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JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VOLUME I
DAWN, MORNING, YOUTH, REVOLT
by Romain Rolland
Translated by Gilbert Cannan
"Jean-Christophe" is the history of the development of a musician of
genius. The present volume comprises the first four volumes of the original
French, viz.: "L'Aube," "Le Matin," "L'Adolescent," and "La Revolte," which
are designated in the translation as Part I--The Dawn; Part II--Morning;
Part III--Youth; Part IV--Revolt. Parts I and II carry Jean-Christophe from
the moment of his birth to the day when, after his first encounter with
Woman, at the age of fifteen, he falls back upon a Puritan creed. Parts
III and IV describe the succeeding five years of his life, when, at the
age of twenty, his sincerity, integrity, and unswerving honesty have made
existence impossible for him in the little Rhine town of his birth. An act
of open revolt against German militarism compels him to cross the frontier
and take refuge in Paris, and the remainder of this vast book is devoted to
the adventures of Jean-Christophe in France.
His creator has said that he has always conceived and thought of the life
of his hero and of the book as a river. So far as the book has a plan, that
is its plan. It has no literary artifice, no "plot." The words of it hang
together in defiance of syntax, just as the thoughts of it follow one on
the other in defiance of every system of philosophy. Every phase of the
book is pregnant with the next phase. It is as direct and simple as life
itself, for life is simple when the truth of it is known, as it was known
instinctively by Jean-Christophe. The river is explored as though it were
absolutely uncharted. Nothing that has ever been said or thought of life is
accepted without being brought to the test of Jean-Christophe's own life.
What is not true for him does not exist; and, as there are very few of
the processes of human growth or decay which are not analysed, there is
disclosed to the reader the most comprehensive survey of modern life which
has appeared in literature in this century.
To leave M. Rolland's simile of the river, and to take another, the book
has seemed to me like a, mighty bridge leading from the world of ideas of
the nineteenth century to the world of ideas of the twentieth. The whole
thought of the nineteenth century seems to be gathered together to make the
starting-point for Jean-Christophe's leap into the future. All that was
most religious in that thought seems to be concentrated in Jean-Christophe,
and when the history of the book is traced, it appears that M. Rolland has
it by direct inheritance.
M. Rolland was born in 1866 at Clamecy, in the center of France, of a
French family of pure descent, and educated in Paris and Rome. At Rome, in
1890, he met Malwida von Meysenburg, a German lady who had taken refuge
in England after the Revolution of 1848, and there knew Kossuth, Mazzini,
Herzen, Ledin, Rollin, and Louis Blanc. Later, in Italy, she counted among
her friends Wagner, Liszt, Lenbach, Nietzsche, Garibaldi, and Ibsen. She
died in 1908. Rolland came to her impregnated with Tolstoyan ideas, and
with her wide knowledge of men and movements she helped him to discover his
own ideas. In her "Memoires d'une Idealiste" she wrote of him: "In this
young Frenchman I discovered the same idealism, the same lofty aspiration,
the same profound grasp of every great intellectual manifestation that I
had already found in the greatest men of other nationalities."
The germ of "Jean-Christophe" was conceived during this period--the
"Wanderjahre"--of M. Rolland's life. On his return to Paris he became
associated with a movement towards the renascence of the theater as a
social machine, and wrote several plays. He has since been a musical critic
and a lecturer on music and art at the Sorbonne. He has written Lives of
Beethoven, Michael Angelo, and Hugo Wolf. Always his endeavor has been the
pursuit of the heroic. To him the great men are the men of absolute truth.
Jean-Christophe must have the truth and tell the truth, at all costs, in
despite of circumstance, in despite of himself, in despite even of life.
It is his law. It is M. Rolland's law. The struggle all through the book
is between the pure life of Jean-Christophe and the common acceptance of
the second-rate and the second-hand by the substitution of civic or social
morality, which is only a compromise, for individual morality, which
demands that every man should be delivered up to the unswerving judgment of
his own soul. Everywhere Jean-Christophe is hurled against compromise and
untruth, individual and national. He discovers the German lie very quickly;
the French lie grimaces at him as soon as he sets foot in Paris.
The book itself breaks down the frontier between France and Germany. If one
frontier is broken, all are broken. The truth about anything is universal
truth, and the experiences of Jean-Christophe, the adventures of his soul
(there are no other adventures), are in a greater or less degree those of
every human being who passes through this life from the tyranny of the past
to the service of the future.
The book contains a host of characters who become as friends, or, at least,
as interesting neighbors, to the reader. Jean-Christophe gathers people
in his progress, and as they are all brought to the test of his genius,
they appear clearly for what they are. Even the most unpleasant of them is
human, and demands sympathy.
The recognition of Jean-Christophe as a book which marks a stage in
progress was instantaneous in France. It is hardly possible yet to judge
it. It is impossible to deny its vitality. It exists. Christophe is as real
as the gentlemen whose portraits are posted outside the Queen's Hall, and
much more real than many of them. The book clears the air. An open mind
coming to it cannot fail to be refreshed and strengthened by its voyage
down the river of a man's life, and if the book is followed to its end, the
voyager will discover with Christophe that there is joy beneath sorrow, joy
through sorrow ("Durch Leiden Freude").
Those are the last words of M. Rolland's life of Beethoven; they are words
of Beethoven himself: "La devise de tout ame heroique."
In his preface, "To the Friends of Christophe," which precedes the seventh
volume, "Dans la Maison," M. Rolland writes:
"I was isolated: like so many others in France I was stifling in a world
morally inimical to me: I wanted air: I wanted to react against an
unhealthy civilization, against ideas corrupted by a sham elite: I wanted
to say to them: 'You lie! You do not represent France!' To do so I needed a
hero with a pure heart and unclouded vision, whose soul would be stainless
enough for him to have the right to speak; one whose voice would be loud
enough for him to gain a hearing, I have patiently begotten this hero. The
work was in conception for many years before I set myself to write a word
of it. Christophe only set out on his journey when I had been able to see
the end of it for him."
If M. Rolland's act of faith in writing Jean-Christophe were only concerned
with France, if the polemic of it were not directed against a universal
evil, there would be no reason for translation. But, like Zarathustra, it
is a book for all and none. M. Rolland has written what he believes to be
the truth, and as Dr. Johnson observed: "Every man has a right to utter
what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for
By its truth and its absolute integrity--since Tolstoy I know of no
writing so crystal clear--"Jean-Christophe" is the first great book of the
twentieth century. In a sense it begins the twentieth century. It bridges
transition, and shows us where we stand. It reveals the past and the
present, and leaves the future open to us....
I. THE DEATH OF JEAN MICHEL
I. THE HOUSE OF EULER
I. SHIFTING SANDS
Dianzi, nell'alba che precede al giorno,
Quando l'anima tua dentro dormia....
Come, quando i vapori umidi e spessi
A diradar cominciansi, la spera
Del sol debilemente entra per essi....
From behind the house rises the murmuring of the river. All day long the
rain has been beating against the window-panes; a stream of water trickles
down the window at the corner where it is broken. The yellowish light of
the day dies down. The room is dim and dull.
The new-born child stirs in his cradle. Although the old man left his
sabots at the door when he entered, his footsteps make the floor creak. The
child begins to whine. The mother leans out of her bed to comfort it; and
the grandfather gropes to light the lamp, so that the child shall not be
frightened by the night when he awakes. The flame of the lamp lights up old
Jean Michel's red face, with its rough white beard and morose expression
and quick eyes. He goes near the cradle. His cloak smells wet, and as he
walks he drags his large blue list slippers, Louisa signs to him not to go
too near. She is fair, almost white; her features are drawn; her gentle,
stupid face is marked with red in patches; her lips are pale and' swollen,
and they are parted in a timid smile; her eyes devour the child--and her
eyes are blue and vague; the pupils are small, but there is an infinite
tenderness in them.
The child wakes and cries, and his eyes are troubled. Oh! how terrible! The
darkness, the sudden flash of the lamp, the hallucinations of a mind as
yet hardly detached from chaos, the stifling, roaring night in which it is
enveloped, the illimitable gloom from which, like blinding shafts of light,
there emerge acute sensations, sorrows, phantoms--those enormous faces
leaning over him, those eyes that pierce through him, penetrating, are
beyond his comprehension!... He has not the strength to cry out; terror
holds him motionless, with eyes and mouth wide open and he rattles in his
throat. His large head, that seems to have swollen up, is wrinkled with the
grotesque and lamentable grimaces that he makes; the skin of his face and
hands is brown and purple, and spotted with yellow....
"Dear God!" said the old man with conviction: "How ugly he is!"
He put the lamp down on the table.
Louisa pouted like a scolded child. Jean Michel looked at her out of the
corner of his eye and laughed.
"You don't want me to say that he is beautiful? You would not believe it.
Come, it is not your fault. They are all like that."
The child came out of the stupor and immobility into which he had been
thrown by the light of the lamp and the eyes of the old man. He began to
cry. Perhaps he instinctively felt in his mother's eyes a caress which made
it possible for him to complain. She held out her arms for him and said:
"Give him to me."
The old man began, as usual, to air his theories:
"You ought not to give way to children when they cry. You must just let
But he came and took the child and grumbled:
"I never saw one quite so ugly."
Louisa took the child feverishly and pressed it to her bosom. She looked at
it with a bashful and delighted smile.
"Oh, my poor child!" she said shamefacedly. "How ugly you are--how ugly!
and how I love you!"
Jean Michel went back to the fireside. He began to poke the fire in
protest, but a smile gave the lie to the moroseness and solemnity of his
"Good girl!" he said. "Don't worry about it. He has plenty of time to
alter. And even so, what does it matter? Only one thing is asked of him:
that he should grow into an honest man."
The child was comforted by contact with his mother's warm body. He could be
heard sucking her milk and gurgling and snorting. Jean Michel turned in his
chair, and said once more, with some emphasis:
"There's nothing finer than an honest man."
He was silent for a moment, pondering whether it would not be proper to
elaborate this thought; but he found nothing more to say, and after a
silence he said irritably:
"Why isn't your husband here?"
"I think he is at the theater," said Louisa timidly. "There is a
"The theater is closed. I passed it just now. One of his lies."
"No. Don't be always blaming him. I must have misunderstood. He must have
been kept for one of his lessons."
"He ought to have come back," said the old man, not satisfied. He stopped
for a moment, and then asked, in a rather lower voice and with some shame:
"Has he been ... again?"
"No, father--no, father," said Louisa hurriedly.
The old man looked at her; she avoided his eyes.
"It's not true. You're lying."
She wept in silence.
"Dear God!" said the old man, kicking at the fire with his foot. The poker
fell with a clatter. The mother and the child trembled.
"Father, please--please!" said Louisa. "You will make him cry."
The child hesitated for a second or two whether to cry or to go on with his
meal; but not being able to do both at once, he went on with the meal.
Jean Michel continued in a lower tone, though with outbursts of anger:
"What have I done to the good God to have this drunkard for my son? What
is the use of my having lived as I have lived, and of having denied myself
everything all my life! But you--you--can't you do anything to stop it?
Heavens! That's what you ought to do.... You should keep him at home!..."
Louisa wept still more.
"Don't scold me!... I am unhappy enough as it is! I have done everything
I could. If you knew how terrified I am when I am alone! Always I seem to
hear his step on the stairs. Then I wait for the door to open, or I ask
myself: 'O God! what will he look like?' ... It makes me ill to think of
She was shaken by her sobs. The old man grew anxious. He went to her and
laid the disheveled bedclothes about her trembling shoulders and caressed
her head with his hands.
"Come, come, don't be afraid. I am here."
She calmed herself for the child's sake, and tried to smile.
"I was wrong to tell you that."
