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Adelbert von Chamisso: “Peter Schlemihl”

 

To My old Friend
Peter Schlemihl

After long years once more thy writing lay
Before me, and – how wonderful – forth flew
Back on my heart our youthful friendship’s day,
When in the world’s great school we yet were new.
I now am an old man; my hair is grey,
And false shame I have long learned to subdue,
Yes! I will call thee friend, as I did then,
Will hail thee mine, and tell it unto men!

My poor, poor friend! the joggling fiend hath not
Me, as thyself, so treacherously undone;
Still have I striven, still hoped a brighter lot,
And truly, in the end, have little won’
Yet the Grey Man will boast not to have got
Hold of my shadow; nor hath ever done.
Here lies my native shadow, free unfurled:
I never lost my shadow in the world.

Yet, guiltless as a child, on me descended
The scorn men for thy nakedness did feel,
What! is our likeness then so subtly blended?
They shouted, “Where’s thy shadow, O Schlemihl?”
And when I showed it, laughing, they pretended
Blindness, and still laughed endless peal on peal.
What help? We learn in patience to endure;
Nay more – are glad – feel we our conscience pure.

And what then is the shadow? May I know it?
As I myself so oft am catechised?
Thus monstrously, and higher far to show it,
Than the harsh world itself it e’er hath prized?
Yes! and to nineteen thousand days we own it
Which passing o’er us, thus have us advised –
As formerly to shadow we gave being,
We now see life, a shadow, from us fleeing.

And thereupon we give our hands, Schlemihl!
On we will go, and to the Old One leave it;
How little for the whole world will we feel,
But our own union, firm and firmer weave it.
As thus unto our goal we nearer wheel,
Who laughs or blames — we’ll hear not, nor conceive it;
Till, ‘scaped from all the tempests of the deep
We’ll enter port, and sleep our soundest sleep.


Berlin, August 1834

Adelbert von Chamisso

 

 Excerpt, “The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl” by Adelbert von Chamisso. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. Paternoster Row. 1843. Translated by William Howitt.  Illustrated by A. Fleischmann.

Heinrich Heine: “Dream Pictures” 2/2

Preamble to The Book of Songs. Excerpt, The Works of Heinrich Heine, Vol. 17, 15-25. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland.

8.

I came from the house of my mistress bright
And wandered half crazed thro’ the grim midnight;
And as thro’ the churchyard my way I took,
The still graves gave me a solemn look.

From the Minstrel’s grave some bright glance sped,
Twas a flickering ray that the wan moon shed;
And “Brother, I’m coming” was whispered low,
While a pale form rose from the grave below.

‘Twas the Minstrel himself from the grave who crept,
And on to the top of the grave-stone leapt;
With rapid hand he strikes the strings,
And in voice both hollow and harsh he sings:

“Oh! sad and dull, my lute-string, say,
Know ye still the theme that used to sway
The life-blood and enthral it?
Heaven’s bliss — the Angels call it so;
Hell’s pain, it is called by the fiends below,
But Love is what men call it.”

And scarce had the sound of the last word died
When, all around, the graves gaped wide;
And phantoms rose and swayed about
The Minstrel, raising in chorus the shout:

“Love, oh Love, it was thy might
Brought us to this doleful plight,
Closed our lips and sealed our sight,
Wherefore call’st thou in the night?”

And the clamour arises, confused and confounding,
With croaking and creaking, rebound, resounding:
Round the Minstrel circle the madden hordes,
And the Minstrel wildly smites the chords.

“Mad my masters, well, ’tis well
Welcome are ye;
Nought could bar ye
When ye heard my magic spell.
Though from year to year we be
Mouse-still in our coffins, we
Make today a day of glee!

But are we alone? Just see!
We were asses all when living,
Our existence madly giving
To a mad love’s raging fires.
Pastime surely will not fail,
If each spirit tells the tale
Of what brought him from above,
Of his woes
And his throes
In the frenzied chase of Love.”

Then light as the breeze there hopped forth soon
The leanest of phantoms, and hummed this tune:

“A tailor’s ‘prentice steady
With needle and with shears;
I grew expert and ready!
With needle and with shears;

“When my master’s daughter lured me
With needle and with shears;
And through my bosom skewered me
With needle and with shears!”

Then the chorus of spirits laughed long and loud,
And a second stalked solemnly out of the crowd.

“Brigands such as Rinaldini,
Robin Hood and Orlandini,
But Karl Moor the most by far,
These I took for exemplar!

“And I plunged — pray let me show it —
Into Love, in mode heroic,
And a female form divine
Jostled thro’ this brain of mine.

“And my heart and hopes were maddened,
And my love being almost maddened,
I at last dipped fingers rash
In my worthy neighbour’s cash.

“Then some high police curmudgeon
Chose to take the thing in dungeon,
That I dried the tears of grief
With my neighbour’s handkerchief.

“And in good policeman fashion
Marched me off without compassion;
So the gaol stupendous pressed
Me to its maternal breast.

“Thoughts of her! aye, picking oakum
Did voluptuously provoke ’em!
Till Rinaldo came one day
And bore my soul with him away.”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
And a well be-rouged dandy stepped from the crowd.

“I was king of the boards and enchanted
The town in the true lover’s part;
I bellowed, ‘Ye gods,’ and I ranted,
I breathed forth my Aha, from my heart.

