Wilhelm Hauff: “The Begger of the Pont Des Arts”

Excerpt, “Josephine, or, The Begger of the Pont Des Arts.”  Translated from the German of Wilhelm Hauff.  1844.



It contributed not a little to Josephine’s interest in the eyes of her friend, that she had selected as her favourite poet the very same author most esteemed by himself.  Indeed, in the perusal of Jean Paul’s admirable poems, she often had occasion for his aid in explaining one and another obscure figure; but her apprehension was very ready; her natural taste and her delicate sensibility, which so entirely prevailed in this poet, enabled her to arrive at much by inference, before its certainty was established to her by her friend.

“There is,” said she one day, “a world of thought in this Hesperus!  Every human feeling, whether in joy or in sorrow, in love or in aversion, is there dissected before us; he knows how to describe to us, while we inhale the sweet fragrance of the flower, its innermost properties, its delicate leaves, its admirably fine stamina, without destroying the flower and plucking off its leaves.

For it is, in my opinion, the great secret of this author, that he does not describe any of the deeper human feelings, but exhibits them by intimation; and that, too, not by slight intimation, but, as if by the delicate microscope of a comparison, he gives us a deep look into the human mind, where thoughts rise upon thoughts, and the eye, surprised and yet delighted, passes over the wonderful creation, and begins to weep.”

“You have, in these words, as it seems to me,” replied Froben, “actually described the true secret of this author.  To me, I freely confide, there is nothing so absolutely repulsive and disgusting as the manifest effort of an author to give his reader a minute and exact apprehension of what his hero or his heroine, or a third or fourth person, thought or felt in this or that case.

But our poet!  How splendid, how rich in his invention in this respect!  We live, we think, we weep involuntarily with Victor; and we are more deeply affected by Clotilda’s pale cheeks, her uncomplaining sorrow, than by a description of it that could be given; and in the warm, tender felicity of the lovers, we could wish to be a beam of that evening sun which played around their embrace in the arbour, or that nightingale whose voice of silvery note announced to them, the sacred festival of their bliss.”

“It is singular,” remarked Josephine, “that the thread of this romance, or what is otherwise called its skeleton, would not, in the hands of another author, be of the least interest to us, and perhaps might even appear quaint and tedious.  Conceive to yourself these ordinary things … But what life, what a world of interest comes from this tale, when invested with the flowery mantle of that writer!

What a spirited air, higher or purer than any that is earthly, comes to us from the respectful love of Victor and Clotilda towards their teacherl – what sorrow from the illusions of a cruel and treacherous life, when Victor and that lovely being mistake and do not find each other!  What gladness at last, when their minds, beneath the nightly star-lit heavens – amidst the pains of separation – disclose themselves to each other, and overflow with love!”

“Yes,” replied Froben, “our author is like a great musician.  He has taken an old, trite, long-heard theme; but while he retains the peculiar turn of the old song, he still carries out the thoughts in a manner that so agreeably surprises us, and exhibits such an aspect of novelty, that we forget the theme, and listen only to the variations into which he passes – in which he, like an angel, goes up and down the heavenly scale of tones, and shows us, in our delighted vision, the open glory of the world above; while, like Jacob, we really repose on a hard and cheerless bed.

For at one time he is tender like the flute and thrilling as the oboe; at another, full and touching as the bugle-horn in the distance; again he roars along, as with the most deep and overwhelming bass, majestic and sublime, and yet again he moves in gentle-breathing notes, like those of the Aeolian harp; or resolves into a pensive melancholy, like the tones of the harmonica.”

“How I thank him,” said Josephine, with a tender expression, “that he relieves, that he heals the wounds of our sorrows.  He might have let Clotilda perish in the pain of unrequited love…   Think of the heart’s keen distress – of its bitterness towards the decisions of Heaven – if we had thus seen these persons perish, without hope, without consolation!  But it would not, indeed have been possible; Victor could not have loved so long; for a man cannot love without a reciprocity of his affect?”

“Do you really believe that?” rejoined Froben, with a pensive smile.  “Oh, how little must you know us – how lightly must you think of us – to suppose we do not possess the firmness of mind to remain true in our affection throughout this short life, even without being loved in return!”

“I do not regard it as possible, in the case of woman,” replied the lovely fair one.   “Love without love in return is a great misfortune, and women are more adapted by nature to bear silent suffering during an earthly life than you are.  Men would throw off such an affliction, or, subjected to its continued glow, they would be consumed!”

“Not either – I still live, and yet I love,” said Froben, looking vacantly before him.

“You love!” exclaimed Josephine, and with such a peculiar tone that Froben was started by it, and suddenly looked up; she cast down her eyes as his look met hers; a deep red came over her face, and immediately passed into a deadly paleness.

“Yes,” said he, with the utmost difficulty, giving a jesting turn to his manner; “the case which you have supposed is my own, and still I love – more calmly perhaps, but not less cordially and really, than on the first day of my affection; I love almost even without hope, for the lady of my heart does not know of my affection, and yet, as you see, I have not died of grief.”

“And do you allow it to be known,” said she, in a confidential manner, but, as it seemed to Froben, with a tremulous voice.    “Do you allow it to be known who the fortunate one is?”

“Ah, you see, that is just my misfortune – I do not myself know who she is, nor where she resides, and yet I love her.  Surely you will take me to be a second Don Quixote, when I confess to you that I only once saw her, and that too but transiently.  I recollect only once I saw her, and that too but transiently.  I can only recollect some parts of her face, and yet I am roving about the world in pursuit of her, because I can enjoy no rest at home.”

“Strange!” remarked Josephine, looking at him in a thoughtful manner.  “Strange! It is true I can imagine such a case to be possible; but after all, dear Froben, you form a rare exception to the rule.  Do you know, then, whether you are loved?  Whether the lady is true to you?”

“I know nothing at all of this,” rejoined he earnestly, and with suppressed sadness.  “I know nothing at all, except alone that I should be happy if I could call that being mine; and I know but too well that probably I must forever relinquish the idea, and am destined never to see the consummation of my felicity!”

The more rarely Froben had expressed his feelings on this subject, the more oppressively at this moment did all the painful recollections of sorrowful hours crowd upon his mind, and overwhelm him with a grief too great for him to bear.

He instantly arose, and went from the arbour into the castle.  But Josephine’s eyes followed him, with a look full of infinite love; tear upon tear trickled from her eyelashes, and it was only when they fell like a fountain upon her fair hand, that they awoke Josephine from her dreams.  Ashamed, as if she had detected herself in a secret crime, she deeply blushed, and covered her eyes with her handkerchief.