Part 1 out of 5
This eBook was produced by Martin Fong.
THE BRIDE OF DREAMS
FREDERIK VAN EEDEN
AUTHORIZED TRANSLATION BY
MELLIE VON AUW
As one approaches my little city from the sea on a summer's day, one
sees only the tall, round clump of trees on the ramparts and,
overtopping it, the old bell-tower with its fantastically shaped and
ornamented stories and dome-top of deep cobalt blue. The land to either
side is barely visible, and the green foliage flooded with pale
sunshine seems to drift in the sun-mist on the grayish yellow waters.
It is a dreamy little town, that once in Holland's prime had a
short-lived illusion of worldly grandeur. Then gaily-rigged vessels
embellished with gilded carvings and flaunting flags entered the little
harbor, fishing boats, merchant vessels and battleships. The
inhabitants built fine houses with crow-stepped gables and sculptured
façades and collected in them exotic treasures, furniture, plate and
china. Cannon stood on the ramparts and the citizens were filled with a
sense of their importance and power as people of some authority in the
world. They bore an escutcheon and were proud of it, they had their
portraits painted in gorgeous attire, they gave the things their terse
and pretty names, and they spoke picturesquely and gallantly as befits
people leading a flourishing elemental life.
Now all this is long past. The little city no longer lives a life of
its own, but quietly follows in the wake of the great world-ship. In
the harbor a few fishing smacks, a market ship, a couple of sailing
yachts and the steamboat are still anchored. The fine houses are
curiosities for the strangers, and the china, the furniture and
paintings may be viewed in the museum for a fee.
There is order, and peace, and prosperity too; the streets and houses
look clean and well kept. But it is no longer a vigorous personal life;
the color and the bloom have faded, the splendor and pageant are gone.
It still lives, but as an unimportant part of a greater life. Its charm
lies only in the memory of former days. It is lovely through its dream
life, through the unreal phantasy of its past. All that constitutes its
charm - the dark shadowy canals reflecting the light drawbridges, the
pretty quaintly-lighted streets with the red brick gables, bluish gray
stoops, chains and palings, the harbor with the little old tar and rope
shops, the tall sombre elm trees on the ramparts - it all possesses
only the accidental beauty of the faded. It can no longer, like a young
and blooming creature, will to be beautiful. It is beautiful
involuntarily, no longer as a piece of human life, but as a piece of
nature. And its loveliness is pathetic through the afterglow of a brief
blazing up of individual vivid splendor of life.
In this quite sphere, where life now flows on but lazily and
reflectively as in a small tributary stream of, the great river, - I
live, an old man, for the accomplishment of my last task.
I live obscurely amid the obscure. I do my best to escape notice, and
have no notoriety whatsoever, not even as an eccentric.
I associate with the doctor and the notary is expected of me, and I
also go to the club. It is known that I have an income and, besides,
earn some money from a small nursery on the outskirts of the town, and
by giving Italian lessons.
The rumors regarding my past have all quieted down, and people have
grown accustomed to my foreign name - Muralto. They see me regularly
taking the same walk along the sea dike to my nursery, and my gray felt
hat and my white coat in summery weather are known as peculiarities of
the town. When you read this, reader, I shall be buried, respectably
and simply, with twelve hired mourners and the coach with black plumes
of the second class, and a wreath from the burgomaster's wife, to whom
I gave lessons; from the notary, who occasionally earned something
through me; and from the orphanage because, as treasurer, I always kept
the accounts in order.
This is as I wish it to be. When you read this my living personality
may no longer stand in your way. My individual being may no longer
engage your attention. I know how this would veil the truth for you.
Never has man accepted new and lucid ideas from a contemporary unless
he were an avowed and venerated prophet, that is to say, a man
corrupted and lost. I will not let myself be corrupted and give myself
up as lost, and yet I know that my thoughts are too great to be
accepted from free conviction without slavishness by my living
fellow-men. Therefore have I peace in this petty world under the heavy
burden of my tremendous life. I did not confer it on myself and I have
no choice. Were I to speak my mind freely and honestly, I should be
either locked up or worshipped. I deserve neither one nor the other;
but such is the nature of the people of this age - they cannot reject
without hatred nor accept without slavishness. Thus I live in
self-restraint and peace among the lowly.
But these pages are the doors of the cap of my suppressed life. Only by
these writings do I keep the peace within and master the tumult.
It is a hard struggle; I am weary from it not from arousing, but from
restraining my thoughts. For what I write must be clear and orderly and
concise. Readers nowadays are impatient and easily bored, and crave
excitement. And they are dulled too, and no longer hear so clearly the
true ring of sincere conviction. Yet I have peace, for this will be
read. It will strike the summits, and the social system of today is
still built so that everything slowly spreads from the summits and
penetrates to the very lowest layers.
Do you disagree, reader? Do you accept nothing on higher authority, but
judge everything independently for yourself?
Then it is just you I need. Then you are on the summit and all the
rest of mankind in ranged about or beneath you. All the rest of mankind
accepts and believes on authority - but you do not. Then have I also
written this expressly and solely for you. How lucky that at last it
has fallen into your hands. Allow me to embrace you in thought, dear,
precious, freely-judging and independently-thinking reader. You are
such a treasure to me, such a find, that for the world I would not let
you go or lose you.
Listen then, dear reader, with a little patience and some painstaking
on your part. Sweet spoils are not won without exertion! You are
sensible enough not to want to judge without having given faithful
I write this for you because you do not want to act without
understanding; because you are restless and dissatisfied, a seeker and
lover of the unknown; because at last you have turned on your way to
look for what so long has gently pushed and driven you; because your
eyes are opened wider and are more intent on the prospect toward which
everything seems to lead.
I write this for you, the refractory and rebellious who are tired of
I write this for you, who feel that you have reached maturity and no
longer want to be treated as a child, not even by fate.
I write this for you, the proud and the evil; yes, for the wantonly
wicked who despises the meek and the just. I write this also for you,
the earnestly good who wants to love his enemy, but cannot.
The complaisant and contented, the adjusters and compromisers, the
advocates and flatters of God, those who shun anxiety and stop their
ears against too blatant a truth - they had better read something else;
there are plenty of pleasant and entertaining books for amusement.
And the slaves of reason, who tread in a circle around their stake as
far as the cord of their logic reaches, they too cannot be my readers.
Only he who has overcome the word, who has forsaken the idolatry of the
"true word" - he can read me with profit and understanding.
Listen, then: I am an old man proclaiming the glory of a new era. I am
lonely and forsaken, but nevertheless I have a share in the great human
world and the life of the gods.
I sit here serenely in my sombre, cool, old house, with its musty odor
of old wood and memories of past generations. I look out upon the
harbor and I hear the continuous murmur of the sea-breeze in the tall
elms on the dike, and the screams of the gulls speaking of the vast and
briny life of the sea. And yet, in the solitude of this quiet,
forgotten life, I feel that I am mightier than the mightiest, a match
for fate. I rule life; it shall bow to my wishes. I wrestle with the
gods, even to the Most High. Sometimes I tremble, when a careless
glance, with some semblance of deeper import, from one of the persons
about me makes me think that a spark of this seething life within me
has been discovered. But no one sees it, happily, nor knows me!
Had I told you this, (is it not so, dear reader, though you be ever so
wise?), and I came not in a fiery chariot with a halo of glory and in
dazzling raiment, but in my citizen's clothes, then after all you would
undoubtedly have shrugged your shoulders and taken me for a poor fool.
But now I am a rich sage, because I write and hold my peace.
You are still a person, dear reader, but I have gone a step beyond - I
am dead and no longer a person. Now, now while you are reading this. In
this now, that is also now for me. I am no person, but more than that,
and therefore can say to you what, from any person, would annoy you.
For you there is left only a still, small book, that meekly submits to
being closed up and laid aside - and then again, as patiently as ever,
resumes its tranquil message, when opened.
My parents were Italian aristocrats and my childhood days in the
paternal home in Milan and our country estate near Como loom up vaguely
before me in pictures half memories, half dreams. I cannot clearly
distinguish what is purely memory and what a dream, or dream-memory, of
these olden days. Memory is like tradition; one does not remember the
first impression, but only the memory of it, and who knows how much
that was already distorted; and so the picture changes from year to
year, like a vaguely-told tale.
My childhood days fell towards the middle of the nineteenth century. It
was my time of luxury and state. Our home was a palace with a pillared
courtyard, wide stairway of stone with statuary, and a marble dolphin
spouting water. We had carriages and servants and I wore velvet suits
with wide lace collars and colored silk ties. I remember my father at
the time as a tall, dark, proud man, most fastidiously groomed and
dressed. He had shiny black whiskers and long, thick, wavy and glossy
hair that fell over his forehead with an artful curl. He wore tight
trousers with gaiters and patent leather shoes that always creaked
softly. He had a calm but very decided manner, and impressed me
immensely by his gentle way of giving orders and the confidence with
which he could make himself obeyed. Only my mother resisted him with a
power equally unshakable and equally restrained. As a child I saw this
conflict daily and, without appearing to do so or being myself quite
conscious of it, gave it much thought.
My mother was a very fair blonde Northern woman whom I heard praised
for her great beauty - a fact a child is unable to determine for
himself about his own mother. I know that she had large, gray eyes with
dark rings underneath, and that it often seemed as though she had wept.
Her voice, her complexion, her expression, everything vividly suggested
tears to me. And in the silent struggle with my father her resistance
was that of an aggrieved, painful, sensitive nature: his was cool, more
indifferent and gay, but none the less firm. I never heard them
quarrel, but I saw the politely tempered tension in the dignified
house, during the stately meals, even as the servants saw it. Yet my
father would sometimes hum a tune from an opera and joke and laugh
boisterously with his friends; but mother always went about silently
and gravely, gliding over the thick carpets like a spectre and, at her
best, showing but a wan smile.
We were wealthy and prominent people and my parents felt that very
strongly. And when I think about it now, here in my little provincial
town in Holland, where I shine my own boots, then after all I feel
compassion for the two - for my cool, well-bred father, as well as for
my pale, languishing, distinguished mother. For they considered their
high position just and righteous, and complete, and did not see in how
much it was wanting. My mother did not see how tasteless the fashion
was, - her draped and be-ruffled gown in which she thought herself so
elegant and stately, - her own physical beauty and natural grace barely
saving her from becoming an object of absolute ridicule. And my father
did not know how much his traditional power of heredity had already
been undermined by the democratic ideas everywhere astir.
Our luxury too was strangely deficient in many respects. I have
suffered bitter cold in the great chilly palace; at night one might
break one's neck on the dark stone stairway; in some parts an ofttimes
very foul and disgusting stench prevailed; the servants slept in stuffy
hovels; there was a lavatory of which my father was very proud and
which had cost enormous sums of money, but where in broad daylight one
had to light a candle in order to wash ones hands.
I feel compassion for my proud father when I think of how he collected
art treasures and bought paintings by distinguished artists of the
time, which he would contemplate for hours through a monocle, and which
formed the subject of long intricate critical speculations with his
friends - paintings which after all were really only trifling daubs of
no value whatever at the present time.