“In Romeo I chiefly attracted:
Each Juliette an angel I thought;
Through the part so the life I enacted,
She ne’er understood what I sought.

“When once in the fifth act despairing
‘O my Saint! O my Juliet!’ I cried;
My bodkin relentlessly baring,
I stuck it too deep in my side.”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
And a fourth appeared in a snow-white shroud.

“From his lofty chair the Professor was prosing,
Was prosing while I took a nap serene;
But a thousand times rather than napping or dozing,
By his dear little daughter would I have been.

“From her window she gave me sweet nods as I passed by
My flower of flower, my life’s sole light!
But my flower of flower was plucked at the last by
A Philistine huckster, a wealthy wight.

“Then I cursed all women and scoundrels wealthy,
And some devil’s drug with my wine did blend;
And I pledged King Death in a goblet stealthy.”
He cried, “On my faith, Old Death’s a friend!”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud;
With a rope round his neck came a fifth from the crowd.

“He reveled and swaggered, the Count o’er his wine,
With his diamonds rare and his daughter divine;
What care I, Sir Count, for your jewels so fine?
Tis your fair little daughter whom I would make mine.

“They both of them lay under bolt, lock and key,
And the Count a whole army of henchmen had he.
What cared I for henchmen, for belt, lock and key?
The rungs of a ladder I mounted with glee.

“So gaily I climbed to my darling’s window,
When savagest swearing is heard from below.
‘Stop, stop, my fine fellow, let me have my share,
I’ve also a fancy for diamonds rare.’

“‘Twas the Count who thus jeered me, and at me he flew,
And shouting, his myrmidons hustled me, too.
‘To hell with your rabble! No thief have you here,
And all I would steal is my own little dear!

“Entreaties availed not, no counsel could aid
In a moment were cords and a gibbet arrayed;
When next the sun came how astonished was he,
To discover me there on the bright gallows-tree!”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
With his head in his hand came a sixth from the crowd.

“Love drove me to the poacher’s trade;
Thro’ forest, gun in hand, I strayed;
In the high trees the raves scoff,
And croak at me: ‘Heads off! Heads off!’

“Oh, could I track some pretty dove,
Home would I bear it to my Love.
Thro’ bush and briar, as thus I thought,
My sportman’s eye the quarry sought.

“What cooing’s that? What billing’s there?
Two tender turtles, I declare.
I crept up close and cocked my gun,
And lo! my own sweetheart was one!

“My dove, my bride, it was in sooth,
Embracing her a stranger youth.
Old marksman, see thy aim be good!
There lay the stranger in his blood.

“Ere long the headsman’s train marched thro’
The gloomy wood, and I marched too,
Chief actor — while the ravens scoff
And croak on high: ‘Heads off! heads off!'”

Then the spirits in merry chorus shout,
And then the Minstrel himself steps out.

“I too had a song I cherished,
But the dear song is o’er;
When the heart in your body is perished,
Then songs are sung no more!”

And the maniac laughter rang doubly loud,
And circled about him the death-pale crowd;
When the church tower boomed forth One and then
With a shriek they plunged in the graves again.

9.

I lay and slept; slept peacefully,
All pain and care dispelled;
In dreams a vision came to me
The fairest e’er beheld.

Pale as white marble to the view,
A maid of mystery rare,
With pearl-like eyes all brimmed with dew,
And strangely waving hair.

And soft and softly drawing sigh
The maid so marble pale,
She came upon my heart to lie
The maid so marble pale.

Ah! how my breast doth burn and start
And leap with joy and woe;
Nor leaps, nor starts the maiden’s heart,
That heart as cold as snow.

“My heart doth neither bear, nor move,
As very ice ’tis cold;
And yet I know the bliss of love,
Its passion uncontrolled!

“On lip and cheek there blooms no red,
Nor through my heart streams blood;
Yet strive not with such shuddering dread,
For thee I’m meek and good.”

And wilder still she clasped me round,
Till terror made me quail;
When the cock crowed — without a sound
Fled the maid, marble pale.

10.

Yes, I have summoned many
Pale corpses by spells of might,
And now there is not any
Will slink back into the night.

The terror and horror drove from me
The master’s o’erpowering spell;
And so my own spectres o’ercome me,
And drag me back to hell.

Urge me not, ye swart friends, I implore ye!
Hurl me not to the darkness below;
There are many delights yet ‘fore me
In the sheen of our earth’s rosy glow.

For ever must I be straining
After one fair flower near;
What were my whole life’s meaning
If I did not love thee, dear?

Might I only clasp and press her
To my flowing heart once again,
On her cheeks, on her mouth to kiss her
Once only with rapturous pain!

Might I only hear one tender
Word from her lips at that hour,
O spirits, I would surrender
Myself to your gloomy power!

The spirits heard me, bending
Their heads as an awful sign.
Fair sweetheart — to them am I wending;
Dost thou love me — fair sweetheart mine!

Heinrich Heine

 

Heinrich Heine: Dream Pictures Part 1 of 2

Preamble to The Book of Songs. Excerpt, The Works of Heinrich Heine, Vol. 17, 1-15. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland.

Once did I dream of wildest passion’s glow,
Of love-locks, bloom of flowers, and songs of birds,
Of sweetest lips that uttered bitter words,
Of woeful verse married to airs of woe.

