The Works of Heinrich Heine/Vol. 1/Florentine Nights
In the ante-room Maximilian found the physician, who was drawing on his black gloves. "I am in a great hurry," said the latter hastily; "Signora Maria has not slept all day, and only just now has fallen into a little nap. I need not tell you that she must not be disturbed by any noise, and when she wakens she must not speak for her life! She must lie still, not move in the least—the only movement permitted her is that of a mental nature. I beg you—tell her all or any kind of fanciful stories, so that she will only listen quietly."
"Rest assured, doctor," replied Maximilian, with a mournful smile. "I have trained myself for a talker, and will not let her speak. And I will tell her fantastic stuff enough—as much as you will. But how long will she live?"
"I am in a great hurry," replied the physician, and disappeared.
Black Deborah with her acute ear had quickly recognised the step of the new comer, and softly opened for him the door. At his nod she as quietly left the chamber, and Maximilian found himself alone by his lady friend. The chamber was dimly lit by a single lamp, which cast half fearful, half inquisitive gleams on the face of the beautiful woman who, clad entirely in white muslin, lay sleeping calmly on a green-silk sofa.
Silent, with folded arms, Maximilian stood a while before the sleeper and regarded the beautiful limbs, which the light garb rather revealed than hid, and every time when a strip of light fell on the pale face his heart throbbed: "In God's name!" he murmured, "what is that? What memory is it that wakes in me? Ah, I know now—this white form on the green ground—yes—now"———
At that instant the invalid awoke, and as if gazing from the depth of a dream, the soft dark violet eyes looked questioning—praying, on the friend. "Of what were you thinking just now, Maximilian?" she said, with that terrible, soft voice, such as is heard from those who suffer from lung complaint, and in which we seem to hear the prattle of a child, the chirping of a bird, and the death-rattle. "Of what were you thinking?" she repeated, and raised her head so hastily that the long locks curled about it like gold serpents frightened up.
"For God's sake," cried Maximilian, as he softly pressed her down again on the sofa, "remain quiet, say nothing; I will tell you all that I think or feel—yes, even what I don't know.
"In fact," he continued, "I do not know exactly what I just now thought and felt. Pictures from childhood swept like twilight dreams through my soul. I thought of my mother's chateau—of its garden run wild, of the beautiful marble statue which lay in the green grass. I called it my mother's chateau, but I beg you, of my life, do not understand by that anything magnificent or grand. I have always been accustomed to hear it so called. My father laid a curious emphasis on 'the castle,' and smiled oddly as he said it. It was not till a later time that I learned the meaning of this smile—when I, a boy of twelve, went with my mother to the chateau. It was my first journey. We drove all day through a thick forest, whose dark thrills I shall never forget, and it was not till twilight that we first paused at a long cross-bar which separated us from a great meadow. We were obliged to wait almost half-an-hour before a 'boy' came from a mud hut hard by, who pushed away the impediment and let us in. I say 'boy,' because old Martha always called her forty-year-old nephew by this term. This youth, in order to receive 'the gracious quality,' had donned the old livery of his late uncle, and we had been obliged to wait until he had brushed it clean. Could he have had more time he would have also put on his stockings; but, as it was, his long bare legs were in good keeping with his scarlet coat. Whether he wore breeches under it I do not know. Our servant John, who, like me, had often heard of 'the chateau,' made a very strange face when the 'boy' led us to the little broken building where the late Herr had dwelt. But he was startled indeed when my mother bade him bring in the beds. How could he suppose there were no beds at 'the chateau'? And the order of my mother to provide sleeping comforts he had either never heard or neglected it as superfluous trouble.
"The little dwelling, just one storey high, which had not boasted in its best days more than five inhabitable rooms, was now a pitiful picture of the passed away. Wrecked furniture, ragged hangings and carpets, not one window-pane unbroken, the floor torn up here and there, and everywhere ugly traces of the most outrageous acts of the soldiery.
"'Those who were quartered on us amused themselves very much at our expense,' said the 'boy,' with a stupid smile. My mother made a sign to him that we would gladly be alone, and while he busied himself with John, I went to see the garden, which also wore the most inconsolable air of ruin. The great trees were partly hacked away, partly felled, and spiteful, sneering parasites rose over the fallen trunks. Here and there one could recognise the way amid the box-bushes growing wildly out of trim. Here and there too stood statues, the most of which had lost their heads or at least their noses. I remember a Diana whose nether limbs were overgrown with dark ivy in a comical fashion, and also of a goddess of plenty from whose cornucopia flowed rank, poisonous weeds. One statue only had been spared—God knows how—from the mischief of man and Time. It had indeed been hurled from its pedestal into the high grass, but it lay there uninjured—a marble goddess, with the most exquisitely pure features, and with a finely chiselled noble breast which gleamed up from the high grass like a Greek Apocalypse. I was almost terrified at the sight; this statue inspired in me a strange, close, feverish terror, and a secret bashfulness kept me from gazing long at its lovely mien.
"When I returned to my mother she stood by the window, lost in thought, her head resting on her right hand, while tears ran without ceasing down her cheeks. I had never seen her weep like this. She embraced me hastily and tenderly, and made excuse that owing to John's neglect I could not have a proper bed. 'Old Martha,' she said, 'is very ill, and cannot give up her bed for you, my dear child. But John can arrange the cushions from the coach so that you can sleep on them, and you may take his cloak for covering. I will sleep here on straw; this was the bedroom of my late father—it looked far better once than it now does. Leave me alone.' And the tears ran more irrepressibly from her eyes.
"Whether it was the not being used to such a bed, or to my excited feelings, I could not sleep. The moon shone so directly at me through the broken panes, that it seemed as if it would lure me out into the clear summer night. Whether I turned to the right side or the left, whether I opened or impatiently shut my eyes, I could think of nothing but the beautiful marble statue which I had seen in the grass. I could not understand the bashfulness which seized me when I first saw it; I felt vexed at this childish feeling, and said to myself, 'To-morrow I will kiss thee, thou beautiful marble face; kiss thee on the lovely corner of the mouth where the lips melt into such a charming dimple!' And then an impatience such as I had never before felt rippled through all my limbs, I could not resist the strange impulse, and at last I jumped up boldly and said: 'What does it matter if I kiss thee even now, beautiful form!'
"I stole softly from the house, lest my mother should hear, which was all the easier because the entrance, though it bore a great coat-of-arms, had no door, and hastily wound my way through the shrubbery of the wasted garden. There was not a sound—all rested silently and solemnly in the calm moonshine. The shadows of the trees seemed to be nailed to the ground. There in the green grass lay the beautiful goddess, as immovable as all around; but her lovely limbs seemed to be fettered, not by petrifying death, but by quiet slumber, and as I drew near I almost feared lest she might be wakened by the lightest sound. I held my breath as I bent over to behold her beautiful face; a shuddering, troubled fear seemed to repel me from, and a youthful lustyhood to attract me to her; my heart beat as if I were about to commit a murder, and at last I kissed the beautiful goddess with a passion, a tenderness, and a desperation such as I never felt in my life from any kiss. Nor can I ever forget the grimly sweet emotion which ran through all my soul as the comforting, blessing coldness of those marble lips touched mine. . . . And so, Maria, as I just now stood before you, and I saw you lying in your white muslin dress on the green sofa, your appearance reminded me of the white marble image in the green grass. Had you slept longer my lips could not have resisted"———
"Max! Max!" cried the woman from the depths of her soul. "Terrible! You know that a kiss from your mouth"———
"Ah—only be silent; I know that would be something terrible to you! Do not look at me so imploringly! I do not doubt your feelings, although their deepest ground lies hidden from me. I have never dared to press my lips to yours"———
But Maria did not allow him to conclude. She had grasped his hand, covered it with earnest kisses, and said, smiling: "Pardon! pardon! But go on and tell me more of your amour. How long did you love the marble beauty whom you kissed in the garden of your mother's chateau?"
"We left the next day," replied Maximilian, "and I never saw its beautiful form again. But a strange passion for marble statues ever afterwards inspired me, and I felt even to-day its irresistible power. I came from the Lorenzo, the library of the Medici, and found myself, I know not how, in the chapel where that most magnificent of the races of Italy has built itself a sleeping-place of gems, and rests in peace. A full hour I remained absorbed in gazing at the marble image of a woman whose powerful frame attests the bold skill of Michael Angelo, while the whole form is inspired with an ethereal sweetness such as we are not accustomed to expect in that master. All the realm of dreams, with all its silent blisses, is enchanted into this marble; a tender repose dwells in the beautiful limbs, a soothing moonlight courses through its veins: it is the Night of Michael Angelo Buonarotti. Oh! how gladly would I sleep in the arms of this Night!
"The painted forms of women," continued Maximilian, after a pause, "have never interested me so deeply as statues. I was only once in love with a picture. It was a wonderfully beautiful Madonna in a church in Cologne. I was at that time a zealous church-goer, and all my soul was sunk in the mysticism of Catholicism. I would then, like the Spanish cavalier, have gladly fought every day for the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Queen of the Angels, the fairest lady of heaven and of earth. I interested myself in the whole Holy Family, and took off my hat with special friendliness before any image of Saint Joseph. But this state did not last long, and I left the Virgin almost without ceremony as soon as I became acquainted in a gallery of antiquities with a Greek nymph who kept me long a captive in her marble fetters."
"And you always loved only chiselled or painted women?" tittered Maria.
"No! I have loved dead women too," replied Maximilian, as a very grave expression came over his features. He did not observe that as he said this Maria seemed to shrink as if terrified, and he continued in a calm voice———
"Yes, it is very strange how I once fell in love with a girl after she had been dead for seven years. When I first became acquainted with little Very, I was extremely pleased with her. For three days I was deeply interested in her, and took the greatest pleasure in all that she did and said, and in every expression of her piquant, exquisite self, without being in the least sentimentally inclined. Nor was I indeed moved to any extravagant grief when I learned, some months later, that she had suddenly died in consequence of a nervous fever. I forgot her entirely, and I am sure that for years I never thought once about her.
"Seven years had passed away, and I found myself in Potsdam, determined to enjoy the whole beautiful summer in undisturbed solitude. I did not associate with any one; my only company was the statues which are in the garden of Sans Souci.
"It happened one day that certain features, and a strangely winsome voice and gesture, suddenly recurred to me, without my being able to identify the person whom they characterised. Nothing is more annoying than such stumbling about among old memories, and I was therefore surprised as with joy when I, after a few days, all at once recalled little Very, and found that it was her charming and forgotten form which had so strangely moved me. Indeed I rejoiced over this discovery like one who has quite unexpectedly found again his most intimate friend. The faded lines gradually took colour, and at last the sweet little one seemed to be again before me—smiling, pouting, witty, and more beautiful than ever. From this time the darling image would not leave me, it filled all my soul; wherever I went or staid, staid or went, it was by my side—spoke with me, laughed with me, always pleasantly and gently, yet without any special tenderness. But I was every day more and more enchanted by this form, which ever became more and more real to me. It is easy to call spirits, but hard to send them again to their dark Nothing—they look at us then so pitifully and imploringly that our hearts cannot resist such earnest prayers. And as I could not tear myself away, the end was that I fell in love with little Very, after she had been dead for seven years.