It was a dream of wholly successful social glory dreamed by my Italian
parents as confidently as that other dream, dreamed by the Dutch
merchants of this little seaport town. And this Italian dream I dreamed
with them in perfect soberness. I can still become wholly absorbed in
the illusion. I see the purple velvet with the white plume and the
large diamond on my mother's hat, - a small, round bonnet, on the
thick, blonde hair gathered into a net. I stand by her side in the
carriage and feel myself the little prince, the little son of the
Contessa - and see the people bowing with profound respect. I breathe
the faint, fine perfume of frankincense and lavender exhaling from my
mother's clothes. And I recollect my sensation of calm and pride at the
meals with the heavy pretentious plate, the great bouquets of roses,
the violet hose of the clergy who were our guests, the fragrance of the
And I am touched when I think of the self-delusion of so proud,
arbitrary, critical and sceptical a man as my father, who was
prejudiced so completely by this illusion of his greatness. He would
have looked down scornfully upon the civic pomp of these
seventeenth-century Hollanders and yet that was assuredly finer, even
as was the older Italian civilization, which my father thought to
surpass while he was really living in a state of sad decline.
It is quite comprehensible that in this family feud I sided with my
mother, and that my sister, who was older than I, took my father's
part. Also that my father would by no means submit to this, and that I
very soon began to notice that I myself was the main subject of the
strife, which fact did not tend to increase my modesty. It is strange
how, as children, we take part in these conflicts, apparently wholly
absorbed in our books and games and yet quite aware of the significant
glances, the tears and passions hidden before us, the conversations
suddenly arrested at our entrance, the artificial tone employed toward
us children, the peculiar signs of dreary suspense, of momentous events
beyond our ken imminent in the family circle and which we know we must
pass without comment. Little as I was, I knew full well that the
priests were on my mother's side and that my father fought against a
coalition. But with my mother I felt a sense of warmth, gentleness and
tenderness, and had already been won over to her side long before I
knew what the contest was about. Her beauty, which I heard praised; the
deference I saw her met with; her sanctity, which I recognized as a
great power, which my father, otherwise yielding to nothing or no one,
dared only resist with faltering mockery; the sphere of suffering and
tears in which she lived - all this drew my chivalrous heart to her. I
considered my father a great man, a giant who dared anything and could
get whatever he pleased - but for this very reason would I defend my
mother against him. I went to church with her faithfully, and strictly
followed her admonitions to piety, and the frivolous jokes which my
father sometimes made on that score I proudly and heroically met with
But this chivalrous conflict was speedily ended. The tension became
aggravated so that the banquets ceased and my mother did not appear for
days, and only summoned me to her side for a few moments when she would
weep passionately and pray with me. Strange gentlemen came for long and
secret conferences; and one bleak winter morning, very early, a large
coach appeared in which my father and I departed.
Then there began for us two a restless life of wandering that continued
for years. We travelled through northern Africa, Asia Minor, through
all Europe, through America, and never did we remain in one place so
long a time that I could grow fond of it, or feel myself at home there.
As if by intentional design or driven by a constant unrest, my father
would always break up whenever an abode began to feel homelike to me
and I had found some friends in the vicinity, and it was wonderful with
what strength of mind he persevered in this irksome, arduous and
ofttimes even dangerous life.
We sometimes travelled through half barbarous countries with very
primitive means of conveyance. My father had no permanent servant and
would not suffer any woman to take charge of me. We were together
constantly, night and day, and he did for me all that a mother could
have done. He helped me to wash and dress, and even mended my clothes.
He gave me lessons, taught me drawing, music, various languages,
fencing, swimming and riding; but although I very much desired to, he
never permitted me to attend school anywhere. His attention was never
for a moment diverted from me, his care for me knew no weakening, and
yet we never became really intimate. I felt that the old conflict was
being carried on under conditions that were much harder for me. He had
parted me from my mother and now that I stood alone, would vanquish me.
He surely did not suspect that I would understand it thus and would
consciously carry on the strife. But though I did not reason it out, my
intuition clearly apprehended his tactics, and I held out more
obstinately than ever with all the stubbornness of a child and the
strength of mind which I had from himself inherited.
On three types of humanity my father was not to be approached. Firstly,
the priests, the black ones, as he called them, whom he hated with all
the fierce vehemence of his race; and, in spite of me, he so
successfully inculcated into me his own aversion, that I cannot yet
unexpectedly behold a priestly robe without a sensation of shuddering
as at the sight of a snake. Secondly, the bourgeois, whom he called
philistines, - the humbly living, contented, narrow-minded, timid, -
whom he did not hate as much as he despised them with fervid scorn. And
finally women, whom he neither hated nor despised, but whom he feared
with a scoffing dread.
And now, looking back upon my youth from so great a distance, now I
understand that it was not only healthy, natural tenderness that drove
him to such exaggerated care for me, but bitter, impassioned feelings
of opposition and revenge born of mortifying and painful experience.
Priests, women and philistines had been too mighty or too cunning for
him; now he would at least keep me, his successor in the world, out of
their hands. That was the one great satisfaction he still sought in
life, more from grudge against his enemies than for love of me.
Besides there were inconsistencies in his character that I am now quite
able to explain, but which as a child, seemed very queer and shocking
to me. He posed as a free-thinker and took pleasure in ridiculing my
ingenuous piety. He called God a great joker, who made sport of men and
amused himself at their expense. "But he won't fool me," he would say,
"and I promise you that I'll tell him so straight to his face if I get
the chance of speaking to him hereafter." Only of natural science and
nature did he speak with respect. Nature, according to him, was always
beautiful and good where man did not spoil her. He called natural
science our only security in life, weapon and shield against priestly
lies and religious hypocrisy.
And yet my father frequently went to church, also taking me with him.
Wherever he went he never failed to visit the temples regardless of the
faith they confessed. He was very musical and he would pretend to go
chiefly for the sacred music. But in the Catholic churches I also saw
him crossing himself with the holy water and even kneeling for hours in
prayer before an image of the Blessed Virgin wreathed with flowers and
illumined by candles.
This was incomprehensible to me, having as yet no knowledge of the
illogical workings of an artistically poetic and musical temperament.
But I drew my own conclusions, and it was not surprising that I
considered the devout father the true one, and the unbeliever perverted
through evil influence. Thus, despite her absence, mother's influence
prevailed. My memory had stripped her image of all that was trivial,
commonplace and unlovely, and, little by little, with her suffering,
her tears, her beauty, her tenderness, she began to shine for me in
pure angelic holiness, the subject of my faithful and ardent devotion.
I shall not dwell on my long and arduous wanderings with my father.
Indeed, I do not remember much about them. I must have seen many
strange and beautiful sights, but they meant little to me. When the
soul is young it does not take root in surroundings too vast and does
not absorb the beautiful. I have a clearer recollection of certain
picture books, of little cosy corners in the rooms we inhabited, of a
small pewter can which I had found on the road and from which I would
never be parted - not even when I went to bed than of the countries or
cities we traversed.
True, I must have absorbed some of the wonderful things about me, for
they undoubtedly furnished me with the material of which my dreams,
about which I shall tell you further on, were woven. But as a boy I
took no pleasure whatever in travelling. I longed for my mother, and
for our country house, where I could play with my little sister under
the airy open galleries in the rose garden or build dams in the brook.
Only the journeying by rail, a novelty at that time, interested me the
first few times, and above all the trip across the ocean to America,
when Philadelphia and Chicago were only small places, and crossing the
ocean by steamboat was still considered a perilous and risky
Only of certain moments with lasting significance have I retained a
sharper recollection. Thus I remember a miserable day somewhere in Asia
Minor. We had both been ill from tainted food, my father and I, and had
lain helpless in a most wretched tavern. Meanwhile thieves had stolen
all our belongings, and when we wanted to journey on we could get no
horses, for the inhabitants feared the thieves and their vengeance
should we accuse them. Amidst a troop of dirty, eagerly debating
Syrians in a scorching hot street I stood at my father's side peering
into his wan face, sallow and drawn from the illness, with glistening
streaks of perspiration and an expression of deadly fatigue and
He had a pistol in each hand and repeated a few words of command over
and over again, while from the brown, gleaming heads about us came, in
sometimes angry, sometimes mournful, sometimes mocking tones, loud, but
to me unintelligible, replies. I saw the fierce, self-interested,
indifferent faces, with the wild eyes, and I realized how narrow was
the boundary separating our life from death.
Still the scorching wild beast odor of the place comes back to me and I
hear the sound of a monotonous tune, with fiddling and beating of drums
in the distance, and the papery rustling of the palm leaves above our
heads. This disagreeable condition must have continued a long while. At
that time all mankind, the whole world, seemed hostile and desolate to
I knew, indeed, that my father would conquer. He did not want to die,
and I had a childlike faith in his tremendous will-power. And so it
actually turned out, and I was neither surprised nor glad. The irksome
life of wandering continued, and I had a bitter feeling that it was my
father who shut me out from the world and made it hostile to me.
We did after all finally procure a guide that day and made a long march
on foot along scorching sandy roads, weak and tired as we were, guided
only by a half-witted boy, humming and chewing wisps of straw. Then I
began to realize what suffering means. My father did not speak, nor
would he endure any complaints from me. I bore up against it bravely,
as bravely as I could, but I began to ponder much at that time. "How
long would I be able to endure this?" I thought. "And why does he do
it? If all this folly and hardship served no purpose, we did not have
to bear it then. What could he purpose thereby? Will something very
pleasant follow? Or will these hardships continue until we die? Is all
this God plaguing us, as he says? Why does God do it, and should we let
ourselves be tormented so?"
Then, after hours of silent wandering, I put a question:
"Is there justice, father?"
By this I meant, whether for all this footsoreness, this thirst and
this exertion, I would be rewarded by proportional pleasure. My father
did not reply. He evidently had need of all his energies to walk on.
But when we had finally reached the seaport and had washed ourselves
with seawater, he said abruptly: "There is only power!"
That answer did not please me. It was pleasure I wanted. Power could
not avail me.
Consider well, dear reader, the purpose of these writings. It is not to
occupy ourselves with the recital and attendance of thrilling and
glowing adventures, but to try to what extent my words can clear up and
illumine for you the dark background of these adventures. Illusion is
the all-powerful word of the philosophers, with which they seek to
destroy the things happening about us. But I have already worn out that
word. At times it is in my hands as a foul tattered rag, it has lost
its old use for me. I can also say - there is no illusion - there are
only known and unknown things, truths revealed and unrevealed, very
rapidly moving and very slowly flowing vital realities. And all my life
it has been my constant and passionate desire to penetrate from the
known to the unknown, from the revealed to the unrevealed, from the
fleeting to the lasting, from the swiftly moving to the more slowly
flowing - like a swimmer who from the centre of a wild mountain stream
struggles toward the quiet waters near the shore. And wherefore this
hard struggle? Because the still waters also hold blessings of
consolation, of joy, of happiness. There is the pleasure, the real
pleasure, that I as a boy expected from justice, the fair wages for
trouble and pain, the equivalent reward.