Faded and vanished are those visioned time!
Vanished the dreamt-of Shade I loved the best;
Nothing remains but that which, love-possessed,
I shaped and moulded into gentle rhymes.

Thou, orphaned song, was left — thou, too, shalt fade!
Go, seek that Shade which fled with dreams too fleeting;
And, if thou find it, hear it all my greeting,
An airy breath I send to airy Shade.

2.

A dream of awful mystery
Appalled and yet delighted me.
Shapes hideous float before me still,
And in my heart dim horrors thrill.

A wondrous garden was the place
Wherein I thought at ease to pace;
A wealth of flowers the garden had
Which smiled on me, and made me glad.

The little birds were chattering all
Their merry lovers’ madrigal;
The blazing sun shot rays of gold
On bloom of tincture manifold.

And spicy scents from herbage flow;
Softly and sweet the zephyrs blow;
And all things glint and all things smile,
And show their loveliness the while.

Within this blooming land midway
A limpid marble fountain lay,
O’er which a beauteous damsel bent,
On washing some white robe intent.

With eyes so mild, with cheeks so fair,
A pictured saint with golden hair,
And as I gazed it seemed that she
Was strange, and yet well known to me.

The bonny maid, she works away;
She sings a wondrous roundelay:
“Ripple, ripple, brooklet bright,
Wash my linen fair and white.”

Forward I moved, and drawing near,
“Tell me,” I whispered in her ear.
“Oh damsel sweet and wondrous fair,
For whom is this white garment rare?”

“Make ready soon,” swift answered she,
“A shroud I’m washing now — for Thee!”
And lo, the word was hardly said
When like a bubble all was sped.

* * *

The magic lasted. Soon I stood
Within a gloomy, savage wood;
Heav’n high the trees around up-raught,
I stood amazed, and thought and thought.

And hark! dull echoes clang around
Like distant hatchets’ hewing sound;
Through brake and brier I hurried fast,
And reached an open space at last.

Where ‘mid the green the space was cleared
A giant oak his branches reared;
and lo, upon the sturdy oak
That same strange maid dealt many a stroke.

And never resting, blow on blow,
She swung the ax, and murmur’d low:
“Iron clink, iron clank,
Shape a chest of good oak-plank.”

Forward I moved, and drawing near,
“Tell me,” I whispered in her ear,
“Oh little damsel loveliest,
For whom mak’st thou this oaken chest?”

“No time to lose!” swift answer’d she,
“A coffin ’tis I make — for Thee!”
And lo, the word was said
When like a bubble all was sped.

* * *

It stretched out wan, it stretched out wide,
Bare, barest moor on every side;
Scarce knowing what I felt or saw,
I trembling paused in spell-bound awe.

And soon as farther on I hied
A streak of gleaming white I spied;
I sped with all the speed I might,
And lo! it was that damsel bright.

On the wide heath stood the white maid,
Deep delving in the earth, with spade.
To look on her I almost feared,
She was so fair, and yet so weird.

The bonny maid she works away,
She sings a wondrous roundelay:
“Sharp and broad, good spade, good spade,
That a deep broad trench be made.”

Forward I moved, and drawing near,
“Tell me?” I whispered to her ear,
“O damsel sweet and wondrous fair,
What means the hole thou delvest there?”

And swift she answered: “Hush, poor fool!
I dig a grave for Thee, so cool!”
Scarce did these words the fair maid shape,
When lo! the trench was wide agape.

And as I gazed into the hole
Chill horror shivered through my soul.
I plunged into the hideous deep,
And as I plunged — I woke from sleep.

3.

I saw myself all in a dream by night
In glossy evening coat and satin vest,
Ruffles on wrist, as for some gala dressed,
And by me stood my mistress sweet and bright.

“So you’re betrothed,” I murmured with a slight
Inclining. “Pray, fair lady, take my best
Good wishes.” But my throat was tight compressed
By the unfeeling, long drawled tones polite.

And floods of bitter tears streamed forth unbidden
From my beloved’s eyes, and in their breaking.
The vision fair was almost from me hidden.
Oh ye sweet eyes, love-stars so seeming true,
Though ye have lied to me in dreams and waking
Often, how gladly still I trust in you!

4.

I saw in dreams a man-kin small and sprightly,
Who walked with ell-long steps, on stilts as ’twere,
Dainty in broadcloth, linen white and fair,
But who within was coarse, unclean, unsightly.

Within he was an object to distress ye,
But dignity without, beyond compare!
He swaggered bold of what he’d do and dare,
And seemed a man to bully and oppress ye.
“And knowst though who it is? Come quick and see!”
So spoke the god of dreams and showed to me
A pictured vision in a mirror then.
Before an altar that small man stood still,
My Love beside him; both replied: “I will,”
And all Hell’s laughing demons yelled: “Amen!”

5.

What makes my mad blood rave and rush?
What makes my heart to flame and flush?
My blood doth boil and flame and dart,
And scorching flame devours my heart.

My blood is pulsing wild and mad
Because of that vile dream I had.
The son of Night approach’d me dim,
And led me gasping forth with him.

He led me to a palace bright
With blazing torch and taper-light.
‘Mid sounding harps, ‘mid stir and din,
I reached the hall — I entered in.

