Ludwig Tieck: “Legacy”
Excerpt, translated from the German by G. Greville Moore, 1883.
PREFACE: This story was my first attempt at this kind of novel, and the tale arose quite by chance, through the zealous exhortations of a friend. I never was induced to contribute to almanacs or to pocket books, however much Jean Paul, Friedrich Schlegal and other friends have desired me to do so.
Ludwig Tieck, Berlin, 1846
“Only step in the meanwhile into the picture gallery,” said the servant , while he let in young Edward; “the old gentleman will come to you immediately.”
With a heavy heart, the young man entered the doorway. “With what other feelings,” thought he, “did I walk through these rooms with my respected father! This is the first time that I come here for such motives, and it shall also be the last. Truly it shall be! and it is time that I think differently of myself and the world.” He walked further in the saloon, while he placed a wrapt-up picture against the wall. “How one can remain thus among lifeless pictures, and exist only with them and for them!” Thus he continued his mute studies. “Is it not as if these enthusiasts perish in a bewitched country? For them, art is only a window through which they look at Nature and the world; they can recognize both only in comparing them with imitations of the same. And thus my father also dreamed away his life; what had not reference to his collection was of no more importance to him that if it had happened beneath the North Pole. Strange how every kind of enthusiasm so easily leads us to limit our existence and all our feelings. “
While he lifted his eyes, he was almost dazzled or frightened at a picture, which hung in the upper region of the high gallery, without the ornament of a frame. A fair girl’s head, with neatly entangled locks and cheerful smile, looked down in a light night-dress, one shoulder somewhat bare, which appeared perfect in form and exquisitely white; in her long, elegant fingers she held a rose, which had just bloomed, and which she approached to her glowing red lips.
“Well, really!” said Edward aloud, “if this picture is by Rubens, as it must be, then the glorious man has excelled all other masters in such subjects! It lives, it breathes! How the fresh rose blooms towards the still fresher lips! how soft and tender the red of both mingles one with the other, though they are so surely divided. And this splendour of the fine shoulders on which the flaxen hair is scattered in disorder! How can old Walter hang his best picture up so high, and without a frame, when all the other trash glitters in the most costly frames. ” He lifted again his head, and began to perceive what a powerful art that of painting is, for the picture became almost more life-like. “No, these eyes!” said he again to himself, quite lost in looking at them; “how could brush and colour produce the like? Does not one see the bosom heave? Do not the fingers and the round arm move?”
And so it was indeed; for in this very moment the charming picture raised itself, and threw with an expression of roguish petulancy the rose downwards, which flew in the young man’s face, then stepped backwards and shut with a clash the small window. Frightened, and ashamed, Edward picked up the rose from the ground. He remembered distinctly the small passage which led above near the gallery to the highest room in the house; the other small windows were covered with pictures, only this one was left as it was, to give light; and the master of the house was accustomed to take a glance at his guests often from there, who wished to visit his picture gallery.
“Is it possible?” said Edward, after he had remembered all of these circumstances, “that little Sophy, within a space of four years, could have grown into such a beauty? “
He pressed unconsciously, and with singular distraction, the rose to his mouth, placed himself against the wall, looking vacantly on the ground, and did not observe that old Walter had been standing near him for some seconds, till Walter, with a friendly tap on the shoulder . woke him out of his reverie.
“Where were you, young man?” said he, jokingly; “you are like one who has seen an apparition.”
“So it seems to me,” said young Edward. “Forgive me for troubling you with my visit.”
“We should not be so strange to one another, young friend,” said the old man heartily. “It is now more than four years that you have not entered my house. Is it right of you so entirely to forget the friend of your father, your former guardian, who was always well disposed toward you, although we had some differences of opinion with one another?”
Edward blushed, and did not know quite what he should answer. “I did not think you would miss me,” he stammered out at last. “Much might have been quite different, but the errors of youth…”
“Let us leave that alone,” said the old man in good humour. What prevents us from renewing our former acquaintanceship and friendship? What brings you now to me? “
Edward looked downward, then cast a very quick and sudden look at his old friend; he lingered still, and then went with a tarrying step to the pillar where the picture stood, which he took out of its covering.
“Look here what I found, unexpectedly, among the legacy of my late father, a picture which was preserved in an old bookcase, which I had not opened in years. Connoisseurs will have it that it is an excellent Salvator Rosa.”
“So it is!” exclaimed old Walter, with an animated look. “Well, that is a glorious discovery!” What good luck that you discovered it so unexpectedly. Yes, my beloved dead friend had treasures in his house, and he did not even know all that he possessed.”
Walter placed the picture in the correct light, examined it with sharp eyes, approached and withdrew again from the picture, followed from a distance the lines of the figures with a connoisseur’s finger, and then said, “Will you let me have it? Name a price and the picture is mine, if it is not too dear.”
In the meanwhile, a stranger had approached, who in another direction of the room copied a Julio Romano.
“A Salvator?” asked he, in a somewhat abrupt tone of voice, “you have really found an old possession in a legacy?”
“To be sure,” said Edward, eyeing the stranger with a proud look, whose smooth great coat and simple bearing led him to suppose he was a traveling artist.
