Ludwig Tieck: “The Lovecharm” 1/3
“Tales from the German of Tieck.” London: Edward Moxon, 64, New Bond Street. 1831.
Emilius was sitting in deep thought at his table, awaiting his friend Roderick. A light was burning before him; the winter-evening was cold; and today he wisht for the presence of his fellow traveller, though at other times wont to avoid his society; for on this evening he purpost to disclose a secret to him and ask his advice.
The timid, shy Emilius found so many difficulties, such insurmountable hindrances, in every affair he was engaged in, and in every event that befell him, that it almost seemed as if his destiny had been in an ironical mood when it threw him and Roderick together, Roderick being in all things the reverse of his friend.
Fickle, flighty, always determined and fixt by the first impression, he attempted everything, had a plan for every emergency; no undertaking was too arduous for him, no obstacles could deter him. But in the midst of the pursuit he wearied and broke down just as suddenly as at first he had kindled and sprung forward: whatever then opposed him did not act as a spur to urge him more eagerly onward, but only made him abandon and despise what he had so hotly rusht into; and thus Roderick was evermore thoughtlessly beginning something new, and with no better reason relinquishing and carelessly forgetting what he had begun just before.
Hence no day ever passed but the friends got into a quarrel, which threatened to be a death blow to their friendship: and yet what to all appearance thus divided them, was perhaps the very thing that bound them most closely together: each loved the other heartily; but each found passing satisfaction in being able to discharge the most justly deserved reproaches upon his friend.
Emilius, a rich young man of a sensitive and melancholy temperament, had become master of his fortune on his father’s death, and had set out on his travels for the sake of cultivating his mind: he had already been spending several months however in a large town, to enjoy the pleasures of the carnival, about which he never gave himself the slightest trouble, and to make certain important arrangements concerning his fortune with some relations, whom he had scarcely yet visited.
On his journey he had fallen in with the restless, ever-shifting and veering Roderick, who was living at variance with his guardians, and who, to get rid altogether of them and their troublesome admonitions, had caught eagerly at his new friend’s offer to take him with him on his travels.
On their road they had already been often on the point of separating; but after every dispute both had only felt the more forcibly that neither could live without the other. Scarcely had they got out of their carriage in any town, when Roderick had already seen everything remarkable in it, to forget it all again on the morrow: while Emilius took a week to study thoroughly whatever was said in books about it, that he might not leave anything unnoticed; and after all out of indolence thought there was hardly anything worth going to look at.
Roderick had immediately made a thousand acquaintances, and been to every public place of entertainment; and he would often bring his new-made friends to Emilius in his solitary chamber, where, as soon as he began to be tired of them, he left him alone with them.
At other times he would confound the modest Emilius by heaping extravagant praises on his talents and acquirements in the presence of learned and intelligent men, and by telling them how much information they might derive from his friend with regard to languages, antiquities, or the fine arts, though he himself could never find leisure to listen to him on these subjects when the conversation happened to turn on them.
But if Emilius ever chanced to be in a more active mood, he might almost make sure that his truant friend would have caught cold the night before at some ball or sledge-party, and be forced to keep his bed; so that, with the liveliest, most restless, and most communicative of men for his companion, Emilius lived in the greatest solitude.
On this day he confidently expected him, having made Roderick give him a solemn promise to spend the evening with him, in order to hear what it was that for several weeks had been depressing and agitating his pensive friend. Meanwhile Emilius wrote down the following lines:
‘Tis sweet when spring its choir assembles,
And every nightingale is steeping
The trees in his melodious weeping,
Till leaf and bloom with rapture trembles.
Fair is the net that moonlight weaves;
Fair are the breezes gambolings
As with lime-odours on their wings
They chase each other through the leaves.
Bright is the glory of the rose,
When Love’s rich magic decks the earth,
From countless roses Love peeps forth,
Those stars wherewith Love’s heaven glows.
But sweeter, fairer, brighter far
To me that little lamp’s pale gleaming,
When, through the narrow casement streaming
It bids me hail my evening star;
As from their braids she flings her tresses,
Then twines them in a flowery band,
While at each motion of her hand
The light robe to her fair form presses;
Or when she wakes her lute’s deep slumbers,
And, as at morning’s touch updarting,
The notes beneath her fingers starting,
Trip o’er the strings in playful numbers.
To stop their flight her voice she pours
Full after them; they laugh, and fly,
And to my heart for refuge hie:
Her voice pursues them through its doors.