There was a wedding revelry;
The guests sat round the board in glee.
And when the bridal pair I spied,
Ah, woe! my darling was the bride.

It was my winsome Love in sooth,
And for the groom, a stranger youth.
I crept behind her chair of state,
And hardly breathing, there I wait.

The music swelled; I stood amazed,
The loud delights my spirits dazed:
The bride’s glance was supremely blest,
And both her hands the bridegroom pressed.

The bridegroom brims his beaker high,
And drinks and gives it lovingly
To her, who thanks with sweet low laugh.
Ah woe! my red blood did she quaff?

The bride took up an apple fair
And gave it to the bridegroom there;
He took his knife and cut it free.
Ah woe! it was the heart of me!

Their glances met a long sweet space;
He clasps the bride in keen embrace;
Her cheeks so rosy red kissed he.
Ah woe! chill Death was kissing me!

The tongue within my mouth was lead,
No single word could I have said.
Loud music sounded thro’ the hall,
The dainty bride-pair led the ball!

I stood there silent as the dead,
The nimble dances round me sped.
One low-toned word he whispers next;
She blushes, but she is not vext!

6.

In sweetest dream, in stillest Night,
My love came by enchantment’s might,
As by enchantment’s might she crept
To the small chamber where I slept.

I gazed on her, of vision mild!
I gazed on her, she softly smiled;
My heart swelling high that smile to see,
And reckless words stormed forth from me:

“Take all, take all things that are mine!
Oh best beloved, all shall be thine,
So I may be thy paramour
Till cock-crow from the midnight hour!”

She gazed with loving sad surprise,
Her inmost heart within her eyes,
And low entreating murmured she:
“Yield thy salvation unto me!”

“To thee the life I hold so dear,
My youth, my blood, with joy and cheer,
Oh angel maiden, shall be given,
But never more my hope of Heaven.”

Swiftly my lips repelled her prayer,
But ever lovelier bloomed she there,
And ever more entreated she:
“Yield thy salvation unto me!”

I sounded like a hopeless moan;
Into my being’s depth was thrown
A sea of fire all tempest-tossed;
My breath came thick — it ceased almost.

White angels, glorious to behold,
first shone with haloes bright as gold;
But then a crew of goblins foul
Rushed wildly up against my soul.

They wrestled with the angels all,
They drove away the angles all;
And before long the swarthy crew,
Like films of mist had vanished too.

I was near death with sheer delight,
My arms were round my darling bright;
She nestled to me like a roe,
And yet she wept with wildest woe.

The fair child weeps, I well know why;
My kisses still the rosebud’s cry;
“Forbid, fair child, thy tears to flow,
Surrender to my love’s fierce glow.”

“Surrender to my love’s fierce flow!”
My blood grew sudden ice, for lo!
The earth itself with crash and start
Before my feet gaped wide apart.

From the swart gulf the swarthy crew
Arose; the fair child’s colour flew;
The fair child from my arms was gone,
And I was standing all alone.

Then in fantastic circle hurled,
The swarthy crew around me whirled;
Nearer to clutch me surged the crowd,
And scornful laughter bellowed loud.

The lessening circle hemmed me round;
Still did that burthen dread resound;
“Salvation was renounced by thee,
Ours art thou for Eternity.”

7.

The price has been paid thee, why palterest thou?
Oh black-blooded fiend, why palterest now?
See here in my chamber, fretfully wait,
and midnight’s at hand, ’tis the bride who is late.

The breezes blow chill from the churchyard side;
Ye winds, have ye happened to see my wee bride?
The hosts of pale shadows around me press,
They curtsy with grinning and nodding — Oh yes!

Speak up, what message bringst thou to me,
Swart rogue in the flame-red livery?
“I announce the illustrious company near,
With their chariots and dragons they soon will be here.”

Grey mannikin, darling, hey, what is your will?
O dead baccalaureus, waiting here still?
He eyes me with speechless and troubled gaze,
And shakes his head, and goes back his ways.

My shaggy familiar, why purr and stare?
Why do the eyes of black tom-cat glare?
Why howl the long-loose-haired women? and why
Does the ancient nurse croon my lullaby?

Madam nurse, bide at home with your sing-song today,
‘Tis long since I needed a cradle-lay;
Today ’tis my wedding-feast that is planned,
And see where the comely guests are at hand.

That’s capital, gentlemen! What are ye at,
Each bearing his head in his hand, not his hat!
Ye sprawling-legged creatures in gallows clothes,
What makes ye so late? Not a breath of wind blows.

And see on her broom-stick old mother-witch rides;
Oh bless thy son, mother, whatever betides.
In the dead-white face, the lips quiver then,
And she cries out: “For ever and ever. Amen!”

Twelve wind-dried musicians come loitering in;
One halting blind crone tunes up her violin;
And the famous Jack-pudding, half yellow, half black,
Comes bearing the sexton a-pick-a-back.

Then tripping twelve nuns from their convent advance.
And the leering old procuress leads on the dance;
Twelve brawny backed parsons come trooping along,
And chant with mock reverence a scandalous song.

Old clothes-man, you’re black in the face; shout not so,
No second-hand coat wards the flames off below.
For ever and gratis there hell-fires will burn;
And for wood, great and little men’s bones serve the turn.