“Then you are yourself deceived,” replied the stranger, in a proud, rough voice, “if you do not wish to deceive others; for this picture is apparently rather a modern one, perhaps quite a new one — at least not more than ten years old — an imitation of the manner of the master good enough to deceive for an instant, but after a nearer examination shows its defects to the connoisseur .”
“I am greatly surprised at this presumption,” exclaimed Edward, quite beside himself, “in the legacy of my father there was nothing but good pictures, and originals, for Mr. Walter and he were always reckoned the best connoisseurs in the town. And what do you want more? At our celebrated dealer’s, Erich, hangs the pendant to this Salvator, for which a few days ago a traveler had offered a very large sum. If you put both together you will see that they are both by the same master and belong together.”
“Indeed?” said the stranger, in a long drawling tone. “You know all about that Salvator also? Naturally it is painted by the same hand like this one here; that there can be no doubt. In this town, the originals of this master are rare, and Walter and Mr. Erich possessed none of him; but I am well acquainted with the brush of this great master, and give you my word that he never touched these pictures, but that they proceed from a later man, an amateur who wishes to deceive with them.”
“Your word!” exclaimed Edward, blushing deeply; “Your word! I should think my word here is as good, and perhaps, better than yours.”
“Certainly not,” said the stranger; “and besides I must regret that you allow yourself to be overcome and betrayed by your hot temper. You know, then, about the fabrication of this work, and know the clever copier?”
“No!” exclaimed Edward, more violently; “you shall prove to me this insult, sir. These assertions and untruths that you so boldly utter announce more than a hateful disposition.”
The magistrate, Walter, was in greatest embarrassment that this scene should take place in his house. He stood searchingly before the picture, and had already convinced himself that it was a modern one, but an excellent imitation of the celebrated master’s, which could also deceive an experienced eye. It pained him inwardly that young Edward was involved in this bad affair. The two disputants were so furiously enraged that all mediation was impossible.”
“What you say now, sir!” exclaimed the stranger, also in a raised tone of voice, “you are really beneath my anger, and I am rejoiced that a mere chance has led me into this gallery, which has prevented a worthy picture-collector from being deceived.”
Edward foamed with rage.
“Thus it was not intended,” said the old man, kindly.
“That this was the intention assuredly,” continued the stranger. “It is an old, oft-repeated game, and with a person to whom one has not even found worth the while to apply a new scheme. I saw at the picture-dealer’s that so-called Salvator Rosa; the possessor took it for a real one, and was the more confirmed therein because a traveler, who, judging by his clothes, might have been a gentleman, offered a high price for it. On his return, he said he would have the picture, and asked the dealer not to part with it for at least four weeks. And who was this gentleman? The discharged servant of Count Alten of Vienna. Thus it is clear that this game , from whom it may proceed, was plotted against you, Mr. Walter, and your friend, Erich.”
Edward had in the meanwhile again wrapt up with trembling hands his picture. He gnashed his teeth, stamped his feet, and exclaimed: “The devil shall pay me this trick!” He rushed out the door and did not observe that the girl looked again from above down on the gallery. She was attracted by the noise of the men quarreling.
“My worthy sir,” said the old man, turning toward the stranger; “you have done me harm. You have dealt too harshly with the young man. He is frivolous and extravagant in his manners, but I have not as yet heard of any wicked action done by him.”
“There must always be a commencement,” said the stranger, with great bitterness. “Today, he has at least paid his apprentice fee, and either turns back or learns so much that they may begin his business again more knowingly, and in respect lose self-possession.”
“He is for certain deceived himself,” said old Walter, “or he has found the picture as he says; and his father, who was a great connoisseur, has put it aside on that account, because it was not a real one.”
“You wish to turn it the best way you can, sir,” said the stranger, “but in this case, the young man would not have been so unnecessarily hasty. Who is he then, really?”
“His father,” related the old man, “was a rich man, who left great possessions behind him; and had so great a passion for his art as certainly very few men are capable of having. On this, he spent a great deal of his means, and his collection was incomparable. On account of this, he neglected a little too much the education of his only son; so when, therefore, the old man died, the young man only thought of spending money and associated with spongers and bad people, and keeping women and horses. When he became of age, there were enormous debts to be paid to usurers and in bills of exchange, but he placed all his vanity in squandering more; the works of art were sold, for he had no taste for them; I took them for a small sum. Now he has, perhaps with the exception of the beautiful house, run through almost everything, and this too must be mortgaged. He has scarcely acquired any knowledge, an occupation is insupportable to him, and so one must see with pity how he goes to his ruin.”
“The daily history of so many,” remarked the stranger, “and the usual way of unworthy vanity which conducts men joyfully into the arms of contempt.”
“How have you acquired your keen eye of judgment?” asked the magistrate. “I am also astonished at the manner in which you copy the Julio, for you are not a professional artist, you say.”
“But I have studied the art for a long time, I visited the most important galleries in Europe repeatedly, and not without profit. My eye is naturally sharp and true, and improved also by practice and made sure, so that I can flatter myself not so easily to be led astray, least of all with my favorites.” The stranger then bid good-bye, after he had been made to promise to the picture collector that he would dine with him at mid-day on the following day, for the old man had acquired great respect for the traveler on account of his knowledge.
To be continued…
Salvatore Rosa: Astraias parting from the Hirten (mid-17th Century)