Category Archives: Hoffmann


Heinrich Heine: The Romantic School

The Poets of Legend: Goethe. Schiller and … Heinrich Heine.A favorite among Lieder composers, Heine’s literary works comprise twenty volumes, Die Romantische Schule two of them. Published in French and German 1833-36; this translation by Charles Godfrey Leland. Below, the great Poet’s thoughts on Novalis and Hoffmann.
But what was the Romantic School in Germany? It was nothing else but the Reawakening of the Middle Ages … its songs, images and architecture, in art and in life.
I have little to say regarding Schelling’s relationship to the Romantic School. His influence was mostly personal, but since the Philosophy of Nature through him has sprung into life and into vogue, Nature has been much more intelligently grasped by poets. Some are absorbed with all their human feelings into Nature; others have noted certain magic forms by means of which something human can be made to look forth and speak from it. The former are the true mystics, and resemble in many respects the Indian devotees who sink into Nature, and at last begin to feel in common with it. The others are more like enchanters, who, by their own power of will, evoked even fiends; they are like the Arabian sorcerers, who could animate every stone, or petrify, as they pleased, every living being.
To the first of these belong Novalis; to the second, Hoffmann.
Novalis saw everywhere the marvelous,
And, in its loveliness and beauty,
He listened to the language of the plants;
He knew the secret
Of every young rose, he identified himself with all
Nature; and when the autumn came and
the leaves fell, he died.
Hoffmann, on the contrary, saw spectres everywhere; they nodded to him from every Chinese teapot and every Berlin wig; he was a magician who changed men into brutes, and these again into Royal Prussian court counselors. He could call the dead from their graves, but he repulsed life from himself like a dismal ghost. And thus he felt he himself had become a spectre; all Nature was to him like a badly-ground mirror, in which he, distorted in a thousand ways, saw only his own death mask, and his works are only one terrible cry of agony in twenty volumes.
Hoffmann did not belong to the Romantic School. He was in no way allied to the Schlegels, and still less to their tendencies. I only mention him here in opposition to Novalis, who was really a poet of that kind. Novalis is less well known in France than Hoffmann, whom Loeve-Veimars has placed before the public in such admirable form, and thereby attained such a reputation.
By us inGermany, Hoffmann is no longer in fashion, but once it was otherwise. Once he was very much read, but only by men whose nerves were too strong or too weak to be affected by soft accords. Men of true genius and poetic natures would hear nothing of him; they, by far, preferred Novalis.
But, honestly speaking, Hoffmann was, as a poet. far superior to Novalis, for the latter always sweeps in the air with his ideal forms, while Hoffmann, with all his odd imps, sticks to earthly reality. But as the giant Antaeus remained invincibly strong while his feet touched his mother earth, and lost his strength when Hercules raised him in the air, so is the poet strong and powerful so long as he does not leave the basis of reality, but becomes weak when whirling about in the blue air.
The great resemblance in these poets lies in this: That in both their poetry is really a malady, and in this relation it has been declared that judgment as to their works was the business of a physician rather than a critic. The rosy gleam in the glow of Novalis is not the glow of health; and the purple heat in Hoffmann’s Phantasiestücken is not the flame of genius but of fever.
But have we the right to make such remarks, we who are not blessed with excess of health, above all at present; when literature resembles a vast lazar-house? Or is it perhaps poetry is a disease of mankind, just as the pearl is only the material of a disease which the poor oyster suffers?
Novalis was born May 2, 1772. His real name was Hardenberg. He loved a young lady who suffered from and died of consumption. This sad story inspired all his writings; his life was a dreamy dying in consequence, and he himself died of consumption in 1801, before he had completed his twenty-ninth year, or his novel.
This work as it exists is only the fragment of a great allegorical poem, which, like “Divine Comedy” of Dante, was to treat earnestly all things of earth and heaven. Heinrich von Ofterdingen, the famous poet, is the hero.
We see him as a youth in Eisenach, the charming town which lies at the foot of old Wartburg, where the greatest and also the stupidest things have been done; that is, where Luther translated the Bible, and certain idiotic Teutomaniacs burned the Gendarme Code of Herr Kamptz. There too in that castle was held the greatest contest of minstrels where among other poets Heinrich von Ofterdingen sang in the dangerous contest with Klingsohr of Hungary, an account of which has been preserved in the Manesse collection. He who was vanquished was to lose his head, and the Landgrave ofThuringia was to be the judge. The Wartburg rises as with mysterious signification over the cradle of the hero, and the beginning of the novel shows him in the paternal home of Eisenach.
The parents are still sleeping, the hanging clock beats monotonously, the wind blows against the rattling windows; now and then the room is lighted by the rays of the moon. The youth lays restlessly on the couch, thinking of the stranger and of his tales.
“It was not the treasure,” he said to himself, “which awoke in me such unutterable desire; all covetousness is far from me; but I long to see the Blue Flower. It haunts me all the time, and I can think and fancy of nothing else.”
Heinrich von Ofterdingen begins with such words, and the Blue Flower sheds it light and breathes its perfume through the whole romance. It is marvelous and full of meaning that the most imaginary characters of this book seem to us as real as if we had known them long ago.
Old memories awaken. The Muse of Novalis was a slender snow-white maid with serious blue eyes, golden hyacinthine locks and smiling lips … and I imagine it was the same damsel – the Muse of Novalis – who made me aware of him.

Novalis

Novalis

E.T.A. Hoffmann: “Master Flea” 2/2

An illustrated brief version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Meister Floh” — excerpted from “Tales of the Nations,” a picture book published in Hamburg in 1933 by the “Cigarettenbilderdienst Hamburg-Bahrenfeld” (“Cigarette Picture Service”).Narrator and Illustrator:Stefan Mart.

During such a fight, Alina one day saw among the gaping crowd a young man with long curly hair who was making his way up to the steps of the booth. The girl couldn’t believe her eyes, but there was no doubt: that was what Zeherit, her thistle prince, would look like in human form. And it really was him! He had taken on human shape because of his great longing to see the lovely girl and to be able to protect her in the dismal darkness of the human world.

“Zeherit!” Alinore cried out in joyful surprise on her high platform. But the youth put his finger on his lips, indicating that she should remain silent, and in feverish haste he gave her a folded piece of paper on which a few words had been scribbled.

The note was signed “Pepush”. Alina read it, her heart beating fast. – “Oh, Mr Pepush…!” At that moment Leuwenhoek’s big bell rang out summoning her and Master Flea to the performance in the tent. Still very confused, little Alina looked around in the dim light of the theatre for the Master. But he was sitting far away from her, and was very aggrieved because he had seen her gazing at Mr Pepush and knew she had fallen in love with him. Master Flea had his pride.

It was he who had rescued her – had she forgotten that his bites were still essential to preserve her life? Deeply mortified, he decided he would leave the girl. A tumult set in outside the tent. The rival entrepreneur had once again turned his megaphone in the direction of Leuwenhoek’s circus. Swammer was trying to prevent the crowd from entering the tent. Master Flea seized the opportunity. He took a determined jump to freedom through a hole in the canvas of the tent.

To his surprise, he found himself among the colourful odds and ends on sale in the neighbouring booth, a toy bazaar. Among many others looking at the goods stood a very respectable gentleman, Mr Peregrinus

Tys, who was doing his Christmas shopping. Mr Peregrinus was a bachelor: not, however, on principle but due to excessive shyness, which he was unable to overcome in the presence of the fair sex. He had selected the very finest things as he wanted to give many presents to the children of his neighbour, a bookbinder called Shepherd.

The real reason for his generosity he did not admit even to himself: he had long felt secretly attracted to the eldest daughter of this large family but he did not dare to raise his eyes and look freely and openly at the gentle, beautiful girl.

Peregrinus Tys, both arms laden with presents, was just about to reach for the last item he had selected – an oval box with a picture of a wild boar hunt on it – when a little incident took place. Master Flea came leaping out. He had noticed Alina following him in her fear. He quickly sprang into one of the boxes lying on the counter in order to hide. But Alina was already there, seized the box in which she thought Master Flea had taken refuge, and ran off with it.

Peregrinus hesitated for a moment, his hand outstretched, but then he took hold of what he thought was the box with hunting scene. – When he got home, his housekeeper took charge of his purchases. Pauline was a stout old dame with a beetroot-red nose. She was the only female whose presence the shy and introverted eccentric would tolerate in his vicinity. Heaven alone knows how this ugly creature with her watery eyes and unkempt hair came to be known as the Empress of Golgonda. –

It must be said right away that the heart of the bachelor, Mr Peregrinus Tys, had never beaten so fast on any previous Christmas Eve as it was now beating in anxious anticipation. He already heard in his imagination the little silver bell tinkling gently at Shepherd’s and the loud jubilation of all the children. But before he left, he checked the presents once more. He was annoyed to find that box with the hunting scene had somehow gone astray. Then he noticed another unopened box.