The old man shook his head as he looked at her.
"My poor child, it was not much of a present that I gave you."
"It's my own fault," she said. "He ought not to have married me. He is
sorry for what he did."
"What, do you mean that he regrets?..."
"You know. You were angry yourself because I became his wife."
"We won't talk about that. It is true I was vexed. A young man like that--I
can say so without hurting you--a young man whom I had carefully brought
up, a distinguished musician, a real artist--might have looked higher than
you, who had nothing and were of a lower class, and not even of the same
trade. For more than a hundred years no Krafft has ever married a woman who
was not a musician! But, you know, I bear you no grudge, and am fond of
you, and have been ever since I learned to know you. Besides, there's no
going back on a choice once it's made; there's nothing left but to do one's
He went and sat down again, thought for a little, and then said, with the
solemnity in which he invested all his aphorisms:
"The first thing in life is to do one's duty."
He waited for contradiction, and spat on the fire. Then, as neither mother
nor child raised any objection, he was for going on, but relapsed into
* * * * *
They said no more. Both Jean Michel, sitting by the fireside, and Louisa,
in her bed, dreamed sadly. The old man, in spite of what he had said, had
bitter thoughts about his son's marriage, and Louisa was thinking of it
also, and blaming herself, although she had nothing wherewith to reproach
She had been a servant when, to everybody's surprise, and her own
especially, she married Melchior Krafft, Jean Michel's son. The Kraffts
were without fortune, but were considerable people in the little Rhine
town in which the old man had settled down more than fifty years before.
Both father and son were musicians, and known to all the musicians of
the country from Cologne to Mannheim. Melchior played the violin at the
Hof-Theater, and Jean Michel had formerly been director of the grand-ducal
concerts. The old man had been profoundly humiliated by his son's marriage,
for he had built great hopes upon Melchior; he had wished to make him the
distinguished man which he had failed to become himself. This mad freak
destroyed all his ambitions. He had stormed at first, and showered curses
upon Melchior and Louisa. But, being a good-hearted creature, he forgave
his daughter-in-law when he learned to know her better; and he even came
by a paternal affection for her, which showed itself for the most part in
No one ever understood what it was that drove Melchior to such a
marriage--least of all Melchior. It was certainly not Louisa's beauty. She
had no seductive quality: she was small, rather pale, and delicate, and
she was a striking contrast to Melchior and Jean Michel, who were both big
and broad, red-faced giants, heavy-handed, hearty eaters and drinkers,
laughter-loving and noisy. She seemed to be crushed by them; no one
noticed her, and she seemed to wish to escape even what little notice she
attracted. If Melchior had been a kind-hearted man, it would have been
credible that he should prefer Louisa's simple goodness to every other
advantage; but a vainer man never was. It seemed incredible that a young
man of his kidney, fairly good-looking, and quite conscious of it, very
foolish, but not without talent, and in a position to look for some
well-dowered match, and capable even--who knows?--of turning the head of
one of his pupils among the people of the town, should suddenly have chosen
a girl of the people--poor, uneducated, without beauty, a girl who could in
no way advance his career.
But Melchior was one of those men who always do the opposite of what is
expected of them and of what they expect of themselves. It is not that they
are not warned--a man who is warned is worth two men, says the proverb.
They profess never to be the dupe of anything, and that they steer their
ship with unerring hand towards a definite point. But they reckon without
themselves, for they do not know themselves. In one of those moments of
forgetfulness which are habitual with them they let go the tiller, and, as
is natural when things are left to themselves, they take a naughty pleasure
in rounding on their masters. The ship which is released from its course at
once strikes a rock, and Melchior, bent upon intrigue, married a cook. And
yet he was neither drunk nor in a stupor on the day when he bound himself
to her for life, and he was not under any passionate impulse; far from it.
But perhaps there are in us forces other than mind and heart, other even
than the senses--mysterious forces which take hold of us in the moments
when the others are asleep; and perhaps it was such forces that Melchior
had found in the depths of those pale eyes which had looked at him so
timidly one evening when he had accosted the girl on the bank of the river,
and had sat down beside her in the reeds--without knowing why--and had
given her his hand.
Hardly was he married than he was appalled by what he had done, and he did
not hide what he felt from poor Louisa, who humbly asked his pardon. He
was not a bad fellow, and he willingly granted her that; but immediately
remorse would seize him again when he was with his friends or in the houses
of his rich pupils, who were disdainful in their treatment of him, and no
longer trembled at the touch of his hand when he corrected the position of
their fingers on the keyboard. Then he would return gloomy of countenance,
and Louisa, with a catch at her heart, would read in it with the first
glance the customary reproach; or he would stay out late at one inn or
another, there to seek self-respect or kindliness from others. On such
evenings he would return shouting with laughter, and this was more doleful
for Louisa than the hidden reproach and gloomy rancor that prevailed on
other days. She felt that she was to a certain extent responsible for the
fits of madness in which the small remnant of her husband's sense would
disappear, together with the household money. Melchior sank lower and
lower. At an age when he should have been engaged in unceasing toil to
develop his mediocre talent, he just let things slide, and others took his
But what did that matter to the unknown force which had thrown him in with
the little flaxen-haired servant? He had played his part, and little
Jean-Christophe had just set foot on this earth whither his destiny had
* * * * *
Night was fully come. Louisa's voice roused old Jean Michel from the torpor
into which he had sunk by the fireside as he thought of the sorrows of the
past and present.
"It must be late, father," said the young woman affectionately. "You ought
to go home; you have far to go."
"I am waiting for Melchior," replied the old man.
"Please, no. I would rather you did not stay."
The old man raised his head and looked fiercely at her.
She did not reply.
"You are afraid. You do not want me to meet him?"
"Yes, yes; it would only make things worse. You would make each other
angry, and I don't want that. Please, please go!"
The old man sighed, rose, and said:
"Well ... I'll go."
He went to her and brushed her forehead with his stiff beard. He asked
if she wanted anything, put out the lamp, and went stumbling against the
chairs in the darkness of the room. But he had no sooner reached the
staircase than he thought of his son returning drunk, and he stopped at
each step, imagining a thousand dangers that might arise if Melchior were
allowed to return alone....
In the bed by his mother's side the child was stirring again. An unknown
sorrow had arisen from the depths of his being. He stiffened himself
against her. He twisted his body, clenched his fists, and knitted
his brows. His suffering increased steadily, quietly, certain of its
strength. He knew not what it was, nor whence it came. It appeared
immense,--infinite, and he began to cry lamentably. His mother caressed him
with her gentle hands. Already his suffering was less acute. But he went on
weeping, for he felt it still near, still inside himself. A man who suffers
can lessen his anguish by knowing whence it comes. By thought he can locate
it in a certain portion of his body which can be cured, or, if necessary,
torn away. He fixes the bounds of it, and separates it from himself. A
child has no such illusive resource. His first encounter with suffering is
more tragic and more true. Like his own being, it seems infinite. He feels
that it is seated in his bosom, housed in his heart, and is mistress of his
flesh. And it is so. It will not leave his body until it has eaten it away.
His mother hugs him to her, murmuring: "It is done--it is done! Don't
cry, my little Jesus, my little goldfish...." But his intermittent outcry
continues. It is as though this wretched, unformed, and unconscious mass
had a presentiment of a whole life of sorrow awaiting, him, and nothing can
The bells of St. Martin rang out in the night. Their voices are solemn and
slow. In the damp air they come like footsteps on moss. The child became
silent in the middle of a sob. The marvelous music, like a flood of milk,
surged sweetly through him. The night was lit up; the air was moist and
tender. His sorrow disappeared, his heart began to laugh, and he slid, into
his dreams with a sigh of abandonment.
The three bells went on softly ringing in the morrow's festival. Louisa
also dreamed, as she listened to them, of her own past misery and of what
would become in the future of the dear little child sleeping by her side.
She had been for hours lying in her bed, weary and suffering. Her hands and
her body were burning; the heavy eiderdown crushed her; she felt crushed
and oppressed by the darkness; but she dared not move. She looked at the
child, and the night did not prevent her reading his features, that looked
so old. Sleep overcame her; fevered images passed through her brain. She
thought she heard Melchior open the door, and her heart leaped.
Occasionally the murmuring of the stream rose more loudly through the
silence, like the roaring of some beast. The window once or twice gave a
sound under the beating of the rain. The bells rang out more slowly, and
then died down, and Louisa slept by the side of her child.
All this time Jean Michel was waiting outside the house, dripping with
rain, his beard wet with the mist. He was waiting for the return of his
wretched son: for his mind, never ceasing, had insisted on telling him all
sorts of tragedies brought about by drunkenness; and although he did not
believe them, he could not hate slept a wink if he had gone away without
having seen his son return. The sound of the bells made him: melancholy,
for he remembered all his shattered hopes. He thought of what he was doing
at such an hour in the street, and for very shame he wept.
* * * * *
The vast tide of the days moves slowly. Day and night come up and go down
with unfailing regularity, like the ebb and low of an infinite ocean. Weeks
and months go by, and then begin again, and the succession of days is like
The day is immense, inscrutable, marking the even beat of light and
darkness, and the beat of the life of the torpid creature dreaming in the
depths of his cradle--his imperious needs, sorrowful or glad--so regular
that the night and the day which bring them seem by them to be brought
The pendulum of life moves heavily, and in its slow beat the whole creature
seems to be absorbed. The rest is no more than dreams, snatches of dreams,
formless and swarming, and dust of atoms dancing aimlessly, a dizzy whirl
passing, and bringing laughter or horror. Outcry, moving shadows, grinning
shapes, sorrows, terrors, laughter, dreams, dreams.... All is a dream, both
day and night.... And in such chaos the light of friendly eyes that smile
upon him, the flood of joy that surges through his body from his mother's
body, from her breasts filled with milk--the force that is in him, the
immense, unconscious force gathering in him, the turbulent ocean roaring
in the narrow prison of the child's body. For eyes that could see into it
there would be revealed whole worlds half buried in the darkness, nebulae
taking shape, a universe in the making. His being is limitless. He is all
that there is....
Months pass.... Islands of memory begin to rise above the river of his
life. At first they are little uncharted islands, rocks just peeping above
the surface of the waters. Round about them and behind in the twilight of
the dawn stretches the great untroubled sheet of water; then new islands,
touched to gold by the sun.
So from the abyss of the soul there emerge shapes definite, and scenes of a
strange clarity. In the boundless day which dawns once more, ever the same,
with its great monotonous beat, there begins to show forth the round of
days, hand in hand, and some of their forms are smiling, others sad. But
ever the links of the chain are broken, and memories are linked together
above weeks and months....
The River ... the Bells ... as long as he can remember--far back in the
abysses of time, at every hour of his life--always their voices, familiar
and resonant, have rung out....
Night--half asleep--a pale light made white the window.... The river
murmurs. Through the silence its voice rises omnipotent; it reigns over
all creatures. Sometimes it caresses their sleep, and seems almost itself
to die away in the roaring of its torrent. Sometimes it grows angry, and
howls like a furious beast about to bite. The clamor ceases. Now there is a
murmuring of infinite tenderness, silvery sounds like clear little bells,
like the laughter of children, or soft singing voices, or dancing music--a
great mother voice that never, never goes to sleep! It rocks the child, as
it has rocked through the ages, from birth to death, the generations that
were before him; it fills all his thoughts, and lives in all his dreams,
wraps him round with the cloak of its fluid harmonies, which still will be
about him when he lies in the little cemetery that sleeps by the water's
edge, washed by the Rhine....
