Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘The Political Pewterer’
By Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754)
Translation of William Morton Payne
  [Herman von Bremen, a Hamburg pewterer, has become a dabbler in politics, and with the freedom of ignorance expresses his opinions concerning various affairs of State. He meets regularly with a number of his friends in what they call a Collegium Politicum, for the discussion of political matters. The characters in this act are Herman, his wife Geske, his fellow-politicians, and his servant Heinrich.]

HERMAN—Heinrich, get everything ready. Mugs and pipes on the table. That is right.  1
[Heinrich makes preparations.  One comes in after another, and all take seats at the table, Herman at the head.]
  Herman—Welcome, good men, all of you! Where did we leave off last?
  Richart the Brushmaker—We were talking about the interests of Germany.  3
  Gert the Furrier—That is so; I remember now. It will all come up at the next Reichstag. I wish I could be there for an hour,—I would whisper something to the Elector of Mainz that he would thank me for. The good people do not know where the interests of Germany lie. When did one ever hear of an imperial city like Vienna without a fleet, or at least without galleys? They might keep a war fleet for the defense of the kingdom; there is the war tax and the war treasure. See how much wiser the Turk is. We can never learn to wage war better than he does. There are forests enough in Austria and Prague, if they were only used for ships and masts. If we had a fleet in Austria or Prague, then the Turk and the Frenchman would stop besieging Vienna, and we could go to Constantinople. But nobody thinks of such things.  4
  Sivert the Inspector—No, not a mother’s son of them. Our forefathers were a good deal wiser. It all depends upon circumstances. Germany is no bigger now than it was in the old days, when we not only defended ourselves well enough against our neighbors, but even seized large parts of France, and besieged Paris by land and water.  5
  Frantz the Wigmaker—But Paris isn’t a seaport.  6
  Sivert the Inspector—Then I have read my map very badly. I know how Paris lies. Here lies England, right where my finger is; here is the Channel, here is Bordeaux, and here is Paris.  7
  Frantz the Wigmaker—No, brother! Here is Germany, close to France, which connects with Germany; ergo, Paris cannot be a seaport.  8
  Sivert—Doesn’t France have any sea-coast?  9
  Frantz—No indeed; a Frenchman who has not traveled abroad doesn’t know anything about ships and boats. Ask Master Herman. Isn’t it the way I say, Master Herman?  10
  Herman—I will soon settle the dispute. Heinrich, get us the map of Europe.  11
  The Host—Here you have one, but it is in pieces.  12
  Herman—That doesn’t matter. I know where Paris is, well enough, but I want the map to convince the others. Do you see, Sivert, here is Germany.  13
  Sivert—That is all right; I can tell it by the Danube, which lies here.  14
[As he points to the Danube his elbow tips over a mug, and the beer runs over the map.]
  The Host—The Danube is flowing a little too fast.
[General laughter.]
  Herman—Listen, good people,—we talk too much about foreign affairs: let us talk about Hamburg; there is plenty here to think about. I have often wondered how it happens that we have no settlements in India, and have to buy our wares of others. This is a matter that the Bürgermeister and his council ought to think about.
  Richart—Don’t talk about Bürgermeister and council; if we wait till they think about it, we shall have to wait a long while. Here in Hamburg a bürgermeister gets credit only for restricting law-abiding citizens.  17
  Herman—What I mean, my good men, is that it is not yet too late; for why should not the King of India trade with us as well as with Dutchmen, who have nothing to send him but cheese and butter, which generally spoils on the way? It is my opinion that we should do well to bring the matter before the council. How many of us are there here?  18
  Host—There are only six of us; I don’t believe the other six are coming any more.  19
  Herman—There are enough of us. What is your opinion, host? Let us put it to vote.  20
  Host—I am not wholly in favor of it; for such journeys bring a good many people here from town, and I pick up some skillings from them.  21
  Sivert—It is my opinion that we should think more of the city’s welfare than of our own interests, and that Master Herman’s plan is one of the finest that has ever been made. The more trade we have, the more the city must prosper; the more ships come hither, the better it will be for us small officials. Yet this is not the chief reason why I vote for the plan; and I recommend it wholly for sake of the city’s needs and prosperity.  22
  Gert—I can’t altogether agree with this plan, but propose rather settlements in Greenland and Davis Strait; for such trade would be much better and more useful for the city.  23
  Frantz the Cutler—I see that Gert’s vote has more to do with his own interest than with the good of the republic; for Indian voyages bring less business to furriers than voyages to the North. For my part, I hold that the Indian trade is the most important of all; for in India you can often get from the savages, for a knife or a fork or a pair of scissors, a lump of gold that weighs as much. We must arrange it so that the plan we propose to the council shall not savor of self-interest, else we shall not make much headway with it.  24
  Richart—I am of Niels Skriver’s opinion.  25
  Herman—You vote like a brushmaker: Niels Skriver isn’t here. But what does that woman want? It is my wife, I declare.  26
Enter Geske
  Geske—Are you here, you idler? It would be quite as well if you did some work, or looked after your people a little. We are losing one job after another by your neglect.