Leave me, ye mischiefs! hence remove!
They bar themselves within, and say:
Till this be broken here we stay,
That thou mayst know what ’tis to love.
Emilius stood up fretfully. It grew darker, but no Roderick came; and he was wishing to tell him of his love for an unknown fair one, who dwelt in the opposite house, and who kept him at home all day long, and waking through many a night.
At length footsteps sounded on the stairs; the door opened without anybody knocking at it: and in came two gay masks with ugly visages, one of them a Turk, drest in red and blue silk, the other a Spaniard, in pale yellow and pink, with a plume of feathers waving on his hat. When Emilius was losing patience, Roderick took off his mask, shewed his well-known laughing countenance, and cried: “Heyday, my good friend, what a drowned puppy of a face! Is this the way to look in the carnival?
“I am come with my dear young officer here to carry you off: there is a grand ball tonight at the masquerade-rooms; and, as I know you have forsworn ever putting on any other suit than that which you always wear of the devil’s own colour, come with us black as you are; for it is getting somewhat late.”
Emilius felt angry, and said: “It seems that according to custom you have totally forgotten your engagement. I am extremely sorry,” (he added, turning to the stranger) “that I cannot possibly be of your party: my friend has been overhasty in promising for me; indeed I cannot go out at all, having some matters of importance to talk over with him.”
The stranger, who was well-bred and saw Emiliuses meaning, withdrew: but Roderick with the utmost indifference put on his mask again, took his stand before the glass, and exclaimed: “Verily, I am a most hideous figure, am I not? After all my pains it is a tasteless, disgusting device.”
“That there can be no question about!” answered Emilius in vehement displeasure. “Making a caricature of yourself, and stupefying your senses, are among the pleasures you are the fondest of driving at.”
“Because you don’t like dancing,” said the other, “and look upon it as a pernicious invention, not a soul in the world is to be merry. How tiresome it is when a man is made up of nothing but whims!”
“Doubtless!” replied his irritated friend; “and you afford me ample opportunity for finding that it is so. I fancied that after our agreement you would have given me this one evening; but—”
“But it is the carnival, you know,” interposed the other; “and all my acquaintances, and divers fair ladies are expecting me at the grand ball tonight. Rely upon it, my dear friend, it is mere disease in you that makes you so unreasonably averse to all such amusements.”
“Which of us has the fairest claim to be called diseased,” said Emilius, “I will not examine. But I cannot think that your incomprehensible frivolousness, your hunger and thirst for dissipation, your restless chase after pleasures that leave the heart empty, are altogether the healthiest state of human nature. On certain points at all events you might make a little allowance for my weakness, if you are determined to call it so; and you know there is nothing in the world that so sets my whole soul on edge as a ball with its frightful music.
Somebody has said, that to a deaf person who cannot hear the music a party of dancers must look like so many patients for a madhouse: but to my mind this detestable music itself, this twirling and whirling and pirouetting of half a dozen notes, each treading on its own heels, in those odious tunes, which ram themselves into our memory, nay, I might say, mix themselves up with our very blood, so that one cannot get rid of the taint for many a woeful day after,—this to me is the very trance of madness: and if I could ever bring myself to think dancing endurable, it would be dancing to the tune of silence.”
“Bravo, signor paradox-monger!” exclaimed the mask: “You are so far gone, that you choose to think the most natural, the most innocent, and the merriest thing in the world unnatural, ay, and shocking.”
“I cannot change my feelings,” said his grave friend. “From my very childhood these tunes have made me unhappy, and have often all but driven me out of my senses. They are to me the ghosts and spectres and furies in the world of sound, and they come and buzz round my head, and grin at me with horrid laughter.”
“Sheer nervousness!” returned the other; “just like your extravagant abhorrence of spiders and divers other harmless insects.”
“Harmless you call them!” cried Emilius indignantly, “because you have no repugnance to such things. To him however that feels the same disgust and loathing, the same unutterable shuddering, as I feel, start up within him and shoot through his whole frame at the sight of them, these miscreant deformities, such as toads, beetles, or that most nauseous of all Nature’s abortions, the bat, are not indifferent or insignificant: their very existence is a state of direct enmity and warfare against his.