When he opened it he saw to his horror that it was empty, except that something seemed to leap out of it towards him which bore some resemblance to a large coloured flea. But his eyesight was not good enough for him to be sure.

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He now felt a strange tickling sensation under his cravat. But as it was Christmas, Mr Peregrinus did not wish to delay any further and prepared to visit his neighbour to bring him all the wonderful presents. But before him now stood a very pretty, slender creature dressed up as though she were coming from a ball, wearing a silk gown, and a tiara in her dark hair. The frightened bachelor wanted to make off at once, but the apparition took him by both hands and whispered in her delightful voice: “Oh, Peregrin, dear Peregrin, I am bringing you the wooden box with the missing hunting scene.”

It was Alinore, who had noticed her mistake. This incident and the sight of the beautiful girl was too much for the fat housekeeper, Pauline, who was still present in the room. Being unwilling to tolerate a second woman in her vicinity, she refused to serve, gave notice and hurried out of the house. When Alina was alone with Mr Peregrinus Tys, she fell on her knees before him: “My dear friend, return the prisoner to me! My very life depends upon it!” Peregrinus did not know that the prisoner she was talking about was that something that had escaped from the empty box. He thought a mill wheel was revolving in his head.

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He heard sobbing and weeping. When he had recovered from his dizziness, he saw the beautiful girl lying on the ground before him, motionless and pale as death. “Be on your guard, good sir, be on your guard!” Peregrinus heard something whisper this just under his nose. A tiny monster was sitting on his silken cravat. A pair of round, bright eyes shone out of its bird-like head, and a long pointed object protruded from its sparrow’s beak.

Two horns grew out of its forehead, and on its feet the curious creature was wearing golden boots with diamond spurs. – “Though you do not know me, good Mr Peregrinus; I beg you, sir, allow me to introduce myself – I am Master Flea. Permit me to insert a minute microscope made by a skilled optician of my people into the pupil of your left eye. You will see at once what power this microscope will give you over others, since you will be able to read their innermost thoughts.

But do not always wear it, as it would weigh you down unbearably to always know what your fellow men are thinking!” So enthralled was Peregrinus Tys by this magical insect that he had almost forgotten the beautiful girl lying lifeless at his feet. – “Woe is me, I am dying!” Alinore murmured through her snow-white lips. – “Give – the – prisoner! – I am dying!” All at once a penetrating but harmonious sound was to be heard, as though little golden bells had been struck. Alinore leaped up and hopped around the room laughing, her lips and cheeks now rosy and warm. Good Master Flea had taken pity on her and bitten

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her. Mr Peregrinus Tys stood there motionless with astonishment; but that was not the end of the wondrous events of the day. The door was thrown open – Leuwenhoek and Swammer burst in. The two scoundrels had resolved their differences and were determined to join forces to bring back the two escaped prisoners. Due to the power of the microscope, Peregrinus Tys became instantly aware of the sinister thoughts of these villains. A third person appeared – Mr Pepush turned up to protect Alinore.

Mr Peregrinus, the bachelor, began to understand the background of these mysterious events thanks to that marvelous instrument which Master Flea had inserted into his eye. To everybody’s amazement, a milky ray of light came in through the window, and wound itself in a spiral around the chandelier. The Sublime Spirit from the fairy-land of Famagusta had arrived at the very last minute to recover his assets from the two magicians who had stolen them.

As soon as he had taken on visible form, the two magicians, Swammer and Leuwenhoek, fell upon the spirit with howls of rage; they grabbed two chairs and lambasted it until the milky substance of his body was flowing out of it in all directions. Only then was the magic spell broken which had bound lovely Alinore and Mr Pepush, and the two magicians no longer had any power over them either.

Alinore fell into Mr Pepush’s arms; they were both now so happy that they had enough vitality to live as humans for a whole lifetime. Swammer and Leuwenhoek made off like two beaten curs. – The air had been cleared. Master Flea bestirred himself. He whispered to the bachelor, Peregrinus Tys, who was now alone: “Now is the time for you to take a big decision, Mr Peregrinus.

Take your presents and let us go over to your neighbour. I can tell you a secret: that lovely girl Rosy Shepherd has been waiting for you with impatience. Don’t be so shy, Mr Peregrinus, give the child your hand and tell her that you are ready!”

A year of marital bliss had passed. Nobody would have recognised the former bachelor Peregrinus: he had become a useful husband. He sat at the cradle and was rocking his first-born son.

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“I would never have known you, my son, had it not been for Master Flea.” The good papa was telling his sleeping baby son the whole epic of the flea from start to finish. – Peregrinus suddenly raised his head. He could hear shouting in the kitchen. Master Flea had bitten fat Pauline’s nose, because the old housekeeper had been careless enough to let the baby’s milk boil over. Rosy, the beautiful young wife, now joined the happy father at the cradle and both laughed merrily at the joke.

But they then heard the silvery sound of Master Flea’s voice: “Mr and Mrs Peregrinus Tys, your devoted servant! I beg to inform you that my mission here has been accomplished. I would ask you to remember that I am, after all, a flea. Please excuse me! I am expected elsewhere. Should His Grace, young Master Tys, ever fall into bad health, I shall appear at once and help out with a couple of bites!”

Having made this promise, the kindly insect executed some extraordinary leaps: “Goodbye! I am jumping back to my madcaps, to the flea people whose master I am!”

The End

E.T.A. Hoffmann: “Master Flea” 1/2

An illustrated version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Meister Floh” — excerpted from “Tales of the Nations,” a picture book published in Hamburg in 1933 by the “Cigarettenbilderdienst Hamburg-Bahrenfeld” (“Cigarette Picture Service”).Narrator and Illustrator:Stefan Mart.

n the fairy-tale land of Famagusta – the land of the strangest flowers and of blossom creatures, the land of speaking birds and other marvels never seen or heard by any mortal – two intruders turned up one day from the world of human beings. They were both very handsome lads, but rogues of bad character, magicians and sorcerers by profession.

They appeared in the guise of harmless botanists with green specimen containers and butterfly nets. But they also had hidden on their persons sharp-edged instruments, microscopes and collapsible telescopes. It was only due to a number of coincidences that they were able to enter this land – something which these scoundrels may have divined through their magic arts. It so happened that the guardian of this fairy-tale land, a giant as tall as a tree, was just taking his seven-day nap.

And the Sublime Spirit that kept watch over everything had just flown off on a trip to the stars to make a few inquiries. That was how the two magicians managed to set out on their searches

undisturbed. One of the two was called Leuwenhoek; he had a flea circus at a fun fair outside the gates of a small town close by. The other, whose name was Swammer, had a conjurer’s stall there. They soon discovered something with their powerful microscopes which had them dancing for joy like a pair of billy goats.

They had found a pearl lying in the stamen of a tulip which reflected the portrait of a beautiful girl’s face in its magnificent lustre. The two magicians at once began to make use of their sinister powers to break the spell binding the pearl. A prickly thistle, known in this fairy-tale land as Zeherit, the thistle prince, grew very close to the tulip and had always sought to protect the magic pearl. The prince, in despair, stuck his thorns into everything he could reach, and Leuwenhoek and Swammer often howled with pain, their howls sounding like the hoarse barking of old watch dogs.

However, after much experimenting, the magicians succeeded in their endeavours. A slender girl of almost ethereal beauty soon sprang out of the tulip. Leuwenhoek at once caught hold of the extraordinary creature with his rough hands so that she could not escape him. The other rascal, Swammer, would have liked to take hold of her as well, but he was probably afraid that the delicate little creature might be destroyed, as she hardly showed any signs of life. He relied on his cunning and was already quietly planning to remove this miraculous creature from his colleague.

While the two magicians were both secretly pondering how they could take sole possession of this girl of elfin beauty, they suddenly heard a very fine melodious voice that must have come

from a creature leaping around high up over them. Sometimes the voice came from behind, sometimes from above them in the air, then from the right and then again from the left. – “Oh dear, oh dear! what have you done, you scoundrels? You will not escape severe punishment: you have changed Alinore, the daughter of great King Sekatis, back into human shape. The Sublime Spirit had changed her into a pearl in order to preserve her from the burden of life on earth. Shame on you scoundrels!” But the two unscrupulous magicians only laughed.

Leuwenhoek took an ever firmer hold of the little girl, taking out his telescope with his other hand to see who was jumping around with such amazing prowess. – It had to be an incredibly small and also quite remarkable creature. – “Right! There it is!” cried Leuwenhoek, “it’s a huge flea as big as a good-sized bean. That would be the very thing for my circus!” He focussed his glass so directly on the insect that, in the middle of a big leap, it fell from the sky, stunned, and landed right on the nose of Leuwenhoek the flea-tamer. The flea slipped down the smooth, even surface of the nose and, still dizzy, unfortunately leapt straight into the big botanical specimen container, the cover of which was wide open. – “Well!

