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 ‘Erasmus Montanus’
By Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754)
Translation of William Morton Payne
  [Rasmus Berg, the son of Jeppe and Nille, simple country-folk, has been sent to the university for an education, and returns to his home a pedantic prig. He has Latinized his name into Erasmus Montanus, and his attainments make a deep impression upon his parents. The third act introduces, besides these three, the betrothed of Erasmus, Lisbed by name, her parents Jeronimus and Magdelone, Jesper Ridefoged the bailiff, and Per Degn the parish clerk.]

NILLE—My son Montanus is staying away a long while. I wish he would come back before the bailiff goes, for he wants to talk with him, and is curious to ask him about this and that, such as— Why, there he comes! Welcome back, my dear son! Jeronimus must have been glad to see Mr. Son in good health after so long an absence.  1
  Montanus—I spoke neither with Jeronimus nor his daughter, on account of a fellow with whom I got into an argument.  2
  Nille—What sort of a fellow was he? Perhaps it was the schoolmaster.  3
  Montanus—No, it was a stranger who leaves here to-day. I know him a little, although I never associated with him in Copenhagen. I lose my temper completely with people who imagine themselves the embodiment of all wisdom, and who are idiots. I will tell you, little mother, what it was all about. The fellow has been ordinarius opponens once or twice, and therein is his sole merita. But how did he perform his partes? Misere et hæsitanter absq. methodo. When Præses once made a distinction inter rem et modum rei, he asked, Quid hoc est? Wretch! you should have learned that antequam in arenam descendis. “Quid hoc est?” quæ bruta! A fellow that ignores distinctiones cardinales, and yet would dispute publice!  4
  Nille—Well, Mr. Son must not take it too much to heart. I can tell from what you say that he must be a fool.  5
  Montanus—An ignoramus.  6
  Nille—Nothing is more certain.  7
  Montanus—An idiot.  8
  Nille—He cannot be anything else.  9
  Montanus—He publicly confused materiam cum forma.  10
  Nille—He ought to be punished for it.  11
  Montanus—And such a fellow thinks he can dispute.  12
  Nille—The devil he can!  13
  Montanus—Not to speak of the mistake he made in his proœmio, when he said, Lectissimi et doctissimi auditores.  14
  Nille—What a fool he must be!  15
  Montanus—Think of putting lectissimus before doctissimus, when lectissimus is a prædicat, as every beginner should know.  16
  Jeppe—But didn’t my son get to talk with Jeronimus?  17
  Montanus—No, for just as I was going in I saw the fellow passing by the door, and since we knew each other I went up to greet him; whereupon we got into a discussion about learned matters, and finally into a disputation, so that I had to postpone my visit.  18
  Jeppe—I am afraid that Monsieur Jeronimus will take it ill, that my son went to his place and came away without seeing him.  19
  Montanus—I couldn’t help it. When a man attacks philosophy, he attacks my honor. I am fond of Mademoiselle Lisbed, but metaphysica and logica have the prior place in my affections.  20
  Nille—O my dear son, what do I hear? Are you engaged to two other girls in Copenhagen? You may get into trouble with the courts.  21
  Montanus—You don’t understand me: it is not meant that way. They are not girls, but two branches of science.  22
  Nille—That is different. But here comes the bailiff; don’t be angry any more.  23
  Montanus—I can’t be angry with him, because he is a simple and ignorant man, with whom I cannot get into any argument.  24
Enter Jesper
  JesperServiteur, Monsieur. I congratulate you on your return.
