Christoph von Schmid: “The Hero Without Fear and Without Reproach”

Excerpt, “German Ballads, Songs, etc., comprising translations from Schiller, Uhland, Burger, Goethe, Korner, Becker, Fouque, Chamisso, etc., etc.” London: Edward Lumley. 1900.

fanciful

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THE HERO WITHOUT FEAR AND WITHOUT REPROACH

All frowning o’er the valley green,

Girt by dark cliff and dusky wood,

Purpled in evening’s light serene.

An ancient mountain-castle stood.

See, how each lofty tower it rears.

All hoary with the pomp of years.

And clad in stately garments made

By the proud oak’s ancestral shade.

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In days of yore, there dwelt within

A meek and angel-hearted maid,

Untouched by care, unstained by sin.

The gentle lady Adelaide.

All shadowed by her golden hair,

With eyes so clear, so still, so fair,

She seemed, in loveliness and love,

A herald from the heavens above.

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Yet swiftly past that castle’s gate,

With trembling steps the wanderer hied,

The land around lay desolate

And tenantless on every side.

By thistles, thorns, and weeds alone

The earth’s forsaken ways were sown;

The castle’s silent walls, I trow.

Seemed grieving o’er the waste below.

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For deep within that vale of woes,

A hideous monster, night and day,

With hungry jaws that never close,

Did fiercely prowl to seek his prey;

Clad was his serpent-form, I ween,

In scaly vest of shining green,

A thousand teeth—O sight of awe!—

Were weapons in the dragon’s jaw.

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And once the sire of that fair dame

Had spurred his steed, and charged his spear,

(A warrior he of well-earned fame)

To battle with that beast of fear;

But spear, nor sword, nor lance avails

To pierce those adamantine scales;

And, by the monster torn and slain.

He died a gallant death, but vain.

.

In grief the sorrowing mother sank,

Upon the bed of sickness thrown,

She neither spake, nor ate, nor drank,

Nor heard her child’s consoling tone;

Beside her couch that maiden bright

Kept tearful watch by day and night,

Ready her own young life to give,

Her drooping mother’s to revive.

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With parched lips and piteous look,

The dying lady faintly cried:

“Oh, bring me water from the brook

That wells beneath our mountain side!”

Silent in fear her damsels stand,

No foot is stirred at her command;

For, ah, beside that wave they know

Keeps grisly watch their dragon-foe!

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The maid defied the natural dread,

Which made her frail limbs shake and quiver;

Praying God’s blessing on her head,

She sought that tiny mountain-river:

A thousand steps of deep descent

Adown the hill’s hard surface went,

Winding now right, now left, they led

Down to the streamlet’s narrow bed.

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The fountain’s silver waves spring up

Above a low rock’s hollow rim;

The maiden plunges deep her cup

Till the clear streams o’erflow its brim.

Alas! within a cavern near

His form the beast did slowly rear,

And through those dusky shades, the light

Of his grim eyes gleamed fiery bright.

.

Forth, forth the furious monster leapt—

She cannot hide, she dares not fly,

But still her steadfast faith she kept,

And, kneeling, raised her prayerful eye;

“O gracious God, have mercy now!!

My mother’s sorrow pity Thou!

Alas, if I be slain, Thou know’st,

Hope for her sinking life is lost!”

silhouetterider

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But hark! a sudden sound awoke

Afar, like stifled thunder pealing,

And, pierced as by a lightning-stroke,

She saw the mighty dragon reeling:

A steed’s swift tread that thunder-peal—

That flash a lance of gleaming steel,

Hurled by a knightly hand, she saw

That weapon cleave the dragon’s jaw.

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Hah! how the beast in rage and pain

Struggles and writhes, with failing strength.

And, low on that polluted plain,

Lies in his sable blood at length!

The graceful warrior, tall and slight,

Adorned with golden armour bright,

Now, from his courser leaping, paid

Fair reverence to the wondering maid.

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“God’s blessing on thy fearless brand!”

All trembling thus the damsel spake;

“Lo! from thy brave and generous hand

My life in thankfulness I take!”

“Nay, thank thy God!” he cried; “by Him

Mine arm hath slain this monster grim!

Thy timid prayer with gracious ear

He heard, and winged my conquering spear.”

