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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Founding of a Family
By Gottfried Keller (1819–1890)
 
        
From ‘The Smith of his Own Fortunes’ in ‘Seldwyla Folk’: Translation of Charles Harvey Genung
  
  [John Kabys, having exhausted his meagre patrimony in idle expectation of a fortune which did not appear, was at last forced to earn his own livelihood, and accordingly opened a barber-shop in his native town. Here one day he casually learned from a customer that a wealthy old gentleman in Augsburg had been making inquiries if there were still Kabyses in Seldwyla. Acting upon this hint, John went to Augsburg, and the scenes of the following extract took place. The fact that John in his efforts to render his position more secure subsequently became the father of his uncle’s heir, thus supplanting himself, gives a touch of humorous irony to the title of the tale.]

“COME up with me to the hall of knights!” said Mr. Litumlei. They went; when the old man had paced solemnly up and down a few times, he began: “Hear my purpose and my proposition, my dear grand-nephew! You are the last of your race; this is a serious fate! But I have one not less serious to bear! Look upon me: Well, then! I am the first of mine!”  1
  Proudly he drew himself up; and John looked at him, but could not discover what it all meant. The other then continued: “‘I am the first of mine,’ means the same as—‘I have determined to found a race as great and glorious as you here see painted on the walls of this hall!’ You see, these are not my ancestors, but the members of an extinct patrician family of this city. When I came here thirty years ago, this house happened to be for sale with all its contents and memorials; and I acquired the whole apparatus at once, as a foundation for the realization of my favorite idea. For I possessed a large fortune, but no name, no ancestors; and I don’t even know the baptismal name of my grandfather who married a Kabys. I indemnified myself at first by explaining the painted ladies and gentlemen here as my ancestors, and by making some of them Litumleis, others Kabyses, by means of such tickets as you see: but my family recollections extended to only six or seven persons; the rest of this mass of pictures—the result of four centuries—mocked my efforts. All the more urgently I was thrown upon the future, upon the necessity of inaugurating a lasting race myself, whose honored ancestor I am. Long ago I had my portrait painted, and a genealogical tree as well, at whose root stands my name. But an ill star obstinately pursues me! I already have my third wife, and as yet not one of them has presented me with a girl, to say nothing of a son and heir to the family name. My two former wives, from whom I procured a divorce, have since out of malice had several children by other husbands; and my present wife, whom I have had now seven years, would undoubtedly do the same if I should let her go.  2
  “Your appearance, dear grand-nephew, has given me the idea of resorting to an artificial assistance, such as in history was frequently made use of in dynasties great and small. What do you say to this?—You live with us as a son of the house; I will make you my legal heir! In return, you will perform the following: You sacrifice externally your own family traditions (for you are the last of your race anyway); and at my death—i.e., on your accession as my heir,—you assume my name! I spread the report privately that you are a natural son of mine, the fruit of a mad prank in my youth; you adopt this view and do not contradict it! Later on perhaps a written document about it might be composed,—a memoir, a little novel, a noteworthy love story in which I cut a fiery though imprudent figure, and sow misery for which I atone in old age. Finally you bind yourself to accept from my hand whatever wife I shall choose for you from among the distinguished daughters of the city, for the further prosecution of my design. This in all and in detail is my proposition.”  3
  During this speech John had turned red and white alternately; not from shame or fright, but from astonishment and joy at the fortune that had arrived at last, and at his own wisdom which had brought it to him. But he by no means allowed himself to be disconcerted, but pretended that only with great reluctance could he make up his mind to sacrifice his honored family name and his legitimate birth. In polite and well-chosen words he requested twenty-four hours to consider; and then he began to walk up and down in the beautiful garden, deeply immersed in thought. The lovely flowers—carnations, roses, gillyflowers, crown-imperials, lilies, the geranium beds and jasmine bowers, the myrtle and oleander trees—all ogled him politely and did him homage as their master.  4