  Montanus—Thank you, Mr. Bailiff.  26
  Jesper—I am very glad that we have so learned a man in town. It must have racked his brain a good deal before he got so far. I wish you joy, too, Jeppe Berg! Your son makes you very happy in your old age.  27
  Jeppe—Yes, that is true.  28
  Jesper—Now listen, my dear Monsieur Rasmus: I want to ask you about something.  29
  Montanus—My name is Montanus.  30
  Jesper  [aside to Jeppe]—Montanus—is that Latin for Rasmus?  31
  Jeppe—Yes, it must be.  32
  Jesper—Listen, my dear Monsieur Montanus Berg: I have heard said that learned folks have singular ideas. Is it true that in Copenhagen they think the earth is round? Here in the country no one will believe it; for how can it be, since the earth seems quite flat?  33
  Montanus—That is because the earth is so big that we do not notice its roundness.  34
  Jesper—Yes, that is true: the earth is big; it is almost half as big as the world. But listen, monsieur: how many stars would it take to make a moon?  35
  Montanus—A moon! The moon is to a star about as Pebling Lake is to the whole of Sjælland.  36
  Jesper—Ha, ha, ha, ha! Learned people are never quite right in their heads. I have even heard people say that the earth runs and the sun stands still. Monsieur doesn’t believe that too?  37
  Montanus—No reasonable man any longer doubts it.  38
  Jesper—Ha, ha, ha! If the earth ran, we should all fall over and break our necks.  39
  Montanus—Cannot a ship sail with you without breaking your neck?  40
  Jesper—But you say that the earth goes round; if a ship turned over, wouldn’t the people fall out into the sea?  41
  Montanus—I will explain it more clearly, if you will only be patient.  42
  Jesper—I don’t want to hear about it. I should have to be crazy to believe such stuff. The earth turns round without our all falling into the gulf and going to the devil, ha, ha, ha! But, my dear Monsieur Berg, how does it happen that the moon is sometimes so little and sometimes so big?  43
  Montanus—If I were to tell you, you wouldn’t believe it.  44
  Jesper—But just be good enough to tell me.  45
  Montanus—It is because when the moon is grown to full size, they cut off little pieces to make stars of.  46
  Jesper—That is very curious, I declare. I didn’t know that before. If they didn’t cut off the little pieces it might grow too big, and be as broad as Sjælland. Nature rules things very wisely. But why doesn’t the moon warm us like the sun, since it is quite as big?  47
  Montanus—It is because the moon gives no light, but is made of the same dark matter as the earth, and gets its light from the sun.  48
  Jesper—Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Let us talk about something else. These things are distracting enough to make a man’s head turn Catholic.  49
Enter Per Degn
  Jeppe—Welcome, Per! Good people come where good people are. Here you see my son, who has just come home.
  Per—Welcome here, Monsieur Rasmus Berg!  51
  Montanus—In Copenhagen I am usually called Montanus: I beg that you will address me by that name.  52
  Per—All right, it amounts to about the same thing. How are affairs in Copenhagen? Did many graduate this year?  53
  Montanus—As many as usual.  54
  Per—Were there some rejected this year?  55
  Montanus—Two or three conditionaliter.  56
  Per—Who is imprimatur this year?  57
  Montanus—What do you mean?  58
  Per—I mean, who is imprimatur in verses and books that are printed?  59
  Montanus—Is that supposed to be Latin?  60
  Per—It was good Latin in my time.  61
  Montanus—If it was good Latin then, it must be now; but it was never Latin in the sense you give to it.  62
  Per—Good Latin it is, all the same.  63
  Montanus—Is it a nomen or a verbum?  64
  Per—It is a nomen.  65
  Jesper—That’s right, Per, stick to it!  66
  MontanusCujus declinationis is imprimatur then?  67
  Per—All the words there are, belong to eight classes, which are nomen, pronomen, verbum, principium, conjugatio, declinatio, interjectio.  68
  Jesper—Hear, hear; listen to Per, when he talks off-hand. That is right, press him hard!  69
  Montanus—He doesn’t answer what I ask him. What is imprimatur in genitivo?  70
  PerNominativus ala, genitivus alæ, dativus alo, vocativus alo, ablativus ala.  71
  Jesper—There, there, Monsieur Montanus, we have people here in the country too.  72
  Per—I should say so. In my time the fellows that matriculated were of a different sort from nowadays. They were fellows that got shaved twice a week, and could scandere all sorts of verse.  73
  Montanus—That is a great thing to boast of: anybody can do that now in the second lesson. Fellows now graduate from the schools of Copenhagen who can make Hebrew and Chaldaic verses.  74
  Per—Then they can’t know much Latin.  75
  Montanus—Latin! If you were to go to school now, they would put you in the booby class.  76
  Jesper—Don’t say that, Montanus. I know that the clerk is a deeply studied man; I have heard the tax collector and the district judge say so.  77
  Montanus—Perhaps they know no more Latin than he does.  78
  Jesper—But I can hear that he speaks up stoutly for himself.  79
  Montanus—He doesn’t answer the questions I ask him. E qua schola dismissus es, mi domine?  80
  PerAdjectivum et substantivum genere, numero, et caseo conveniunt.  81
  Jesper—He gives him full measure, i’ faith. Come, Per, we’ll have a glass of brandy together.  82
  Montanus—If Mr. Bailiff knew what these answers meant, he would split his sides laughing. I ask him from what school he graduated, and he answers with a lot of rubbish that has nothing to do with the question.  83
  PerTunc tua res agitur, paries cum proximus ardet.  84
  Jesper—Well, well, now he wants to go on. Just answer that.  85
  Montanus—I cannot answer it; it is mere nonsense. Let us talk Danish together, so that the others can understand, and you will soon find out what sort of fellow he is.  86
[Nille weeps.]
