts and lords of the Empire. My sentiments were not concealed from any one; they might be honoured or be tolerated; I obtained my object, none attacked me.
There was yet another way, by which I was again led back into the world. About this period, a step-brother of my father, who till now had never visited the house except in passing, stayed with us for a considerable time. He had left the service of his court, where he enjoyed great influence and honour, simply because all matters were not managed quite according to his mind. His intellect was just, his character was rigid. In these points he was very like my father; only the latter had withal a certain touch of softness, which enabled him with greater ease to yield a little in affairs, and though not to do, yet to permit, some things against his own conviction; and then to evaporate his anger at them, either in silence by himself, or in confidence amid his family. My uncle was a great deal younger; and his independence of spirit had been favoured by his outward circumstances. His mother had been very rich; and he still had large possessions to expect from her near and distant relatives; so he needed no foreign increase; whereas my father, with his moderate fortune, was bound to his place by the consideration of his salary.
My uncle had become still more unbending from domestic sufferings. He had early lost an amiable wife and a hopeful son; and from that time he appeared to wish to push away from him everything that did not hang upon his individual will.
In our family it was whispered now and then with some complacency, that probably he would not wed again, and so we children might anticipate inheriting his fortune. I paid small regard to this: but the demeanour of the rest was not a little modified by their hopes. In his own imperturbable firmness of character, my uncle had grown into the habit of never contradicting any one in conversation. On the other hand, he listened with a friendly air to every ones opinion; and would himself elucidate and strengthen it by instances and reasons of his own. All who did not know him fancied that he thought as they did: for he was possessed of a preponderating intellect, and could transport himself into the mental state of any man, and imitate his manner of conceiving. With me he did not prosper quite so well: for here the question was about emotions, of which he had not any glimpse; and with whatever tolerance, and sympathy, and rationality, he spoke about my sentiments, it was palpable to me that he had not the slightest notion of what formed the ground of all my conduct.
With all his secrecy, we by and by found out the aim of his unusual stay with us. He had, as we at length discovered, cast his eyes upon our youngest sister, with the view of giving her in marriage and rendering her happy as he pleased: and certainly, considering her personal and mental attractions, particularly when a handsome fortune was laid into the scale along with them, she might pretend to the first matches. His feelings towards me he likewise showed us pantomimically, by procuring me a post of Canoness, the income of which I very soon began to draw.
My sister was not so contented with his care as I. She now disclosed to me a tender secret, which hitherto she had very wisely kept back; fearing, as in truth it happened, that I would by all means counsel her against connexion with a man who was not suited to her. I did my utmost, and succeeded.
The purpose of my uncle was too serious and too distinct; the prospect for my sister, with her worldly views, was too delightful to be thwarted by a passion which her own understanding disapproved: she mustered force to give it up.
On her ceasing to resist the gentle guidance of my uncle, the foundation of his plan was quickly laid. She was appointed Maid of Honour at a neighbouring court, where he could commit her to the oversight and the instructions of a lady, his friend, who presided there as Governess-in-Chief with great applause. I accompanied her to the place of her new abode. Both of us had reason to be satisfied with the reception we met with: and frequently I could not help, in secret, smiling at the character, which now as Canoness, as young and pious Canoness, I was enacting in the world.
In earlier times, a situation such as this would have confused me dreadfully; perhaps have turned my head: but now, in midst of all the splendours that surrounded me, I felt extremely cool. With great quietness, I let them frizzle me, and deck me out for hours; and thought no more of it than that my place required me to wear that gala livery. In the thronged saloons, I spoke with all and each, though no shape or character among them made any impression on me. On returning to my house, nearly all the feeling I brought back with me was that of tired limbs. Yet my understanding drew advantage from the multitude of persons whom I saw; and I became acquainted with some ladies, patterns of every virtue, of a noble and good demeanour; particularly with the Governess-in-Chief, under whom my sister was to have the happiness of being formed.
At my return, however, the consequences of this journey, in regard to health, were found to be less favourable. With the greatest temperance, the strictest diet, I had not been, as I used to be, completely mistress of my time and strength. Food, motion, rising and going to sleep, dressing and visiting, had not depended, as at home, on my own conveniency and will. In the circle of social life, you cannot stop without a breach of courtesy: all that was needful I had willingly performed; because I looked upon it as my duty, because I knew that it would soon be over, and because I felt myself completely healthy. Yet this unusual restless life must have had more effect upon me than I was aware of. Scarcely had I reached home, and cheered my parents with a comfortable narrative, when I was attacked by a hemorrhage, which, although it did not prove dangerous of lasting, yet left a weakness after it, perceptible for many a day.
Here, then, I had another lesson to repeat. I did it joyfully. Nothing bound me to the world; and I was convinced that here the true good was never to be found: so I waited in the cheerfulest and meekest state; and after having abdicated life, I was retained in it.
A new trial was awaiting me: my mother took a painful and oppressive ailment, which she had to bear five years, before she paid the debt of nature. All this time we were sharply proved. Often, when her terror grew too strong, she would have us all summoned, in the night, to her bed that so at least she might be busied, if not bettered, by our presence. The load grew heavier, nay scarcely to be borne, when my father too became unwell. From his youth, he had frequently had violent headaches; which, however, at longest never used to last beyond six-and-thirty hours. But now they were continual; and when they mounted to a high degree of pain, his moanings tore my very heart. It was in these tempestuous seasons that I chiefly felt my bodily weakness; because it kept me from my holiest and dearest duties or rendered the performance of them hard to an extreme degree.
It was now that I could try whether the path, which I had chosen, was the path of phantasy or truth; whether I had merely thought as others showed me, or the object of my trust had a reality. To my unspeakable support, I always found the latter. The straight direction of my heart to God, the fellowship of the Beloved Ones1 I had sought and found; and this was what made all things light to me. As a traveller in the dark, my soul, when all was pressing on me from without, hastened to the place of refuge, and never did it return empty.
In later times, some champions of religion, who seem to be animated more by zeal than feeling for it, have required of their brethren to produce examples of prayers actually heard; apparently as wishing to have seal and signature, that so they might proceed juridically in the matter. How unknown must the true feeling be to these persons; how few real experiences can they themselves have made!
I can say that I never returned empty, when in straits and oppression I called on God. This is saying infinitely much; more I must not and cannot say. Important as each experience was at the critical moment for myself, the recital of them would be flat, improbable and insignificant, were I to specify the separate cases. Happy was I, that a thousand little incidents in combination proved, as clearly as the drawing of my breath proved me to be living, that I was not without God in the world. He was near to me, I was before him. This is what, with a diligent avoidance of all theological systematic terms, I can with the greatest truth declare.
Much do I wish that, in those times too, I had been entirely without system. But which of us arrives early at the happiness of being conscious of his individual self, in its own pure combination, without extraneous forms? I was in earnest with religion. I timidly trusted in the judgments of others; I entirely gave in to the Halle system of conversion; but my nature would by no means tally with it.
