“Tales from the German of Tieck.” London: Edward Moxon, 64, New Bond Street. 1831.
He saw nothing like her whom he was seeking for; and he could not possibly give utterance to the notion that her beloved face might perhaps be lurking behind some odious mask.
He had already ranged up and down the room three times over, and had in vain run his eyes along all the ladies that were sitting and unmaskt, when the Spaniard joined him and said: “I am glad you are come after all; are you looking for your friend?”
Emilius had quite forgotten him; he said however somewhat embarrast: “In truth I wonder I have not met him here, for his mask is not to be mistaken.”
“Can you guess what the harum-scarum fellow is about?” answered the young officer. “He never danced at all, and hardly staid ten minutes in the ballroom: for he soon fell in with his friend Anderson, who is just come up from the country: their conversation turned upon books; and as Anderson has never seen the new poem, Roderick would not rest till he had made them open one of the back rooms for him; and there he is now sitting beside a solitary taper, holding his companion fast, and declaiming the whole poem to him, not omitting even the invocation to the muse.”
“It’s just like him,” said Emilius; “he is always the child of the moment. I have done all in my power, and even run the risk of some amicable quarrels, to cure him of this habit of for ever living extempore, and playing out his whole life in impromptus, card after card, as it chances to turn up, without once looking over his hand. But these follies have struck such deep root in his heart, he would sooner part with his best friend than with them.
That very same poem, which he is so fond of that he always carries it about in his pocket, he wanted to read to me a few days ago, and I had earnestly begged him to do so: but he had scarcely got beyond the first description of the moon, when, just as I had resigned myself to the enjoyment of its beauties, he suddenly jumpt up, ran out of the room, came back with the cook’s apron round his waist, tore down the bell-rope in ringing to have the fire lighted, and insisted on broiling me some beefsteaks, for which I had not the least appetite, and which he fancies nobody in Europe dresses so well, though, if he is in luck, he does not spoil them above nine times in ten.”
The Spaniard laught, and askt: “Has he never been in love?”
“After his fashion,” replied Emilius very gravely; “as if he were making game of love and of himself, with a dozen women at a time, and, if you would believe his words, raving after every one of them: but ere a week passes over his head, they are all spunged out of it, and not even a blot is left behind.”
They parted in the crowd, and Emilius walkt toward the remote apartment, from which, long before he reacht it, he caught his friend’s loud recitative.
“Ah, so you are here too!” exclaimed Roderick, as he entered: “you have just hit the right moment; I am at the very passage where we were interrupted the other day: sit down, and you may hear the remainder.”
“I am not in a humour for it now,” said Emilius: “besides the time and place do not seem to me exactly suited to such an employment.”
“And why not?” answered Roderick. “Time and place are made for us, not we for time and place. Is not good poetry just as good at one hour as at another? Is not it right to read it? and can that which is right ever become wrong? Or would you rather dance? There is a lack of men; and you need only jump about for a few hours, at the mere risk of tiring your legs, to lay strong siege to the hearts of as many grateful beauties as you choose.”
“Good night!” cried the other with his hand on the door; “I am going home.”
Roderick called out to him: “Only one word! I shall set off tomorrow at daybreak with my friend here, to spend a few days in the country, but will look in upon you to say goodbye before we start. Should you be asleep, as is most likely, you need not take the trouble of waking; for, before a week is out, I shall be back again.—The strangest being upon earth!” he continued, turning to his neighbour.
“So moping and fretful, such a splitter of thoughts, that he turns all his pleasures sour; or rather there is no such thing as pleasure for him. Instead of walking about with his fellow creatures in broad daylight and enjoying himself, he gets down to the bottom of the well of his fancies, in the hope of now and then catching a glimpse of a star.
Everything must be in the superlative for him: everything must be pure, and majestic, and ethereal, and celestial: his heart must be always throbbing and heaving, even when he is standing before a puppet show. He never laughs or cries, but can only smile and weep; and forsooth there is mighty little difference between his weeping and his smiling.