  When he had enjoyed for half an hour the perfume, the sunshine, the shade, and the freshness of the fountain, he went with an earnest mien out into the street, turned the corner and entered a bakery, where he indulged in three warm patties with two glasses of fine wine. Then he returned to the garden and again walked for half an hour, but this time smoking a cigar. He discovered a bed of small tender radishes. He pulled a bunch of them from the ground, cleaned them at the fountain, whose stone Tritons blinked at him submissively, and betook himself to a cool brewery, where with his radishes he drank a mug of foaming beer. He enjoyed a pleasant chat with the burghers, and endeavored to transform his native dialect into the softer Suabian, as in all probability he was going to be a man of eminence among these people.  5
  He purposely let the noonday hour go by, and was late at his meal. In order to carry out there a discriminating lack of appetite, he previously ate three Munich white-sausages and drank a second mug of beer, which tasted still better to him than the first. Finally, however, he wrinkled his brow and betook himself with the same to dinner, where he stared at the soup.  6
  Little Litumlei, who generally became passionate and willful at unexpected obstacles, and could not bear contradiction, already felt wrathful anxiety lest his last hope of founding a family should turn to water, and he regarded his incorruptible guest with distrustful glances. At last he could no longer bear the uncertainty as to whether he should be an ancestor or not, and he requested his scrupulous relative to shorten those twenty-four hours and come to a conclusion at once. For he feared lest his nephew’s austere virtue should increase with every hour. He fetched with his own hand a bottle of very old Rhine wine from the cellar, of which John had as yet had no suspicion. As the released spirits of summer wafted their invisible odors over the crystal glasses, that clinked so musically, and as with every drop of the liquid gold that passed over his tongue a little flower garden seemed to spring up under his nose, then was the steadfast heart of John Kabys softened, and he gave his consent. The notary public was quickly summoned, and over some excellent coffee a last will and testament was set down in due legal form. In conclusion the artificial-natural son and the race-founding arch-father embraced each other; but it was not like a warm embrace of flesh and blood, but far more solemn, like the collision rather of two great elements whose orbits meet.  7
  So John sat in fortune’s lap. He now had nothing to do but to cherish the consciousness of his agreeable destiny, to behave with some consideration towards his father, and to spend an abundance of pocket-money in whatever way best suited him. All this was carried out in the most respectable, unassuming manner, and he dressed like a nobleman. He did not need to purchase any more valuables: his genius now revealed itself, in that what he procured years ago still amply sufficed, thus resembling an accurately constructed design which was now completed in detail by the fullness of fortune. The battle of Waterloo thundered and lightened on his contented breast; chains and dangling ornaments were rocked upon a well-filled stomach; through the gold glasses looked a pair of pleased proud eyes; the cane adorned more than it supported a man that was cautious; and the cigar-case was filled with good weeds which he smoked appreciatively in his Mazeppa holder. The wild horse was already of a brilliant brown hue, while the Mazeppa upon it was just turning a light pink, almost flesh-color; so that the twofold work of art, the carver’s and the smoker’s, excited the just admiration of connoisseurs. Papa Litumlei, too, was greatly taken with it, and diligently set about learning to color meerschaums under the instruction of his foster-son. A whole collection of such pipes was purchased; but the old man was too restless and impatient for this noble art. The young man had to help him continually and make improvements, which again inspired the former with respect and confidence.  8
  Soon, however, the two men found a still more important employment; for papa now insisted that they should make up together and bring to paper that novel through which John was to be promoted to a natural-sonship. It was to be a secret family document in the form of fragmentary memoirs. To avoid arousing the jealousy of Mrs. Litumlei and disquieting her, it had to be composed in secret session; and was to be shut up surreptitiously in the family archives which still remained to be founded, in order that in future times, when the family should be in full bloom, it might see the light and tell the story of the blood of the Litumleis.  9
