Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Imaginary Portraits by Walter Horatio Pater

Part 2 out of 2

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

country itself shared the uncertainty of the individual human life;
and there was pathos also in the constantly renewed, heavily-taxed
labour, necessary to keep the native soil, fought for so unselfishly,
there at all, with a warfare that must still be maintained when that
other struggle with the Spaniard was over. But though Sebastian
liked to breathe, so nearly, the sea and its influences, those were
considerations he scarcely entertained. In his passion for
Schwindsucht--we haven't the word--he found it pleasant to think of
the resistless element which left, one hardly a foot-space amidst the
yielding sand; of the old beds of lost rivers, surviving now only as
deeper channels in the sea; of the remains of a certain ancient town,
which within men's memory had lost its few remaining inhabitants,
and, with its already empty tombs, dissolved and disappeared in the

It happened, on occasion of an exceptionally low tide, that some
remarkable relics were exposed to view on the coast of the island of
Vleeland. A countryman's waggon overtaken [94] by the tide, as he
returned with merchandise from the shore! you might have supposed,
but for a touch of grace in the construction of the thing--lightly
wrought timber-work, united and adorned by a multitude of brass
fastenings, like the work of children for their simplicity, while the
rude, stiff chair, or throne, set upon it, seemed to distinguish it
as a chariot of state.

To some antiquarians it told the story of the overwhelming of one of
the chiefs of the old primeval people of Holland, amid all his gala
array, in a great storm. But it was another view which Sebastian
preferred; that this object was sepulchral, namely, in its motive--
the one surviving relic of a grand burial, in the ancient manner, of
a king or hero, whose very tomb was wasted away.--Sunt metis metae!
There came with it the odd fancy that he himself would like to have
been dead and gone as long ago, with a kind of envy of those whose
deceasing was so long since over.

On more peaceful days he would ponder Pliny's account of those
primeval forefathers, but without Pliny's contempt for them. A
cloyed Roman might despise their humble existence, fixed by necessity
from age to age, and with no desire of change, as "the ocean poured
in its flood twice a day, making it uncertain whether the country was
a part of the continent or of the sea." But for his part Sebastian
found something of poetry in all that, [95] as he conceived what
thoughts the old Hollander might have had at his fishing, with nets
themselves woven of seaweed, waiting carefully for his drink on the
heavy rains, and taking refuge, as the flood rose, on the sand-hills,
in a little hut constructed but airily on tall stakes, conformable to
the elevation of the highest tides, like a navigator, thought the
learned writer, when the sea was risen, like a ship-wrecked mariner
when it was retired. For the fancy of Sebastian he lived with great
breadths of calm light above and around him, influenced by, and, in a
sense, living upon them, and surely might well complain, though to
Pliny's so infinite surprise, on being made a Roman citizen.

And certainly Sebastian van Storck did not felicitate his people on
the luck which, in the words of another old writer, "hath disposed
them to so thriving a genius." Their restless ingenuity in making
and maintaining dry land where nature had willed the sea, was even
more like the industry of animals than had been that life of their
forefathers. Away with that tetchy, feverish, unworthy agitation!
with this and that, all too importunate, motive of interest! And
then, "My son!" said his father, "be stimulated to action!" he, too,
thinking of that heroic industry which had triumphed over nature
precisely where the contest had been most difficult.

[96] Yet, in truth, Sebastian was forcibly taken by the simplicity of
a great affection, as set forth in an incident of real life of which
he heard just then. The eminent Grotius being condemned to perpetual
imprisonment, his wife determined to share his fate, alleviated only
by the reading of books sent by friends. The books, finished, were
returned in a great chest. In this chest the wife enclosed the
husband, and was able to reply to the objections of the soldiers who
carried it complaining of its weight, with a self-control, which she
maintained till the captive was in safety, herself remaining to face
the consequences; and there was a kind of absoluteness of affection
in that, which attracted Sebastian for a while to ponder on the
practical forces which shape men's lives. Had he turned, indeed, to
a practical career it would have been less in the direction of the
military or political life than of another form of enterprise popular
with his countrymen. In the eager, gallant life of that age, if the
sword fell for a moment into its sheath, they were for starting off
on perilous voyages to the regions of frost and snow in search after
that "North-Western passage," for the discovery of which the States-
General had offered large rewards. Sebastian, in effect, found a
charm in the thought of that still, drowsy, spellbound world of
perpetual ice, as in art and life he could always tolerate the sea.
Admiral-general of Holland, [97] as painted by Van der Helst, with a
marine background by Backhuizen:--at moments his father could fancy
him so.

There was still another very different sort of character to which
Sebastian would let his thoughts stray, without check, for a time.
His mother, whom he much resembled outwardly, a Catholic from
Brabant, had had saints in her family, and from time to time the mind
of Sebastian had been occupied on the subject of monastic life, its
quiet, its negation. The portrait of a certain Carthusian prior,
which, like the famous statue of Saint Bruno, the first Carthusian,
in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Rome, could it have
spoken, would have said,--"Silence!" kept strange company with the
painted visages of men of affairs. A great theological strife was
then raging in Holland. Grave ministers of religion assembled
sometimes, as in the painted scene by Rembrandt, in the Burgomaster's
house, and once, not however in their company, came a renowned young
Jewish divine, Baruch de Spinosa, with whom, most unexpectedly,
Sebastian found himself in sympathy, meeting the young Jew's far-
reaching thoughts half-way, to the confirmation of his own; and he
did not know that his visitor, very ready with the pencil, had taken
his likeness as they talked on the fly-leaf of his note-book. Alive
to that theological disturbance in the air all around him, he refused
to be [98] moved by it, as essentially a strife on small matters,
anticipating a vagrant regret which may have visited many other minds
since, the regret, namely, that the old, pensive, use-and-wont
Catholicism, which had accompanied the nation's earlier struggle for
existence, and consoled it therein, had been taken from it. And for
himself, indeed, what impressed him in that old Catholicism was a
kind of lull in it--a lulling power--like that of the monotonous
organ-music, which Holland, Catholic or not, still so greatly loves.
But what he could not away with in the Catholic religion was its
unfailing drift towards the concrete--the positive imageries of a
faith, so richly beset with persons, things, historical incidents.

Rigidly logical in the method of his inferences, he attained the
poetic quality only by the audacity with which he conceived the whole
sublime extension of his premises. The contrast was a strange one
between the careful, the almost petty fineness of his personal
surrounding--all the elegant conventionalities of life, in that
rising Dutch family--and the mortal coldness of a temperament, the
intellectual tendencies of which seemed to necessitate
straightforward flight from all that was positive. He seemed, if one
may say so, in love with death; preferring winter to summer; finding
only a tranquillising influence in the thought of the earth beneath
our feet cooling down for ever [99] from its old cosmic heat;
watching pleasurably how their colours fled out of things, and the
long sand-bank in the sea, which had been the rampart of a town, was
washed down in its turn. One of his acquaintance, a penurious young
poet, who, having nothing in his pockets but the imaginative or
otherwise barely potential gold of manuscript verses, would have
grasped so eagerly, had they lain within his reach, at the elegant
outsides of life, thought the fortunate Sebastian, possessed of every
possible opportunity of that kind, yet bent only on dispensing with
it, certainly a most puzzling and comfortless creature. A few only,
half discerning what was in his mind, would fain have shared his
intellectual clearness, and found a kind of beauty in this youthful
enthusiasm for an abstract theorem. Extremes meeting, his cold and
dispassionate detachment from all that is most attractive to ordinary
minds came to have the impressiveness of a great passion. And for
the most part, people had loved him; feeling instinctively that
somewhere there must be the justification of his difference from
themselves. It was like being in love: or it was an intellectual
malady, such as pleaded for forbearance, like bodily sickness, and
gave at times a resigned and touching sweetness to what he did and
said. Only once, at a moment of the wild popular excitement which at
that period was easy to provoke in Holland, there was a certain [100]
group of persons who would have shut him up as no well-wisher to, and
perhaps a plotter against, the common-weal. A single traitor might
cut the dykes in an hour, in the interest of the English or the
French. Or, had he already committed some treasonable act, who was
so anxious to expose no writing of his that he left his very letters
unsigned, and there were little stratagems to get specimens of his
fair manuscript? For with all his breadth of mystic intention, he
was persistent, as the hours crept on, to leave all the inevitable
details of life at least in order, in equation. And all his
singularities appeared to be summed up in his refusal to take his
place in the life-sized family group (très distingué et très soigné,
remarks a modern critic of the work) painted about this time. His
mother expostulated with him on the matter:--she must needs feel, a
little icily, the emptiness of hope, and something more than the due
measure of cold in things for a woman of her age, in the presence of
a son who desired but to fade out of the world like a breath--and she
suggested filial duty. "Good mother," he answered, "there are duties
toward the intellect also, which women can but rarely understand."