The bells.... It is dawn! They answer each other's call, sad, melancholy,
friendly, gentle. At the sound of their slow voices there rise in him hosts
of dreams--dreams of the past, desires, hopes, regrets for creatures who
are gone, unknown to the child, although he had his being in them, and they
live again in him. Ages of memory ring out in that music. So much mourning,
so many festivals! And from the depths of the room it is as though, when
they are heard, there passed lovely waves of sound through the soft air,
free winging birds, and the moist soughing of the wind. Through the window
smiles a patch of blue sky; a sunbeam slips through the curtains to the
bed. The little world known to the eyes of the child, all that he can see
from his bed every morning as he awakes, all that with so much effort he is
beginning to recognize and classify, so that he may be master of it--his
kingdom is lit up. There is the table where people eat, the cupboard where
he hides to play, the tiled floor along which he crawls, and the wall-paper
which in its antic shapes holds for him so many humorous or terrifying
stories, and the clock which chatters and stammers so many words which he
alone can understand. How many things there are in this room! He does not
know them all. Every day he sets out on a voyage of exploration in this
universe which is his. Everything is his. Nothing is immaterial; everything
has its worth, man or fly, Everything lives--the cat, the fire, the table,
the grains of dust which dance in a sunbeam. The room is a country, a day
is a lifetime. How is a creature to know himself in the midst of these vast
spaces? The world is so large! A creature is lost in it. And the faces, the
actions, the movement, the noise, which make round about him an unending
turmoil!... He is weary; his eyes close; he goes to sleep. That sweet deep
sleep that overcomes him suddenly at any time, and wherever he may be--on
his mother's lap, or under the table, where he loves to hide!... It is
good. All is good....
These first days come buzzing up in his mind like a field of corn or a wood
stirred by the wind, and cast in shadow by the great fleeting clouds....
* * * * *
The shadows pass; the sun penetrates the forest. Jean-Christophe begins to
find his way through the labyrinth of the day.
It is morning. His parents are asleep. He is in his little bed, lying on
his back. He looks at the rays of light dancing on the ceiling. There is
infinite amusement in it. Now he laughs out loud with one of those jolly
children's laughs which stir the hearts of those that hear them. His mother
leans out of her bed towards him, and says: "What is it, then, little mad
thing?" Then he laughs again, and perhaps he makes an effort to laugh
because he has an audience. His mamma looks severe, and lays a finger on
her lips to warn him lest he should wake his father: but her weary eyes
smile in spite of herself. They whisper together. Then there is a furious
growl from his father. Both tremble. His mother hastily turns her back on
him, like a naughty little girl: she pretends to be asleep. Jean-Christophe
buries himself in his bed, and holds his breath.... Dead silence.
After some time the little face hidden under the clothes comes to the
surface again. On the roof the weathercock creaks. The rain-pipe gurgles;
the Angelus sounds. When the wind comes from the east, the distant bells
of the villages on the other bank of the river give answer. The sparrows
foregathered in the ivy-clad wall make a deafening noise, from which three
or four voices, always the same, ring out more shrilly than the others,
just as in the games of a band of children. A pigeon coos at the top of a
chimney. The child abandons himself to the lullaby of these sounds. He hums
to himself softly, then a little more loudly, then quite loudly, then very
loudly, until once more his father cries out in exasperation: "That little
donkey never will be quiet! Wait a little, and I'll pull your ears!" Then
Jean-Christophe buries himself in the bedclothes again, and does not know
whether to laugh or cry. He is terrified and humiliated; and at the same
time the idea of the donkey with which his father has compared him makes
him burst out laughing. From the depths of his bed he imitates its braying.
This time he is whipped. He sheds every tear that is in him. What has he
done? He wanted so much to laugh and to get up! And he is forbidden to
budge. How do people sleep forever? When will they get up?...
One day he could not contain himself. He heard a cat and a dog and
something queer in the street. He slipped out of bed, and, creeping
awkwardly with his bare feet on the tiles, he tried to go down the stairs
to see what it was; but the door was shut. To open it, he climbed on to
a chair; the whole thing collapsed, and he hurt himself and howled. And
once more at the top of the stairs he was whipped. He is always being
* * * * *
He is in church with his grandfather. He is bored. He is not very
comfortable. He is forbidden to stir, and all the people are saying all
together words that he does not understand. They all look solemn and
gloomy. It is not their usual way of looking. He looks at them, half
frightened. Old Lena, their neighbor, who is sitting next to him, looks
very cross; there are moments when he does not recognize even his
grandfather. He is afraid a little. Then he grows used to it, and tries to
find relief from boredom by every means at his disposal. He balances on
one leg, twists his neck to look at the ceiling, makes faces, pulls his
grandfather's coat, investigates the straws in his chair, tries to make a
hole in them with his finger, listens to the singing of birds, and yawns so
that he is like to dislocate his jaw.
Suddenly there is a deluge of sound; the organ is played. A thrill goes
down his spine. He turns and stands with his chin resting on the back of
his chair, and he looks very wise. He does not understand this noise; he
does not know the meaning of it; it is dazzling, bewildering, and he can
hear nothing clearly. But it is good. It is as though he were no longer
sitting there on an uncomfortable chair in a tiresome old house. He is
suspended in mid-air, like a bird; and when the flood of sound rushes from
one end of the church to the other, filling the arches, reverberating
from wall to wall, he is carried with it, flying and skimming hither and
thither, with nothing to do but to abandon himself to it. He is free; he is
happy. The sun shines.... He falls asleep.
His grandfather is displeased with him. He behaves ill at Mass.
* * * * *
He is at home, sitting on the ground, with his feet in his hands. He has
just decided that the door-mat is a boat, and the tiled floor a river. He
all but drowned in stepping off the carpet. He is surprised and a little
put out that the others pay no attention to the matter as he does when he
goes into the room. He seizes his mother by the skirts. "You see it is
water! You must go across by the bridge." (The bridge is a series of holes
between the red tiles.) His mother crosses without even listening to him.
He is vexed, as a dramatic author is vexed when he sees his audience
talking during his great work.
Next moment he thinks no more of it. The tiled floor is no longer the sea.
He is lying down on it, stretched full-length, with his chin on the tiles,
humming music of his own composition, and gravely sucking his thumb and
dribbling. He is lost in contemplation of a crack between the tiles. The
lines of the tiles grimace like faces. The imperceptible hole grows larger,
and becomes a valley; there are mountains about it. A centipede moves: it
is as large as an elephant. Thunder might crash, the child would not hear
No one bothers about him, and he has no need of any one. He can even do
without door-mat boats, and caverns in the tiled floor, with their
fantastic fauna. His body is enough. What a source of entertainment! He
spends hours in looking at his nails and shouting with laughter. They have
all different faces, and are like people that he knows. And the rest of
his body!... He goes on with the inspection of all that he has. How many
surprising things! There are so many marvels. He is absorbed in looking at
But he was very roughly picked up when they caught him at it.
* * * * *
Sometimes he takes advantage of his mother's back being turned, to escape
from the house. At first they used to run after him and bring him back.
Then they got used to letting him go alone, only so he did not go too
far away. The house is at the end of the town; the country begins almost
at once. As long as he is within sight of the windows he goes without
stopping, very deliberately, and now and then hopping on one foot. But as
soon as he has passed the corner of the road, and the brushwood hides him
from view, he changes abruptly. He stops there, with his finger in his
mouth, to find out what story he shall tell himself that day; for he is
full of stories. True, they are all very much like each other, and every
one of them could be told in a few lines. He chooses. Generally he takes up
the same story, sometimes from the point where it left off, sometimes from
the beginning, with variations. But any trifle--a word heard by chance--is
enough to set his mind off on another direction.
Chance was fruitful of resources. It is impossible to imagine what can be
made of a simple piece of wood, a broken bough found alongside a hedge.
(You break them off when you do not find them.) It was a magic wand. If it
were long and thin, it became a lance, or perhaps a sword; to brandish it
aloft was enough to cause armies to spring from the earth. Jean-Christophe
was their general, marching in front of them, setting them an example, and
leading them to the assault of a hillock. If the branch were flexible,
it changed into a whip. Jean-Christophe mounted on horseback and leaped
precipices. Sometimes his mount would slip, and the horseman would find
himself at the bottom of the ditch, sorrily looking at his dirty hands
and barked knees. If the wand were lithe, then Jean-Christophe would make
himself the conductor of an orchestra: he would be both conductor and
orchestra; he conducted and he sang; and then he would salute the bushes,
with their little green heads stirring in the wind.
He was also a magician. He walked with great strides through the fields,
looking at the sky and waving his arms. He commanded the clouds. He wished
them to go to the right, but they went to the left. Then he would abuse
them, and repeat his command. He would watch them out of the corner of his
eye, and his heart would beat as he looked to see if there were not at
least a little one which would obey him. But they went on calmly moving to
the left. Then he would stamp his foot, and threaten them with his stick,
and angrily order them to go to the left; and this time, in truth, they
obeyed him. He was happy and proud of his power. He would touch the flowers
and bid them change into golden carriages, as he had been told they did in
the stories; and, although it never happened, he was quite convinced that
it would happen if only he had patience. He would look for a grasshopper to
turn into a hare; he would gently lay his stick on its back, and speak a
rune. The insect would escape: he would bar its way. A few moments later he
would be lying on his belly near to it, looking at it. Then he would have
forgotten that he was a magician, and just amuse himself with turning the
poor beast on its back, while he laughed aloud at its contortions.
It occurred to him also to tie a piece of string to his magic wand, and
gravely cast it into the river, and wait for a fish to come and bite. He
knew perfectly well that fish do not usually bite at a piece of string
without bait or hook; but he thought that for once in a way, and for him,
they might make an exception to their rule; and in his inexhaustible
confidence, he carried it so far as to fish in the street with a whip
through the grating of a sewer. He would draw up the whip from time to time
excitedly, pretending that the cord of it was more heavy, and that he had
caught a treasure, as in a story that his grandfather had told him....
And always in the middle of all these games there used to occur to him
moments of strange dreaming and complete forgetfulness. Everything about
him would then be blotted out; he would not know what he was doing, and
was not even conscious of himself. These attacks would take him unawares.
Sometimes as he walked or went upstairs a void would suddenly open before
him. He would seem then to have lost all thought. But when he came back
to himself, he was shocked and bewildered to find himself in the same
place on the dark staircase. It was as though he had lived through a whole
lifetime--in the space of a few steps.
His grandfather used often to take him with him on his evening walk. The
little boy used to trot by his side and give him his hand. They used to
go by the roads, across plowed fields, which smelled strong and good. The
grasshoppers chirped. Enormous crows poised along the road used to watch
them approach from afar, and then fly away heavily as they came up with
His grandfather would cough. Jean-Christophe knew quite well what that
meant. The old man was burning with the desire to tell a story; but he
wanted it to appear that the child had asked him for one. Jean-Christophe
did not fail him; they understood each other. The old man had a tremendous
affection for his grandson, and it was a great joy to find in him a willing
audience. He loved to tell of episodes in his own life, or stories of great
men, ancient and modern. His voice would then become emphatic and filled
with emotion, and would tremble with a childish joy, which he used to
try to stifle. He seemed delighted to hear his own voice. Unhappily,
words used to fail him when he opened his mouth to speak. He was used to
such disappointment, for it always came upon him with his outbursts of
eloquence. And as he used to forget it with each new attempt, he never
succeeded in resigning himself to it.
He used to talk of Regulus, and Arminius, of the soldiers of Luetzow, of
Koerner, and of Frederic Stabs, who tried to kill the Emperor Napoleon.
His face would glow as he told of incredible deeds of heroism. He used to
pronounce historic words in such a solemn voice that it was impossible to
hear them, and he used to try artfully to keep his hearer on tenterhooks at
the thrilling moments. He would stop, pretend to choke, and noisily blow
his nose; and his heart would leap when the child asked, in a voice choking
with impatience: "And then, grandfather?"