  Jesper—What are you weeping for, mother?
  Nille—It hurts me so to have my son beaten in Latin.  88
  Jesper—Well, mother, that is no wonder,—Per is so much older than he is. It is no wonder. Let them talk Danish now, so we can all understand.  89
  Per—Very well. I am ready for whichever he chooses. We will ask each other a few questions: for example, who was it that cried so loud that he was heard all over the world?  90
  Montanus—I know of no one who can cry louder than donkeys and parish clerks.  91
  Per—Nonsense! can you hear them all over the world? It was an ass in the ark, because the whole world was in the ark.  92
  Jesper—Ha, ha, ha! So it was, ha, ha, ha! Per Degn has got a cunning head on his shoulders.  93
  Per—Who killed a quarter of mankind?  94
  Montanus—I do not answer such coarse questions.  95
  Per—It was Cain, who killed his brother Abel.  96
  Montanus—Prove that there were not more than four human beings in the world.  97
  Per—Prove that there were more.  98
  Montanus—I am not forced to; for affirmanti incumbit probatio. Do you understand that?  99
  Per—Certainly. Omnia conando docilis solertia vincit. Do you understand that?  100
  Montanus—I am very foolish to stay here in disputation with a booby. You would dispute, and know neither Latin nor Danish, still less what logica is. Let us hear, Quid est logica?  101
  PerPost molestam senectutem, post molestam senectutem nos habebat humus.  102
  Montanus—Will the rascal make fun of me?  103
[Grabs him by the hair; they struggle; the clerk escapes, crying “Booby, booby!”  All go out except the bailiff.]
Enter Jeronimus
  Jeronimus—Your servant, Mr. Bailiff. So I find you here. I came to see my future son-in-law, Rasmus Berg.
  Jesper—He will be here right away. Pity you didn’t come half an hour sooner; you might have heard him argue with the clerk.  105
  Jeronimus—How did it come out?  106
  Jesper—Per Degn, deuce take him, is slyer than I thought; I see that he has forgotten neither his Latin nor his Hebrew.  107
  Jeronimus—I can believe that, for he never knew much of them.  108
  Jesper—Don’t say that, Monsieur Jeronimus. He has got a deuce of a mouth on him. It is really a pleasure to hear the man talk Latin.  109
  Jeronimus—That is more than I supposed he could do. But how does my son-in-law look?  110
  Jesper—He looks dreadfully learned; you would hardly know him again. He has got another name, too.  111
  Jeronimus—Another name! What is his name now?  112
  Jesper—He calls himself Montanus, which is the same as Rasmus in Latin.  113
  Jeronimus—Oh fie! that is abominable. I have known many who have thus changed their Christian names, and they never did well in the world. I knew one a few years ago who was christened Peer, and who when he amounted to something sought to change his stamp, and had himself called Peiter. But his Peiter cost him dear, for he broke his leg and died in great wretchedness. Our Lord does not like such doings, Mr. Bailiff.  114
  Jesper—I don’t care what sort of a name he takes, but I don’t like to have him believe in such strange opinions.  115
  Jeronimus—What opinions has he got?  116
  Jesper—They are frightful. The hair stands up on my head when I think of them. I don’t remember all that I heard, but I know that he said for one thing that the earth was round. What do you think of that, Monsieur Jeronimus? It is nothing less than upsetting all religion and leading people away from their faith. A heathen cannot be worse.  117
  Jeronimus—He must have said it in jest.  118
  Jesper—It is dreadful to make such jests. See, there he comes.  119
Enter Montanus
  Montanus—Welcome, dear father-in-law. I am glad to see you in good health.