The artists and their wives were come to supper again, with the
Burgomaster van Storck. Mademoiselle van Westrheene was also come,
with her sister and mother. The girl was by [101] this time fallen
in love with Sebastian; and she was one of the few who, in spite of
his terrible coldness, really loved him for himself. But though of
good birth she was poor, while Sebastian could not but perceive that
he had many suitors of his wealth. In truth, Madame van Westrheene,
her mother, did wish to marry this daughter into the great world, and
plied many arts to that end, such as "daughterful" mothers use. Her
healthy freshness of mien and mind, her ruddy beauty, some showy
presents that had passed, were of a piece with the ruddy colouring of
the very house these people lived in; and for a moment the cheerful
warmth that may be felt in life seemed to come very close to him,--to
come forth, and enfold him. Meantime the girl herself taking note of
this, that on a former occasion of their meeting he had seemed likely
to respond to her inclination, and that his father would readily
consent to such a marriage, surprised him on the sudden with those
coquetries and importunities, all those little arts of love, which
often succeed with men. Only, to Sebastian they seemed opposed to
that absolute nature we suppose in love. And while, in the eyes of
all around him to-night, this courtship seemed to promise him, thus
early in life, a kind of quiet happiness, he was coming to an
estimate of the situation, with strict regard to that ideal of a
calm, intellectual indifference, of which he was [102] the sworn
chevalier. Set in the cold, hard light of that ideal, this girl,
with the pronounced personal views of her mother, and in the very
effectiveness of arts prompted by a real affection, bringing the warm
life they prefigured so close to him, seemed vulgar! And still he
felt himself bound in honour; or judged from their manner that she
and those about them thought him thus bound. He did not reflect on
the inconsistency of the feeling of honour (living, as it does
essentially, upon the concrete and minute detail of social
relationship) for one who, on principle, set so slight a value on
anything whatever that is merely relative in its character.

The guests, lively and late, were almost pledging the betrothed in
the rich wine. Only Sebastian's mother knew; and at that advanced
hour, while the company were thus intently occupied, drew away the
Burgomaster to confide to him the misgiving she felt, grown to a
great height just then. The young man had slipped from the assembly;
but certainly not with Mademoiselle van Westrheene, who was suddenly
withdrawn also. And she never appeared again in the world. Already,
next day, with the rumour that Sebastian had left his home, it was
known that the expected marriage would not take place. The girl,
indeed, alleged something in the way of a cause on her part; but
seemed to fade away continually afterwards, and in the eyes of all
who saw her was like one [103] perishing of wounded pride. But to
make a clean breast of her poor girlish worldliness, before she
became a béguine, she confessed to her mother the receipt of the
letter--the cruel letter that had killed her. And in effect, the
first copy of this letter, written with a very deliberate fineness,
rejecting her--accusing her, so natural, and simply loyal! of a
vulgar coarseness of character--was found, oddly tacked on, as their
last word, to the studious record of the abstract thoughts which had
been the real business of Sebastian's life, in the room whither his
mother went to seek him next day, littered with the fragments of the
one portrait of him in existence.

The neat and elaborate manuscript volume, of which this letter formed
the final page (odd transition! by which a train of thought so
abstract drew its conclusion in the sphere of action) afforded at
length to the few who were interested in him a much-coveted insight
into the curiosity of his existence; and I pause just here to
indicate in outline the kind of reasoning through which, making the
"Infinite" his beginning and his end, Sebastian had come to think all
definite forms of being, the warm pressure of life, the cry of nature
itself, no more than a troublesome irritation of the surface of the
one absolute mind, a passing vexatious thought or uneasy dream there,
at its height of petulant importunity in the eager, human creature.

[104] The volume was, indeed, a kind of treatise to be:--a hard,
systematic, well-concatenated train of thought, still implicated in
the circumstances of a journal. Freed from the accidents of that
particular literary form with its unavoidable details of place and
occasion, the theoretic strain would have been found mathematically
continuous. The already so weary Sebastian might perhaps never have
taken in hand, or succeeded in, this detachment of his thoughts;
every one of which, beginning with himself, as the peculiar and
intimate apprehension of this or that particular day and hour, seemed
still to protest against such disturbance, as if reluctant to part
from those accidental associations of the personal history which had
prompted it, and so become a purely intellectual abstraction.

The series began with Sebastian's boyish enthusiasm for a strange,
fine saying of Doctor Baruch de Spinosa, concerning the Divine Love:-
-That whoso loveth God truly must not expect to be loved by him in
return. In mere reaction against an actual surrounding of which
every circumstance tended to make him a finished egotist, that bold
assertion defined for him the ideal of an intellectual
disinterestedness, of a domain of unimpassioned mind, with the desire
to put one's subjective side out of the way, and let pure reason

And what pure reason affirmed in the first place, as the "beginning
of wisdom," was that [105] the world is but a thought, or a series of
thoughts: that it exists, therefore, solely in mind. It showed him,
as he fixed the mental eye with more and more of self-absorption on
the phenomena of his intellectual existence, a picture or vision of
the universe as actually the product, so far as he really knew it, of
his own lonely thinking power--of himself, there, thinking: as being
zero without him: and as possessing a perfectly homogeneous unity in
that fact. "Things that have nothing in common with each other,"
said the axiomatic reason, "cannot be understood or explained by
means of each other." But to pure reason things discovered
themselves as being, in their essence, thoughts:--all things, even
the most opposite things, mere transmutations of a single power, the
power of thought. All was but conscious mind. Therefore, all the
more exclusively, he must minister to mind, to the intellectual
power, submitting himself to the sole direction of that,
whithersoever it might lead him. Everything must be referred to,
and, as it were, changed into the terms of that, if its essential
value was to be ascertained. "Joy," he said, anticipating Spinosa--
that, for the attainment of which men are ready to surrender all
beside--"is but the name of a passion in which the mind passes to a
greater perfection or power of thinking; as grief is the name of the
passion in which it passes to a less."

[106] Looking backward for the generative source of that creative
power of thought in him, from his own mysterious intellectual being
to its first cause, he still reflected, as one can but do, the
enlarged pattern of himself into the vague region of hypothesis. In
this way, some, at all events, would have explained his mental
process. To him that process was nothing less than the apprehension,
the revelation, of the greatest and most real of ideas--the true
substance of all things. He, too, with his vividly-coloured
existence, with this picturesque and sensuous world of Dutch art and
Dutch reality all around that would fain have made him the prisoner
of its colours, its genial warmth, its struggle for life, its selfish
and crafty love, was but a transient perturbation of the one absolute
mind; of which, indeed, all finite things whatever, time itself, the
most durable achievements of nature and man, and all that seems most
like independent energy, are no more than petty accidents or
affections. Theorem and corollary! Thus they stood:

"There can be only one substance: (corollary) it is the greatest of
errors to think that the non-existent, the world of finite things
seen and felt, really is: (theorem): for, whatever is, is but in
that: (practical corollary): one's wisdom, therefore, consists in
hastening, so far as may be, the action of those forces which tend to
the restoration of equilibrium, the calm surface of the absolute,
untroubled mind, to tabula rasa, by [107] the extinction in one's
self of all that is but correlative to the finite illusion--by the
suppression of ourselves."

In the loneliness which was gathering round him, and, oddly enough,
as a somewhat surprising thing, he wondered whether there were, or
had been, others possessed of like thoughts, ready to welcome any
such as his veritable compatriots. And in fact he became aware just
then, in readings difficult indeed, but which from their all-
absorbing interest seemed almost like an illicit pleasure, a sense of
kinship with certain older minds. The study of many an earlier
adventurous theorist satisfied his curiosity as the record of daring
physical adventure, for instance, might satisfy the curiosity of the
healthy. It was a tradition--a constant tradition--that daring
thought of his; an echo, or haunting recurrent voice of the human
soul itself, and as such sealed with natural truth, which certain
minds would not fail to heed; discerning also, if they were really
loyal to themselves, its practical conclusion.--The one alone is: and
all things beside are but its passing affections, which have no
necessary or proper right to be.