According to this scheme of doctrine, the alteration of the heart must begin with a deep terror on account of sin; the heart in this agony must recognise, in a less or greater degree, the punishment which it has merited, must get a foretaste of Hell, and so embitter the delight of sin. At last it feels a very palpable assurance of grace; which, however, in its progress often fades away, and must again be sought with earnest prayer.
Of all this no jot or tittle happened with me. When I sought God sincerely, he let himself be found of me, and did not reproach me about bygone things. On looking back, I saw well enough where I had been unworthy, where I still was so; but the confession of my faults was altogether without terror. Not for a moment did the fear of Hell occur to me: nay the very notion of a wicked Spirit, and a place of punishment and torment after death, could nowise gain admission into the circle of my thoughts. I considered the men who lived without God, whose hearts were shut against the trust in and the love of the invisible, as already so unhappy that a Hell and external pains appeared to promise rather an alleviation than an increase of their misery. I had but to look upon the persons, in this world, who in their breasts gave scope to hateful feelings; who hardened their hearts against the Good of whatever kind, and strove to force the Evil on themselves and others; who shut their eyes by day, that so they might deny the shining of the sun: How unutterably wretched did these persons seem to me! Who could have formed a Hell to make their situation worse?
This mood of mind continued in me, without change, for half a score of years. It maintained itself through many trials; even at the moving death-bed of my beloved mother. I was frank enough, on this occasion, not to hide my comfortable frame of mind from certain pious but rigorously orthodox people; and I had to suffer many a friendly admonition on that score. They reckoned they were just in season for explaining with what earnestness one should be diligent to lay a right foundation in the days of health and youth.
In earnestness I too determined not to fail. For the moment, I allowed myself to be convinced; and fain would I have grown, for life, distressed and full of fears. But what was my surprise on finding that I absolutely could not! When I thought of God, I was cheerful and contented: even at the painful end of my dear mother, I did not shudder at the thought of death. Yet I learned many and far other things than my uncalled teachers thought of, in these solemn hours.
By degrees, I grew to doubt the dictates of so many famous people, and retained my own sentiments in silence. A certain lady of my friends, to whom I had at first disclosed too much, insisted always on interfering with my business. Of her too I was obliged to rid myself; I at last firmly told her, that she might spare herself this labour, as I did not need her counsel; that I knew my God, and would have no guide but him. She was greatly offended; I believe she never quite forgave me.
Such determination, to withdraw from the advices and the influence of my friends, in spiritual matters, produced the consequence, that also in my temporal affairs I gained sufficient courage to obey my own persuasions. But for the assistance of my faithful invisible Leader, I could not have prospered here. I am still gratefully astonished at his wise and happy guidance. No one knew how matters stood with me; even I myself did not know.
The thing, the wicked and inexplicable thing, which separates us from the Being to whom we owe our life, and in whom all that deserves the name of life must find its nourishment; the thing which we call Sin, I yet knew nothing of.
In my intercourse with my invisible Friend, I felt the sweetest enjoyment of all my powers. My desire of constantly enjoying this felicity was so predominant, that I abandoned without hesitation whatever marred our intercourse; and here experience was my best teacher. But it was with me as with sick persons, who have no medicine, and try to help themselves by diet. Something is accomplished, but far from enough.
I could not always live in solitude; though in it I found the best preservative against the dissipation of my thoughts. On returning to the tumult, the impression it produced upon me was the deeper for my previous loneliness. My most peculiar advantage lay in this, that love for quiet was my ruling passion, and that in the end I still drew back to it. I perceived, as in a kind of twilight, my weakness and my misery; and tried to save myself by avoiding danger and exposure.
For seven years, I had used my dietetic scheme. I held myself not wicked, and I thought my state desirable. But for some peculiar circumstances and occurrences, I had remained in this position: it was by a curious path that I got farther. Contrary to the advice of all my friends, I entered on a new connexion. Their objections, at first, made me pause. I turned to my invisible Leader, and, as he permitted me, I went forward without fear.
A man of spirit, heart and talents had bought a property besides us. Among the strangers whom I grew acquainted with, were this person and his family. In our manners, domestic economy and habits we accorded well; and thus we soon approximated to each other.
Philo, as I propose to call him, was already middle-aged: in certain matters he was highly serviceable to my father, whose strength was now decaying. He soon became the friend of the family; and finding in me, as he was pleased to say, a person free alike from the extravagance and emptiness of the great world, and from the narrowness and aridness of the still world in the country, he courted intimacy with me, and ere long we were in one anothers confidence. To me he was very pleasing and useful.
Though I did not feel the smallest inclination or capacity for mingling in public business, or seeking any influence on it, yet I liked to hear about such matters, liked to know whatever happened far and near. Of worldly things, I loved to get a clear though unconcerned perception: feeling, sympathy, affection, I reserved for God, for my people and my friends.
The latter were, if I may say so, jealous of Philo, in my new connexion with him. In more than one sense, they were right in warning me about it. I suffered much in secret; for even I could not consider their remonstrances as altogether empty or selfish. I had been accustomed, from of old, to give a reason for my views and conduct; but in this case my conviction would not follow. I prayed to God, that here as elsewhere he would warn, restrain and guide me; and as my heart on this did not dissuade me, I went forward on my way with comfort.
Philo, on the whole, had a remote resemblance to Narciss; only a pious education had more enlivened and concentrated his feelings. He had less vanity, more character; and in business, if Narciss was delicate, exact, persevering, indefatigable the other was clear, sharp, quick and capable of working with incredible ease. By means of him, I learned the secret history of almost every noble personage with whose exterior I had got acquainted in society. It was pleasant for me to behold the tumult, off my watch-tower, from afar. Philo could now hide nothing from me; he confided to me, by degrees, his own concerns both inward and outward. I was in fear because of him; for I foresaw certain circumstances and entanglements; and the mischief came more speedily than I had looked for. There were some confessions he had still kept back; and even at last he told me only what enabled me to guess the worst.
What an effect had this upon my heart! I attained experiences which to me were altogether new. With infinite sorrow, I beheld an Agathon, who, educated in the groves of Delphi, still owed his school-fees, which he was now obliged to pay with their accumulated interest; and this Agathon was my especial friend. My sympathy was lively and complete; I suffered with him; both of us were in the strangest state.
After having long occupied myself with the temper of his mind, I at last turned round to contemplate my own. The thought, Thou art no better than he, rose like a little cloud before me, and gradually expanded till it darkened all my soul.
I now not only thought myself no better than he; I felt this, and felt it as I should not wish to do again. Nor was it any transitory mood. For more than a year, I was compelled to feel that, had not an unseen hand restrained me, I might have become a Girard, a Cartouche, a Damiens, or any wretch you can imagine. The tendencies to this I traced too clearly in my heart. Heavens, what a discovery!
If hitherto I had never been able, in the faintest degree, to recognise in myself the reality of sin by experience, its possibility was now become apparent to me by anticipation, in the frightfulest manner. And yet I knew not evil; I but feared it; I felt that I might be guilty, and could not accuse myself of being so.