My father did not believe in justice, but he did believe in power. But
thus he did exactly what he wished not to do, he let himself be
deceived and tried also to deceive me. But even when only a small boy,
I would not let myself be cheated by counterfeit coin. "Go along with
your power!" I thought. "I want pleasure. What can power or might avail
me without pleasure?" I wanted wares for my money, for I believed in
The Dutch merchants, who built my pretty and substantial house, were
not very far-sighted fellows and on their hunt for happiness sailed
straight into the bog. But they demanded wares for their money, and
that was right. Now I, as an old man, live on the beautiful ruins of
their glory overgrown with the immature buds of a newer, grander
splendor of life; but I have continued to believe in justice, so
firmly, that I quite dare to assume the responsibility of expounding
this faith to you, dear reader, with all my might. And this faith
teaches that you must not let yourself be cheated, and must demand
wares for your money. That is - good, righteous, solid wares. We will
not let some inane gaieties, some paltry and miserable pleasures, some
tinsel be passed off on us as the real golden happiness. This one tries
to coax you with tempting food and drink, another with the pleasures of
being rich and mighty, still others with the comfort of a good
conscience or perhaps with the flattery of honors and the satisfaction
of duty fulfilled - or finally with the promise of reward hereafter, a
brief on eternity with the privilege for your ghost of making complaint
to the magistracy in case the ruler of the universe does not honor
them. Nothing in my old age affords me such melancholy amusement as the
foolishness of these persons, who deem themselves so wise, especially
those practical, rational, matter-of-fact and epicurean persons, who go
to such a vast amount of trouble and suffer themselves to be put off
with such hackneyed, transitory, unreal, hollow stuff.
And I know not what is worse, the deception of the priests or that of
the philosophers, who scaling to a height upon a ladder of oratory
write a big word upon a piece of paper, flaunting it before you as the
legal tender for all your pains. With a beaming countenance the good
citizens go home with their strip of paper on which is written, "pure
reason," or "will for might," and are as contented as the so-styled
freed peoples of Europe liberated by the hosts of the French revolution
and honestly paid with worthless assignments.
What my father let me gain for my trouble did not seem to me a fair
return, nor could he hold out to me any reasonable prospect of better
reward. The diversity of life, the beauty of the world which he
obtruded upon me so copiously would, as I approached maturity, have
delighted and comforted me. As a lad it vexed and wearied me.
I was a tall lad, a replica of my proud, dark father, as everyone said.
I remember the sally of an indignant Parisian street arab, who called
after me: "Hey, boy, why so high and mighty?" And in my own country,
where one turns more quickly to measures sharper than words, this
loftiness brought upon me even fiercer attacks. A country lad imitated
my proud bearing and pure Italian, getting for it a slap with a towel
which I carried on my way to bathe in the sea. On my return the answer
came - a stab in my back which for days forced me to assume a lowlier
I had early grown accustomed to the attention we attracted wherever we
went. The father - always elegantly dressed, with his old-fashioned
pompousness and melancholy eyes - and the son - nearly as tall and
bearing a striking resemblance to him. Especially for women we were
subjects of interest. But my father never seemed to pay any attention
to this, nor did I ever see him come into closer contact with any woman.
But to me, long before I could appreciate the beauties of art and of
nature, a glance from the eyes of a woman was the most precious of all
life had to offer. That I primarily accounted as unalloyed gold
outweighing much anguish and trouble.
I will try to be exact and absolutely sincere. I may avail myself of
that privilege - old while I write, and dead when I shall be read. I am
of a very amorous nature and the thought of friend or sweetheart was
always an oasis in the desert of my thoughts. Even amidst the most
important cares and duties such thoughts were ever of unspeakably
greater interest and importance to me. They were never dull or tedious,
never bored me, and were my consolation in times of gloom and
discouragement. The pain they brought was also dear to me, and never
possessed the loathsome hatefulness of other barren vital pangs.
It is difficult for me to recall when the first beams of this great and
chiefest joy of life began to shine more brightly for me, but I cannot
have been much over five or six years old. I played the passive part at
the time, and it was the girl who chose me as her friend and invited
the attention which I right willingly bestowed. But when later I myself
went out to seek the joys of love, I thought only of boy friends. And
it was a boy, a tall pale Hollander and, as it now seems to me,
certainly not a very attractive lad, whom I approached one bright
summers eve wandering together in the starlight, with the proposition
of eternal friendship. The pale lad possessed what is called common
sense and replied that he had too vague a conception of eternity to
dare accept this proposal. Later, among women I have seldom met with
such conscientious scruples.
Our constant travelling made all these attachments very brief and
transitory and, as a child in search of love cares nothing for caste
prejudice, they were also very diverse, but therefore none the less
intense. I loved a nice brown-eyed and barefooted Livornian fisher lad,
because he was so strong and could row so well, and swim like a fish.
And later, when I was bigger, it was a young German travelling salesman
who taught me college songs and impressed me with his show of greater
worldly wisdom, that won my heart. In these relations I was always the
most ardent enthusiast, fervently pining, filled day and night with the
subject of my love. And it can still make the blood rise to my wan
cheeks when I think of the treasures of devotion that I squandered on
these unresponsive beings. But now I know too that I may count myself
lucky that they were so unresponsive. For through this wandering life
at my father's side I had remained green as grass, and how easily one
all too responsive might have turned the young tender instinct, with
which the Genius of Humanity has endowed us, forever from its destined
course to life-long torture. For we are all, man and woman alike, born
with a twofold nature, and the pliant young shoot can so easily be
contorted and its rightful growth permanently warped.
The maiden saw in me the lover long before I began to look on her with
a lover's eyes. I had, indeed, found the unspeakable joy of intimacy
surpassing and atoning for all, but not yet the peculiar higher joy of
an intimacy, with greater disparity, between youth and maid. I thought
all intimacy glorious if it was but very fervent, and even entertained
some vague notion regarding the great joy of an intimacy and cordiality
embracing all, man and woman, young and old. But these moments of
revelation and insight were but very brief and buried forthwith under
It must have been between the age of ten and twelve, that looking into
the bright eyes of a girl, I first experienced that peculiar and higher
bliss, that boy friendship could not give me. This was an event that so
engrossed me, that I was oblivious of everything else and walked about
like one moving in a dream.
I know not whether it was due to the blood of my fair northern mother,
but never could a southern, dark-eyed and black-haired lass fascinate
and interest me so vehemently and intensely as a blue-eyed blonde.
Especially the English type, the cool, self-possessed, as well as
somewhat haughty and coy blonde maiden, slender and yet strong, with
wavy hair, attracted my attention and interest with an irresistible
Have patience, dear reader, it is a delicate and difficult matter, and
I must deliberate well and speak carefully if we would more deeply
penetrate the meaning of these things.
When these feelings overtake us as a child, we think it is the
personality, that it is Alice or Bertha who interests us so intensely,
and that only Alice or only Bertha can inspire such strange and
powerful emotions of bliss and desire. And above all that it is just
Alice or just Bertha whose more intimate acquaintance is so eminently
But how is it possible that we retain this illusion, and even live and
die in it - pleasant and enviable though it may be - when we know that
each feels this same interest in some other and ofttimes even see it
transferred from one to another?
Being in love is the desire to fathom a most interesting secret,
indispensable to us all. The beloved maiden attracts us, as a ray of
light attracts the wanderer in the dark. Yet we know that every
creature of her kind can shed this radiance about her, and that it is
simply our own accidental receptivity that, among so many thousands,
gives to this one creature in particular her attractive power.
Thus I think I can positively say that it was not herself I sought in
my beloved, but the reflection of one common light that also shines
through other windows as well as through the eyes in which I discovered
it. But though my reason must affirm it, my heart comprehends little of
this. When I think of her whom I loved last, longest and most
devotedly, then she herself, her own personality, is a certainty to me
that I would not willingly relinquish for any higher certainty, many
years though I have spent in anxious pondering on this subject.
The list of my boy friends is not worth recording. They were puppets
wondrously decked out by my fertile imagination, worshipped as heroes
for a while with all the ritual of German friendship cult - and later,
when in their personal life they showed no resemblance to my ideal
expectations, rudely dismantled and cast aside and hated. I can still
see a photograph of one of them lying in my washbowl with pierced eyes,
curling and charring under the avenging flame of a match.
The last of the series, the young commercial traveller, longest
retained his glory. I saw him only about a week in a watering place,
and subsequently he was able to maintain his position of hero-friend by
a correspondence in which he answered my fervent ingenuousness
stammered in poor German with fluent plagiarism from the classics of
his romantic fatherland. All went well, until after a few years I met
him again and noticed that it was not even a puppet but a skeleton that
I had arrayed in a hero's armor. I was furious at him as though he had
purposely deceived me - but my anger was unmerited. He had in perfect
good faith tried his best to live up to the national traditions of
friendship and to keep burning the smouldering fire of his own humble
ideal of love.
A friend, who would have paid me in my own coin, who requited what I
desired to give him, - as, faithful, as devoted, as passionate, as
self-sacrificing, as attentive and solicitous as it was my nature to
understand and prove friendship - such a one I never found. And I was
unreasonable enough to retain a bitter and scornful feeling toward
those who, seeming to give promise of such an exalted friendship, had
disappointed me so sorely. I now understand how good it is that at this
age such friendships do not exist. Is it not hard enough to extricate
ourselves from the seemingly hopeless complications of sexual instincts
and relations? Are we not still far from the adjustment of passions,
arising much too early and continuing much too long? physical and
mental desires, affections misplaced, extinguished and transferred to
others? and children who must be fed? Should we desire to add to these
problems the complications of strong friendships which might perhaps
transform and divert our entire nature? Let each, who feels an honest,
strong, profound, budding passion for a being of opposite sex sprouting
within himself be grateful. The more so if he is not confronted by
abysses all too deep, by doors all too closely barred and by deserts
all too barren; if in this other soul he can detect feelings somewhat
akin to his own. To expect, besides, exalted friendships between those
of equal sex is imputing too much power and good will to the Deity in
whose hand we live.
For me, then, it was not Alice or Bertha, - but Emmy, and more
particularly Emmy Tenders, the daughter of an English-Scotch merchant,
who of all human beings seemed to me the most interesting and worth
knowing. I really cannot say whether she was pretty or whether others
considered her so. She interested me in such strong and intense degree
that it never occurred to me to look at her from an æsthetically
critical standpoint. I remember that I was interested and surprised
when, after I had already known her over a year, I heard an old
gentleman referring to her as "that lovely child." It flattered me like
a personal compliment, but it sounded wholly new to me.
I know that she was lithe and yet quite robust, that she had light
grayish-blue eyes and an abundance of thick blonde hair that framed her
face in heavy waves. It is quite impossible for me to say or to give
even an intimation of what it was that so attracted me in her. I saw
her first in her own home in the company of her mother, a pleasant
Scotch lady, and her brothers, sturdy, clever, staid and silent lads.