As but such "accidents" or "affections," indeed, there might have
been found, within the circumference of that one infinite creative
thinker, some scope for the joy and love of the creature. There have
been dispositions in which that abstract theorem has only induced a
renewed [108] value for the finite interests around and within us.
Centre of heat and light, truly nothing has seemed to lie beyond the
touch of its perpetual summer. It has allied itself to the poetical
or artistic sympathy, which feels challenged to acquaint itself with
and explore the various forms of finite existence all the more
intimately, just because of that sense of one lively spirit
circulating through all things--a tiny particle of the one soul, in
the sunbeam, or the leaf. Sebastian van Storck, on the contrary, was
determined, perhaps by some inherited satiety or fatigue in his
nature, to the opposite issue of the practical dilemma. For him,
that one abstract being was as the pallid Arctic sun, disclosing
itself over the dead level of a glacial, a barren and absolutely
lonely sea. The lively purpose of life had been frozen out of it.
What he must admire, and love if he could, was "equilibrium," the
void, the tabula rasa, into which, through all those apparent
energies of man and nature, that in truth are but forces of
disintegration, the world was really settling. And, himself a mere
circumstance in a fatalistic series, to which the clay of the potter
was no sufficient parallel, he could not expect to be "loved in
return." At first, indeed, he had a kind of delight in his thoughts-
-in the eager pressure forward, to whatsoever conclusion, of a rigid
intellectual gymnastic, which was like the making of Euclid. Only,
little by little, under [109] the freezing influence of such
propositions, the theoretic energy itself, and with it his old
eagerness for truth, the care to track it from proposition to
proposition, was chilled out of him. In fact, the conclusion was
there already, and might have been foreseen, in the premises. By a
singular perversity, it seemed to him that every one of those passing
"affections"--he too, alas! at times--was for ever trying to be, to
assert itself, to maintain its isolated and petty self, by a kind of
practical lie in things; although through every incident of its
hypothetic existence it had protested that its proper function was to
die. Surely! those transient affections marred the freedom, the
truth, the beatific calm, of the absolute selfishness, which could
not, if it would, pass beyond the circumference of itself; to which,
at times, with a fantastic sense of wellbeing, he was capable of a
sort of fanatical devotion. And those, as he conceived, were his
moments of genuine theoretic insight, in which, under the abstract
"perpetual light," he died to self; while the intellect, after all,
had attained a freedom of its own through the vigorous act which
assured him that, as nature was but a thought of his, so himself also
was but the passing thought of God.

No! rather a puzzle only, an anomaly, upon that one, white, unruffled
consciousness! His first principle once recognised, all the rest,
the whole array of propositions down to the [l10] heartless practical
conclusion, must follow of themselves. Detachment: to hasten hence:
to fold up one's whole self, as a vesture put aside: to anticipate,
by such individual force as he could find in him, the slow
disintegration by which nature herself is levelling the eternal
hills:--here would be the secret of peace, of such dignity and truth
as there could be in a world which after all was essentially an
illusion. For Sebastian at least, the world and the individual alike
had been divested of all effective purpose. The most vivid of finite
objects, the dramatic episodes of Dutch history, the brilliant
personalities which had found their parts to play in them, that
golden art, surrounding us with an ideal world, beyond which the real
world is discernible indeed, but etherealised by the medium through
which it comes to one: all this, for most men so powerful a link to
existence, only set him on the thought of escape--means of escape--
into a formless and nameless infinite world, quite evenly grey. The
very emphasis of those objects, their importunity to the eye, the
ear, the finite intelligence, was but the measure of their distance
from what really is. One's personal presence, the presence, such as
it is, of the most incisive things and persons around us, could only
lessen by so much, that which really is. To restore tabula rasa,
then, by a continual effort at self-effacement! Actually proud at
times of his curious, well-reasoned nihilism, he [111] could but
regard what is called the business of life as no better than a
trifling and wearisome delay. Bent on making sacrifice of the rich
existence possible for him, as he would readily have sacrificed that
of other people, to the bare and formal logic of the answer to a
query (never proposed at all to entirely healthy minds) regarding the
remote conditions and tendencies of that existence, he did not
reflect that if others had inquired as curiously as himself the world
could never have come so far at all--that the fact of its having come
so far was itself a weighty exception to his hypothesis. His odd
devotion, soaring or sinking into fanaticism, into a kind of
religious mania, with what was really a vehement assertion of his
individual will, he had formulated duty as the principle to hinder as
little as possible what he called the restoration of equilibrium, the
restoration of the primary consciousness to itself--its relief from
that uneasy, tetchy, unworthy dream of a world, made so ill, or
dreamt so weakly--to forget, to be forgotten.

And at length this dark fanaticism, losing the support of his pride
in the mere novelty of a reasoning so hard and dry, turned round upon
him, as our fanaticism will, in black melancholy. The theoretic or
imaginative desire to urge Time's creeping footsteps, was felt now as
the physical fatigue which leaves the book or the letter unfinished,
or finishes eagerly out of hand, for mere finishing's sake,
unimportant business.

[112] Strange! that the presence to the mind of a metaphysical
abstraction should have had this power over one so fortunately
endowed for the reception of the sensible world. It could hardly
have been so with him but for the concurrence of physical causes with
the influences proper to a mere thought. The moralist, indeed, might
have noted that a meaner kind of pride, the morbid fear of vulgarity,
lent secret strength to the intellectual prejudice, which realised
duty as the renunciation of all finite objects, the fastidious
refusal to be or do any limited thing. But besides this it was
legible in his own admissions from time to time, that the body,
following, as it does with powerful temperaments, the lead of mind
and the will, the intellectual consumption (so to term it) had been
concurrent with, had strengthened and been strengthened by, a vein of
physical phthisis--by a merely physical accident, after all, of his
bodily constitution, such as might have taken a different turn, had
another accident fixed his home among the hills instead of on the
shore. Is it only the result of disease? he would ask himself
sometimes with a sudden suspicion of his intellectual cogency--this
persuasion that myself, and all that surrounds me, are but a
diminution of that which really is?--this unkindly melancholy?

The journal, with that "cruel" letter to Mademoiselle van Westrheene
coming as the last step in the rigid process of theoretic deduction,
[113] circulated among the curious; and people made their judgments
upon it. There were some who held that such opinions should be
suppressed by law; that they were, or might become, dangerous to
society. Perhaps it was the confessor of his mother who thought of
the matter most justly. The aged man smiled, observing how, even for
minds by no means superficial, the mere dress it wears alters the
look of a familiar thought; with a happy sort of smile, as he added
(reflecting that such truth as there was in Sebastian's theory was
duly covered by the propositions of his own creed, and quoting
Sebastian's favourite pagan wisdom from the lips of Saint Paul) "in
Him, we live, and move, and have our being."

Next day, as Sebastian escaped to the sea under the long, monotonous
line of wind-mills, in comparative calm of mind--reaction of that
pleasant morning from the madness of the night before--he was making
light, or trying to make light, with some success, of his late
distress. He would fain have thought it a small matter, to be
adequately set at rest for him by certain well-tested influences of
external nature, in a long visit to the place he liked best: a
desolate house, amid the sands of the Helder, one of the old lodgings
of his family, property now, rather, of the sea-birds, and almost
surrounded by the encroaching tide, though there were still relics
enough of hardy, sweet things about it, to form [114] what was to
Sebastian the most perfect garden in Holland. Here he could make
"equation" between himself and what was not himself, and set things
in order, in preparation towards such deliberate and final change in
his manner of living as circumstances so clearly necessitated.

As he stayed in this place, with one or two silent serving people, a
sudden rising of the wind altered, as it might seem, in a few dark,
tempestuous hours, the entire world around him. The strong wind
changed not again for fourteen days, and its effect was a permanent
one; so that people might have fancied that an enemy had indeed cut
the dykes somewhere--a pin-hole enough to wreck the ship of Holland,
or at least this portion of it, which underwent an inundation of the
sea the like of which had not occurred in that province for half a
century. Only, when the body of Sebastian was found, apparently not
long after death, a child lay asleep, swaddled warmly in his heavy
furs, in an upper room of the old tower, to which the tide was almost
risen; though the building still stood firmly, and still with the
means of life in plenty. And it was in the saving of this child,
with a great effort, as certain circumstances seemed to indicate,
that Sebastian had lost his life.

