Caroline, Baroness de la Motte Fouque’: “The Castle of Scharfenstein” 3

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.


 Chapter III

Julius to Felix

10th February 17__

he Prince has now become very ill, and I could not bear to see him thus neglected.Of course, a physician was ordered from the neighboring town, and to this necessary measure, the castellan dared to make a violent opposition.What I long anticipated and wished for has come to pass.I have quarreled with him; and, in virtue of my commission from the Duke, he is now under arrest, and in bondage, so that I may act as I please.
No one can interfere with my audience of the Prince, and I shall not desist till I have learned by what fearful mystery he is thus rendered ill and miserable, for that mental depression is the cause of his malady, there can be no doubt.
At last, Felix, wonderful changes have occurred, and the former mysteries have dissolved. As the Prince lay on his sick-bed, he gave me to understand that there were important concealments in the apartment lately occupied by the castellan (at least, though he did not say so directly, yet I gathered so much from his conversation).
Accordingly, I acted on his hint, and persevered on a strict search, till, under a moveable sliding board of the floor, I found a small box, which was locked, and without a key. It was too light to contain money or jewels. I poised it for a few moments reflectingly in my hand, then suddenly broke open the lock. I found many letters and packets, on which was written, “To be given to the Prince, when his last hour approaches.”
With these I ran to the sick man’s chamber. “Here,” said I, “is a treasure, which as a trust has been discovered in good time, and will restore your highness to strength and spirits.”
The Prince looked feebly at the papers; he seemed to recognize the hand-writing, and a deep blush came for a moment over his pale features. For a little while, he sat up in bed, but suddenly pushed the box from him, exclaiming, “Away, away with it!”
“Nay,” said I. “May I be allowed to suggest that these manuscripts must doubtless contain information of importance, or they would not have been so anxiously concealed and withheld from your Highness?” Then I described to him how I had been led by his hints of the morning to find the papers, and how carefully the castellan had guarded the treasure that had been entrusted to him.
The Prince seemed to reflect deeply. At last, with an indescribable smile of melancholy resignation, he said, “Of what consequence would this be to me now? Were I to read these letters, what effect would they produce, but only to revive passions that had long been conquered, and force me to dwell on injuries that have long been forgiven?”
“It might be so,” answered I, resolved not to give up my point. “But what if the reality were different from which your Highness believes it to be? If that peace of mind, which has been acquired in solitude should not be looked on as confirmed, until you have investigated the whole truth? Nor could it be without a special purpose that Providence has now brought these papers to light.”
“Young soldier,” said the Prince, visibly agitated. “How comes it that you are thus so earnest and persevering in your admonitions to me? From the first moment indeed of your appearance here, that inward peace, which I had with such difficulty gained, has been disturbed and broken. What recollections and conflicts have you not already awoke in my mind!”
“Might it not be concluded then,” said I, “that I have been sent hither by the special ordinance of Supreme Power, and who can tell how far my commission extends, and to what important consequences it may lead!”
“You speak with great confidence, young man,” answered the Prince. “But the arrangements of Providence are inscrutable, and the presumption that in every occurrence we can read a special interposition for or against us, and a revelation of the duties that we must fulfill, may be too often proven but a sinful delusion of our own minds.”
“Yet,” said I, “the truth at least is always to be sought after and honoured. That impulse, so deeply implanted in the human heart to break through the veil of mystery, cannot surely be a snare laid for our destruction.”
He looked at me with deepened emotion. “But how,” said he, “if my sight has now become too weak to bear with that truth which you would have me to disclose? If we should too rashly…”
“Nay,” said I, “your Highness would scarcely now resolve to close your eyes on that which is already half revealed, when you are at this moment so near the light.”
“Aye, indeed,” he interposed, “You are in the right — it must be so. — But you cannot imagine with what fear one at my advanced age perceives the approach of novelty; how reluctantly one sees the fabric, which had been sedulously built up, and so long cherished in his own mind, on the point of being destroyed, and the hand of a stranger meddling with his joys or his sorrows!”
With a visible inward conflict, he now drew the papers towards him, and looked at them more attentively. “What is here?” cried he. “A letter from my brother!”