And from the moment I saw her I was drawn to her by a mysterious
feeling of attraction, which even now, after more than fifty years, is
as inexplicable to me as it then was. She was affectionate toward her
mother, treated her brothers like good comrades, and me in a somewhat
arch and pleasantly ingenious manner. She said nothing particular, nor
did I ever foster the illusion that she had anything very particular to
say. But her nature concealed a secret for me that I felt I must
approach and fathom at all costs, though I staked my greatest treasure,
at the cost of my life would have seemed but a miserably feeble
consideration to me.
And mingled with this, thus making it all the more inexplicable, was a
feeling of mournfulness, of pity. When I said to myself: "how dear she
is!" I pronounced the "dear" with a mingled feeling of tender pain and
What could be the meaning of this? She seemed entirely well and happy
and led a pleasant life, with good parents, cordial family relations,
luxuries, many outdoor pleasures, ball games, tea-parties, boat
excursions, dances - everything that could make an English girl of our
And yet when I thought of her playful ways, her dear, young supple
limbs, her thick, wavy, blonde hair, which she would push back now and
then with both her hands, the tears welled up in my eyes from sheer
See, reader, after all it is just as well that for the beginning,
nothing comes of these great friendships. They merely divert us. One
would think that love meant the intellectual communion of spirits. But
that is nonsense. What an intellectual giant one would have had to be
to offer Goethe or Dante a worthy friendship. Yet Gemma Donati and
Christiane Vulpius were their mates, their equals in power, before whom
they willingly bowed and humbled themselves. Every sweet woman conceals
a secret of life that outweighs the wisdom of the greatest man, and for
which he would willingly barter all his treasures and yet count it too
small a price.
Let us be patient, dear reader, and proceed carefully. My time of love
is past and yet the matter is as much of a mystery to me as ever. But
it is the work on which we are all employed, and I hold that first the
love between man and woman must be better regulated and understood
before we can proceed to friendship.
Now I turn the jewel of my love-life a point about and contemplate
another facet as if to discover the hidden form of the crystal.
Emmy Tenders was the first woman who, when I had grown from youth to
manhood, at once, absolutely, and completely won me without effort on
her part. She was the first woman I eagerly sought, though it was with
the deepest reverence and a shrinking fervor. But, as I said before,
probably ten years previous to this girls had sought me, detecting the
prospective man in me before I had myself become aware of him. This had
indeed flattered me and, as I have confessed, I had also found in the
glance from the eyes of some one of them promise of higher joy than my
boy friendships could give me - but with a peculiar obstinacy
inexplicable to myself, I had always repelled these approaches. Without
acting in obedience to boyish tradition, to whose influence I was never
subjected on account of my nomadic life, my own feeling made me see
something childish and unworthy in the association with girls and
women, while on the other hand I exalted my boy friendships as nobler
But oh! the subtle and effective manner in which this avenged itself on
me. When later my time of seeking had come, and I was assailed and
driven by overwhelming passions, it then appeared that I had retained
the memory of these little adventures of childhood days with irritating
exactness, and there mingled with it a bitter feeling of regret for the
lost opportunities. The kiss blown me from a window in Naples, the
extraordinary, more than motherly cares of the hotel chambermaid in
Vienna, the roses pressed into my hands on the street by a young
Spanish girl somewhere in the south of France, the embrace and the kiss
on my cheek which I once suddenly felt in a dark garden where I stood
listening to some music and which I - oh, obstinate simpleton that I
was! - scornfully and indignantly repelled - how often and with what
teasing tenacity have they haunted me in my dreamy days and sleepless
nights, when the icy crust of boyish pride had long been melted, but
the girls had also grown proportionally more chary of their favors. And
even now with half a century intervening, I cannot watch this subtle
game of mutual hide-and-seek without a smile, and I recognize some
truth in my father's opinion that many a time it must indeed also
afford amusement to the Unseen One who secretly directs the figures of
this graceful dance.
Remember, dear reader, that up to the time I met Emmy Tenders, I was
green as grass. It had never occurred to me to seek for any connection
between the wondrously blissful emotions of intimacy that continually
occupied me - and certain physical sensations which only alarmed me
because I thought them unhealthy. And yet I consider this very
connection well-nigh the most mysterious and interesting of all the
enigmas of life. And perhaps, as I, you too have always felt when
reading the writings of the great and distinguished lovers among
mankind, a certain want of exactness, which led me to exclaim: "But how
did you deal with that question?"
My father fared in this matter like the man who dropped his glasses in
a dark room and when, after much hesitation and deliberation he very
carefully set down his foot, stepped precisely on the glass. He had
tried to bring me up with such extraordinary care and wisdom, and now
failed for that very reason. He encouraged my boyish scorn of girls and
courting and did not oppose my partiality for boy friendships. The
terrible risk I thereby ran of warping my sound and natural instinct
and thus making myself unhappy for life, he did not seem to see, and
when the time came to enlighten me in this regard he neglected to do
so. My very sensitive prudishness concerning everything pertaining to
my body he, rightly and to my gratitude, respected as long as possible.
But when it became clear to him that I was seized with a glowing
passion for Emmy Tenders - and he must indeed have been very deaf and
blind not to notice my very apparent confusion and perplexity, my air
of abstraction, my brightening at everything that suggested her, my
pallor, my nocturnal wanderings abroad and my agonies of weeping in bed
- he considered the time for my final enlightenment come.
Between two sensitive, proud and refined natures like my father and
myself, this was a most painful and most difficult task. But he
performed it with his customary undaunted determination. I have never
spent a more uncomfortable hour in my life. My father had brought books
and prints for better demonstration; he dared not look at me and
mumbled a good deal under his breath in a hollow voice. Beads of
perspiration stood on his brow.
When he had left the room, nervous and embarrassed as a child who has
done wrong, my first thought was: a revolver. I was crushed and wanted
to end my life. But the secret, - the secret itself bound me to life.
The strange, attractive, mysterious, repulsive secret fascinated me too
much to leave it.
Insensible with pain and humiliation, I went to my room. And there,
before I could help it, the name "Emmy" rose to my lips. I shivered,
crying out the name once more, now like a despairing shriek of
distress. Then I fell down upon my bed and wept as though I would weep
out my very heart.
The type of men which my father called philistines has this common
characteristic, that for all wonders and mysteries they forthwith find
a convenient explanation. Does the truth not fit it exactly? Then they
do as did the Kaffir, who receiving as a present a much too narrow pair
of shoes, solved the difficulty by undauntedly chopping off his toes
and then, greatly delighted, went out walking in the precious gift.
This time it was my father himself who pretended to see nothing strange
or mysterious in my deeply agitated state of mind. The substance of the
matter he had now explained to me scientifically, biologically,
physiologically and anatomically; to this nothing need be added nor did
it leave anything unexplained.
My disgust, my profound horror and dejection at this simple increase of
knowledge which, as every new acquisition of knowledge, should have
delighted and edified me - Yes! for that there was no room in his
explanation, as little as for his own embarrassment while imparting it.
And therefore, without any sentimentality, these toes must be lopped
off so that the boot would fit.
Reader, do not imagine that I demand of you deep regard and veneration
for the great foolish boy who lay helplessly weeping because of that
strange difference between men and flowers that with the former carries
so much discord into their most important vital function.
I myself now softly laugh at my self of fifty years ago, not
scornfully, but with gentle irony - sympathetically. I pat the boy on
the shoulder and admonish him kindly: "Quiet, laddie, be not so
dismayed. We are a strange mingling of ape and angel. But try, as
quickly as possible, to reconcile yourself to this, then everything
becomes quite bearable. Do you think this same thing would have caused
like consternation to Emmy Tenders, if the knowledge but came to her in
the right way, that is to say the way of reverent love, and deep
devotion? She is indeed wiser. And had you learned it as a poet and
lover and not as a philistine then you too would not have found it so
But all this, dear reader, does not alter the mysterious and
distressing truth, and one cannot make disharmony bearable by denying
it. So much is certain that my father's assertion, declaring my horror
wholly unreasonable, affected me like an attempt at lopping off my toes
to make the boot fit. I resisted passionately, maintaining an
inexorable separation between my noble and lofty sentiments for Emmy
and the low and vile things my father had disclosed to me, and thus
wandered hastily and eagerly on the dangerous path whose course
branches out but once - one road leading to fanaticism and the other to
This was my father's work. But I have never reproached him for it with
feelings of bitter resentment. Why not? Can we pronounce sentence,
reader, in a suit whereof the most important facts still lie in
From my unimpassioned tribunal here in the dreamy and forgotten little
town, I hold acquittal for all who have strayed and gone to ruin in
Cupid's flowery and thorny labyrinth. For assuredly it is not of human
That there is guilt I cannot deny. Every ill has a father and a mother,
and for once and all, we are accustomed to calling these parents sin
and guilt. But I follow the genealogical tree of these strange and
tender woes beyond Adam and Eve or the Pithecantropus Erectus, even
should I then have to launch my accusations at Powers which from
generation to generation have imprinted in us the belief in their
And now observe what makes the matter still more strange and illogical.
I am not only of a very amorous but also of a very sensual nature.
Together with my strong susceptibility to the joys of soul communion
there went the mighty overpowering impulse of propagation. Before the
contact of these two currents had been brought about in such a painful
manner the low, dark, physical instinct had filled me with a continual
though not very distressing restlessness and with doubt concerning my
health. The splendid equilibrium of my other functions, that has
maintained itself to this day, always outweighed this doubt.
But when the secret was half explained it became all the more absorbing
and enticing and so occupied my thoughts that, even now an old man, I
wonder again and again that a human brain can ponder over such
comparatively simple facts ad infinitum, without having them lose their
interest, and without really arriving at any conclusion.
Physicians would speak of pathological conditions and of libido
sexualis. But I would point out to you, dear reader, that though there
may be very good and noble men among physicians, every physician of our
day without exception, in so much as he would be called a physician, is
at the same time also a philistine. With their explanations and their
fine words for things that are beyond their comprehension because their
science is still unpoetical and unphilosophical, they do not serve us
in the least.
And how could one of these present-day sages reasonably explain to me
that in a noble and lofty human type such as I, certainly not without
some right, dared call myself, the very strong working of an impulse
common to all animals was coupled with an exaggerated sensitiveness for
its ignoble character? Were this impulse good and beautiful and in no
part ignoble, whence then my aversion? - were it really low and
unworthy, whence its presence, so impertinent and overpowering, in a
refined and highly cultured member of the human race?
And if any would speak here of exceptions and strange freaks of nature,
should we not immediately bar his lips with a series of names all
shining in the history of mankind? Are we not acquainted with
Sophocles' very significant sigh of relief at being delivered from this
plague by his years? Is it without a deeper meaning that Dante on the
summit of the mount of redemption lets his dearest and most honored
poets do penance for this very weakness - Arnaut de Verigord, Guittons
of Arezzo and also Guido Guinicello his father and the father of all
rime d'amore usar dolci e leggiadre.
Did it stand differently with Dante himself, with Shelley, Byron,
My father's deed arose from an imagined sense of duty, but had wholly
different consequences than he probably expected. He must surely have
thought that now, knowing what it implied, I would either steer
straight for matrimony or renounce my boyish love. He had
satisfactorily torn to pieces the veil of illusion that something
loftier and more mysterious than common propagation was concerned here
- woman's witchery which he knew and from which he wished to shield me.