The flower girls, all humped and awry, gather round,
And head over heels thro’ the chamber they bound;
Hoho! ye owl faces with grasshopper shanks,
I’ll stop all your clatter and mountebank’s pranks.

And Hell universal has broke loose indeed,
And, howling and scowling, increases the breed,
and the waltz of damnation now breaks on the ear,
Hush, hush! for my love is about to appear.

Ye wretches, be still, or get out of the way,
I can scarce hear a word of all that I say.
Hark! listen again! are not wheels there outside?
Come forward, cook-maid, throw the gates wide.

Fair welcome, my fairest, how are you today?
Sir Parson, you’re welcome; be seated, I pray.
Sir Parson with tail and with hoofs like a horse,
I’m our reverence’s faithfulest servant, of course.

Fair bride, why art standing so silent and wan?
Sir Parson, proceed with the service anon.
I pay him a costly, a blood-costing fee,
But so that I win you that’s child’s play to me.

Kneel down, my sweet bride, by my side, by my side shalt thou kneel.
She kneels and she smiles — ah, the rapture I feel!
She sinks on my heart, on my big heaving breast,
And with shuddering rapture I hold her tight pressed.

The waves of her gold tresses flow round us both;
On my heart beats the heart of the maid, nothing loth;
Both hearts are a-beating with woe and delight,
and high to the heavens they both take their flight.

Our hearts are afloat on a sea of delight
Oh high, far above us, in God’s holy height;
But here on our heads there is horror and dread,
For here the vile hands of dark hell are outspread.

‘Twas the dark son of Midnight himself who hath played
The part of the parson, who blessed and who prayed;
From a blood-besprent book he drones chapter and verse,
His prayer is blaspheming, his blessing is curse.

There are hubbub and riot and groans more and more,
Like thunder in heaven, storm-waves on the shore.
And sudden the blue lightning flashes, and then
The witch cries: “For ever and ever. Amen!”

To be continued...

 

Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Egmont 2/2

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. III, 153-162.

Child! Child! Forbear!
As if goaded by invisible spirits,
The sun steeds of time bear onward
The light car of our destiny
And nothing remains for us
But, with calm self-possession,
Firmly, to grasp the reins, and
Now right, now left,
To steer the wheels here from the precipice
And there from the rock.
Whether he is hasting, who knows?
Does anyone consider whence he came?