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Beneath a pine-tree’s ancient shade

His faithful steed he fastens now,

And to the castle leads the maid

With tranquil and untroubled brow.

That freshening draught the mother takes,

Her eye in grateful light awakes,

The healing waters pour amain

Life, health, and power through every vein.

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“Ah, warrior,” thus, in tears, she said,

“But for thy stalwart arm of force,

I, hapless lady, now were dead,

And this fair child a mangled corse!

Oh, teach me, noble knight, the way

Thy generous valour to repay!

Happy were I,” she said, and smiled,

“If thou would’st wed my gentle child.”

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But wondrous pale the maiden grew—

Her eyes, so bright with hope before,

Did sadly gaze through gathering dew

Upon a star-gemmed ring she wore.

“To him who gave this ring,” she said;

Sobbing, “though he were cold and dead;

Till in the silent grave I lie,

Changeless I keep my constancy.”

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“O beauteous maiden, weep no more!”

At once the warrior gently cried,

“Thine Adelstan shall God restore

In health and safety to thy side!

The filial deed thy hand hath done

For thee this fitting meed hath won;

This very night thine eyes shall see

Him thou hast loved so steadfastly.”

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Even while he spake, there rose around

The martial trumpet’s thrilling strains,

And the castle-bridge, with clashing sound,

Fell sternly in its rattling chains;

Sir Adelstan, true knight, hath come

From Syrian shore to German home.

Oh, what a meeting-hour was here

To close such scenes of grief and fear!

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The knight, whose hand so bold and brave,

Rescued that maid, and saved that mother,

And more—whose noble spirit gave

The faithful damsel to another,

Soon to the spousal altar drew

Beside that pair so fond and true,

And then, with buoyant heart and gay,

Mounted his steed and rode away.

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Glad tidings of the dragon’s fall

From lip to lip did loudly sound,

They thank their God, those peasants all.

For many a circling mile around;

With tears of joy on every face

The fugitives return apace,

Until round that forsaken spot

Rises full many a cheerful cot.

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The hero won his well-earned place

Amid the saints, in death’s dread hour;

And still the peasant seeks his grace,

And, next to God, reveres his power!

In many a church his form is seen

With sword, and shield, and helmet sheen:

Ye know him by his steed of pride,

And by the dragon at his side.

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But more than all, that spirit high,

That knight without reproach or fear,

Was to the German chivalry

For ever and for ever dear;

Still was a father wont to say.

When in his arms his first-born lay,

“Slight tribute to our hero’s fame,

Lo, George shall be the infant’s name!”

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The Ballad of Prague (1757)

Excerpt, “The Book of German Songs from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century.” Translated and Edited by H. W. Dulcken. 1856.

Military songs by anonymous authors are common throughout the wars of Frederick the Great.

The_Battle_of_Prague_in_Bohemia,_6th_May,_1757

The Battle of Prague in Bohemia, 6th May, 1757

battle of prague

Frisch_The-Death-of-Field-Marshal-Schwerin-at-the-Battle-of-Prague2

Death of Field-Marshal Schwerin at the Battle of Prague

 

J. Ludwig Uhland: “Bout Rimes — III. The Night-wanderers”

J. Ludwig Uhland: “Bout Rimes — II. The Troubadour and the Critic”

J. Ludwig Uhland: “Bout Rimes — I. The Critic”

 

Georg Herwegh: “Sonnet”

Excerpt, “English Echoes of German Song.” Tr. by R. E. Wallis, J. D. Morell and F. D’Anvers. Ed. by N. D’Anvers. London: 1877.

Heinrich Heine: A Frenzy of Passion

.

That emotions shall rapidly follow,
like blows on blows, or shock on shock;
that love, hatred, jealousy, ambition, pride,
point d’honneur –
in fact, all the passionate feelings
which constantly rage unchained in real life …
shall burst forth in wilder rage.

No, it is simply impossible…
to form any idea of this…
frenzy of passion.
We see its deeds, we hear its words;
but these deeds and words astonish us,
and awaken in us,
perhaps,
a vague presentiment,
but certainly do not give us an exact knowledge
of the feelings which they express
or from which they spring.

He who would truly know
what burning is
must really put his hand
into the fire.

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.

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“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.”

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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.

goethe1775

Goethe, 1775-1776
By Georg Melchior Kraus

Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Faust 3

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 203-212. All illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.