His parents were come to seek him, believing him bent on self-
destruction, and were almost glad to find him thus. A learned
physician, moreover, endeavoured to comfort his mother by [115]
remarking that in any case he must certainly have died ere many years
were passed, slowly, perhaps painfully, of a disease then coming into
the world; disease begotten by the fogs of that country--waters, he
observed, not in their place, "above the firmament"--on people grown
somewhat over-delicate in their nature by the effects of modern


[119] One stormy season about the beginning of the present century, a
great tree came down among certain moss-covered ridges of old masonry
which break the surface of the Rosenmold heath, exposing, together
with its roots, the remains of two persons. Whether the bodies (male
and female, said German bone-science) had been purposely buried there
was questionable. They seemed rather to have been hidden away by the
accident, whatever it was, which had caused death--crushed, perhaps,
under what had been the low wall of a garden--being much distorted,
and lying, though neatly enough discovered by the upheaval of the
soil, in great confusion. People's attention was the more attracted
to the incident because popular fancy had long run upon a tradition
of buried treasures, golden treasures, in or about the antiquated
ruin which the garden boundary enclosed; the roofless shell of a
small but solidly-built stone house, burnt or overthrown, perhaps in
the time of the wars at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
Many persons went to [120] visit the remains lying out on the dark,
wild plateau, which stretches away above the tallest roofs of the old
grand-ducal town, very distinctly outlined, on that day, in deep
fluid grey against a sky still heavy with coming rain. No treasure,
indeed, was forthcoming among the masses of fallen stone. But the
tradition was so far verified, that the bones had rich golden
ornaments about them; and for the minds of some long-remembering
people their discovery set at rest an old query. It had never been
precisely known what was become of the young Duke Carl, who
disappeared from the world just a century before, about the time when
a great army passed over those parts, at a political crisis, one
result of which was the final absorption of his small territory in a
neighbouring dominion. Restless, romantic, eccentric, had he passed
on with the victorious host, and taken the chances of an obscure
soldier's life? Certain old letters hinted at a different ending--
love-letters which provided for a secret meeting, preliminary perhaps
to the final departure of the young Duke (who, by the usage of his
realm, could only with extreme difficulty go whither, or marry whom,
he pleased) to whatever worlds he had chosen, not of his own people.
The minds of those still interested in the matter were now at last
made up, the disposition of the remains suggesting to them the lively
picture of a sullen night, the unexpected passing of the great army,
[121] and the two lovers rushing forth wildly at the sudden tumult
outside their cheerful shelter, caught in the dark and trampled out
so, surprised and unseen, among the horses and heavy guns.

Time, at the court of the Grand-duke of Rosenmold, at the beginning
of the eighteenth century might seem to have been standing still
almost since the Middle Age--since the days of the Emperor Charles
the Fifth, at which period, by the marriage of the hereditary Grand-
duke with a princess of the Imperial house, a sudden tide of wealth,
flowing through the grand-ducal exchequer, had left a kind of golden
architectural splendour on the place, always too ample for its
population. The sloping Gothic roofs for carrying off the heavy
snows still indented the sky--a world of tiles, with space
uncurtailed for the awkward gambols of that very German goblin, Hans
Klapper, on the long, slumberous, northern nights. Whole quarryfuls
of wrought stone had been piled along the streets and around the
squares, and were now grown, in truth, like nature's self again, in
their rough, time-worn massiveness, with weeds and wild flowers where
their decay accumulated, blossoming, always the same, beyond people's
memories, every summer, as the storks came back to their platforms on
the remote chimney-tops. Without, all was as it had been on the eve
of the Thirty Years' War: the venerable dark-green mouldiness,
priceless pearl of architectural effect, was unbroken [122] by a
single new gable. And within, human life--its thoughts, its habits,
above all, its etiquette--had been put out by no matter of
excitement, political or intellectual, ever at all, one might say, at
any time. The rambling grand-ducal palace was full to overflowing
with furniture, which, useful or useless, was all ornamental, and
none of it new. Suppose the various objects, especially the contents
of the haunted old lumber-rooms, duly arranged and ticketed, and
their Highnesses would have had a historic museum, after which those
famed "Green Vaults" at Dresden would hardly have counted as one of
the glories of Augustus the Strong. An immense heraldry, that truly
German vanity, had grown, expatiating, florid, eloquent, over
everything, without and within--windows, house-fronts, church walls,
and church floors. And one-half of the male inhabitants were big or
little State functionaries, mostly of a quasi decorative order--the
treble-singer to the town-council, the court organist, the court
poet, and the like--each with his deputies and assistants,
maintaining, all unbroken, a sleepy ceremonial, to make the hours
just noticeable as they slipped away. At court, with a continuous
round of ceremonies, which, though early in the day, must always take
place under a jealous exclusion of the sun, one seemed to live in
perpetual candle-light.

It was in a delightful rummaging of one of those lumber-rooms,
escaped from that candle-light [123] into the broad day of the
uppermost windows, that the young Duke Carl laid his hand on an old
volume of the year 1486, printed in heavy type, with frontispiece,
perhaps, by Albert Dürer--Ars Versificandi: The Art of Versification:
by Conrad Celtes. Crowned poet of the Emperor Frederick the Third,
he had the right to speak on that subject; for while he vindicated as
best he might old German literature against the charge of barbarism,
he did also a man's part towards reviving in the Fatherland the
knowledge of the poetry of Greece and Rome; and for Carl, the pearl,
the golden nugget, of the volume was the Sapphic ode with which it
closed--To Apollo, praying that he would come to us from Italy,
bringing his lyre with him: Ad Apollinem, ut ab Italis cum lyra ad
Germanos veniat. The god of light, coming to Germany from some more
favoured world beyond it, over leagues of rainy hill and mountain,
making soft day there: that had ever been the dream of the ghost-
ridden yet deep-feeling and certainly meek German soul; of the great
Dürer, for instance, who had been the friend of this Conrad Celtes,
and himself, all German as he was, like a gleam of real day amid that
hyperborean German darkness--a darkness which clave to him, too, at
that dim time, when there were violent robbers, nay, real live
devils, in every German wood. And it was precisely the aspiration of
Carl himself. Those verses, coming to the boy's hand at the [124]
right moment, brought a beam of effectual day-light to a whole
magazine of observation, fancy, desire, stored up from the first
impressions of childhood. To bring Apollo with his lyre to Germany!
It was precisely that he, Carl, desired to do--was, as he might
flatter himself, actually doing.

The daylight, the Apolline aurora, which the young Duke Carl claimed
to be bringing to his candle-lit people, came in the somewhat
questionable form of the contemporary French ideal, in matters of art
and literature--French plays, French architecture, French looking-
glasses--Apollo in the dandified costume of Lewis the Fourteenth.
Only, confronting the essentially aged and decrepit graces of his
model with his own essentially youthful temper, he invigorated what
he borrowed; and with him an aspiration towards the classical ideal,
so often hollow and insincere, lost all its affectation. His doating
grandfather, the reigning Grand-duke, afforded readily enough, from
the great store of inherited wealth which would one day be the lad's,
the funds necessary for the completion of the vast unfinished
Residence, with "pavilions" (after the manner of the famous Mansard)
uniting its scattered parts; while a wonderful flowerage of
architectural fancy, with broken attic roofs, passed over and beyond
the earlier fabric; the later and lighter forms being in part carved
adroitly out of the [125] heavy masses of the old, honest, "stump
Gothic" tracery. One fault only Carl found in his French models, and
was resolute to correct. He would have, at least within, real marble
in place of stucco, and, if he might, perhaps solid gold for gilding.
There was something in the sanguine, floridly handsome youth, with
his alertness of mind turned wholly, amid the vexing preoccupations
of an age of war, upon embellishment and the softer things of life,
which soothed the testy humours of the old Duke, like the quiet
physical warmth of a fire or the sun. He was ready to preside with
all ceremony at a presentation of Marivaux's Death of Hannibal,
played in the original, with such imperfect mastery of the French
accent as the lovers of new light in Rosenmold had at command, in a
theatre copied from that at Versailles, lined with pale yellow satin,
and with a picture, amid the stucco braveries of the ceiling, of the
Septentrional Apollo himself, in somewhat watery red and blue.
Innumerable wax lights in cut-glass lustres were a thing of course.
Duke Carl himself, attired after the newest French fashion, played
the part of Hannibal. The old Duke, indeed, at a council-board
devoted hitherto to matters of state, would nod very early in certain
long discussions on matters of art--magnificent schemes, from this or
that eminent contractor, for spending his money tastefully,
distinguishings of the rococo [126] and the baroque. On the other
hand, having been all his life in close intercourse with select
humanity, self-conscious and arrayed for presentation, he was a
helpful judge of portraits and the various degrees of the attainment
of truth therein--a phase of fine art which the grandson could not
value too much. The sergeant-painter and the deputy sergeant-painter
were, indeed, conventional performers enough; as mechanical in their
dispensation of wigs, finger-rings, ruffles, and simpers, as the
figure of the armed knight who struck the bell in the Residence
tower. But scattered through its half-deserted rooms, state bed-
chambers and the like, hung the works of more genuine masters, still
as unadulterate as the hock, known to be two generations old, in the
grand-ducal cellar. The youth had even his scheme of inviting the
illustrious Antony Coppel to the court; to live there, if he would,
with the honours and emoluments of a prince of the blood. The
illustrious Mansard had actually promised to come, had not his sudden
death taken him away from earthly glory.