He broke the seal in vehement haste, and the feebleness of his malady seemed completely to have left him; his eyes gleamed, and with all the impatience of youth he glanced over the contents. Rapidly he turned over the first leaf, and a deep blush of anger suffused his expressive countenance. Afterwards he became all of a sudden deadly pale, let the paper fall from his hand, and looked at me for some time in silence.
At length, pointing to the letter, and with an almost convulsive quivering of the lips, he said, “You may learn there the mystery from which you compelled me to draw the veil, and judge (if youth be capable of judging) how one must feel, who, after twenty long years of ceaseless conflict and suffering, discovers that he has all this time been the victim of treachery and deception!”
He gave me the letter, and at the same time made a signal that I should retire. Here follows a transcript; and you may imagine, Felix, how its contents must have agitated the unhappy Prince.
“Brother, — in the hour when these papers will be delivered, you will probably be free at last from those vain passions and struggles to which you have hitherto been subjected. This world, with all its delusions, will then lie behind you like a far distant country through which you have once travelled, and whither you cannot return.
“You will retain, however, as I hope, the full power of reasoning on the past; — you will judge as a man! though now freed from all his perturbing desires and impulses. With these hopes, and because I would not, that, with the veil still over your eyes, you should pass from this world into the next, I shall withdraw the obstacle, and reveal to you at once the whole truth.
“Good credulous man! You allowed yourself to be deceived. You mistrusted her in whom you should have confided, in order to escape destruction, and placed yourself in the power of those who made sport of your weakness.
“Should love see only itself alone, and think but of its own rights? Revenge, you should have known, is a passion as powerful, and as imperious. You were, indeed, far from being able to understand a disposition like mine; but now you will comprehend me better, and all the rest, when I tell you, in three words, that Julia forsook the court, and her native land, faithful, pure, and spotless.
“Should you rightly consider what is due to a prince’s care of the public weal, you will perceive that this disclosure could not have been made earlier, for had this been done, such was your want of caution, that we should have been both exposed and obnoxious to censure, and the people would not have been greatly edified by the quarrels and weaknesses of their rulers. But, indeed, the consequences would have been ruinous, and the preservation of public tranquility demanded some sacrifice.
“Who, then, was to be the victim? Your fall, or mine, was inevitable. Lay your hand on your heart, and say, Whether, in my situation, with the reins of power in your hands, you would have let them go, in order that the capricious passion of another man, even of a brother, might be granted?
“That which had already happened betwixt us — the discoveries I had made, and the resentment I had conceived against you, were past and irrevocable. Your vehement temperature, and my disposition, spoiled by indulgence, the necessity of attending to the public weal, and apprehensions of the stains that might be cast on our family honour — all these circumstances fell at once into overwhelming combination, or rather contention.
“At that time, indeed, no kindness nor rational expostulations could have acquired any influence over you. Therefore I adopted the stratagem of changing the passion by which you were actuated into another of a very different character. Jealousy is a poisonous serpent that attacks the brain, and nestles there rather than in the heart. You were lost as soon as you gave way to these new impulse.
“The madness by which you were then assailed brought you completely under my power. — At a moment when you knew not what you said or did, you had threatened my life, and thus your own was forfeited if I had chosen to bring you to trial. To such measures, indeed, I felt invincible repugnance, but a barrier of separation was now raised up betwixt us, which could never be broken through. —
“We could not, so long as we lived, ever meet again; and I was contented, if by the public you were looked on as insane, and morally dead, without bringing you to trial for high-treason. I granted you, therefore, a safe and secluded asylum at Scharfenstein, well knowing that the delusion under which you then laboured, would hold you as securely as if you had been bound with adamantine chains in your prison. I was satisfied that you would make no attempt to return to a world, in which, since you had been thus disappointed in the object of your affection, you no longer found any interest or attraction.
“Now, at the close of your life, I give you back those peaceful recollections of which I deprived you, and the bond of mutual accusation should be cancelled betwixt us. The Diary of the beautiful Julia, which her guardian wished to send you, along with other papers and letters, on account of your madness, remained in my hands. The perusal of them will reveal to you the feelings of a heart that was indeed too tender and sensitive for this world, and that, by mere timidity perhaps, was led into errors.