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“She is not the first!”
The history of Margaret is oppressively painful to the heart. Her low condition, her confined intellect, all that renders her subject to misfortune, without giving her the power of resisting it, inspires us with the greater compassion for her. Goethe, in his novels and in his plays, has scarcely ever bestowed any superior excellence upon his female personages, but he describes with wonderful exactness that character of weakness which renders protection so necessary to them.
Margaret is about to receive Faustus in her house without her mother’s knowledge, and gives this poor woman, by the advice of Mephistopheles, a sleeping draught which she is unable to support, and which causes her death. The guilty Margaret becomes pregnant, her shame is made public, all her neighbours point the finger at her. Disgrace seems to have greater hold upon persons of an elevated rank, and yet it is perhaps more formidable among the lower class. Everything is so plain, so positive, so irreparable, among men who never upon any occasion made use of shades of expression.
Goethe admirably catches those manners. At once so near and so distant from us, he possesses in a supreme degree the art of being perfectly natural in a thousand different natures.
Valentine, a soldier, the brother of Margaret, returns from the wars to visit her, and when he learns her shame, the suffering which he feels, and for which he blushes, betrays itself in language at once harsh and pathetic. A man severe in appearance, yet inwardly endowed with sensibility, causes an unexpected and poignant emotion.

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Goethe has painted with admirable truth the courage which a soldier is capable of exerting against moral pain, that new enemy which he perceives within himself, and which he cannot combat with his usual weapons. At last, the necessity of revenge takes possession of him, and brings into action all the feelings by which he was inwardly devoured. He meets Mephistopheles and Faustus at the moment when they are going to give a serenade under his sister’s window. Valentine provokes Faustus, fights with him, and receives a mortal wound. His adversaries fly to avoid the fury of the populace.
Margaret arrives, and asks who lies bleeding upon the earth. The people answer the son of thy mother. And her brother dying addresses to her reproaches more terrible, and more harrowing, than most polished language could ever make use of. The dignity of tragedy could never permit us to dig so deeply into the human heart for the characters of nature.
Mephistopheles obliges Faustus to leave the town, and the despair excited in him by the fate of Margaret creates a new interest in his favor.
“Alas!” he exclaims, “she might so easily have been made happy! a simple cabin in an alpine valley, a few domestic employments, would have been enough to satisfy her limited wishes, and fill up her gentle existence; but I, the enemy of God, could not rest till I had broken her heart, and triumphed in the ruin of her humble destiny. Through me, will peace be for ever ravished from her. She must become the victim of hell. Well! Demon, cut short my anguish, let what must come, come quickly! Be the fate of unhappy creature fulfilled, and cast me headlong, together with her, into the abyss.”
The bitterness and sang-froid of the answer of Mephistopheles are truly diabolical.
“How you enflame yourself,” he says to him, “how you boil!
I know not how to console thee,
and upon my honour
I would now give myself to the Devil if I were not the Devil myself;
but thinkest thou, then, madman,
that because thy weak brain can find no issue,
there is none in reality?
Long live he who knows how to support all things with courage!
I have rendered thee not much unlike myself,
and reflect, I beseech thee,
that there is nothing in the world more disgusting,
than a devil who despairs!”
Margaret goes alone to the church, the only asylum that remains to her: An immense crowd fills the aisles, and the burial service is being performed in this solemn place. Margaret is covered with a veil; she prays fervently; and when she begins to flatter herself with hopes of divine mercy, the evil spirit speaks to her in a low voice, saying,