And at least, if one must forgo the masters, masterpieces might be
had for their price. For ten thousand marks--day ever to be
remembered!--a genuine work of "the Urbinate," from the cabinet of a
certain commercially-minded Italian grand-duke, was on its way to
Rosenmold, anxiously awaited as it came over rainy mountain-passes,
and along the rough German [127] roads, through doubtful weather.
The tribune, the throne itself, were made ready in the presence-
chamber, with hangings in the grand-ducal colours, laced with gold,
together with a speech and an ode. Late at night, at last, the wagon
was heard rumbling into the courtyard, with the guest arrived in
safety, but, if one must confess one's self, perhaps forbidding at
first sight. From a comfortless portico, with all the grotesqueness
of the Middle Age, supported by brown, aged bishops, whose
meditations no incident could distract, Our Lady looked out no better
than an unpretending nun, with nothing to say the like of which one
was used to hear. Certainly one was not stimulated by, enwrapped,
absorbed in the great master's doings; only, with much private
disappointment, put on one's mettle to defend him against critics
notoriously wanting in sensibility, and against one's self. In
truth, the painter wham Carl most unaffectedly enjoyed, the real
vigour of his youthful and somewhat animal taste finding here its
proper sustenance, was Rubens--Rubens reached, as he is reached at
his best, in well-preserved family portraits, fresh, gay, ingenious,
as of privileged young people who could never grow old. Had not he,
too, brought something of the splendour of a "better land" into those
northern regions; if not the glowing gold of Titian's Italian sun,
yet the carnation and yellow of roses or tulips, such as [128] might
really grow there with cultivation, even under rainy skies? And
then, about this time something was heard at the grand-ducal court of
certain mysterious experiments in the making of porcelain; veritable
alchemy, for the turning of clay into gold. The reign of Dresden
china was at hand, with one's own world of little men and women more
delightfully diminutive still, amid imitations of artificial flowers.
The young Duke braced himself for a plot to steal the gifted Herr
Böttcher from his enforced residence, as if in prison, at the
fortress of Meissen. Why not bring pots and wheels to Rosenmold, and
prosecute his discoveries there? The Grand-duke, indeed, preferred
his old service of gold plate, and would have had the lad a virtuoso
in nothing less costly than gold--gold snuff-boxes.

For, in truth, regarding what belongs to art or culture, as
elsewhere, we may have a large appetite and little to feed on. Only,
in the things of the mind, the appetite itself counts for so much, at
least in hopeful, unobstructed youth, with the world before it. "You
are the Apollo you tell us of, the northern Apollo," people were
beginning to say to him, surprised from time to time by a mental
purpose beyond their guesses--expressions, liftings, softly gleaming
or vehement lights, in the handsome countenance of the youth, and his
effective speech, as he roamed, inviting all about him to share the
[129] honey, from music to painting, from painting to the drama, all
alike florid in style, yes! and perhaps third-rate. And so far
consistently throughout he had held that the centre of one's
intellectual system must be understood to be in France. He had
thoughts of proceeding to that country, secretly, in person, there to
attain the very impress of its genius.

Meantime, its more portable flowers came to order in abundance. That
the roses, so to put it, were but excellent artificial flowers,
redolent only of musk, neither disproved for Carl the validity of his
ideal nor for our minds the vocation of Carl himself in these
matters. In art, as in all other things of the mind, again, much
depends on the receiver; and the higher informing capacity, if it
exist within, will mould an unpromising matter to itself, will
realise itself by selection, and the preference of the better in what
is bad or indifferent, asserting its prerogative under the most
unlikely conditions. People had in Carl, could they have understood
it, the spectacle, under those superficial braveries, of a really
heroic effort of mind at a disadvantage. That rococo seventeenth-
century French imitation of the true Renaissance, called out in Carl
a boundless enthusiasm, as the Italian original had done two
centuries before. He put into his reception of the aesthetic
achievements of Lewis the Fourteenth what young France had felt when
Francis the First brought home the great [130] Da Vinci and his
works. It was but himself truly, after all, that he had found, so
fresh and real, among those artificial roses.

He was thrown the more upon such outward and sensuous products of
mind--architecture, pottery, presently on music--because for him,
with so large intellectual capacity, there was, to speak properly, no
literature in his mother-tongue. Books there were, German books, but
of a dulness, a distance from the actual interests of the warm,
various, coloured life around and within him, to us hardly
conceivable. There was more entertainment in the natural train of
his own solitary thoughts, humoured and rightly attuned by pleasant
visible objects, than in all the books he had hunted through so
carefully for that all-searching intellectual light, of which a
passing gleam of interest gave fallacious promise here or there. And
still, generously, he held to the belief, urging him to fresh
endeavour, that the literature which might set heart and mind free
must exist somewhere, though court librarians could not say where.
In search for it he spent many days in those old book-closets where
he had lighted on the Latin ode of Conrad Celtes. Was German
literature always to remain no more than a kind of penal apparatus
for the teasing of the brain? Oh! for a literature set free,
conterminous with the interests of life itself.

In music, it might be thought, Germany had [131] already vindicated
its spiritual liberty. One and another of those North-german towns
were already aware of the youthful Sebastian Bach. The first notes
had been heard of a music not borrowed from France, but flowing, as
naturally as springs from their sources, out of the ever musical soul
of Germany itself. And the Duke Carl was a sincere lover of music,
himself playing melodiously on the violin to a delighted court. That
new Germany of the spirit would be builded, perhaps, to the sound of
music. In those other artistic enthusiasms, as the prophet of the
French drama or the architectural taste of Lewis the Fourteenth, he
had contributed himself generously, helping out with his own good-
faith the inadequacy of their appeal. Music alone hitherto had
really helped him, and taken him out of himself. To music,
instinctively, more and more he was dedicate; and in his desire to
refine and organise the court music, from which, by leave of absence
to official performers enjoying their salaries at a distance, many
parts had literally fallen away, like the favourite notes of a worn-
out spinet, he was ably seconded by a devoted youth, the deputy
organist of the grand-ducal chapel. A member of the Roman Church
amid a people chiefly of the Reformed religion, Duke Carl would creep
sometimes into the curtained court pew of the Lutheran Church, to
which he had presented its massive golden crucifix, to listen to the
chorales, the execution of which he [132] had managed to time to his
liking, relishing, he could hardly explain why, those passages of a
pleasantly monotonous and, as it might seem, unending melody--which
certainly never came to what could rightly be called an ending here
on earth; and having also a sympathy with the cheerful genius of Dr.
Martin Luther, with his good tunes, and that ringing laughter which
sent dull goblins flitting.