When anything, be it what it may, falls short of his anticipations and preconceptions, which are always flying up out of reach and sight, he puts on a tragical face, and complains that it is a base and soulless world. At this very moment, I make no doubt, he is requiring that under the masks of a Pantaloon or a Punch there should be a soul glowing with unearthly desires and ideal aspirations, and that Harlequin should outmoralize Hamlet on the nothingness of sublunary things: and if these expectations are disappointed, as they can never fail to be, the dew is sure to rise into his eyes, and he will turn his back on the whole motley scene in desponding contempt.”
“He must be atrabilious then?” askt his hearer.
“Not that exactly,” answered Roderick: “he has only been spoilt by the indulgence of his overfond parents and by his own. He has accustomed himself to let his heart ebb and flow as regularly as the sea; and if this motion is ever at a stop, he cries out _a miracle!_ and would offer a prize to the philosopher who should give a satisfactory explanation of so marvellous a phenomenon. He is the best fellow under the sun; but all my painstaking to break him of this perverseness has been utterly vain and thrown away; and if I would not earn scurvy thanks for my goodwill, I must even let him follow his own devices.”
“Might not a physician do him good?” remarkt Anderson.
“It is one of his whims,” replied Roderick, “to entertain a supreme contempt for the whole medical art. He will have it that every disease is something different and distinct in every particular patient, that there is no arranging it under any class, and that it is absurd to think of healing it by attending to ancient practice, and still more so by what is called theory: he would much rather apply to an old woman, and make use of sympathetic cures.
In like manner he despises all foresight in other matters, and everything like regularity, moderation, and common sense: the last above all he holds in special abhorrence, as the antipode and arch-enemy to all enthusiasm. While yet a child he framed for himself an ideal of a noble character; and his constant aim is to make himself what he considers such, that is to say, a being who shews his superiority to all earthly things by his scorn for riches.
Merely to avoid being suspected of stinginess, or of giving unwillingly, or of caring about money, he flings it right and left by handfuls; with all his large fortune he is for ever poor and distrest, and is the bubble of all such as are not gifted with precisely the same sort of magnanimity which for himself he is determined to attain to. To be his friend is the task of all tasks: for he is so touchy, you need only cough, or eat with your knife, or not sip your drink as delicately as a cow, or even pick your teeth, to offend him mortally.”
“Was he never in love?” askt his country friend.
“Whom should he love? whom could he love?” answered Roderick. “He despises all the daughters of earth; and if he had a favorite, and were ever to suspect that she had not an angelical contempt for dress, or liked dancing at times as well as star-gazing, it would break his heart: still more tremendous would it be, if she were ever so unlucky as to sneeze.”
Meanwhile Emilius was again standing among the crowd: but on a sudden he was seized by that heart-burning, that shivering, which had already so often come over him in the midst of a multitude in a like state of excitement. It drove him out of the ballroom, out of the house, and along the desolate streets; nor did he recover and regain the quiet possession of his senses, till he reacht his lonely chamber. The night light was already burning; he sent his servant to bed: everything over the way was silent and dark, and he sat down to pour forth the feelings which the ball had aroused, in verse.
Within the heart ’tis still;
Sleep each wild thought encages:
Now stirs a wicked will,
Would see how madness rages,
And cries: Wild spirit awake!
Loud cymbals catch the cry,
And back its echoes shake;
And, shouting peals of laughter,
The trumpet rushes after,
And cries: Wild spirit awake!
Amid them flute-tones fly,
Like arrows, keen and numberless;
And with bloodhound yell
Pipes the onset swell;
And violins and violoncellos,
And horns whence thunder bellows;
To leave the victim slumberless,
And drag forth prisoned madness,
And cruelly murder all quiet and innocent gladness.
What will be the end of this commotion?
Where the shore to this turmoiling ocean?
What seeks the tossing throng,
As it wheels and whirls along?
On! on! the lustres
Like hellstars bicker:
Let us twine in closer clusters,
On! on! ever closer and quicker!
How the silly things throb, throb amain!
Hence all quiet!
Peal more proudly,
Squeal more loudly,
Ye cymbals, ye trumpets! bedull all pain,
Till it laugh again.
Thou beckonest to me, beauty’s daughter;
Smiles ripple o’er thy lips,
And o’er thine eye’s blue water;
O let me breathe on thee,
Ere parted hence we flee,
Ere aught that light eclipse!