He also expected my confidence and my appeal for advice in difficulties
and dangers of a kindred nature.
But behold, I remained as ardently devoted and valiantly true to Emmy
as ever. I felt a desire to shield her with my life against the
baseness of this world and let my body serve her as a bridge across the
earthly pool of mire. And higher than ever, I held her image above
every profaning thought. I considered it a sacrilege to think of her as
one of the thousand females about me and to confound my love with the
wooing and wedding of the rest of the world.
But with that, the passions suddenly awakened by my father, fed by a
vivid imagination and now craving recognition and liberty, were not
stilled. The slumbering hounds were aroused and clamored for food. And
as I had not the slightest intention of granting them what my father
pointed out as their natural and lawful portion, but what, as something
sacred and holy, I was determined to keep from their devouring jaws
cost what it would, they sought other food and threatened to destroy me.
"But what would you do about it, old hermit?" the young reader will
ask; "what do you consider a model solution of the question?"
I would do nothing about it, young reader!
The old Muralto is not called to draw up for you a scheme of life. He
only shoves his little lamp ahead as far as he can reach into the
darkness. For the confusion and the rubbish thus brought to light he is
not responsible and each must see for himself how he finds his way
The hounds want food, that is certain. And, whether intentionally or
not, some day they will be awakened; from that, too, there is no
escaping. Blessed is he who can forthwith offer them their proper prey.
And woe to him who thinks that, without danger to himself, he can let
them starve to death or seek for booty unbridled!
And would you retain the confidence of your children do not threaten to
mutilate the feet of their sensibilities for the sake of a narrow
theory. I myself at least, after what I had experienced, would sooner
have gone to the nearest police agent for intimate advice, than back to
Emmy's home was situated in London on the Thames. The smooth
emerald-green, well-trimmed lawn with the multi-colored flower-borders,
and the blue porcelain vases, extended to the water, and there on
summer afternoons the family sat on the cane chairs partaking of tea,
feeding the swans swimming by, and watching the gay traffic, - the
multitude of graceful little crafts with fashionably dressed men and
women in softly blending tones of green, violet, pink and white, the
muscular gig-rowers in training, shooting by with a regular swish of
oars and followed by shouting friends on horseback; the competitors in
a swimming match making their way amidst all this tumult cheered on
every side; the luxuriant houseboats floating by, full of flowers and
happy people, from which echoed strains of music and a flood of light
emanated at night.
I lived in the suburbs with my father, and when I mingled with the
bright, merry, fair and innocent human world, then all my father had
told me seemed but an ugly fairy-tale.
But London is a strange and, for a person of my temperament, a most
dangerous city. The glamour of angelic human purity is so successfully
assumed there that it makes itself all the more glaringly and horribly
manifest, and exercises a more exciting influence, when the black demon
suddenly leers at us from behind the veil.
Not only Emmy Tenders, but every woman of her type and race, every
cultured English woman, possessed for me something lofty, something
holy and irreproachable. The women of other countries still bore some
resemblance to the female animal; there I could still conceive and
imagine this fatal humiliation; but an English woman seemed so pure, so
noble, so chaste and yet so candidly innocent that her mere presence
sufficed to drive away all impure thoughts. And of all English women,
Emmy Tenders was indeed the sweetest and purest. When I saw her again
all anxiety and horror vanished. I was completely happy and also
thankful that no revolver had been within my reach in that dark moment
following the revelation. That summer's afternoon by the Thames amid
the merry family group some vague conception dawned in me that Emmy's
wondrous power would have made pure all that appeared ugly and vile to
me, if only the revelation had come to me through her.
But it seems indeed that the English rely too much upon the cleansing
power of innocence in their woman. And it is curious how public opinion
among this prudish nation will permit exhibitions of unabashed
flirtation which would be publicly tolerated in probably no other part
of Europe and certainly not in Asia or Africa. In the light, graceful
little boat I glided over the sparkling river amid the tender summer's
bloom which clothed everything with a charm of fairyland and facing me,
on the silken cushions, sat my beloved, in her white dress, holding the
cords of the rudder. And to the left and right, under the shadowing
branches of the drooping willows, my now wide-opened eyes saw pairs of
lovers, each in their own boat, in affectionate attitudes that greatly
embarrassed and distressed me. Emmy did not seem to see them or
appeared to be wholly undisturbed thereby. Then it occurred to me that
I myself must be to blame here and that a peculiar inborn depravity
made the natural appear so hideous to me and obtrude itself so plainly
on my view. And all the more I honored and admired the pure creature
the bright mirror of whose soul the impure breath of the world could
not dim, and to whom the human love-life seemed as natural, common and
unexciting as to the naturalist or ancient philosopher.
The old hermit and philosopher Muralto would here remark, that the
young poetic lover Muralto was a long distance from the sage. It has
indeed occurred to the old man, though seldom, thank heaven, despite
his many years, that he could regard the human love-life like a
naturalist or an old satiated philosopher without the pleasing
distress, the sweet excitement of former days - yet he did not feel
better and wiser at such times, but deeply mourned a precious loss. I
may err, reader, but consider the words of experience!
And in these same ardent days of first true love the giant city exposed
herself to my now enlightened eyes in all her disharmony. And I, who in
wanton Paris had passed as an innocent child through a hotbed of
sensuality and a hailstorm of seduction, on a single twilight eve in
London had four or five encounters the particulars of which remained in
my memory as barbed arrows remain imbedded in the flesh, smarting and
itching and burning like the thorny fibres of cactus or sweetbriar seed
with which one has come into too close contact.
When the women of my country, of a Latin race, cast away their pride
and, from need or indifference, make the game of love their profession,
they still retain a natural and charming glamour and play the sorry
game with a certain grace and conviction as a poor homage to the lofty
secret which they must needs desecrate.
But the English or German woman who lays aside her chastity - God be
gracious to these bunglers! - casts off her modesty as downrightly as
though she were glad that she need not carry it longer - no! let us say
as though the greater depth of her fall resulted also in a more
absolute hopelessness of ever arising again. Cold, businesslike and
practical, they carry on their profession and regard the human
love-life as unmoved and unexcited as a naturalist or an old
But just this class distinction, this sharp and dreadful contrast
between the pure English woman, so nobly represented in my queenly
love, and the creatures who, fifty years ago and probably to the
present day, toward twilight haunted the fine London parks and in the
most unabashed manner reminded me of the recently received fatherly
disclosures - just this stirred the newly aroused passions within me to
an untamable uproar. The tormented hungry dogs raged blindly.
Was the noble creature that filled my heart too good for them - well:
they would then procure for themselves other food. Eat they would,
though it were hideous carrion! The tormented dogs became wolves,
Let this not arouse your indignation, dear reader. I gladly believe
that your beasties never caused you much trouble, that they were
willingly satisfied with lettuce leaves, or would probably also fast at
will, or submit contentedly to the matrimonial leash. Possibly they
were marmots. But did you yourself rear this tractable race? Then count
not yours the honor nor mine the shame, but accord both to that unknown
Breeder who followed the genealogical tables and selected the mothers
and fathers, uniting them with delicate discernment and hidden design.
The pasturing of docile cattle involves no honor or glory, and I choose
to render account of my pasturage to him alone who knew, better than I,
what he did when he entrusted me with the savage drove.
Neither let it surprise you that my love for Emmy could not drive away
the impure images and destroy their power of attraction. The
reconciliation of ape and angel that our human nature demands had,
thanks to my father's bungling match-making, gone fatally wrong. A
hopeless separation had arisen, the angel seemed inaccessible and the
beast sought his own wild paths. My thoughts would suffer no
desecration of Emmy's sacredness. But the fatherly lesson had startled
up in me a seething swarm of thoughts as difficult to direct or drive
away as a roomful of flies. I could scarcely keep them off the one
white lily in my chamber, what wonder then that the stinking carrion
brought from the nocturnal London parks was black with them?
Emmy was nineteen years old when I made her acquaintance, and I was
sixteen, but fully developed at that age, as is not unusual in my
country. For three years I courted her, steadfastly, but in a curiously
capricious and inconsistent way, with all the changes of an all-daring
and naught-fearing devotion, wildly-blazing happiness, sudden shyness
and trembling shrinking, violent dismay, self-reproach, deep
self-contempt - all this being caused by the confusion and the strife
in the intimate household of my soul.
Emmy was, as I can now say without partiality, a good, dear, natural
and simple child, born to make an excellent and loving housewife and
How often I imagine that I, the patriarch of to-day, with my present
knowledge, would have stepped between the two and easily steered the
two little boats into safe currents on a joint and prosperous journey.
So little would have been needed, a little hint, a loving word of
direction, a gentle stay - and everything would have been well. But
these are idle and tormenting after-thoughts, perhaps quite erroneous
I was not so undesirable a suitor, even though I was three years her
junior. Emmy's parents were liberal-minded, like most English people
not insensible to rank and title, and would surely not have precluded
the young noble Italian from their family, even though he had been
brought up in the Catholic faith.
Thus the amiable child complacently bore with my stormy adoration, less
hidden by me than is customary among the English, schooled in
self-restraint; she waited patiently; gently, almost imperceptibly,
encouraging me the while until I should be old enough to dare press my
suit more urgently. It sometimes seemed to me as though a girl was much
less curious and surprised, and, from out a hidden well, much sooner
and better informed concerning the course of the coming mysteries than
a boy. She does not think about it and would not be able to express it,
and yet she knows everything at the right time, as though the body had
thought for her.
Though our travelling life continued still, my father stopped oftener
and longer in London than in any other place, as though yielding to the
unpronounced pressure of his son. Perhaps this time he purposely wished
to submit me to the flames, my reserve hiding from him the true state
of my heart and my thoughts.
And when, after our first meeting, we were again on our way, it was
Emmy who gave the first timid sign to enter into correspondence. On St.
Valentine's day, the significance of which I knew full well, a colored
scrap-picture arrived, representing a rosy woman's hand with elegantly
curved finger tips offering a bouquet of blue forget-me-nots. The
source from whence it came was evident enough to me, and I, awkward
churl, was rude enough to send her a rapturous letter of thanks for it,
which of course met with a very cool rejection and denial.
At long as I was away from London I had comparative peace. I thought
about my beloved, wrote to her and of her in my diary and studied the
subjects which my father, who wished to make a diplomat of me,
appointed. I spent the winter with him in Berlin, but there I noticed
nothing of the London scandal, though I fully realized that something
of the sort could not well be missing in the big city. All my thoughts
of love, the pure and beautiful as well as its base desecration,
swarmed about the great, gray, smoke-darkened and fog-bound city across
Just as the elements of our sensually visible being, the cells of the
body, manifest a peculiar life and independent nature, so the elements
of our invisible being - the desires and passions - seem to be beings
with a peculiar nature. They are like animals and children, hearkening
to the voice that first called them, following the habits first taught
them, curiously stubborn in the errors grown habitual to them in youth,
and with a strange tendency toward the lower, as though falling through
the influence of a gravitation.