There came a day, when Jean-Christophe was a little older, when he
perceived his grandfather's method; and then he wickedly set himself to
assume an air of indifference to the rest of the story, and that hurt the
poor old man. But for the moment Jean-Christophe is altogether held by the
power of the story-teller. His blood leaped at the dramatic passages. He
did not know what it was all about, neither where nor when these deeds were
done, or whether his grandfather knew Arminius, or whether Regulus were
not--God knows why!--some one whom he had seen at church last Sunday. But
his heart and the old man's heart swelled with joy and pride in the tale of
heroic deeds, as though they themselves had done them; for the old man and
the child were both children.
Jean-Christophe was less happy when his grandfather interpolated in the
pathetic passages one of those abstruse discourses so dear to him. There
were moral thoughts generally traceable to some idea, honest enough, but
a little trite, such as "Gentleness is better than violence," or "Honor
is the dearest thing in life," or "It is better to be good than to be
wicked"--only they were much more involved. Jean-Christophe's grandfather
had no fear of the criticism of his youthful audience, and abandoned
himself to his habitual emphatic manner; he was not afraid of repeating the
same phrases, or of not finishing them, or even, if he lost himself in his
discourse, of saying anything that came into his head, to stop up the gaps
in his thoughts; and he used to punctuate his words, in order to give them
greater force, with inappropriate gestures. The boy used to listen with
profound respect, and he thought his grandfather very eloquent, but a
Both of them loved to return again and again to the fabulous legend of the
Corsican conqueror who had taken Europe. Jean-Christophe's grandfather had
known him. He had almost fought against him. But he was a man to admit the
greatness of his adversaries: he had said so twenty times. He would have
given one of his arms for such a man to have been born on this side of the
Rhine. Fate had decreed otherwise; he admired him, and had fought against
him--that is, he had been on the point of fighting against him. But when
Napoleon had been no farther than ten leagues away, and they had marched
out to meet him, a sudden panic had dispersed the little band in a forest,
and every man had fled, crying, "We are betrayed!" In vain, as the old man
used to tell, in vain did he endeavor to rally the fugitives; he threw
himself in front of them, threatening them and weeping: he had been swept
away in the flood of them, and on the morrow had found himself at an
extraordinary distance from the field of battle--For so he called the place
of the rout. But Jean-Christophe used impatiently to bring him back to
the exploits of the hero, and he was delighted by his marvelous progress
through the world. He saw him followed by innumerable men, giving vent to
great cries of love, and at a wave of his hand hurling themselves in swarms
upon flying enemies--they were always in flight. It was a fairy-tale. The
old man added a little to it to fill out the story; he conquered Spain, and
almost conquered England, which he could not abide.
Old Krafft used to intersperse his enthusiastic narratives with indignant
apostrophes addressed to his hero. The patriot awoke in him, more perhaps
when he told of the Emperor's defeats than of the Battle of Jena. He would
stop to shake his fist at the river, and spit contemptuously, and mouth
noble insults--he did not stoop to less than that. He would call him
"rascal," "wild beast," "immoral." And if such words were intended to
restore to the boy's mind a sense of justice, it must be confessed that
they failed in their object; for childish logic leaped to this conclusion:
"If a great man like that had no morality, morality is not a great thing,
and what matters most is to be a great man." But the old man was far from
suspecting the thoughts which were running along by his side.
They would both be silent, pondering each after his own fashion, these
admirable stories--except when the old man used to meet one of his noble
patrons taking a walk. Then he would stop, and bow very low, and breathe
lavishly the formulae of obsequious politeness. The child used to blush for
it without knowing why. But his grandfather at heart had a vast respect for
established power and persons who had "arrived"; and possibly his great
love for the heroes of whom he told was only because he saw in them persons
who had arrived at a point higher than the others.
When it was very hot, old Krafft used to sit under a tree, and was not long
in dozing off. Then Jean-Christophe used to sit near him on a heap of loose
stones or a milestone, or some high seat, uncomfortable and peculiar; and
he used to wag his little legs, and hum to himself, and dream. Or sometimes
he used to lie on his back and watch the clouds go by; they looked like
oxen, and giants, and hats, and old ladies, and immense landscapes. He used
to talk to them in a low voice, or be absorbed in a little cloud which a
great one was on the point of devouring. He was afraid of those which were
very black, almost blue, and of those which went very fast. It seemed to
him that they played an enormous part in life, and he was surprised that
neither his grandfather nor his mother paid any attention to them. They
were terrible beings if they wished to do harm. Fortunately, they used to
go by, kindly enough, a little grotesque, and they did not stop. The boy
used in the end to turn giddy with watching them too long, and he used to
fidget with his legs and arms, as though he were on the point of falling
from the sky. His eyelids then would wink, and sleep would overcome him.
Silence.... The leaves murmur gently and tremble in the sun; a faint mist
passes through the air; the uncertain flies hover, booming like an organ;
the grasshoppers, drunk with the summer, chirp eagerly and hurriedly; all
is silent.... Under the vault of the trees the cry of the green woodpecker
has magic sounds. Far away on the plain a peasant's voice harangues his
oxen; the shoes of a horse ring out on the white road. Jean-Christophe's
eyes close. Near him an ant passes along a dead branch across a furrow. He
loses consciousness.... Ages have passed. He wakes. The ant has not yet
crossed the twig.
Sometimes the old man would sleep too long, and his face would grow rigid,
and his long nose would grow longer, and his mouth stand open.
Jean-Christophe used then to look at him uneasily, and in fear of seeing
his head change gradually into some fantastic shape. He used to sing
loudly, so as to wake him up, or tumble down noisily from his heap of
stones. One day it occurred to him to throw a handful of pine-needles in
his grandfather's face, and tell him that they had fallen from the tree.
The old man believed him, and that made Jean-Christophe laugh. But,
unfortunately, he tried the trick again, and just when he had raised his
hand he saw his grandfather's eyes watching him. It was a terrible affair.
The old man was solemn, and allowed no liberty to be taken with the respect
due to himself. They were estranged for more than a week.
The worse the road was, the more beautiful it was to Jean-Christophe. Every
stone had a meaning for him; he knew them all. The shape of a rut seemed to
him to be a geographical accident almost of the same kind as the great mass
of the Taunus. In his head he had the map of all the ditches and hillocks
of the region extending two kilometers round about the house, and when he
made any change in the fixed ordering of the furrows, he thought himself no
less important than an engineer with a gang of navvies; and when with his
heel he crushed the dried top of a clod of earth, and filled up the valley
at the foot of it, it seemed to him that his day had not been wasted.
Sometimes they would meet a peasant in his cart on the highroad, and,
if the peasant knew Jean-Christophe's grandfather they would climb up
by his side. That was a Paradise on earth. The horse went fast, and
Jean-Christophe laughed with delight, except when they passed other
people walking; then he would look serious and indifferent, like a person
accustomed to drive in a carriage, but his heart was filled with pride. His
grandfather and the man would talk without bothering about him. Hidden and
crushed by their legs, hardly sitting, sometimes not sitting at all, he was
perfectly happy. He talked aloud, without troubling about any answer to
what he said. He watched the horse's ears moving. What strange creatures
those ears were! They moved in every direction--to right and left; they
hitched forward, and fell to one side, and turned backwards in such a
ridiculous way that he: burst out laughing. He would pinch his grandfather
to make him look at them; but his grandfather was not interested in them.
He would repulse Jean-Christophe, and tell him to be quiet. Jean-Christophe
would ponder. He thought that when people grow up they are not surprised by
anything, and that when they are strong they know everything; and he would
try to be grown up himself, and to hide his curiosity, and appear to be
He was silent them The rolling of the carriage made him drowsy. The horse's
little bells danced--ding, ding; dong, ding. Music awoke in the air, and
hovered about the silvery bells, like a swarm of bees. It beat gaily with
the rhythm of the cart--an endless source of song, and one song came
on another's heels. To Jean-Christophe they were superb. There was one
especially which he thought so beautiful that he tried to draw his
grandfather's attention to it. He sang it aloud. They took no heed of
him. He began it again in a higher key, then again shrilly, and then old
Jean Michel said irritably: "Be quiet; you are deafening me with your
trumpet-call!" That took away his breath. He blushed and was silent and
mortified. He crushed with his contempt the two stockish imbeciles who did
not understand the sublimity of his song, which opened wide the heavens! He
thought them very ugly, with their week-old beards, and they smelled very
He found consolation, in watching the horse's shadow. That an astonishing
sight. The beast ran along with them lying on its side. In the evening,
when they returned, it covered a part of the field. They came upon a rick,
and the shadow's head would rise up and then return to its place when they
had passed. Its snout was flattened out like a burst balloon; its ears were
large, and pointed like candles. Was it really a shadow or a creature?
Jean-Christophe would not have liked to encounter it alone. He would not
have run after it as he did after his grandfather's shadow, so as to walk
on its head and trample it under foot. The shadows of the trees when the
sun was low were also objects of meditation. They made barriers along the
road, and looked like phantoms, melancholy and grotesque, saying, "Go no
farther!" and the creaking axles and the horse's shoes repeated, "No
Jean-Christophe's grandfather and the driver never ceased their endless
chatter. Sometimes they would raise their voices, especially when they
talked of local affairs or things going wrong. The child would cease to
dream, and look at them uneasily. It seemed to him that they were angry
with each other, and he was afraid that they would come to blows. However,
on the contrary, they best understood each other in their common dislikes.
For the most part, they were without haired or the least passion; they
talked of small matters loudly, just for the pleasure of talking, as
is the joy of the people. But Jean-Christophe, not understanding their
conversation, only heard the loud tones of their voices and saw their
agitated faces, and thought fearfully: "How wicked he looks! Surely they
hate each other! How he rolls his eyes, and how wide he opens his mouth! He
spat on my nose in his fury. O Lord, he will kill my grandfather!..."
The carriage stopped. The peasant said: "Here you are." The two deadly
enemies shook hands. Jean-Christophe's grandfather got down first; the
peasant handed him the little boy. The whip flicked the horse, the carriage
rolled away, and there they were by the little sunken road near the Rhine.
The sun dipped down below the fields. The path wound almost to the water's
edge. The plentiful soft grass yielded under their feet, crackling.
Alder-trees leaned over the river, almost half in the water. A cloud of
gnats danced. A boat passed noiselessly, drawn on by the peaceful current,
striding along. The water sucked the branches of the willows with a little
noise like lips. The light was soft and misty, the air fresh, the river
silvery gray. They reached their home, and the crickets chirped, and on the
threshold smiled his mother's dear face....
Oh, delightful memories, kindly visions, which will hum their melody in
their tuneful flight through life!... Journeys in later life, great towns
and moving seas, dream countries and loved faces, are not so exactly graven
in the soul as these childish walks, or the corner of the garden seen every
day through the window, through the steam and mist made by the child's
mouth glued to it for want of other occupation....
Evening now, and the house is shut up. Home ... the refuge from all
terrifying things--darkness, night, fear, things unknown. No enemy can pass
the threshold.... The fire flares. A golden duck turns slowly on the spit;
a delicious smell of fat and of crisping flesh scents the room. The joy of
eating, incomparable delight, a religious enthusiasm, thrills of joy! The
body is too languid with the soft warmth, and the fatigues of the day,
and the familiar voices. The act of digestion plunges it in ecstasy, and
faces, shadows, the lampshade, the tongues of flame dancing with a shower
of stars in the fireplace--all take on a magical appearance of delight.