That’s taken care of!” said Leuwenhoek with a pleased grunt, closing the box. – “This splendid specimen of a flea will be the main attraction of my show!” – Now it was time for the magicians to see to gentle little Alinore. During the flea hunt, Leuwenhoek had taken too firm a grip of her, and the lovely girl now lay across his arm like a lifeless doll. – “Help her soul! She is dying before my eyes!” cried the flea-tamer in disappointment.

Both magicians now murmured magic spells and exhaled their warm breath over her in the hope of bringing her home alive. Leuwenhoek put the girl very carefully into his specimen container, which had fly-mesh on both sides, and he ran off with it as fast as he could to bring his loot to safety. Swammer ran after him, spitting with rage, as he begrudged his colleague the ownership of Alinore. Now that the flea was alone in the specimen container with little Alinore, a human being, it at once came to and took a lively interest in her condition. The poor girl wasn’t able to live or die and was moaning in her struggle with death. The flea saw how beautiful and graceful she was, was filled with pity for her and decided to help. –

“Quiet, fair human child! We shall very soon cross the border of fairy-land Famagusta. – But before we cross the border, I cannot give you the vitality you need; only then does the power of the Sublime Spirit cease and am I out of reach of his revenge.”

“I am dying! I am dying!” breathed Alinore, who became pale as death and fainted. The flea quickly bit the unfortunate girl in the shoulder. As if by magic, Alinore opened her eyes, and warm colour returned to her cheeks. She smiled like a delighted child and kept calling out: “My heart is beating! – I am alive! A thousand thanks to you, Master Flea!” – But the lovely girl was soon to be torn out of her happy fairy-tale dreams and to learn that it does not bring happiness to be brought into the world of humans.

Only a few days later she was standing on the rough and shaky stage of the fun-fair booth which belonged to Leuwenhoek the flea-tamer. Behind her a canvas backdrop covered with silly and horrible coloured pictures fluttered in the wind. The sounds of squeaky organ notes, bad music and cracked bells came from all sides, producing deafening confusion. People shoved and pushed everywhere, shouting like rough-voiced cattle drivers.

Alinore found herself in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the fun-fair. She thought with longing of the land of Famagusta; she thought of Zeherit, the noble thistle prince, who had always kept his arms chivalrously around her to protect her from trouble. It now seemed to her to be a paradise lost. Master Flea was her only comfort and she could count on his unconditional help.

He sat next to her, fettered with a tiny little chain to the large nose of a huge papier-maché mask. They were both supposed to attract passers-by into the booth. They both had to sing a little song. Master Flea usually performed a few jumps and sang first:

I am the master of the fleas
Jump twenty metres if you please.
Golden garments can I wear
Travelling in my sedan chair.
I can ride and fire a cannon
And in duelling I’m a champion.
My somersaults on the trapeze –
Just watch them, and your blood will freeze.
Now, hurry up, the show is starting
Entrance fee for kids: one farthing.

Straight afterwards came the wonderfully delicate voice of the lovely girl, and everybody paid attention:

I’m pretty Princess Alina.
Doll-like is my demeanour.
I’m from a fairyland forlorn,
In Famagusta I was born –
Where some enchanted humans live,
Where hidden spirits reign and thrive,
Where birds and flowers all can speak,
Where . . . .

She didn’t get any further. Swammer, the rogue, had his conjuror’s booth straight opposite Leuwenhoek’s, and he was extremely envious of his colleague’s success. He was determined to employ all means to undermine his rival’s business. As soon as Master Flea and Alina began to sing their songs, the scoundrel would take his megaphone and drown their gentle voices. Then the injured party Leuwenhoek would dash out from behind the red velvet curtain of his flea theatre in a towering rage.

The two sinister magicians drew their dangerous weapons and – the battle of the telescopes began. The former friends, now bitter enemies, attacked each other with huge telescopes. – “Draw, damned scoundrel, if you have the courage!” shouted Leuwenhoek. – “Come on! I am not afraid of you – you will soon feel my strength!” cried Swammer and he, too, took his telescope apart. Both now put the well focussed glasses to their eyes and continued to denounce each other violently.

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The struggle continued with murderous flashes aimed at each other’s eyes. Both fought as hard as they could, sometimes lengthening their weapons, sometimes shortening them, by pulling out or collapsing the instruments. The combattants often hit their targets, and jumped wildly up and down with pain, supplying a musical accompaniment of howling and screaming reminiscent of the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the damned in hell.

To be continued…

E.T.A. Hoffmann: “The Deserted House” 3/3

Excerpt, “The Lock and Key Library: Classic Mystery and Detective Stories – German.” Edited by Julian Hawthorne, 1909.

