Spirit sublime, thou gav’st me, gav’st me all
For which I prayed. Not unto me in vain
Hast thou thy countenance revealed in fire.
Thou gav’st me Nature as a kingdom grand,
With power to feel and to enjoy it. Thou
Not only cold, amazed acquaintance yield’st,
But grantest, that in her profoundest breast
I gaze, as in the bosom of a friend.
The ranks of living creatures thou dost lead
Before me, teaching me to know my brothers
In air and water and the silent wood.
And when the storm in forests roars and grinds,
The giant firs, in falling, neighbor boughs
And neighbor trunks with crushing weight bear down,
And falling, fill the hills with hollow thunders,—
Then to the cave secure thou leadest me,
Then show’st me mine own self, and in my breast
The deep, mysterious miracles unfold.
And when the perfect moon before my gaze
Comes up with soothing light, around me float
From every precipice and thicket damp
The silvery phantoms of the ages past,
And temper the austere delight of thought.
That nothing can be perfect unto Man
I now am conscious. With this ecstasy,
Which brings me near and nearer to the Gods,
Thou gav’st the comrade, whom I now no more
Can do without, though, cold and scornful, he
Demeans me to myself, and with a breath,
A word, transforms thy gifts to nothingness
Within my breast he fans a lawless fire,
Unwearied, for that fair and lovely form:
Thus in desire I hasten to enjoyment,
And in enjoyment pine to feel desire.
Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 192-226. Illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.
“For with fair talents Nature has endow’d me;
Although, alas, she has accompanied
Her lofty gifts with many weaknesses,
With a foreboding spirit, boundless pride,
And sensibility too exquisite.
It cannot be otherwise, since Fate,
In her caprice, has fashioned such a man;
We must consent to take him as he is.”
Faustus learns that Margaret has murdered the child, to which she had given birth, hoping thus to avoid shame. Her crime has been discovered; she has been thrown into prison, and is doomed to perish the next morning on the scaffold. Faustus curses Mephistopheles in the bitterness of rage; Mephistopheles reproaches Faustus in cold blood, and proves to him that it is himself who has desired evil, and that he has assisted him only because called upon by himself to do so. Sentence of death is pronounced against Faustus for having slain Margaret’s brother.
He nevertheless enters the city in secret, obtained from Mephistopheles the means of delivering Margaret, and penetrates at night into her dungeon, of which he has stolen the keys.
He hears from afar off the imperfect notes of a song which sufficiently proves the derangement of her mind; the words of this song are very coarse, and Margaret was naturally pure and delicate. Mad women are generally painted at if madness accommodated itself to the rules of propriety, and only gave the right of breaking off sentences abruptly, and interrupting at convenient times the chain of ideas; but it is not so: real disorder of the mind almost always displays itself in shapes foreign even to the cause of the disorder, and the gaiety of its unhappy victims is more harrowing to the soul than even their misery.
Faustus enters the prison: Margaret believes that they are come to lead her to death. Margaret, rising from her bed of straw, exclaims: “They come! They come! Oh! how bitter is death!”
Faustus, in a low voice: “Softly, softly, I come to deliver thee.” (He draws near her, to break her fetters.)
Margaret: “If thou art human, my despair will touch thee.”
Faustus: “Softer, softer! Thou wilt awake the guard by thy cries.”
Margaret, throwing herself on her knees: “Who hath given thee, barbarian, this power over me? It is only midnight: why does thou come to look for me so soon? Have pity on my tears, let me live a little longer. Tomorrow morning, is it not time enough?” She rises again. “I am so young — so young! and must I then die already? I was once handsome too: That was my ruin. Then my friend was near to me; but now he is a great way off. The flowers of my garland are scattered. Do not grasp my hand with such violence! be tender with me! let me not weep in vain! never, to this day, have I seen thee before.”
Faustus: “How can I support her agony?”
Margaret: “I am altogether in thy power. Only let me suckle my child: I have pressed it slowly to my heart all night long. They have taken it from me to distress me. Don’t they say that I killed it? Never shall I be again what I once was. Did they not sing songs against me, those wicked people? What would they say then?”
Faustus, casting himself to her feet: “Thy lover is at thy feet. He comes to throw open the gates of this horrible prison.”
