Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Faust 4
Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 192-226. Illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.
“For with fair talents Nature has endow’d me;
Although, alas, she has accompanied
Her lofty gifts with many weaknesses,
With a foreboding spirit, boundless pride,
And sensibility too exquisite.
It cannot be otherwise, since Fate,
In her caprice, has fashioned such a man;
We must consent to take him as he is.”
Faustus learns that Margaret has murdered the child, to which she had given birth, hoping thus to avoid shame. Her crime has been discovered; she has been thrown into prison, and is doomed to perish the next morning on the scaffold. Faustus curses Mephistopheles in the bitterness of rage; Mephistopheles reproaches Faustus in cold blood, and proves to him that it is himself who has desired evil, and that he has assisted him only because called upon by himself to do so. Sentence of death is pronounced against Faustus for having slain Margaret’s brother.
He nevertheless enters the city in secret, obtained from Mephistopheles the means of delivering Margaret, and penetrates at night into her dungeon, of which he has stolen the keys.
He hears from afar off the imperfect notes of a song which sufficiently proves the derangement of her mind; the words of this song are very coarse, and Margaret was naturally pure and delicate. Mad women are generally painted at if madness accommodated itself to the rules of propriety, and only gave the right of breaking off sentences abruptly, and interrupting at convenient times the chain of ideas; but it is not so: real disorder of the mind almost always displays itself in shapes foreign even to the cause of the disorder, and the gaiety of its unhappy victims is more harrowing to the soul than even their misery.
Faustus enters the prison: Margaret believes that they are come to lead her to death. Margaret, rising from her bed of straw, exclaims: “They come! They come! Oh! how bitter is death!”
Faustus, in a low voice: “Softly, softly, I come to deliver thee.” (He draws near her, to break her fetters.)
Margaret: “If thou art human, my despair will touch thee.”
Faustus: “Softer, softer! Thou wilt awake the guard by thy cries.”
Margaret, throwing herself on her knees: “Who hath given thee, barbarian, this power over me? It is only midnight: why does thou come to look for me so soon? Have pity on my tears, let me live a little longer. Tomorrow morning, is it not time enough?” She rises again. “I am so young — so young! and must I then die already? I was once handsome too: That was my ruin. Then my friend was near to me; but now he is a great way off. The flowers of my garland are scattered. Do not grasp my hand with such violence! be tender with me! let me not weep in vain! never, to this day, have I seen thee before.”
Faustus: “How can I support her agony?”
Margaret: “I am altogether in thy power. Only let me suckle my child: I have pressed it slowly to my heart all night long. They have taken it from me to distress me. Don’t they say that I killed it? Never shall I be again what I once was. Did they not sing songs against me, those wicked people? What would they say then?”
Faustus, casting himself to her feet: “Thy lover is at thy feet. He comes to throw open the gates of this horrible prison.”
Margaret: “Yes, let us fall on our knees; let us call the saints to our assistance. The cries of hell are heard, and the evil genii wait for us on the threshold of my dungeon.”
Faustus: “Margaret! Margaret!”
Margaret. listening eagerly: “It was the voice of my love.” She springs toward Faustus, and her irons fall off. “Where is he? I heard him call me. I am free. Nobody can keep me any longer in prison. I will support myself on his arm, I will rest on his bosom. He calls me Margaret; he is there, before the door. Amidst the howling of pitiless death I hear the soft and touching harmony of his voice.”
Faustus: “Yes, Margaret, it is I.”
Margaret: “It is thou; repeat that once again.” (She presses him to her bosom.) “Tis he! Tis he! What is become of the anguish of my chains and of the scaffold? It is thou! I am saved! I see before me the road in which I first beheld thee, the smiling garden where Martha and I used to wait for you.”
Faustus: “Come, come.”
Margaret: “It is so sweet to me to stay with thee! Ah! do not leave me!”
Faustus: “Haste! we may pay dearly for the least delay.”
