Fiction > Harvard Classics > Gotthold Ephraim Lessing > Minna von Barnhelm
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781).  Minna von Barnhelm.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act V
Scene IX

  Fran.  And now, my lady, make it up with the poor Major.
  Min.  Oh! kind intercessor! As if the difficulties must not soon explain themselves.  2
  Maj. T.  (after reading the letter, with much emotion.) Ah! nor has he herein belied himself! Oh! Minna, what justice! what clemency! This is more than I expected; more than I deserved!—My fortune, my honour, all is reestablished!—Do I dream? (Looking at the letter, as if to convince himself.) No, no delusion born of my own desires! Read it yourself, Minna; read it yourself!  3
  Min.  I would not presume, Major.  4
  Maj. T.  Presume! The letter is to me; to your Tellheim, Minna. It contains—what your uncle cannot take from you. You must read it! Do read it.  5
  Min.  If it affords you pleasure, Major.  (Takes the letter and reads.)
          “My dear Major von Tellheim,
        “I hereby inform you, that the business which caused me some anxiety on account of your honour, has been cleared up in your favour. My brother had a more detailed knowledge of it, and his testimony has more than proved your innocence. The Treasury has received orders to deliver again to you the bill in question, and to reimburse the sum advanced. I have also ordered that all claims which the Paymaster’s Office brings forward against your accounts be nullified. Please to inform me whether your health will allow of your taking active service again. I can ill spare a man of your courage and sentiments. I am your gracious KING,” &c.
  Maj. T.  Now, what do you say to that, Minna?  7
  Min.  (folding up and returning the letter). I? Nothing.  8
  Maj. T.  Nothing?  9
  Min.  Stay—yes. That your king, who is a great man, can also be a good man.—But what is that to me! He is not my king.  10
  Maj. T.  And do you say nothing more? Nothing about ourselves?  11
  Min.  You are going to serve again. From Major, you will become Lieutenant —Colonel, perhaps Colonel. I congratulate you with all my heart.  12
  Maj. T.  And you do not know me better? No, since fortune restores me sufficient to satisfy the wishes of a reasonable man, it shall depend upon my Minna alone, whether for the future I shall belong to any one else but her. To her service alone my whole life shall be devoted! The service of the great is dangerous, and does not repay the trouble, the restraint, the humiliation which it costs. Minna is not amongst those vain people who love nothing in their husbands beyond their titles and positions. She will love me for myself; and for her sake I will forget the whole world. I became a soldier from party feeling—I do not myself know on what political principles—and from the whim that it is good for every honourable man to try the profession of arms for a time, to make himself familiar with danger, and to learn coolness and determination. Extreme necessity alone could have compelled me to make this trial a fixed mode of life, this temporary occupation a profession. But now that nothing compels me, my whole and sole ambition is to be a peaceful and a contented man. This with you, dearest Minna, I shall infallibly become; this in your society I shall unchangeably remain. Let the holy bond unite us to-morrow; and then we will look round us, and in the whole wide habitable world seek out the most peaceful, the brightest, most smiling nook which wants but a happy couple to be a Paradise. There we will dwell; there shall each day…. What is the matter, Minna? (MINNA turns away uneasily, and endeavours to hide her emotion.)  13
  Min.  (regaining her composure). It is cruel of you, Tellheim, to paint such happiness to me, when I am forced to renounce it. My loss—  14
  Maj. T.  Your loss! Why name your loss? All that Minna could lose is not Minna. You are still the sweetest, dearest, loveliest, best creature under the sun; all goodness and generosity, innocence and bliss! Now and then a little petulant; at times somewhat wilful—so much the better! So much the better! Minna would otherwise be an angel, whom I should honour with trepidation, but not dare to love.  (Takes her hand to kiss it.)  15