A citizen of Brussels: “God forbid that we should listen to you any longer! Some misfortune would be the consequence of it.”
Clara: “Stay, stay! Do not leave me because I speak of him whom with so much ardour you press’d forward to meet when public report announced his arrival; when each of you exclaimed, Egmont comes! He comes! Then, the inhabitants of the streets through which he was to pass, esteemed themselves happy; as soon as the footstep of his horse was heard, each abandoned his labour to run out to meet him, and the beam which shot from his eye, coloured your dejected countenances with hope and joy.
Some among you carried their children to the threshold of the door, and raising them in their arms, cried out, ‘Behold, this is the great Egmont, it is! He, who will procure for you times far happier than those which your poor fathers have endured.’ Your children will demand of you, what is become of the times which you then promised them? What! We lose our moments in vain words! You are inactive, you betray him!”
Brackenbourg, the friend of Caral, conjures her to go home. “What will your mother say?” cries he.
Clara: “Thinkest thou that I am a child, or bereft of my senses? No, they must listen to me: Hear me, fellow citizens! I see that you are perplexed, and that you can scarcely recollect yourselves amidst the dangers which threaten you. Suffer me to draw your attention to the past – alas! even to the past of yesterday. Think on the future; can you live? Will they suffer you to live, if he perishes? With him the last breath of your liberty will be extinguished. Was he not everything to you? For whom, then did he expose himself to dangers without number? His wounds — he received them for you; that great soul, wholly devoted to your service, now wastes its energies in a dungeon.
Murder spreads its snares around him; he thinks of you, perhaps he still hopes in you. For the first time he stands in need of your assistance. He, who to this very day, has been employed only in heaping on you his services and his benefactions.”
A Citizen of Brussels (to Brackenbourg): “Send her away, she afflicts us.”
Clara: “How, then! I have no strength, no arms skillful in battle as yours are; but I have what you want, courage and contempt of danger! Why cannot I infuse my soul into yours? I will go forth in the midst of you: A defenseless standard has often rallied a noble army. My spirit shall be like a flame preceding your steps; enthusiasm and love shall at length re-unite this dispersed and wavering people.”
Brackenbourg informs Clara that they perceive not far from them some Spanish soldiers who may possibly listen to them. “My friend,” said he, “consider in what place we are.”
Clara: “In what place! Under that heaven whose magnificent vault seems to bow with complacency on the head of Egmont when he appeared. Conduct me to his prison, you know the road to the old castle. Guide my steps, I will follow you.”
Brackenbourg draws Clara to her own habitation, and goes out again to enquire the fate of the Count of Egmont. He returns, and Clara, whose last resolution is already taken, insists on his relating to her all that he has heard.
“Is he condemned?” (she exclaims.)
Brackenbourg: “He is, I cannot doubt of it.”
Clara: “Does he still live?”
Brackenbourg: “Yes.”
Clara: “And how can you assure me of it? Tyranny destroys the generous man during the darkness of the night, and hides his blood from every eye — the people, oppressed and overwhelmed, sleep and dream that they will rescue him, and during that time his indignant spirit has already quitted this world. He is no more! Do not deceive me, he is no more!”
Brackenbourg: “No, I repeat it, alas! He still lives, because the Spaniards destined for the people they mean to oppress, a terrifying spectacle; a sight which must break every heart in which the spirit of liberty still resides.”
Clara: “You may speak out: I also will tranquilly listen to the sentence of my death. I already approach the region of the blessed. Already consolation reaches me from that abode of peace. Speak.”
Brackenbourg: “The reports which circulate, and the doubled guard, made me suspect that something formidable was prepared this night on the public square. By various windings I got to a house, whose windows front that way; the wind agitated the flambeaux, which was borne in the hands of a numerous circle of Spanish soldiers; and as I endeavored to look through that uncertain light, I shuddered on perceiving a high scaffold; several people were occupied in covering the floor with black cloth, and the steps of the staircase were already invested with that funereal garb.
One might have supposed they were celebrating the consecration of some horrible sacrifice. A white crucifix, which during the night shone like silver, was placed on one side of the scaffold. The terrible certainty was there, before my eyes; but the flambeaux by degrees were extinguished, every object soon disappeared, and the criminal work of darkness retired again into the bosom of night.”
The son of the Duke of Alva discovers that he has been made the instrument of Egmont’s destruction, and he determines, at all hazards, to save him; Egmont demands of him only one service, which is to protect Clara when he shall be no more. But we learn that, resolved not to survive the man she loves, she has destroyed herself. Egmont is executed; and the bitter resentment which Ferdinand feels against his father is the punishment of the Duke of Alva, who, it is said, never loved anything on earth except his son.
It seems to me that with a few variations, it would be possible to adapt this play to the French model. I have passed over in silence some scenes which could not be introduced on our theatre. In the first place, that with which the tragedy begins: some of Egmont’s soldiers, and some citizens of Brussels, are conversing together on the subject of his exploits. In a dialogue, very lively and natural, they relate the principal actions of his life, and in their language and narratives, shew the high confidence with which he had inspired them.
‘Tis thus that Shakespeare prepares the entrance of Julius Caesar; and the Camp of Wallenstein is compared with the same intention. But in France, we should not endure a mixture of the language of the people with that of tragic dignity; and this frequently gives monotony to our second-rate tragedies. Pompous expressions, and heroic situations, are necessarily few in number. And besides, tender emotions rarely penetrate to the bottom of the soul when the imagination is not previously captivated by those simple but true details which give life to the smallest circumstances.
The family to which Clara belongs is represented as completely that of a citizen; her mother is extremely vulgar. He who is to marry her, is indeed passionately attached to her, but one does not like to consider Egmont as the rival of such an inferior man; it is true that everything which surrounds Clara serves to set off the purity of her soul, but nevertheless in France we should not allow in the dramatic of first principles in that of painting, the shade which renders the light more striking.
As we see both of these at once in a picture, we receive, at the same time, the effect of both. It is not the same in a theatrical performance where the action follows in succession; the scene which hurts our feelings is not tolerated in consideration of the advantageous light it is to throw on the following scene; and we expect that the contrast shall consist in beauties, different indeed, but which shall nevertheless be beauties.
The conclusion of Goethe’s tragedy does not harmonize with the former part; the Count of Egmont falls asleep a few minutes before he ascends the scaffold. Clara, who is dead, appears to be him during his sleep, surrounded by celestial brilliance, and informs him that the cause of liberty, which he had served so well, will one day triumph. This wonderful denouement cannot accord with an historical performance.
The Germans are, in general, embarrassed about the conclusion of their pieces; and the Chinese proverb is particularly applicable to them, which says, “When we have ten steps to take, the ninth brings us half way.” The talent necessary to finish a composition of any kind demands a sort of cleverness, and of calculation, which agrees but badly with the vague and indefinite imagination displayed by the Germans in all their works.
Besides, it requires art, and a great deal of art, to find a proper denouement, for there are seldom any in real life: Facts are linked one to the other, and their consequences are lost in the lapse of time. The knowledge of the theatre alone teaches us to circumscribe the principal event, and make all the accessory ones concur to the same purpose. But to combine effects seems to the Germans almost like hypocrisy, and the spirit of calculation appears to them irreconcilable with inspiration.
Of all the writers, however, Goethe is certainly best able to unite the frailties of genius with its bolder flights; but he does not vouchsafe to give himself the trouble of arranging dramatic situations so as to render them properly theatrical. If they are fine in themselves, he cares for nothing else.
His German audience at Weimar ask no better than to wait the development of his plans, and to guess at his intention — as patient, as intelligent, as the ancient Greek chorus, they do not expect merely to be amused as sovereigns commonly do, whether they are people or kings, they contribute to their own pleasure, by analyzing and explaining what did not at first strike them — such a public is truly like an artist in its judgments.

I stand high, but I can and must rise yet higher.
Courage, strength and hope possess my soul.
Not yet, have I attained the height of my ambition;
That once achieved, I will stand firmly and without fear.
Should I fall, should a thunderclap, a storm blast,
Ay, a false step of my own,
Precipitate me into the abyss,
So be it.
I shall lie there with thousands of others.
I have never distained, even for a trifling stake,
To throw the bloody die with my gallant comrades,
And shall I hesitate now,
When all that is most precious in life
Is set upon the cast?

