Excerpt, “GERMAN STORIES:Selected From the Works of Hoffmann, De La Motte Fouque’, Pichler, Kruse, and Others.”By R.P. Gillies, Esq. in three Volumes.Vol. I.London:1826.
THE CASTLE OF SCHARFENSTEIN
From Felix to Julius
I hasten to prepare you by the first possible opportunity, for an event of which the rumours will soon be afloat, both in town and country, and which will, of course, cause very material changes. Julius, the reigning Duke’s crimes are now frightfully avenged on his own head. I reflect with horror on that web of evil, which he has himself twined so industriously, and which, in the end, is only to supply the means of his own destruction. But you must now judge for yourself.
About eight days ago, the Duke, who since that attack of illness after the masquerade ball, has been always rather in bad health, was sitting in the dusk of the evening, in a small cabinet, at the end of a long suite of apartments. His temper is so variable, that those around him never know what he would like or dislike. Consequently, no one would venture to bring him lighted candles, unless he had rung for that purpose. So that, as chance would have it, the Duke having fallen asleep had forgotten the hour, and all his usual arrangements.
Meanwhile there came into the palace court an old grey-headed man, who ran hastily up the back staircase, and gave the pass-word and signal in such manner, that, in the dark, the guards never discovered that he was a stranger. So that the private door was directly opened, and he went forward to the chamber of our drowsy sovereign. The Duke was instantly roused by the noise his unexpected visitor made on entering the room, started up all in a tremor, and called aloud in a voice of the utmost anxiety and consternation, “Has he escaped? Has he come hither?”
Now the old man being by this time as much affrighted as the Duke, began also to vociferate, till at last, both standing opposite to each other, broke out into a fit of mad laughter. Which, at the same time being accompanied by all the symptoms of deadly fear, inspired the listeners with horror; and the nearest attendants, on looking in, perceived that their visages were abdominably writhen and contracted.
The groom of the chambers had indeed watched the whole transaction from the next room, and was so much agitated that he ran away for the physician, who came immediately, and tried every means in his power to bring the unhappy men to their senses. But it was impossible to make them listen to any third party. The same paroxysms of terror and utter madness were renewed, tall at last they were quite exhausted, and fell into a sleep or stupor so still, that it was like that of death.
As for the mysterious old man who caused all this disturbance, Leonardo the physician recognized in him at once the castellan of Scharfenstein, and being well aware of the circumstances there, he concluded that some fatal blow had been struck against the Duke from that quarter. At the same time, he endeavored to guard against any more outbreakings of such alarming madness. He therefore made the castellan be removed to another room, in hopes that such paroxysms would not recur, unless brought on by some outwardly exciting cause.
But though thus separated, no sooner had the Duke and the old man awoke from their unnatural slumber, than their eyes began to roll, and they seemed anxiously to look for each other. They continued under the influence of raging delirium, till they were again brought together, after which the same mad grimaces and laughter were renewed as before.
Since then their condition has remained equally perplexing and disastrous — notwithstanding all that the physicians have tried against it; so that with deep sorrow they were at last obliged to inform the Duchess that her son was incurably insane. She now sees the kingdom deserted, without any ruler, and yet begs that the ministers will, for some time at least, suspend their choice of a regent.
Meanwhile, the people begin to murmur, rather formidably, that Prince Charles is neither mad nor guilty. Even here, one may trace that inward born apprehension, that anticipation of truth, which, though it can be suppressed for a time, is yet a principle inherent in the human mind. Though they dare not speak freely, yet no one doubts in his heart that the Duke’s malady is an awful judgment against him, for the sufferings that he inflicted on his brother; and it is certain that a ministerial deputation will immediately be sent to Scharfenstein. It may be well, therefore, that you prepare the Prince for this visit, and assure him that the people have placed all their hopes on him.
Julius, dare any one in this world ever decide that he stands at the goal of his allotted course? Everywhere, and at all times, man but gropes in the dark; even when, by self-denial, and the renunciation of hopes which had been fondly cherished, he thinks that he must infallibly secure peace, he is disappointed — there are duties yet to be fulfilled betwixt him and the grave. But I shall not detain the courier for the sake of moralizing!
There remains but little to be added to the preceding letters, but that little dissolves every cloud, and for the rest, all is sunshine. As Felix had anticipated, the Prince found that the voice of Providence called him to the throne; and though the busy world, with all its goings on, was now more than ever disagreeable to him, he did not hesitate to obey the summons. The scene was, indeed, moving, when the old Duchess welcomed at court her son, who had been so long an exile, while the Prince’s dignified figure and quiet demeanor announced to every feeling heart how he had striven against his own passion, and conquered.
As to the Countess Julia, some time elapsed before she could be persuaded to leave her retirement. The veil that Providence had drawn betwixt her and the outward world, was, in her estimation, a token that she should ought never to change her mode of life. But wonderful and inscrutable are the mysteries of the connection between mind and bodily frame, acting and re-acting on each other!
In her excessive grief, her eyes became dim, till, for a time, their sense was wholly lost; but it was found that this evil was not irremediable. Once more she had regained some perception of the daylight. An English physician, who then passed through the capital, was employed, and completed her recovery. It is needless to add, that she remained the only female friend and confidante of the reigning Duke Charles, who, from the mere consciousness of her being near to him, drew inspirations of courage, energy and perseverance in all his undertakings.
As for Julius, he was, in every respect, happy and fortunate. Distinguished for his admirable conduct, both in private life and as a soldier on the battlefield, it came to pass in after years, when his beloved parents were united in death, when also the former Duke rested under a magnificent monument, and the sovereign power merged into another principality, Julius was appointed prime minister, and continued to behave with such spirit and propriety that he was respected even as much as if he had himself been on the throne.
~ The End ~
Caroline de la Motte-Fouque’