Jean-Christophe lays his cheek on his plate, the better to enjoy all this
He is in his soft bed. How did he come there? He is overcome with
weariness. The buzzing of the voices in the room and the visions of the
day are intermingled in his mind. His father takes his violin; the shrill
sweet sounds cry out complaining in the night. But the crowning joy is
when his mother comes and takes Jean-Christophe's hands. He is drowsy,
and, leaning over him, in a low voice she sings, as he asks, an, old song
with words that have no meaning. His father thinks such music stupid, but
Jean-Christophe never wearies of it. He holds his breath, and is between
laughing and crying. His heart is intoxicated. He does not know where he
is, and he is overflowing with tenderness. He throws his little arms round
his mother's neck, and hugs her with all his strength. She says, laughing:
"You want to strangle me?"
He hugs her close. How he loves her! How he loves everything! Everybody,
everything! All is good, all is beautiful.... He sleeps. The cricket on the
hearth cheeps. His grandfather's tales, the great heroes, float by in the
happy night.... To be a hero like them!... Yes, he will be that ... he is
that.... Ah, how good it is to live!
* * * * *
What an abundance of strength, joy, pride, is in that little creature! What
superfluous energy! His body and mind never cease to move; they are carried
round and round breathlessly. Like a little salamander, he dances day and
night in the flames. His is an unwearying enthusiasm finding its food in
all things. A delicious dream, a bubbling well, a treasure of inexhaustible
hope, a laugh, a song, unending drunkenness. Life does not hold him yet;
always he escapes it. He swims in the infinite. How happy he is! He is made
to be happy! There is nothing in him that does not believe in happiness,
and does not cling to it with all his little strength and passion!...
Life will soon see to it that he is brought to reason.
L'alba vinceva l'ora, mattutina.
Che fuggia 'nnanzi, si che di lontano
Conobbi il tremolar della marina....
The Kraffts came originally from Antwerp. Old Jean Michel had left the
country as a result of a boyish freak, a violent quarrel, such as he had
often had, for he was devilish pugnacious, and it had had an unfortunate
ending. He settled down, almost fifty years ago, in the little town of the
principality, with its red-pointed roofs and shady gardens, lying on the
slope of a gentle hill, mirrored in the pale green eyes of _Vater Rhein_.
An excellent musician, he had readily gained appreciation in a country of
musicians. He had taken root there by marrying, forty years ago, Clara
Sartorius, daughter of the Prince's _Kapellmeister_, whose duties he took
over. Clara was a placid German with two passions--cooking and music. She
had for her husband a veneration only equaled by that which she had for her
father, Jean Michel no less admired his wife. They had lived together in
perfect amity for fifteen years, and they had four children. Then Clara
died; and Jean Michel bemoaned her loss, and then, five months later,
married Ottilia Schuetz, a girl of twenty, with red cheeks, robust and
smiling. After eight years of marriage she also died, but in that time
she gave him seven children--eleven children in all, of whom only one had
survived. Although he loved them much, all these bereavements had not
shaken his good-humor. The greatest blow had been the death of Ottilia,
three years ago, which had come to him at an age when it is difficult to
start life again and to make a new home. But after a moment's confusion old
Jean Michel regained his equilibrium, which no misfortune seemed able to
He was an affectionate man, but health was the strongest thing in him. He
had a physical repugnance from sadness, and a need of gaiety, great gaiety,
Flemish fashion--an enormous and childish laugh. Whatever might be his
grief, he did not drink one drop the less, nor miss one bite at table, and
his band never had one day off. Under his direction the Court orchestra
won a small celebrity in the Rhine country, where Jean Michel had become
legendary by reason of his athletic stature and his outbursts of anger. He
could not master them, in spite of all his efforts, for the violent man was
at bottom timid and afraid of compromising himself. He loved decorum and
feared opinion. But his blood ran away with him. He used to see red, and
he used to be the victim of sudden fits of crazy impatience, not only at
rehearsals, but at the concerts, where once in the Prince's presence he
had hurled his baton and had stamped about like a man possessed, as he
apostrophized one of the musicians in a furious and stuttering voice. The
Prince was amused, but the artists in question were rancorous against
him. In vain did Jean Michel, ashamed of his outburst, try to pass it by
immediately in exaggerated obsequiousness. On the next occasion he would
break out again, and as this extreme irritability increased with age, in
the end it made his position very difficult. He felt it himself, and one
day, when his outbursts had all but caused the whole orchestra to strike,
he sent in his resignation. He hoped that in consideration of his services
they would make difficulties about accepting it, and would ask him to stay.
There was nothing of the kind, and as he was too proud to go back on his
offer, he left, brokenhearted, and crying out upon the ingratitude of
Since that time he had not known how to fill his days. He was more than
seventy, but he was still vigorous, and he went on working and going up and
down the town from morning to night, giving lessons, and entering into
discussions, pronouncing perorations, and entering into everything. He
was ingenious, and found all sorts of ways of keeping himself occupied.
He began to repair musical instruments; he invented, experimented, and
sometimes discovered improvements. He composed also, and set store by his
compositions. He had once written a _Missa Solennis_, of which he used
often to talk, and it was the glory of his family. It had cost him so much
trouble that he had all but brought about a congestion of the mind in the
writing of it. He tried to persuade himself that it was a work of genius,
but he knew perfectly well with what emptiness of thought it had been
written, and he dared not look again at the manuscript, because every time
he did so he recognized in the phrases that he had thought to be his own,
rags taken from other authors, painfully pieced together haphazard. It was
a great sorrow to him. He had ideas sometimes which he thought admirable.
He would run tremblingly to his table. Could he keep his inspiration this
time? But hardly had he taken pen in hand than he found himself alone in
silence, and all his efforts to call to life again the vanished voices
ended only in bringing to his ears familiar melodies of Mendelssohn or
"There are," says George Sand, "unhappy geniuses who lack the power of
expression, and carry down to their graves the unknown region of their
thoughts, as has said a member of that great family of illustrious mutes
or stammerers--Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire." Old Jean Michel belonged to that
family. He was no more successful in expressing himself in music than in
words, and he always deceived himself. He would so much have loved to talk,
to write, to be a great musician, an eloquent orator! It was his secret
sore. He told no one of it, did not admit it to himself, tried not to think
of it; but he did think of it, in spite of himself, and so there was the
seed of death in his soul.
Poor old man! In nothing did he succeed in being absolutely himself. There
were in him so many seeds of beauty and power, but they never put forth
fruit; a profound and touching faith in the dignity of Art and the moral
value of life, but it was nearly always translated in an emphatic and
ridiculous fashion; so much noble pride, and in life an almost servile
admiration of his superiors; so lofty a desire for independence, and,
in fact, absolute docility; pretensions to strength of mind, and every
conceivable superstition; a passion for heroism, real courage, and so much
timidity!--a nature to stop by the wayside.
* * * * *
Jean Michel had transferred all his ambitions to his son, and at first
Melchior had promised to realize them. From childhood he had shown great
musical gifts. He learned with extraordinary facility, and quickly acquired
as a violinist a virtuosity which for a long time made him the favorite,
almost the idol, of the Court concerts. He played the piano and other
instruments pleasantly. He was a fine talker, well, though a little
heavily, built, and was of the type which passes in Germany for classic
beauty; he had a large brow that expressed nothing, large regular features,
and a curled beard--a Jupiter of the banks of the Rhine. Old Jean Michel
enjoyed his son's success; he was ecstatic over the virtuoso's _tours de
force_, he who had never been able properly to play any instrument. In
truth, Melchior would have had no difficulty in expressing what he thought.
The trouble was that he did not think; and he did not even bother about it.
He had the soul of a mediocre comedian who takes pains with the inflexions
of his voice without caring about what they express, and, with anxious
vanity, watches their effect on his audience.
The odd thing was that, in spite of his constant anxiety about his stage
pose, there was in him, as in Jean Michel, in spite of his timid respect
for social conventions, a curious, irregular, unexpected and chaotic
quality, which made people say that the Kraffts were a bit crazy. It did
not harm him at first; it seemed as though these very eccentricities were
the proof of the genius attributed to him; for it is understood among
people of common sense that an artist has none. But it was not long
before his extravagances were traced to their source--usually the bottle.
Nietzsche says that Bacchus is the God of Music, and Melchior's instinct
was of the same opinion; but in his case his god was very ungrateful to
him; far from giving him the ideas he lacked, he took away from him the few
that he had. After his absurd marriage--absurd in the eyes of the world,
and therefore also in his own--he gave himself up to it more and more. He
neglected his playing--so secure in his own superiority that very soon he
lost it. Other _virtuosi_ came to succeed him in public favor. That
was bitter to him, but instead of rousing his energy, these rebuffs only
discouraged him. He avenged himself by crying down his rivals with his
pot-fellows. In his absurd conceit he counted on succeeding his father as
musical director: another man was appointed. He thought himself persecuted,
and took on the airs of a misunderstood genius. Thanks to the esteem in
which old Krafft was held, he kept his place as a violin in the orchestra,
but gradually he lost all his lessons in the town. And if this blow struck
most at his vanity, it touched his purse even more. For several years the
resources of his household had grown less and less, following on various
reverses of fortune. After having known plenty, want came, and every day
increased. Melchior refused to take notice of it; he did not spend one
penny the less on his toilet or his pleasures.
He was not a bad man, but a half-good man, which is perhaps worse--weak,
without spring, without moral strength, but for the rest, in his own
opinion, a good father, a good son, a good husband, a good man--and perhaps
he was good, if to be so it is enough to possess an easy kindness, which
is quickly touched, and that animal affection by which a man loves his kin
as a part of himself. It cannot even be said that he was very egoistic; he
had not personality enough for that. He was nothing. They are a terrible
thing in life, these people who are nothing. Like a dead weight thrown into
the air, they fall, and must fall; and in their fall they drag with them
everything that they have.
It was when the situation of his family had reached its most difficult
point, that little Jean-Christophe began to understand what was going on
He was no longer the only child. Melchior gave his wife a child every year,
without troubling to think what was to become of it later. Two had died
young; two others were three and four years old. Melchior never bothered
about them. Louisa, when she had to go out, left them with Jean-Christophe,
now six years old.
The charge cost Jean-Christophe something, for he had to sacrifice to his
duty his splendid afternoons in the fields. But he was proud of being
treated as a man, and gravely fulfilled his task. He amused the children as
best he could by showing them his games, and he set himself to talk to them
as he had heard his mother talking to the baby. Or he would carry them in
his arms, one after another, as he had seen her do; he bent under their
weight, and clenched his teeth, and with all his strength clutched his
little brother to his breast, so as to prevent his falling. The children
always wanted to be carried--they were never tired of it; and when
Jean-Christophe could do no more, they wept without ceasing. They made him
very unhappy, and he was often troubled about them. They were very dirty,
and needed maternal attentions. Jean-Christophe did not know what to do.
They took advantage of him. Sometimes he wanted to slap them, but he
thought, "They are little; they do not know," and, magnanimously, he let
them pinch him, and beat him, and tease him. Ernest used to howl for
nothing; he used to stamp his feet and roll about in a passion; he was a
nervous child, and Louisa had bidden Jean-Christophe not to oppose his
whims. As for Rodolphe, he was as malicious as a monkey; he always took
advantage of Jean-Christophe having Ernest in his arms, to play all sorts
of silly pranks behind his back; he used to break toys, spill water, dirty
his frock, and knock the plates over as he rummaged in the cupboard.
And when Louisa returned, instead of praising Jean-Christophe, she used to
say to him, without scolding him, but with an injured air, as she saw the
havoc; "My poor child, you are not very clever!"