Egmont and Hoorn

.

Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Egmont 1/2

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. III, 146-153.

If my Life was a mirror in which thou
Did love to contemplate thyself,
So be also my death.
Men are not together only
When in each other’s presence;
The distant, the departed,
Also live for us.
I shall live for thee,
And for myself,
I have lived long enough.

“The Count of Egmont” appears to me the finest of Goethe’s tragedies; he wrote it, I believe, at the same time, when he composed Werther; the same warmth of soul is alike in both. The play begins at the moment when Philip II, weary of the mild government of Margaret of Parma, in the Low Countries, sends the Duke of Alva to supply her place.

William of Orange

The king is troubled by the popularity which the Prince of Orange and the Count of Egmont have acquired; he suspects them of secretly favouring the partizans of the reformation. Every thing is brought together that can furnish the most attractive idea of the Count of Egmont; he is seen adored by the soldiers at the head of whom he has borne away so many victories.
The Spanish princess trusts his fidelity, even though she knows how much he censures the severity that has been employed against the Protestants. The citizens of Brussels look on him as the defender of their liberties before the throne; and to complete the picture, the Prince of Orange, whose profound policy and silent wisdom are so well known in history sets off still more the generous imprudence of Egmont, in vainly entreating him to depart with himself before the arrival of the Duke of Alva. The Prince of Orange is a wise and noble character; an heroic but inconsiderate self-devotion can alone resist his counsels.
The Count of Egmont resolves not to abandon the inhabitants of Brussels; he trusts himself to his fate, because his victories have taught him to reckon upon the favours of fortune, and he always preserves in public business the same qualities that have thrown so much brilliancy over his military character.
Egmont, on the contrary,
Advances with a bold step,
As if the world were all his own.
These noble and dangerous qualities interest us in his destiny; we feel on his account fears which his intrepid soul never allowed him to experience for himself; the general effect of his character is displayed with great art in the impression which it is made to produce on all the different persons by whom he is surrounded. It is easy to trace a lively portrait of the hero of a piece; it requires more talent to make him known by the admiration that he inspires in his soldiers, the people, the great nobility, in all that bear any relation to him.
The Count of Egmont is in love with a young girl, Clara, born in the class of citizens at Brussels; he goes to visit her in her obscure retreat. This love has a larger place in the heart of the young girl than in his own; the imagination of Clara is entirely subdued by the lustre of the Count of Egmont, by the dazzling impression of his heroic valour and brilliant reputation.
There are goodness and gentleness in the love of Egmont; in the society of this young person he find repose from trouble and solicitude. “They speak to you,” he said, “of this Egmont, silent, severe, authoritative; who is made to struggle with events and with mankind; but he who is simple, loving, confiding, happy, that Egmont, Clara, is thine.”
The love of Egmont for Clara would not be sufficient for the interest of the piece; but when misfortunate is joined to it, this sentiment which before appeared only in the distance, acquires an admirable strength.

Duke of Alva

The arrival of the Spaniards with the Duke of Alva at their head being made known, the terror spread by that gloomy nation amongst the joyous people of Brussels is described in a superior manner. At the approach of a violent storm, men retire to their houses, animals tremble, birds take a low flight, and seem to seek an asylum in the earth — all nature seems to prepare itself to meet the scourge which threatens it — thus terror possessed the minds of the unfortunate inhabitants of Flanders. The Duke of Alva is not willing to have the Count of Egmont arrested in the streets of Brussels, he fears an insurrection of the people, and wishes if possible to draw his victim to his own palace, which commands the city, and adjoins the citadel.
The matter turns upon a single point:
He would have me live as I cannot.
He employs his own son, young Ferdinand, to prevail on the man he wishes to ruin, to enter his abode. Ferdinand is an enthusiastic admirer of the hero of Flanders, he has no suspicion of the horrid designs of his father, and displays a warmth and ardour of character which persuades the Count of Egmont that the father of such a son cannot be his enemy. Egmont consents to accompany him to the Duke of Alva. That perfidious and faithful representative of Phillip II expects him with an impatience which makes one shudder. He places himself at the window, and perceives him at a distance, mounted on a superb horse, which he had taken in one of his victorious battles.
The Duke of Alva feels a cruel and increasing joy at every step which Egmont makes towards his palace. When the horse stops, he is agitated; his guilty heart pants to effect his criminal purpose, and when Egmont enters the court he cries: “One foot is in the tomb, another step! the grated entrance closes on him, and now! he is mine!”
The Count of Egmont having entered, the Duke discourses with him for some time on the government of the Low Countries, and on the necessity of employing rigour to restrain the progress of the new opinions. He has no longer any interest in deceiving Egmont, and yet he feels a pleasure in the success of his craftiness, and wishes still to enjoy it a few moments. At length, he rouses the generous soul of Egmont and irritates him by disputation in order to draw from him some violent expressions.
He affects to be provoked by them, and performs, as by a sudden impulse, what he had calculated on and determined to do long before. Why so many precautions with a man who is already in his power, and whom he has determined to deprive, in a few hours, of existence? It is because the political assassin always retains a confused desire to justify himself, even in the eye of his victim. He wishes to say something in his excuse even when all he can allege persuades neither himself nor any other person.
Perhaps no man is capable of entering on a criminal act without some subterfuge, and therefore the true morality of dramatic works consists not in poetical justice which the author dispenses as he thinks fit, and of which history so often shews us the fallacy, but in the art of painting vice and virtue in such colours as to inspire us with hatred to the one and love to the other.
The report of the Count of Egmont’s arrest was scarcely spread through Brussels before it is known that he must perish. No one expects that justice will be heard. His terrified adherents ventured not a word in his defense, and suspicion soon separates those whom the same interest had united. An apparent submission arises from the terror which every individual feels and inspires in his turn, and the panic which pervades them all, that popular cowardice which so quickly succeeds a state of unusual exaltation, is in this part of the work most admirably described.
Clara alone, that timid girl who scarcely ever ventured to leave her own abode, appears in the public square at Brussels, reassembles by her cries the citizens who had dispersed, recalls to their recollection the enthusiasm which the name of Egmont had inspired, the oath they had taken to die for him. All who heard her shudder! “Young woman,” says a citizen of Brussels; “speak not of Egmont, his name is fatal to us.”
“What! Shall I not pronounce his name?” cried Clara. “Have you not all invoked it a thousand times? Is it not written on every thing around us? Have I not seen its brilliant character traced even by the stars of Heaven? Shall I not then name it? Worthy people! What are you about? Is your mind perplexed, your reason lost? Look not upon me with that unquiet and apprehensive air. Cast not down your eyes in terror.
What I demand is also what you yourselves desire. Is not my voice the voice of your own heart? Ask of each other, which of you will not this very night prostrate himself before God to beg the life of Egmont? Which of you in his own house will not repeat, ‘The liberty of Egmont, or death?'”
To be continued …