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“Dost thou remember, Margaret, the time when thou came hither to prostrate thyself before the altar? Then wert thou full of innocence, and while thy timid voice lisped the psalms, God reigned in thy heart. Margaret, what hast thou since done? What crimes hast thou committed? Dost thou come to pray for the soul of thy mother, whose death hangs so heavily upon thy head! Dost thou see what blood is that which defiles thy threshold? It is thy brother’s blood. And dost thou not feel stirring in thy womb an unfortunate creature that already forewarns thee of new sufferings?”
Margaret: “Woe! Woe! How can I escape from the thoughts that spring up in my soul and rise in rebellion against me?”
The Choir: (chanting in the church)
Dies irae, dies illa, Solvet saeclum in favilla.
*(The day of wrath will come, and the universe will be reduced to ashes.)
The Evil Spirit: “The anger of Heaven threatens thee, Margaret! The trumpets of the resurrection are sounded; the tombs are shaken, and thy heart is about to awake to eternal flames.”
Margaret: “Ah, that I could fly hence! the sounds of that organ prevent me from breathing, and the chants of the priests penetrate my soul with an emotion that rends it.”
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet apparebit;
Nil inultum remanebit.
*(When the supreme judge appears, he will discover all that is hidden, and nothing shall remain unpunished.)
Margaret: “It seems as if the walls were closing together to stifle me. Air! Air!”
The Evil Spirit: “Hide thyself! Guilt and shame pursue thee. Thou callest for air and for light; miserable wretch! what hast thou to hope from them?”
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus?
Cum vix justus sit securus?*
*(Miserable wretch! What then shall I say? to what protector shall I address myself, when even the just can scarcely believe themselves saved?)
The Evil Spirit: “The saints turn away their faces from thy presence; they would blush to stretch forth their pure hands toward thee.”
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Margaret, at this discourse, utters a shriek and faints away.
What a scene! this unfortunate creature who, in the asylum of consolation finds despair; this assembled multiple praying to God with confidence, while the unhappy woman, in the very temple of the Lord, meets the spirit of hell. The severe expressions of the sacred hymn are interpreted by the inflexible malice of the evil genius. What distraction in the heart! what ills accumulated on one poor feeble head! And what a talent his, who knew how to represent to the imagination those moments in which life is lighted up with us like a funeral fire, and throws over our fleeting days the terrible reflection of an eternity of torments!

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Mephistopheles conceives the idea of transporting Faustus to the Sabbath of Witches in order to dissipate his melancholy, and this leads us to a scene of which it is impossible to give the idea, though it contains many thoughts which we shall endeavour to recollect: this festival of the Sabbath represents truly the saturnalia of genius. The progress of the piece is suspended by its introduction, and the stronger the situation, the greater we find the difficulty of submitting even to the inventions of genius when they so effectively disturb the interest.
Amidst the whirlwind of all that can be thought or said, when images and ideas rush headlong, confound themselves, and seem to fall back into the abysses from which reason has called them, there comes a scene which reunited us to the circumstances of the performance in a terrible manner. The conjurations of magic cause several different pictures to appear, and all at once Faustus approaches Mephistopheles and says to him:
“Dost thou not see, there below,
a young girl,
pale, though beautiful,
who stands alone in the distance?
She advances slowly,
her feet seem to be knit togehter;
do you not perceive her resemblance to Margaret?”
Mephistopheles: “It is an effect of magic, only illusion. It is not good to dwell upon the sight. Those fixed eyes freeze the blood of men. It was thus that Medusa’s head, of old, turned all who gazed upon it to stone.”
Faustus: “It is true that the eyes of that image are open, like those of a corpse which have not been closed by a friendly hand. There is the bosom on which I rested my head; there are the charms which my heart called its own.”
Mephistopheles: “Madman! all this is but witchcraft; every one thinks he beholds the beloved of his soul in this phantom.”
Faustus: “What madness! What torment! I cannot fly from that look: But what means that red collar that encircles her beautiful neck, no broader than the edge of a knife?”
Mephistopheles: “Tis true; but what would you do? Do not lose thyself thus in thought; ascend this mountain; they are preparing a feast for you on the summit. Come!”
To be continued…

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Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Faust 2

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 192-203. Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.