Jean-Christophe would be mortified, and his heart would grow big within
* * * * *
Louisa, who let no opportunity escape of earning a little money, used to
go out as cook for exceptional occasions, such, as marriages or baptismal
feasts. Melchior pretended to know nothing about it--it touched his
vanity--but he was not annoyed with her for doing it, so long as he did not
know. Jean-Christophe had as yet no idea of the difficulties of life; he
knew no other limit to his will than the will of his parents, and that did
not stand much in his way, for they let him do pretty much as he pleased.
His one idea was to grow up, so as to be able to do as he liked. He had no
conception of obstacles standing in the way at every turn, and he had never
the least idea but that his parents were completely their own masters. It
was a shock to his whole being when, for the first time, he perceived that
among men there are those who command, and those who are commanded, and
that his own people were not of the first class; it was the first crisis of
It happened one afternoon. His mother had dressed him in his cleanest
clothes, old clothes given to her which Louisa's ingenuity and patience had
turned to account. He went to find her, as they had agreed, at the house
in which she was working. He was abashed at the idea of entering alone. A
footman was swaggering in the porch; he stopped the boy, and asked him
patronizingly what he wanted. Jean-Christophe blushed, and murmured that
he had come to see "Frau Krafft"--as he had been told to say.
"Frau Krafft? What do you want with Frau Krafft?" asked the footman,
ironically emphasizing the word _Frau_, "Your mother? Go down there.
You will find Louisa in the kitchen at the end of the passage."
He went, growing redder and redder. He was ashamed to hear his mother
called familiarly _Louisa_. He was humiliated; he would have liked to run
away down to his dear river, and the shelter of the brushwood where he used
to tell himself stories.
In the kitchen he came upon a number of other servants, who greeted him
with noisy exclamations. At the back, near the stove, his mother smiled at
him with tender embarrassment. He ran to her, and clung to her skirts. She
was wearing a white apron, and holding a wooden spoon. She made him more
unhappy by trying to raise his chin so as to look in his face, and to make
him hold out his hand to everybody there and say good-day to them. He would
not; he turned to the wall and hid his face in his arms. Then gradually he
gained courage, and peeped out of his hiding-place with merry bright eyes,
which hid again every time any one looked at him. He stole looks at the
people there. His mother looked busy and important, and he did not know her
like that; she went from one saucepan to another, tasting, giving advice,
in a sure voice explaining recipes, and the cook of the house listened
respectfully. The boy's heart swelled with pride as he saw how much his
mother was appreciated, and the great part that she played in this splendid
room, adorned with magnificent objects of gold and silver.
Suddenly conversation ceased. The door opened. A lady entered with a
rustling of the stuffs she was wearing. She cast a suspicious look about
her. She was no longer young, and yet she was wearing a light dress with
wide sleeves. She caught up her dress in her hand, so as not to brush
against anything. It did not prevent her going to the stove and looking
at the dishes, and even tasting them. When she raised her hand a little,
her sleeve fell back, and her arm was bare to the elbow. Jean-Christophe
thought this ugly and improper. How dryly and abruptly she spoke to Louisa!
And how humbly Louisa replied! Jean-Christophe hated it. He hid away in his
corner, so as not to be observed, but it was no use. The lady asked who the
little boy might be. Louisa fetched him and presented him; she held his
hands to prevent his hiding his face. And, though he wanted to break away
and flee, Jean-Christophe felt instinctively that this time he must not
resist. The lady looked at the boy's scared face, and at first she gave him
a kindly, motherly smile. But then she resumed her patronizing air, and
asked him about his behavior, and his piety, and put questions to him, to
which he did not reply. She looked to see how his clothes fitted him, and
Louisa eagerly declared that they were magnificent. She pulled down his
waistcoat to remove the creases. Jean-Christophe wanted to cry, it fitted
so tightly. He did not understand why his mother was giving thanks.
The lady took him by the hand and said that she would take him to her own
children. Jean-Christophe cast a look of despair at his mother; but she
smiled at the mistress so eagerly that he saw that there was nothing to
hope for from her, and he followed his guide like a sheep that is led to
They came to a garden, where two cross-looking children, a boy and a girl,
about the same age as Jean-Christophe, were apparently sulky with each
other. Jean-Christophe's advent created a diversion. They came up to
examine the new arrival. Jean-Christophe, left with the children by the
lady, stood stock-still in a pathway, not daring to raise his eyes. The
two others stood motionless a short distance away, and looked him up and
down, nudged each other, and tittered. Finally, they made up their minds.
They asked him who he was, whence he came, and what his father did.
Jean-Christophe, turned to stone, made no reply; he was terrified almost
to the point of tears, especially of the little girl, who had fair hair in
plaits, a short skirt, and bare legs.
They began to play. Just as Jean-Christophe was beginning to be a little
happier, the little boy stopped dead in front of him, and touching his
"Hullo! That's mine!"
Jean-Christophe did not understand. Furious at this assertion that his coat
belonged to some one else, he shook his head violently in denial.
"I know it all right," said the boy. "It's my old blue waistcoat. There's a
spot on it."
And he put his finger on the spot. Then, going on with his inspection, he
examined Jean-Christophe's feet, and asked what his mended-up shoes were
made of. Jean-Christophe grew crimson. The little girl pouted and whispered
to her brother--Jean-Christophe heard it--that it was a little poor boy.
Jean-Christophe resented the word. He thought he would succeed In combating
the insulting opinions, as he stammered in a choking voice that he was the
son of Melchior Krafft. and that his mother was Louisa the cook. It seemed
to him that this title was as good as any other, and he was right. But the
two children, interested in the news, did not seem to esteem him any the
more for it. On the contrary, they took on a patronizing tone. They asked
him what he was going to be--a cook or a coachman. Jean-Christophe
revolted. He felt an iciness steal into his heart.
Encouraged by his silence, the two rich children, who had conceived for
the little poor boy one of those cruel and unreasoning antipathies which
children have, tried various amusing ways of tormenting him, The little
girl especially was implacable. She observed that Jean-Christophe could
hardly run, because his clothes were so tight, and she conceived the
subtle idea of making him jump. They made an obstacle of little seats,
and insisted on Jean-Christophe clearing it. The wretched child dared not
say what it was that prevented his jumping. He gathered himself together,
hurled himself through, the air, and measured his length on the ground.
They roared with laughter at him. He had to try again. Tears in his eyes,
he made a desperate attempt, and this time succeeded in jumping. That did
not satisfy his tormentors, who decided that the obstacle was not high
enough, and they built it up until it became a regular break-neck affair.
Jean-Christophe tried to rebel, and declared that he would not jump.
Then the little girl called him a coward, and said that he was afraid.
Jean-Christophe could not stand that, and, knowing that he must fall, he
jumped, and fell. His feet caught in the obstacle; the whole thing toppled
over with him. He grazed his hands and almost broke his head, and, as a
crowning misfortune, his trousers tore at the knees and elsewhere. He was
sick with shame; he heard the two children dancing with delight round him;
he suffered horribly. He felt that they, despised and hated him. Why? Why?
He would gladly have died! There is no more cruel suffering than that
of a child who discovers for the first time the wickedness of others; he
believes then that he is persecuted by the--whole world, and there is
nothing to support him; there is nothing then--nothing!... Jean-Christophe
tried to get up; the little boy pushed him down again; the little girl
kicked him. He tried again, and they both jumped on him, and sat on his
back and pressed his face down into the ground. Then rage seized him--it
was too much. His hands were bruised, his fine coat was torn--a catastrophe
for him!--shame, pain, revolt against the injustice of it, so many
misfortunes all at once, plunged him in blind fury. He rose to his hands
and knees, shook himself like a dog, and rolled his tormentors over; and
when they returned to the assault he butted at them, head down, bowled over
the little girl, and, with one blow of his fist, knocked the boy into the
middle of a flower-bed.
They howled. The children ran into the house with piercing cries. Doors
slammed, and cries of anger were heard. The lady ran out as quickly as
her long dress would let her. Jean-Christophe saw her coming, and made no
attempt to escape. He was terrified at what he had done; it was a thing
unheard of, a crime; but he regretted nothing. He waited. He was lost. So
much the better! He was reduced to despair.
The lady pounced on him. He felt her beat him. He heard her talking in a
furious voice, a flood of words; but he could distinguish nothing. His
little enemies had come back to see his shame, and screamed shrilly. There
were servants--a babel of voices. To complete his downfall, Louisa, who
had been summoned, appeared, and, instead of defending him, she began to
scold him--she, too, without knowing anything--and bade him beg pardon. He
refused angrily. She shook him, and dragged him by the hand to the lady and
the children, and bade him go on his knees. But he stamped and roared, and
bit his mother's hand. Finally, he escaped among the servants, who laughed.
He went away, his heart beating furiously, his face burning with anger and
the slaps which he had received. He tried not to think, and he hurried
along because he did not want to cry in the street. He wanted to be at
home, so as to be able to find the comfort of tears. He choked; the blood
beat in his head; he was at bursting-point.
Finally, he arrived; he ran up the old black staircase to his usual
nook in the bay of a window above the river; he hurled himself into it
breathlessly, and then there came a flood of tears. He did not know exactly
why he was crying, but he had to cry; and when the first flood of them was
done, he wept again because he wanted, with a sort of rage, to make himself
suffer, as if he could in this way punish the others as well as himself.
Then he thought that his father must be coming home, and that his mother
would tell him everything, and that his own miseries were by no means at an
end. He resolved on flight, no matter whither, never to return.
Just as he was going downstairs, he bumped into his father, who was coming
"What are you doing, boy? Where are you going?" asked Melchior.
He did not reply.
"You are up to some folly. What have you done?"
Jean-Christophe held his peace.
"What have you done?" repeated Melchior. "Will you answer?"
The boy began to cry and Melchior to shout, vying with each other until
they heard Louisa hurriedly coming up the stairs. She arrived, still upset.
She began with violent reproach and further chastisement, in which Melchior
joined as soon as he understood--and probably before--with blows that
would have felled an ox. Both shouted; the boy roared. They ended by angry
argument. All the time that he was beating his son, Melchior maintained
that he was right, and that this was the sort of thing that one came by,
by going out to service with people who thought they could do everything
because they had money; and as she beat the child, Louisa shouted that her
husband was a brute, that she would never let him touch the boy, and that
he had really hurt him. Jean-Christophe was, in fact, bleeding a little
from the nose, but he hardly gave a thought to it, and he was not in the
least thankful to his mother for stopping it with a wet cloth, since she
went on scolding him. In the end they pushed him away in a dark closet, and
shut him up without any supper.
He heard them shouting at each other, and he did not know which of them he
detested most. He thought it must be his mother, for he had never expected
any such wickedness from her. All the misfortunes of the day overwhelmed
him: all that he had suffered--the injustice of the children, the injustice
of the lady, the injustice of his parents, and--this he felt like an open
wound, without quite knowing why--the degradation of his parents, of whom
he was so proud, before these evil and contemptible people. Such cowardice,
of which for the first time he had become vaguely conscious, seemed ignoble
to him. Everything was upset for him--his admiration for his own people,
the religious respect with which they inspired him, his confidence in life,
the simple need that he had of loving others and of being loved, his moral
faith, blind but absolute. It was a complete cataclysm. He was crushed
by brute force, without any means of defending himself or of ever again
escaping. He choked. He thought himself on the point of death. All his body
stiffened in desperate revolt. He beat with fists, feet, head, against the
wall, howled, was seized with convulsions, and fell to the floor, hurting
himself against the furniture.
His parents, running up, took him in their arms. They vied with each other
now as to who should be the more tender with him. His mother undressed
him, carried him to his bed, and sat by him and remained with him until he
was calmer. But he did not yield one inch. He forgave her nothing, and
pretended to be asleep to get rid of her. His mother seemed to him bad
and cowardly. He had no suspicion of all the suffering that she had to go
through in order to live and give a living to her family, and of what she
had borne in taking sides against him.