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“Welcome. Welcome, sweet bridegroom. The hour has come … our bridal hour.”
I heard these words in a woman’s voice, as little as I can tell how I came into the room. Just so little do I know how it happened that suddenly a tall, youthful figure, richly dressed, seemed to arise from the blue mists. With the repeated shrill cry: “Welcome, sweet bridegroom!” she came toward me with outstretched arms — and a yellow face, distorted with age and madness, stared into mine! I fell back in terror, but the fiery, piercing glance of her eyes, like the eyes of a snake, seemed to hold me spellbound.
I did not seem able to turn my eyes from this terrible old woman, I could not move another step. She came still nearer, and it seemed to me suddenly as if her hideous face were only a thin mask, beneath which I saw the features of the beautiful maiden of my vision. Already I felt the touch of her hands, when suddenly she fell at my feet with a loud scream, and a voice behind me cried:
“Oho, is the devil playing his tricks with your grace again? To bed, to bed, your grace. Else there will be blows, mighty blows!”
I turned quickly and saw the old steward in his night clothes, swinging a whip above his head. He was about to strike the screaming figure at my feet when I caught at his arm. But he shook me from him, exclaiming: “The devil, sir! The old Satan would have murdered you if I had not come to your aid. Get away from here at once!”
I rushed from the hall, and sought in vain in the darkness for the door of the house. Behind me I heard the hissing blows of the whip and the old woman’s screams. I drew breath to call aloud for help, when suddenly the ground gave way under my feet; I fell down a short flight of stairs, bringing up with such force against a door at the bottom that it sprang open, and I measured my length on the floor of a small room. From the hastily vacated bed. and from the familiar brown coat hanging over a chair, I saw that I was in the bedchamber of the old steward.
There was a trampling on the stair, and the old man himself entered hastily, throwing himself at my feet. “By all the saints, sir,” he entreated with the folded hands, “whoever you may be, and however her grace, that old Satan of a witch, has managed to entice you to this house, do not speak to anyone of what has happened here. It will cost me my position. Her crazy excellency has been punished, and is bound fast in her bed. Sleep well, good sir, sleep softly and sweetly. It is a warm and beautiful July night. There is no moon, but the stars shine brightly. A quiet good night to you.”
While talking, the old man had taken up a lamp, had led me out of the basement, pushed me out of the house door, and locked it behind me. I hurried home quite bewildered, and you can imagine that I was too much confused by the grewsome secret to be able to form any explanation of it in my own mind for the first few days. Only this much was certain, that I was now free from the evil spell that had held me captive so long.
All my longing for the magic vision in the mirror had disappeared, and the memory of the scene in the deserted house was like the recollection of an unexpected visit to a madhouse. It was evident beyond a doubt that the steward was the tyrannical guardian of a crazy woman of noble birth, whose condition was to be hidden from the world. But the mirror? and all the other magic? Listen, and I will tell you more about it.
Some few days later I came upon Count P. at an evening entertainment. He drew me to one side and said, with a smile, “Do you know that the secrets of our deserted house are beginning to be revealed?” I listened with interest; but before the count could say more the doors of the dining room were thrown open, and the company proceeded to the table. Quite lost in thought at the words I had just heard, I had given a young lady my arm, and had taken my place mechanically in the ceremonious procession. I led my companion to the seats arranged for us, and then turned to look at her for the first time.
The vision of my mirror stood before me, feature for feature, there was no deception possible! I trembled to my innermost heart, as you can image; but I discovered that there was not the slightest echo even, in my heart, of the mad desire which had ruled me so entirely when my breath drew out the magic picture from the glass. My astonishment, or rather my terror, must have been apparent in my eyes. The girl looked at me in such surprise that I endeavored to control myself sufficiently to remark that I must have met her somewhere before.
Her short answer, to the effect that this could hardly be possible, as she had come to the city only yesterday for the first time in her life, bewildered me still more and threw me into an awkward silence. The sweet glance from her gentle eyes brought back my course, and I began a tentative exploring of this new companion’s mind. I found that I had before me a sweet and delicate being, suffering from some psychic trouble. At a particularly merry turn of the conversation, when I would throw in a daring word like a dash of pepper, she would smile, but her smile was pained, as if a wound had been touched.
“You are not very merry tonight, countess. Was it the visit this morning?” An officer sitting near us had spoken these words to my companion, but before he could finish his remark his neighbor had grasped him by the arm and whispered something in his ear, while a lady at the other side of the table, with glowing cheeks and angry eyes, began to talk loudly of the opera she had heard last evening. Tears came to the eyes of the girl sitting beside me. “Am I not foolish?” She turned to me. A few moments before, she had complained of headache. “Merely, the usual evidence of a nervous headache.”
I answered in an easy tone, “and there is nothing better for it than the merry spirit which bubbles in the foam of this poet’s nectar.” With these words, I filled her champagne glass, and she sipped at it as she threw me a look of gratitude. Her mood brightened, and all would have been well had I not touched a glass before me with unexpected strength, arousing from it a shrill, high tone. My companion grew deadly pale, and I myself felt a sudden shiver, for the sound had exactly the tone of the mad woman’s voice in the deserted house.
While we were drinking coffee, I made an opportunity to get to the side of Count P. He understood the reason for my movement. “Do you know that your neighbor is Countess Edwina S? And do you known also that is her mother’s sister who lives in the deserted house, incurably mad for many years? This morning both mother and daughter went to see the unfortunate woman. The old steward, the only person who is able to control the countess in her outbreaks, is seriously ill, and they say that the sister has finally revealed the secret to Dr. K. This eminent physician will endeavor to cure the patient, or if this is not possible, at least to prevent her terrible outbreaks of mania. This is all that I know yet.”
Others joined us and we were obliged to change the subject . Dr. K was the physician to whom I had turned in my own anxiety, and you can well imagine that I hurried to him as soon as I was free, and told him all that had happened to me in the last days.
I asked him to tell me as much as he could about the mad woman, for my own peace of mind; and this is what I learned from him under promise of secrecy.
“Angelica, Countess Z,” thus the doctor began, “had already passed her thirtieth year, but was still in full possession of great beauty, when Count S, although much younger than she, became so fascinated by her charm that he wooed her with ardent devotion and followed her to her father’s home to try his luck there. But scarcely had the count entered the house, scarcely had he caught sight of Angelica’s younger sister, Gabrielle, when he awoke as from a dream. The elder sister appeared faded and colorless beside Gabrielle, whose beauty and charm so enthralled the count that he begged her hand of her father.
Count Z gave his consent easily, as there was no doubt of Gabrielle’s feelings toward her suitor. Angelica did not show the slightest anger at her lover’s faithlessness. ‘He believes he has forsaken me, the foolish boy! He does not perceive that he was but my toy, a toy of which I had tired.” Thus she spoke in proud scorn, and not a look or an action on her part belied her words. But after the ceremonious betrothal of Gabrielle to Count S, Angelica was seldom seen by the members of the family. She did not appear at the dinner table, and it was said that she spent most of her time walking alone in the neighboring wood.
“A strange occurrence disturbed the monotonous quiet of life in the castle. The hunters of Count Z, assisted by peasants from the village, had captured a band of gypsies who were accused of several robberies and murders which had happened recently in the neighborhood. The men were brought to the castle courtyard, fettered together on a long chain, while the women and children were packed on a cart. Noticeable among the last was a tall, haggard old woman of terrifying aspect, wrapped from head to foot in a red shawl. She stood upright in the cart, and in an imperious tone demanded that she should be allowed to descend. The guards were so awed by her manner and appearance that they obeyed her at once.