  Jeronimus—People of my age cannot expect to have remarkable health.  121
  Montanus—You look thoroughly well.  122
  Jeronimus—Do you think so?  123
  Montanus—How is Mademoiselle Lisbed?  124
  Jeronimus—Well enough.  125
  Montanus—Why, what is the matter, that you greet me so coldly, dear father-in-law?  126
  Jeronimus—I have good cause to.  127
  Montanus—What wrong have I done?  128
  Jeronimus—I have been told that you have peculiar opinions: people must think you are crazy or Catholic in your head, for how can a reasonable man have the rashness to say that the earth is round?  129
  Montanus—Of course it is round; I must say what is true.  130
  Jeronimus—It is the Devil’s own truth; such notions must come from the father of lies. I am sure there is not one man in this town who would not condemn such an opinion: ask the bailiff, who is a reasonable man, if he doesn’t agree with me.  131
  Jesper—It is all the same to me whether it is round or long; but I must believe my eyes, and they tell me the earth is flat as a pancake.  132
  Montanus—It is all the same to me what the bailiff or anybody else in this town thinks about it, for I know the earth is round.  133
  Jeronimus—It isn’t round. I believe you are crazy. You have eyes in your head like other men.  134
  Montanus—It is well known, my dear father-in-law, that there are people right under us, with feet pointed toward ours.  135
  Jesper—Ha, ha, ha, hi, hi, hi, ha, ha, ha!  136
  Jeronimus—You may well laugh, for he has a screw loose in his head. Just try once to get up under the ceiling, and turn your head down, and then see what will come of it.  137
  Montanus—That is quite another matter, father-in-law.  138
  Jeronimus—I won’t be your father-in-law any more. I think more of my daughter than to throw her away on you.  139
  Montanus—Your daughter is as dear to me as my own soul, in truth; but you cannot expect me for her sake to renounce philosophy and send my intelligence into exile.  140
  Jeronimus—Yes, yes, I hear you have got some other woman in your head. You may keep your Lucy or Sophy: I shall not force my daughter upon you.  141
  Montanus—You misunderstand me. Philosophy is only a branch of science, and it has opened my eyes in this matter as in others.  142
  Jeronimus—It has rather blinded both eyes and understanding. How can you show such a thing as that?  143
  Montanus—It is not necessary to prove it. Educated persons no longer doubt it.  144
  Jesper—Per Degn would never admit that.  145
  Montanus—Per Degn! He is a nice fellow! I am foolish to stand here and talk philosophy with you; but to please Monsieur Jeronimus, I will give you two proofs. First, that we get from travelers; who, when they get several thousand miles away from us, have daylight when we have night, see other stars and another sky.  146
  Jeronimus—Are you crazy, that you say there is more than one heaven and earth?  147
  Jesper—Yes, Monsieur Jeronimus. There are twelve heavens, one above the other, until you come to the crystal heaven. He is right as to that.  148
  MontanusO quantæ tenebræ!  149
  Jeronimus—I went to Kiel sixteen times when I was young, but as true as I am an honest man, I never saw any other sky than the one we have here.  150
  Montanus—You would have to travel sixteen times as far, Domine Jeronime, before you could see it, because—  151
  Jeronimus—Stop talking such nonsense; it doesn’t lead to anything. Let us hear the other proof.  152
  Montanus—The other proof is from eclipses of the sun and moon.  153
  Jesper—Just listen to that; now he is really crazy.  154
  Montanus—What do you suppose an eclipse is?  155
  Jesper—Eclipses are signs set upon the sun and moon to show when some misfortune is to happen on earth. I can prove that by my own experience: when my wife was sick three years ago, and when my daughter Gertrude died, both times there were eclipses before.  156
  Montanus—Such nonsense will drive me crazy.  157
  Jeronimus—The bailiff is right; for there is never an eclipse that does not mean something. When the last one occurred, everything seemed to be going well, but not for long: only two weeks afterwards we got news from Copenhagen that six students had failed at once, and two of them were deans’ sons. If you don’t hear of something bad in one place after such an eclipse, you are sure to in another.  158
  Montanus—That is certain enough; for no day passes without bringing misfortune in some part of the world. As for the people you speak about, they should not put it off on the eclipse, for if they had studied harder they would have got through.  159
  Jeronimus—What is an eclipse of the moon, then?  160
  Montanus—It is nothing but the earth’s shadow, which deprives the moon of sunlight; and since the shadow is round, we can see that the earth likewise is round. It is all perfectly natural; for we can calculate eclipses, and therefore it is foolishness to say that they are signs of coming misfortune.  161
  Jeronimus—Ah, Mr. Bailiff, I feel sick. It was an unhappy hour when your parents let you study.  162
  Jesper—Yes, he is pretty near to becoming an atheist. I must set Per Degn at him again. There is a man who can talk to some purpose. He shall prove to you, either in Latin or Greek as you like, that the earth, thank God, is as flat as my hand. But there comes Madame Jeronimus with her daughter.  163
Enter Magdelone and Lisbed
  Magdelone—O my dear son-in-law, it is a joy to see you back again in good health.