Deeply as I was convinced that such a temperament of soul, as I now saw mine to be, could never be adapted for that union with the invisible Being, which I hoped for after death; I did not, in the smallest, fear that I should finally be separated from him. With all the wickedness which I discovered in my heart, I still loved Him; I hated what I felt, nay wished to hate it still more earnestly; my whole desire was to be delivered from this sickness, and this tendency to sickness; and I was persuaded that the great Physician would at length vouchsafe his help.
The sole question was: What medicine will cure this malady? The practice of virtue? This I could not for a moment think. For ten years, I had already practised more than mere virtue; and the horrors now first discovered had, all the while, lain hidden at the bottom of my soul. Might they not have broken out with me, as they did with David when he looked on Bathsheba? Yet was not he a friend of God; and was not I assured in my inmost heart that God was my friend?
Was it then an unavoidable infirmity of human nature? Must we just content ourselves in feeling and acknowledging the sovereignty of inclination? And, with the best will, is there nothing left for us but to abhor the fault we have committed, and on the like occasion to commit it again?
From systems of morality I could obtain no comfort. Neither their severity, by which they try to bend our inclinations, nor their attractiveness, by which they try to place our inclinations on the side of virtue, gave me any satisfaction. The fundamental notions, which I had imbibed from intercourse with my invisible Friend, were of far higher value to me.
Once, while I was studying the songs composed by David after that tremendous fall, it struck me very much that he traced his indwelling corruption even in the substance out of which he had been shaped; yet that he wished to be freed from sin, and that he earnestly entreated for a pure heart.
But how was this to be attained? The answer from Scripture I was well aware of: that the blood of Jesus cleanseth us from all sin, was a Bible truth which I had long known. But now for the first time, I observed that as yet I had never understood this oft-repeated saying. The questions: What does it mean? How is it to be? were, day and night, working out their answers in me. At last I thought I saw, as by a gleam of light, that what I sought was to be found in the Incarnation of the everlasting Word, by whom all things, even we ourselves, were made. That the Eternal descended as an inhabitant to the depths in which we dwell, which he surveys and comprehends; that he passed through our lot from stage to stage, from conception and birth to the grave; that by this marvellous circuit he again mounted to those shining Heights, whither we too must rise in order to be happy; all this was revealed to me, as in a dawning remoteness.
Oh! why must we, in speaking of such things, make use of figures, which can only indicate external situations! Where is there in his eyes aught high or deep, aught dark or clear? It is we only that have an Under and Upper, a night and day. And even for this did he become like us, since otherwise we could have had no part in him.
Now, gracious Father, grant me faith; so prayed I once in the deepest heaviness of heart. I was leaning on a little table, where I sat; my tear-stained countenance was hidden in my hands. I was now in the condition in which we seldom are, but in which we are required to be, if God is to regard our prayers.
O, that I could but paint what I felt then! A sudden force drew my soul to the cross where Jesus once expired: it was a sudden force, a pull, I cannot name it otherwise, such as leads our soul to an absent loved one; an approximation, which perhaps is far more real and true than we imagine. So did my soul approach the Son of Man, who died upon the cross; and that instant did I know what faith was.
This is faith! said I; and started up as if half frightened. I now endeavoured to get certain of my feeling, of my view; and shortly I became convinced that my soul had acquired a power of soaring upwards, which was altogether new to it.
Words fail us in describing such emotions. I could most distinctly separate them from all phantasy: they were entirely without phantasy, without image; yet they gave us just such certainty of their referring to some object, as our imagination gives us when it paints the features of an absent lover.
When the first rapture was over, I observed that my present condition of mind had formerly been known to me; only I had never felt it in such strength; I had never held it fast, never made it mine. I believe, indeed, every human soul at intervals feels something of it. Doubtless it is this which teaches every mortal that there is a God.
With such faculty, wont from of old to visit me now and then, I had hitherto been well content; and had not, by a singular arrangement of events, that unexpected sorrow weighed upon me for a twelvemonth; had not my own ability and strength, on that occasion, altogether lost credit with me; I perhaps might have remained content with such a state of matters all my days.
But now, since that great moment, I had as it were got wings. I could mount aloft above what used to threaten me; as the bird can fly singing and with ease across the fiercest stream, while the little dog stands anxiously baying on the bank.
My joy was indescribable; and though I did not mention it to any one, my people soon observed an unaccustomed cheerfulness in me, and could not understand the reason of my joy. Had I but forever held my peace, and tried to nourish this serene temper in my soul! Had I not allowed myself to be misled by circumstances, so as to reveal my secret! I might then have been saved, once more, a long and tedious circuit.
As in the previous ten years of my Christian course, this necessary force had not existed in my soul, I had just been in the case of other worthy people; had helped myself by keeping my fancy always full of images, which had some reference to God; a practice so far truly useful; for noxious images and their baneful consequences are by that means kept away. Often too our spirit seizes one or other of these spiritual images, and mounts with it a little way upwards; like a young bird fluttering from twig to twig.
Images and impressions pointing towards God are presented to us by the institutions of the Church, by organs, bells, singing, and particularly by the preaching of our pastors. Of these I used to be unspeakably desirous: no weather, no bodily weakness could keep me from church; the sound of the Sunday bells was the only thing that rendered me impatient on a sick-bed. Our head Court-chaplain, a gifted man, I heard with great pleasure; his colleagues too I liked; and I could pick the golden apple of the word from the common fruit, with which on earthen platters it was mingled. With public ordinances, all sorts of private exercises were combined; and these too only nourished fancy and a finer kind of sense. I was so accustomed to this track, I reverenced it so much, that even now no higher one occurred to me. For my soul has only feeders, and not eyes; it gropes, but does not see: Ah! that it could get eyes and look!
Now again, therefore, I went with a longing mind to sermon: but alas, what happened! I no longer found what I was wont to find. These preachers were blunting their teeth on the shell, while I enjoyed the kernel. I soon grew weary of them; and I had already been so spoiled, that I could not be content with the little they afforded me. I required images, I wanted impressions from without; and reckoned it a pure spiritual desire that I felt.
Philos parents had been in connexion with the Herrnhuter Community: in his library were many writings of Count Zinzendorfs. He had spoken with me, more than once, very candidly and clearly on the subject; inviting me to turn over one or two of these treatises, if it were but for the sake of studying a psychological phenomenon. I looked upon the Count, and those that followed him, as very heterodox: and so the Ebersdorf Hymn-book, which my friend had pressed upon me, lay unread.
However, in this total destitution of external excitements for my soul, I opened the Hymn-book, as it were by chance; and found in it, to my astonishment, some songs which actually, though under a fantastic form, appeared to shadow what I felt. The originality and simplicity of their expression drew me on. It seemed to be peculiar emotions expressed in a peculiar way; no school technology suggested any notion of formality or commonplace. I was persuaded that these people felt as I did: I was very happy to lay hold of here and there a stanza in their songs, to fix it in my memory, and carry it about with me for days.
Since the moment when the truth had been revealed to me, some three months had in this way passed on. At last I came to the resolution of disclosing everything to Philo, and asking him to let me have those writings, about which I had now become immoderately curious. Accordingly I did so, notwithstanding there was something in my heart which earnestly dissuaded me.