I had my "low" and my "lofty" times, as I called them. Sometimes for
weeks and months my thoughts would be pure and tranquil: then they
would be again suddenly aroused by some trifling cause - sometimes
mental: a newspaper article, a conversation overheard - sometimes
physical: a little fête, carrying on their harassing and tormenting
game, constantly repeating and circling around the same facts and
words, throughout entire sleepless nights, gnawing and picking at these
never satiating subjects, so offensive and yet so attractive, as a dog
gnaws at an old whitened bone.
Especially in a time of dejection and gloom, when the world offered me
no flower of outward beauty, the imagination immediately sought comfort
in that which was always exciting, always charming and intriguing, and
never satiated or vexed me. Neither study nor physical exercise had the
power to restrain the arbitrary course of the thoughts; the mind
possessed no weapons against them.
A feverish suspense beset me when it became certain that I was to see
Emmy again. A clear apprehension had already been born in me that only
her presence, her encouragement, her devotion could redeem me. And when
I saw her cordially bowing from the carriage that awaited us at the
suburban station on a bright, sunny May day, and went to meet her
trembling and dizzy with emotion, and seeing nothing of the great world
about me save her hair, golden in the sunlight, the white dress, the
broad-brimmed straw hat and the shining eyes - I really believed that I
was saved, and I no longer wavered in my heart and was positively
determined that I actually wanted her for my wife, no matter what a
saint she might be and how unworthy I.
Thus everything might have come out right, but things do not run so
smoothly in this world. I was seventeen and Emmy twenty. There still
followed weeks, long months - melancholy moods returned again,
discouragements - there were also walks through the dusky parks. And
the hungry dogs continued to whine and to howl and the thought-flies
continued to buzz and to defile themselves. Man may be reasonable and
patient; he has natures to control, apparently for his own good, that
are neither reasonable nor patient; that themselves never rest and
demand guidance from a spirit, that does need rest; that always want to
have their own way, and yet sink fatally downward if the government of
the mind leaves them unguarded. And these are given us by nature, as we
are told, the same nature which according to my father is always good
if man does not spoil her.
So as not to disturb you by exciting your imagination, dear reader,
which might make the driving of your own team more troublesome to you,
I shall mention no particulars of my struggle and my defeat. This
precaution of an old man need not hurt you.
I fell under the joint influence of the following things: the fatally
arisen rupture between corporal and spiritual desires, - the sharp
contrast between English purity and English lewdness that, with its
incomprehensible contradiction, has as exciting an effect as the dog in
the duck-yard, who decoys the inquisitive ducks into the mouth of the
strangler, - and finally the accursed self-contempt that makes one say:
"There's nothing lost with me anyway."
With his attention so steadily fixed upon me, my father could not
remain without suspicion. He came to my room one morning, installed
himself there, and said:
"I hope, Vico mio, that you have remained and will remain a nobleman in
When we Italians perceive that someone would enter upon a friendly
conversation with us, we look upon it as an invitation to set up
together and complete a small work of art, and we gladly give it an
attentive hearing and zealously assist with careful application, so
that something good and fine be brought forth. When I hear two
Hollanders carrying on a conversation, it sounds more like children of
a village school repeating their penal task, careless, slipshod,
unwilling and embarrassed - if only they get it over with.
"My father," I answered, "I believe I know quite well how you wish a
nobleman to be, but perhaps I do not know how he should comport himself
in everything. Do you refer to any particular circumstance, or are you
"If you recognize generally that a nobleman must avoid all intimate
intercourse with ignoble persons, Vico, - the particular instances that
I have in mind are therein included."
"That is plain, father. But yet I have something more to ask. First
this: do you call it intimate intercourse where the spirit on either
side remains at an infinite distance? And then this: can a nobleman
have ignoble desires?"
I saw my father start painfully. Slowly and eyeing me sharply, he said:
"I fear, Vico, that I must speak plainly here, too. To the first I make
this reply: It is certain that we have a body, but of a spirit that can
separate itself from this body we know nothing and have no single
proof. And as concerns the second question: natural desires are never
ignoble as long as they remain in the natural channels."
"Without agreeing to the first," I replied, "I shall let it rest,
because our natures are too different, and we do not understand each
other anyway. But your answer to the second gives me much to ask. If a
desire in me is natural and thus not ignoble, how then can it drive me
to ignoble things? Are all natural desires good in all men? And how do
I distinguish between natural and noble desires and unnatural and
"Have you no power of discrimination for that, Vico?" my father asked.
"If I use my discrimination, father, I call ignoble what my father
My father arrested the conversation a moment to reflect. Then he
realized that in order not to lose more ground, he must turn from the
general to the particular.
"Let us beware, son, lest we become entangled in words. I have happily
established that we both have an aversion from the vile and low. Take
care then, that is all I wished to say, that you do not come into
contact with it."
"But the vile and low in me desires contact with the vile and low in
others," said I, bitterly.
My father grew impatient and said:
"I don't believe in this baseness and vileness in you. The popes surely
talked you into that when you were a child. I understand that you have
to deal with desires and passions that are absolutely not unnatural or
bad, but very common at your age. But do not seek relief from them with
unworthy, licentious persons. Of the great danger I have already warned
you, have I not? Do not forget that in a few moments you can, through
defilement, devastate your entire life."
"I do not forget that, father."
"Very well, but you should also be too proud to trouble yourself about
such low-graded creatures."
"I would gladly have reason to be proud. But what is passing on in me
is well suited to keep me humble. Can you deliver me from all this
lowness and ugliness? You yourself have aroused it in me."
"I?" my father called, frowning angrily.
"By your scientific explanations. Before that time I had comparative
peace. Now I am desperate, like a captive and tormented cat. It will
end badly with me, father, that is certain. I foresee it, and can do
nothing to prevent it. I can put out my eyes and chop off my hands, but
I cannot control my thoughts and drive away these visions. That is
beyond human power. I shall go to the bad, that is certain, and then
the sooner the better. There's not so much lost with me."
With an anxious, painful eagerness my father listened to these first
outspoken words. Then he said with a little laugh, half pitying, half
"One thing is plain to me now, my boy, that you must get married soon.
Well, happily you need not seek long or fear a refusal. You can get of
the very finest that wears a petticoat. Don't be bashful, Vico! You
have a noble name, pure blood, a handsome face, and a fine, strong,
healthy body. I shall supply the money. Be calm, my boy, you can have
what you want for the asking."
I got up, deeply indignant. I believe that I laughed a theatrical laugh.
"Most decidedly your meaning is that I should make use of a pure and
holy being, whose name I am not worthy to pronounce, as a safety valve,
a preservative, a drain for my own foul and low passions. I assure you
that, had it not been my father who had spoken such words to me, I
would have challenged the man."
My father attempted a pitying smile, but it was artificial and painful:
"Good heavens, Vico! what exaggerated, impossible, fanatical nonsense!
Then were all mothers who bore children drains for their husbands? Do
be calm and reasonable, lad! You are not unworthy, your passions are
not foul and low, whoever got that into your head? Your mother, surely,
and her black friends. It's terrible how a mother can early poison the
thoughts of her child."
"If one of my parents poisoned my thoughts, then it was not my mother.
I realize my unworthiness through my own consciousness, not through
outside persuasion. But my father cannot understand that, because he is
a stranger to my deepest and most sacred feelings. Even though your
advice had been good, father, your manner of expressing it would
already have repelled me. But, moreover, your advice is idle. An
English girl of twenty does not marry a young man of seventeen, and in
three years from now I'll be lost anyway, hopelessly lost. I foresee
that positively. And oh! what does it matter? It's only I, after all!"
Scornfully shrugging my shoulders, I ran about the room. My father
lifted both hands to his forehead and stared into vacancy with a look
full of gloom, long-nurtured wrath and desperation. I still remember
that look and wonder that I was not more painfully struck by it at the
time. After a while he got up, sighed, and with the words, "We shall
see!" he walked out of the room.
Again the poor man had brought about the contrary of what he wished to
attain. One impression, above all, I retained from the conversation -
it was that my mother would surely understand me and perhaps save me. I
knew that she still lived and I also knew the name of our country seat.
For the first time since our departure from home the thought of writing
to her entered my mind. Amid many tears I composed a long, passionate
letter to her that night, in which I told of all my tortures, my
raptures, my struggles, my wondrous love and my deep self-degradation
and self-contempt. I gave no facts, for young, sensitive, passionate
letter writers seldom do, but prefer keeping to general terms. Nor did
I employ a single religious expression, because I had really completely
forgotten the brief maternal education, and simply translated elemental
feeling of the heart into language most current to me.
"Help me, dearest mother," I wrote. "Help me. I know that you alone can
do it. I have never forgotten you, and every day and night have thought
of you. I still see you as distinctly as though I had left you only
yesterday. I am a strange and terrible riddle to myself, and father,
alas! cannot understand me. He speaks of nature that is always good,
and says that my desires are natural and therefore good. But to me
these desires seem ugly and despicable and the nature that drives me to
them not at all good. He cannot understand this. Nature torments and
tortures me. And no matter how I battle I see no deliverance. And at
the same time, I adore a wondrous being, an angel of purity. And my
father says that I must transfer the desires which I consider
despicable to this sacred beloved. And that is a terrible thought to
me. I love her with a passionate, boundless love, but I tremble to
touch her with my impure lips. I harbor thoughts that would make me die
of shame in her presence. And with my sordid depravities I am fit only
for the low creatures, just as unhappy as I, whom I see running about
here and who address me occasionally. Tell me, dearest mother, is there
still help for me, is there still redemption? What is that nature of
which my father speaks? Is it a thing or a thinking being, and how can
it be good, always good, and bring me into such terrible straits and
make me so unhappy?"
In this strain I wrote many pages and sent them off at a venture
without much hope. And for two weeks I vainly went to the post-office
every day, toward the last without the least hope.
But the answer came after all and I hid myself with it in my room,
securely bolted, and with trembling hands I tore the envelope and
kissed the paper and for a long time could not read for the tears that
streamed from my eyes.
And when the contents, like a warm flood of tender benediction, seemed
to pour itself out over my benumbed and tormented heart, of course I
cried and kissed all the more and with greater fervor. We Italians are
always a little, what here in my small town would be called, theatrical
and affected, even though we be wholly without witnesses.
I am proud of it that so many years ago I already addressed to my
mother the question which, as far as I know, the best philosophers have
never put to themselves with sufficient stress. Even those who by
preference call themselves natural philosophers, thus those who have
offered their lives to the service of Nature, who have sacrificed
everything to understand her, who never speak of her without reverence
and admiration and never cease praising her beauty, her bounty and the
peace she bestows upon her scholars and admirers - even they, with
amazing carelessness, forget to apprise us whether they consider her
dead or living, a being or a thing, a thinking, feeling, clearly
conscious and responsible Deity, or a blind, senseless force; and
finally to teach us how we can persist in our praise and homage in the
face of so much torture, so many monstrous faults, so much relentless
Nature worship is the religion which unobserved makes the most
proselytes nowadays. Even the druggist of my little town, who is a
clever botanist, has gradually renounced his slack Protestantism for an
ardent and devout nature worship. When he accompanies me to my nursery
occasionally, on his search for plants, he can be stirred to truly
southern enthusiasm at the sight of insects, birds, plants, trees,
meadows, - all the wonders of his adored "Nature." His Bible had to
make place for a periodical entitled "Living Nature," but dead nature -
the clouds, the sea and the stars - inspires in him no slighter
enthusiasm. This is all very lovable, but I often find it quite
difficult not to cause the good man embarrassment by asking him where
he considers that his beloved Nature ends and something else begins.