In good truth one might smile at the unbelievers whose imagination is too barren for ghosts and fearful goblins, and such births of night as we see in sickness, to grow up in it, or who stare and marvel at Dante’s descriptions; when the commonest everyday life is perpetually paralysing our eyesight with some of these portentous distorted masterpieces among the works of horrour. Yet how can we have a real feeling and love for beauty, without detesting and recoiling from such monstrosities?”
“Why recoil from them?” askt Roderick: “why should we see nothing in the vast realm of water, in lakes, rivers, and seas, but those dismal objects which you have taught yourself to find there? why not rather look on such creatures as queer, amusing, and ludicrous mummers? so that the deep might be called a kind of large maskt ballroom.
“But your caprices go still further; for while you love roses with a sort of idolatry, there are other flowers for which you have a no less passionate hatred: yet what harm has the dear bright tulip ever done you? or all the other gay children of summer that you persecute?
Thus again you have an antipathy to sundry colours, to sundry scents, and to a number of thoughts; and you never take any pains to strengthen yourself against these moods, but give way to them and sink down into them as into a luxurious feather bed; so that I often fear I shall lose you altogether some day, and find nothing but a patchwork of whims and prejudices sitting at that table instead of my Emilius.”
Emilius was wroth to the bottom of his heart, and answered not a word. He had now given up all thought of making his intended confession; nor did the thoughtless Roderick shew the least wish to hear the secret which his melancholy companion had announced to him with such an air of solemnity. He was sitting carelessly in the armchair, playing with his mask, when on a sudden he cried: “Be so kind, Emilius, as to lend me your large cloak.”
“What for?” askt the other.
“I hear music in the church over the way,” answered Roderick; “and some how or other I have mist this hour every evening since we have been here. Today it comes just in the nick: I can cover my dress with your cloak, hiding my mask and turban under it; and so, when the music is over, I may go straight to the ball.”
Emilius muttered between his teeth as he went for the cloak to his wardrobe, and then, forcing himself to put on an ironical smile, he gave it to Roderick who was already on his legs.
“There, I’ll leave you my Turkish dagger that I bought yesterday,” said the mask, as he wrapt himself up: “Take care of it for me; it is a bad habit, this carrying about toys of cold steel: one can never tell what ill use may not be made of them, should a quarrel arise, or any other knot that it is easier to cut than untie. We shall meet again tomorrow; good bye; a pleasant evening to you.” He did not wait for an answer, but ran down stairs.
When Emilius was alone, he tried to forget his anger, and to look only at the laughable side of his friend’s behaviour. His eyes rested on the shining, finely wrought dagger, and he said: “What must be the feelings of a man who could thrust this sharp iron into the breast of an enemy! but oh, what must be his who should hurt a beloved object with it!”
He lockt it up, then gently folded back the window shutters, and lookt across the narrow street. But no light was stirring; the opposite house was quite dark; the dear form that dwelt in it, and that was wont to appear there about this time engaged in divers household affairs, seemed to be absent. ‘Perhaps she may be at the ball,’ thought Emilius, little as it sorted with her retired way of life.
Ere long however a light came in: the little girl whom his beloved unknown had about her, and with whom she used to pass a great part of the day and of the evening, carried a candle through the room and closed the shutters. A chink still let the light through, wide enough for Emilius, where he stood, to overlook a part of the little room: and there the happy youth would often stay till after midnight as if charmed to the spot, watching every motion of her hand, every look of her beloved face.
It was a joy to see her teaching the child to read, or giving her lessons in sewing and knitting. On inquiry he had learnt that the little girl was a poor orphan, whom his fair maiden had charitably taken into the house, to educate her.
Emilius’s friends could not conceive why he lived in this narrow street, in this comfortless lodging, why he was so little to be seen in society, or how he employed himself. Without employment, in solitude, he was happy: only he felt out of humour with himself at his own bashfulness, which withheld him from trying to become nearer acquainted with this beauteous being, notwithstanding the friendliness with which she had several times greeted and thankt him.
He knew not that she would often gaze over at him with eyes no less lovesick than his own: he guessed not what wishes were forming in her heart, of what an effort, what a sacrifice she felt herself capable, so she might but attain the possession of his love.
After walking a few times up and down the room, the light having gone away again with the child, he suddenly made up his mind, in spite of all his feelings and inclinations, to go to the ball; for it struck him that his unknown might have made an exception for once to her usual secluded habits, for the sake of enjoying the world and its gaieties.