I circumstantially related to him all the story; and, as he was himself a leading person in it, and my narrative conveyed the sharpest reprimand on him, he felt surprised and moved to an extreme degree. He melted into tears. I rejoiced; believing that, in his mind also, a full and fundamental change had taken place.
He provided me with all the writings I could require; and now I had excess of nourishment for my imagination. I made rapid progress in the Zinzendorfic mode of thought and speech. And be it not supposed that I am yet incapable of prizing the peculiar turn and manner of the Count. I willingly do him justice; he is no empty phantast; he speaks of mighty truths, and mostly in a bold figurative style; the people who despise him know not either how to value or discriminate his qualities.
At that time, I became exceedingly attached to him. Had I been mistress of myself, I would certainly have left my friends and country, and gone to join him. We should infallibly have understood each other, and should hardly have agreed together long.
Thanks to my better genius that now kept me so confined by my domestic duties. I reckoned it a distant journey if I visited the garden. The charge of my aged weakly father afforded me employment enough, and in hours of recreation, I had Fancy to procure me pastime. The only mortal whom I saw was Philo; he was highly valued by my father; but with me, his intimacy had been cooled a little by the late explanation. Its influence on him had not penetrated deep; and as some attempts to talk in my dialect had not succeeded with him, he avoided touching on this subject; and the rather, as his extensive knowledge put it always in his power to introduce new topics in his conversation.
I was thus a Herrnhut sister on my own footing. I had especially to hide this new turn of my temper and my inclinations from the head Court-chaplain; whom, as my father confessor, I had much cause to honour; and whose high merits his extreme aversion to the Herrnhut Community did not diminish, in my eyes, even then. Unhappily this worthy person had to suffer many troubles on account of me and others.
Several years ago, he had become acquainted with an upright pious gentleman, residing in a distant quarter; and had long continued in unbroken correspondence with him, as with one who truly sought God. How painful was it with the spiritual leader, when this gentleman subsequently joined himself to the Community of Herrnhut, where he lived for a long while! How delightful, on the other hand, when at length he quarrelled with the Brethren; determined to settle in our neighbourhood; and seemed once more to yield himself completely to the guidance of his ancient friend!
The stranger was Presented, as in triumph, by the upper Pastor to all the chosen lambs of his fold. To our house alone he was not introduced, because my father did not now see company. The gentleman obtained no little approbation; he combined the polish of the court with the winning manner of the Brethren; and having also many fine qualities by nature, he soon became the favourite saint with all who knew him; a result at which the chaplain was exceedingly contented. But, alas! it was merely in externals that the gentleman had split with the Community; in his heart he was yet entirely a Herrnhuter. He was, in truth, concerned for the reality of the matter: but yet the gimcracks which the Count had stuck round it were, at the same time, quite adapted to this taste. Besides, he had now become accustomed to this mode of speaking and conceiving; and if he had to hide it carefully from his old friend, the gladder was he, in any knot of trusty persons, to come forth with his couplets, litanies and little figures; in which, as might have been supposed, he met with great applause.
Once, in a leisure hour, I happened to visit a lady who was sick. I found several acquaintances with her; and soon perceived that my appearance had cut short their conversation. I affected not to notice anything; but saw ere long, with great surprise, some Herrnhut figures stuck upon the wall in elegant frames. Quickly comprehending what had passed before my entrance, I expressed my pleasure at the sight, in a few suitable verses.
I often henceforth sought opportunities of going out. Unhappily I found such only once in the three or four weeks; yet I grew acquainted with our gentleman apostle, and by degrees with all the body. I visited their meetings, when I could: with my social disposition, it was quite delightful for me to communicate to others, and to hear from them, the feelings which, till now, I had conceived and harboured by myself.
But I was not so completely taken with my friends, as not to see that few of them could really feel the sense of those affecting words and emblems; and that from these they drew as little benefit, as formerly they did from the symbolic language of the Church. Yet, notwithstanding, I went on with them, not letting this disturb me. I thought, I was not called to search and try the hearts of others. Had not I too, by long-continued innocent exercisings of that sort, been prepared for something better? I had my share of profit from our meetings: in speaking, I insisted on attending to the sense and spirit, which, in things so delicate, is rather apt to be disguised by words than indicated by them; and for the rest, I left, with silent tolerance, each to act according to his own conviction.
These quiet times of secret social joy were shortly followed by storms of open bickering and contradiction; contentions which excited great commotion, I might almost say occasioned not a little scandal, in court and town. The period was now arrived when our Chaplain, that stout gainsayer of the Herrnhut Brethren, must discover, to his deep, but I trust, sanctified humiliation, that his best and once most zealous hearers were now all leaning to the side of that Community. He was excessively provoked: in the first moments, he forgets all moderation and could not, even if he had inclined it, retract afterwards. Violent debates took place; in which happily I was not mentioned; both as being but an accidental member of those hated meetings; and then because, in respect of certain civic matters, our zealous preacher could not safely disoblige either my father or my friend.
With silent satisfaction, I continued neutral. It was ink some to me to converse about such feelings and objects, even with well-affected people, when they could not penetrate the deepest sense, and lingered merely on the surface. But to strive with adversaries, about things on which even friends could scarcely understand each other, seemed to me unprofitable, nay pernicious. For I soon perceived that many amiable noblemen, who on this occurrence could not shut their hearts to enmity and hatred, had rapidly passed over to injustice; and in order to defend an outward form, had almost sacrificed their most substantial duties.
Far as the worthy clergyman might, in the present case, be wrong; much as others tried to irritate me at him, I could never hesitate to give him my sincere respect. I knew him well: I could candidly transport myself into his way of looking at these matters. I have never seen a man without his weaknesses; only, in distinguished men they strike us more. We wish, and will at all rates have it, that persons privileged as they are should at the same time pay no tribute, no tax whatever. I honoured him as a superior man; and hoped to use the influence of my calm neutrality to bring about, if not a peace, at least a truce. I know not what my efforts might have done: but God concluded the affair more briefly, and took the Chaplain to himself. On his coffin all wept, who had lately been striving with him about words. His uprightness, his fear of God, no one had ever doubted.
I too was, ere long, forced to lay aside this Herrnhut dollwork, which, by means of these contentions, now appeared before me in a rather different light. Our uncle had, in silence, executed his intentions with my sister. He offered her a young man of rank and fortune as a bridegroom; and showed, by a rich dowry, what might be expected of himself. My father joyfully consented; my sister was free and forewarned, she did not hesitate to change her state. The bridal was appointed at my uncles castle: family and friends were all invited; and we came together in the cheerfulest mood.