I know that beauty’s flowers soon wither:
Those lips, within whose rosy cells
Thy spirit warbles its sweet spells,
Death’s clammy kiss ere long will press together.
I know, that face so fair and full
Is but a masquerading skull:
But hail to thee skull so fair and so fresh!
Why should I weep and whine and wail,
That what blooms now must soon grow pale,
And that worms must batten on that sweet flesh?
Let me laugh but today and tomorrow,
And what care I for sorrow,
While thus on the waves of the dance by
each other we sail?
Now thou art mine,
And I am thine:
And what though pain and trouble wait
To seize thee at the gate,
And sob, and tear, and groan, and sigh,
Stand ranged in state
On thee to fly,
Blithely let us look and cheerily
On death that grins so drearily!
What would grief with us, or anguish?
They are foes that we know how to vanquish.
I press thine answering fingers,
Thy look upon me lingers,
Or the fringe of thy garment will waft me
Thou rollest on in light;
I fall back into night;
Even despair is bliss.
From this delight,
From this wild revel’s surge
Perchance there may emerge
Foul jealousy, and scorn, and envious spite.
But this is our glory and pride;
When thee I despise,
I turn but my eyes,
And the fair one beside thee will welcome
And she is my bride!
O happy, happy maze!
Or shall it be her neighbour?
Whose eyes, like a sabre,
Flash and pierce,
Their glance is so fierce.
Thus jumping and prancing,
All together go dancing
Adown life’s giddy cave;
Nor living, nor loving,
But dizzily roving
Through dreams to a grave.
There below ’tis yet worse:
Earth’s flowers and its clay
Roof a gloomier day,
Hide a still deeper curse.
Ring then, ye cymbals, enliven this dream!
Ye horns shout a fiercer, more vulture-like scream!
And frisk caper skip prance dance yourselves
out of breath!
For your life is all art,
Love has given you no heart:
So hurrah till you plunge into bottomless
He had ended, and was standing by the window. Then she came into the opposite chamber, lovely, as he had never yet seen her: her brown hair floated freely, and played in wanton ringlets about the whitest of necks; she was but lightly clad, and seemed as if she meant to finish some little household matters at this late hour of the night before she went to bed: for she placed two candles in two corners of the room, set the green cloth on the table to rights, and withdrew again.
Emilius was still sunk in his sweet dreams, and gazing on the image which his beloved had left in his mind, when to his horrour the frightful, the scarlet old woman walkt through the chamber: the gold on her head and breast glared ghastlily as it threw back the light.
She had vanisht again. Was he to believe his eyes? Was it not some delusive phantom of the night that his own feverish imagination had conjured up before him?
But no! she returned, still more hideous than before, with a long grey and black mane flying wildly and haggardly about her breast and back. The beauteous maiden followed her, pale, stiff; her lovely bosom was all bared, but her whole form was like a marble statue.
Then the old woman growled. Here something crawled forth from behind that they seemed not to perceive, or it must have struck them with the same thrilling terrour as Emilius. A serpent curled its loathsome neck, scale after something red blood, and a green sparkling eye shot over into the eye, and brain, and heart of Emilius, who instantly dropt on the ground.
He was senseless when found by Roderick some hours after.
A party of friends were sitting on the brightest summer morning in a green arbour, assembled at an excellent breakfast. Laughter and jests passed round; and many a time did the glasses kiss with a merry health to the young couple, and a wish that they might be the happiest of the happy. The bride and bridegroom were not present; she being still engaged in dressing, while the young husband was sauntering by himself down an avenue some way off, musing upon his happiness.
“What a pity it is,” said Anderson, “that we are to have no music! All our ladies are beclouded at the thought, and never in their whole lives longed for a dance so much as today, when it is quite out of the question: it is far too painful to his feelings.”
“I can tell you a secret though,” exclaimed a young officer, “that we are to have a dance after all; and a rare riotous and madcap one it will be. Everything is already arranged; the musicians are come secretly and quartered out of sight. Roderick has managed the whole business; for he says one ought not to let him always have his own way, or to humour his strange caprices overmuch, especially on such a day as this.”