The streets were brilliantly lighted up; the snow crackled under his feet; carriages rolled by him; and masks in every variety of dress whistled and twittered as they passed him. Many of the houses resounded with the dancing music which he so much abhorred; and he could not bring himself to take the nearest way to the ballroom, to which people from all quarters were streaming and flocking.
He walkt round the old church, gazed at its high tower rising majestically into the dark sky, and enjoyed the stillness and solitude of this deserted place. Within the recess of a large doorway, the varied sculptures of which he had often contemplated with pleasure, while calling up visions of the olden times and the arts that adorned them, he now again took his stand, to give himself up for a few moments to his musings.
He had not been there long, when his attention was attracted by a figure that was pacing restlessly to and fro, and seemed to be waiting for somebody. By the light of a lamp burning before an image of the Virgin, he distinctly made out the face, as well as the strange dress. It was an old woman of the uttermost hideousness, which struck the eye the more from her being grotesquely clad in a scarlet bodice embroidered with gold.
Emilius fancied at first it must be some extravagant mask that had lost its way: but the bright light soon convinced him that the old brown wrinkled face was one of Nature’s ploughing, and no mimic exaggeration.
In a few minutes two men made their appearance, wrapt up in cloaks, who seemed to approach the spot with cautious steps, often turning their heads aside to see whether anybody was following. The old woman went up to them.
“Have you got the candles?” she askt hastily and with a gruff voice.
“Here they are,” said one of the men: “you know the price; let us settle the matter and have done with it.”
The old woman seemed to be giving him some money, which he counted over beneath his cloak. “I rely upon you,” she again began, “that they are made exactly according to rule, at the right time and place, so that they cannot fail of their effect.”
“You need not be uneasy on that score,” returned the man, and hurried away.
His companion, who staid behind, was a youth: he took the old woman by the hand, and said: “Can it be true, Alexia, that certain rites and spells, as those old wild stories, in which I could never put faith, tell us, can fetter the free will of man, and make love and hatred grow up in the heart?”
“Ay forsooth!” answered the scarlet woman; “but one and one must make two, and many a one must be added thereto, before such mighty things come to pass. It is not these candles alone, moulded beneath the midnight darkness of the new moon, and drencht with human blood, it is not the mere uttering magical words and incantations, that can give you the mastery over the soul of another: there is much more belonging to such works, as the initiated well know.”
“I may depend upon you then!” cried the stranger.
“Tomorrow after midnight I am at your service,” replied the old woman. “You shall not be the first person that ever was dissatisfied with my skill. Tonight, as you have heard, I have some one else in hand, one whose senses and soul our art shall twist about whichever way we choose, just as easily as I twist this hair out of my head.”
These last words she uttered with a half grin; and they separated, walking off in different directions.
Emilius came forth from the dark niche shuddering, and lifted his looks to the image of the Virgin with the Child. “Before thine eyes, thou mild and blessed one,” he said half aloud, “are these miscreants audaciously holding their market and trafficking in their infernal drugs. But as thou embracest thy child with thy love, so doth heavenly Love encircle us all with its protecting arms; we feel their touch; and our poor hearts beat joyously and tremulously toward a greater heart that will never forsake us.”
Clouds were rolling along over the pinnacles of the tower and the high roof of the church; the everlasting stars lookt down through the midst of them gleaming with mild serenity; and Emilius drew his thoughts resolutely away from these nightly abominations, and mused on the beauty of his unknown. He again entered the peopled streets, and bent his steps toward the brightly illuminated ballroom, from which voices, and the rattling of carriages, and now and then, when there was a pause, the clamorous music, came sounding to his ears.
In the ballroom he was instantly lost amid the streaming throng: dancers ran round him; masks darted by him to and fro; kettledrums and trumpets stunned his ears; and it seemed to him as if human life had melted away into a dream. He walkt along one row after another, and his eye alone was wakeful, seeking after those beloved eyes and that fair head with its brown locks, for the sight of which he yearned this evening more intensely than ever, at the same time that he inwardly reproacht their adored possessor, for allowing herself to plunge and be lost in this stormy sea of confusion and folly.
‘No!’ he said to himself; ‘no heart that loves can willingly expose itself to this dreary hubbub of noise, in which every longing and every tear is scoft and mockt at by the wild laughter of pealing trumpets. The whispering of trees, the murmuring of brooks, the soft notes of the harp, and the song that gushes forth in all its richness and sweetness from an overflowing bosom, are the sounds in which love dwells. But this is the very thundering and shouting of hell in the frenzy of its despair….’
To be continued …