Musäus: “Libussa” 3/5
Excerpt from Thomas Carlyle’s “German Romance: Specimens of its Chief Authors; with Biographical and Critical Notices.” Vol. I, 1827.
By Johann Karl August Musäus
The young man felt himself unworthy of the gentle virgin’s gift ; and blushed that he should receive it and make no return. With ineloquent lips, but with looks so much the more eloquent, he took mournful leave of her ; and at the gate below found two white Steers awaiting him, as sleek and glittering as of old the godlike Bull, on whose smooth back the virgin Europa swam across the blue sea waves. Joyfully he loosed them from the post, and drove them softly on before him.
The distance home seemed but a few ells, so much was his spirit busied with the fair Libussa : and he vowed, that as he never could obtain her love, he would love no other all his days. The old Knight rejoiced in the return of his son ; and still more in learning that the oracle of the fair heiress agreed so completely with his own wishes. As husbandry had been appointed by the gods for the young man’s trade, he lingered not in harnessing his white Steers, and yoking them to the plough.
The first trial prospered to his wish : the bullocks had such strength and alacrity that they turned over in a single day more land than twelve yoke of oxen commonly can master for they were fiery and impetuous, as the Bull is painted in the Almanac, where he rushes from the clouds in the sign of April; not sluggish and heavy like the Ox, who plods on with his holy consorts, in our Gospel-Book, phlegmatically, as a Dutch skipper in a calm.
Duke Czech, who had led the first colony of his people into Bohemia, was now long ago committed to his final rest, yet his descendants had not been promoted to succeed him in his princely dignity. The magnates had in truth, at his decease, assembled for a new election ; but their wild stormy tempers would admit of no reasonable resolution. Self-interest and self-sufficiency transformed the first Bohemian Convention of Estates into a Polish Diet : as too many hands laid hold of the princely mantle, they tore it in pieces, and no one of them obtained it. The government had dwindled to a sort of Anarchy ; every one did what was right in his own eyes; the strong oppressed the weak, the rich the poor, the great the little.
There was now no public security in the land ; yet the frank spirits of the time thought their new republic very well arranged : ” All is in order,” said they, ” everything goes on its way with us as well as elsewhere ; the wolf eats the lamb, the kite the dove, the fox the cock.” This artless constitution could not last ; when the first debauch of fancied freedom had gone off, and the people were again grown sober, reason asserted its rights ; the patriots, the honest citizens, whoever in the nation loved his country, joined together to destroy the idol Hydra, and unite the people once more under a single head. “Let us choose a Prince,” said they, ” to rule over us, after the manner of our fathers, to tame the froward, and exercise right and justice in the midst of us.
Not the strongest, the boldest, or the richest ; the wisest be our Duke !” The people, wearied out with the oppressions of their petty tyrants, had on this occasion but one voice, and loudly applauded the proposal. A meeting of Estates was convoked ; and the choice unanimously fell upon the wise Krokus. An embassy of honour was appointed, inviting him to take possession of the princely dignity. Though he had never longed for lofty titles, he hesitated not about complying with the people’s wish. Invested with the purple, he proceeded, with great pomp, to Vizegrad, the residence of the Dukes ; where the people met him with triumphant shouting, and did reverence to him as their Regent.
Whereby he perceived, that now the third Reed-stalk of the bountiful Elf was likewise sending forth its gift upon him. His love of justice, and his wise legislation, soon spread his fame over all the surrounding countries. The Sarmatic Princes, incessantly at feud with one another, brought their contention from afar before his judgment-seat. He weighed it with the undeceitful weights of natural Justice, in the scales of Law; and when he opened his mouth, it was as if the venerable Solon, or the wise Solomon from between the Twelve Lions of his throne, had been pronouncing sentence.
Some seditious instigators having leagued against the peace of their country, and kindled war among the Poles, he advanced at the head of his army into Poland ; put an end to the civil strife ; and a large portion of the people, grateful for the peace which he had given them, chose him for their Duke also. He there built the city Cracow, which is called by his name, and has the privilege of crowning the Polish Kings, even to the present time. Krokus ruled with great glory to the end of his days. Observing that he was now near their limit, and must soon set out, he caused a coffin to be made from the fragments of the oak which his spouse the Elf had inhabited ; and then departed in peace, bewept by the Princesses his three daughters, who deposited the Ducal remains in the coffin, and consigned him to the Earth as he had commanded ; and the whole land mourned for him.