  Herman—Be quiet, wife! You may be Frau Bürgermeister before you know it. Do you suppose I am wasting my time? I am doing ten times more work than all of you in the house: you only work with your hands, and I am working with my head.  28
  Geske—That’s what all crazy folks do: they build air-castles, and split their heads with craziness and foolishness, imagining that they are doing something important when it amounts to nothing at all.  29
  Gert—If that was my wife, she shouldn’t talk that way more than once.  30
  Herman—Ei, Gert! A politician mustn’t mind it. Two or three years ago, I would have dressed my wife’s back for such words; but since I began to dip into political books, I have learned to scorn talk like that. Qui nescit simulare, nescit regnare (Who knows not how to dissimulate knows not how to reign), says an old politician who was no fool; I think his name was Agrippa or Albertus Magnus. It is a principle of politics all over the world, that he who cannot bear a few sharp words from an ill-tempered and crazy woman isn’t fit for any high place. Coolness is the greatest of virtues, and the jewel that best adorns rulers and authorities. So I hold that no one here in the city should have a place in the council before he has given proof of his coolness, and let people see that he cannot be disturbed by abusive words, blows, and boxes on the ear. I am quick-tempered by nature, but I strive to overcome it by reflection. I have read in the preface of a book called ‘Der Politische Stockfisch’ (The Political Stockfish) that when a man is overcome with anger he should count twenty, and his anger will often pass away.  31
  Gert—It wouldn’t help me if I counted a hundred.  32
  Herman—That means you are only fit for a humble place. Heinrich, give my wife a mug of beer at the little table.  33
  Geske—Ei, you rascal, do you think I came here to drink?  34
  Herman—One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen—now it is all over. Listen, mother: you mustn’t talk so harshly to your husband,—it is so very vulgar.  35
  Geske—Is it genteel to beg? Hasn’t any wife cause to scold, when she has for husband an idler who neglects his family this way, and lets his wife and children suffer?  36
  Herman—Heinrich, give her a glass of brandy: she is getting excited.  37
  Geske—Heinrich, box the ears of that rascal my husband.  38
  Heinrich—You will have to do that yourself: I don’t like the commission.  39
  Geske—Then I will do it myself.  [Boxes her husband’s ears.]  40
  Herman—One, two, three  [counts up to twenty, then acts as if he were about to strike back, but begins to count twenty over again]—If I hadn’t been a politician, it would have been bad for you.  41
  Gert—If you can’t manage your wife, I’ll do it for you.  [To Geske.]  Get out of here!  42
[Geske flings herself out.]
  Gert—I’ll teach her to stay at home next time. If you have to be dragged about by the hair by your wife to be a politician, I shall never be one.
  Herman—Ah, ah! Qui nescit simulare, nescit regnare. It is easily said, but not so easy to practice. I confess it was a great shame my wife did me; I think I will run after her and beat her in the street. Yet—one, two, three  [counts to twenty].  It is all over: let us talk about something else.  44
  Frantz—Women-folk have altogether too much to say here in Hamburg.  45
  Gert—That is true; I have often thought of making a proposal on the subject. But it is a serious thing to get into trouble with them. The proposal is a good one, however.  46
  Herman—What is your proposal?  47
  Gert—There are not many articles in it. First, I would not have the marriage contract lasting, but only for a certain number of years, so that if a man were not satisfied with his wife, he could make a new contract with another: only both he and his companion should be bound to let each other know, three months before moving day (which might be at Easter or Michaelmas); in case he was satisfied with her, the contract might be renewed. Believe me, if such a law were passed, there wouldn’t be a single bad wife in Hamburg: they would all do their best to please their husbands and get the contract extended. Have any of you anything to say against the article? Frantz! you smile in a knowing way: you must have something to say against it—let us hear from you.  48
  Frantz—Might not a wife sometimes find her account in getting separated from a husband who either treated her badly, or was lazy, doing nothing but eat and drink, without working to support his wife and children? Or she might take a liking for somebody else, and lead her husband such a dance that he would let her go in spite of his resolve to keep her. I think that great misfortunes might spring from such a plan. There are ways to manage a wife, after all. If everybody would, like you, Master Herman, count twenty every time his ears were boxed, we should have a lot of fine wives.—Let us hear the other articles, Gert.  49
  Gert—Yes, you are likely to. You only want to make more fun of me: no plan can be so good that something will not be said against it.  50