"So I lived for six months in Potsdam, completely absorbed in this love. I avoided more carefully than ever any touch with the outer world, so that even if any one in the street came too near me I felt a most uncomfortable sensation. I had, as regards any rencontre with people, such a repulsion as night-wandering spirits feel, for it is said that when they meet a living human being they are as much terrified as the one who sees them. By chance there came through Potsdam a traveller whom I could not avoid—my brother. At seeing him, and hearing from him the last news of the day, I awoke as from a deep dream, and, as if shrinking with alarm, I suddenly felt in what a horrible solitude I had so long been living. I had during this time not even remarked the course of the seasons, and I regarded with amazement the trees, which, having long lost their leaves, were now covered with autumnal hoar-frost. I soon left Potsdam and little Very, and in another city, where important business awaited me, I was, by means of sharp pressure and urgent circumstance, soon driven into harsh reality.
"Ah, heaven!" continued Maximilian, while a painful smile moved his upper lip, "how the living women with whom I then came into unavoidable contact tormented me—delicately tormented me—with their pouting, jealousing, and gasping! In how many balls was I obliged to trot around with them, in how much gossiping scandal must I be mingled? What restless variety, what joy in lying, what kissing-treachery and poisoned flowers! Those ladies knew how to utterly spoil for me all joy and happiness and love, so that for a time I became a woman-hater, who damned the whole sex. It was with me something as it was with the French officer who, during the Russian campaign, was rescued with trouble from the icy trenches of the Beresina, but who from that time had such an antipathy for everything frozen that he repelled with horror even the sweetest and most delicious ices at Tortoni's. Yes, the memory of the Beresina of love which I then passed made for a time detestable the daintiest dames—women like angels, gills like vanilla-sherbet"———
"I beg you," cried Maria, "do not abuse women! That is the thrashed-out way of speaking among men—mere chaff and cant. After all, to be happy you must have women."
"Oh!" sighed Maximilian, "that is true, of course. But women have but one way to make men happy, and thirty thousand to torment them."
"Dear friend," replied Maria, while she suppressed a smile, "I speak of the harmony of two souls in tune. Have you never felt this happiness? But I see a strange blush on your cheeks—speak, Max!"
"It is true, Maria; I feel like a boy at confessing to you the fortunate love which once made me infinitely happy. Its memory is not lost to me, and my soul often retreats to its cool shade when the burning dust and noonday heat of life become intolerable. But I am not in condition to give you a clear idea of this loved one. She was of such ethereal nature that she could only appear to me in dreams. I think, Maria, that you have no commonplace prejudice against dreams, for these nightly phenomena have as much reality as those rougher images of the day which we can handle, and with which we are often defiled. Yes, it was in dreams that I saw that dear and lovely being, who, above all others, helped to make life happy. I can tell you little as to her appearance. I really cannot accurately describe her features. Her face was unlike anything which I ever saw before or since. So far as I can remember it was not white and rosy, but all of one tone—a softly crimsoned pale brunette, and transparent as crystal. The charm of this face consisted neither in absolutely perfect symmetry nor in interesting liveliness; its character lay far more in an enchanting yet terrible truthfulness. It was a face full of conscious love and graceful goodness; it was more a soul than a face, and therefore I have never been quite able to present it. The eyes were soft as flowers; the lips somewhat pale, but winsomely curved. She wore a silk dressing-gown of cornflower blue—this was all her dress. The neck and feet were bare, and the delicate tenderness of the limbs often peeped as if stealthily through the slight, soft garment. Nor can I clearly set forth the words which we spoke; I can only remember that we bound ourselves to one another, and that we caressed and comforted one another, joyfully and happily, frankly and confidingly, like bridegroom and bride, or almost like brother and sister. And we often did not talk at all, but gazed into each other's eyes, and in this blissful beholding we remained for eternities. How I awoke I know not, but I long revelled in the after-feelings of this happy love. I was long intoxicated with unheard-of delight; the yearning depth of my heart was full of happiness; a joy before unknown seemed to spread over all my feelings, and I remained glad and gay, though I never again saw the loved one of my dreams. But had I not enjoyed whole eternities in her glance? And she indeed knew me too well not to know also that I love no repetitions."
"Truly," cried Maria, "you are un homme à bonne fortune. But tell me, was Mademoiselle Laurence a marble statue or a picture, a dear girl, or a dream?"
"Perhaps all together," replied Maximilian, very seriously.
"I can well believe, dear friend, that this love was of a rather doubtful substance. And when will you tell me this story?"
"To-morrow. It is long, and I am tired to-day. I have been in the opera, and have too much music in my ears."
"You go a great deal to the opera, Max, and I believe that it is more to see than to hear."
"You are quite right, Maria; I really go to the opera to see the faces of the beautiful Italian women. True, they are pretty enough even outside the theatre, and an investigator into history could, from the ideality of their features, easily trace the influence of the formative arts on the forms of the Italian people. Here Nature has taken back from the artists the capital which she once lent; and lo! it has, in the most enrapturing manner, paid compound interest. The sense of the Beautiful has penetrated all the people; and as the flesh once acted on the spirit, so the spirit now works upon the flesh. And the devotions before those beautiful Madonnas, those lovely altar-pieces, which as Madonnas sink into the soul of the bridegroom while the bride is sensuously impressed by a handsome saint, are not in vain. From such elective affinities a race of human beings has sprung which is even more beautiful than the charming soil on which it springs, or the sunny heaven which flashes round it like a golden frame. The men do not interest me much unless they are painted or sculptured, and I leave to you, Maria, all possible enthusiasm for those handsome, supple Italians who have such wild black beards and noble aquiline noses, and such soft, crafty eyes. They say the Lombards are the finest men. I have never investigated them very closely; I have only earnestly studied the Lombard women, and these I declare are really as beautiful as they are famed to be. But they must even in the Middle Ages have been fairly fair. It is said that the beauty of the ladies of Milan was the reason of the secret impulse which sent Francis the First on his Italian campaign. The knightly king was doubtless desirous of knowing whether his spiritual little cousins, the kinsfolk of his godmothers, were as beautiful as he had heard boasted. Poor rogue! he paid dearly at Pavia for his curiosity.
"But the full beauty of these Italian women is first seen when their faces are lighted up by music. I say lighted up, because the effect of music, as I have seen it in the opera, on the faces of beautiful women, is quite like those effects of light and shadow which astonish us when we see statues in the night by torchlight. Such marble images then reveal in the terrifying truth their indwelling spirit and awful silent secrets. In like manner the whole life of the beautiful Italians shows itself to us when we see them in the opera; the varying melodies then waken in their souls an array of feelings, memories, wishes, and woes, which at once speak out in the movements of their features, in their blushing, their paleness, and even in their eyes. He who can read may then read in their beautiful faces many sweet and interesting things, stories as strange as the novels of Boccaccio, feelings as tender as the sonnets of Petrarch, whims as odd as the Ottaverime of Ariosto—often enough, too, frightful treachery and sublime evil as poetic as the Hell of Dante. Yes, it is worth while to look up at the boxes. If the men would only not meanwhile express their inspiration with such frightful noise. This insane applause in an Italian theatre becomes annoying. But music is the soul of these people, their life, their national cause. In other countries there are certainly musicians who equal the greatest Italian celebrities, but there is no musical multitude like this. Music is represented here in Italy, not by individuals, but reveals itself in the whole population; it has become the people itself. Among us in the North it is quite otherwise; there music has become individual, and is called Mozart or Meyerbeer. And, more than that, when we closely examine the best which such Northern musicians offer us, we find in it Italian sunshine and orange perfume which belong much more to beautiful Italy, the home of music, than to our Germany. Yes, Italy will ever be the home of music, even if its great Maestri sink into the grave or grow silent, even though Bellini die and Rossini is mute."
"True," said Maria, "Rossini has long been still; if I am not mistaken, for ten years."
"That is perhaps a jest of his," replied Maximilian. "He wishes to show that the name of the 'Swan of Pesaro,' which has been given him, is utterly inappropriate. Swans sing at the end of their lives, but Rossini has become silent in the middle of his. And I think that there he did well, and proved himself to be a genius. An artist who has only talent feels to the end of his life the impulse to work it out; he is goaded by ambition; he feels that he is always short of perfection, and he is impelled to attain to the highest. But genius has already given us his highest possible work; he is content; he scorns the world and petty ambition, and goes home as Shakespeare did, or promenades, smiling and jesting, on the Boulevard des Italiens in Paris, like Joachim Rossini. If the genius enjoys fair physical health he may live in this fashion a long time after he has completed his masterpieces, or, as people say, has fulfilled his mission. It is a mere prejudice or fancy for men to imagine that genius must die young. I think that from thirty to forty years is believed to be the fatal limit of such lives. How often I have teased poor Bellini with this, and prophesied that he in his quality as genius must die as soon as he should attain the dangerous age. Strange, in spite of my jesting tone, he tormented himself over this prophecy; he called me his jettatore, and always made the sign of the jettatura. He wished so much to live; he had such a passionate antipathy to death that he would not hear it mentioned. He was afraid of it as a child who fears to sleep in the dark. He was a good, dear child himself, sometimes rather naughty; but one only need threaten him with his early death, and he became at once whimpering and praying, and made the jettatura with his two uplifted fingers. . . . Poor Bellini!"
"Then you knew him personally? Was he handsome?"