Lamoral, Count of Egmont, Prince of Gavre
1522-1568
From an 1888 Engraving

E. H. Cropsey: “Crosby’s Opera House”

Not only is this a terrific story and a favorite book of mine, but Crosby’s Opera House and the Great Chicago Fire play an integral role in my novel, “Alteza.” Of particular interest to me, Charles Gounod’s “Faust” was performed twice during its Inaugural Season of 1865, and many seasons thereafter until the magnificent building succumbed to flames on October 8, 1871 — the night of the newly refurbished opera house’s grand re-opening.

Please find Excerpt Below: Eugene H. Cropsey, “Crosby’s Opera House: Symbol of Chicago’s Cultural Awakening.” (c) 1999, Associated University Presses, Inc.

Crosby’s Opera House – 1864

In the context of Chicago’s economic and cultural climate, social milieu, and the scramble for prominence among the newly rich, Eugene Cropsey presents an illuminating chronicle of the city’s first great cultural awakening, with Crosby’s Opera House as the central focus. It is also the story of Albert and Uranus Crosby, who migrated from Cape Cod to Chicago where, as successful entrepreneurs, they made their fortunes and later sacrificed it all in their efforts to bring a new musical and artistic enlightenment to their adopted city.

The Crosbys’ struggle to enhance the cultural climate out on the urban frontier of the 1860s was a turbulent one, vividly brought to life in this book through a gallery of colorful characters, including many of Chicago’s prominent citizens, as well as the numerous impresarios, artists, musicians, and other entertainers who visited or settled in Chicago.

For the large number of fortune seekers migrating from the east, Chicago in the mid-nineteenth century presented boundless commercial opportunities. While their cultural life had been left behind, eventual prosperity and the lessening of physical hardships inevitably led to longing for refinement and the restoration of cultural amenities.

The musical and artistic life of Chicago had lagged far behind other cities, but by 1865, Chicago’s population contained a substantial coterie of aristocratic elite who yearned for the higher forms of musical entertainment. In response, Uranus Crosby built a magnificent opera house as his gift to the city of Chicago.

America’s premier opera troupes, once having consciously avoided Chicago, were now booking extensive seasons at Crosby’s. The response of Chicago’s audiences and critics was so enthusiastic that the country’s most famous impresarios preferred to open the fall season each year in Chicago, rather than in New York, causing a bitter cultural rivalry to play itself out in the leading newspapers of both cities.

Uranus Crosby naively envisioned the opera house as solely an artistic venture. But it soon became commercially unavoidable to fill the non-operatic periods with other entertainments. Eventually, however, Uranus Crosby became so overwhelmed by his financial obligations that, in his effort to save the opera house, there followed a series of extraordinary events that threw the city into bitter controversy and drew unprecedented national attention.

The Crosbys continued to bring in the country’s best opera troupes. But when the bawdy burlesque arrived from New York as an off-season filler, its outrageous antics brought forth a storm of protest from the press, charging that its performers were prostitutes and that the opera house should now be called Chicago’s “assignation house.” Unrelenting criticism plagued the Crosbys for years until the decision was made to convert the opera house into an office building.

Outraged patrons of the opera, however, quickly convinced the Crosbys to keep the opera house and refurbish it over the summer of 1871. The Great Chicago Fire occurred, however, on the planned re-opening date of 8 October. With the fate of the opera house in the balance and a dramatic rescue, we are given an unforgettable and vivid picture of that tragic day.

Crosby’s Opera House Burns!

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