  Lisbed—O my love, let me embrace you!  165
  Jeronimus—Softly, softly, my child, not so fast.  166
  Lisbed—May I not embrace my betrothed, whom I have not seen for years?  167
  Jeronimus—Keep away from him, I tell you, or you will get beaten.  168
  Lisbed  [weeping]—I know that we were publicly betrothed.  169
  Jeronimus—That is true enough; but a difficulty has since arisen.  170
[Lisbed weeps.]
  Jeronimus—You shall know, my child, that when he became engaged to you he was a well-behaved man and a good Christian; but now he is a heretic and a fanatic, who deserves to be put into the Litany rather than into relationship with us.
  Lisbed—Is that all, father? We can settle that easily enough.  172
  Jeronimus—Keep away from him, I say!  173
  Magdelone—What does this mean, Mr. Bailiff?  174
  Jesper—It is bad enough, madame! He brings false learning into the town, says that the earth is round, and things of that sort that I blush to mention.  175
  Jeronimus—Don’t you pity the good old parents who have spent so much money on him?  176
  Magdelone—Ei, is that all? If he loves our daughter he will give up his notion, and say that the earth is flat, for her sake.  177
  Lisbed—Ah, my love, say for my sake that it is flat.  178
  Montanus—I cannot oblige you, so long as my reason is left me. I cannot give the earth any other shape than it has by nature. I will say and do all that is possible for your sake, but I cannot oblige you in this. For should my fellow students come to know that I had made such a statement, I should be scorned and held for a fool; besides, we learned men never take back what we have said, but defend it to the last drop of our ink-bottle.  179
  Magdelone—Listen, husband: this does not seem to me important enough to make us break off the match.  180
  Jeronimus—And I say that if they were already married, I would have them divorced on account of it.  181
  Magdelone—I think I’ve got something to say about it; for if she is your daughter she is mine too.  182
  Lisbed  [weeping]—O my dear, say that it is flat.  183
  Montanus—That I cannot.  184
  Jeronimus—Listen, wife: you must know that I am the man of the house, and that I am her father.  185
  Magdelone—You must know also that I am the woman of the house, and that I am her mother.  186
  Jeronimus—What I mean is, that a father is of more account than a mother.  187
  Magdelone—And I say that he isn’t, for no one can doubt that I am her mother, while you— I won’t say any more, or I shall get excited.  188
  Lisbed  [weeping]—O my love, can’t you say for my sake that it is flat?  189
  Montanus—I cannot, my pet: nam contra naturam est.  190
  Jeronimus—What do you mean by that, wife? Am I not her father as you are her mother? Listen, Lisbed, am I not your father?  191
  Lisbed—I think you must be, for my mother says so. I think you are my father, but I know she is my mother.  192
  Jeronimus—What do you think of all this nonsense, Mr. Bailiff?  193
  Jesper—I can’t say that ma’mselle is wrong, because—  194
  Jeronimus—That’s enough. Come, let us go. Be quite sure, my good Rasmus Berg, that you shall never get my daughter as long as you persist in your errors.  195
  Lisbed  [weeping]—O my love, say that it is flat!  196
  Jeronimus—Out, out of the door!
[The visitors all depart.]

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