"He was not plain. You see that we men also cannot answer affirmatively when such a question is put to us regarding one of our own sex. He was of tall, slender form, as one who had suddenly shot up, who moved and gestured daintily, I might say coquettishly, always à quatre épingles; regular features, rather long and pale; light blonde, almost golden hair, friséd in little locks; a very high and noble forehead, a straight nose, very light blue eyes, a beautifully proportioned mouth, and round chin. His traits had in them something vague, devoid of character or milk-like, and in this milk-face there often curled sweet-sourly an expression of pain. This anguished look supplied in Bellini's face the want of wit and spirit, but it was a pain without depth; it shone dimly and without poetry in his eyes, and quivered without passion on his lips. This flat, insipid suffering seemed to be affected by the young maestro after a bygone fashion. His hair was curled in such a dreamy-visionary, melancholy manner, his clothes fitted his dainty form so yearningly and sentimentally, he carried his little bamboo cane so idyllically, that he always reminded me of those young, old-fashioned lovers whom we see in rococo-shepherd plays acting affectedly with ribboned crooks and light-coloured jackets and beautiful little breeches! And his gait was so maidenly, so elegant, so ethereal! The whole man looked like a sighing swain en escarpins. The ladies doated on him, but I doubt whether he ever inspired a great passion. To me his personal appearance always had in it something drolly unpleasant, the real reason for which was perhaps his manner of speaking French. For though he had lived several years in France, he spoke its language so badly that its like was not to be heard even in England. I will not say that he spoke it badly, for the word bad would here be entirely too good. One must say outrageously, incestuously, world-destroyingly—as a cataclysm. Yes, when one was in society with him, and he like a public executioner broke the poor French words on the wheel, and without sign or trembling dealt out a tremendous coq à l'âne, one felt as if the very world must split as with a thunder-crack. A deathly stillness then spread over the entire hall, for death himself seemed to be painting terror on every face with chalk and cinnabar; ladies knew not whether they should faint or fly; men looked in sudden amazement at their breeches to realise that they really wore such things; and, what was worst of all, this horror awoke at the same time a convulsive, maddening desire to laugh which could hardly be repressed. Therefore if any one sat by Bellini in society, his neighbourhood inspired a certain anxious apprehension which was sure to excite a horrible interest at once attractive and repulsive. Very often his unconscious puns were simply amusing, and in their monkey-like unmeaningness reminded one of the castle of his fellow-country-man, the Prince of Pallagonia, which is described by Goethe in his Italian journey as a museum of baroque eccentricities and rubbishy monstrosities, huddled together without rhyme or reason. As Bellini always believed on such occasions that he had said something quite harmless and serious, his face formed the drollest contrast with his words. Then it was that that which was unpleasing in his expression came out most cuttingly. Yet what I did not like in it was not, however, of such a kind that it could be described as a defect, and it certainly was not unpleasing to ladies. Bellini's face, like his whole physique, had that physical freshness, that blooming sensuousness, that rose-colour which makes on me a disagreeable impression—on me, I say, because I like much better that which is death-like and of marble. It was not till a later time, when I began to know Bellini, that I felt a liking for him. This came from observing that his character was perfectly noble and good. His soul is certainly pure, and has remained unspotted by contact with vile things. Nor was there wanting in him that harmless good-nature, or the childlike, such as is never wanting in genial men, even if they do not show it to every one.
"Yes, I remember," continued Maximilian, as he sank on the seat by which he had so far stood upright, leaning on the arm. "I remember a single instant during which Bellini appeared to me in such a charming light that I regarded him with pleasure, and determined to learn to know him more intimately. But it was unfortunately the last time I was destined to see him in this life. This was one evening after supper in the house of a great lady, who had the smallest foot in Paris, and when he had become merry, and the sweetest melodies rang from the pianoforte. I can see him now, the good Bellini, when, exhausted by the many mad Bellinisms which he had chattered, he sat on a seat—it was very low, almost like a foot-stool, so that he found himself at the feet of a fair lady who had reclined opposite him on a sofa, and with sweet mischievousness looked down on him, while he toiled away to entertain her with a few French phrases, getting ever deeper into difficulties, commenting in his Sicilian jargon in order to prove that what he said was not foolish, but, on the contrary, the most refined flattery. I do not think that the beautiful lady paid much attention to Bellini's phrases. She had taken his little cane, wherewith he often helped himself out of weak places in rhetoric, and calmly used it to disarrange the elaborate arrangement of the hair on both temples of the young maestro. This caprice well became the smile which gave her features an expression such as I have never seen on a living human face. It was one of those which belong far more to the dream-realm of poetry than to the rough reality of life—contours recalling Da Vinci, that noble soul!—with the naive dimples in the chin, and the sentimental pointed-out bending chin of the Lombard school. The colour was rather of a Roman softness, a mother-of-pearl gleam, aristocratic paleness—morbidezza. In short, it was such a face as can only be found in old Italian portraits, in which the masters of the sixteenth century depicted as a master-work the portraits of great ladies whom they loved—such as poets sang when they sang for immortality, and such as German and French heroes yearned for when they girded on their swords, and seeking great deeds rushed over the Alps. Yes, yes, it was such a face, in which there played a smile of sweetest mischief and of aristocratic waywardness, while she, the fair lady, disarranged the blonde locks of good Bellini with the bamboo cane. At that instant Bellini seemed to be transfigured to some utterly strange apparition, and all at once he became allied to my heart. His face shone in the reflected light of that smile; it was perhaps the goldenest moment of his life. I shall never forget him. Fourteen days after I read in the newspapers that Italy had lost one of her most famous sons.
"Strangely enough the death of Paganini was announced at the same time. I did not doubt this in the least, because the old faded Paganini always looked like a dying man, but the death of the young and rosy Bellini seemed incredible. And yet the announcement of the death of the first was simply an error of the press. Paganini is alive and well at Genoa, and Bellini lies in his grave in Paris."
"Do you like Paganini?" asked Maria.
"This man," exclaimed Maximilian, "is a glory to his country, and certainly deserves the most distinguished mention if one will speak of the musical notabilities of Italy."
"I have never seen him," said Maria, "but according to report his exterior does not perfectly set forth the beautiful——— I have seen portraits of him"———
"None of which were like him," said Maximilian. "They all make him too ugly, or else flatter him, and do not give his true character. I think that only one man ever succeeded in putting the true physiognomy of Paganini on paper. He who did it is a deaf painter named Leyser, who, in his inspired frolicking, hit off with a few pencil strokes the head of Paganini so well that one laughs and is frightened at the truth of the portrait. 'The devil guided my hand,' said the artist to me, mysteriously laughing low, and nodding his head with good-natured irony as he was wont to do in his Owlglass reflections. This painter was always a queer owl. In spite of his deafness he loved music enthusiastically, and he really understood it when he was near enough to the orchestra to read the music in the faces of the musicians, and judge of the more or less successful execution by the fingering; and, in fact, he wrote criticisms of the operas for a distinguished journal in Hamburg. What is there wonderful in that? The deaf painter could, in the visible signature of the playing, see the tones. Are there not men to whom tones themselves are only invisible signatures in which they hear colours and forms?"
"Such a man are you!" cried Maria.
"I am sorry that I no longer possess the little drawing by Leyser; it would perhaps give you an idea of Paganini's appearance. It was only in harsh, black, fleeting strokes that one could set forth those unearthly traits which seemed to belong rather to the sulphurous realm of shadows than to the sunny world of life. 'Truly the devil guided my hand,' asserted the deaf painter, as we stood by Alster pavilion in Hamburg on the day when Paganini gave his first concert there. 'Yes, my friend, it is true, what the whole world declares, that he has given himself over to the devil, body and soul, in order to become the best violinist in the world, and fiddle millions of money, and finally to get away from the damned galleys where he had suffered many years. For, you see, friend, when he was leader of the orchestra in Lucca, he fell in love with a theatrical princess, became jealous of a little abbé, was perhaps made cocu, stabbed his untrue Amata in good Italian fashion, went for that to the galleys in Genoa, and at last sold himself to the devil to be delivered and to become the greatest violin-player, and be able to get out of us a tribute—of two thalers. . . . But, look! "All good spirits praise God!" there he comes in the Avenue with his ambiguous famulus!'
"In fact it was Paganini himself whom I beheld. He wore a dark-grey overcoat, which came to his feet, making him appear extremely tall. His long black hair fell in tangled locks on his shoulders, forming a dark frame for the pale, corpse-like countenance, in which care, genius, and hell combined had graved their ineffaceable signs. By him capered along a short, comfortable-looking figure, commonplace, showy in dress, with a rosy wrinkled face, light-grey short coat with steel buttons, greeting right and left with irresistible amiability, but all the time squinting sideways with anxious apprehension at the dark form which, serious and reflecting, walked by his side. It recalled the picture by Retzsch, in which Faust is walking with Wagner before the gate of Leipzig. The deaf artist commented on both figures in his wild fashion, and bade me observe carefully the measured long step of Paganini. 'Is it not,' he said, 'as if he still had the iron cross rod between his legs? He has got the convict step and can never lose it. See how contemptuously and ironically he often looks down at his companion when he bores him with his commonplace questions;—and yet he cannot get rid of him—a bloody contract binds him to that servant, who is Satan himself. Ignorant people think, of course, that this companion is the writer of comedies and anecdotes, Harrys of Hanover, whom Paganini takes with him as business-manager for his concerts; but the multitude does not know that the devil took the form of Mr. George Harrys, the soul he keeps locked up with other rubbish in a chest in Hanover, where it will remain till the devil restores its proper fleshly envelope, when he will probably accompany his master, Paganini, through the world in the more befitting form of a black poodle.'
"But if Paganini seemed to me sufficiently incredible and wonderful as I saw him walking under the green leaves of the Hamburg business world—a whole Olympus of bankers and similar millionaires, the gods of coffee and sugar, with their plump wife-goddesses, Junos of the Wandrahm and Aphrodites of Dreckwall. There was a holy quiet in all the hall. Every eye was turned to the stage, every ear prepared to hear. My neighbour, an old huckster in furs, took the cotton from his ears, the better to take in the expensive tones, which cost two dollars entrance-money. At last there appeared on the stage a dark figure, which seemed to have risen from the under-world. It was Paganini, in his black dress suit; the black evening coat and black waistcoat, of an appalling cut, were probably such as are prescribed by infernal etiquette at the court of Proserpine, while the loose trousers flapped vexatiously on the thin legs of the maestro. His long arms seemed to grow yet longer, as he held the violin in one hand, the bow down in the other, and almost bowed to the ground as he bestowed on the public his unheard-of reverence. In the angular bending of his body there was a fearful woodenness, and at the same time something foolishly brute-like, which would have caused laughter at his salutation; but his face, which, in the strong orchestral illumination, seemed more corpse-like than ever, had in it something so bashfully modest that a shuddering pity suppressed our desire to laugh. Had he learned those bows from an automaton or a dog? Was that imploring look that of one in deathly illness, or was there lurking behind it the mockery of a crafty money-grubber? Was that a living man, who knows that he is about to perish and who will delight the public in the arena of art, like a dying gladiator with his convulsions or a dead man risen from the grave, a vampire with a violin, who, if he does not suck blood from our hearts, will, come what may, draw the money from our pockets?, what were my impressions of his fearfully eccentric apparition that evening in the concert! This was given in the Comedy Theatre of Hamburg, and the art-loving public had assembled so early and in such numbers that it was with difficulty that I conquered a place by the orchestra. Though it was post-day I saw in the balcony-boxes the whole refined and cultured
"Such questions crossed one another flitting in our heads while Paganini made his unceasing compliments in gesture, but all such thoughts flitted afar when the wondrous master set his violin to his chin and began to play. As for me, you know well my musical second sight—my gift of seeing with every note which I hear its corresponding figure of sound; and so it came that Paganini, with every stroke of his bow, brought visible forms and facts before my eyes; that he told me in a musical picture-writing all kinds of startling stories; that he juggled before me at the same time a show of coloured Chinese shadows, in all of which he with his violin was chief actor. Even with the first note from his bow the scene changed; he stood all at once with his music-desk in a cheerful hall, which was gaily and irregularly decorated with curved and twining furniture in the Pompadour style, everywhere little mirrors, gilt cupids, Chinese porcelain, an exquisitely charming chaos of ribbons, flower garlands, white gloves, torn laces, false pearls, diadems of gilt sheet metal, and similar celestial theatrical properties, such as one sees in the sanctum of a prima donna. Paganini's external appearance had also changed, very much indeed to his advantage; he wore knee-breeches of lilac satin, a silver embroidered white waistcoat, a coat of light-blue satin with buttons wound with gold; and little locks of carefully curled hair played round his face, which bloomed with the roses of youth and gleamed with sweetest tenderness, when he eyed the pretty little dames who stood round his music-desk while he played his violin.