  Min.  (drawing away her hand). Not so, sir. Why this sudden change? Is this flattering impetuous lover, the cold Tellheim!—Could his returning good fortune alone create this ardour in him? He will permit me during his passionate excitement to retain the power of reflection for us both. When he could himself reflect, I heard him say—“it is a worthless love which does not scruple to expose its object to scorn.”—True; and I aspire to as pure and noble a love as he himself. Now, when honour calls him, when a great monarch solicits his services, shall I consent that he shall give himself up to love-sick dreams with me? that the illustrious warrior shall degenerate into a toying swain? No, Major, follow the call of your higher destiny.  16
  Maj. T.  Well! if the busy world has greater charms for you, Minna, let us remain in the busy world! How mean, how poor is this busy world; you now only know its gilded surface. Yet certainly, Minna, you will…. But let it be so! until then! Your charms shall not want admirers, nor will my happiness lack enviers.  17
  Min.  No, Tellheim, I do not mean that! I send you back into the busy world, on the road of honour, without wishing to accompany you. Tellheim will there require an irreproachable wife! A fugitive Saxon girl who has thrown herself upon him—  18
  Maj. T.  (starting up, and looking fiercely about him). Who dare say that! Ah! Minna, I feel afraid of myself, when I imagine that any one but yourself could have spoken so. My anger against him would know no bounds.  19
  Min.  Exactly! That is just what I fear. You would not endure one word of calumny against me, and yet you would have to put up with the very bitterest every day. In short, Tellheim, hear what I have firmly determined, and from which nothing in the world shall turn me—  20
  Maj. T.  Before you proceed, I implore you, Minna, reflect for one moment, that you are about to pronounce a sentence of life or death upon me!  21
  Min.  Without a moment’s reflection!… As certainly as I have given you back the ring with which you formerly pledged your troth to me, as certainly as you have taken back that same ring, so certainly shall the unfortunate Minna never be the wife of the fortunate Tellheim!  22
  Maj. T.  And herewith you pronounce my sentence.  23
  Min.  Equality is the only sure bond of love. The happy Minna only wished to live for the happy Tellheim. Even Minna in misfortune would have allowed herself to be persuaded either to increase or to assuage the misfortune of her friend through herself…. He must have seen, before the arrival of that letter, which has again destroyed all equality between us, that in appearance only I refused.  24
  Maj. T.  Is that true? I thank you, Minna, that you have not yet pronounced the sentence. You will only marry Tellheim when unfortunate? You may have him. (Coolly.) I perceive now that it would be indecorous in me to accept this tardy justice; that it will be better if I do not seek again that of which I have been deprived by such shameful suspicion. Yes; I will suppose that I have not received the letter. Behold my only answer to it!  (About to tear it up.)  25
  Min.  (stopping him). What are you going to do, Tellheim?  26
  Maj. T.  Obtain your hand.  27
  Min.  Stop!  28
  Maj. T.  Madam, it is torn without fail if you do not quickly recall your words.—Then we will see what else you may have to object to in me.  29
  Min.  What! In such a tone? Shall I, must I, thus become contemptible in my own eyes? Never! She is a worthless creature, who is not ashamed to owe her whole happiness to the blind tenderness of a man!  30
  Maj. T.  False! utterly false!  31
  Min.  Can you venture to find fault with your own words when coming from my lips?  32
  Maj. T.  Sophistry! Does the weaker sex dishonour itself by every action which does not become the stronger? Or can a man do everything which is proper in a woman? Which is appointed by nature to be the support of the other?  33
  Min.  Be not alarmed, Tellheim!… I shall not be quite unprotected, if I must decline the honour of your protection. I shall still have as much as is absolutely necessary. I have announced my arrival to our ambassador. I am to see him to-day. I hope he will assist me. Time is flying. Permit me, Major—  34
  Maj. T.  I will accompany you, Madam.  35
  Min.  No, Major; leave me.  36
  Maj. T.  Sooner shall your shadow desert you! Come Madam, where you will, to whom you will everywhere, to friends and strangers, will I repeat in your presence—repeat a hundred times each day—what a bond binds you to me, and with what cruel caprice you wish to break it—  37


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