Margaret: “What! thou answerest not to my embraces? My love, it is so short a time since we parted? Hast thou already forgotten to press me to thy heart? There was a time when thy words and looks called down all Heaven upon me! Embrace me! for mercy’s sake, embrace me! Thy heart then is cold and dumb. What is become of thy love? Who has robbed me of it?”
Faustus: “Come, follow me, my dearest love: take courage. I love thee with rapture, but follow me, it is my only prayer.”
Margaret: “But art thou indeed Faustus? Art thou thyself?”
Faustus: “Yes, certainly. Yes, come along!”
Margaret: “Thou deliverest me from my chains, thou takest me again to thine arms. How is it that thou art not afraid of Margaret? Does thou know well, my love; dost thou well know whom thou deliverest?”
Faustus: “Come, come! The night already begins to fade away!”
Margaret: “My mother! It was I who killed her. My child! It was I who drowned it. Was it not thine as well as mine? Is it true then that I behold thee, Faustus? Is it not a dream? Give me thy hand, thy beloved hand! Oh Heaven! it is moist. Wipe it. I think there is blood upon it. Hide thy sword from me! Where is my brother? I beseech you, hide it from me!”
Faustus: “Oh! bury the irreparable past in oblivion! you make me die.”
Margaret: “No, thou must remain behind. I will describe to thee what manner of tombs thou must prepare tomorrow. The best place must be given to my mother; my brother must be laid next to her. As for me, you must place me farther off; yet not too far neither; and my child, right upon my bosom. But nobody must lie by my side. I could have wished that thou mightest be near me; but that was a sweet and pure happiness, and belongs to me no more. I feel myself dragged towards thee, and it seems to me that thou violently drives me back: Yet are thy looks full of tenderness and goodness.”
Faustus: “Ah! If you know me, come!”
Margaret: “Where shall I go then?”
Faustus: “Thou shalt be free.”
Margaret: “The tomb is without those gates. Death watches my footsteps. Come; but lead me to my everlasting dwelling place. I can go no where but there. Wilt thou leave me? Oh! my love, if I could …”
Faustus: “Thou canst if thou wilt; the gates are open.”
Margaret: “I dare not; no hope remains for me. For what purpose shall I fly? My persecutors are waiting for me. To beg is so miserable. And, above all, with a bad conscience! It is dismal also to wander about in a foreign land; and, besides, wherever I go, they will lay hold on me.”
Faustus: “I will remain near thee.”
Margaret: “Quick, quick, save thy poor child! Go, follow the road by the side of the rivulet, cross the path that leads to the wood; on the left hand, near the sluice, in the fish pond, catch it instantly! It will stretch out its hands to heaven. It seizures with convulsions. Save it! Save it!”
Faust: “Recover thy senses; one step more, and thou hast nothing to fear.”
Margaret: “Had we but passed the mountain! The air is so cold by the side of the spring. There is my mother, sitting on a rock, and her aged head is shaking. She does not call me; she makes no sign to me to approach. Only her eyes are heavy; oh! she will never wake more! We used to be so glad when she slept. Ah! when a recollection!”
Faustus: “Since thou wilt not listen to my entreaties, I must drag thee along in spite of thyself.”
Margaret: “Leave me! No, I will not endure violence; seize me not thus with that murderous strength. Ah! I have only too much done as you would have me!”
Faustus: “The day breaks, my dear love! my dearest love!”
Margaret: “Yes, it will soon be day. My last day dawns upon this dungeon. It comes to celebrate my eternal spousals: tell nobody that you have seen Margaret tonight. Alas, my poor garland. It is withered. We shall meet again, but not on holidays. The crowd is gathering together, oh what a confusion of sounds shall we hear! The streets, the market-place, will hardly be large enough for the multitude. The bell tolls, the signal is given. They are going to tie my hands, to bind my eyes. I shall ascend the bloody scaffold, and the axe’s edge will fall on my neck. Ah! the world is already silent as the grave!”
Faustus: “Heavens! Why was I born?”