“Count Z came down to the courtyard and commanded that the gang should be placed in the prisons under the castle. Suddenly, Countess Angelica rushed out of the door, her hair all loose, her fear and anxiety in her pale face. Throwing herself on her knees, she cried in a piercing voice, “Let these people go! Let these people go! They are innocent! Father, let these people go! If you shed one drop of their blood I will pierce my heart with this knife!” The countess swung a shining knife in the air and then sank swooning to the ground. “Yes, my beautiful darling – my golden child – I knew you would not let them hurt us,” shrilled the old woman in red.
She cowered beside the countess and pressed disgusting kisses to her face and breast, murmuring crazy words. She took from out the recesses of her shawl a little vial in which a tiny goldfish seemed to swim in some silver-clear liquid. She held the vial to the countess’s heart. The latter regained consciousness immediately. When her eyes fell on the gypsy woman, she sprang up, clasped the old creature ardently in her arms, and hurried with her into the castle.
“Count Z, Gabrielle, and her lover, who had come out during this scene, watched it in astonished awe. The gypsies appeared quite indifferent. They were loosed from their chains and taken separately to the prisons. Next morning, Count Z called the villagers together. The gypsies were led before them and the count announced that he had found them to be innocent of the crimes of which they were accused, and that he would grant them free passage through his domains. To the astonishment of all present, their fetters were struck off and they were set at liberty.
The red-shawled woman was not among them. It was whispered that the gypsy captain, recognizable from the golden chain about his neck and the red feather in his high Spanish hat, had paid a secret visit to the count’s room the night before. But it was discovered, a short time after the release of the gypsies, that they were indeed guiltless of the robberies and murders that had disturbed the district.
“The date set for Gabrielle’s wedding approached. One day, to her great astonishment, she saw several large wagons in the courtyard being packed high with furniture, clothing, linen, with everything necessary for a complete household outfit. The wagons were driven away, and the following day Count Z explained that, for many reasons, he had thought it best to grant Angelica’s odd request that she be allowed to set up her own establishment in his house in X. He had given the house to her, and had promised her that no member of the family , not even he himself, should enter it without her express permission. He added also at her urgent request his own valet be permitted to accompany her, to take charge of her household.
When the wedding festivities were over, Court S and his bride departed for their home, where they spent a year in cloudless happiness. Then the count’s health failed mysteriously. It was as if some secret sorrow gnawed at his vitals, robbing him of joy and strength. All efforts of his young wife to discover the source of his trouble were fruitless. At last, when the constantly recurring fainting spells threatened to endanger his very life, he yielded to the entreaties of his physicians and left his home, ostensibly for Pisa. His young wife was prevented from accompanying him by the delicate condition of her own health.
“And now,” said the doctor, “the information given me by the Countess S became, from this point on, so rhapsodical that a keen observer only could guess at the true coherence of the story. Her baby, a daughter, born during her husband’s absence, was spirited away from the house, and all search for it was fruitless. Her grief at this loss deepened to despair, when she received a message stating that her husband, whom all believed to be in Pisa, had been found dying of heart trouble in Angelica’s home in X, and that Angelica herself had become a dangerous maniac. The old count added that all this horror had so shaken his own nerves that he feared he would not long survive it.
“As soon as Gabrielle was able to leave her bed, she hurried to her father’s castle. One night, prevented from sleeping by visions of the loved ones she had lost, she seemed to hear a faint crying, like that of an infant, before the door of her chamber. Lighting her candle she opened the door. Great Heaven! there cowered the old gypsy woman, wrapped in her red shawl, staring up at her with eyes that seemed already glazing in death. In her arms, she held a little child, whose crying has aroused the countess. Gabrielle’s heart beat high with joy – it was her child – her lost daughter! She snatched the infant from the gypsy’s arm, just as the woman fell at her feet lifeless. The countess’ screams awoke the house, but the gypsy was quite dead and no effort to revive her met with success.
The old count hurried to X, to endeavor to discover somewhat that would throw light upon the mysterious disappearance of the child. Angelica’s madness had frightened away all of her female servants; the valet alone remained with her. She appeared at first to have become quite calm and sensible. But when the count told her the story of Gabrielle’s child she clapped her hands and laughed aloud, crying: “Did the little darling arrive? You buried her, you say? How the feathers of the gold pheasant shine in the sun! Have you seen the green lion with the fiery blue eyes?”
Horrified, the count perceived that Angelica’s mind was gone beyond a doubt, and he resolved to take her back with him to his estates, in spite of the warnings of his old valet. At the mere suggestion of removing her from the home Angelica’s ravings increased to such an extent as to endanger her own life and that of the others.
When a lucid interval came again Angelica entreated her father, with many tears, to let her live and die in the house she had chosen. Touched by her terrible trouble he granted her request, although he believed the confession which slipped from her lips during this scene to be a fantasy of her madness. She told him that Count S had returned to her arms, and that the child which the gypsy had taken to her father’s house was the fruit of their love.
The rumor went abroad in the city that Count Z had taken the unfortunate woman to his home; but the truth was that she remained hidden in the deserted house under the care of the valet. Count Z died a short time ago, and Countess Gabrielle came here with her daughter Edwina to arrange some family affairs. It was not possible for her to avoid seeing her unfortunate sister. Strange things must have happened during this visit, but the countess has not confided anything to me, saying merely that she had found it necessary to take the mad woman away from the old valet.
It had been discovered that he had controlled her outbreaks by means of force and physical cruelty; and that also, allured by Angelica’s assertions that she could make gold, he had allowed himself to assist her in her weird operations.
It would be quite unnecessary,” thus the physician ended his story, “to say anything more to you about the deeper inward relationship of all these strange things. It is clear to my mind that it was you who brought about the catastrophe, a catastrophe which will mean recovery or speedy death for the sick woman. And now I will confess to you that I was not a little alarmed, horrified even, to discover that – when I had set myself in magnetic communication with you by placing my hand on your neck — I could see the picture in the mirror with my own eyes. We both know now that the reflection in the glass was the face of Countess Edwina.”
I repeat Dr. K’s words in saying that to my mind also, there is no further comment that can be made on all these facts. I consider it equally unnecessary to discuss at any further length with you now the mysterious relationship between Angelica, Edwina, the old valet, and myself — a relationship which seemed the work of a malicious demon who was playing his tricks with us. I will add only that I left the city soon after all these events, driven from the place by an oppression I could not shake off.
The uncanny sensation left me suddenly a month or so later, giving way to a feeling of intense relief that flowed through all my veins with the warmth of an electric current. I am convinced that this change within me came about in the moment when the mad woman died.”
Thus did Theodor end his narrative. His friends had much to say about his strange adventure, and they agreed with him that the odd and unusual, and the truly marvelous as well, were mingled in a strange and grewsome manner in his story. When they parted for the night, Franz shook Theodor’s hand gently, as he said with a smile: “Good night, you Spallanzani bat, you.”