Margaret: “Yes, let us fall on our knees; let us call the saints to our assistance. The cries of hell are heard, and the evil genii wait for us on the threshold of my dungeon.”
Faustus: “Margaret! Margaret!”
Margaret. listening eagerly: “It was the voice of my love.” She springs toward Faustus, and her irons fall off. “Where is he? I heard him call me. I am free. Nobody can keep me any longer in prison. I will support myself on his arm, I will rest on his bosom. He calls me Margaret; he is there, before the door. Amidst the howling of pitiless death I hear the soft and touching harmony of his voice.”
Faustus: “Yes, Margaret, it is I.”
Margaret: “It is thou; repeat that once again.” (She presses him to her bosom.) “Tis he! Tis he! What is become of the anguish of my chains and of the scaffold? It is thou! I am saved! I see before me the road in which I first beheld thee, the smiling garden where Martha and I used to wait for you.”
Faustus: “Come, come.”
Margaret: “It is so sweet to me to stay with thee! Ah! do not leave me!”
Faustus: “Haste! we may pay dearly for the least delay.”
Margaret: “What! thou answerest not to my embraces? My love, it is so short a time since we parted? Hast thou already forgotten to press me to thy heart? There was a time when thy words and looks called down all Heaven upon me! Embrace me! for mercy’s sake, embrace me! Thy heart then is cold and dumb. What is become of thy love? Who has robbed me of it?”
Faustus: “Come, follow me, my dearest love: take courage. I love thee with rapture, but follow me, it is my only prayer.”
Margaret: “But art thou indeed Faustus? Art thou thyself?”
Faustus: “Yes, certainly. Yes, come along!”
Margaret: “Thou deliverest me from my chains, thou takest me again to thine arms. How is it that thou art not afraid of Margaret? Does thou know well, my love; dost thou well know whom thou deliverest?”
Faustus: “Come, come! The night already begins to fade away!”
Margaret: “My mother! It was I who killed her. My child! It was I who drowned it. Was it not thine as well as mine? Is it true then that I behold thee, Faustus? Is it not a dream? Give me thy hand, thy beloved hand! Oh Heaven! it is moist. Wipe it. I think there is blood upon it. Hide thy sword from me! Where is my brother? I beseech you, hide it from me!”
Faustus: “Oh! bury the irreparable past in oblivion! you make me die.”
Margaret: “No, thou must remain behind. I will describe to thee what manner of tombs thou must prepare tomorrow. The best place must be given to my mother; my brother must be laid next to her. As for me, you must place me farther off; yet not too far neither; and my child, right upon my bosom. But nobody must lie by my side. I could have wished that thou mightest be near me; but that was a sweet and pure happiness, and belongs to me no more. I feel myself dragged towards thee, and it seems to me that thou violently drives me back: Yet are thy looks full of tenderness and goodness.”
Faustus: “Ah! If you know me, come!”
Margaret: “Where shall I go then?”
Faustus: “Thou shalt be free.”
Margaret: “The tomb is without those gates. Death watches my footsteps. Come; but lead me to my everlasting dwelling place. I can go no where but there. Wilt thou leave me? Oh! my love, if I could …”
Faustus: “Thou canst if thou wilt; the gates are open.”
Margaret: “I dare not; no hope remains for me. For what purpose shall I fly? My persecutors are waiting for me. To beg is so miserable. And, above all, with a bad conscience! It is dismal also to wander about in a foreign land; and, besides, wherever I go, they will lay hold on me.”
Faustus: “I will remain near thee.”
Margaret: “Quick, quick, save thy poor child! Go, follow the road by the side of the rivulet, cross the path that leads to the wood; on the left hand, near the sluice, in the fish pond, catch it instantly! It will stretch out its hands to heaven. It seizures with convulsions. Save it! Save it!”
Faust: “Recover thy senses; one step more, and thou hast nothing to fear.”
Margaret: “Had we but passed the mountain! The air is so cold by the side of the spring. There is my mother, sitting on a rock, and her aged head is shaking. She does not call me; she makes no sign to me to approach. Only her eyes are heavy; oh! she will never wake more! We used to be so glad when she slept. Ah! when a recollection!”