This momentary enthusiasm does not continue: Faustus is an inconstant character, the passions of the world recover their hold upon him. He seeks to satisfy them, he wishes to abandon himself to them; and the devil, under the name of Mephistopheles, comes and promises to put him in possession of all the pleasures of the earth, being at the same time able to render him disgusted with them all; for real wickedness so entirely dries up the soul, that it ends by inspiring a profound indifference for pleasures as well as for virtues.
Mephistopheles conducts Faustus to a witch, who keeps under her orders a number of animals, half monkeys and half cats. (Meerkatzen.) This scene may, in some respects, be considered as a parody of that of the witches in Macbeth. The witches in Macbeth sing mysterious words, of which the extraordinary sounds produce at once the effect of magic; Goethe’s witches also pronounce strange syllables, of which the rhythms are curiously multiplied; these syllables excite the imagination to gaiety, by the very singularity of their construction, and the dialogue of this scene, which would be merely burlesque in prose, receives a more elevated character from the charm of poetry.
In listening to the comical language of these cat-monkeys, we think we discover what would be the ideas of animals if they were able to express them, what a coarse and ridiculous image they would represent to themselves, of nature, and of mankind.
The French stage has scarcely any specimens of these pleasantries founded on the marvelous, on prodigies, witchcrafts, transformations, &c: this is to make sport with nature, as in comedies we make sport with men. But, to derive pleasure from this sort of comedy, reason must be set aside, and the pleasures of the imagination must be considered as a licensed game, without any object. Yet is this game not the more easy on that account, for restrictions are often supports; and when, in the career of literature, men give scope to boundless invention, nothing but the excess, the very extravagance, of genius, can confer any merit on these productions; the union of wildness with mediocrity would be intolerable.delacroix_faust_8
Mephistopheles conducts Faustus into the company of young persons of all classes, and subdues, by different means, the different minds with which he engages. He effects his conquests over them, not by admiration, but by astonishment. He always captivates by something, unexpected and contemptuous in his words and actions; for vulgar spirits, for the most part, take so much the more account of a superior intellect, as that intellect appears to be indifferent about them. A secret instinct tells them that he who despises them sees justly.
A Leipsic student, who has just left his mother’s house, as simple as one can be at that age in the good country of Germany, comes to consult Faustus about his studies; Faustus begs Mephistopheles to take on himself the charge of answering him. He puts on a doctor’s gown, and while waiting for the scholar, expressed, in a soliloquy, his contempt for Faustus. “This man,” says he, “will never be more than half wicked, and it is in vain that he flatters himself with the hope of becoming completely so.”
It is so in fact; whenever people naturally well principled turn aside from the plain road, they find themselves shackled by a sort of awkwardness that proceeds from uncontrollable remorse, while men who are radically bad make a mock of those candidates, for vice who, with the best intention to do evil, are without talent to accomplish it.
At last the scholar presents himself, and nothing can be more naive than the awkward and yet presumptuous eagerness of this young German, on his entrance for the first time in his life into a great city, disposed of all things, knowing nothing, afraid of every thing he sees, yet impatient to possess it, desirous of information, eagerly wishing for amusement, and advancing with an artless smile towards Mephistopheles, who receives him with a cold and contemptuous air; the contrast between the unaffected good humour of the one, and the disdainful insolence of the other, is admirably lively.
There is not a single branch of knowledge but the scholar desires to become acquainted with it; and what he desires to learn, he says, is science and nature. Mephistopheles congratulates him on the precision with which he has marked out his plan of study. He amuses himself by describing the four faculties, law, medicine, philosophy, and theology, in such a manner, as to confound the poor scholar’s head for ever. Mephistopheles makes a thousand different arguments for him, all which the scholar approves one after the other, but the conclusion of which astonishes him, because he looks for serious discourse while the devil is only laughing at every subject.
The scholar comes prepared for general admiration, and the result of all he hears is only universal contempt. Mephistopheles agrees with him that doubt proceeds from hell, and that the devils are those who deny; but he expresses doubt itself with a tone of decision, which, mixing arrogance of character with uncertainty of reasoning, leaves no consistency in any thing, but evil inclinations. No belief, no opinion, remains fixed in the head after having listened to Mephistopheles; and we feel disposed to examine ourselves in order to know whether there is any truth in the world, or whether we think only to make a mock of those who fancy that they think.
“Must not every word have an idea annexed to it?” says the scholar. “Yes, if it can,” replies Mephistopheles,” but we need not trouble ourselves too much about that, for where ideas are wanting, words come on purpose to supply the place of them.”
Sometimes the scholar cannot comprehend Mephistopheles, but he has only so much the more respect for his genius. Before he takes leave of him, he begs him to inscribe a few lines in his album, the book in which, according to the German way, every one makes his friends furnish him with a mark of their remembrances. Mephistopheles writes the words that Satan spoke to Eve, to induce her to eat the fruit of the tree of life. “Thou shalt be as God, knowing good and evil.”
“I may well,” says he to himself, “borrow this ancient sentence of my cousin the serpent, they have long made use of it in my family.” The scholar takes back his book, and goes away perfectly satisfied.