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E.T.A. Hoffmann

E.T.A. Hoffmann: “The Deserted House” 2/3

Excerpt, “The Lock and Key Library: Classic Mystery and Detective Stories – German.” Edited by Julian Hawthorne, 1909

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“Oh fairest creature of my dreams,” I cried in rapture. “Reveal to me where thou art, what it is that enthralls thee. Ah, I know it! It is black magic that holds thee captive — thou art the unhappy slave of that malicious devil who wanders about brown-clad and bewigged in pastry shops, scattering their wares with his unholy springing, and feeding his demon dog on macaroons, after they have howled out a Satanic measure in five-eight time. Oh, I knew it all, thou fair and charming vision. The diamond is the reflection of the fire of thy heart. But that bracelet about thine arm is a link of the chain which the brown-clad one says is a magnetic chain.
Do not believe it, O glorious one! See how it shines in the blue fire from the retort. One moment more and thou art free. And now, O maiden, open thy rosebud mouth and tell me –” In this moment a gnarled fist leaped over my shoulder and clutched at the crystal bottle, which sprang into a thousand pieces in the air. With a faint, sad moan, the charming vision faded into the blackness of the night.
When morning came to put an end to my dreaming, I hurried to the avenue and placed myself before the deserted house. Heavy blinds were drawn before the upper windows. The street was still quite empty, and I stepped close to the windows of the ground floor and listened and listened; but I heard no sound. The house was as quiet as the grave. The business of the day began, the passers-by became more numerous, and I was obliged to go on. I will not weary you with the recital of how for many days I crept about the house at that hour, but without discovering anything of interest. None of my questionings could reveal anything to me, and the beautiful picture of my vision began finally to pale and fade away.
At last as I passed, late one evening, I saw that the door of the deserted house was half open and the brown-clad old man was peeping out. I stepped quickly to his side with a sudden idea. “Does not Councilor Binder live in this house?” Thus I asked the old man, pushing him before me as I entered the dimly lighted vestibule. The guardian of the old house looked at me with his piercing eyes, and answered in gentle, slow tones: “No, he does not live here, he never has lived here, he never will live here, he does not live anywhere on this avenue. But people say the ghosts walk about in this house.
Yet I can assure you that it is not true. It is a quiet, a pretty house, and tomorrow the gracious Countess S. will move into it. Good night, dear gentleman.” With these words the old man maneuvered me out of the house and locked the gate behind me. I heard his feet drag across the floor, I heard his coughing and and the rattling of his bunch of keys, and I heard him descend some steps. Then all was silent. During the short time that I had been in the house, I had noticed that the corridor was hung with old tapestries and furnished like a drawing-room with large, heavy chairs in red damask.
And now, as if called into life by my entrance into ther mysterious house, my adventures began. The following day, as I walked through the avenue in the noon hour, and my eyes sought the deserted house as usual, I saw something glistening in the last window of the upper story. Coming nearer I noticed that the outer blind had been quite drawn up and the inner curtain slightly opened. The sparkle of a diamond met my eye. O kind Heaven! The face of my dream looked at me, gently imploring, from above the rounded arm on which her head was resting. But how was it possible to stand still in the moving crowd without attracting attention?
Suddenly, I caught sight of the benches placed in the gravel walk in the center of the avenue, and I saw that one of them was directly opposite the house. I sprang over it, and leaning over its back, I could stare up at the mysterious window undisturbed. Yes, it was she, the charming maiden of my dream! But her eye did not seem to seek me as I had at first thought; her glance was cold and unfocused, and had it not been for an occasional motion of the hand and arm, I might have thought that I was looked at a cleverly painted pictures.
I was so lost in my adoration of the mysterious being in the window, so aroused and excited throughout all my nerve centers, that I did not hear the shrill voice of an Italian street hawker, who had been offering me his wares for some time. Finally, he touched me on the arm; I turned hastily and commanded him to let me alone. But he did not cease his entreaties, asserting that he had earned nothing today, and begging me to buy some small trifle from him. Full of impatience to get rid of him I put my hand in my pocket. With the words: “I have more beautiful things here.” he opened the under drawer of his box and held out to me a little, round pocket mirror.
In it, as he held it up before my face, i could see the deserted house behind me, the window, and the sweet face of my vision there.
I bought the little mirror at once, for I saw that it would make it possible for me to sit comfortably and inconspicuously, and yet watch the window. The longer I looked at the reflection in the glass, the more I fell captive to a weird and quite indescribable sensation, which I might almost call a waking dream. It was as if a lethargy had lamed my eyes, holding them fastened on the glass beyond my power to loosen them.
Through my mind there rushed the memory of an old nurse’s tale of my earliest childhood. When my nurse was taking me off to bed, and I showed an inclination to stand peering into the great mirror in my father’s room, she would tell me that when children looked into mirrors in the night time they would see a strange, hideous face there, and their eyes would be frozen so that they could not move them again. The thought struck awe to my soul, but I could not resist a peep at the mirror, I was so curious to see the strange face. Once I did believe that I saw two hideous eyes shining out of the mirror. I screamed and fell down in a swoon.
All these foolish memories of my early childhood came trooping back to me. My blood ran cold through my veins, I would have thrown the mirror from me, but I could not. And now at last the beautiful eyes of the fair vision looked at me, her glance sought mine and shone deep down into my heart. The terror I had felt left me, giving way to the pleasurable pain of sweetest longing.
“You have a pretty little mirror there,” said a voice beside me. I awoke from my dream, and was not a little confused when I saw smiling faces looking at me from either side. Several persons had sat down upon my bench, and it was quite certain that my staring into the window, and my probably strange expression, had afforded them great cause for amusement.
“You have a pretty little mirror there,” repeated the man, as I did not answer him. His glance said more, and asked without words the reason of my staring so oddly into the little glass. He was an elderly man, neatly dressed, and his voice and eyes were so full of good nature that I could not refuse him my confidence. I told him that I had been looking in the mirror at the picture of a beautiful maiden who was sitting at a window of the deserted house. I went even further; I asked the old man if he had not seen the fair face himself. “Over there? In the old house — in the last window?” He repeated my questions in a tone of surprise.
“Yes, yes!” I exclaimed.
The old man smiled and answered: “Well, well , that was a strange delusion. My old eyes — thank Heaven for my old eyes! Yes, yes, sir. I saw a pretty face in the window there, with my own eyes; but it seemed to me to be an excellently well-painted oil portrait.”
I turned quickly looked toward the window; there was no one there, and the blind had been pulled down. “Yes,” continued the old man,” yes sir. Now it is too late to make sure of the matter, for just now the servant, who, as I know, lives there alone in the house of the Countess S., took the picture away from the window after he had dusted it, and let down the blinds.”
“Was it, then, surely a picture?” I asked again, in bewilderment.
“You can trust my eyes,” replied the man. “The optical delusion was strengthened by your seeing only the reflection in the mirror. And when I was in your years it was easy enough for my fancy to call up the picture of a beautiful maiden.”
“But the hand and arm moved,” I exclaimed. “Oh, yes, they moved, indeed they moved,” said the old man smiling, as he patted me on the shoulder. Then he arose to go, and bowing politely , closed his remarks with the words, “Beware of mirrors which can lie so vividly. Your obedient servant, sir.”
You can imagine how I felt when I saw that he looked upon me as a foolish fantast. I began to be convinced that the old man was right, and that it was only my absurd imagination which insisted on raising up mysteries about the deserted house.
I hurried home full of anger and disgust, and promised myself that I would not think of the mysterious house, and would not even walk through the avenue for several days. I kept my vow, spending my days working at my desk, and my evenings in the company of jovial friends, leaving myself no time to think of the mysteries which so enthralled me. Ad yet, it was just in these days that I would start up out of my sleep as if awakened by a touch, only to find that all that had aroused me was merely the thought of that mysterious being whom I had seen in my vision and in the window of the deserted house.
Even during my work, or in the midst of a lively conversation with my friends, I felt the same thought shoot through me like an electric current. I condemned the little mirror in which I had seen the charming picture to a prosaic daily use. I placed it on my dressing-table that I might bind my cravat before it, and thus it happened one day, when I was about to utilize it for this important business, that its glass seemed dull, and that I took it up and breathed on it to rub it bright again. My heart seemed to stand still, every fiber in me trembled in delightful awe.
Yes, that is all the name I can find for the feeling that came over me, when, as my breath clouded the little mirror, I saw the beautiful face of my dreams arise and smile at me through blue mists. You laugh at me? You look upon me as an incorrigible dreamer? Think what you will about it — the fair face looked at me from out of the mirror! But as soon as the clouding vanished, the face vanished in the brightened glass.
I will not weary you with a detailed recital of my sensations the next few days. I will only say that I repeated again the experiments with the mirror, sometimes with success, sometimes without. When I had not been able to call up the vision, I would run to the deserted house and stare up at the windows; but I saw no human being anywhere about the building. I lived only in thoughts of my vision; everything else seemed indifferent to me. I neglected my friends and my studies. The tortures in my soul passed over into, or rather mingled with, physical sensations which frightened me, and which at last made me fear for my reason.
One day, after an unusually severe attack, I put my little mirror in my pocket and hurried to the home of Dr. K., who was noted for his treatment of those diseases of the mind out of which physical diseases so often grow. I told him my story; I did not conceal the slightest incident from him, and I implored him to save me from the terrible fate which seemed to threaten me. He listened to me quietly, but I read astonishment in his glance. Then he said: “The danger is not as near as you believe, and I think that I may say that it can be easily prevented.
You are undergoing an unusual psychical disturbance, beyond a doubt. But the fact that you understand that some evil principle seems to be trying to influence you, gives you a weapon by which you can combat it. Leave your little mirror here with me, and force yourself to take up with some work which will afford scope for all your mental energy. Do not go to the avenue; work all day, from early to late, then take a long walk, and spend your evenings in the company of your friends. Eat heartily, and drink heavy, nourishing wines.
You see I am endeavoring to combat your fixed idea of the face in the window of the deserted house and in the mirror, by diverting your mind to other things, and by strengthening your body. You yourself must help me in this.”
I was very reluctant to part with my mirror. The physician, who had already taken it, seemed to notice my hesitation. He breathed upon the glass and holding it up to me, he asked: “Do you see anything?”
“Nothing at all,” I answered, for so it was.
“Now breathe on the glass yourself,” said the physician, laying the mirror in my hands.
I did as he requested. There was a vision even more clearly than before.
“There she is!” I cried aloud.
The physician looked into the glass, and then said: “I cannot see anything. But I will confess to you that when I looked into the glass again and the physician laid his his hand upon the back of my neck, the face appeared again and the physician, looking into the mirror over my shoulder, turned pale. Then he took the little glass from my hands, looked at it attentively, and locked it into his desk, returning to me after a few moments silent thought.
“Follow my instructions strictly,” he said. “I must confess to you that I do not understand those moments of your vision. But I hope to be able to tell you more about it soon.”
Difficult as it was to me, I forced myself to live absolutely according to the doctor’s orders. I soon felt the benefit of the steady work and the nourishing diet, and yet I was not free from those terrible attacks. which would come either at noon, or more intensely still at midnight. Even in the midst of a merry company, in the enjoyment of wine and song, glowing daggers seemed to pierce my heart, and all the strength of my intellect was powerless to resist their might over me. I was obliged to retire, and could not return to my friends until I had recovered from my condition of lethargy.
It was in one of these attacks, an unusually strong one, that such an irresistible, mad longing for the picture of my dreams came over me, that I hurried out into the street and ran toward the mysterious house. While still at a distance from it, I seemed to see lights shining out through the fast-closed blinds, but when I came near, I saw that all was dark. Crazy with my desire, I rushed to the door; it fell back before the pressure of my hand. I stood in the dimly lighted vestibule, enveloped in a heavy, close atmosphere. My heart beat in strange fear and impatience.
Then suddenly, a long, sharp tone, as from a woman’s throat, thrilled through the house. I know not how it happened that I found myself suddenly in a great hall brilliantly lighted and furnished in an old-fashioned magnificence of golden chairs and strange Japanese ornaments. Strongly perfumed incense arose in blue clouds about me.
“Welcome. Welcome, sweet bridegroom. The hour has come … our bridal hour.”
To be continued…