For the first time in my life, the aspect of a house excited admiration in me. I had often heard of my uncles taste, of his Italian architect, of his collections and his library; but, comparing this with what I had already seen, I had formed a very vague and fluctuating picture of it in my thoughts. Great, accordingly, was my surprise at the earnest and harmonious impression which I felt on entering the house, and which every hall and chamber deepened. If elsewhere pomp and decoration had but dissipated my attention, I felt here concentrated and drawn back upon myself. In like manner, the preparatives for these solemnities and festivals produced a silent pleasure, by their air of dignity and splendour; and to me it seemed as inconceivable that one man could have invented and arranged all this, as that one man could have invented and arranged all this, as that more than one could have worked together in so high a spirit. Yet withal, the landlord and his people were entirely natural; not a trace of stiffness or of empty form was to be seen.
The wedding itself was managed in a striking way: an exquisite strain of vocal music came upon us by surprise; and the clergyman went through the ceremony with a singular solemnity. I was standing by Philo at the time; and instead of a congratulation, he whispered in my ear: When I saw your sister give away her hand, I felt as if a stream of boiling water had been poured over me. Why so? I inquired. It is always the way with me, said he, when I see two people joined. I laughed at him; but I have often since had cause to recollect his words.
The revel of the party, among whom were many young people, looked particularly glittering and airy, as everything around us was dignified and serious. The furniture, plate, table-ware and table-ornaments, accorded with the general whole; and if in other houses you would say the architect was of the school of the confectioner, it here appeared as if even our confectioner and butler had taken lessons from the architect.
We stayed together several days; and our intelligent and gifted landlord had variedly provided for the entertainment of his guests. I did not in the present case repeat the melancholy proof, which has so often in my life been forced upon me, how unhappily a large mixed company are situated, when, altogether left to themselves, they have to select the most general and vapid pastimes, that the fools of the party may not want amusement, however it may fare with those that are not such.
My uncle had arranged it altogether differently. Two or three marshals, if I may call them so, had been appointed by him: one of them had charge of providing entertainment for the young. Dances, excursions, little games, were of his invention, and under his direction: and as young people take delight in being out of doors, and do not fear the influences of the air, the garden and garden-hall had been assigned to them; while some additional pavilions and galleries had been erected and appended to the latter, formed of boards and canvas merely, but in such proportions, so elegant and noble, they reminded one of nothing but stone and marble. How rare is a festivity, in which the person who invites the guests feels also it that is his duty to provide for their conveniences and wants of every kind! Hunting and card parties, short promenades, opportunities for trustful private conversations, were afforded the elder persons: and whoever wished to go earliest to bed was sure to be lodged the farthest from noise.
By this happy order, the space we lived in appeared to be a little world; and yet, considered narrowly, the castle was not large; without an accurate knowledge of it, and without the spirit of its owner, it would have been impossible to entertain so many people here, and quarter each according to his humour.
As the aspect of a well-formed person pleases us, so also does a fair establishment, by means of which the presence of a rational intelligent mind is manifested. We feel a joy in entering even a cleanly house, though it may be tasteless in its structure and its decorations; because it shows us the presence of a person cultivated in at least one sense. Doubly pleasing is it therefore, when from a human dwelling, the spirit of a higher though merely sensual culture speaks to us.
All this was vividly impressed on my observation at my uncles castle. I had heard and read much of art; Philo too was a lover of pictures, and had a fine collection; I myself had often practised drawing: but I had been too deeply occupied with my emotions striving exclusively after the one thing needful, which alone I was bent on carrying to perfection; and then such objects of art as I had hitherto seen, appeared, like all other worldly objects, to distract my thoughts. But now, for the first time, outward things had led me back upon myself: I now first perceived the difference between the natural charm of the nightingales song, and that of a four-voice anthem pealed from the expressive organs of men.
My joy over this discovery I did not hide from my uncle; who, when all the rest were settled at their posts, was wont to come and talk with me in private. He spoke with great modesty of what he possessed and had produced here; with great decision, of the views in which it had been gathered and arranged: and I could easily observe that he spoke with a forbearance towards me; seeming, in his usual way to rate the excellence which he himself possessed, below that other excellence, which, in my way of thinking, was the best and properest.
If we can conceive it possible, he once observed, that the Creator of the world himself assumed the form of his creature, and lived in that manner for a time upon earth, this creature must appear to us of infinite perfection, because susceptible of such a combination with its Maker. Hence, in our idea of man there can be no inconsistency with our idea of God: and if we often feel a certain disagreement with Him and remoteness from Him, it is but the more on that account our duty, not like advocates of the wicked Spirit, to keep our eyes continually upon the nakedness and weakness of our nature; but rather to seek out every property and beauty, by which our pretension to a similarity with the Divinity may be made good.
I smiled and answered: Do not make me blush, dear uncle, by your complaisance in talking in my language! What you have to say is of such importance to me, that I wish to hear it in your own most peculiar style; and then what parts of it I cannot quite appropriate, I will endeavour to translate.
I may continue, he replied, in my own most peculiar way, without any alteration of my tone. Mans highest merit always is, as much as possible to rule external circumstances, and as little as possible to let himself be ruled by them. Life lies before us, as a huge quarry lies before the architect: he deserves not the name of architect, except when, out of this fortuitous mass, he can combine, with the greatest economy, and fitness, and durability, some form, the pattern of which originated in his spirit. All things without us, nay I may add, all things on us, are mere elements: but deep within us lies the creative force, which out of these can produce what they were meant to be; and which leaves us neither sleep nor rest, till in one way or another, without us or on us, that same have been produced. You, my dear niece, have, it may be, chosen the better part: you have striven to bring your moral being, your earnest lovely nature into accordance with itself and with the Highest: but neither ought we to be blamed, when we strive to get acquainted with the sentient man in all his comprehensiveness, and to bring about an active harmony among his powers.
By such discoursing, we in time grew more familiar; and I begged of him to speak with me as with himself, omitting every sort of condescension. Do you think, replied my uncle, that I flatter you, when I commend your mode of thinking and acting. I reverence the individual who understands distinctly what it is he wishes; who unweariedly advances, who knows the means conducive to his object, and can seize and use them. How far his object may be great or little, may merit praise or censure, is the next consideration with me. Believe me, love, most part of all the misery and mischief, of all that is denominated evil, in the world arises from the fact that men are too remiss to get a proper knowledge of their aims, and when they do know them, to work intensely in attaining them. They seem to me like people who have taken up a notion, that they must and will erect a tower, and who yet expend on the foundation not more stones and labour than would be sufficient for a hut. If you, my friend, whose highest want it was to perfect and unfold your moral nature, had, instead of those bold and noble sacrifices, merely trimmed between your duties to yourself and to your family, your bridegroom, or perhaps your husband, you must have lived in constant contradiction with your feelings, and never could have had a peaceful moment.
You employ the word sacrifice, I answered here; and I have often thought that to a higher purpose, as to a divinity, we offer up, by way of sacrifice, a thing of smaller value; feeling like persons who should willingly and gladly bring a favourite lamb to the altar for the health of a beloved father.
