Ludwig Tieck: “Legacy” Pt. 3
Excerpt, translated from the German by G. Greville Moore, 1883.
Edward sat till late in the night in his lonely room, occupied with many thoughts. Around him lay unpaid bills, and he heaped up the sums of money near them to pay them the following morning. He had succeeded in receiving a capital, under honourable conditions, on his house, and poor as he appeared, he was content with the feeling that gave him a firm resolve for the future to live in another manner. He was already active in thought; he made plans, how he should ascend from a small employment and would prepare himself in this for a more important one.
“Habit,” said he, “becomes second nature in good as well as evil, and as idleness was up till now necessary for me to be well, so for the future it shall be work. But when, when will the wished-for golden age, with a noble conscience, really and truly exist for me, that I with comfort and delight shall be able to see before me myself and certain objects at the same time. Now it is only intentions and delightful hopes, which bloom and entice me; and Oh! shall I not be weary half-way, perhaps even at the beginning of my journey?”
He looked at the rose tenderly, which seemed to smile at him radiantly from a glass of water. He took it, and with a gentle touch imprinted a soft kiss on its leaves, and breathed a sigh in the chalice; then he placed it back in the nourishing element. He had lately found it in his bosom quite withered. Since the time that it had in its flight touched his face, he had become quite a different man, without his wishing to admit it himself.
One is never so superstitious nor does one observe so eagerly presentiments, then when the heart is very much touched, and out of the storm of feelings a new life tries to produce itself. Edward did not observe himself how the small flower brought Sophy into his presence, and as he had nearly lost everything, and himself too, therefore the withered flower should be his oracle, whether it should freshen and announce to him a new happiness, and after some hours it did not unfold its leaves in the water.
Then he aided it and the prophesying power in the usual means by cutting the stalk, and holding the flower for some moments in the flame of the candle, and afterwards placing it in the cold element. Almost visibly it freshened after this powerful assistance, and bloomed so quickly and with such vigour, that Edward had to fear it would scatter all its leaves after a while although after this he was consoled and found many remembrances of his childhood, as of the life of his parent. He had unpacked all the interior of a cupboard before him, which contained accounts, references, records of a lawsuit, and much of a similar kind.
In the meanwhile, a paper unrolled itself which contained a list of the former gallery, a history of the pictures, their prices, and what had been worthy of note to the possessor in each painting. Edward, who came back from a journey when his father lay on his deathbed, had searched after the funeral a good deal after these pictures, and had ordered many a vain search. He could expect with some right that a word might be found in another bundle, hidden between papers, a leaf which named accurately these paintings, the names of the masters, as also the former owners. The writing was apparently in the last days of his father, and underneath were the words, “And these paintings are now…”
The hand had not written more, and even these words were crossed out. Now Edward searched with all the more zeal, but without a trace. The light was burnt down, his blood was hot; he threw the sheets of paper quickly about the room, but nothing shewed itself. While he unfolded an old yellow paper, he saw to his surprise a bill, which was drawn many years ago, in which his father acknowledged himself to be the debtor of Walter for a considerable sum. It was not paid, although it was not in the hands of a creditor. How was this circumstance to be explained? He put it in his pocket and calculated that if this paper was valid, he would have scarcely anything over from his house.
He looked at a purse, which he had placed in a corner, in which was arranged once again to give considerable aid to the families which he had supported up until now. For as he was frivolous in squandering away, he was likewise generous in charity; one might also have called it throwing away his money if one wanted to be severe.
“If I can only keep from touching this sum, so that the poor may once more be happy, then afterwards it is all right, to begin quite from the beginning, and only to trust in my strength.” This was his last thought before going to sleep.
This day was for him one of greatest importance, for the hour had arrived in which he should present himself to the Prince, who in the meanwhile, as they had told him, had arrived. The clothes which he put on he had not worn for quite a long while. With such attention he had never before looked in the glass. He glanced at his figure, and could not help seeing that he was well made, that his eye was fiery, his face pleasant, and his forehead noble.