e.t.a.hoffmann2

E.T.A. Hoffmann: “The Deserted House” 1/3

Excerpt, “The Lock and Key Library: Classic Mystery and Detective Stories – German.” Edited by Julian Hawthorne, 1909.

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The Deserted House

Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

They were all agreed in the belief that the actual facts of life are often far more wonderful than the invention of even the liveliest imagination can be.
“It seems to me,” spoke Lelio,” that history gives proof sufficient of this. And that is why the so-called historical romances seem so repulsive and tasteless to us, those stories wherein the author mingles the foolish fancies of his meager brain with the deeds of the great powers of the universe. “
Franz took the word. “It is the deep reality of the inscrutable secrets surrounding us that oppresses us with a might wherein we recognize the Spirit that rules, the Spirit out of which our being springs. “
“Alas,” said Lelio, “it is the most terrible result of the fall of man, that we have lost the power of recognizing the eternal verities.”
“Many are called, but few are chosen,” broke in Franz. “Do you not believe that an understanding of the wonders of our existence is given to some of us in the form of another sense? But if you would allow me to drag the conversation up from the dark regions where we are in danger of losing our path altogether up into the brightness of light-hearted merriment, I would like to make the scurrilous suggestion that those mortals to whom this gift of seeing the Unseen has been given remind me of bats. You know the learned anatomist Spallanzani has discovered a sixth sense in those little animals which can do not only the entire work of other senses, but work of his own besides.”
“Oho,” laughed Edward, “according to that, the bats would be the only natural-born clairvoyants. But I know some one who possesses that gift of insight, of which you were speaking, in a remarkable degree. Because of it he will often follow for days some unknown person who has happened to attract his attention by an oddity in manner, appearance, or garb; he will ponder to melancholy over some trifling incident, some lightly told story; he will combine the antipodes and raise up relationships in his imagination which are unknown to everyone else.”
“Wait a bit,” cried Lelio. “It is our Theodor of whom you are speaking now. And it looks to me as if he were having some weird vision at this very moment. See how strangely he gazes out into the distance.”
Theodor had been sitting in silence up to this moment. Now he spoke: “If my glances are strange, it is because they reflect the strange things that were called up before my vision by your conversation, the memories of a most remarkable adventure.”
“Oh, do tell us,” interrupted his friends.
“Gladly,” continued Theodor. “But first, let me set right a slight confound in your ideas on the subject of the mysterious. You appear to be confusing what is merely odd and what unusual with what is really mysterious or marvelous; that which surpasses comprehension or belief. The odd and the unusual, it is true, spring often from the truly marvelous, and the twigs and flowers hide the parent stem from our eyes. Both the odd and the unusual and truly marvelous are mingled in the adventure which I am about to narrate to you, mingled in a manner which is striking and even awesome.”
With these words Theodor drew from his pocket a notebook in which, as his friends knew, he had written down the impressions of his late journeyings. Refreshing his memory by a look at its pages now and then, he narrated the following story.
You know already that I spent the greater part of last summer in X___. The many old friends and acquaintances I found there, the free, jovial life, the manifold artistic and intellectual interests — all these combined to keep me in that city. I was happy as never before, and found rich nourishment for my old fondness for wandering alone through the streets, stopping to enjoy every picture in the shop windows, every placard on the walls, or watching the passers-by and choosing some one or the other of them to cast his horoscope secretly to myself.
There is a broad avenue leading to the ___ Gate and lined with handsome buildings of all descriptions, which is the meeting place of the rich and fashionable world. The shops which occupy the ground floors of the tall palaces of the foreign ambassadors are there, and you can easily imagine that such a street would be the center of the city’s life and gaiety.
I had wandered through the avenue several times, when one day my attention was caught by a house which contrasted strangely with the others surrounding it. Picture to yourselves a low building but four windows broad, crowded in between two tall, handsome structures. In one, the upper story was little higher than the tops of the ground floor windows of its neighbors, its roof was dilapidated, its windows patched with paper, its discolored walls spoke of years of neglect. You can image how strange such a house must have looked in this street of wealth and fashion.
Looking at it more attentively, I perceived that the windows of the upper story were tightly closed and curtained, and that a wall had been built to hide the windows of the ground floor. The entrance gate, a little to one side, served also as a doorway for the building, but I could find no sign of latch, lock, or even a bell on this gate. I was convinced that the house must be unoccupied, for at whatever hour of the day that I happened to be passing I had never seen the faintest signs of life about it. An unoccupied house in this avenue was indeed an odd sight.
But I explained the phenomenon to myself by saying that the owner was doubtless absent upon a long journey, or living upon his country estates, and that he perhaps did not wish to sell or rent the property, preferring to keep it for his own use in the eventuality of a visit to the city.
You all, the good comrades of my youth, know that I have been prone to consider myself a sort of clairvoyant, claiming to have glimpses of a strange world of wonders, a world which you, with your hard common sense, would attempt to deny or laugh away. I confess that I have often lost myself in mysteries which after all turned out to be no mysteries at all. And it looked at first as if this was to happen to me in the matter of the deserted house, that strange house which drew my steps and my thoughts to itself with a power that surprised me. But the point of my story will prove to you that I am right in asserting that I know more than you do. Listen now to what I am about to tell you.
One day, at the hour in which the fashionable world is accustomed to promenade up and down the avenue, I stood as usual before the deserted house, lost in thought. Suddenly, I felt, without looking up, that some one had stopped beside me, fixing his eyes on me. It was Count P., whom I had found much in sympathy with many of my imaginings, and I knew that he also must have been deeply interested in the mystery of this house. It surprised me not a little, therefore, that he should smile ironically when I spoke of the strange impression that this deserted dwelling, here in the gay heart of the town, had made upon me. But I soon discovered the reason for his irony. Count P. had gone much farther than myself in his imaginings concerning the house.
He had constructed for himself a complete history of the old building, a story weird enough to have been born in the fancy of a true poet. It would give me great pleasure to relate this story to you, but the events which happened to me in this connection are so interesting that I feel I must proceed with the narration of them at once.
When the count had completed his story to his own satisfaction, imagine his feelings on learning one day that the old house contained nothing more mysterious than a cake bakery belonging to the pastry cook whose handsome shop adjoined the old structure. The windows of the ground floor were walled up to give protection to the ovens, and the heavy curtains of the upper story were to keep the sunlight from the wares laid out there. When the count informed me of this I felt as if a bucket of cold water had been suddenly thrown over me. The demon who is the enemy of all poets caught the dreamer by the nose and tweaked him painfully.
And yet, in spite of the this prosaic explanation, I could not resist stopping before the deserted house whenever I passed it, and gentle tremors rippled through my veins at vague visions arose of what might be hidden there. I could not believe in this story of the cake and the candy factory. Through some strange freak of the imagination I felt as a child feels when some fairy tale has been told it to conceal the truth it suspects. I scolded myself for a silly fool; the house remained unaltered in its appearance, and the visions faded in my brain, until one day a chance incident woke them to life again.
I was wandering through the avenue as usual, and as I passed the deserted house I could not resist a hasty glance at its close-curtained upper windows. But as I looked at it, the curtain on the last window near the pastry shop began to move. A hand, an arm, came out from between its folds. I took my opera glass from my pocket and saw a beautifully formed woman’s hand, on the little finger of which a large diamond sparkled in unusual brilliance; a rich bracelet glittered on the white, rounded, arm. The hand set a tall, oddly formed crystal bottle on the window ledge and disappeared again behind the curtain.
I stopped as if frozen to stone; a weirdly pleasurable sensation, mingled with awe, streamed through my being with the warmth of an electric current. I stared up at the mysterious window and a sigh of longing arose from the very depths of my heart. When I came to myself again, I was angered to find that I was surrounded by a crowd which stood gazing up at the window with curious faces. I stole away inconspicuously, and the demon of all things prosaic, whispered to me that what I had just seen was the rich pastry cook’s wife, in her Sunday adornment, placing an empty bottle, used for rose-water or the like, on the window sill. Nothing very weird about this.
Suddenly, a most sensible thought came to me. I turned and entered a shining, mirror-walled shop of the pastry cook. Blowing the steaming foam from my cup of chocolate, I remarked: “You have a very useful addition to your establishment next door.” The man leaned over his counter and looked at me with a questioning smile, as if he did not understand me. I repeated that in my opinion he had been very clever to set up his bakery in the neighboring house, although the deserted appearance of the building was a strange sight in its contrasting surroundings.
“Why, sir,” began the pastry cook, “who told you that the house next door belongs to us? Unfortunately, every attempt on our part to acquire it has been in vain, and I fancy it is all the better so, for there is something queer about the place.”
You can imagine, dear friends, how interested I became upon hearing these words, and that I begged the man to tell me more about the house.
“I do not know anything very definite, sir,” he said. “All that we know for a certainty is that the house belongs to the Countess S., who lives on her estates and has not been to the city for years. This house, so they tell me, stood in its present shape before any of the handsome buildings were raised which are now the pride of our avenue, and in all these years there has been nothing done to it except to keep it from actual decay. Two living creatures alone dwell there, an aged misanthrope of a steward and his melancholy dog, which occasionally howls at the moon from the back courtyard. According to the general story, the deserted house is haunted. In very truth, my brother, who is the owner of this shop, and myself have often, when our business kept us awake during the silence of the night, heard strange sounds from the other side of the wall.”
The glass doors of the shop creaked in opening. The pastry cook hurried into the front room, and when he had nodded to the figure now entering he threw a meaning glance at me. I understood him perfectly. Who else could this strange guess be, but the steward who had charge of the mysterious house! Imagine a thin little man with a face the color of a mummy, with a sharp nose, tight-set lips, green cat’s eyes, and a crazy smile; his hair dressed in the old-fashioned style with a high toupet and a bag in the back, and heavily powdered. He wore a faded old brown coat which was carefully brushed, gray stockings and broad flat-toed shoes with buckles.
And imagine further that, in spite of his meagerness this little person is robustly built, with huge fists and long, strong fingers, and that he walks to the shop counter with a strong, firm step, smiling his imbecile smile, and whining out: “A couple of candied oranges – a couple of macaroons – a couple of sugar chestnuts!” Picture all this to yourself and judge whether I had not sufficient cause to imagine a mystery here.
The pastry cook gathered up the wares the old man had demanded. “Weigh it out, weigh it out, honored neighbor,” moaned the strange man, as he drew out a little leathern bag and sought in it for his money. I noticed that he paid for his purchase in worn old coins, some of which were no longer in use. He seemed very unhappy and murmured: “Sweet- sweet – it must all be sweet! Well, let it be! The devil has pure honey for his bride – pure honey!” The pastry cook smiled at me and then spoke to the old man. “You do not seem to be quite well. Yes, yes, old age! It takes the strength from our limbs!”
The old man’s expression did not change, but his voice went up: “Old Age! Old age? Lose strength? Grow weak? — Oho!” And with this, he clapped his hands together until the joints cracked, and sprang high up into the air until the whole shop trembled and the glass vessels on the walls and counters rattled and shook. But in the same moment, a hideous screaming was heard; the old man had stepped on his black dog, which, creeping in behind him, had laid itself at his feet on the floor.
“Devilish beast — dog of hell!” groaned the old man in his former miserable tone, opening his bag and giving the dog a large macaroon. The dog, which had burst out into a cry of distress that was truly human, was quiet at once, sat down on its haunches, and gnawed at the macaroon like a squirrel. When it had finished its tidbit, the old man had also finished the packing up and putting away of his purchases. “Good night, honored neighbor,” he spoke, taking hand of the pastry cook and pressing it until the latter cried aloud in pain. “The weak old man wishes you a good night, most honorable Sir Neighbor,” he repeated, and then walked from the shop, followed closely by his black dog. The old man did not seem to have noticed at all. I was quite dumbfounded in my astonishment.
“There. you see,” began the pastry cook. “This is the way he acts when he comes in here, two or three times a month, it is. But I can get nothing out of him except the fact that he was a former valet of Count S., that he is now in charge of this house here, and that every day – – for many years now — he expects the arrival of his master’s family. My brother spoke to him one day about the strange noises at night; but he answered calmly, “Yes, people say the ghosts walk about in the house. But do not believe it, for it is not true.” The hour was now come when fashion demanded that the elegant world of the city should assemble in this attractive shop. The doors opened incessantly, the place was thronged, and I could ask no further questions.
This much I knew, that Count P.’s information about the ownership and the use of the house were not correct; also, that the old steward, in spite of his denial, was not living alone there, and that some mystery was hidden behind its discolored walls. How could I combine the story of the strange and gruesome singing with the appearance of the beautiful arm at the window? That arm could not be part of a wrinkled body of an old woman; the singing, according to the pastry cook’s story, could not come from the throat of a blooming and youthful maiden.
I decided in favor of the arm, as it was easy to explain to myself that some trick of acoustics had made the voice sound sharp and old, or that it had appeared so only in the cook’s fear-distorted imagination. Then I thought of the smoke, the strange odors, the oddly formed crystal bottle that I had seen, and soon the vision of a beautiful creature held enthralled by fatal magic stood as if alive before my mental vision. The old man became a wizard who, perhaps quite independently of the family he served, had set up his devil’s kitchen in the deserted house. My imagination had begun to work, and in my dreams that night I saw clearly the hand with the sparkling diamond on its finger, the arm with the shining bracelet.
From out this gray mist there appeared a sweet face with sadly imploring blue eyes, then the entire exquisite figure of a beautiful girl. And I saw that what I had thought was mist was the fine steam flowing out in circles from a crystal bottle held in the hands of the vision.
“Oh, fairest creature of my dreams,” I cried in rapture. “Reveal to me where thou art!”
To be continued …