Whether he counts man and their products also as a part of nature, and
if so, why his admiration should make a sudden turn before the slums of
Amsterdam; and if not, or only partly, what peculiar something it then
is that has created so curious a product as man, and yet should be the
opponent and enemy of, and debarred from, the great good and beautiful
unity of all other things.
Yes, yes, dear reader, I know that men do a great deal of thoughtless
babbling, and in a vague and careless way prate of Mother Nature, and
beautiful Nature and human nature, and so on and so forth, without even
knowing or distinguishing with the slightest degree of exactness what
they really say or mean. But yet there have also been those among my
fellows and good friends, like my amiable comrade Spinoza, and my
greatly beloved friend Goethe, who did not care in the least for hollow
phrases and also well-nigh constantly thought about these things, and
who yet never proved with sufficient force men's right to praise Nature
as much as they do, to bring all that is knowable into her domain and
yet to judge of some of her products, as let us say: baboons, tyrants,
grand inquisitors, drunkards, philistines, modern buildings and bad
verses, in an ethically and aesthetically disapproving sense and,
moreover, to call this opinion natural.
See then, the answer I received from my mother was quite as plausible
to a young mind. She really seemed to have a nail for every hole and a
hole for every nail.
"Nature, my dear son," she wrote, "is blind and subject to sin. Through
a Divine decree which we cannot penetrate she has been delivered over
to Satan. But to offset nature there is the miracle. That is the wonder
of Divine grace, through which we can find redemption from sin. The
blood of Christ is the medium of redemption, and nothing more is
required of us than to believe in Christ and in the redeeming power of
his blood. Then the Miracle of Grace shall be performed in us and none
can fall so deeply into sin, but faith in Christ can bring him
salvation, and powerfully as nature works toward corruption, the
miracle has wrought things
'a che natura
non scaldo ferro mai, ne batta incude.'"
The letter whereof this is a fragment made a profound impression on me.
In the first place it came as a tangible, living token of the mother,
so greatly venerated and adored - well-nigh as a departed saint; then,
too, it awakened old, tender, childish feelings by the familiar tones
of piety, which now struck my more experienced ears as something
entirely new. And with the eager enthusiasm natural to me I thankfully
and reverently accepted each of these proffered thoughts, fitting and
arranging them until they seemed exactly to fill the gap which I had
discovered in my spiritual life.
Exactly! Nature's trend is downward through the influence of Satan who
draws us. This was just what I had felt. On the other side is God, who
also draws us - but upward. That, too, I had felt. Thus at times nature
is left to its own desires and Satan free to allure. Why? You must not
ask. Divine decree. To a certain extent this is perhaps transferring
the difficulty, but once thus firmly pronounced, - the door shuts
unhesitatingly - the spirit becomes reconciled to it. Of course,
something impenetrable may remain!
And now the salvation: Christ.
It was the first time this word was brought into the field of my
vision, like a new plant that I saw sprouting in the garden of my life.
Now, after fifty years, it is not yet full grown, but gives promise of
blossom and fruit. Marvellous are the transformations it has undergone.
First I seemed to hear a word devoid of sense, and knew not what to do
with it. A man, a God, a human-God, a Divine Man - all well and good,
but what was that to me? Words, words. Satan who drew me downward I had
felt, God who drew me upward I had felt. Of Christ I felt nothing. The
assurance that he had lived, died and was risen again, did not affect
me as long as he remained imperceptible to me.
Now I had gained the impression that Emmy knew more of him. It was
customary in her family to offer morning prayers, and when I heard her
pronounce the words: "Jesus Christ, our Lord," she did it with such
expressive fervor that I could not doubt but that she positively knew
whereof she spoke. At the time I had not yet learned the creative power
of the suggested word.
So, in the course of a merry morning gallop, I, queer suitor that I
was, began to theologize with the dear girl and asked her squarely:
"Emmy, who is Christ?"
Now in my artlessness I had thought that anyone questioned by an
earnest and not indifferent person, about a good acquaintance and dear
friend, would manifest pleasure and gladly and heartily give the
desired information. But Emmy seemed exceedingly surprised and even
alarmed, as though the question did not at all please her, but more
evidently distressed her.
"Don't you know that?" she said in a somewhat sullen and reserved tone
of voice. "I thought you were religious."
"I surely am, Emmy, but that is why I want to know more of him."
"But aren't you Catholics taught that?" Emmy asked.
"To be sure, Emmy, but that does not satisfy me. It tells me nothing. I
also want to feel that Christ is and what he is."
"Do you wish to turn Protestant?
"That makes no difference to me. I only do not want to use words
without knowing what they mean. When you say, 'Jesus Christ, our Lord,'
it seems as though you really knew what you meant with it."
"Of course I know!" said Emmy, the least bit crossly.
"Can't you make it clear to me, then?"
To my continued astonishment Emmy seemed to think this an unpleasant
topic of conversation. It seemed as though she wanted to get it over
with. She began, as though unwillingly, about God who had been born a
man, had died for our sins, had risen again.
"No, Emmy, all that means nothing to me. It may all be very true, but
what good is that to me now? If he died, well then, he is dead -"
"He is risen again," Emmy said quickly and almost angrily.
"Then he never died either; then it's folly to speak of dying. Is death
still death when you know you will rise again directly? I'm willing to
be killed three times a day then; no one is so much afraid of the bit
of pain. Thus Christ still lives, - very well! then I ask: How do I
become aware of that? By what am I apprised of it? What is he really
then, and whereby should I know him if I saw him?"
"You must believe in him," Emmy said, still more or less crossly.
The verb "to believe" that Emmy used has an auxiliary with less
favorable meaning. In English "to make believe" is in other words to
impose on a person's credulity. It was as though this thought had made
me suspicious and I began to surmise that Emmy's anxiety and anger were
akin to that of the schoolgirl who is praised for a composition which
she has copied from another. But surely it was in perfect good faith
that the dear girl thought to believe what people had made her believe.
As with everyone under suggestive influence, her deceived personality,
without being clearly conscious of it, repelled any critical pressure
that might bring to light the unreality of the imprinted image. How
sorely I tormented the artless maiden at the time with my naive and
inexorably insistent questioning! And how glad she was when at last I
abandoned the Christ question and began to talk of tennis and croquet!
Although unformulated, yet this conversation positively revealed to me
that Emmy in truth knew nothing of Christ, but used the word on her
parents' and society's authority, and as a corresponding reality
possessed nothing but a vague, fleeting phantom of a good and beautiful
man with long hair and pointed beard, who was dead and yet living, - a
man and yet God, existing everywhere and nowhere, and who on account of
all these contradictory qualities is probably most easily known and
addressed in pictures and images, which cannot and need not resemble
him, with words that are pleasantly ingratiating through the familiar
tones of precious associations.
But I had readily adopted from my father his scorn for this kind of
faith in imprinted unrealities and suggested images, and I still retain
it as the greatest treasure he left to me, covering all his sin toward
Surely there is no illusion - there are only grades of reality; and
what we call phantasmagorias are merely very fleeting realities,
created by man, in comparison to the eternal and immutable realities
which we apprehend with our soul and our senses, and which must be of
higher origin. But we will not give to human creations honors alone due
to the Divine, and will not pronounce hollow words nor adore suggested
Thus the Christ idea of the maternal gift had as yet no value for me -
but even so I was rich with the ideas of God and Satan as the causes of
this sad discord and confusion in my soul. Now all that was necessary
was to fight Satan and to call on God for aid. Mother's advice had
been: "Pray and chastise and subdue the flesh." I tried it immediately
with trusting ardor, and behold! 't was true - it really helped. I
hardly dared believe it myself, it seemed almost too good.
I prayed night and morning in my own, original, upright way, to the
power which I felt as an uplifting influence, calling it God.
I imposed penalties upon myself, denying myself wine and delicate food,
bathing a great deal in ice-cold water, clothing myself insufficiently,
making forced marches on foot, and when Satan again seemed to be
getting the upper hand, even sleeping beside my bed on the hard floor.
For that I would rather go up with God than down with Satan - well I of
that I was most positively convinced. It is strange with what blind
arrogance man can consider himself an exception in this regard, as
though anyone on earth would enjoy and prefer descending into the deep
with Satan than ascending with God on high. And it may be called even
stranger that I went to all this trouble, the while the maternal wisdom
deemed salvation possible only through a miracle, which I, certainly,
could not compel, and by faith in Christ which, though I honestly
desired to, I could not awaken in myself.
The little fish did not see that by these evolutions it had even now
entered the encircling meshes of the net which would land it into the
same suggested faith from which it had once before turned away in alarm.
For the evolutions helped, there was no doubt about that. I soon felt
more cheerful, braver, and above all, purer and stronger. Satan, if not
absolutely routed, yet seemed to be considerably intimidated. I rowed,
played cricket and croquet, studied, rode horseback, went walking in
the country, not in the dangerous parks. I did not consider the infamy
of my fall wiped out and maintained a respectful aloofness from my
beloved, as one unworthy of her. But I saw her often and worshipped and
adored her to my heart's content, without thinking far ahead.
This success was not the result of a miracle, nor of faith in Christ,
but probably of the glad shock produced by mother's letter and of a
strong auto-suggestion. But it seemed to confirm her wisdom and thus
prepared the susceptibility to deeper suggestions.
During these exercises of virtue Satan's image through its
countervailing influence became ever clearer to me. The crafty, evil
power, whose existence I had officially recognized by my declaration of
war, was obviously flattered and manifested itself with stronger
reality. At the time I did not yet know that suggestion can engender
reality, and that all actions are also auto-suggestions.
Satan retreated, hid himself, surreptitiously arose again, awaited his
chance, taking advantage of unguarded and weak moments, and in one word
demeaned himself as a very live and sagacious Satan.
His cleverest artifice consisted in finally taking advantage of my
excess of virtue. After a few weeks of self-torture, over-fatigue,
scant food, little sleep and insufficient clothing, I naturally fell
ill, and the kind Tenders family would not hear of it that I should be
tended elsewhere than in their own home.
Behold Satan's splendid chance, which he turned to excellent account.
He kept still as a mouse; no impure thoughts, no visions, no
troublesome dreams annoyed me. The hungry dogs which I had now come to
look upon as Satan's faithful domestic pets were hushed, first by the
auto-suggestion, subsequently by my illness, and finally by the promise
clearly betrayed in my actions, that I would grant them nobler prey.