"Indeed I saw by his side a pretty young creature, in old-fashioned dress of white satin puffed out on the hips, the waist seeming for that all the more piquantly narrow, the powdered hair friséed aloft, the pretty round face flashing out all the more freely with its dazzling eyes, its rouged cheeks, court plaster beauty-patches, and impertinent sweet little nose. She held in her hand a white scroll of paper, and by the movements of her lips, and the coquettish movements of her form, seemed to be singing, but I could not hear one of her trills, and it was only by the playing of the violin with which the youthful Paganini accompanied the charming child that I could imagine what she sang, and what he himself felt in his soul while she sang. Ah! those were melodies such as the nightingale flutes in the twilight, when the perfume of the rose intoxicates her sympathetic heart, inspired by Spring with deepest longing. Ah! that was a melting, voluptuous, deep-desiring happiness! There were tones which kissed, and then, pouting, turned away, and again laughing, embraced and melted together, and then lost, enraptured, intoxicated, died away in one. Yes, the tones mingled in gay sport, like butterflies when one in jest flies from another, hides itself behind a flower, is found and hunted out, and finally, light-hearted and trifling, flutters up with the other—up into the golden sunlight. But a spider—a vile spider—can bring about a dire tragedy for such enamoured butterflies. Did the young heart divine aught like that? A long melancholy sighing tone, like the premonition of a coming evil, slid slowly through the most enrapturing melodies which flashed from Paganini's playing; his eyes became moist; worshipping he knelt before his Amata—but oh! as he bowed to kiss her feet he saw beneath the bed—a little abbé! I do not know what he had against the poor man, but the Genoese became pale as death; he grappled in rage the little fellow, gave him boxes on the ear and not a few kicks, hurled him headlong out of doors, and then, drawing a stiletto from his pocket, plunged it into the breast of the young beauty.
"At that instant cries of 'Bravo! Bravo!' rang from every side. Hamburg's inspired men and women paid their tribute of the most roaring applause to the great artist, who had ended the first part of his concert, and who with more angles and contortions than before bowed before them. It seemed to me that in his face was a more imploring humility than ever, but in his eyes flickered a tormenting fear like a wretched sinner's.
"'Divine!' cried my neighbour, the fur-dealer; 'that piece alone was well worth two thalers.'
"When Paganini began to play again it seemed to be dark before my eyes. The tones did not change as before into bright shapes and hues; the form of the Master wrapped itself in gloomy shadows, from whose depth his music came wailing in the most cutting accents of sorrow. Only from time to time, as a little lamp which hung over him cast a feeble light on his features, could I see his pallid countenance, which still retained traces of youth. His garb was strange indeed—divided in two parts, one red, one yellow. Heavy fetters hung to his feet. Behind him grimaced a face whose physiognomy indicated a jovial, he-goat nature; and I saw long, hairy hands which seemed to belong to it, moving now and then on the strings of the violin which Paganini played, often guiding his hand, while a floating, applauding laugh accompanied the tones which welled forth more painfully, and as if bleeding, from the violin. They were tones like the song of the fallen angels who had wooed and wantoned with the daughters of Earth, and been banished from the kingdom of the blest, and fallen, with cheeks burning with shame, into the under-world: tones in whose bottomless abyss there was neither comfort nor hope. Should the holy in heaven hear such music the praise of God would be mute on their pale lips, and they, weeping, would hide their pious heads. Ever and anon, when in the melodious torments of this piece the obligato goat-laughter came bleating in, I saw in the background a multitude of little female figures, who, spitefully-merry, nodded their horrible heads and rubbed their breasts in mocking mischief. Then there came in hurried crowds from the violin sounds of pain, and a terrible sighing and gasping, such as no one ever heard on earth before, and perhaps will never hear again, unless it shall be in the Vale of Jehoshaphat, when the tremendous trumpets of the Last Judgment ring out, and the naked corpses creep from their graves to await their doom. But the tormented violinist suddenly drew his bow so madly and desperately that his rattling fetters burst, and the diabolical ally with the mocking demons disappeared.
"At that instant my neighbour, the fur-dealer, said, 'Pity! pity! he has burst a string. That comes of his constant pizzicato!'
"Had a string really burst on the violin? I do not know. I only observed the transfiguration of the tones, and then it seemed to me as if Paganini and all his surroundings were again suddenly changed. I could hardly recognise him in the brown monk's dress, which rather disguised than clothed him. His wild and wasted face half-hidden by the hood, a rope round his waist, Paganini stood on a cliff overhanging the sea, and played his violin. It seemed to me to be twilight tide; evening-flame flowed over the broad sea, which grew redder and redder, and rustled and roared more gaily and wildly in mysterious and perfect harmony with the violin. But the redder the sea became so much the more pallid grew the heaven, and when at last the waving water looked like bright scarlet blood, then the sky overhead became ghostly clear, all corpse-white, and out came the stars—and these stars were black, black as shining anthracite. But the tones of the violin grew more stormy and bolder, and in the eyes of the terrible player there sparkled such a mocking delight in destroying, and his thin lips moved with such appalling rapidity, that it was clear he was murmuring ancient forbidden witch-spells with which storms are called up and those evil spirits evoked who lie imprisoned in the sea's abyss. Many a time did he, when stretching forth his long, lean, bare arm, and sweeping the bow in the air, seem to be in sooth and truth a wizard who, with a magic staff, commanded the elements, for then there was a mad, delirious howling in the depths of the sea, and the furious waves of blood leaped up so furiously on high that they almost besprinkled the pale heaven and its black stars with their red foam.
There was howling, crashing, cracking, as if the whole world was breaking to fragments, while the monk played more madly on his violin, as if he would, by the power of his raging will, burst the seven seals wherewith Solomon closed the iron jar in which he imprisoned the demons whom he had subdued. That jar the wise king cast into the sea, and it seemed as if I heard the voices of the demons when Paganini's violin growled out its angriest basso notes. But after a while I thought I heard the joyous cry of those set free, and I saw rising one by one out of the red waves of blood the heads of the unchained demons, monsters of incredible hideousness, crocodiles with bat's wings, serpents with stag's horns, monkeys capped with conch shells, seals with patriarchal long beards, women's faces with breasts instead of cheeks, green camels' heads, wild hybrids of inconceivable composition, all glaring greedily with cold crafty eyes, and grasping, with long webbed feet and fingers, at the fiddling monk. Then in the raging zeal of invocation his capote fell back, and the ringlets flying in the wind curled round his head like black serpents.
"It was all so maddening, that not to utterly lose my mind I stopped my ears and closed my eyes. Then the enchantment disappeared, and when I looked again I saw the poor Genoese in his wonted form making his usual bows, while the public applauded rapturously.
'"That is the celebrated performance on the G string,' remarked my neighbour. 'I play the violin myself, and know what it is to have such mastery over the instrument!'
"Fortunately the interval was not long, else my musical fur-dealer had certainly involved me in a tiresome talk on art. Paganini set his violin leisurely to his chin, and with the first touch of his bow, there began again the wondrous transfiguration of tones. But now they were neither so startling in colour or so marked in form. They came forth calmly, majestically, waving and rising like those of an organ choral in a cathedral; and all the surroundings seemed to have expanded to a colossal space, such as no bodily vision but only the eye of the spirit can grasp. In the midst of this space swept a burning ball, on which stood a man of giant stature and grand in pride, who played the violin. Was this sphere of light the sun? I know not. But in the features of the man I recognised Paganini, ideally beautified, celestially refined, atoned for divinely, and smiling. This body was fresh and fair in vigorous manliness; a light-blue garment was about his now far nobler limbs, the black hair flowed in shining locks on his shoulders, and as he stood there, firm and confidently, like the sublime statue of a god, and played the violin, it seemed as if all creation obeyed his tones. He was the man-planet round whom the universe moved, ringing with measured joy and in happy rhythm. Were those great lights which swept so calmly gleaming round him stars of heaven? Were those sweet-sounding harmonies which were caused by their motion, the music of the spheres, of which poets and seers have told so much that is bewildering and strange? Sometimes when with an effort I looked forth and far into the dim distance, I seemed to see white waving garments, in which colossal pilgrims wandered in disguise, with staves in their hands; and, strange! the gold heads of their staves were those same great lights which I had taken for stars. These pilgrims went in a vast procession around the great player; the heads of their staves flashed reflected light from the tones of his violin; and the chorals which rang from their lips, and which I had taken for the noise of the spheres, were really only the rebounding echoes of his violin. An ineffable, nameless passion dwelt in these sounds, which often quivered almost inaudibly, like mysterious whispering on water, then again swelled up sweetly-terrible, like the tones of hunters' horns by moonlight, and then burst out into unbridled rejoicing, as though a thousand bards were sweeping the strings and raising their voices in a song of victory. That was the music which no ear has heard, only the heart can dream it when by night it rests against the heart of the beloved. But it may be that the heart comprehends it even in the clear, bright daylight, when it rejoicing loses itself in the lines of beauty and ovals of a Greek work of art."
"Or when a man had had a bottle too much of champagne," cried a laughing voice, which woke our narrator as if from a dream. As he turned he saw the doctor, who, with black Deborah, had softly entered the room to learn what effect his medicine had had on the invalid.
"I do not like this sleep," said the doctor, as he pointed to the sofa.
Maximilian, who, sunk in the fantasies of his own speech, had not observed that Maria had long been asleep, bit his lips as if vexed.
"This sleep," continued the doctor, "gives the face an appearance which has all the character of death. Does it not look like one of those white masks, or plaster casts, in which we try to preserve the traits of the departed?"
"And I would like," whispered Maximilian, "to have such a cast of our friend. She will be very beautiful, even in death."
"I advise you not to have it," replied the doctor. "Such masks lead astray our memories of the loved ones. We feel as if there was in them something of their lives still kept, while that which is really retained is actually death itself. Features which are regular and beautiful then become hard and frozen, satirical, or repulsive, by which they terrify us more than they please. But casts become complete caricatures when they are from faces whose charm was of a spiritual, refined nature, and whose features were less regular than interesting, for as soon as the graces of life are extinguished in them the actual departures from the ideal lines of beauty are no longer balanced by mental charms. One thing also is common to all these casts—it is a certain enigmatic expression which, the more we study them, the more it runs shivering like frost through the soul: they all look like people who intend to take a long journey."
"And whither?" asked Maximilian, as the doctor took his arm and led him forth.
"And why will you torment me with this horrible medicine, since I must die so soon?"
Maria had just said this, as Maximilian had entered the room. The physician stood before her holding in one hand a vial of medicine, in the other a little cup, in which foamed a very unpleasant-looking brownish liquid.
"My dearest friend," he said to Maximilian, "your presence is very much needed just now. I beg you try to induce Signora to swallow these few drops. I am in a great hurry."