Mephistopheles, appearing at the door: “Haste, or you are lost; your delays, your uncertainties, are fatal to you: my horses…”
Margaret: “Who is it that rises out of the earth? It is he, it is he; send him away. What should he have to do in this holy holy place? He means to carry me off with him.”
Faustus: “You must live!”
Margaret: “Tribunal of God! I abandon myself to thee.”
Mephistopheles to Faustus: “Come, come away! or I will leave thee to die together with her.”
Margaret: “Heavenly Father! I am thine; and ye angels, save me! Holy legions, encompass me about, defend me! Faustus, it is thy fate that afflicts me…”
Mephistopheles: “She is judged.”
Voices from Heaven are heard to cry “She is saved!”
Mephistopheles disappears with Faustus. The voice of Margaret is still heard from the bottom of the dungeon, recalling her love in vain. “Faustus! Faustus!”
After these words, the piece is broken off. The intention of the author doubtless is that Margaret should perish, and that God should pardon her; that the life of Faustus should be preserved, but that his soul should be lost.
The imagination must supply the charm which a most exquisite poetry adds to the scenes I have attempted to translate. In the art of versification there is a peculiar merit acknowledged by all the world, and yet independent of the subject to which it is applied. In the play of Faustus, the rhythm changes with the situation, and the billiant variety that results from the change is admirable.
The German language presents a greater number of combinations than ours, and Goethe seems to have employed them all to express, by sounds as well as images, the singular elevation of irony and enthusiasm, of sadness and mirth, which impelled him to the composition of this work. It would indeed be too childish to suppose that such a man was not perfectly aware of all the defects of taste with which his piece was liable to be reproached; but it is curious to know the motives that determined him to leave those defects, or rather intentionally to insert them.
Goethe has submitted himself to rules of no description whatever in this composition; it is neither tragedy nor romance. Its author adjured every sober method of thinking and writing; one might find in it some analogies with Aristophanes, if the traits of Shakespeare’s pathos were not mingled with beauties of a very different nature.
Faustus astonishes, moves, and melts us; but it does not leave a tender impression upon the soul. Though presumption and vice are cruelly punished, the hand of beneficence is not perceived in the administration of the punishment; it would rather be said that the evil principle directed the thunderbolt of vengeance against crimes of which it had itself occasioned the commission; and remorse, such as it is painted in this drama, seems to proceed from hell, in company with guilt.
The belief in evil spirits is to be met with in many pieces of German poetry; the nature of the north agrees very well with this description of terror; it is therefore much less ridiculous in Germany, than it would be in France, to make use of the Devil in works of fiction. To consider all ideas only in a literary point of view, it is certain that our imagination figures to itself something that answers to the conception of an evil genius, whether in the human heart, or in the dispensations of nature.
Man sometimes does evil, as we may say, in a disinterested manner, without end, and even against his end, merely to satisfy a certain inward asperity that urges him to do hurt to others. The deities of paganism were accompanied by a different sort of divinities of the race of the Titans, who presented the revolted forces of nature; and, in Christianity, the evil inclinations of the soul may be said to be personafied under the figure of Devils.
It is impossible to read Faustus without being excited to reflexion in a thousand different manners: We quarrel with the author, we condemn him; we justify him; but he obliges us to think upon everything, and, to borrow the language of a simple sage of former times, upon something more than every thing. (De omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis.)
The criticisms to which such a production is obnoxious may easily be foreseen, or rather it is the very nature of the work that provokes censure still more than the manner in which it was treated; for such a composition ought to be judged like a dream; and if good taste were always watching at the ivory gate, to oblige our visions to take the regulated form, they would seldom strike the imagination.
Nevertheless, the drams of Faustus is certainly not composed upon a good model. Whether it be considered as an offspring of the delirium of the mind, or of the satiety of reason, it is to be wished that such productions may not be multiplied; but when such a genius as that of Goethe sets itself free from all restrictions, the crowd of thoughts is so great, that on every side they break through and trample down the barriers of art.
By Georg Melchior Kraus