Faustus: “Since thou wilt not listen to my entreaties, I must drag thee along in spite of thyself.”
Margaret: “Leave me! No, I will not endure violence; seize me not thus with that murderous strength. Ah! I have only too much done as you would have me!”
Faustus: “The day breaks, my dear love! my dearest love!”
Margaret: “Yes, it will soon be day. My last day dawns upon this dungeon. It comes to celebrate my eternal spousals: tell nobody that you have seen Margaret tonight. Alas, my poor garland. It is withered. We shall meet again, but not on holidays. The crowd is gathering together, oh what a confusion of sounds shall we hear! The streets, the market-place, will hardly be large enough for the multitude. The bell tolls, the signal is given. They are going to tie my hands, to bind my eyes. I shall ascend the bloody scaffold, and the axe’s edge will fall on my neck. Ah! the world is already silent as the grave!”
Faustus: “Heavens! Why was I born?”
Mephistopheles, appearing at the door: “Haste, or you are lost; your delays, your uncertainties, are fatal to you: my horses…”
Margaret: “Who is it that rises out of the earth? It is he, it is he; send him away. What should he have to do in this holy holy place? He means to carry me off with him.”
Faustus: “You must live!”
Margaret: “Tribunal of God! I abandon myself to thee.”
Mephistopheles to Faustus: “Come, come away! or I will leave thee to die together with her.”
Margaret: “Heavenly Father! I am thine; and ye angels, save me! Holy legions, encompass me about, defend me! Faustus, it is thy fate that afflicts me…”
Mephistopheles: “She is judged.”
Voices from Heaven are heard to cry “She is saved!”
Mephistopheles disappears with Faustus. The voice of Margaret is still heard from the bottom of the dungeon, recalling her love in vain. “Faustus! Faustus!”
After these words, the piece is broken off. The intention of the author doubtless is that Margaret should perish, and that God should pardon her; that the life of Faustus should be preserved, but that his soul should be lost.
The imagination must supply the charm which a most exquisite poetry adds to the scenes I have attempted to translate. In the art of versification there is a peculiar merit acknowledged by all the world, and yet independent of the subject to which it is applied. In the play of Faustus, the rhythm changes with the situation, and the billiant variety that results from the change is admirable.
The German language presents a greater number of combinations than ours, and Goethe seems to have employed them all to express, by sounds as well as images, the singular elevation of irony and enthusiasm, of sadness and mirth, which impelled him to the composition of this work. It would indeed be too childish to suppose that such a man was not perfectly aware of all the defects of taste with which his piece was liable to be reproached; but it is curious to know the motives that determined him to leave those defects, or rather intentionally to insert them.
Goethe has submitted himself to rules of no description whatever in this composition; it is neither tragedy nor romance. Its author adjured every sober method of thinking and writing; one might find in it some analogies with Aristophanes, if the traits of Shakespeare’s pathos were not mingled with beauties of a very different nature.
Faustus astonishes, moves, and melts us; but it does not leave a tender impression upon the soul. Though presumption and vice are cruelly punished, the hand of beneficence is not perceived in the administration of the punishment; it would rather be said that the evil principle directed the thunderbolt of vengeance against crimes of which it had itself occasioned the commission; and remorse, such as it is painted in this drama, seems to proceed from hell, in company with guilt.
The belief in evil spirits is to be met with in many pieces of German poetry; the nature of the north agrees very well with this description of terror; it is therefore much less ridiculous in Germany, than it would be in France, to make use of the Devil in works of fiction. To consider all ideas only in a literary point of view, it is certain that our imagination figures to itself something that answers to the conception of an evil genius, whether in the human heart, or in the dispensations of nature.
Man sometimes does evil, as we may say, in a disinterested manner, without end, and even against his end, merely to satisfy a certain inward asperity that urges him to do hurt to others. The deities of paganism were accompanied by a different sort of divinities of the race of the Titans, who presented the revolted forces of nature; and, in Christianity, the evil inclinations of the soul may be said to be personafied under the figure of Devils.
It is impossible to read Faustus without being excited to reflexion in a thousand different manners: We quarrel with the author, we condemn him; we justify him; but he obliges us to think upon everything, and, to borrow the language of a simple sage of former times, upon something more than every thing. (De omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis.)