"I beg you, Maria!" said Maximilian, in the soft voice which was not often heard from him, and which seemed to come from a pained heart, so that the patient, deeply moved, almost forgetting her own suffering, took the cup. But ere she put it to her mouth she said, smiling: "To reward me you will tell the story of Laurence?"
"All that you desire shall be done," assented Maximilian.
The pale lady drank the contents of the cup, half smiling, half shuddering.
"I am in a hurry," said the doctor, as he drew on his black gloves. "Lie down calmly, Signora and move as little as possible. I am in a hurry."
He left the room accompanied by black Deborah, who lighted him forth. When the two friends were alone they looked at one another for a long time in silence. There were thoughts in the souls of both which neither would express. Then the woman suddenly grasped the man's hand and covered it with burning kisses.
"For God's sake!" said Maximilian, "do not exert yourself so much, and lie calmly on the sofa."
As Maria obeyed him, he very carefully covered her feet with the shawl, which he first kissed. She must have seen this, for her eyes twinkled like those of a happy child.
"Was Mademoiselle Laurence very beautiful?"
"If you will not interrupt me, dear friend, and promise to be calm and quiet, I will tell you circumstantially all that you wish to hear."
Smiling at the assenting glance of Maria, Maximilian sat on the chair before the sofa, and thus began his story:—
"It is now eight years since I went to London to learn the language and people there. The devil take the people with their language! They take a dozen monosyllables in mouth, chew them, crush them, and spit them out, and call that talking. But by good luck they are naturally tolerably taciturn, and though they always stare at us open-mouthed they at least spare us long conversations. But woe to him who meets a son of Albion who has made the grand tour, and learned to speak French. He will avail himself of the opportunity to practise the language, and overwhelm us with questions as to all subjects conceivable, and hardly is one answered before he begins with another either as to our age or home or how long we intend to remain where we are, and he believes that this incessant questioning is the best method to entertain us. One of my friends in Paris is perhaps right when he declares that the English learn to converse in French at the Bureau des passeports. Their conversation is most edifying at table when they carve their colossal roast beef, and with the most serious air ask us what part we prefer, rare or well done, from the middle or the brown outside, fat or lean? But roast beef and mutton are all they have which is good. Heaven keep every Christian from their gravies, which are made of one-third meal and two-thirds butter, or when a change is needed, one-third butter and two-thirds meal: And Heaven guard every one from their naive vegetables which, boiled away in water, are brought to the tables just as God made them! But more terrible than the cookery of the English are their toasts, with the obligatory standing speeches when the table-cloth is removed and the ladies departed, and so many bottles of port are in their place, which are supposed to be the best substitute for the fair sex; but I may well say the fair sex, for English women deserve this name. They are beautiful, white, tall creatures, only the too great space between the mouth and nose, which is as common among them as with the men, often spoiled for me, in England, the most beautiful faces. This departure from the type of the beautiful impresses me more horribly when I see English people here in Italy, where their sparingly measured noses, and the broad space between them and the mouth, make a more startling contrast with the faces of the Italians, whose traits are of a more antique regularity, and whose noses, either aquiline like the Roman or straight like the Greek, often go into excess of length. It was very well remarked by a German that the English, when among Italians, look like statues with the noses knocked off.
"Yes, when we meet English people in a foreign country their defects first become striking by comparison. They are the gods of ennui, who, in shining, varnished coaches, drive extra-post through every country, and leave everywhere a grey dust-cloud of sadness behind them. Hence comes their curiosity without interest, their bedizened, over-dressed coarseness, their insolent bashfulness, their angular egotism, and their dismal delight in all melancholy things. For three weeks we have seen every day on the Piazza del gran Duca an Englishman who stands for hours gaping at the charlatan who, while seated on a horse, draws teeth. This spectacle is perhaps for the noble son of Albion an equivalent for the executions which he neglected to attend in his dear native land. For after boxing and cock-fighting there is no sight so delightful to a Briton as the agony of a poor devil who has stolen a sheep or imitated a signature, and who is exhibited for an hour before the façade of the Old Bailey with a rope round his neck before he is hurled into eternity. It is no exaggeration to say that sheep-stealing and forgery in that abominably cruel country are punished not less severely than the most revolting crimes, such as parricide and incest. I myself happening to come that way by mere chance, saw a man hung in London for stealing a sheep, and from that time forth lost all relish for roast mutton—the fat always put me in mind of the white cap of the poor sinner. With him was hanged an Irishman, who had imitated the writing of a rich banker, and I think I can still see the naive deathly agony of poor Paddy, who before the assizes could not understand why he was so severely punished for imitating other men's signatures, when he was quite willing to let any mortal man imitate his own! And these people talk always about Christianity, and go to church every Sunday, and flood the world with Bibles!
"I must own, Maria, that if nothing was to my taste in England, neither men nor meat, the fault lay partly in myself. I had brought a good stock of ill-temper and discontent with me from home, and I sought to be cheered up by a race which can only subdue its own ennui in the whirlpool of political and mercantile action. The perfection of machinery, which is there everywhere applied to some purpose, and which executes so many human tasks, had for me something mysterious and terrible; the artificial headlong action of wheels, shafts, cylinders, with a thousand small hooks, cogs, and teeth, which whirl so madly, filled me with dread. The definiteness, the exactness, the meted out and measured punctuality of life, tormented me quite as much, for as the machines in England seem like men, so the men seem to me like mere machines. Yes, wood, iron, and brass, these seem to have usurped the spirit of humanity, and often to be raging with fulness of intelligence, while Man, with his soul gone, attends like a machine to his business and affairs; eats at the appointed minute his beefsteak, delivers parliamentary speeches, brushes his nails, mounts the stage-coach, or—hangs himself.
"How my displeasure and discontent increased every day in this land, you may well imagine. But nothing could surpass the gloomy mood which once came over me as I, towards evening, stood on Waterloo Bridge and looked down into the Thames. It seemed to me as if my soul, with all its scars, was mirrored there, and looked up at me from the water. Then the most distressing memories vexed my mind. I thought of the rose daily sprinkled with vinegar, which thereby paid penance with its sweetest perfume, and prematurely died; of the stray butterfly, whom a naturalist who once climbed Mont Blanc saw fluttering in solitude among blocks of ice; of the tame she-monkey, who was so familiar with men that she played and ate with them; but one day she recognised in the roast on the table her own little one, and, catching it up, rushed into the forest, and never came among mankind again. Ah! I was so wretched and sad that the hot tears leapt from my eyes; they fell into the Thames, and swam forth into the great ocean, which has already swallowed so many without observing them.
"It happened at this instant that a strange music woke me from my dark dreams, and, looking round, I saw a group of people who seemed to form a ring round some entertaining show. I drew near, and saw a family of artists consisting of these four persons.
"Firstly, a little dumpy woman, dressed in black, who had a very little head, and before her a very big drum, on which she hammered away without mercy.
"Secondly, a dwarf, who wore an embroidered coat like that of an old French marquis, and had a great, powdered head, but very slender limbs, and who, while skipping, beat a triangle.
"Thirdly, a girl of perhaps fifteen years, who wore a short, close-fitting jacket of blue-striped silk, with full, wide trousers to match. It was an aerial and charming figure, the face of a perfectly beautiful Greek type. She had a noble, straight nose, beautifully curled lips, a dreamy, softly-rounded chin, her complexion sunny brown, with the shining black hair wound over the temples. Thus she stood, tall and serious, as it seemed out of tune or in ill-temper, and looked at the fourth member of the troupe, who was engaged in an artistic performance.
"This fourth person was a learned dog—a very promising poodle—who had, to the great delight of the English public, put together, from the wooden letters laid before him, the name of Lord Wellington, and added to it the very flattering word Hero. And as the dog, as one could easily see by his intelligent appearance, was no English brute, but had come with the other three performers from France, the sons of Albion rejoiced that their great general had, at least from the dogs of France, that recognition of his greatness which was so meanly denied to him by the other creatures of that country.
"This company was in fact French, and the dwarf, who announced himself as Monsieur Turlutu, began to bluster and boast in French with such passionate gestures that the poor English gaped with their mouths, and lifted their noses higher than ever. He often, after a long sentence, crowed like a cock, and these cock-a-doodle-doos, and the names of many emperors, kings, and princes which he scattered here and there, were all that the poor spectators understood. He boasted that these emperors, kings, and princes had been his patrons and friends. Even when only eight years of age he had, as he declared, held a long conversation with his late majesty Louis XVI., who subsequently frequently consulted him in most important affairs. He had, like many others, escaped the storms of the Revolution, nor was it till the Empire that he returned to his dear native land to take part in the glory of la grande nation. Napoleon, he declared, had never liked him, but he had been almost idolised by His Holiness Pope Pius the Seventh. The Emperor Alexander had given him bon-bons, and the Princess Wilhelm von Kyritz always took him on her lap. His Serene Highness, Duke Karl of Brunswick, had let him ride many a time on his dog, and His Majesty King Louis of Bavaria had read to him his sublime poems. The princes of Reuss Schleiz-Kreuz and of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen loved him like a brother, and always smoked from the same pipe with him. Yes, from childhood, he declared, he had always lived only among sovereigns; the contemporary monarchs had grown up familiar with him, he regarded them as his equals, and always wore mourning when one of them passed away. After these words of weight he crowed again like a cock.
"Monsieur Turlutu was really one of the most curious dwarfs whom I had ever seen, for his wrinkled, ancient face formed such a comical contrast to his little, childlike body, and his whole person contrasted yet more funnily with his feats. For he next assumed the most defiant positions, and with an inhumanly long rapier stabbed the air right and left, while he incessantly swore on his honour that this carte or that tierce could not be parried by any one, that his parade was unassailable, and that he challenged any one present to compete with him in the noble art of fencing.
"After the dwarf had for some time amused the multitude in this manner, and found that no one would fight in public a duel with him, he bowed with old French grace, thanked his audience for the favour with which they had received him, and took the freedom to announce to the highly honourable public the most extraordinary exhibition which had ever been admired on English ground. 'You see this person,' he cried, as he drew on a dirty kid glove, and led the young girl of the troupe with respectful gallantry to the midst of the ring; 'this lady is Mademoiselle Laurence, the only daughter of the noble and Christian lady whom you see there with the drum, and who now wears mourning on account of the recent death of her deeply-loved husband, who was the greatest ventriloquist in Europe. Mademoiselle Laurence will now dance! Ladies and gentlemen will please to admire the dance of Mademoiselle Laurence!' After which he again crowed.
"The young girl did not seem to pay the slightest attention to this speech, nor to the gaze of those around. As if lost in troubled thought she waited till the dwarf had spread a carpet before her and began to play his triangle in accompaniment with the great drum. It was strange music, a mixture of awkward ill-temper and voluptuous tickling, and I noted in it a pathetic, fantastic, mournfully bold and bizarre melody, which was, however, of the strangest simplicity. But I forgot the music as soon as the young girl began to dance.
