Ludwig Tieck: “Legacy” Pt. 2
Excerpt, translated from the German by G. Greville Moore, 1883.
Edward went home in an indescribable anger. He entered furiously, slammed all the doors behind him, and hastened through the large apartments to a small back apartment, where in the twilight old Eulenbock was waiting for him, with a glass of wine.
“Here!” exclaimed Edward, “thou old sharp-nosed, wine-blotched scoundrel, is they daub back again. Sell it to the soap-boiler over there, who can make candles of it if the painting does not please him.”
“It were a pity for the good picture,” said the old painter, while he poured out a fresh glass of wine with the greatest sang froid. “Thou hast over-excited thyself, my friend. And the old man would not hear of the purchase.”
“Ruffian!” screamed Edward, in throwing down the picture violently, “for thy sake I have become a rogue! Insulted and mortified! Oh! and how ashamed of myself; my head and neck glowing that I should have allowed myself to tell such lies out of affection for thee.”
“They are no lies, my dear young man,” said the painter, while he unwrapt the picture; “it is as true a Salvatore Rosa as I have ever painted one yet. Thou hast not seen me work at it, and canst not know, therefore, from whom the picture originates. Thou hast no skill, my young friend; I ought not to have trusted thee with the affair.”
“I will be honourable,” said Edward, and knocked his fist on the table. “I will be a decent man, so that I may respect myself again, and others may also! Quite different will I be; a new course of life will I begin.”
“Why so angry?” said the old man, and then drank. “I will not prevent thee; it will please me, if I survive it. I have always warned thee and preached to thee; I have tried to accustom thee to occupations; I wished to teach thee to restore pictures, to prepare varnish, to mix colors — in fact, I did not let thee be deficient in anything.”
“Dog of a fellow!” exclaimed Edward, “should I become thy boy, thy mixer of colors? but naturally today I have fallen lower, for I have allowed myself to be employed as a thief by a thief.”
“How the child makes use of injurious expressions,” said the painter, and smiled into his glass. “If I took such a thing to heart, then we should have fighting or bitter enmity on the spot. He means it well, however, in his zeal; the young man has nothing noble in his nature, but as a picture dealer he is of no use.”
Edward laid his head over the table, and the painter wiped away quickly a wine spot so that the young man should not put his sleeve into it.
“The dear, good Salvatore,” said he, then thoughtfully, “is said, too, not to have led the best of lives; they accuse him of being a bandit. When Rembrandt pretended to be dead while living to raise the price of his works, he was not quite true to verity, although he really died some years later, and therefore he had only miscalculated the years of his life.
Thus, when I paint such a picture in the greatest love and humility, I fancy myself one of the old masters, with all their dear peculiarities, very modestly and thoroughly, so that it is always as if the dead man’s mind conducted my hand and brush; and the thing is then finished, and it nods to me its thanks with great heartiness, that I have also finished something of the old virtuoso, who has not been able to accomplish everything, nor yet live forever; and now I fully claim a glass of wine, while I look at it with a more severe examination, and convince myself firmly that it originates really from the old gentleman; and I deliver it thus to another amateur admirer of the dead man, and only request a trifle for the pains that I have let my hand be led.
My own genius has in the meanwhile been suppressed, having worked for the abasement of my own name among artists. Is it, then, such a fearful sin, my friend, when I sacrifice myself in such a child-like manner?”
He lifted up the head of the man lying down, but changed his grinning amiability into a ridiculous seriousness, when he saw the cheeks of the young man covered with tears, which fell uninterruptedly in a warm stream from his eyes.
“Oh, my lost youth!” sobbed Edward. “O ye golden days, ye weeks and years, how sinfully ye have been wasted, as if there lay not in your hours the germ of virtue, of honour, and of fortune; as of this most precious treasure of time was ever to be won again. Like a glass of wasted water have I exhausted my life and the interior of my heart. Oh! what an existence might have opened itself to me, what a fortune to me and to others, if an evil spirit had not dazzled my eyes. Fruitful trees grew around and above, and shaded me entirely, in which the friend, the wife, and the oppressed ones found help, consolation, peace and a country; and I aimed an ax in giddy arrogance at this wood, and must now suffer frost, storms and heat. “
Eulenboch did not know what face to make, still less what he should say, for in this humour, and with such sentiments, he had never seen his young friend before. He was at last only happy and contented that Edward did not observe him, so that in pleasant secrecy he finished his wine.
