Fiction > Harvard Classics > J. W. von Goethe > Egmont
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832).  Egmont.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Scene I
Palace of the Regent

  Regent.  I might have expected it. Ha! when we live immersed in anxiety and toil, we imagine that we achieve the utmost that is possible; while he, who, from a distance, looks on and commands, believes that he requires only the possible. O ye kings! I had not thought it could have galled me thus. It is so sweet to reign!—and to abdicate? I know not how my father could do so; but I will also.  2
MACHIAVEL appears in the back-ground  3
  Regent.  Approach, Machiavel. I am thinking over this letter from my brother.  4
  Machiavel.  May I know what it contains?
  Regent.  As much tender consideration for me as anxiety for his states. He extols the firmness, the industry, the fidelity, with which I have hitherto watched over the interests of his Majesty in these provinces. He condoles with me that the unbridled people occasion me so much trouble. He is so thoroughly convinced of the depth of my views, so extraordinarily satisfied with the prudence of my conduct, that I must almost say the letter is too politely written for a king—certainly for a brother.  6
  Machiavel.  It is not the first time that he has testified to you his just satisfaction.  7
  Regent.  But the first time that it is a mere rhetorical figure.  8
  Machiavel.  I do not understand you.  9
  Regent.  You soon will.—For after this preamble he is of opinion that without soldiers, without a small army indeed,—I shall always cut a sorry figure here! We did wrong, he says, to withdraw our troops from the provinces at the remonstrance of the inhabitants; a garrison, he thinks, which shall press upon the neck of the burgher, will prevent him, by its weight, from making any loftly spring.  10
  Machiavel.  It would irritate the public mind to the last degree.  11
  Regent.  The king thinks, however, do you hear?—he thinks that a clever general, one who never listens to reason, will be able to deal promptly with all parties;—people and nobles, citizens and peasants; he therefore sends, with a powerful army, the Duke of Alva.  12
  Machiavel.  Alva?  13
  Regent.  You are surprised.  14
  Machiavel.  You say, he sends, he asks doubtless whether he should send.  15
  Regent.  The king asks not, he sends.  16
  Machiavel.  You will then have an experienced warrior in your service.  17
  Regent.  In my service? Speak out, Machiavel.  18
  Machiavel.  I would not anticipate you.  19
  Regent.  And I would I could dissimulate. It wounds me—wounds me to the quick. I had rather my brother would speak his mind than attach his signature to formal epistles drawn up by a secretary of state.  20
  Machiavel.  Can they not comprehend?—  21
  Regent.  I know them both within and without. They would fain make a clean sweep; and since they cannot set about it themselves, they give their confidence to any one who comes with a besom in his hand. Oh, it seems to me as if I saw the king and his council worked upon this tapestry.  22
  Machiavel.  So distinctly!  23
  Regent.  No feature is wanting. There are good men among them. The honest Roderigo, so experienced and so moderate, who does not aim too high, yet lets nothing sink too low; the upright Alonzo, the diligent Freneda, the steadfast Las Vargas, and others who join them when the good party are in power. But there sits the hollow-eyed Toledan, with brazen front and deep fire glance, muttering between his teeth about womanish softness, ill-timed concession, and that women can ride trained steeds, well enough, but are themselves bad masters of the horse, and the like pleasantries, which, in former times, I have been compelled to hear from political gentlemen.  24
  Machiavel.  You have chosen good colours for your picture.  25
  Regent.  Confess. Machiavel, among the tints from which I might select, there is no hue so livid, so jaundice-like, as Alva’s complexion, and the colour he is wont to paint with. He regards every one as a blasphemer or traitor, for under this head they can all be racked, impaled, quartered, and burnt at pleasure. The good I have accomplished here appears as nothing seen from a distance, just because it is good. Then he dwells on every outbreak that is past, recalls every disturbance that is quieted, and brings before the king such a picture of mutiny, sedition, and audacity, that we appear to him to be actually devouring one another, when with us the transient explosion of a rude people has long been forgotten. Thus he conceives a cordial hatred for the poor people; he views them with horror, as beasts and monsters; looks around for fire and sword, and imagines that by such means human beings are subdued.  26
  Machiavel.  You appear to me too vehement; you take the matter too seriously. Do you not remain Regent?  27
  Regent.  I am aware of that. He will bring his instructions. I am old enough in state affairs to understand how people can be supplanted, without being actually deprived of office. First, he will produce a commission, couched in terms somewhat obscure and equivocal; he will stretch his authority, for the power is in his hands; if I complain, he will hint at secret instructions, if I desire to see them, he will answer evasively; if I insist, he will produce a paper of totally different import; and if this fail to satisfy me, he will go on precisely as if I had never interfered. Meanwhile he will have accomplished what I dread, and have frustrated my most cherished schemes.  28
  Machiavel.  I wish I could contradict you.  29
  Regent.  His harshness and cruelty will again arouse the turbulent spirit, which, with unspeakable patience, I have succeeded in quelling: I shall see my work destroyed before my eyes, and have besides to bear the blame of his wrong-doing.  30
  Machiavel.  Await it, your Highness.  31
  Regent.  I have sufficient self-command to remain quiet. Let him come; I will make way for him with the best grace ere he pushes me aside.  32
  Machiavel.  So important a step thus suddenly?  33
  Regent.  ’Tis harder than you imagine. He who is accustomed to rule, to hold daily in his hand the destiny of thousands, descends from the throne as into the grave. Better thus, however, than linger a spectre among the living, and with hollow aspect endeavour to maintain a place which another has inherited, and already possesses and enjoys.  34


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