At this time, then, his mind ran eagerly for awhile on the project of
some musical and dramatic development of a fancy suggested by that
old Latin poem of Conrad Celtes--the hyperborean Apollo, sojourning,
in the revolutions of time, in the sluggish north for a season, yet
Apollo still, prompting art, music, poetry, and the philosophy which
interprets man's life, making a sort of intercalary day amid the
natural darkness; not meridian day, of course, but a soft derivative
daylight, good enough for us. It would be necessarily a mystic
piece, abounding in fine touches, suggestions, innuendoes. His vague
proposal was met half-way by the very practical executant power of
his friend or servant, the deputy organist, already pondering, with
just a satiric flavour (suppressible in actual performance, if the
time for that should ever come) a musical work on Duke Carl himself;
Balder, an Interlude. He was contented to re-cast and enlarge the
part of the northern god of light, with a now wholly serious
intention. But still, [133] the near, the real and familiar, gave
precision to, or actually superseded, the distant and the ideal. The
soul of the music was but a transfusion from the fantastic but so
interesting creature close at hand. And Carl was certainly true to
his proposed part in that he gladdened others by an intellectual
radiance which had ceased to mean warmth or animation for himself.
For him the light was still to seek in France, in Italy, above all in
old Greece, amid the precious things which might yet be lurking there
unknown, in art, in poetry, perhaps in very life, till Prince
Fortunate should come.

Yes! it was thither, to Greece, that his thoughts were turned during
those romantic classical musings while the opera was made ready.
That, in due time, was presented, with sufficient success. Meantime,
his purpose was grown definite to visit that original country of the
Muses, from which the pleasant things of Italy had been but
derivative; to brave the difficulties in the way of leaving home at
all, the difficulties also of access to Greece, in the present
condition of the country.

At times the fancy came that he must really belong by descent to a
southern race, that a physical cause might lie beneath this strange
restlessness, like the imperfect reminiscence of something that had
passed in earlier life. The aged ministers of heraldry were set to
work (actually prolonging their days by an unexpected [134] revival
of interest in their too well-worn function) at the search for some
obscure rivulet of Greek descent--later Byzantine Greek, perhaps,--in
the Rosenmold genealogy. No! with a hundred quarterings, they were
as indigenous, incorruptible heraldry reasserted, as the old yew-
trees asquat on the heath.

And meantime those dreams of remote and probably adventurous travel
lent the youth, still so healthy of body, a wing for more distant
expeditions than he had ever yet inclined to, among his own wholesome
German woodlands. In long rambles, afoot or on horseback, by day and
night, he flung himself, for the resettling of his sanity, on the
cheerful influences of their simple imagery; the hawks, as if asleep
on the air below him; the bleached crags, evoked by late sunset among
the dark oaks; the water-wheels, with their pleasant murmur, in the
foldings of the hillside.

Clouds came across his heaven, little sudden clouds, like those which
in this northern latitude, where summer is at best but a flighty
visitor, chill out the heart, though but for a few minutes at a time,
of the warmest afternoon. He had fits of the gloom of other people--
their dull passage through and exit from the world, the threadbare
incidents of their lives, their dismal funerals--which, unless he
drove them away immediately by strenuous exercise, settled into a
gloom more properly his own. Yet at such times [135] outward things
also would seem to concur unkindly in deepening the mental shadow
about him, almost as if there were indeed animation in the natural
world, elfin spirits in those inaccessible hillsides and dark
ravines, as old German poetry pretended, cheerfully assistant
sometimes, but for the most part troublesome, to their human kindred.
Of late these fits had come somewhat more frequently, and had
continued. Often it was a weary, deflowered face that his favourite
mirrors reflected. Yes! people were prosaic, and their lives
threadbare:--all but himself and organist Max, perhaps, and Fritz the
treble-singer. In return, the people in actual contact with him
thought him a little mad, though still ready to flatter his madness,
as he could detect. Alone with the doating old grandfather in their
stiff, distant, alien world of etiquette, he felt surrounded by
flatterers, and would fain have tested the sincerity even of Max, and
Fritz who said, echoing the words of the other, "Yourself, Sire, are
the Apollo of Germany!"

It was his desire to test the sincerity of the people about him, and
unveil flatterers, which in the first instance suggested a trick he
played upon the court, upon all Europe. In that complex but wholly
Teutonic genealogy lately under research, lay a much-prized thread of
descent from the fifth Emperor Charles, and Carl, under direction,
read with much readiness to be impressed [136] all that was
attainable concerning the great ancestor, finding there in truth
little enough to reward his pains. One hint he took, however. He
determined to assist at his own obsequies.

That he might in this way facilitate that much-desired journey
occurred to him almost at once as an accessory motive, and in a
little while definite motives were engrossed in the dramatic
interest, the pleasing gloom, the curiosity, of the thing itself.
Certainly, amid the living world in Germany, especially in old,
sleepy Rosenmold, death made great parade of itself. Youth even, in
its sentimental mood, was ready to indulge in the luxury of decay,
and amuse itself with fancies of the tomb; as in periods of decadence
or suspended progress, when the world seems to nap for a time,
artifices for the arrest or disguise of old age are adopted as a
fashion, and become the fopperies of the young. The whole body of
Carl's relations, saving the drowsy old grandfather, already lay
buried beneath their expansive heraldries: at times the whole world
almost seemed buried thus--made and re-made of the dead--its entire
fabric of politics, of art, of custom, being essentially heraldic
"achievements," dead men's mementoes such as those. You see he was a
sceptical young man, and his kinsmen dead and gone had passed
certainly, in his imaginations of them, into no other world, save,
perhaps, into some stiffer, slower, sleepier, [137] and more pompous
phase of ceremony--the last degree of court etiquette--as they lay
there in the great, low-pitched, grand-ducal vault, in their coffins,
dusted once a year for All Souls' Day, when the court officials
descended thither, and Mass for the dead was sung, amid an array of
dropping crape and cobwebs. The lad, with his full red lips and open
blue eyes, coming as with a great cup in his hands to life's feast,
revolted from the like of that, as from suffocation. And still the
suggestion of it was everywhere. In the garish afternoon, up to the
wholesome heights of the Heiligenberg suddenly from one of the
villages of the plain came the grinding death-knell. It seemed to
come out of the ugly grave itself, and enjoyment was dead. On his
way homeward sadly, an hour later, he enters by chance the open door
of a village church, half buried in the tangle of its churchyard.
The rude coffin is lying there of a labourer who had but a hovel to
live in. The enemy dogged one's footsteps! The young Carl seemed to
be flying, not from death simply, but from assassination.

And as these thoughts sent him back in the rebounding power of youth,
with renewed appetite, to life and sense, so, grown at last familiar,
they gave additional purpose to his fantastic experiment. Had it not
been said by a wise man that after all the offence of death was in
its trappings? Well! he would, as far as might be, try the thing,
while, presumably, a [138] large reversionary interest in life was
still his. He would purchase his freedom, at least of those gloomy
"trappings," and listen while he was spoken of as dead. The mere
preparations gave pleasant proof of the devotion to him of a certain
number, who entered without question into his plans. It is not
difficult to mislead the world concerning what happens to these who
live at the artificial distance from it of a court, with its high
wall of etiquette. However the matter was managed, no one doubted,
when, with a blazon of ceremonious words, the court news went forth
that, after a brief illness, according to the way of his race, the
hereditary Grand-duke was deceased. In momentary regret, bethinking
them of the lad's taste for splendour, those to whom the arrangement
of such matters belonged (the grandfather now sinking deeper into
bare quiescence) backed by the popular wish, determined to give him a
funeral with even more than grand-ducal measure of lugubrious
magnificence. The place of his repose was marked out for him as
officiously as if it had been the delimitation of a kingdom, in the
ducal burial vault, through the cobwebbed windows of which, from the
garden where he played as a child, the young Duke had often peered at
the faded glories of the immense coroneted coffins, the oldest
shedding their velvet tatters around them. Surrounded by the whole
official world of Rosenmold, arrayed for the occasion in almost [139]
forgotten dresses of ceremony as if for a masquerade, the new coffin
glided from the fragrant chapel where the Requiem was sung, down the
broad staircase lined with peach-colour and yellow marble, into the
shadows below. Carl himself, disguised as a strolling musician, had
followed it across the square through a drenching rain, on which
circumstance he overheard the old people congratulate the "blessed"
dead within, had listened to a dirge of his own composing brought out
on the great organ with much bravura by his friend, the new court
organist, who was in the secret, and that night turned the key of the
garden entrance to the vault, and peeped in upon the sleepy, painted,
and bewigged young pages whose duty it would be for a certain number
of days to come to watch beside their late master's couch.