Indeed, though I did not acknowledge it to myself, to what else could
it lead - these daily more tender and ardent relations between the
desperately enamored and speedily recuperating patient and the dear
nurse, assuredly not insensitive to his adoration? The flame of
martyrdom was swiftly quenched with beef tea, soft-boiled eggs and
sweet malaga wine, and I could not possibly recognize Satan's voice in
these gentle commands to self-indulgence, nor could I think to honor
God by disobedience to such a charming mistress.
What a time! what a time! all the way from my nursery to my house I
have been smiling in anticipation of my afternoon hours of literary
activities, smiling and smiling in sweet remembrance. The children by
the wayside got nickels instead of pennies, and the fisherman who lay
caulking his boat hauled up on shore in the little harbor peered out
from under the scow with an attentive expression as though he would
say: "Well, bless my heart, and if the old gentleman ain't gone and got
a jag on this morning!"
I am indeed blissfully intoxicated with the heady aroma of these long
past days of young love! the sound of her approaching footsteps in the
morning, the rustling of her gown before I beheld her, as she came to
bring me some dainty which she had concocted for my regalement. And the
merry little chats, when she would at first sit on the chair beside my
bed, but later perchance also on the edge of the bed. And once at the
very end, when I was to get up the following day, and thanked her for
all her loving care, she bent over me, and before either of us really
knew what we were about - so it seemed to me at least, perhaps her
consciousness was clearer - we had kissed each other on the lips. And
the blessed tears I shed when she had gone, - for the undeserved grace
of this happiness, which yet never could endure, - these are things,
are they not, dear reader? which we usually look upon as the very
highest summits of our earthly joys, that still shine most radiantly
when our sun is near its setting. But know then too that joy and bliss
are of more imperishable matter than rock and glacier, and that very
sublime beauty is more clearly perceived from a distance. Long ago, I
have observed that most happiness can be valued best when it lies a
certain distance behind us, and one must grow old to taste the full
flavor of beauty at the very moment of perception.
There still followed a few lovely days of glorious summer weather,
which I spent in a hammock stretched above the smooth green turf
between the oaks. I saw the round sun shadows upon the grass, the
sparkling, gently flowing Thames, the white swans, the gaily crowded
boats, the kindly, happy people about me, and in their midst, as the
sunny kernel of joy, the wavy, golden hair of her whom I loved best,
and who only lent the true radiance to all this summer glory. I read
Heine and listened to Schumann, and I breathed the subtle penetrating
fragrance of the linden blossoms, the wonderful fragrance full of
poignant melancholy and sweet longing that does not touch our senses
ere love has deeply nestled in our Heart. I had travelled through so
many lands and yet had never smelled the perfume of the linden
blossoms, so that it was as though the great linden tree had become
fragrant through Emmy's wondrous power just as she made the golden
summer sun truly to shine.
But then I was restored to health and the lovely, lazy life was ended.
And Emmy, mindful of our last rather unsatisfactory conversation on
horseback and perhaps also to offer an antidote for Heine, brought me a
small New Testament as a parting gift, which I gratefully and
reverently pressed to my heart and began to peruse diligently.
Now the crafty devil held me securely in his meshes and could display
himself without having the terrified little fish swim away. My body,
now strong again and refreshed, wanted Emmy for my wife in the
ordinary, human, time-honored way. It made this known with undeniable
distinctness, without concerning itself in the least about my exalted
scruples. Women can still cherish the illusion that kisses and embraces
have no deeper significance; a man is more distinctly warned; and I
really think it not at all kindly of the great and noted lovers that
they so often profess ignorance in that respect, thus misleading the
Satan could grin perfidiously now at the fix I was in. The shame of my
unworthiness could, perhaps, have been wiped out with the help of
Emmy's magnanimous forgiveness. Such an absolution is not unusual in
the world of romance, and quite the rule in the actual world. But the
body absolutely would not bear of postponement, and though
circumstances were ever so favorable to me, yet modesty and convention,
yes, even practical common sense, demanded a few years more of waiting.
A few years - how lightly these periods are set and written down in the
love stories, from the time of father Jacob's seven years - and how
terribly different is their significance for the man of different
The Old Testament shepherd lad may perhaps have borne it in good stead
- but if we try to be frank, dear reader, what then may we suppose that
such periods hide for the man of modern civilization, of wrong, of
corruption, of unworthy transactions between the moral, ideal and
When but recently come to England, I had read the statement in one of
Thackeray's books that possibly there might be pure women, but
certainly no pure man, and with youthful arrogance I had sworn a solemn
oath that I would make him out a liar. This was the first of the fine
set of broken, patched and mended oaths with which the quarrelling
household of my soul was gradually fitted out. And one would think that
the ambition for the collecting of this precious and breakable
bric-à-brac should not be so generally praised and encouraged. I, at
least, have had to pay dearly for this hobby, and with melancholy,
struggles, self-torment, self-reproach and continuous worry it has
embittered the best years and the most beautiful emotions of my life.
And if now, in the end, I, at least, saw the way clear, dear reader! -
but truly! if I should have to begin again, from the very beginning, I
should not know yet bow to act better. I would surely never make
promises again - but what I once pronounced impure and unworthy, I
still call it so. And that I was, nevertheless, drawn into it through
my own nature, like a rebellious cat, I still consider equally
disgraceful and unjust. But how I could have prevented it I do not know
yet, for I fought like a hero, and after all I was not one of the
weakest; - yes! I was stronger even than the greater majority.
But this I know, that with all this worry I would not besides give to
remorse a place in my house, and I advise you, dear reader,
relentlessly to throw this guest out of your door. I would certainly
continue to be as rebellious and unforgiving toward the vile and
unworthy, - but if there is consciousness of sin and sense of guilt to
bear, I know now who is justly ready and willing to bear with us and to
ease this burden for us poor toilers.
The constitution of society and the precepts of convention are moreover
so badly qualified to ease the struggle, because society and moral law
manifest so little comprehension of the true nature of our
difficulties. Where I felt no danger whatsoever, there were strong
walls of strict convention; and where I knew positively that I would
succumb, the world offered no defence.
With one of Emmy's friends or another innocent girl or woman, no matter
how lovely and attractive, one might without danger have sent me off on
a journey and have left us together for days and weeks without
witnesses, and not a shadow of eroticism or impure thought would have
arisen in me. With Emmy herself, her innocence and my own scruples and
respect were a better safeguard than all moral laws. But as soon as I
detected in a woman, totally strange and indifferent to me, ugly even
and repulsive, this peculiar weakness, usually paired with good nature,
which indicated in an almost imperceptible manner that the parting wall
of modesty would fall at my first assault, I already felt myself lost
from the beginning in spite of all conventional restrictions.
I sometimes vainly endeavored to imagine how ugly a woman would have to
be to make me repel her advances with stony coolness. Every woman, the
least attractive even, could make me stumble, simply by humbling
herself. As by an excess of chivalry, I could not refuse a woman's
request nor even await it. It was as though I must prevent her casting
off her modesty at all costs by my own debasement; that is to say, as
long as she desired only my body and not my heart. My heart remained
out of shot range behind the walls of my true love for Emmy.
When physical desires and spiritual sensibilities are once severed one
from the other, they never grow entirely together again and
possibilities of sad confusion remain throughout life. In spite of my
pure and passionate love for Emmy, my bodily desires could be excited
to madness by the first woman that came along seeming inclined to let
the veil of modesty drop before me. And while, with - the exception of
Emmy, the most beautiful, sweetest and noblest women did not exercise
the slightest alluring power over me and Emmy's guileless trust in me
and her absolute want of jealousy in that respect were entirely
justified, a coarse, low-born, sensual and good-natured woman could
seduce me to things that neither Emmy nor any of the persons who knew
me would have deemed possible. Thus you see, dear reader, how highly
necessary it is to regulate the strange connection between ape and
angel in valid and permanent fashion, from childhood up, for the two
have such different conceptions of good and beautiful that it will not
do to leave to each his freedom in one narrow, fragile house.
For all the rest, I was constitutionally strong and well balanced in
soul and body. Of disease I know little, and that breaking down of the
bond between the visible and invisible part of our nature that people
call nervous troubles nowadays was ever strange to me.
And this was the most perplexing and confounding circumstance in my
difficulties, that when the ape had finally had his way, he rewarded me
for it by a feeling of physical refreshment and comfort, by a
consciousness of renewed and invigorated life, a clearing of thought,
an increased activity and capacity for enjoyment.
All this agrees very badly - does it not? with the traditional
punishment that should follow upon the misdeed. Perhaps it even seems
to you in flagrant conflict with the moral world order. I cannot help
it, but it was as I have told you, and you can only save the honor of
tradition, as I did at the time, by declaring it all a most
contemptible artifice of Satan. But conscience is not hushed by this
explanation. On the contrary, who would maintain a real, live devil
must have a conscience for him to gnaw. Pure and elemental it need not
be; he is satisfied - with any cheap group-fabrication, and the
torments remain the same.
My life in these years was one long, secret struggle, the fierceness of
which only my father suspected, without being able to do anything to
help me, poor man - for he really suffered under it with me because his
life task was at stake.
In his helplessness he even seriously considered and covertly proposed
our following the example of certain aristocratic English families
where, as he declared he knew positively, a pretty servant girl was
engaged to keep the son of the house from worse excesses, until the
time for a respectable marriage had arrived and the girl was sent home
with a liberal remuneration.
But the mere allusion roused me to indignant passion, little as I was
entitled to such pride. How shall we account for it, that every
reminder of what man recognizes as degrading in his love life is never
more unbearable, never more painful than between parent and child?
My life and my being in these years was like the struggling of two
powers in deadly dispute, rising and falling between heaven and earth,
between clouds and sea - the eagle of ideal sublimity and the snake of
"Feather and scale inextricably blended."
For me, in an outwardly calm and care-free life, an anxious and
terrible struggle with
"Many a check
And many a change, a dark and wild turmoil."
The distress, the shame, the self-contempt, the despair resulting
therefrom made my behavior toward Emmy so strange, so uneven and
capricious that she often felt hurt by it, and so was careful to draw
back a little more.
Before long I had a rival: a young English officer, equally handsome,
equally good to look at and strongly built as I, but somewhat calmer,
somewhat more measured and somewhat more assured of his own right and
virtue. For these qualities he was hateful to me, but with secret
bitterness I recognized his superior rights, because I took him for a
In my country, in Spain, in France, also in Germany, men, even those
calling themselves well bred, are often caddish enough to make coarse
sexual jokes toward comparative strangers and to assume a freer tone
when no women are present. Such behavior could make me furious and I
always answered it with mocking non-comprehension. And at the same time
it tormented me, that anyone knowing my thoughts and habits would call
me a hypocrite for this reason. But my disgust for such coarsenesses
was strong and sincere, and I valued it in my English friends that they
seemed to feel the same as I in this respect.
My rival, Captain Truant, was polite and correct in everything and
toward me he was cordial and pleasant, but he could not quite hide that
he looked upon me as an Italian, that is to say, a man of lower race
and backward civilization. I realized that he would think it very
unsuitable and a great pity to have a sweet, well-bred blonde English