"Both dancer and dance attracted my whole attention. It was not the classic dancing such as we still see in great ballets, where, as in classic tragedy, only sprawling unities and artificial effects flourish. It was not those footed Alexandrines, those declamatory leaps, those antithetic entrechats, that noble passion which whirls in pirouettes so distractingly clown on one foot that one sees nothing but heaven and stockinette—nothing but ideality and lies! There is really nothing so repulsive to me as the ballet in the great opera in Paris, where the traditions of 'classic' dancing have been most perfectly preserved, while the French have overthrown the classic system in all other arts, poetry, music, and painting. But it will be hard for them to bring about a similar revolution in the art of dancing, unless it be that here, as in their political revolution, they fly to terrorism, and guillotine the legs of the obstinate male and female dancers of the old régime.
"Mademoiselle Laurence was no great danseuse, her toes were not very supple, her legs were not practised in all possible contortions; she understood nothing of the art of dancing as Vestris teaches it, but she danced as Nature teaches; her whole soul was in time with her steps; not only did her feet dance, but her whole form and face. She often became pale, almost deadly pale; her eyes opened spectrally wide, yearning and pain convulsed her lips, while her black hair, which in smooth ovals inclosed her temples, moved like two flapping ravens' wings. It was indeed no classic dance, but neither was it romantic in the sense in which a young Frenchman of the school of Eugene Renduel would explain the word. It had neither anything Mediæval nor Venetian, nor distorted and deformed, nor Macabre—there was in it neither moonshine nor incest. It was a dance which did not attempt to amuse by outward phases of motion, but by phases which seemed to be words of a strange language which would say strange things. But what did the dance say? I could not understand it, however passionately it pleaded. I only felt that here and there something terribly, shudderingly painful was meant. I who in other things grasp so readily the key of a mystery, could not solve this danced enigma, and that I sought in vain to find the sense was the fault of the music, which certainly sought to lead me astray, which cunningly tried to bewilder me and set me wrong. The triangle of Monsieur Turlutu tittered many a time mockingly, while Madame the mother beat so angrily on her great drum that her face beamed out of the cloud of black hood round her face like a blood-red Northern light.
"Long after the troupe had departed, I remained standing in the same place wondering what this dance could mean. Was it some national dance of the South of France or of Spain? These were recalled by the irrepressible energy with which the dancer threw her body to and fro, and the wildness with which she often threw her head backwards in the mad manner of the bold Bacchantæ whom we see with amazement on the reliefs of antique vases. Her dance had in it something of intoxicated unwilfulness, something gloomily inevitable or fatalistic, for she danced like destiny itself. Or was it a fragment of some primævally ancient, forgotten pantomime? Or a secret tale of life, set to motion? Very often the girl bent to the earth, with listening ear, as if she heard a voice calling up to her. Then she trembled like an aspen leaf, sprang quickly to the other side, and there indulged in her maddest gambols. Then she inclined her ear again to the earth, listened more anxiously than before, nodded with her head, grew sad and pale, shuddered, stood awhile straight as a taper, as if frozen, and finally made a motion as if washing her hands! Was it blood which she so carefully, with such terrible anxiety, washed away? While doing this she cast to one side a glance so pitifully imploring, so soul-melting—and this glance fell by chance on me.
"I thought all night long on this glance, on the dance, on the wild accompaniment, and as I, on the morrow, roamed as usual about the streets, I felt a deep longing to meet the beautiful dancer again, and I pricked up my ears to perceive if I could the sound of drum and triangle music. I had at last found in London something which interested me, and I no longer wandered aimlessly about in its gaping streets.
"I had just quitted the Tower, where I had carefully looked at the axe with which Anne Bullen was beheaded, the diamonds of the British crown, and the lions, when I beheld again Madame the mother with the great drum, and heard Monsieur Turlutu crowing like a cock. The learned dog again raked together the heroism of Lord Wellington, the dwarf displayed his invincible carte and tierce, and Mademoiselle Laurence began once more her wonderful dance. And there were again the same enigmatical movements, the same language speaking what I could not understand, the same impetuous casting back of the beautiful head, the same listening at the ground, the terror which relieved itself by mad leaps, again the listening to the voice below, the trembling, the growing pale, the frozen silence, the frightfully mysterious washing of hands, and at last the side glance, imploring and beseeching, which she cast at me, lasting this time longer than before.
"Yes, women, girls as well as matrons, know at once when they have attracted the attention of a man. Although Mademoiselle Laurence, when not performing, always stood motionless and sad, and while she danced hardly looked at the public, from this time it was no longer by chance that her glance ever fell on me, and the oftener I saw her dance the more significantly she looked, but still more incomprehensible was her expression. I was as if bewitched by this glance, and for three weeks from morning till evening did I walk the streets of London, stopping wherever Mademoiselle Laurence danced. In spite of the great noise of the multitude I could catch at the greatest distance the sound of the drum and triangle, and Monsieur Turlutu, as soon as he saw me coming, raised his most friendly crow. And without ever speaking a word to him or with Mademoiselle Laurence, with Madame Mère, or with the learned dog, I seemed in the end to belong entirely to the troupe. When Monsieur Turlutu took up his collections, he always behaved with the most refined tact, as soon as he drew near me, and always looked away when I threw into the three-cornered hat a small coin. He had really an aristocratic manner; he recalled the exquisite politeness of the past. One could see in the little man that he had grown up among monarchs, and so much the stranger did it seem and quite below his dignity when he crowed like a cock.
"I cannot tell you how sad I felt when for three days I sought in vain for the little troupe in all the streets, and at last was certain they had left London. The blue devils held me once more in their leaden arms, and squeezed my heart together. At last I could endure it no longer, and bade adieu to the mob, the black- guards, the gentlemen, and the fashionables of England—the Four Estates of the realm—and travelled back to the civilised world, where I knelt down, devoutly praying, before the white apron of the first cook whom I met. For here I could once more dine like an intelligent human being, and refresh my soul by the contemplation of unselfish faces. But I could never forget Mademoiselle Laurence. She danced a long time in my memory, and in idle hours I often reflected on the enigmatic pantomime of the beautiful child, especially on the listening at the earth with inclined ear. It was long ere the uncanny triangle and drum melody faded away from my mind.
"And that is the whole story?" cried Maria, as she rose passionately excited.
But Maximilian gently pressed her back, laid his forefinger significantly on his mouth, and whispered, "Still—be still—speak not a word. Be good and calm, and I will tell you the tail of the story; but, for life, do not interrupt me!"
Then as he lolled back somewhat more comfortably in his chair, he thus continued:—
"Five years after all this I came for the first time to Paris, and that at a very remarkable time. The French had put their Revolution of July on the stage, and the whole world applauded. This drama was not so terrible as the previous tragedies of the Republic and the Empire. Only a few thousand corpses remained on the showground, with which the political romanticists were not very well satisfied, and they announced a new piece in which more blood was to flow, and the executioner be much busier.
"Paris delighted me by the gaiety which is there manifested in everything, and which sheds its influence even on darkened souls. Strange, Paris is the stage where the greatest tragedies of the world's history are acted—tragedies of which the memory, even in most distant lands, makes hearts tremble and eyes weep—but to him who sees them here in Paris itself, it is as it once was with me when I saw the Tour de Nesle played at the Porte Saint Martin. For I was seated behind a lady who wore a hat of rose-red gauze, and this hat was so broad that it completely covered for me the whole stage-view, so that I only saw all that was being tragedied through the red gauze, and all the horrors of the Tour de Nesle appeared consequently in the gayest couleur de rose. Yes, there is such a roselight in Paris, which softens all tragedies for him who is close by, so that his enjoyment of life shall not be diminished. Even the terrors or troubles which one has brought to Paris in his own heart lose their power to torment. There all sufferings are soothed. In the air of Paris all wounds heal more rapidly than elsewhere; there is something in it as grandly elevating, as soothing, as charming as in the people themselves
"What pleased me best in the Paris people was its polite manners and aristocratic mien. Sweet pine-apple perfume of politeness, how beneficently didst thou refresh my sick and weary soul, which had imbibed in Germany so much tobacco nausea, smell of sauer-kraut, and vulgarity! The delightful and apt excuses of a Frenchman who, on the day of my arrival, had by accident run against me in the street, sounded to me like the melodies of Rossini. I was almost frightened at such sweet politeness, I who was accustomed to German boorish knocks in the ribs without a word of apology. During my first week in Paris I sought intentionally to be run against by people, that I might enjoy this apologetic music. But it is not merely from politeness, but owing to their language itself, the French people have a peculiar coating of eminent refinement. For, as you know, by us in the North the French language is an attribute of the higher nobility, and from childhood the idea of aristocracy was always associated in my mind with French. And so a French market-woman spoke better French than a German comtesse of sixty-four quarterings.
"On account of their language, which gives them an aristocratic air, the French people have to me something delightfully romantic in all their ways and words. This came from another reminiscence of my childhood. For the first book in which I learned to read French was the Fables of Lafontaine, in which the naively sensible phrases made such an ineffaceable impression on my memory that, when I came to Paris and heard French spoken everywhere, I continually recalled the old stories. It seemed to me that I heard the well-known voices of the animals; now the lion spoke, then the wolf, then the lamb, or the stork, or the dove—ever and anon master fox, and in memory many a time I heard—
'Eh! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau!
Que vous êtes joli! que vous me semblez beau!'
"Such reminiscences of fables awoke in my soul much oftener when I in Paris frequented the higher regions, which men called the world. For this was specially the world which supplied Lafontaine with the types of his animal characters. The winter season began soon after my arrival in Paris, and I took part in the salon life in which that world moves more or less merrily. What struck me as most interesting in this world was not the equality as regards refined politeness which prevails in it, so much as the difference in its elements. Very often, when I in a grand salon looked round on the people assembled there on the most friendly footing, it seemed as if I were in a curiosity-shop, where the relics of all ages are huddled higgledy-piggledy all together, a Greek Apollo by a Chinese pagoda, a Mexican Vilzliputzli by a Gothic Ecce Homo, Egyptian idols with dogs' heads, holy horrors of wood, ivory, and metal, and so on. There I saw old mousquetaires who had once danced with Marie Antoinette, Republicans of mild observance who were regarded as gods in the Assemblée Nationale, Montagnards without money and without reproach, former members of the Directory who had been enthroned in the Luxembourg, bearers of great dignities under the Empire before whom all Europe had trembled, ruling Jesuits of the Restoration—in short, actual faded and mutilated divinities of all eras, in whom no one any longer believed. The names howl on coming into contact, but the men looked peaceably and stood together in peace, like the antiquities of which I have spoken in the bric-à-brac shops of the Quai Voltaire. In Germanic lands, where passions are less amenable to discipline, such a social assemblage of such heterogeneous persons would be simply impossible. Neither is the need of conversation so great with us in the cold North, as in warmer France, where the bitterest enemies, when they meet in a salon, cannot long maintain a gloomy silence. And the desire to please is there carried so far, that people strive earnestly to be agreeable not only to their friends but even their enemies. Hence a constant disguise and display of graces, so that women have their own time of it to surpass men in their coquetry—but succeed in it all the same.