When the obsequies were finished, the Estates assembled to deliberate who should now possess the vacant throne. The people were unanimous for one of Krokus’s daughters ; but which of the three they had not yet determined. Fraulein Bela had, on the whole, the fewest adherents ; for her heart was not good ; and her magic -lantern was too frequently employed in doing sheer mischief. But she had raised such a terror of herself among the people, that no one liked to take exception at her, lest he might draw down her vengeance on him. When the vote was called, therefore, the Electors all continued dumb; there was no voice for her, but also none against her.
At sunset the representatives of the people separated, adjourning their election to another day. Then Fraulein Therba was proposed : but confidence in her incantations had made Fraulein Therba’s head giddy; she was proud and overbearing ; required to be honoured as a goddess ; and if incense did not always smoke for her, she grew peevish, cross, capricious ; displaying all the properties by which the fair sex, when they please, can cease to be fair. She was less feared than her elder sister, but not on that account more loved. For these reasons, the election-field continued silent as a lykewake ; and the vote was never called for. On the third day came Libussa’s turn.
No sooner was this name pronounced, than a confidential hum was heard throughout the electing circle ; the solemn visages unwrinkled and brightened up, and each of the Electors had some good to whisper of the Fraulein to his neighbour. One praised her virtue, another praised her modesty, a third her prudence, a fourth her infallibility in prophecy, a fifth her disinterestedness in giving counsel, a tenth her chastity, other ninety her beauty, and the last her gifts as a housewife. When a lover draws out such a catalogue of the perfections of his mistress, it remains still doubtful whether she is really the possessor of a single one among them ; but the public seldom errs on the favourable side, however often on the other, in the judgments it pronounces on good fame.
With so many universally acknowledged praiseworthy qualities, Fraulein Libussa was undoubtedly the favoured candidate of the sage Electors : but the preference of the younger sister to the elder has so frequently, in the affair of marriage, as experience testifies, destroyed the peace of the house, that reasonable fear might be entertained lest in affairs of still greater moment it might disturb the peace of the country. This consideration put the sapient guardians of the people into such embarrassment, that they could come to no conclusion whatever.
There was wanting a speaker, to hang the clock-weight of his eloquence upon the wheel of the Electors’ favourable will, before the business could get into motion, and the good disposition of their minds become active and efficient ; and this speaker now appeared, as if appointed for the business.
Wladomir, one of the Bohemian Magnates, the highest after the Duke, had long sighed for the enchanting Libussa, and wooed her during Father Krokus’s lifetime. The youth being one of his most faithful vassals, and beloved by him as a son, the worthy Krokus could have wished well that love would unite this pair ; but the coyness of the maiden was insuperable, and he would in nowise force her inclination. Prince Wladomir,however, would not be deterred by these doubtful aspects ; but still hoped, by fidelity and constancy, to tire out the hard heart of the Fraulein, and by his tender attentions make it soft and pliant.
He continued in the Duke’s retinue to the end, without appearing by this means to have advanced a hair’s-breadth towards the goal of his desires. But now, he thought, an opportunity was offered him for opening her closed heart by ameritorious deed, and earning from her noble-minded gratitude what love did not seem inclined to grant him voluntarily. He determined on braving the hatred and vengeance of the two dreaded sisters, and raising his beloved to her paternal throne.
Observing the indecision of the wavering assembly, he addressed them, and said :” If ye will hear me, ye courageous Knights and Nobles from among the people, I will lay before you a similitude, by which you shall perceive how this coming choice may be accomplished, to the weal and profit of the land.”
Silence being ordered, he proceeded thus :”The Bees had lost their Queen, and the whole hive sat sad and moping ; they flew seldom and sluggishly out, had small heart or activity in honey-making, and their trade and sustenance fell into decay. Therefore they resolved upon a new sovereign, to rule over their community, that discipline and order might not be lost from among them. Then came the Wasp flying towards them, and said : ‘ Choose me for your Queen, I am mighty and terrible ; the strong horse is afraid of my sting ; with it I can even defy the lion, your hereditary foe, and prick him in the snout when he approaches your store : I will watch you and defend you.’