E.T.A. Hoffmann: “The Fire-Lily”

From Thomas Carlyle’s “German Romance: Specimens of its Chief Authors; with Biographical and Critical Notices.” Vol. II, 1827. Excerpt: “The Golden Pot” by E.T. A. Hoffmann.

jThe Fire-Lily

The Spirit looked upon the water, and the water moved itself, and chafed in foaming billows, and plunged thundering down into the Abysses, which opened their black throats, and greedily swallowed it. Like triumphant conquerors, the granite Rocks lifted their cleft peaky crowns, protecting the Valley, till the Sun took it into its paternal bosom, and clasping it with its beams as with growing arms, cherished it and warmed it.

Then a thousand germs, which had been sleeping under the desert sand, awoke from their deep slumber, and stretched out their little leaves and stalks toward the Sun their father’s face; and the smiling infants in green cradles, the flowrets rested in their buds and blossoms, til they too, awakened by their father, decked themselves in lights, which their father, to please them, tinted in a thousand varied hues.

But in the midst of the Valley was a black Hill, which heaved up and down like the breast of man when warm longing swells it. From the Abysses mounted steaming vapours, and rolled themselves together into huge masses, striving malignantly to hide the father’s face: but he called the Storm to him, which rushed thither, and scattered them away; and when the pure sunbeam rested again on the bleak Hill, there started from it, in the excess of its rapture, a glorious Fire-Lily, opening its fair leaves like gentle lips to receive the kiss of its father.

And now came a gleaming Splendour into the Valley; it was the youth Phosphorus; the Lily saw him, and begged, being seized with warm longing love: “Be mine for ever, fair youth! For I love thee, and must die if thou forsake me!” Then spake the youth Phosphorus: “I will be thine, thou fair flower; but then wilt thou, like a naughty child, leave father and mother; thou wilt know thy playmates no longer, wilt strive to be greater and stronger than all that now rejoices with thee as thy equal.

The longing which now beneficently warms thy whole being, will be scattered into a thousand rays, and torture and vex thee; for sense will bring forth senses; and the highest rapture, which the Spark I cast into thee kindles, will be the hopeless pain wherein thou shalt perish, to spring up anew in foreign shape. This spark is Thought!”

“Ah!” mourned the Lily, “Can I not be thine in this glow, as it now burns in me; not still be thine? Can I love then more than now; could I look on thee as now, if thou wert to annihilate me?” Then the youth Phosphorus kissed the Lily; and as if penetrated with light, it mounted up in flame, out of which issued a foreign Being, that hastily flying from the Valley, roved forth into endless Space, no longer heeding its old playmates, or the youth it had loved.

This youth mourned for his lost beloved; for he too loved her, it was love to the fair Lily that had brought him to the lone Valley; and the granite Rocks bent down their heads in participation of his grief.

But one of these opened its bosom, and there came a black-winged Dragon flying out of it, and said: “My brethren, the Metals are sleeping in there; but I am always brisk and waking, and will help thee.”

Dashing up and down on its black pinions, the Dragon at last caught the Being which had sprung from the Lily; bore it to the Hill, and encircled it with his wing; then was it the Lily again; but Thought, which continued with it, tore asunder its heart; and its love for the youth Phosphorus was a cutting pain, before which, as if breathed on by poisonous vapours, the flowrets which had once rejoiced in the fair Lily’s presence, faded and died.

The youth Phosphorus put on a glittering coat of mail, sporting with the light in a thousand hues, and did battle with the Dragon, who struck the cuirass with his black wing, till it rung and sounded; and at this loud clang the flowrets again came to life, and like variegated birds fluttered round the Dragon, whose force departed; and who, thus being vanquished, hid himself in the depths of the Earth.

The Lily was freed; the youth Phosphorus clasped her, full of warm longing, of heavenly love; and in triumphant chorus, the flowers, the birds, nay even the high granite Rocks, did reverence to her as the Queen of the Valley.”

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E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Blanche of Aquitaine”

Of course, Hoffmann is the creator of the “The Nutcracker” and many other wonderful tales … much of his work challenging to find in translation. But, always, the antique volumes are my particular interest … and my greatest pleasure. “Blanche of Aquitaine, A Tale of the Days of Charlemagne” is a short story by E.T.A. Hoffmann I found published in London’s Novel Newspaper of 1841. Evocative in a way of Schiller’s “Don Carlos” and Byron’s “Parasina” … it’s a beautiful tale. And I would like to share an excerpt with you now…
The day arrived appointed for the ceremony. Early in the day, the gates of the City were thrown open. Nobles, with pompous retinues, and rustics, with their families, crowded the avenues. Greediness of spectacle has been common to all ages of the world. Church and convent bells were tolling; processions of the religious orders filled the streets with the sublime anthems appointed by the church; and the Gregorian chant resounded from the choir of the great chapel.
The emperor and his court, in their ceremonial costumes, entered the chapel by a private door, and occupied seats at the right of the altar; the emperor and queen were in position a little elevated, and in advance of their attendants. There was an unquietness in Charlemagne’s manner, and a shade to his brow, that indicated the yearning of his heart towards his son, and the reluctance with which he had submitted to the usage that imposed the humiliation of a public ceremony.
The doors were thrown open, and the eager crowd of spectators, marshalled by officers, were conducted to seats assigned them, according to rank. The chapel bell struck, and the prince, preceded by men-at-arms, and followed by a procession of monks from St. Alban’s, entered the grand aisle. His dress resembled that worn by his father in high festivals: A golden diadem, set with precious stones, bound in its circlet a head that looked as if it were formed to ennoble such an appendage; his buskins were thickly studded with gems – his tunic was of golden tissue – and his purple mantle fastened by a clasp of glittering stones. This royal apparel was meant in part to show forth the ambition that had o’erleaped itself, and, in part, to set the splendours of the world in overpowering contrast with the humility of the religious garb.
The prince advanced with a firm step. His demeanor showed, that if he had lost everything else, he had gained the noblest victory – victory over himself. There was nothing in his air of a crushed man; on the contrary, there was his usual loftiness, and more than his usual serenity. As men gazed at him, and saw the impress of his father on his mild majestic brow, they felt that nature had set her seal to his right of inheritance. He paused, as he reached a station opposite his father, signed to his attendants to stop, and turning aside, he knelt at his father’s feet. Their eyes met as tenderly as a mother’s meets her child. Charles stretched out his hand – Pepin grasped it, and pressed it to his lips. The spectators looked in vain for some sign of sternness in the father, and resentment in the son. Little did they dream that the father and son had met that morning, with no witness save the approving eye of Heaven; and had exchanged promises of forgiveness and loyalty, never to be retracted in thought, word or deed.
As the prince rose to his feet, his eye encountered the queen’s, flashing with offended pride; but hers fell beneath the steady overpowering glance of his, which said, “I am not yet so poor as to do you reverence.”
The emperor did not rebuke, or even seem to notice the omission; his eyes were riveted to the gracious tears his son had left upon his hand.
The devotions and pompous ceremonial proscribed by the Romish church were then performed. The prince then laid down his glittering crown, and exchanged his gorgeous apparel for the garb of the St. Alban’s monks, a russet gown fashioned at the waist by a hempen cord. It was noticed by the keenest observers that he did not lay aside his sword; but he might have forgotten it, or a soldier might be permitted to the very last to retain the badge of his honour and independence. A glow of shame shot over his face, as he bent his head to the humiliating rite of the tonsure; and the eyes of the truly noble were averted , as his profuse and glossy locks fell beneath the razor of the officiating priest. This initiatory rite performed, a hood was thrown over his head. and the soldier-prince was lost in the humble aspect of the monk of St. Alban.
But, of course, that’s not the end of the story <g>

E.T.A. Hoffmann

E.T.A. Hoffmann