“So thou wilt be virtuous, my son?” he began at last. “Likewise good, in truth! Few men are so inclined to virtue than I myself, for it requires a quick eye at that, if only to know what virtue is. To be stingy, to extort from people, to lie to oneself and to our Lord is certainly no virtue. But who has the real talent for virtue will find it also. If I procure for a sensible man a good Salvator or Julio Romano, painted by me, and he is pleased with it, then have I always better acted than if I sell a real Raphael to a simpleton, which the simpleton does not know how to value, so that at the bottom of my heart a dressed-up Van der Werft would cause him more joy. My great Julio Romano I must indeed sell personally, for thou hast neither talent nor good luck for such affairs.”
“Those miserable sophisms,” said Edward, “cannot act upon me any longer; the time is over, and thou mayest only take care that they do not catch thee; for with novices it may succeed, but not with connoisseurs like old Walter.”
“Never mind, my child,” said the old painter, “connoisseurs are precisely the best to deceive; and with an inexperienced man I should not like even to try. Oh, this good, old, dear Walter, the sly man! Hast thou not seen the beautiful Hoellenbreughel, which hangs on the third pillar between the sketch of Rubens and the portrait of Van Dyck? It is by me. I came to the little man with the picture: “Will you not buy something pretty?” “What!” exclaimed he, “such caricatures; madness! That is not my affair! show it to me, though.
Well, moreover, I do not take up such nonsense, but as there is a little more gracefulness and drawing in this picture than one otherwise finds in such fantasies, thus I will make an exception of it for once.” In short, he has kept it and shows it to the people, to attest his various taste.”
Edward said, “But wilt thou not yet be a more honest man? It is, however, high time.”
“My young converter,” exclaimed the old man, “I am that long ago. Thou dost not understand the thing, and thou art not at an end with thy dangerous course. Art thou at the limit, and has luckily passed all the cliffs, pillories, lighthouses, then beckon to me boldly, and I will steer, perhaps, after thee. Till then leave me unmolested.”
“Thus, therefore, our course separates,” said Edward, in looking at him in a friendly way. “I have neglected much, but not yet all. I still have some of my property, my house. Here I will settle down simply, and will look for a place as a secretary or a librarian with the Prince, who shortly will arrive here. Perhaps I will travel with him, perhaps that elsewhere fortune — and if not that, I will limit myself here, and seek work and occupation in my native town.”
“And when shall this life of virtue begin?” asked the old man with a grinning laugh.
“Immediately,” said the young man; “tomorrow, today, from this very hour!”
“Foolery,” said the painter, and shook his grey head. “For all good things, one must allow oneself time to prepare, to take a run to finish the old period with a ceremony, and equally so to begin the new one. That was grand custom, that in many quarters our ancestors carried on the carnival to the grave with a truly genuine extravagance, that they at last once more madly halload out and rejoiced in their pleasure, afterwards to be able to be pious, undisturbed, and quite free from any scruples of conscience.
Let us follow the honorable custom. Brother, see, I am so good to thee; give us and thy good humour once more such a regular select banquet, such a lofty farewell and departure feast, so that we, especially I, may think of thee. Let us rejoice with the best wine till late in the night, then thou goest to the right of virtue and moderation, and we others remain to the left where we are.”
“Drunkard!” said Edward, smiling. “If thou only finds a pretext to drink, then all appears right to thee. Let it therefore be on the holy feast of the Twelfth Night.”
“There are four days to that,” sighed the old man, in draining the last remains from his glass, and then he withdrew in silence.
To be continued…
Julio Romano, The Battle of Milvian Bridge