The criticisms to which such a production is obnoxious may easily be foreseen, or rather it is the very nature of the work that provokes censure still more than the manner in which it was treated; for such a composition ought to be judged like a dream; and if good taste were always watching at the ivory gate, to oblige our visions to take the regulated form, they would seldom strike the imagination.
Nevertheless, the drams of Faustus is certainly not composed upon a good model. Whether it be considered as an offspring of the delirium of the mind, or of the satiety of reason, it is to be wished that such productions may not be multiplied; but when such a genius as that of Goethe sets itself free from all restrictions, the crowd of thoughts is so great, that on every side they break through and trample down the barriers of art.
Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 203-212. All illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.
“She is not the first!”
The history of Margaret is oppressively painful to the heart. Her low condition, her confined intellect, all that renders her subject to misfortune, without giving her the power of resisting it, inspires us with the greater compassion for her. Goethe, in his novels and in his plays, has scarcely ever bestowed any superior excellence upon his female personages, but he describes with wonderful exactness that character of weakness which renders protection so necessary to them.
Margaret is about to receive Faustus in her house without her mother’s knowledge, and gives this poor woman, by the advice of Mephistopheles, a sleeping draught which she is unable to support, and which causes her death. The guilty Margaret becomes pregnant, her shame is made public, all her neighbours point the finger at her. Disgrace seems to have greater hold upon persons of an elevated rank, and yet it is perhaps more formidable among the lower class. Everything is so plain, so positive, so irreparable, among men who never upon any occasion made use of shades of expression.
Goethe admirably catches those manners. At once so near and so distant from us, he possesses in a supreme degree the art of being perfectly natural in a thousand different natures.
Valentine, a soldier, the brother of Margaret, returns from the wars to visit her, and when he learns her shame, the suffering which he feels, and for which he blushes, betrays itself in language at once harsh and pathetic. A man severe in appearance, yet inwardly endowed with sensibility, causes an unexpected and poignant emotion.
Goethe has painted with admirable truth the courage which a soldier is capable of exerting against moral pain, that new enemy which he perceives within himself, and which he cannot combat with his usual weapons. At last, the necessity of revenge takes possession of him, and brings into action all the feelings by which he was inwardly devoured. He meets Mephistopheles and Faustus at the moment when they are going to give a serenade under his sister’s window. Valentine provokes Faustus, fights with him, and receives a mortal wound. His adversaries fly to avoid the fury of the populace.
Margaret arrives, and asks who lies bleeding upon the earth. The people answer the son of thy mother. And her brother dying addresses to her reproaches more terrible, and more harrowing, than most polished language could ever make use of. The dignity of tragedy could never permit us to dig so deeply into the human heart for the characters of nature.
Mephistopheles obliges Faustus to leave the town, and the despair excited in him by the fate of Margaret creates a new interest in his favor.
“Alas!” he exclaims, “she might so easily have been made happy! a simple cabin in an alpine valley, a few domestic employments, would have been enough to satisfy her limited wishes, and fill up her gentle existence; but I, the enemy of God, could not rest till I had broken her heart, and triumphed in the ruin of her humble destiny. Through me, will peace be for ever ravished from her. She must become the victim of hell. Well! Demon, cut short my anguish, let what must come, come quickly! Be the fate of unhappy creature fulfilled, and cast me headlong, together with her, into the abyss.”
The bitterness and sang-froid of the answer of Mephistopheles are truly diabolical.
“How you enflame yourself,” he says to him, “how you boil!
I know not how to console thee,
and upon my honour
I would now give myself to the Devil if I were not the Devil myself;
but thinkest thou, then, madman,
that because thy weak brain can find no issue,
there is none in reality?
Long live he who knows how to support all things with courage!
I have rendered thee not much unlike myself,
and reflect, I beseech thee,
that there is nothing in the world more disgusting,
than a devil who despairs!”