"I mean indeed nothing wrong by this comparison—and, on my life! nothing in detraction of French women, and least of all the Parisiennes. For I am their greatest adorer, and honour and admire them more for their defects than for their virtues. I know nothing so exquisitely to the point as a legend that the French women came into the world with all possible faults, but that a beneficent fairy took pity, and gave to every fault a magic by which it appeared as a fresh charm. This enchanting fairy is grace. Are all French women beautiful? Who can tell? Who hath seen through all the intrigues of the toilet, into whose heart hath it entered to decipher if that is real which the tulle betrays, or is that false which puffed-out silk parades? And if it be given to the eye to penetrate the shell even as we are intent to examine the kernel, lo it covers itself in a new hull, and yet again in another, and by means of this incessant metamorphosis of modes they mock mankind. Are their faces beautiful? Even this is hard to determine. For all their features are in constant motion; every Parisienne has a thousand faces, every one more laughing, more spirituelle, more charming than the other, and he would be well bewildered who under it all could detect the fairest, or the real face at all. Or are their eyes large? What do I know? We do not long examine the calibre of a cannon when its ball decapitates us. And even if they miss—these eyes—at least they dazzle us by their fire, and he is glad enough who can get out of shot-range. Is the space between the nose and mouth broad or narrow? Very often broad, when they turn up the nose; very often small, when they scornfully curl their upper lips. Is her mouth great or small? Who can tell where the lips leave off and laughing begins? To form a correct judgment, the one judging and the object judged must be in a condition of repose. But who can rest by a Parisienne, and what Parisienne ever rests, herself? There are people who believe they can see a butterfly quite accurately when they have fastened it with a pin on paper, which is as foolish as it is cruel, for a fixed and quiet insect is a butterfly no longer. It must be seen while it flutters among the flowers, and the Parieienne must not be studied in her domestic life, where she is pinned down, but in the salon, at soirees and balls, where she flies freely with the wings of embroidered gauze and silk among the flashing crystal crowns of delight and gaiety! Then is revealed in her an eager rapture in life, a longing for sweet sensuous oblivion, a yearning for intoxication, by which she is made almost terribly beautiful, and gains a charm which at once enraptures and shocks our soul.
"This thirst to enjoy life, as if in another hour death would snatch them away from the sparkling fountain of enjoyment, or as if this fountain would be in another hour sealed for ever—this haste, this rage, this madness of the Parisiennes, especially as shown in balls, always reminds me of the legend of the dead dancing-girls who are called by us the Willis. These are young brides who died before the wedding-day, but who still have the unsatisfied mania for dancing so deeply in their hearts, that they rise by night from their graves and meet in crowds on the highways, where they at midnight abandon themselves to the wildest dances. In their bridal dresses, with wreaths of flowers on their heads, sparkling rings on their pale white hands, laughing fearfully, irresistibly beautiful, the Willis dance in the moonshine, and they dance the more impetuously and wildly the more they feel that the hour allowed them for dancing is drawing to an end, and they must again descend to the icy cold of the grave.
"It was at a soiree in the Chaussée d'Antin where this thought went deep into my soul. It was a brilliant reception, and nothing was wanting in all available ingredients of social enjoyment—enough lights to be seen by, enough mirrors to see one's self, enough people to squeeze among till one was warm, enough eau sucré and ices to cool one. It began with music. Franz Liszt had allowed himself to be forced to the pianoforte, threw his hair up above his genial brow, and played one of his most brilliant battle-pieces. The keys seemed to bleed. If I am not mistaken, he played a passage from the Palingenesia of Ballanche, whose ideas he translated into music, which was a great advantage for those who do not know the works of this celebrated author in the original. After this he played the March to the Gallows—la marche au supplice—that glorious composition of Berlioz which this young artist, if I do not err, composed on the morning of his wedding-day.
"There were in the entire hall faces growing pale, heaving bosoms, panting breaths during the pauses, and at last roaring applause. Women always seem intoxicated when Liszt plays. With wild joy these Willis of the salon threw themselves into the dance, and I had trouble to escape from the crowd into a side-room. Here play was going on, and a few ladies, reclining on great easy-chairs, took, or feigned to take, an interest in the game. As I passed by one of these dames, and her dress touched my arm, I felt a thrill pass from my hand to my shoulder like a slight electric shock. And such a shock, but with full strength, shook my heart when I saw the lady's countenance. Was it she—or not? There was the same countenance which in form and sunny hue was like an antique; only it was not so marbly-pure and marble smooth as before. A closely observant eye could detect on brow and cheeks faint traces as of small-pox, which exactly resembled the weather-marks which one sees on statues which have been for some time exposed to the rain. There were the same black locks which in smooth ovals covered the temples like raven's wings. But as her eye met mine, and that with the well-known side glance whose quick lightning shot so enigmatically through my soul, I doubted no longer—it was Mademoiselle Laurence.
"Leaning aristocratically, a bouquet in one hand, the other on the chair arm, Mademoiselle Laurence sat near a table, and seemed to give her whole attention to the cards. Her dress of white satin was becoming and graceful, yet quite simple. With the exception of bracelets and a brooch of pearls, she wore no ornaments. A chemisette of lace covered her young bosom almost puritanically to the neck, and in this simplicity and modesty of dress she formed a touching, charming contrast with several older ladies, who, gaily ornamented and flashing diamonds, sat by her, and exposed the ruins of their former glory, the place where Troy once stood, in melancholy wasted nakedness. She still seemed wondrously lovely and charmingly sorrowful, and I felt irresistibly attracted to her, and finally stood behind her chair, burning with impatience to speak to her, but restrained by aggravating scruples of delicacy.
"I had stood a little while behind her when she suddenly plucked a flower from her bouquet, and, without looking around, presented it to me over her shoulder. Strange was its perfume, and it exerted in me a strange enchantment. I felt myself freed from all social formalities; I was as if in a dream, where one acts and speaks and wonders at one's self, and where our words have a childlike, confiding, and simple character. Calmly, indifferently, carelessly, as one speaks to an old friend, I inclined over the arm of the chair and softly said in her ear—
"'Mademoiselle Laurence, where is your mother with the drum?'
"'She is dead,' she replied, in the same calm, indifferent tone.
After a little pause I again bent over the arm of the chair and whispered—
"'Mademoiselle Laurence, where is the learned dog?'
"'He has run away out into the wide world,' she answered, in the same calm tone.
"And again after a pause I leaned over the arm of the chair and whispered in her ear—
"'Mademoiselle Laurence, where is Monsieur Turlutu, the dwarf?'
"'He is with the giants on the Boulevard du Temple.' These words were just uttered—in the same easy, indifferent tone—when a serious, elderly man of commanding military appearance approached her, and announced that the carriage was waiting. Slowly rising from her seat she took his arm, and, without casting a look at me, left the company.
"When I asked our hostess, who had stood during the whole evening at the door presenting her smiles to the coming and parting guests, for the name of the young lady who had just left with the elderly gentleman, she laughed gaily and said—
"'Mon Dieu! who can know everybody. I know as little who he is as'———
"She silenced suddenly, for she certainly was about to say 'You'—for she saw me that even- ing for the first time.
"'Perhaps your husband,' I suggested, 'can give me some information. Where shall I look for him?'
"'Hunting at St. Germain,' replied Madame, with heartier laughter. 'He left this morning early, and will return to-morrow evening. But—wait—I know some one who has frequently conversed with the lady of whom you speak. I forget his name, but you can easily learn it if you will only inquire for the young gentleman who was kicked by M. Casimir Perier—I forget where.'
"Hard as it is to find a man who has been kicked out by a minister, I soon discovered mine, and begged him for some explanation of the marvellous being who so much interested me, and whom I depicted to him distinctly enough.
"'Yes,' said the young man; 'I know her well. I have conversed with her at several soirees.'
"And he repeated a lot of rubbish with which he had entertained the lady. What he had particularly remarked was her earnest look whenever he had said anything agreeable. And he marvelled not a little that she always declined his invitation to take place in a quadrille, assuring him that she did not know how to dance. He knew nothing of her name or family. Nor could anybody, so far as I could ascertain, give me any closer information in this respect. I ran in vain through all possible soirees seeking for information; I could nowhere find Mademoiselle Laurence."
"And that is the whole story?" cried Maria, as she slowly turned and yawned as if sleepy. "That is your whole remarkable story! And you never saw again either Mademoiselle Laurence, nor the mother with the drum, nor the dwarf Turlutu, nor the learned dog?"
"Lie calm and still," replied Maximilian. "I saw them all again—even the learned dog. But he was in a sad case, the poor rogue, when I met him in Paris. It was in the Latin Quarter. I came by the Sorbonne as a dog rushed from its gate, and after him a dozen students with sticks, who were soon joined by two dozen old women, who all screamed in chorus, 'Mad dog!' The wretched animal looked almost human in his agony of death; tears ran like a stream from his eyes, and as he yelping rushed by me and his dimmed gaze fell on me, I recognised my old friend, the learned dog, the eulogist of Lord Wellington, who once caused the English people to wonder at his wisdom. Was he really mad, though? Had he overtaxed his intellect with sheer learning while pursuing his studies in the Latin Quarter? Or had he in the Sorbonne offended by his scraping and growling dissent at the puffy-cheeked charlatanery of some professor, who had got rid of his disapproving auditor by declaring that he was mad? Alas! youth does not investigate carefully whether it is irritated pedantry or professional envy which inspires the cry, 'The dog is mad!' but breaks away with thoughtless sticks—and of course all the old women are ready with their yells and howls, and they out-scream the voice of innocence and of reason. My poor friend had to succumb—before my eyes he was pitiably struck dead amid jeers and curses, and at last cast on a dunghill—a wretched martyr to learning!
"Nor was the condition of the dwarf, Monsieur Turlutu, very much better when I re-discovered him on the Boulevard du Temple. Mademoiselle Laurence had indeed said that he had gone thither, but whether I did not seriously attempt to seek him there, or the crowd of people was so great, it happened that some time passed before I observed the show place where the giants were found. Two tall knaves lay at ease on a bench, who jumped up and assumed the attitude of giants when I appeared. They were really not so large as their sign boasted, but only two overgrown rascals, clad in rose-coloured tricot, who had very black, and perhaps false, side-whiskers, and who swung immense but hollow wooden clubs over their heads. When I asked after the dwarf, who was also set forth on the sign, they replied that for four weeks he had been unable on account of increasing illness to appear in public, but that I might see him if I would pay an extra price of admission. How willingly one pays double to see an old friend! Alas! it was a friend whom I found on his deathbed.! This deathbed was really a child's cradle, and in it lay the poor dwarf, with his sallow, wrinkled old man's face. A little girl of perhaps four years sat by him, rocking the cradle with her foot, and singing in a comical babbling tone—
"As the little man saw me he opened his glazed blue eyes as wide as possible, and a melancholy smile twitched about his white lips; he seemed to recognise me at once, for he reached out his dried, withered little hand, and gasped softly, 'Old friend!'