After he had exhausted to the last drop the incredible store of tears that
is in the eyes of a child, he felt somewhat comforted. He was tired and
worn out, but his nerves were too much on stretch for him to sleep. The
visions that had been with him floated before him again in his semi-torpor.
Especially he saw again the little girl with her bright eyes and her
turned-up, disdainful little nose, her hair hanging down to her shoulders,
her bare legs and her childish, affected way of talking. He trembled, as it
seemed to him that he could hear her voice. He remembered how stupid he had
been with her, and he conceived a savage hatred for her. He did not pardon
her for having brought him low, and was consumed with the desire to
humiliate her and to make her weep. He sought means of doing this, but
found none. There was no sign of her ever caring about him. But by way of
consoling himself he supposed that everything was as he wished it to be. He
supposed that he had become very powerful and famous, and decided that she
was in love with him. Then he began to tell himself one of those absurd
stories which in the end he would regard as more real than reality.
She was dying of love, but he spurned her. When he passed before her house
she watched him pass, hiding behind the curtains, and he knew that she
watched him, but he pretended to take no notice, and talked gaily. Even he
left the country, and journeyed far to add to her anguish. He did great
things. Here he introduced into his narrative fragments chosen from his
grandfather's heroic tales, and all this time she was falling ill of grief.
Her mother, that proud dame, came to beg of him: "My poor child is dying.
I beg you to come!" He went. She was in her bed. Her face was pale and
sunken. She held out her arms to him. She could not speak, but she took his
hands and kissed them as she wept. Then he looked at her with marvelous
kindness and tenderness. He bade her recover, and consented to let her love
him. At this point of the story, when he amused himself by drawing out the
coming together by repeating their gestures and words several times, sleep
overcame him, and he slept and was consoled.
But when he opened his eyes it was day, and it no longer shone so lightly
or so carelessly as its predecessor. There was a great change in the world.
Jean-Christophe now knew the meaning of injustice.
* * * * *
There were now times of extremely straitened circumstances at home. They
became more and more frequent. They lived meagerly then. No one was more
sensible of it than Jean-Christophe. His father saw nothing. He was served
first, and there was always enough for him. He talked noisily, and roared
with laughter at his own jokes, and he never noticed his wife's glances
as she gave a forced laugh, while she watched him helping himself.
When he passed the dish it was more than half empty. Louisa helped the
children--two potatoes each. When it came to Jean-Christophe's turn there
were sometimes only three left, and his mother was not helped. He knew that
beforehand; he had counted them before they came to him. Then he summoned
up courage, and said carelessly:
"Only one, mother."
She was a little put out.
"Two, like the others."
"No, please; only one."
"Aren't you hungry?"
"No, I'm not very hungry."
But she, too, only took one, and they peeled them carefully, cut them up
in little pieces, and tried to eat them as slowly as possible. His mother
watched him. When he had finished:
"Come, take it!"
"But you are ill?"
"I am not ill, but I have eaten enough."
Then his father would reproach him with being obstinate, and take the last
potato for himself. But Jean-Christophe learned that trick, and he used to
keep it on his plate for Ernest, his little brother, who was always hungry,
and watched him out of the corner of his eyes from the beginning of dinner,
and ended by asking:
"Aren't you going to eat it? Give it me, then, Jean-Christophe."
Oh, how Jean-Christophe detested his father, how he hated him for not
thinking of them, or for not even dreaming that he was eating their share!
He was so hungry that he hated him, and would gladly have told him so; but
he thought in his pride that he had no right, since he could not earn his
own living. His father had earned the bread that he took. He himself was
good for nothing; he was a burden on everybody; he had no right to talk.
Later on he would talk--if there were any later on. Oh, he would die of
He suffered more than another child would have done from these cruel fasts.
His robust stomach was in agony. Sometimes he trembled because of it; his
head ached. There was a hole in his chest--a hole which turned and widened,
as if a gimlet were being twisted in it. But he did not complain. He felt
his mother's eyes upon him, and assumed an expression of indifference.
Louisa, with a clutching at her heart, understood vaguely that her little
boy was denying himself so that the others might have more. She rejected
the idea, but always returned to it. She dared not investigate it or ask
Jean-Christophe if it were true, for, if it were true, what could she
do? She had been used to privation since her childhood. What is the use
of complaining when there is nothing to be done? She never suspected,
indeed--she, with her frail health and small needs--that the boy might
suffer more than herself. She did not say anything, but once or twice,
when the others were gone, the children to the street, Melchior about his
business, she asked her eldest son to stay to do her some small service.
Jean-Christophe would hold her skein while she unwound it. Suddenly she
would throw everything away, and draw him passionately to her. She would
take him on her knees, although he was quite heavy, and would hug and hug
him. He would fling his arms round her neck, and the two of them would weep
desperately, embracing each other.
"My poor little boy!..."
They said no more, but they understood each other.
* * * * *
It was some time before Jean-Christophe realized that his father drank.
Melchior's intemperance did not--at least, in the beginning--exceed
tolerable limits. It was not brutish. It showed itself rather by wild
outbursts of happiness. He used to make foolish remarks, and sing loudly
for hours together as he drummed on the table, and sometimes he insisted on
dancing with Louisa and the children. Jean-Christophe saw that his mother
looked sad. She would shrink back and bend her face over her work; she
avoided the drunkard's eyes, and used to try gently to quiet him when
he said coarse things that made her blush. But Jean-Christophe did not
understand, and he was in such need of gaiety that these noisy home-comings
of his father were almost a festival to him. The house was melancholy, and
these follies were a relaxation for him. He used to laugh heartily at
Melchior's crazy antics and stupid jokes; he sang and danced with him; and
he was put out when his mother in an angry voice ordered him to cease. How
could it be wrong, since his father did it? Although his ever keen
observation, which never forgot anything it had seen, told him that there
were in his father's behavior several things which did not accord with his
childish and imperious sense of justice, yet he continued to admire him.
A child has so much need of an object of admiration! Doubtless it is one
of the eternal forms of self-love. When a man is, or knows himself to be,
too weak to accomplish his desires and satisfy his pride, as a child he
transfers them to his parents, or, as a man who has failed, he transfers
them to his children. They are, or shall be, all that he dreamed of
being--his champions, his avengers--and in this proud abdication in their
favor, love and egoism are mingled so forcefully and yet so gently as to
bring him keen delight. Jean-Christophe forgot all his grudges against his
father, and cast about to find reasons for admiring him. He admired his
figure, his strong arms, his voice, his laugh, his gaiety, and he shone
with pride when he heard praise of his father's talents as a virtuoso, or
when Melchior himself recited with some amplification the eulogies he had
received. He believed in his father's boasts, and looked upon him as a
genius, as one of his grandfather's heroes.
One evening about seven o'clock he was alone in the house. His little
brothers had gone out with Jean Michel. Louisa was washing the linen in
the river. The door opened, and Melchior plunged in. He was hatless and
disheveled. He cut a sort of caper to cross the threshold, and then plumped
down in a chair by the table. Jean-Christophe began to laugh, thinking it
was a part of one of the usual buffooneries, and he approached him. But
as soon as he looked more closely at him the desire to laugh left him.
Melchior sat there with his arms hanging, and looking straight in front
of him, seeing nothing, with his eyes blinking. His face was crimson, his
mouth was open, and from it there gurgled every now and then a silly laugh.
Jean-Christophe stood stock-still. He thought at first that his father was
joking, but when he saw that he did not budge he was panic-stricken.
"Papa, papa!" he cried.
Melchior went on gobbling like a fowl. Jean-Christophe took him by the arm
in despair, and shook him with all his strength.
"Papa, dear papa, answer me, please, please!"
Melchior's body shook like a boneless thing, and all but fell. His head
flopped towards Jean-Christophe; he looked at him and babbled incoherently
and irritably. When Jean-Christophe's eyes met those clouded eyes he was
seized with panic terror. He ran away to the other end of the room, and
threw himself on his knees by the bed, and buried his face in the clothes.
He remained so for some time. Melchior swung heavily on the chair,
sniggering. Jean-Christophe stopped his ears, so as not to hear him,
and trembled. What was happening within him was inexpressible. It was a
terrible upheaval--terror, sorrow, as though for some one dead, some one
dear and honored.
No one came; they were left alone. Night fell, and Jean-Christophe's fear
grew as the minutes passed. He could not help listening, and his blood
froze as he heard the voice that he did not recognize. The silence made
it all the more terrifying; the limping clock beat time for the senseless
babbling. He could bear it no longer; he wished to fly. But he had, to pass
his father to get out, and Jean-Christophe shuddered, at the idea of seeing
those eyes again; it seemed to him that he must die if he did. He tried to
creep on hands and knees to the door of the room. He could not breathe; he
would not look; he stopped at the least movement from Melchior, whose feet
he could see under the table. One of the drunken man's legs trembled.
Jean-Christophe reached the door. With one trembling hand he pushed the
handle, but in his terror he let go. It shut to again. Melchior turned to
look. The chair on which he was balanced toppled over; he fell down with a
crash. Jean-Christophe in his terror had no strength left for flight. He
remained glued to the wall, looking at his father stretched there at his
feet, and he cried for help.
His fall sobered Melchior a little. He cursed and swore, and thumped on
the chair that had played him such a trick. He tried vainly to get up, and
then did manage to sit up with his back resting against the table, and he
recognized his surroundings. He saw Jean-Christophe crying; he called him.
Jean-Christophe wanted to run away; he could not stir. Melchior called him
again, and as the child did not come, he swore angrily. Jean-Christophe
went near him, trembling in every limb. Melchior drew the boy near him, and
made him sit on his knees. He began by pulling his ears, and in a thick,
stuttering voice delivered a homily on the respect due from a son to
his father. Then he went off suddenly on a new train of thought, and
made him jump in his arms while he rattled off silly jokes. He wriggled
with laughter. From that he passed immediately to melancholy ideas. He
commiserated the boy and himself; he hugged him so that he was like to
choke, covered him with kisses and tears, and finally rocked him in his
arms, intoning the _De Profundis_. Jean-Christophe made no effort to break
loose; he was frozen with horror. Stifled against his father's bosom,
feeling his breath hiccoughing and smelling of wine upon his face, wet with
his kisses and repulsive tears, he was in an agony of fear and disgust. He
would have screamed, but no sound would come from his lips. He remained in
this horrible condition for an age, as it seemed to him, until the door
opened, and Louisa came in with a basket of linen on her arm. She gave a
cry, let the basket fall, rushed at Jean-Christophe, and with a violence
which seemed incredible in her she wrenched Melchior's arm, crying:
"Drunken, drunken wretch!"
Her eyes flashed with anger.
Jean-Christophe thought his father was going to kill her. But Melchior
was so startled by the threatening appearance of his wife that he made no
reply, and began to weep. He rolled on the floor; he beat his head against
the furniture, and said that she was right, that he was a drunkard, that
he brought misery upon his family, and was ruining his poor children, and
wished he were dead. Louisa had contemptuously turned her back on him. She
carried Jean-Christophe into the next room, and caressed him and tried to
comfort him. The boy went on trembling, and did not answer his mother's
questions; then he burst out sobbing. Louisa bathed his face with water.