Whatever it may be, said he, reason or feeling, that commands us to give up the one thing for the other, to choose the one before the other, decision and perseverance are, in my opinion, the noblest qualities of man. You cannot have the ware and the money both at once: and he who always bankers for the ware without having heart to give the money for it, is no better off than he who repents him of the purchase when the ware is in his hands. But I am far from blaming men on this account: it is not they that are to blame; it is the difficult entangled situation they are in; they know not how to guide themselves in its perplexities. Thus, for instance, you will on the average find fewer bad economists in the country than in towns, and fewer again in small towns than in great; and why? Man is intended for a limited condition; objects that are simple, near, determinate, he comprehends, and he becomes accustomed to employ such means as are at hand: but on entering a wider field, he now knows neither what he would nor what he should; and it amounts to quite the same, whether his attention is distracted by the multitude of objects, or is overpowered by their magnitude and dignity. It is always a misfortune for him, when he is induced to struggle after anything, with which he cannot connect himself by some regular exertion of his powers.
Certainly, pursued he, without earnestness there is nothing to be done in life: yet among the people whom we name cultivated men, little earnestness is to be found: in labours and employments, in arts, nay even in recreations, they proceed, if I may say so, with a sort of self-defence; they live, as they read a heap of newspapers, only to have done with it; they remind one of that young Englishman at Rome, who said, with a contented air, one evening in some company, that today he had dispatched six churches and two galleries. They wish to know and learn a multitude of things, and precisely those they have the least concern with; and they never see that hunger is not stilled by snapping at the air. When I become acquainted with a man, my first inquiry is: With what does he employ himself, and how, and with what degree of perseverance? The answer regulates the interest I shall take in him, for life.
Can it be imputed as a fault, said he, to one who has so long and vainly laboured on them and about them? How much we have to suffer, in our youth, from men who think they are inviting us to a delightful pleasure-party, when they undertake to introduce us to the Danaides or Sisyphus! Heaven be praised! I have rid myself of these people: if one of them unfortunately comes within my sphere, I forth with, in the politest manner, compliment him out again. It is from such persons that you hear the bitterest complaints about the miserable course of things, the aridity of science, the levity of artists, the emptiness of poets, and much more of that sort. They do not recollect that they, and the many like them, are the very persons who would never read a book which had been written just as they require it; that true poetry is alien to them; that even an excellent work of art can never gain their approbation, except by means of prejudice. But let us now break off; for this is not the time to rail or to complain.
He directed my attention to the different pictures hanging on the wall: my eye dwelt on those whose look was beautiful or subject striking. This he permitted for a while; at last he said: Bestow a little notice on the spirit manifested in these other works. Good minds delight to trace the finger of the Deity in nature: why not likewise pay some small regard to the hand of his imitator? He then led my observation to some unobtrusive figures; endeavouring to make me understand, that it was the history of art alone which could give us an idea of the worth and dignity of any work of art; that we should know the weary steps of mere handicraft and mechanism, over which the man of talents has struggled in the course of centuries, before we can conceive how it is possible for the man of genius to move with airy freedom, on the pinnacle whose very aspect makes us giddy.
With this view he had formed a beautiful series of works; and whilst he explained it, I could not help conceiving that I saw before me a similitude of moral culture. When I expressed my thought to him, he answered:
You are altogether right; and we see from this, that those do not act well, who, in a solitary exclusive manner, follow moral cultivation by itself. On the contrary, it will be found that he whose spirit strives for a development of that kind, has likewise every reason, at the same time, to improve his finer sentient powers; that so he may not run the risk of sinking from his moral height, by giving way to the enticements of a lawless fancy, and degrading his moral nature by allowing it to take delight in tasteless baubles, if not in something worse.
I did not suspect him of levelling at me; but I felt myself struck, when I reflected how many insipidities there might be in the songs that used to edify me; and how little favour the figures, which had joined themselves to my religious ideas, would have found in the eyes of my uncle.
Philo, in the mean time, had frequently been busied in the library: he now took me along with him. We admired the selection, as well as the multitude of books. They had been collected on my uncles general principle; there were none to be found among them but such as either lead to correct knowledge, or teach right arrangement; such as either give us fit materials, or further the concordance of our spirit.
In the course of my life I had read very largely; in certain branches, there was almost no work unknown to me: the more pleasant was it here, to speak about the general survey of the whole; to mark deficiencies, and not, as elsewhere, see nothing but a hampered confusion or a boundless expansion.
Here too we became acquainted with a very interesting, quiet man. He was a physician and a naturalist; he seemed rather one of the Penates than of the inmates. He showed us the museum, which like the library was fixed in glasscases to the walls of the chambers; adorning and ennobling the space, which it did not crowd. On this occasion, I recalled with joy the days of my youth; and showed my father many of the things he had been wont to lay upon the sick-bed of his little child, just opening its little eyes to look into the world then. At the same time, the Physician, in our present and following conversations, did not scruple to avow how near he approximated to me in respect of my religious sentiments: he warmly praised my uncle for his tolerance, and his esteem of all that testified or forwarded the worth and unity of human nature; admitting also, that he called for a similar return from others, and would shun and condemn nothing else so heartily as individual pretension and narrow exclusiveness.
Since the nuptials of my sister, joy had sparkled in the eyes of our uncle: he often spoke with me of what he meant to do for her and for her children. He had several fine estates; he managed them himself, and hoped to leave them in the best condition to his nephews. Regarding the small estate, where we at present were, he appeared to entertain peculiar thoughts. I will leave it to none, said he, but to a person who can understand and value and enjoy what it contains, and who feels how loudly every man of wealth and rank, especially in Germany, is called on to exhibit something like a model to others.
Most of his guests were now gone; we too were making ready for departure, thinking we had seen the final scene of this solemnity; when his attention in affording us some dignified enjoyment produced a new surprise. We had mentioned to him the delight which the chorus of voices, suddenly commencing without accompaniment of any instrument, had given us, at my sisters marriage. We hinted, at the same time, how pleasant it would be were such a thing repeated: but he seemed to pay no heed to us. The livelier was our surprise, when he said one evening: The music of the dance has died away; our transitory, youthful friends have left us; the happy pair themselves have a more serious look than they had some days ago; to part at such a time, when perhaps we shall never meet again, certainly never without changes, exalts us to a solemn mood, which I know not how to entertain more nobly than by the music you were lately signifying a desire to have repeated.
The chorus, which had in the mean while gathered strength, and by secret practice more expertness, was accordingly made sing to us a series of four and of eight voiced melodies, which, if I may say so, gave a real foretaste of bliss. Till then, I had only known the pious mode of singing, as good souls practise it, frequently with hoarse pipes, imagining, like wild birds, that they are praising God, while they procure a pleasant feeling to themselves. Or perhaps I had listened to the vain music of concerts, in which you are at best invited to admire the talent of the singer, and very seldom have even a transient enjoyment. Now, however, I was listening to music, which, as it originated in the deepest feeling of the most accomplished human beings, was, by suitable and practised organs in harmonious unity, made again to address the deepest and best feelings of man, and to impress him at that moment with a lively sense of his likeness to the Deity. They were all devotional songs, in the Latin language: they sat like jewels in the golden ring of a polished intellectual conversation; and without pretending to edify, they elevated me and made me happy in the most spiritual manner.