“But her life and character will have, by this time, wholly changed; her dreams, like yours, will have passed away. For, what are all these impressions to which we attach so much importance, more than delusions arising from a certain state of the nerves and blood, — mere physical impulses, powerful in youth, but which afterwards decay, as if they had never been?
“In early years, such delusions are, indeed, like pictures, exhibiting beautiful and seductive forms with all the richness of colouring that imagination can bestow. In old age, these representations change into a hard stern outline, from which every glowing tint has faded away. We move, then, along the straight and joyless path of necessity, till all is dark, or till a new morning dawns on our souls. May this last be your lot, and may the Divine light refresh and strengthen you. Farewell!”
Prince Charles, then, had been attached to a lady of inferior rank, and the family pride of his elder brother had interfered to prevent their union. Methinks, there may have been other motives, — but of this more hereafter. Meanwhile, Felix, may I beg of you to reflect a little, and tell me what would man become if reasons only, without emotions of the heart, were to be his ruling attribute?
My answer is, he would be a demon — an incarnate devil, who would persist in talking of right and wrong, fitness and unfitness, though the hearts of all around him were breaking, and his own to boot. How admirably connected, and dovetailed one into another, are the crimes revealed in this letter; how artfully woven, I should rather say into a net, by which the guilty wretch is himself caught, and never thinks of resistance, but rather exalts in his own iniquity, persuading himself, all the while, that he is in the right!
But, after all, Felix, the devil himself is, in this world, sufficiently contemptible. He never understands any thing beyond his own limited sphere. There are mysteries in the soul of man for which he is wholly unprepared, and the complicated machinery and ordinances of Providence, in which consists what we call Fate, are hidden, probably from the devil as much as from us.
These are to him like covert walks in a mine, over which he strides, like a pompous actor in a theatre, without reflecting that all his schemes may be defeated, and he may fall headlong into the hidden labyrinth. How deceitful and hollow this reigning duke appears to me, and how strange it is to feel that a heart yet beats in that corporeal frame which he parades before the public! — Poor deluded wretch! — Felix, to how many criminals might these words be applied?
12th February
For the last twenty-four hours I have lived in the most tormenting disquietude. The Prince had locked himself up in his chamber, and would not see any one.
In vain did I watch day and night at his room door. I was never admitted; till, about an hour ago, his bell rang, and I hastened to answer the summons. He received me with a smile of the utmost composure and beneficience. “Do not be afraid,” said he. “I am not more indisposed, either in body or mind, than before; somewhat more excited, perhaps, but that also will soon be over.
“I am, however, like a blind man restored to sight, who must, for some time afterwards, remain in the dark; for the world which now opens on me is a scene so new and unexpected, that I must have time for reflection, ere I can find my way through its paths. Therefore, you must allow me to pass the whole of this day alone. I do not now want medical advice nor food, but will ask for both in due time; also for the pleasure of your society — only I must not be disturbed at present.”
I bowed, and was retiring — when he added, “You are not offended, then, by what I have just said? — I know that you are anxious on my account, and, therefore, wished you to see that I am not ill, and to be aware what is most requisite for me under present circumstances — that is, solitude.”
With these words he had kindly given me his hand, and seemed conflicting with some emotion which he could not venture to express. Yet a smile hovered on his lips, and at last he collected the papers which were lying strewed about on the sofa, and gave them to me, saying, “Read these, Julius! Your kind heart will be almost as much affected as mine has been, and vibrate between pain and pleasure. You must feel the conflict that I undergo, before I can profit by your friendly sympathy.”
I have now read the papers, Felix, and here following, you shall have a copy of these confessions of a heart as pure and innocent as it was sensitive and suffering. Alas! why was a being so childlike and angelic ever enticed to move in the dangerous paths of the world! As she engaged in its pleasures, could no guardian spirit warn her what a destruction was prepared under her feet? —
If I am not mistaken, I have heard before the name of this lady. Methinks, too — but no — it is needless to set such confused phantasms on paper. They are but shadowy remembrances, which I am striving in vain to unite with present impressions. Whatever is deeply interesting, one would willingly bring home to himself, and believe that it is connected with his own personal experiences. But this is all groundless. Read, then, what here follows.
To be continued …