And a certain number of weeks afterwards it was known that "the mad
Duke" had reappeared, to the dismay of court marshals. Things might
have gone hard with the youth had the strange news, at first as
fantastic rumour, then as matter of solemn enquiry, lastly as
ascertained fact, pleasing or otherwise, been less welcome than it
was to the grandfather, too old, indeed, to sorrow deeply, but grown
so decrepit as to propose that ministers should possess themselves of
the person of the young Duke, proclaim him of age and regent. From
those dim travels, presenting themselves to the old man, who had
never been [140] fifty miles away from home, as almost lunar in their
audacity, he would come back--come back "in time," he murmured
faintly, eager to feel that youthful, animating life on the stir
about him once more.

Carl himself, now the thing was over, greatly relishing its satiric
elements, must be forgiven the trick of the burial and his still
greater enormity in coming to life again. And then, duke or no duke,
it was understood that he willed that things should in no case be
precisely as they had been. He would never again be quite so near
people's lives as in the past--a fitful, intermittent visitor--almost
as if he had been properly dead; the empty coffin remaining as a kind
of symbolical "coronation incident," setting forth his future
relations to his subjects. Of all those who believed him dead one
human creature only, save the grandfather, had sincerely sorrowed for
him; a woman, in tears as the funeral train passed by, with whom he
had sympathetically discussed his own merits. Till then he had
forgotten the incident which had exhibited him to her as the very
genius of goodness and strength; how, one day, driving with her
country produce into the market, and, embarrassed by the crowd, she
had broken one of a hundred little police rules, whereupon the
officers were about to carry her away to be fined, or worse, amid the
jeers of the bystanders, always ready to deal hardly with "the
gipsy," at which precise [141] moment the tall Duke Carl, like the
flash of a trusty sword, had leapt from the palace stair and caused
her to pass on in peace. She had half detected him through his
disguise; in due time news of his reappearance had been ceremoniously
carried to her in her little cottage, and the remembrance of her hung
about him not ungratefully, as he went with delight upon his way.

The first long stage of his journey over, in headlong flight night
and day, he found himself one summer morning under the heat of what
seemed a southern sun, at last really at large on the Bergstrasse,
with the rich plain of the Palatinate on his left hand; on the right
hand vineyards, seen now for the first time, sloping up into the
crisp beeches of the Odenwald. By Weinheim only an empty tower
remained of the Castle of Windeck. He lay for the night in the great
whitewashed guest-chamber of the Capuchin convent.

The national rivers, like the national woods, have a family likeness:
the Main, the Lahn, the Moselle, the Neckar, the Rhine. By help of
such accommodation as chance afforded, partly on the stream itself,
partly along the banks, he pursued the leisurely winding course of
one of the prettiest of these, tarrying for awhile in the towns,
grey, white, or red, which came in his way, tasting their delightful
native "little" wines, peeping into their old overloaded churches,
inspecting the church furniture, or trying the [142] organs. For
three nights he slept, warm and dry, on the hay stored in a deserted
cloister, and, attracted into the neighbouring minster for a snatch
of church music, narrowly escaped detection. By miraculous chance
the grimmest lord of Rosenmold was there within, recognised the youth
and his companions--visitors naturally conspicuous, amid the crowd of
peasants around them--and for some hours was upon their traces.
After unclean town streets the country air was a perfume by contrast,
or actually scented with pinewoods. One seemed to breathe with it
fancies of the woods, the hills, and water--of a sort of souls in the
landscape, but cheerful and genial now, happy souls! A distant group
of pines on the verge of a great upland awoke a violent desire to be
there--seemed to challenge one to proceed thither. Was their
infinite view thence? It was like an outpost of some far-off fancy
land, a pledge of the reality of such. Above Cassel, the airy hills
curved in one black outline against a glowing sky, pregnant, one
could fancy, with weird forms, which might be at their old diableries
again on those remote places ere night was quite come there. At last
in the streets, the hundred churches, of Cologne, he feels something
of a "Gothic" enthusiasm, and all a German's enthusiasm for the

Through the length and breadth of the Rhine country the vintage was
begun. The red ruins on the heights, the white-walled villages,
white [143] Saint Nepomuc upon the bridges, were but isolated high
notes of contrast in a landscape, sleepy and indistinct under the
flood of sunshine, with a headiness in it like that of must, of the
new wine. The noise of the vineyards came through the lovely haze,
still, at times, with the sharp sound of a bell--death-bell, perhaps,
or only a crazy summons to the vintagers. And amid those broad,
willowy reaches of the Rhine at length, from Bingen to Mannheim,
where the brown hills wander into airy, blue distance, like a little
picture of paradise, he felt that France was at hand. Before him lay
the road thither, easy and straight.--That well of light so close!
But, unexpectedly, the capricious incidence of his own humour with
the opportunity did not suggest, as he would have wagered it must,
"Go, drink at once!" Was it that France had come to be of no account
at all, in comparison of Italy, of Greece? or that, as he passed over
the German land, the conviction had come, "For you, France, Italy,
Hellas, is here!"--that some recognition of the untried spiritual
possibilities of meek Germany had for Carl transferred the ideal land
out of space beyond the Alps or the Rhine, into future time, whither
he must be the leader? A little chilly of humour, in spite of his
manly strength, he was journeying partly in search of physical heat.
To-day certainly, in this great vineyard, physical heat was about him
in measure sufficient, at least for [144] a German constitution.
Might it be not otherwise with the imaginative, the intellectual,
heat and light; the real need being that of an interpreter--Apollo,
illuminant rather as the revealer than as the bringer of light? With
large belief that the Éclaircissement, the Aufklärung (he had already
found the name for the thing) would indeed come, he had been in much
bewilderment whence and how. Here, he began to see that it could be
in no other way than by action of informing thought upon the vast
accumulated material of which Germany was in possession: art, poetry,
fiction, an entire imaginative world, following reasonably upon a
deeper understanding of the past, of nature, of one's self--an
understanding of all beside through the knowledge of one's self. To
understand, would be the indispensable first step towards the
enlargement of the great past, of one's little present, by criticism,
by imagination. Then, the imprisoned souls of nature would speak as
of old. The Middle Age, in Germany, where the past has had such
generous reprisals, never far from us, would reassert its mystic
spell, for the better understanding of our Raffaelle. The spirits of
distant Hellas would reawake in the men and women of little German
towns. Distant times, the most alien thoughts, would come near
together, as elements in a great historic symphony. A kind of
ardent, new patriotism awoke in him, sensitive for the first time at
the words national [145] poesy, national art and literature, German
philosophy. To the resources of the past, of himself, of what was
possible for German mind, more and more his mind opens as he goes on
his way. A free, open space had been determined, which something now
to be created, created by him, must occupy. "Only," he thought, "if
I had coadjutors! If these thoughts would awake in but one other

At Strasbourg, with its mountainous goblin houses, nine stories high,
grouped snugly, in the midst of that inclement plain, like a great
stork's nest around the romantic red steeple of its cathedral, Duke
Carl became fairly captive to the Middle Age. Tarrying there week
after week he worked hard, but (without a ray of light from others)
in one long mistake, at the chronology and history of the coloured
windows. Antiquity's very self seemed expressed there, on the
visionary images of king or patriarch, in the deeply incised marks of
character, the hoary hair, the massive proportions, telling of a
length of years beyond what is lived now. Surely, past ages, could
one get at the historic soul of them, were not dead but living, rich
in company, for the entertainment, the expansion, of the present: and
Duke Carl was still without suspicion of the cynic afterthought that
such historic soul was but an arbitrary substitution, a generous loan
of one's self.