At our departure, he presented all of us with handsome gifts. To me he gave the cross of my order, more beautifully and artfully worked and enamelled than I had ever seen it before. It was hung upon a large brilliant, by which also it was fastened to the chain: this he gave me, he said, as the noblest stone in the cabinet of a collector.
My sister with her husband went to their estates: the rest of us to our abodes; appearing to ourselves, so far as outward circumstances were concerned, to have returned to quite an everyday existence. We had been, as it were, dropped from a palace of the fairies down upon the common earth; and were again obliged to help ourselves as we best could.
The singular experiences, which this new circle had afforded, left a fine impression on my mind. This, however, did not long continue in its first vivacity; though my uncle tried to nourish and renew it, by sending me certain of his best and most pleasing works of art; changing them, from time to time, with others which I had not seen.
I had seen so much accustomed to be busied with myself, in regulating the concerns of my heart and temper, and conversing on these matters with persons of a like mind, that I could not long study any work of art attentively without being turned by it back upon myself. I was used to look at a picture or copperplate merely as at the letters of a book.
Fine printing pleases well: but who would read a book for the beauty of the printing? In like manner, I required of each pictorial form that it should tell me something, should instruct, affect, improve me: and after all my uncles letters to expound his works of art, say what he would, I continued in my former humour.
Yet not only my peculiar disposition, but external incidents and changes in our family still farther drew me back from contemplations of that nature, nay for some time even from myself. I had to suffer and to do, more than my slender strength seemed fit for.
My maiden sister had till now been as a right arm to me. Healthy, strong, unspeakably good-natured, she had managed all the housekeeping, I myself being busied with the personal nursing of our aged father. She was seized with a catarrh, which changed to a disorder of the lungs; in three weeks she was lying in her coffin. Her death inflicted wounds on me, the scars of which I am not yet willing to examine.
My married sister, out of fright and grief, was brought to bed before her time. Our old father thought he was about to lose at once his children and the hope of their posterity: his natural tears increased my sorrow; I prayed to God that he would give me back a sufferable state of health. I asked him but to spare my life till my father should die. I recovered; I was what I reckoned well; being able to discharge my duties, though with pain.
My sister was again with child. Many cares, which in such cases are committed to the mother, in the present instance fell to me. She was not altogether happy with her husband; this was to be hidden from our father: I was often made judge of their disputes; in which I could decide with the greater safety, as my brother trusted in me, and the two were really worthy persons, only each of them, instead of humouring, endeavored to convince the other; and out of eagerness to live in constant harmony, never could agree. I now learned to mingle seriously in worldly matters, and to practise what of old I had but sung.
My sister bore a son: the frailty of my father did not hinder him from travelling to her. The sight of the child exceedingly enlivened and cheered him; at the christening, contrary to his custom, he seemed as if inspired; nay I might say, like a Genius with two faces. With the one, he looked joyfully forward to those regions which he soon hoped to enter; with the other, to the new hopeful, earthly life which had arisen in the boy descended from him. On our journey home, he never wearied talking to me of the child, its form, its health, and his wish that the gifts of this new denizen of earth might be rightly cultivated. His reflections on the subject lasted when we had arrived at home: it was not till some days afterwards, that I observed a kind of fever in him; which displayed itself, without shivering, in a sort of languid heat commencing after dinner. He did not yield, however; he went out as usual in the mornings, faithfully attending to the duties of his office, till at last continuous serious symptoms kept him within doors.
I never shall forget with what distinctness, clearness and repose of mind, he settled in the greatest order the concerns of his house, nay the arrangements of his funeral, as he would have done a business of some other person.
With a cheerfulness, which he never used to show, and which now mounted to a lively joy, he said to me: Where is the fear of death which I once felt? Shall I shrink at departing? I have a gracious God; the grave awakens no terror in me; I have an eternal life.
To recall the circumstances of his death, which shortly followed, forms one of the most pleasing entertainments of my solitude: the visible workings of a higher Power in that solemn time, no one shall ever argue from me.
The death of my beloved father altogether changed my mode of life. From the strictest obedience, the narrowest confinement, I passed at once into the greatest freedom; I enjoyed it like a sort of food from which one has long abstained. Formerly I very seldom spent two hours from home; now I very seldom lived a day there. My friends, whom I had been allowed to visit only by hurried snatches, wished now to have my company without interruption, as I did to have theirs. I was often asked to dinner; at walks and pleasure-jaunts I never failed. But when once the circle had been fairly run, I saw that the invaluable happiness of liberty consisted, not in doing what one pleases and what circumstances may invite to, but in being able, without hindrance or restraint, to do in the direct way what one regards as right and proper; and in this instance, I was old enough to reach a valuable truth, without smarting for my ignorance.
One pleasure I could not deny myself: it was, as soon as might be, to renew and strengthen my connexion with the Herrnhut Brethren. I hastened, accordingly, to visit one of their establishments at no great distance: but here I by no means found what I had been anticipating. I was frank enough to signify my disappointment, which they tried to soften by alleging that the present settlement was nothing to a full and fitly organised Community. This I did not take upon me to deny; yet in my thought, the genuine spirit of the matter might have displayed itself in a small body as well as in a great one.
One of their Bishops who was present, a personal disciple of the Count, took considerable pains with me. He spoke English Perfectly, and as I too understood a little of it, he reckoned this a token that we both belonged to one class. I, however, reckoned nothing of the Kind; his conversation did not in the least satisfy me. He had been a cutler; was a native of Moravia: his mode of thought still savoured of the artisan. With Herr Von L, who had been a Major in the French service, I got upon a better footing: yet I could never bring myself to the submissiveness he showed to his superiors; nay I felt as if you had given me a box on the ear, when I saw the Majors wife, and other women more or less like ladies, take the Bishops hand and Kiss it. Meanwhile, a journey into Holland was proposed; which, however, doubtless for my good, did not take place.
About this time, my sister was delivered of a daughter; and now it was the turn of us women to exult and consider how the little creature should be bred like one of us. The husband, on the other hand, was not so satisfied, when in the following year another daughter saw the light: with his large estates, he wanted to have boys about him, who in future might assist him in his management.
My health was feeble: I kept myself in peace, and, by a quiet mode of life, in tolerable equilibrium. I was not afraid of death; nay I wished to die; yet I secretly perceived that God was granting time for me to prove my soul, and to advance still nearer to himself. In my many sleepless nights, especially, I have at times felt something which I cannot undertake to describe.
It was as if my soul were thinking separately from the body: she looked upon the body as a foreign substance, as we look upon a garment. She pictured with extreme vivacity events and times long past, and felt by means of this, events that were to follow. Those times are all gone by; what follows likewise will go by; the body too will fall to pieces like a vesture; but I, the well-known I, I am.
The thought is great, exalted and consoling; yet an excellent friend, with whom I every day became more intimate, instructed me to dwell on it as little as I could. This was the Physician whom I met in my uncles house, and who had since accurately informed himself about the temper of my body and my spirit. He showed me how much these feelings, when we cherish them within us independently of outward objects, tend as it were to excavate us, and to undermine the whole foundation of our being. To be active, he would say, is the primary vocation of man; all the intervals in which he is obliged to rest, he should employ in gaining clearer knowledge of external things, for this will in its turn facilitate activity.