“The first look at me,” said he to himself, “will anyhow not displease him. All men, even those who cannot bear me, praise my quick and noble bearing; I am talented and well-informed, and what fails me I can easily repair, in my youth, with an excellent memory. He will learn to like me and, soon, I shall be indispensable to him. Intercourse with a higher world will by degrees wear away all that I have been clinging to me from bad society. If I travel with him, and must I, perhaps for a year or even longer be absent from this neighborhood, then this will serve in foreign countries only to place me more firmly in his esteem.
We then come back; my education and my claims by means of his protection obtained the most important positions at home or even abroad. I shall not then have certainly forgotten that it really was Sophy who first of all awakened my better half out of its sleep.”
He was now dressed, and took the full-bloomed monthly rose out of the glass and pressed it to his lips, to strengthen him in his course; but immediately all its leaves fell at his feet. “A bad omen!” he sighed, and went out of the house to step into the carriage. When he arrived at the palace, he gave the servant the letter which should recommend him to the Prince. While he walked past the walls, covered with mirrors, young Dietrich came, to his surprise, out of a side room, in haste and in excitement, and did not observe at first his friend.
“How was it you come here?” asked Edward, hastily. “Do you know the Prince?”
“Yes-no,” stammered Dietrich, “it is a strange affair, which, indeed, I will relate to you; but of course here there is no time for that.”
This was indeed the case, for a smartly dressed lady, glittering in jewels, entered with a noble bearing, and drove away the young painter, who withdrew, bowing awkwardly. Edward stool still, while the bright apparition came nearer to him. He wanted to bow, but his surprise paralyzed his movements, when he suddenly recognized in her, to the disadvantage of his reputation, the one who had lived so long in his house, and had diminished his fortunes more than all his errors.
“What!” he exclaimed. “Thou – you here in these rooms?”
“And why not?” said she, laughing; “here one lives well. Thou dost perceive, my friend, that I, who was formerly thy friend am now the friend of the Prince; and if thou dost seek for anything from him, I can, perhaps, be of assistance to thee, faithless one, for he has more heart than thou, and I can rely more on his favor lasting than I could rely on thee with thy inconstancy.”
Edward did not wish to remind the amiable beauty now that she was the first to leave him when she saw that his money was squandered away. He disclosed to her his position and his hopes, and she promised to intercede for him to the best of her ability.
“Only remain quiet towards me, my friend,” thus she concluded her assurances; “it cannot, and shall not, fail thee, and then we shall see if thou has preserved a spark of love for me in thy cold heart. Thou must only be careful, and in his presence act as a stranger towards me, so that he may never learn that or observe that we formerly knew each other.”
With a hasty kiss, in which the painted cheek caused him a quick aversion, she left him; and Edward paced with the greatest discomfort up and down the room, because everything had turned out so differently from what he had pictured himself. This creature, whom he could not help hating, to find her among his new associates did away with all hopes, and he resolved firmly to escape her snares and enticements, even if his virtue should cause him the greatest disadvantage. In the meanwhile, the door was opened, and the stranger whom he disliked so much entered, with his haughty gait and proud bearing.
Edward advanced towards him and said, “Perhaps you belong to the suite of his serene highness, and can tell me whether I can now have the honor to wait upon him.”
The stranger stood still, looking at him and, after a pause, answered in a cold way. “That I can tell you, of course; no one better than I.”
Edward was terrified, for he observed the letter of recommendation in his hand.
“Will the Prince not speak with me?” he asked, perplexed.
“He speaks with you now,” answered he, with such a scornful and lowering accent that the young man lost all countenance. “I have been staying for some time in this town,” continued the distinguished stranger, “and have found occasion to be acquainted, through my incognito, with men and circumstances. We came together in a somewhat peculiar way; and if I can forgive that step, of which you are well aware that it was not quite a guiltless one, though it has very naturally inspired me with distrust against your character, so that I cannot possibly yield you a place which would draw us together in a confidential proximity.