Margaret goes alone to the church, the only asylum that remains to her: An immense crowd fills the aisles, and the burial service is being performed in this solemn place. Margaret is covered with a veil; she prays fervently; and when she begins to flatter herself with hopes of divine mercy, the evil spirit speaks to her in a low voice, saying,
“Dost thou remember, Margaret, the time when thou came hither to prostrate thyself before the altar? Then wert thou full of innocence, and while thy timid voice lisped the psalms, God reigned in thy heart. Margaret, what hast thou since done? What crimes hast thou committed? Dost thou come to pray for the soul of thy mother, whose death hangs so heavily upon thy head! Dost thou see what blood is that which defiles thy threshold? It is thy brother’s blood. And dost thou not feel stirring in thy womb an unfortunate creature that already forewarns thee of new sufferings?”
Margaret: “Woe! Woe! How can I escape from the thoughts that spring up in my soul and rise in rebellion against me?”
The Choir: (chanting in the church)
Dies irae, dies illa, Solvet saeclum in favilla.
*(The day of wrath will come, and the universe will be reduced to ashes.)
The Evil Spirit: “The anger of Heaven threatens thee, Margaret! The trumpets of the resurrection are sounded; the tombs are shaken, and thy heart is about to awake to eternal flames.”
Margaret: “Ah, that I could fly hence! the sounds of that organ prevent me from breathing, and the chants of the priests penetrate my soul with an emotion that rends it.”
Judex ergo cum sedebit, Quidquid latet apparebit; Nil inultum remanebit.
*(When the supreme judge appears, he will discover all that is hidden, and nothing shall remain unpunished.)
Margaret: “It seems as if the walls were closing together to stifle me. Air! Air!”
The Evil Spirit: “Hide thyself! Guilt and shame pursue thee. Thou callest for air and for light; miserable wretch! what hast thou to hope from them?”
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus?
Cum vix justus sit securus?*
*(Miserable wretch! What then shall I say? to what protector shall I address myself, when even the just can scarcely believe themselves saved?)
The Evil Spirit: “The saints turn away their faces from thy presence; they would blush to stretch forth their pure hands toward thee.”
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Margaret, at this discourse, utters a shriek and faints away.
What a scene! this unfortunate creature who, in the asylum of consolation finds despair; this assembled multiple praying to God with confidence, while the unhappy woman, in the very temple of the Lord, meets the spirit of hell. The severe expressions of the sacred hymn are interpreted by the inflexible malice of the evil genius. What distraction in the heart! what ills accumulated on one poor feeble head! And what a talent his, who knew how to represent to the imagination those moments in which life is lighted up with us like a funeral fire, and throws over our fleeting days the terrible reflection of an eternity of torments!
Mephistopheles conceives the idea of transporting Faustus to the Sabbath of Witches in order to dissipate his melancholy, and this leads us to a scene of which it is impossible to give the idea, though it contains many thoughts which we shall endeavour to recollect: this festival of the Sabbath represents truly the saturnalia of genius. The progress of the piece is suspended by its introduction, and the stronger the situation, the greater we find the difficulty of submitting even to the inventions of genius when they so effectively disturb the interest.
Amidst the whirlwind of all that can be thought or said, when images and ideas rush headlong, confound themselves, and seem to fall back into the abysses from which reason has called them, there comes a scene which reunited us to the circumstances of the performance in a terrible manner. The conjurations of magic cause several different pictures to appear, and all at once Faustus approaches Mephistopheles and says to him:
“Dost thou not see, there below,
a young girl,
pale, though beautiful,
who stands alone in the distance?
She advances slowly,
her feet seem to be knit togehter;
do you not perceive her resemblance to Margaret?”
Mephistopheles: “It is an effect of magic, only illusion. It is not good to dwell upon the sight. Those fixed eyes freeze the blood of men. It was thus that Medusa’s head, of old, turned all who gazed upon it to stone.”
Faustus: “It is true that the eyes of that image are open, like those of a corpse which have not been closed by a friendly hand. There is the bosom on which I rested my head; there are the charms which my heart called its own.”
Mephistopheles: “Madman! all this is but witchcraft; every one thinks he beholds the beloved of his soul in this phantom.”
Faustus: “What madness! What torment! I cannot fly from that look: But what means that red collar that encircles her beautiful neck, no broader than the edge of a knife?”
Mephistopheles: “Tis true; but what would you do? Do not lose thyself thus in thought; ascend this mountain; they are preparing a feast for you on the summit. Come!”