“Besides,” observed another young man, “he is already become much more tractable and sociable than he used to be; so that I think he himself will not be sorry at the alteration. Indeed the whole wedding has been brought about all on the sudden, and has taken everybody by surprise.”
“His whole history,” resumed Anderson, “is just as extraordinary as his character. You must all remember how, being on his travels last autumn, he arrived in our city, and spent the winter there, living like a melancholy man almost entirely in his own room, and never visiting our theatre or taking part in any other amusement. He all but quarrelled with Roderick, his most intimate friend, for trying to divert him, and refusing to pamper all his moping fantasies.
In fact this overstrained irritability and moroseness must have been a disease that was gathering in his body: for you know he was attackt four months ago by such a violent nervous fever, that his life was for a long time despaired of. After his frenzy had raved itself out, and he returned to his senses, he had almost entirely lost his memory: nothing but his childhood and early youth kept its hold on his mind; and he was totally unable to recollect anything that had happened during his journey, or immediately before his illness.
He had to begin his acquaintance afresh with all his friends, even with Roderick; and it is only by little and little that his thoughts have grown lighter, and that the past with all that had befallen him has come back, though still in dim colours, into his memory. He had been removed into his uncle’s house, that better care might be taken of him; and he was just like a child, letting them do whatever they chose with him.
The first time he went out to enjoy the warmth of the spring in the park, he saw a girl sitting pensively by the roadside. She lookt up; her eye met his; and seized with an inexplicable yearning he stopt the carriage, got out, sat down by her, took hold of her hands, and burst into a flood of tears. His friends were again alarmed for his intellects: but he grew calm, cheerful, and conversable, got introduced to the girl’s parents, and at his very first visit askt for her hand, which, with her parents consent, she granted him.
Since that time he has been happy, and a new life has sprung up within him: day after day he has become healthier and more contented. A week ago he paid me a visit at this country house, and was above measure delighted with it; indeed so much so that he would not rest till he had made me sell it to him.
I might easily have turned his passionate desire to my own advantage, and his loss; for when he once sets his heart on a thing, he will have it, and that too forthwith. He immediately let it be got ready, sent furniture that he may spend the summer months here; and thus it has come to pass that we are all met for his wedding in my old garden.”
The house was large, and in a very lovely country. One side of it lookt on a river and some woody hills beyond; shrubs and trees of various kinds were scattered about the lawn; and immediately before the windows lay a flower garden sweetening the air. The orange and lemon trees were ranged in a large open hall, from which small doors led to the store rooms, cellars, and pantries.
On the other side a meadow spread out its green floor, opening immediately into the park. The two long wings of the house formed a spacious court; and broad open galleries, borne by three rows of pillars standing one above the other, ran round it, connecting all the rooms in the house, and giving it a singular and interesting character: for figures were perpetually moving along these arcades, some engaged in one employment, some in another.
New forms kept stepping forth between the pillars and out of the various rooms, which anon vanisht and then reappeared above or below, to be lost behind one of the doors: parties too would often assemble there for tea or for some game; and thus from below the whole had the look of a theatre, before which everybody was glad to stop awhile, with a foreboding that something strange or pleasing was sure to meet his eyes ere long.
The party of young people were just rising, when the bride came in her full dress through the garden walking toward them. She was clad in violet-coloured velvet: a sparkling necklace lay cradled on her glittering neck; the costly lace just allowed her white swelling bosom to glimmer through; and her wreath of myrtle and white roses gave her brown hair a still more beautiful tint.
She greeted them all graciously, and the young men were astonisht at her surpassing beauty. She had been gathering flowers in the garden, and was going back into the house to see after the arrangements for dinner.
The tables had been set out in the lower open gallery, and shone dazzlingly with their white coverings and their load of sparkling crystal: rich clusters of many-coloured flowers rose from the graceful necks of alabaster vases; green garlands, starred with white blossoms, twined round the columns: and it was a lovely sight to behold the bride gliding along with gentle motion between the tables and the pillars, amid the light of the flowers, overlooking the whole with a searching glance, and then vanishing; and reappearing a moment after above, to pass into her chamber.
“She is the loveliest, most enchanting creature I ever saw!” cried Anderson: “our friend is indeed a happy man.”
To be continued …