The mystic soul of Nature laid hold on him [146] next, saying, "Come!
understand, interpret me!" He was awakened one morning by the jingle
of sledge-bells along the street beneath his windows. Winter had
descended betimes from the mountains: the pale Rhine below the bridge
of boats on the long way to Kehl was swollen with ice, and for the
first time he realised that Switzerland was at hand. On a sudden he
was captive to the enthusiasm of the mountains, and hastened along
the valley of the Rhine by Alt Breisach and Basle, unrepelled by a
thousand difficulties, to Swiss farmhouses and lonely villages,
solemn still, and untouched by strangers. At Grindelwald, sleeping
at last in the close neighbourhood of the greater Alps, he had the
sense of an overbrooding presence, of some strange new companions
around him. Here one might yield one's self to the unalterable
imaginative appeal of the elements in their highest force and
simplicity--light, air, water, earth. On very early spring days a
mantle was suddenly lifted; the Alps were an apex of natural glory,
towards which, in broadening spaces of light, the whole of Europe
sloped upwards. Through them, on the right hand, as he journeyed on,
were the doorways to Italy, to Como or Venice, from yonder peak
Italy's self was visible!--as, on the left hand, in the South-german
towns, in a high-toned, artistic fineness, in the dainty, flowered
ironwork for instance, the overflow of Italian genius was traceable.
These things [147] presented themselves at last only to remind him
that, in a new intellectual hope, he was already on his way home.
Straight through life, straight through nature and man, with one's
own self-knowledge as a light thereon, not by way of the geographical
Italy or Greece, lay the road to the new Hellas, to be realised now
as the outcome of home-born German genius. At times, in that early
fine weather, looking now not southwards, but towards Germany, he
seemed to trace the outspread of a faint, not wholly natural, aurora
over the dark northern country. And it was in an actual sunrise that
the news came which finally put him on the directest road homewards.
One hardly dared breathe in the rapid uprise of all-embracing light
which seemed like the intellectual rising of the Fatherland, when up
the straggling path to his high beech-grown summit (was one safe
nowhere?) protesting over the roughness of the way, came the too
familiar voices (ennui itself made audible) of certain high
functionaries of Rosenmold, come to claim their new sovereign, close
upon the runaway.

Bringing news of the old Duke's decease! With a real grief at his
heart, he hastened now over the ground which lay between him and the
bed of death, still trying, at quieter intervals, to snatch profit by
the way; peeping, at the most unlikely hours, on the objects of his
curiosity, waiting for a glimpse of dawn through glowing [148] church
windows, penetrating into old church treasuries by candle-light,
taxing the old courtiers to pant up, for "the view," to this or that
conspicuous point in the world of hilly woodland. From one such at
last, in spite of everything with pleasure to Carl, old Rosenmold was
visible--the attic windows of the Residence, the storks on the
chimneys, the green copper roofs baking in the long, dry German
summer. The homeliness of true old Germany! He too felt it, and
yearned towards his home.

And the "beggar-maid" was there. Thoughts of her had haunted his
mind all the journey through, as he was aware, not unpleased,
graciously overflowing towards any creature he found dependent upon
him. The mere fact that she was awaiting him, at his disposition,
meekly, and as though through his long absence she had never quitted
the spot on which he had said farewell, touched his fancy, and on a
sudden concentrated his wavering preference into a practical
decision. "King Cophetua" would be hers. And his goodwill sunned
her wild-grown beauty into majesty, into a kind of queenly richness.
There was natural majesty in the heavy waves of golden hair folded
closely above the neck, built a little massively; and she looked
kind, beseeching also, capable of sorrow.

She was like clear sunny weather, with bluebells and the green
leaves, between rainy days, and seemed to embody Die Ruh auf dem
Gipfel--all [149] the restful hours he had spent of late in the wood-
sides and on the hilltops. One June day, on which she seemed to have
withdrawn into herself all the tokens of summer, brought decision to
our lover of artificial roses, who had cared so little hitherto for
the like of her. Grand-duke perforce, he would make her his wife,
and had already re-assured her with lively mockery of his horrified
ministers. "Go straight to life!" said his new poetic code; and here
was the opportunity;--here, also, the real "adventure," in comparison
of which his previous efforts that way seemed childish
theatricalities, fit only to cheat a little the profound ennui of
actual life. In a hundred stolen interviews she taught the hitherto
indifferent youth the art of love.

Duke Carl had effected arrangements for his marriage, secret, but
complete and soon to be made public. Long since he had cast
complacent eyes on a strange architectural relic, an old grange or
hunting-lodge on the heath, with he could hardly have defined what
charm of remoteness and old romance. Popular belief amused itself
with reports of the wizard who inhabited or haunted the place, his
fantastic treasures, his immense age. His windows might be seen
glittering afar on stormy nights, with a blaze of golden ornaments,
said the more adventurous loiterer. It was not because he was
suspicious still, but in a kind of wantonness [150] of affection,
and as if by way of giving yet greater zest to the luxury of their
mutual trust that Duke Carl added to his announcement of the purposed
place and time of the event a pretended test of the girl's devotion.
He tells her the story of the aged wizard, meagre and wan, to whom
she must find her way alone for the purpose of asking a question all-
important to himself. The fierce old man will try to escape with
terrible threats, will turn, or half turn, into repulsive animals.
She must cling the faster; at last the spell will be broken; he will
yield, he will become a youth once more, and give the desired answer.

The girl, otherwise so self-denying, and still modestly anxious for a
private union, not to shame his high position in the world, had
wished for one thing at least--to be loved amid the splendours
habitual to him. Duke Carl sends to the old lodge his choicest
personal possessions. For many days the public is aware of something
on hand; a few get delightful glimpses of the treasures on their way
to "the place on the heath." Was he preparing against contingencies,
should the great army, soon to pass through these parts, not leave
the country as innocently as might be desired?

The short grey day seemed a long one to those who, for various
reasons, were waiting anxiously for the darkness; the court people
fretful and on their mettle, the townsfolk suspicious, [151] Duke
Carl full of amorous longing. At her distant cottage beyond the
hills, Gretchen kept herself ready for the trial. It was expected
that certain great military officers would arrive that night,
commanders of a victorious host making its way across Northern
Germany, with no great respect for the rights of neutral territory,
often dealing with life and property too rudely to find the coveted
treasure. It was but one episode in a cruel war. Duke Carl did not
wait for the grandly illuminated supper prepared for their reception.
Events precipitated themselves. Those officers came as practically
victorious occupants, sheltering themselves for the night in the
luxurious rooms of the great palace. The army was in fact in motion
close behind its leaders, who (Gretchen warm and happy in the arms,
not of the aged wizard, but of the youthful lover) are discussing
terms for the final absorption of the duchy with those traitorous old
councillors. At their delicate supper Duke Carl amuses his companion
with caricature, amid cries of cheerful laughter, of the sleepy
courtiers entertaining their martial guests in all their pedantic
politeness, like people in some farcical dream. A priest, and
certain chosen friends to witness the marriage, were to come ere
nightfall to the grange. The lovers heard, as they thought, the
sound of distant thunder. The hours passed as they waited, and what
came at last was not the priest with [152] his companions. Could
they have been detained by the storm? Duke Carl gently re-assures
the girl--bids her believe in him, and wait. But through the wind,
grown to tempest, beyond the sound of the violent thunder--louder
than any possible thunder--nearer and nearer comes the storm of the
victorious army, like some disturbance of the earth itself, as they
flee into the tumult, out of the intolerable confinement and
suspense, dead-set upon them.

The Enlightening, the Aufklärung, according to the aspiration of Duke
Carl, was effected by other hands; Lessing and Herder, brilliant
precursors of the age of genius which centered in Goethe, coming well
within the natural limits of Carl's lifetime. As precursors Goethe
gratefully recognised them, and understood that there had been a
thousand others, looking forward to a new era in German literature
with the desire which is in some sort a "forecast of capacity,"
awakening each other to the permanent reality of a poetic ideal in
human life, slowly forming that public consciousness to which Goethe
actually addressed himself. It is their aspirations I have tried to
embody in the portrait of Carl.

A hard winter had covered the Main with a firm footing of ice. The
liveliest social intercourse was quickened thereon. I was unfailing
from early morning onwards; and, being lightly clad, found myself,
when my mother drove up later [153] to look on, fairly frozen. My
mother sat in the carriage, quite stately in her furred cloak of red
velvet, fastened on the breast with thick gold cord and tassels.

"Dear mother," I said, on the spur of the moment, "give me your furs,
I am frozen."

She was equally ready. In a moment I had on the cloak. Falling
below the knee, with its rich trimming of sables, and enriched with
gold, it became me excellently. So clad I made my way up and down
with a cheerful heart.

That was Goethe, perhaps fifty years later. His mother also related
the incident to Bettina Brentano;--"There, skated my son, like an
arrow among the groups. Away he went over the ice like a son of the
gods. Anything so beautiful is not to be seen now. I clapped my
hands for joy. Never shall I forget him as he darted out from one
arch of the bridge, and in again under the other, the wind carrying
the train behind him as he flew." In that amiable figure I seem to
see the fulfilment of the Resurgam on Carl's empty coffin--the
aspiring soul of Carl himself, in freedom and effective, at last.


Book of the day: