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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
In Countess Irma’s Diary
By Berthold Auerbach (1812–1882)
 
From ‘On the Heights’: Translation of Simon Adler Stern

YESTERDAY was a year since I lay at the foot of the rock. I could not write a word. My brain whirled with the thoughts of that day; but now it is over.
*        *        *        *        *
  1
  I don’t think I shall write much more. I have now experienced all the seasons in my new world. The circle is complete. There is nothing new to come from without. I know all that exists about me, or that can happen. I am at home in my new world.
*        *        *        *        *
  2
  Unto Jesus the Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who was to be stoned to death, and He said unto them, “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.”  3
  Thus it is written.  4
  But I ask: How did she continue to live—she who was saved from being stoned to death; she who was pardoned—that is, condemned to live? How did she live on? Did she return to her home? How did she stand with the world? And how with her own heart?  5
  No answer. None.  6
  I must find the answer in my own experience
*        *        *        *        *
  7
  “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.” These are the noblest, the greatest words ever uttered by human lips, or heard by human ear. They divide the history of the human race into two parts. They are the “Let there be light” of the second creation. They divide and heal my little life too, and create me anew.  8
  Has one who is not wholly without sin a right to offer precepts and reflections to others?  9
  Look into your own heart. What are you?  10
  Behold my hands. They are hardened by toil. I have done more than merely lift them in prayer.
*        *        *        *        *
  11
  Since I am alone I have not seen a letter of print. I have no book and wish for none; and this is not in order to mortify myself, but because I wish to be perfectly alone.
*        *        *        *        *
  12
  She who renounces the world, and in her loneliness still cherishes the thought of eternity, has assumed a heavy burden.  13
  Convent life is not without its advantages. The different voices that join in the chorale sustain each other; and when the tone at last ceases, it seems to float away on the air and vanish by degrees. But here I am quite alone. I am priest and church, organ and congregation, confessor and penitent, all in one; and my heart is often so heavy, as if I must needs have another to help me bear the load. “Take me up and carry me, I cannot go further!” cries my soul. But then I rouse myself again, seize my scrip and my pilgrim’s staff and wander on, solitary and alone; and while I wander, strength returns to me….  14
  It often seems to me as if it were sinful thus to bury myself alive. My voice is no longer heard in song, and much more that dwells within me has become mute.  15
  Is this right?  16
  If my only object in life were to be at peace with myself, it would be well enough; but I long to labor and to do something for others. Yet where and what shall it be?
*        *        *        *        *
  17
  When I first heard that the beautifully carved furniture of the great and wealthy is the work of prisoners, it made me shudder. And now, although I am not deprived of freedom, I am in much the same condition. Those who have disfigured life should, as an act of expiation, help to make life more beautiful for others. The thought that I am doing this comforts and sustains me.
*        *        *        *        *
  18
  My work prospers. But last winter’s wood is not yet fit for use. My little pitchman has brought me some that is old, excellent, and well seasoned, having been part of the rafters of an old house that has just been torn down. We work together cheerfully, and our earnings are considerable.
*        *        *        *        *
  19
  Vice is the same everywhere, except that here it is more open. Among the masses, vice is characterized by coarseness; among the upper classes, by meanness.  20
  The latter shake off the consequences of their evil deeds, while the former are obliged to bear them.
*        *        *        *        *
  21
  The rude manners of these people are necessary, and are far preferable to polite deceit. They must needs be rough and rude. If it were not for its coarse, thick bark, the oak could not withstand the storm.  22
  I have found that this rough bark covers more tenderness and sincerity than does the smoothest surface.
*        *        *        *        *
  23
  Jochem told me, to-day, that he is still quite a good walker, but that a blind man finds it very troublesome to go anywhere; for at every step he is obliged to grope about, so that he may feel sure of his ground before he firmly plants his foot on the earth.  24
  Is it not the same with me? Am I not obliged to be sure of the ground before I take a step?  25
  Such is the way of the fallen.  26
  Ah! why does everything I see or hear become a symbol of my life?…  27
  I have now been here between two and three years. I have formed a resolve which it will be difficult to carry out. I shall go out into the world once more. I must again behold the scenes of my past life. I have tested myself severely.  28
  May it not be a love of adventure, that genteel yet vulgar desire to undertake what is unusual or fraught with peril? Or is it a morbid desire to wander through the world after having died, as it were?  29
  No; far from it. What can it be? An intense longing to roam again, if it be only for a few days. I must kill the desire, lest it kill me.  30
  Whence arises this sudden longing?  31
  Every tool that I use while at work burns my hand.  32
  I must go.  33
  I shall obey the impulse, without worrying myself with speculations as to its cause. I am subject to the rules of no order. My will is my only law. I harm no one by obeying it. I feel myself free; the world has no power over me.  34
  I dreaded informing Walpurga of my intention. When I did so, her tone, her words, her whole manner, and the fact that she for the first time called me “child,” made it seem as if her mother were still speaking to me.  35
  “Child,” said she, “you’re right! Go! It’ll do you good. I believe that you’ll come back and will stay with us; but if you don’t, and another life opens up to you—your expiation has been a bitter one, far heavier than your sin.”  36
  Uncle Peter was quite happy when he learned that we were to be gone from one Sunday to the Sunday following. When I asked him whether he was curious as to where we were going, he replied:—  37
  “It’s all one to me. I’d travel over the whole world with you, wherever you’d care to go; and if you were to drive me away, I’d follow you like a dog and find you again.”  38
  I shall take my journal with me, and will note down every day.
*        *        *        *        *
  39
  [By the lake.]—I find it difficult to write a word.  40
  The threshold I am obliged to cross, in order to go out into the world, is my own gravestone.  41
  I am equal to it.  42
  How pleasant it was to descend toward the valley. Uncle Peter sang; and melodies suggested themselves to me, but I did not sing. Suddenly he interrupted himself and said:—  43
  “In the inns you’ll be my niece, won’t you?”  44
  “Yes.”  45
  “But you must call me ‘uncle’ when we’re there?”  46
  “Of course, dear uncle.”  47
  He kept nodding to himself for the rest of the way, and was quite happy.  48
  We reached the inn at the landing. He drank, and I drank too, from the same glass.  49
  “Where are you going?” asked the hostess.  50
  “To the capital,” said he, although I had not said a word to him about it. Then he said to me in a whisper:—  51
  “If you intend to go elsewhere, the people needn’t know everything.”  52
  I let him have his own way.  53
  I looked for the place where I had wandered at that time. There—there was the rock—and on it a cross, bearing in golden characters the inscription:—
  
HERE PERISHED
IRMA, COUNTESS VON WILDENORT,
IN THE TWENTY-FIRST YEAR
OF HER LIFE.
Traveler, pray for her and honor her memory.
*        *        *        *        *
  54
  I never rightly knew why I was always dissatisfied, and yearning for the next hour, the next day, the next year, hoping that it would bring me that which I could not find in the present. It was not love, for love does not satisfy. I desired to live in the passing moment, but could not. It always seemed as if something were waiting for me without the door, and calling me. What could it have been?  55
  I know now; it was a desire to be at one with myself, to understand myself. Myself in the world, and the world in me.
*        *        *        *        *
  56
  The vain man is the loneliest of human beings. He is constantly longing to be seen, understood, acknowledged, admired, and loved.  57
  I could say much on the subject, for I too was once vain. It was only in actual solitude that I conquered the loneliness of vanity. It is enough for me that I exist.  58
  How far removed this is from all that is mere show.
*        *        *        *        *
  59
  Now I understand my father’s last act. He did not mean to punish me. His only desire was to arouse me; to lead me to self-consciousness; to the knowledge which, teaching us to become different from what we are, saves us.
*        *        *        *        *
  60
  I understand the inscription in my father’s library:—“When I am alone, then am I least alone.”  61
  Yes; when alone, one can more perfectly lose himself in the life universal. I have lived and have come to know the truth. I can now die.
*        *        *        *        *
  62
  He who is at one with himself, possesses all….  63
  I believe that I know what I have done. I have no compassion for myself. This is my full confession.  64
  I have sinned—not against nature, but against the world’s rules. Is that sin? Look at the tall pines in yonder forest. The higher the tree grows, the more do the lower branches die away; and thus the tree in the thick forest is protected and sheltered by its fellows, but can nevertheless not perfect itself in all directions.  65
  I desired to lead a full and complete life and yet to be in the forest, to be in the world and yet in society. But he who means to live thus, must remain in solitude. As soon as we become members of society, we cease to be mere creatures of nature. Nature and morality have equal rights, and must form a compact with each other; and where there are two powers with equal rights, there must be mutual concessions.  66
  Herein lies my sin.  67
  He who desires to live a life of nature alone, must withdraw himself from the protection of morality. I did not fully desire either the one or the other; hence I was crushed and shattered.  68
  My father’s last action was right. He avenged the moral law, which is just as human as the law of nature. The animal world knows neither father nor mother, so soon as the young is able to take care of itself. The human world does know them and must hold them sacred.  69
  I see it all quite clearly. My sufferings and my expiation are deserved. I was a thief! I stole the highest treasures of all: confidence, love, honor, respect, splendor.  70
  How noble and exalted the tender souls appear to themselves when a poor rogue is sent to jail for having committed a theft! But what are all possessions which can be carried away, when compared with those that are intangible!  71
  Those who are summoned to the bar of justice are not always the basest of mankind.  72
  I acknowledge my sin, and my repentance is sincere.  73
  My fatal sin, the sin for which I now atone, was that I dissembled, that I denied and extenuated that which I represented to myself as a natural right. Against the Queen I have sinned worst of all. To me she represents that moral order which I violated and yet wished to enjoy.  74
  To you, O Queen, to you—lovely, good, and deeply injured one—do I confess all this!  75
  If I die before you,—and I hope that I may,—these pages are to be given to you….  76
  I can now accurately tell the season of the year, and often the hour of the day, by the way in which the first sunbeams fall into my room and on my work-bench in the morning. My chisel hangs before me on the wall, and is my index.
*        *        *        *        *
  77
  The drizzling spring showers now fall on the trees; and thus it is with me. It seems as if there were a new delight in store for me. What can it be? I shall patiently wait!
*        *        *        *        *
  78
  A strange feeling comes over me, as if I were lifted up from the chair on which I am sitting, and were flying, I know not whither! What is it? I feel as if dwelling in eternity.  79
  Everything seems flying toward me: the sunlight and the sunshine, the rustling of the forests and the forest breezes, beings of all ages and of all kinds—all seem beautiful and rendered transparent by the sun’s glow.  80
  I am!  81
  I am in God!  82
  If I could only die now and be wafted through this joy to dissolution and redemption!  83
  But I will live on until my hour comes.  84
  Come, thou dark hour, whenever thou wilt! To me thou art light!  85
  I feel that there is light within me. O Eternal Spirit of the universe, I am one with thee!  86
  I was dead, and I live—I shall die and yet live.  87
  Everything has been forgiven and blotted out.—There was dust on my wings.—I soar aloft into the sun and into infinite space. I shall die singing from the fullness of my soul. Shall I sing!  88
  Enough.
*        *        *        *        *
  89
  I know that I shall again be gloomy and depressed and drag along a weary existence; but I have once soared into infinity and have felt a ray of eternity within me. That I shall never lose again. I should like to go to a convent, to some quiet, cloistered cell, where I might know nothing of the world, and could live on within myself until death shall call me. But it is not to be. I am destined to live on in freedom and to labor; to live with my fellow-beings and to work for them.  90
  The results of my handiwork and of my powers of imagination belong to you; but what I am within myself is mine alone.
*        *        *        *        *
  91
  I have taken leave of everything here; of my quiet room, of my summer bench; for I know not whether I shall ever return. And if I do, who knows but what everything may have become strange to me?
*        *        *        *        *
  92
  (Last page written in pencil.)—It is my wish that when I am dead, I may be wrapped in a simple linen cloth, placed in a rough unplaned coffin, and buried under the apple-tree, on the road that leads to my paternal mansion. I desire that my brother and other relatives may be apprised of my death at once, and that they shall not disturb my grave by the wayside.  93
  No stone, no name, is to mark my grave.  94
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
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