This speech was pleasant to the Bees ; but after deeply considering it, the wisest among them answered : ‘ Thou art stout and dreadful, but even the sting which is to guard us we fear : thou canst not be our Queen.’
Then the Humble-bee came buzzing towards them, and said :’ Choose me for your Queen ; hear ye not that the sounding of my wings announces loftiness and dignity ? Nor is a sting wanting to me, wherewith to protect you.’ The Bees answered : ‘We are a peaceable and quiet people ; the proud sounding of thy wings would annoy us, and disturb the continuance of our diligence : thou canst not be our Queen.’ Then the Royal-bee requested audience : ‘ Though I am larger and stronger than you,’ said she, ‘my strength cannot hurt or damage you ; for, lo, the dangerous sting is altogether wanting. I am soft of temper, a friend of order and thrift, can guide your honey-making and further your labour.’ ‘Then,’ said the Bees, ‘thou art worthy to rule over us : we obey thee ; be our Queen.’ ”
Wladomir was silent. The whole assembly guessed the meaning of his speech, and the minds of all were in a favourable tone for Fraulein Libussa. But at the moment when the vote was to be put, a croaking raven flew over their heads : this evil omen interrupted all deliberations, and the meeting was adjourned till the morrow. It was Fraulein Bela who had sent this bird of black augury to stop their operations, for she well knew how the minds of the Electors were inclining ; and Prince Wladomir had raised her bitterest spleen against him. She held a secret consultation with her sister Therba ; when it was determined to take vengeance on their common slanderer, and to dispatch a heavy Incubus to suffocate the soul from his body.
The stout Knight, dreaming nothing of this danger, went, as he was wont, to wait upon his mistress, and was favoured by her with the first friendly look ; from which he failed not to presage for himself a heaven of delight ; and if anything could still have increased his rapture, it must have been the gift of a rose, which was blooming on the Fraulein’s breast, and which she reached him, with an injunction to let it wither on his heart.
He interpreted these words quite otherwise than they were meant ; for of all the sciences, there is none so deceitful as the science of expounding in matters of love : here errors, as it were, have their home. The enamoured Knight was anxious to preserve his rose as long as possible in freshness and bloom ;he put it in a flower-pot among water, and fell asleep with the most flattering hopes.
At gloomy midnight, the destroying angel sent by Fraulein Bela glided towards him ; with panting breath blew off the bolts and locks of his apartment ; lighted like a mountain of lead upon the slumbering Knight, and so squeezed him together, that he felt on awakening as if a millstone had been hung about his neck. In this agonising suffocation, thinking that the last moment of his life was at hand, he happily remembered the rose,which was standing by his bed in a flower-pot, and pressed it to his breast, saying : ” Wither with me, fair rose, and die on my chilled bosom, as a proof that my last thought was directed to thy gentle mistress.”
In an instant all was light about his heart ; the heavy Incubus could not withstand the magic force of the flower ; his crushing weight would not now have balanced a feather ; his antipathy to the perfume soon scared him from the chamber ; and the narcotic virtue of this rose-odour again lulled the Knight into refreshing sleep. He rose with the sun next morning, fresh and alert, and rode to the field, to see what impression his similitude had made on the Electors, and to watch what course the business was about to take ; determined at all hazards, should a contrary wind spring up, and threaten with shipwreck the vessel of his hopes, to lay his hand upon the rudder, and steer it into port.
For the present this was not required. The electing Senate had considered Wladomir’s parable, and so sedulously ruminated and digested it overnight, that it had passed into their hearts and spirits. A stout Knight, who espied this favourable crisis, and who sympathised in the concerns of his heart with the enamoured Wladomir, was endeavouring to snatch away, or at least to share with him, the honour of exalting -Fraulein Libussa to the throne. He stept forth, and drew his sword, and with a loud voice proclaimed Libussa Duchess of Bohemia, calling upon all who thought as he did, to draw their swords and justify the choice.