  John had already made up his mind, upon the death of the old man, to call himself not plain Litumlei but Kabys-de-Litumlei; for he had an excusable weakness for his own name, which he had wrought so neatly. It was furthermore his intention on that occasion summarily to burn the document they were about to create, through which he was to lose his legitimacy of birth and receive a dissolute mother. For the present however he had to take his part in the work; and this slightly clouded his serenity. But he wisely accommodated himself to circumstances, and one morning shut himself up in a garden room with the old man to begin the work. There they sat opposite each other at table, and suddenly discovered that their undertaking was more difficult than they had thought, inasmuch as neither of them had ever written a hundred consecutive lines in his life. They positively could not find a beginning; and the nearer they put their heads together, the further off was every idea. Finally it occurred to the son that they really ought first to have a quire of fine stout paper to establish a substantial document. That was evident; they started at once to buy it, and wandered in concord through the city. When they had found what they sought, they advised each other, as it was a warm day, to go to a tavern, there to refresh themselves and collect their thoughts. They drank several mugs with satisfaction, and ate nuts, bread, sausages; till suddenly John said he had now devised a beginning for the story, and would run straight home to write it down, that he might not forget it. “Run quickly, then,” said the old man; “in the mean time I will stay here and make up the continuation; I feel that it is on the way to me already!”  10
  So John hastened back to the room with the quire of paper, and wrote:—  11
  “It was in the year 17–, when it was a prosperous year. A pitcher of wine cost 7 florins, a pitcher of cider 1/2 florin, and a measure of cherry brandy 4 batz, a two-pound loaf of white bread 1 batz, 1 ditto rye bread 1/2 batz, and a sack of potatoes 8 batz. The hay too had turned out well, and oats were two florins a bushel. The peas and beans turned out well too, and flax and hemp had not turned out well; on the other hand again, the olives and tallow or suet had: so that all in all, the remarkable condition of things came about that society was well supplied with food and drink, scantily clad, and then again well lighted. So the year came summarily to a close, and every one was justly curious to experience how the new year would come in. The winter showed itself a proper regular winter, cold and clear; a warm covering of snow lay upon the fields and protected the young seed. But nevertheless a singular thing took place at last. It snowed, thawed, and froze again during the month of January, in so frequent alternation that not only did many people fall sick, but also there came to be such a multitude of icicles that the whole country looked like a huge glass magazine, and every one wore a small board on the head in order not to be pricked by the points of the falling icicles. For the rest, the prices of staples still remained firm, as above remarked, and fluctuated at last towards a remarkable spring.”  12
  At this point the little old man came eagerly running in, seized the sheet, and without reading what had been written and without saying a word, he wrote straight on:—  13
  “Then he came, and was called Adam Litumlei. He wouldn’t stand a joke, and was born anno 17–. He came rushing along like a spring storm. He was one of Those. He wore a red velvet coat, with a feather in his hat, and a sword. He wore a gold-embroidered waistcoat, with the motto ‘Youth hath no virtue!’ He wore golden spurs and rode upon a white charger; this he stabled at the best inn, and cried, ‘What the devil do I care? for it is spring, and youth must sow its wild oats!’ He paid cash for everything, and every one marveled at him. He drank the wine, he ate the roast; he said, ‘All this amounts to nothing!’ Further he said, ‘Come, my lovely darling, thou art more to me than wine and roasts, than silver and gold! What do I care? Think what thou wilt, what must be must be!’”  14
  Here he suddenly came to a standstill and positively could get no further. They read together what had been written, found it was not bad, and spent eight days pulling themselves together again,—during which time they led a dissipated life, for they went frequently to the beer-house in order to get a new start; but fortune did not smile every day. Finally John caught another thread, ran home, and continued:—  15
  “These words the young Mr. Litumlei addressed to a certain Liselein Federspiel, who lived in a remote quarter of the city, where the gardens are, and just beyond is a little wood or grove. She was one of the most charming beauties the city had ever produced, with blue eyes and small feet. Her figure was so fine that she didn’t need a corset; and out of the money thus saved, for she was poor, she was enabled little by little to buy a violet-colored silk gown. But all this was enhanced by a general sadness that trembled not only over her lovely features but over the whole harmony of Miss Federspiel’s form, so that whenever the wind was still you might believe you heard the mournful tones of an Æolian harp. A very memorable May month had now come, into which all four seasons seemed to be compressed. At first there was snow, so that the nightingales sang with snowflakes on their heads as if they wore white nightcaps; then followed such a hot spell that the children went bathing in the open air and the cherries ripened, and the records have preserved a rhyme about it:—
  ‘Ice and snowflake,
Boys bathe in the lake,
Cherries ripe and blossoming vine,
All in one May month might be thine.’