  Herman—Let us talk about something else. Anybody who heard us would think we met to discuss the marriage relation. I was thinking last night, when I could not sleep, how the government of Hamburg might be changed so as to shut out a few families, who seem born to be bürgermeisters and councilors, and bring back full freedom to the city. I was thinking that we might choose our bürgermeisters, now from one trade, now from another, so that all citizens could share in the government and all kinds of business prosper: for example, when a goldsmith became bürgermeister he would look after the goldsmiths’ interests, a tailor after the tailors’, a pewterer after the pewterers’; and nobody should be bürgermeister more than a month, so that no trade should prosper more than another. If the government were arranged that way, we might be a truly free people.  51
  All—Your plan is a fine one, Master Herman. You talk like a Solomon.  52
  Franz the Cutler—The plan is good enough, but—  53
  Gert the Furrier—You are always coming in with your “buts.” I believe your father or mother was a Mennonite. 1  54
  Herman—Let him say what he means. What do you want to say? What do you mean by your “but”?  55
  Frantz—I was wondering whether it wouldn’t be hard sometimes to find a good bürgermeister in every trade. Master Herman is good enough, for he has studied; but after he is dead, where could we find another pewterer fit for such an office? For when the republic is on its knees, it isn’t as easy to mold it into another shape as it is to mold a plate or a mug when it is spoiled.  56
  Gert—Oh, rubbish! We can find plenty of good men among the working classes.  57
  Herman—Listen, Frantz: you are a young man yet, and so you can’t see as far into things as we others; but I see that you have a good head, and may amount to something in time. I will briefly prove to you from our own company that your reason is not a good one. There are twelve of us here, all working people, and each of us can see a hundred mistakes that the council makes. Now just imagine one of us made bürgermeister: he could correct the mistakes we have so often talked about, and that the council is too blind to see. Would Hamburg City lose anything by such a bürgermeister? If you good people think it would, I will give up my plan.  58
  All—You are quite right.  59
  Herman—But now about our affairs. The time is going, and we haven’t read the papers yet. Heinrich, let us have the latest papers.  60
  Heinrich—Here are the latest papers.  61
  Herman—Hand them to Richart the brushmaker, who is our reader.  62
  Richart—They write from the head camp on the Rhine that recruits are expected.  63
  Herman—Yes, they have written that a dozen times running. Skip the Rhine. I lose my temper altogether when that thing is talked about. What is the news from Italy?  64
  Richart—They write from Italy that Prince Eugene has broken up his camp, crossed the Po, and passed by all the fortresses to surprise the enemy’s army, which thereupon retreated four miles in great haste. The Duke of Vendôme laid waste his own country on the retreat.  65
  Herman—Ah, ah! His Highness is struck with blindness; we are undone; I wouldn’t give four skillings for the whole army in Italy.  66
  Gert—I believe that the Prince did right; that was always my plan. Didn’t I say the other day, Frantz, that he ought to do so?  67
  Frantz—No, I can’t remember that you did.  68
  Gert—I have said so a hundred times, for how can the army lie and loiter there? The Prince was all right. I will maintain it against anybody.  69
  Herman—Heinrich, give me a glass of brandy. I must say, gentlemen, that things grew black before my eyes when I heard this news read. Your health, Mussiörs! Now, I confess I call it a capital mistake to pass by the fortresses.  70
  Sivert—I would have done just the same if the army had been under my command.  71
  Frantz—Yes, the next thing we shall see is that they will make generals out of inspectors.  72
  Sivert—You need not jeer; I could do as well as some other people.  73
  Gert—I think that Sivert is right, and that the Prince did well to go straight at the enemy.  74
  Herman—Ei, my good Gert, you know too much; you have a good deal to learn yet.  75
  Gert—I won’t learn it from Frantz the cutler.  76
[They get into a sharp quarrel, talk in one another’s faces, get up from their stools, storm and threaten.]
  Herman  [strikes the table and shouts]—Quiet, quiet, gentlemen! Let us not talk about it any more; every one can have his own opinion. Listen, gentlemen, pay attention! Do you suppose the Duke of Vendôme retreated and laid waste the country because he was frightened? No; the fellow has read the chronicle of Alexander Magnus, who acted just that way when Darius pursued him, and then won a victory as great as ours at Hochstedt.
  Heinrich—The postmaster’s clock just struck twelve.  78
  Herman—Then we must all go.
[They continue the dispute on the way out.]
Note 1. This is a play upon the words: Men = but;—Mennist, Mennonite. [back]

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