In a moment hundreds of swords were gleaming through the field ; a loud huzza announced the new Regent, and on all sides arose the joyful shout : ” Libussa is our Duchess !” A commission was appointed, with Wladomir and the stout sword-drawer at its head, to acquaint the Fraulein with her exaltation to the princely rank. With that modest blush, which gives the highest grace to female charms, she accepted the sovereignty over the people ; and the magic of her enrapturing look made all hearts subject to her.
The nation celebrated the event with vast rejoicings : and although her two sisters envied her, and employed their secret arts to obtain revenge on her and their country for the slight which had been put upon them, and endeavoured by the leaven of criticism, by censuring all the measures and transactions of their sister, to produce a hurtful fermentation in the state, yet Libussa was enabled wisely to encounter this unsisterly procedure, and to ruin all the hostile projects, magical or other, of these ungentle persons ; till at last, weary of assailing her in vain, they ceased to employ their ineffectual arts against her.
The sighing Wladomir awaited, in the mean time, with wistful longing, the unfolding of his fate. More than once he had tried to read the final issue of it in the fair eyes of his Princess;but Libussa had enjoined them strict silence respecting the feelings of her heart ; and for a lover, without prior treaty with the eyes and their significant glances, to demand an oral explanation, is at all times an unhappy undertaking. The only favourable sign, which still sustained his hopes, was the unfaded rose ; for after a year had passed away, it still bloomed as fresh as on the night when he received it from her fair hand.
A flower from a lady’s hand, a nosegay, a ribbon, or a lock of hair, is certainly in all cases better than an empty nut ; yet all these pretty things are but ambiguous pledges of love, if they have not borrowed meaning from some more trustworthy revelation.
Wladomir had nothing for it but to play in silence the part of a sighing shepherd, and to watch what Time and Chance might in the long-run do to help him. The unquiet Mizisla pursued his courtship with far more vivacity : he pressed forward on every occasion where he could obtain her notice, At the coronation, he had been the first that took the oath of fealty to the Princess ; he followed her inseparably, as the Moon does the Earth, to express by unbidden offices of zeal his devotion to her person ; and on public solemnities and processions, he flourished his sword before her, to keep its good services in her remembrance.
Yet Libussa seemed, like other people in the world, to have very speedily forgotten the promoters of her fortune ; for when an obelisk is once standing perpendicular, one heeds not the levers and implements which raised it ; so at least the claimants of her heart explained the Fraulein’s coldness. Meanwhile both of them were wrong in their opinion : the Fraulein was neither insensible nor ungrateful ; but her heart was no longer a free piece of property, which she could give or sell according to her pleasure. The decree of Love had already passed in favour of the trim Forester with the sure cross-bow.
The first impression, which the sight of him had made upon her heart, was still so strong, that no second could efface it. In a period of three years, the colours of imagination, in which that Divinity had painted the image of the graceful youth, had no whit abated in their brightness ; and love therefore continued altogether unimpaired. For the passion of the fair sex is of this nature, that if it can endure three moons, it will then last three times three years, or longer if required. In proof of this, see the instances occurring daily before our eyes.
When the heroes of Germany sailed over distant seas, to fight out the quarrel of a self-willed daughter of Britain with her motherland, they tore themselves from the arms of their dames with mutual oaths of truth and constancy; yet before the last Buoy of the Weser had got astern of them, the heroic navigators were for most part forgotten of their Chloes. The fickle among these maidens, out of grief to find their hearts unoccupied, hastily supplied the vacuum by the surrogate of new intrigues ; but the faithful and true, who had constancy enough to stand the Weser-proof, and had still refrained from infidelity when the conquerors of their hearts had got beyond the Black Buoy, these, it is said, preserved their vow unbroken till the return of the heroic host into their German native country ; and are still expecting from the hand of Love the recompense of their unwearied perseverance.
It is therefore less surprising that the fair Libussa, under these circumstances, could withstand the courting of the brilliant chivalry who struggled for her love, than that Penelope of Ithaca could let a whole cohort of wooers sigh for her in vain, when her heart had nothing in reserve but the gray-headed Ulysses.
Rank and birth, however, had established such a difference in the situations of the Fraulein and of her beloved youth, that any closer union than Platonic love, a shadowy business which can neither warm nor nourish, was not readily to be expected.
To be continued…