This friend was acquainted with my custom of looking on my body as an outward object; he knew also that I pretty well understood my constitution, my disorder, and the medicines of use for it; nay that by continual sufferings of my own or other peoples, I had really grown a kind of half doctor: he now carried forward my attention from the human body, and the drugs which act upon it, to the kindred objects of creation: he led me up and down as in the Paradise of the First Man; only, if I may continue my comparison, allowing me to trace, in dim remoteness, the Creator walking in the Garden in the cool of the evening.
How gladly did I now see God in nature, when I bore him with such certainty within my heart! How interesting to me was his handiwork; how thankful did I feel that he had pleased to quicken me with the breath of his mouth!
We again had hopes that my sister would present us with a boy; her husband waited anxiously for that event, but did not live to see it. He died in consequence of an unlucky fall from horseback; and my sister followed him, soon after she had brought into the world a lovely boy. The four orphans they had left I could not look at but with sadness. So many healthy people had been called away before poor sickly me; might I not also have blights to witness among these fair and hopeful blossoms? I knew the world sufficiently to understand what dangers threaten the precarious breeding of a child, especially a child of quality; and it seemed as if, since the period of my youth, these dangers had increased. I felt that weakly as I was, I could not be of much, perhaps of any service to the little ones; and I rejoiced the more on finding that my uncle, as indeed might have been looked for, had determined to devote his whole attention to the education of these amiable creatures. And this they doubtless merited in every sense; they were handsome, and with great diversities, all promised to be well-conditioned, reasonable persons.
Since my worthy Doctor had suggested it, I loved to trace out family likenesses among our relatives and children. My father had carefully preserved the portraits of his ancestors, and got his own and those of his descendants drawn by tolerable masters; nor had my mother and her people been forgotten. We accurately knew the characters of all the family; and as we had frequently compared them with each other, we now endeavoured to discover in the children the same peculiarities outward or inward. My sisters elder son, we thought, resembled his paternal grandfather, of whom there was a fine youthful picture in my uncles collection: he had been a brave soldier; and in this point too the boy took after him, liking arms above all things, and busying himself with them whenever he paid me a visit. For my father had left a very pretty armory; and the boy got no rest till I had given him a pair of pistols and a fowling-piece, and he had learned the proper way of using them. At the same time, in his conduct or bearing there was nothing like rudeness: far from that, he was always meek and sensible.
The elder daughter had attracted my especial love; of which perhaps the reason was that she resembled me, and of all the four seemed to like me best. But I may well admit that the more closely I observed her as she grew, the more she shamed me: I could not look on her without a sentiment of admiration, nay I may almost say, of reverence. You would scarcely have seen a nobler form, a more peaceful spirit, an activity so equable and universal. No moment of her life was she unoccupied; and every occupation in her hands became dignified. All seemed indifferent to her, so that she could but accomplish what was proper in the place and time; and in the same manner, she could patiently continue unemployed, when there was nothing to be done. This activity without need of occupation, I have never elsewhere met with. In particular, her conduct to the suffering and destitute was, from her earliest youth, inimitable. For my part, I freely confess I never had the gift to make a business of beneficence: I was not niggardly to the poor; nay I often gave too largely for my means; yet this was little more than buying myself off; and a person needed to be made for me, if I was to bestow attention on him. Directly the reverse was the conduct of my niece. I never saw her give a poor man money; whatever she obtained from me for this purpose, she failed not in the first place to change for some necessary article. Never did she seem more lovely in my eyes than when rummaging my clothes-presses: she was always sure to light on something which I did not wear and did not need: to sew these old cast articles together, and put them on some ragged child, she thought her highest happiness.
Her sisters turn of mind appeared already different: she had much of her mother; she promised to become very elegant and beautiful, and she now bids fair to keep her promise. She is greatly taken up with her exterior; from her earliest years she could decorate and carry herself in a way that struck you.
I still remember with what ecstasy, when quite a little creature, she saw herself in a mirror, decked in certain precious pearls, once my mothers, which she had by chance discovered, and made me try upon her.
Reflecting on these diverse inclinations, it was pleasant for me to consider how my property would, after my decease, be shared among them, and again called into use. I saw the fowling-pieces of my father once more travelling round the fields on my nephews shoulder, and birds once more falling from his hunting-pouch: I saw my whole wardrobe issuing from the church, at Easter Confirmation, on the persons of tidy little girls; while the best pieces of it were employed to decorate some virtuous burgher maiden on her marriage-day. In furnishing such children and poor little girls, Natalia had a singular delight; though, as I must here remark, she showed not the smallest love, or if I may say it, smallest need of a dependence upon any visible or invisible Being, such as I had in my youth so strongly manifested.
The children waxed apace: to my comfort, they are healthy, handsome, clever creatures. That my uncle keeps them from me, I endure without repining: when staying in the neighbourhood, or even in town, they seldom see me.
A singular personage, regarded as a French clergyman, though no one rightly knows his history, has been intrusted with the oversight of all these children. He has them taught in various places; they are put to board now here, now there.
At first I could perceive no plan whatever in this mode of education; till at last our Doctor told me the Abbé had convinced my uncle, that in order to accomplish anything by education, we must first become acquainted with the pupils tendencies and wishes; that these once ascertained, he ought to be transported to a situation where he may, as speedily as possible, content the former and attain the latter; and so if he have been mistaken, may still in time perceive his error; and at last having found what suits him, may hold the faster by it, may the more diligently fashion himself according to it. I wish this strange experiment may prosper: with such excellent natures it is perhaps possible.
But there is one peculiarity in these instructors, which I never shall approve of: they study to seclude the children from whatever might awaken them to an acquaintance with themselves and with the invisible, sole, faithful Friend. I often take it ill of my uncle that, on this account, he considers me dangerous for the little ones. Thus in practice there is no man tolerant! Many assure us that they willingly leave each to take his own way; yet all endeavour to exclude from action every one that does not think as they do.
This removal of the children troubles me the more, the more I am convinced of the reality of my belief. How can it fail to have a heavenly origin, an actual object, when in practice it is so effectual? Is it not by practice alone that we prove our own existence? Why then may we not, by a like mode, prove to ourselves the influence of that Power who gives us all good things?
That I am still advancing, never retrograding; that my conduct is approximating more and more to the image I have formed of perfection; that I every day feel more facility in doing what I reckon proper, even while the weakness of my body so obstructs me: can all this be accounted for upon the principles of human nature, whose corruption I have so clearly seen into? For me, at least, it cannot.
I scarcely remember a commandment; to me there is nothing that assumes the aspect of law; it is an impulse that leads me, and guides me always aright. I freely follow my emotions, and know as little of constraint as of repentance. God be praised that I know to whom I am indebted for such happiness, and that I cannot think of it without humility! There is no danger I should ever become proud of what I myself can do or can forbear to do; I have seen too well what a monster might be formed and nursed in every human bosom, did not higher Influence restrain us.