She kissed him, and used tender words, and wept with him. In the end they
were both comforted. She knelt, and made him kneel by her side. They prayed
to God to cure father of his disgusting habit, and make him the kind, good
man that he used to be. Louisa put the child to bed. He wanted her to stay
by his bedside and hold his hand. Louisa spent part of the night sitting
on Jean-Christophe's bed. He was feverish. The drunken man snored on the
Some time after that, one day at school, when Jean-Christophe was spending
his time watching the flies on the ceiling, and thumping his neighbors,
to make them fall off the form, the schoolmaster, who had taken a dislike
to him, because he was always fidgeting and laughing, and would never
learn anything, made an unhappy allusion. Jean-Christophe had fallen
down himself, and the schoolmaster said he seemed to be like to follow
brilliantly in the footsteps of a certain well-known person. All the boys
burst out laughing, and some of them took upon themselves to point the
allusion with comment both lucid and vigorous. Jean-Christophe got up,
livid with shame, seized his ink-pot, and hurled it with all his strength
at the nearest boy whom he saw laughing. The schoolmaster fell on him and
beat him. He was thrashed, made to kneel, and set to do an enormous
He went home, pale and storming, though he said never a word. He declared
frigidly that he would not go to school again. They paid no attention to
what he said. Next morning, when his mother reminded him that it was time
to go, he replied quietly that he had said that he was not going any more.
In rain Louisa begged and screamed and threatened; it was no use. He stayed
sitting in his corner, obstinate. Melchior thrashed him. He howled, but
every time they bade him go after the thrashing was over he replied
angrily, "No!" They asked him at least to say why. He clenched his teeth,
and would not. Melchior took hold of him, carried him to school, and gave
him into the master's charge. They set him on his form, and he began
methodically to break everything within reach--his inkstand, his pen. He
tore up his copy-book and lesson-book, all quite openly, with his eye on
the schoolmaster, provocative. They shut him up in a dark room. A few
moments later the schoolmaster found him with his handkerchief tied round
his neck, tugging with all his strength at the two ends of it. He was
trying to strangle himself.
They had to send him back.
* * * * *
Jean-Christophe was impervious to sickness. He had inherited from
his father and grandfather their robust constitutions. They were not
mollycoddles in that family; well or ill, they never worried, and nothing
could bring about any change in the habits of the two Kraffts, father and
son. They went out winter and summer, in all weathers, and stayed for hours
together out in rain or sun, sometimes bareheaded and with their coats
open, from carelessness or bravado, and walked for miles without being
tired, and they looked with pity and disdain upon poor Louisa, who never
said anything, but had to stop. She would go pale, and her legs would
swell, and her heart would thump. Jean-Christophe was not far from sharing
the scorn of his mother; he did not understand people being ill. When he
fell, or knocked himself, or cut himself, or burned himself, he did not
cry; but he was angry with the thing that had injured him. His father's
brutalities and the roughness of his little playmates, the urchins of the
street, with whom he used to fight, hardened him. He was not afraid of
blows, and more than once he returned home with bleeding nose and bruised
forehead. One day he had to be wrenched away, almost suffocated, from one
of these fierce tussles in which he had bowled over his adversary, who was
savagely banging his head on the ground. That seemed natural enough to him,
for he was prepared to do unto others as they did unto himself.
And yet he was afraid of all sorts of things, and although no one knew
it--for he was very proud--nothing brought him go much suffering during
a part of his childhood as these same terrors. For two or three years
especially they gnawed at him like a disease.
He was afraid of the mysterious something that lurks in darkness--evil
powers that seemed to lie in wait for his life, the roaring of monsters
which fearfully haunt the mind of every child and appear in everything that
he sees, the relic perhaps of a form long dead, hallucinations of the first
days after emerging from chaos, from the fearful slumber in his mother's
womb, from the awakening of the larva from the depths of matter.
He was afraid of the garret door. It opened on to the stairs, and was
almost always ajar. When he had to pass it he felt his heart heating; he
would spring forward and jump by it without looking. It seemed to him that
there was some one or something behind it. When it was closed he heard
distinctly something moving behind it. That was not surprising, for there
were large rats; but he imagined a monster, with rattling bones, and flesh
hanging in rags, a horse's head, horrible and terrifying eyes, shapeless.
He did not want to think of it, but did so in spite of himself. With
trembling hand he would make sure that the door was locked; but that did
not keep him from turning round ten times as he went downstairs.
He was afraid of the night outside. Sometimes he used to stay late with
his grandfather, or was sent out in the evening on some errand. Old Krafft
lived a little outside the town in the last house on the Cologne road.
Between the house and the first lighted windows of the town there was a
distance of two or three hundred yards, which seemed three times as long
to Jean-Christophe. There were places where the road twisted and it was
impossible to see anything. The country was deserted in the evening, the
earth grew black, and the sky was awfully pale. When he came out from
the hedges that lined the road, and climbed up the slope, he could still
see a yellowish gleam on the horizon, but it gave no light, and was more
oppressive than the night; it made the darkness only darker; it was a
deathly light. The clouds came down almost to earth. The hedges grew
enormous and moved. The gaunt trees were like grotesque old men. The sides
of the wood were stark white. The darkness moved. There were dwarfs sitting
in the ditches, lights in the grass, fearful flying things in the air,
shrill cries of insects coming from nowhere. Jean-Christophe was always in
anguish, expecting some fearsome or strange putting forth of Nature. He
would run, with his heart leaping in his bosom.
When he saw the light in his grandfather's room he would gain confidence.
But worst of all was when old Krafft was not at home. That was most
terrifying. The old house, lost in the country, frightened the boy even in
daylight. He forgot his fears when his grandfather was there, but sometimes
the old man would leave him alone, and go out without warning him.
Jean-Christophe did not mind that. The room was quiet. Everything in it
was familiar and kindly. There was a great white wooden bedstead, by
the bedside was a great Bible on a shelf, artificial flowers were on
the mantelpiece, with photographs of the old man's two wives and eleven
children--and at the bottom of each photograph he had written the date of
birth and death--on the walls were framed texts and vile chromolithographs
of Mozart and Beethoven. A little piano stood in one corner, a great
violoncello in another; rows of books higgledy-piggledy, pipes, and in
the window pots of geraniums. It was like being surrounded with friends.
The old man could be heard moving about in the next room, and planing or
hammering, and talking to himself, calling himself an idiot, or singing in
a loud voice, improvising a _potpourri_ of scraps of chants and sentimental
_Lieder_, warlike marches, and drinking songs. Here was shelter and refuge.
Jean-Christophe would sit in the great armchair by the window, with a book
on his knees, bending over the pictures and losing himself in them. The day
would die down, his eyes would grow weary, and then he would look no more,
and fall into vague dreaming. The wheels of a cart would rumble by along
the road, a cow would moo in the fields; the bells of the town, weary and
sleepy, would ring the evening Angelus. Vague desires, happy presentiments,
would awake in the heart of the dreaming child.
Suddenly Jean-Christophe would awake, filled with dull uneasiness. He would
raise his eyes--night! He would listen--silence! His grandfather had just
gone out. He shuddered. He leaned out of the window to try to see him. The
road was deserted; things began to take on a threatening aspect. Oh God!
If _that_ should be coming! What? He could not tell. The fearful thing.
The doors were not properly shut. The wooden stairs creaked as under a
footstep. The boy leaped up, dragged the armchair, the two chairs and the
table, to the most remote corner of the room; he made a barrier of them;
the armchair against the wall, a chair to the right, a chair to the left,
and the table in front of him. In the middle he planted a pair of steps,
and, perched on top with his book and other books, like provisions against
a siege, he breathed again, having decided in his childish imagination that
the enemy could not pass the barrier--that was not to be allowed.
But the enemy would creep forth, even from his book. Among the old books
which the old man had picked up were some with pictures which made a
profound impression on the child: they attracted and yet terrified him.
There were fantastic visions--temptations of St. Anthony--in which
skeletons of birds hung in bottles, and thousands of eggs writhe like worms
in disemboweled frogs, and heads walk on feet, and asses play trumpets, and
household utensils and corpses of animals walk gravely, wrapped in great
cloths, bowing like old ladies. Jean-Christophe was horrified by them, but
always returned to them, drawn on by disgust. He would look at them for a
long time, and every now and then look furtively about him to see what was
stirring in the folds of the curtains. A picture of a flayed man in an
anatomy book was still more horrible to him. He trembled as he turned the
page when he came to the place where it was in the book. This shapeless
medley was grimly etched for him. The creative power inherent in every
child's mind filled out the meagerness of the setting of them. He saw no
difference between the daubs and the reality. At night they had an even
more powerful influence over his dreams than the living things that he saw
during the day.
He was afraid to sleep. For several years nightmares poisoned his rest. He
wandered in cellars, and through the manhole saw the grinning flayed man
entering. He was alone in a room, and he heard a stealthy footstep in the
corridor; he hurled himself against the door to close it, and was just in
time to hold the handle; but it was turned from the outside; he could not
turn the key, his strength left him, and he cried for help. He was with his
family, and suddenly their faces changed; they did crazy things. He was
reading quietly, and he felt that an invisible being was all _round_ him.
He tried to fly, but felt himself bound. He tried to cry out, but he was
gagged. A loathsome grip was about his neck. He awoke, suffocating, and
with his teeth chattering; and he went on trembling long after he was
awake; he could not be rid of his agony.
The roam in which he slept was a hole without door or windows; an old
curtain hung up by a curtain-rod over the entrance was all that separated
it from the room of his father and mother. The thick air stifled him. His
brother, who slept in the same bed, used to kick him. His head burned, and
he was a prey to a sort of hallucination in which all the little troubles
of the day reappeared infinitely magnified. In this state of nervous
tension, bordering on delirium, the least shock was an agony to him. The
creaking of a plank terrified him. His father's breathing took on fantastic
proportions. It seemed to be no longer a human breathing, and the monstrous
sound was horrible to him; it seemed to him that there must be a beast
sleeping there. The night crushed him; it would never end; it must always
be so; he was lying there for months and months. He gasped for breath; he
half raised himself on his bed, sat up, dried his sweating face with his
shirt-sleeve. Sometimes he nudged his brother Rodolphe to wake him up; but
Rodolphe moaned, drew away from him the rest of the bedclothes, and went on
So he stayed in feverish agony until a pale beam of light appeared on
the floor below the curtain. This timorous paleness of the distant dawn
suddenly brought him peace. He felt the light gliding into the room, when
it was still impossible to distinguish it from darkness. Then his fever
would die down, his blood would grow calm, like a flooded river returning
to its bed; an even warmth would flow through all his body, and his eyes,
burning from sleeplessness, would close in spite of himself.
In the evening it was terrible to him to see the approach of the hour of
sleep. He vowed that he would not give way to it, to watch the whole night
through, fearing his nightmares, But in the end weariness always overcame
him, and it was always when he was least on his guard that the monsters
Fearful night! So sweet to most children, so terrible to some!... He was
afraid to sleep. He was afraid of not sleeping. Waking or sleeping, he
was surrounded by monstrous shapes, the phantoms of his own brain, the
larvae floating in the half-day and twilight of childhood, as in the dark
chiaroscuro of sickness.
But these fancied terrors were soon to be blotted out in the great
Fear--that which is in the hearts of all men; that Fear which Wisdom does
in vain preen itself on forgetting or denying--Death.
* * * * *
One day when he was rummaging in a cupboard, he came upon several things
that he did not know--a child's frock and a striped bonnet. He took them in
triumph to his mother, who, instead of smiling at him, looked vexed, and
bade him, take them back to the place where he had found them. When he
hesitated to obey, and asked her why, she snatched them from him without
reply, and put them on a shelf where he could not reach them. Roused to
curiosity, he plied her with questions. At last she told him that there had
been a little brother who had died before Jean-Christophe came into the
world. He was taken aback--he had never heard tell of him. He was silent
for a moment, and then tried to find out more. His mother seemed to be lost
in thought; but she told him that the little brother was called
Jean-Christophe like himself, but was more sensible. He put more questions
to her, but she would not reply readily. She told him only that his brother
was in Heaven, and was praying for them all. Jean-Christophe could get no