I return you, therefore, this letter, which, notwithstanding its warm recommendation, and though it comes from most esteemed hands, I cannot consider it. In as much as you have offended me personally, you are forgiven, as you did not know me; and your present confusion and perplexity is more than punishment enough for you. A young man has just left me, from whom I just bought a rather well-painted picture, and to whom I have also given some admonitions and good lessons for his future. — I see that our meeting has agitated you a little too much, and as you had probably counted on that position with too great certainty, and perhaps are in urgent momentary embarrassment, please accept this ring in remembrance of me, and as a sign that I leave you without any rancour.”
Edward, who in the meantime had time to gather his thoughts again, stepped back a pace in modesty, in saying, “Do not consider it, your serene highness, pride and arrogance if I now refuse this present, which under circumstances would have been very honourable to me. I cannot disapprove of your behavior, and you will certainly allow me also to act up to my feelings.”
“Young man,” said the Prince, “I will not injure you; and as you create in me esteem, I must also tell you that we should have remained together, notwithstanding the peculiar way we made our acquaintance, if a person whom I both esteem and believe, and whom you met a little while ago in this drawing room, had not told me so much that was prejudicial to you, and had not begged me imploringly to pay no attention to this letter.”
“I will not,” said Edward, “follow the example of this lady, and accuse her in turn, nor complain about her, for she has only spoken according to her conviction. But if your serene highness will grant me the favour to show me the picture of young Dietrich, as well as a few of your other pictures, then I will leave you with great thankfulness.”
“I shall be glad,” answered the Prince, “if you take an interest in art, though I have only a few subjects here; but a picture that I was fortunate enough, a few days ago, to obtain, outweighs in excellence an ordinary collection.”
They entered into a richly and well-ornamented cabinet, where on the walls and on some easels both old and new pictures were seen. “Here is the attempt of the young man,” said the Prince, which indeed promises something; and though I cannot gain any taste for the subject, notwithstanding this, the treatment of it is praiseworthy. The coloring is good, though somewhat glaring, the drawing is sure and the expression touching…”
The Prince drew a curtain and placed Edward in the right light, and said, “But look at this successful, delightful work of my favorite, Julio Romano. Be astonished and enraptured!”
With a loud exclamation, and with a very joyous and even smiling face, Edward had indeed to greet this picture, for it was the well-known work of his old friend, at which he had worked for well over a year. It was Psyche and Cupid reposing.
The Prince placed himself near Edward and exclaimed, “My having made this discovery pays alone my journey here! And at that simple old man’s I found this treasure — a man who as an artist plays no insignificant part, but is not so nearly esteemed as he ought to be. He possessed the picture for a long while and knew it was by Julio. In the meanwhile as he had not seen all his pictures, he had always still some doubt remaining, and he was rejoiced to learn so many circumstances and details of this master and his works from me. For, of course, he has judgment, the old man, and knows how to esteem such a treasure; but he has not penetrated into all the beauties of the painter.
I should have been ashamed to take advantage of his ignorance, for he demanded for this glorious work, which he became in possession of in a remarkable way, a far too moderate sum; I raised it in order to pay the ornament of my gallery in a worthy manner.”
“He is lucky, the ill-judged old man, to have gained such a connoisseur and noble protector as a friend. Perhaps he is in a position to increase the gallery of your serene highness with a few other rarities, for he possesses in his dark abode a good deal that he does not know or esteem, and is capricious enough to prefer often his own works to all older ones.”
Edward bid farewell, but did not go directly home, but hastened, though so lightly dressed as he was, to the park, ran cheerfully through the side-walks, covered with snow, laughed aloud and exclaimed, “Oh the world, the world! nothing but deceit and foolishness. Oh, folly, thou variegated and strange child, how nicely thou leadest thy favorites by thy glittering leading strings! Long live the great Eulenbock, he who is more excellent than Julio Romano or Raphael! I too have at last become acquainted with a true connoisseur.”
Julio Romano: The Wedding Feast of Cupid and Psyche, fresco in Palazzo del Te, Mantua. (1525-1535)