Faustus grows tired, and Mephistopheles advises him to fall in love. He becomes actually so with a young girl of the lower class, extremely innocent and simple, who lives in poverty with her aged mother. Mephistopheles, for the purpose of introducing Faustus to her, takes it into his head to form an acquaintance with one of her neighbors, named Martha, whom the young Margaret sometimes goes to visit. This woman’s husband is abroad, and she is distracted at receiving no news of him; she would be greatly afflicted at his death, yet at least she would wish not to be left in doubt of it; and Mephistopheles greatly softens her grief, by promising her an obituary account of her husband, in regular form, for her to publish in the gazette according to custom.
Poor Margaret is delivered up to the power of evil; the infernal spirit lets loose all his malaice upon her; and renders her culpable, without depriving her of that rectitude of heart which can find repose only in virtue. A dexterous villain takes care not wholly to pervert those honest people whom he designs to govern; for his ascendancy over them depends upon the alternate agitations of crime and remorse. Faustus, by the assistance of Mephistopheles, seduces this young girl, who is remarkably simple both in mind and soul. She is pious, though culpable; and when alone with Faustus, asks him whether he has any religion. “My child,” says he, “you know I love you. I would give my blood, and my life for you; I would disturb the faith of no one. Is not this all that you can desire?”
Margaret: “No, it is necessary to believe.”
Faustus: “Is it necessary?”
Margaret: “Ah! that I had any influence over you! you do not sufficiently reverence the holy sacraments.”
Faustus: “I do reverence them.”
Margaret: “But without ever drawing near them, it is long since you have confessed yourself, long since you have been at mass: do you believe in God?”
Faustus: “My dear friend, who dares to say, I believe in God? If you propose this question to priests and sages, they will answer as if they intended to mock him who questions them.”
Margaret: “So, then, you believe nothing.”
Faustus: “Do not construe my words so ill, charming creature! Who can name the Deity and say, I comprehend him? Who can feel, and not believe in him? Does not that which supports the universe embrace thee, me, and universal nature? Does not Heaven descend to form a canopy over our heads? Is not the earth immovable under our feet? Do not the eternal stars, from their spheres on high, look down upon us with love? Are not thine eyes reflected in mine, melting with tenderness? Does not an eternal mystery, visible and invisible, attract my heart to thine? Let they soul be filled with this mystery, and when you experience the supreme happiness of feeling, call that happiness thy heart, love, God; it is all the same. Feeling is all in all, names are but an empty sound, a vain smoke, that darkens the splendour of Heaven.”
This morsel of inspired eloquence would not suit the character o f Faustus, if at this moment he were not better, because he loves; and if the intention of the author had not doubtless been to shew the necessity of a firm and positive belief, since even those whom Nature has created good and kind, are not the less capable of the most fatal aberrations when this support is wanting to them.
Faustus grows tired of the love of Margaret, as of all the enjoyments of life; nothing is finer, in the original, than the verse in which he expresses at once the enthusiasm of science and the satiety of happiness.
Faustus: “Sublime spirit! Thou hast granted me all that I have asked of thee. It is not in vain that thou hast turned towards me thy countenance encircled with flames; thou has given me magical nature for my empire; thou hast given me strength to feel and enjoy it. Thou hast given me not coldly to admire, but inwardly to be acquainted with; thou hast given me to penetrate into the bosom of the universe as into that of a friend; thou hast brought before me the varied assembly of living things, and hast taught me to know my breathen in the inhabitants of the woods, the air, and the waters.
When the tempest howls in the forest, when it uproots and subverts the gigantic pines, and makes the mountain re-echo to their fall, thou guidest me into a safe asylum, and thou revealest to me the secret wonders of my own heart. When the calm moon silently ascends the sky, the silvered shades of ancient times glide before my eyes over the rocks and in the woods, and seem to soften for me the severe pleasure of meditation.
But, alas! I feel it, man can attain perfection in nothing; by the side of those delights which bring me near to the gods, I am doomed to support that cold, that indifferent, that haughty companion, who humbles me in my own eyes, and by a word reduces to nothing, all the gifts that thou has bestowed upon me. He kindles in my bosom an untameable fire that urges me to the pursuit of beauty; I pass, in delirium, from desire to enjoyment; but in the very bosom of happiness a vague sensation of satiety causes me to regret the restlessness of desire.”
To be continued…

Scenes from Faust by Moritz Retzsch