  16
  “These natural phenomena made men meditative and affected them in different ways. Miss Liselein Federspiel, who was especially pensive, speculated about it too, and realized for the first time that she bore her weal and woe, her virtue and her fall, in her own hand; and because she now held the scales and weighed this responsible freedom, was just why she became so sad about it. Now as she stood there, that audacious red-jacket came along and said without delay, ‘Federspiel, I love thee!’ whereupon by a singular accident she suddenly altered her previous line of thought and broke out into ringing laughter.”  17
  “Now let me go on,” cried the old man, who came running up in a great heat and read over the young man’s shoulder. “It’s just right for me now!” and he continued the story as follows: “‘There’s nothing to laugh at!’ said he, ‘for I don’t take a joke!’ In short, it came about as it had to come: on the hill in the little wood sat my Federspiel on the green sward and kept on laughing; but the knight had already mounted his white horse and was flying away into the distance so fast that in a few minutes, in the aerial perspective that took place, he appeared blue. He vanished, returned no more; for he was a devil of a fellow!”  18
  “Ha, now it’s done!” shouted Litumlei, as he threw down the pen; “I’ve done my part, now bring it to a conclusion. I am completely exhausted by these hellish inventions! By the Styx! I don’t wonder that the ancestors of great houses are valued so highly and are painted life-size, for I know what trouble the founding of mine costs! But haven’t I given the thing bold treatment?”  19
  John then proceeded:—  20
  “Poor Miss Federspiel experienced great dissatisfaction when she suddenly noticed that the seductive youth had vanished at the same time almost with the remarkable May month. But she had the presence of mind quickly to declare herself that the occurrence had not occurred, in order to restore the former condition of equally balanced scales. But she enjoyed this epilogue of innocence only a short time. The summer came; they began to reap; it was yellow before one’s eyes wherever one looked, from all the golden bounty; prices sank again materially; Liselein Federspiel stood on the hill and looked at it all; but she could see nothing for very grief and remorse. Autumn came; every wine-stock was a flowing spring; there was an incessant drumming on the earth from the falling pears and apples; people drank and sang, bought and sold. Every one supplied himself; the whole country was a fair; and cheap and abundant as everything was, luxuries were nevertheless prized and cherished and thankfully accepted. Only the luxury that Liselein brought remained unvalued and not worth asking about, as if the human hordes that were swimming in superfluity could not find use for one single little mouth more. She therefore wrapped herself in her virtue and bore, a month before her time, a lively little boy whose condition in life was in every way calculated to make him the smith of his own fortune.  21
  “This son passed so bravely through a very varied career that by a strange fate he was finally united with his father, brought up by him in honor, and made his heir; and this is the second ancestor of the race of Litumlei.”  22
  Under this document the old man wrote: “Examined and confirmed, Johann Polycarpus Adam Litumlei.” And John signed it likewise. Then Mr. Litumlei put his seal upon it with the coat-of-arms, consisting of three half fish-hooks golden, in a field blue, and seven square brook-stilts white and red, on a green bar sinister.  23
  But they were surprised that the document was no larger; for they had written scarcely one sheet full of the whole quire. Nevertheless, they deposited it in the archives, to which purpose they devoted for the present an old iron chest; and they were contented and in good spirits.  24
 
 
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