"It was indeed in sad, troublous case that I found the man who, when eight years of age, had had a long conversation with Louis XVI., whom the Czar Alexander had fed with bonbons, whom the Princess of Kyritz had held on her lap, to whom the King of Bavaria had read his poems, who had smoked from the same pipe with German princes, whom the Pope had apotheosised, and whom Napoleon had never loved! This last fact troubled the wretched man even on his deathbed—I should say in his death-cradle—and he wept over the tragic destiny of the great Emperor who had never loved him, but who had ended his life in such lamentable circumstances at St. Helena—'Even as I now die,' he added, 'rejected, neglected by all kings and princes, a mere mockery of former glory.'
"Though I could not quite understand how a dwarf who dies among giants could compare himself with a giant who dies among dwarfs, still the words of poor Turlutu and his neglected state in his dying hour moved me. I could not refrain from expressing my amazement that Mademoiselle Laurence, who had now become so grand, did not trouble herself about him. I had hardly mentioned her name when the dwarf was seized with agonising cramps, and wailed with white lips, 'Ungrateful child! She whom I brought up, and would have even made my wife, whom I taught how one should move and conduct one's self among the great people of this world—how one should smile and bow at court and act with elegance—thou hast turned my teaching to good account; now thou art a great lady, and hast a carriage and lackeys, and much money, and no heart! Thou leavest me to die here alone and miserable, like Napoleon at St. Helena. Oh, Napoleon, thou didst never love me!' What he then said I could not understand. He raised his head, made passes with his hand, as if fencing with some one, and defending himself against some one, it may have been Death. But the scythe of this adversary can be resisted by none, be he Napoleon or a Turlutu, for with him no parade or guard avails! Exhausted, as if overcome, the dwarf let his head sink, gazed at me with an indescribable spectral glare, crowed suddenly like a cock, and died!
"I confess that this death troubled me all the more because the sufferer had given me no more accurate information as to Mademoiselle Laurence. I was not in love with her, nor did I feel any specially great inclination towards her, and yet I was spurred by a mysterious, irresistible desire to seek her everywhere, and if I entered a salon and looked over those present and did not find her familiar face, then I became quite restless and felt impelled to depart.
"Reflecting on this feeling I stood once at midnight in a side entrance of the Grand Opera, waiting wearily for a coach, for it rained hard. But no coach came, or rather coaches only which belonged to other people, who got in gaily enough and departed, until little by little I was left alone.
"'Well, then, you must ride with me!' said a lady who, closely wrapped in a black mantilla, had also stood waiting by me for some time, and who was now about to enter a carriage. The voice thrilled through my heart; the well-known side-glance exerted once more its charm; and I seemed to be in a dream, when I found myself in a softly-padded warm carriage by Mademoiselle Laurence. We spoke no word to one another, perhaps we could not have understood if we had spoken, since that vehicle rattled with a fearful droning noise through the streets of Paris for a long time, till it at last stopped before a vast gateway.
"Servants in brilliant livery lighted us up the steps through a suite of apartments. A lady's maid who with sleepy face approached us, stammered with many excuses that the red room was the only one with a fire lighted. As she gave the maid a sign to leave us, Laurence said laughing, 'Chance or luck has brought you far indeed to-day; my bedroom is the only one which is warmed'———
"In this bedroom, where we were soon alone, blazed a beautiful fire, which was the more agreeable because the apartment was immensely large and high. This great chamber, which might better be called a great hall, had in it something strangely desolate or empty. Its furnitare and decoration and architecture bore the impress of an age whose splendour is now so dusty, and whose dignity seems so sober and sad, that its relics awaken a feeling of discomfort, if not a subdued smile. I speak of the time of the Empire, of the days of golden eagles, high-flying plumes, Greek coiffures, the glory of grand drum-majors, military masses, official immortality decreed by the Moniteur, Continental coffee made from chicory, bad sugar from beetroot, and princes and dukes manufactured out of nothing at all. Yet it had its charm, this age of pathetic materialism. Talma declaimed, Gros painted, Bigottini danced, Grassini sang, Maury preached, Rovigo had the police, the Emperor read Ossian, and Pauline Borghese had herself modelled as Venus, and stark naked at that, for the room was quite warm, like that in which I found myself with Mademoiselle Laurence.
"We sat by the fire conversing confidentially, and she told me sighing how she was married to a Buonaparte hero, who every evening before retiring entertained her with the history of his adventures. A few days, before his late departure he had given her in full the battle of Jena; but he was in very bad health, and would hardly survive the Russian campaign. When I asked how long it was since her father had departed this life, she laughed, and said she had never known one, and that her so-called mother had never been married.
"'Not married!' I cried; 'why, I myself saw her in London in deep mourning for her husband's death!'
"'Oh!' replied Laurence, 'she wore mourning all the time for twelve years, to awaken compassion as a poor widow, and also to take in some simpleton who wanted a wife. She hoped that she would sail the sooner under the black flag into the port of matrimony. But death had pity on her, and she perished suddenly by bursting a vein. I never loved her, for she gave me many a beating and little food. I should have starved if Monsieur Turlutu had not many a time given me a piece of bread on the sly; but for that the dwarf wanted me to marry him, and when his hopes were wrecked he allied himself to my mother—I say mother only from habit—and both tormented me cruelly. She was always saying I was a useless creature, and that the dog was worth a thousand times more than I with my wretched dancing. Then they praised the dog at my expense, fed him with cakes, and threw me the crumbs. "The dog," she said, "was her best support; he pleased the public, which did not take the least interest in me; that the dog must maintain me by his work, and that I lived on the charity and refuse of the dog. Damn the dog!'
"'Oh! you need not curse him again,' I interrupted the angry beauty. 'He is dead; I saw him die'———
"'Is the beast done for at last? 'cried Laurence, as she sprang up with delight beaming in every feature.
"'The dwarf also is dead,' I added.
"'Monsieur Turlutu?' cried Laurence, also joyfully. But the expression faded from her face gradually, and with a milder, almost melancholy tone, she sighed, 'Poor Turlutu!'
"As I did not conceal from her that the dwarf in his dying moments had complained of her bitterly, she burst into passionate protestation that she had the fullest intention and desire to provide for the dwarf in the best manner, and that she had offered him an annual pension if he would live quietly and modestly, anywhere in the country. 'But with his habitual vanity and desire of distinction,' continued Laurence, 'he desired to remain in Paris and dwell in my hotel, for thus he thought he could through me again resume his former acquaintance in the Faubourg Saint Germain, and his old brilliant place in society. And when I flatly refused this he called me a cursed goblin-ghost, a vampire, and a child of death'———
"Laurence suddenly stopped and shuddering said, as she heaved a sigh from her very heart—
"'Ah! I wish he had left me lying with my mother in the grave!'
"When I prayed her to explain these mysterious words, a flood of tears burst from her eyes, and trembling and sobbing she confessed that the drummer woman in mourning whom she called 'mother' had once told her that a strange rumour current as to her birth was not a mere fable. 'For in the town where we dwelt,' continued Laurence, 'I was always called the Death Child. Old women said I was really the daughter of a Count of that place, who maltreated his wife terribly, and when she died gave her a magnificent funeral. But she was far gone with child, and not really dead. Certain thieves, tempted by the richness of her funeral attire, burst open the tomb and took out the Countess, whom they found in the pangs of parturition. She died while giving birth to Laurence. The thieves laid her body again in the tomb, closed it, and carried the babe to the receiver of their stolen goods, who was the wife of the great ventriloquist.
"'This poor child, who was buried before she was born, was everywhere called the Death-Child. Ah! you cannot know how much misery I had even as a little girl, when people called me by this name. While the great ventriloquist was alive, and when he was discontented with me—as often happened—he always cried: "Cursed Death-Child, I wish I had never taken you from the grave." As he was of great skill in his calling, he could so modulate his voice as to make any one think that it came from the ground, and so he would make me believe that it was the voice of my dead mother who related her story. He knew the terrible tale well enough, for he had once been a servant of the Count my father. It was his greatest pleasure to torture me with the awful terror which I, a mere infant, felt at hearing this. The words which came in spectral tones from the ground told things so dreadful that I could not altogether understand them, but all of which, when I danced in after years, came vividly back into my mind. At such a time strange memories seemed to possess me. I forgot myself, and was another person tormented with all terrors and mysteries, but so soon as I ceased to dance all vanished from my mind.'
"While Mademoiselle Laurence spoke, slowly and as if questioning, she stood before me by the fireplace, where the fire gleamed ever more and more agreeably, and I sat in the great armchair, which was probably the seat of her husband when he of evenings related his battles before going to bed. Laurence looked at me with her great eyes, as if asking me for counsel, nodding her head in so mournfully reflective a manner that she inspired in me a deep sympathy. She was so delicate, so young, so beautiful, this slender lily sprung from the grave, this daughter of death, this ghost with the face of an angel and the body of a bayadere!
"I know not how it happened—perhaps it was the influence of the arm-chair in which I sat; but all at once it seemed to me as if I were the old general who the day before had been narrating the battle of Jena, and must continue my story, so I said—
"'After the battle of Jena, within a few weeks, all the Prussian fortresses surrendered almost without a blow. First of these was Magdeburg, the strongest of all, and it had three hundred cannons. Was not that disgraceful?'
"Mademoiselle Laurence let me proceed no further. All melancholy had fled from her beautiful face. She laughed like a child and said, 'Yes; that was disgraceful, and more than disgraceful. If I were a fortress, and had three hundred cannon, I would never surrender.'
"But as Mademoiselle Laurence was no fortress, and had no three hundred cannons"———
Here Maximilian suddenly paused, and after a short pause asked softly—
"Maria, are you asleep?"
"Yes, I sleep," replied Maria.
"I would say," added Maximilian, "that I sat by the fire in a red light, and it seemed to me as if I were the god Pluto amid the glowing flames of hell, holding the sleeping Proserpine in his arms. She slept, and I studied her charming face, and sought in its traits some explanation of that sympathy which my soul felt for her. What was the meaning of this woman? What significance lurked under the symbolism of this beautiful form? I held this winsome riddle now as my possession in my arms, yet could not discover its solution.
"Yet, is it not folly to endeavour to penetrate the inner meaning of a strange appearance or phenomenon when we cannot as much as solve the problems of our own souls? Why, we are not even certain that these outer apparitions really exist. Many a time we cannot distinguish reality from faces seen in our dreams. Was it an image of my imagination, or was it a terrible reality, which I that night heard and saw? I do not know. I can only remember that while the wildest thoughts streamed through my heart, a rustling, ringing noise sounded in my ears. It was a crazy melody, singularly slow. It seemed to be very familiar, and at last I recognised in it the sound of a triangle and a drum. This music, tinkling and buzzing, seemed to approach from afar, and at last when I looked up I saw near me, in the centre of the room, a well-known show, for it was Monsieur Turlutu, the dwarf, who played the triangle, and Madame Mère, who beat the great drum, while the learned dog scratched round on the ground as if seeking for his wooden letters. The dog seemed to move with pain, and his hair was spotted with blood. Madame Mère still wore her black mourning, but she had no longer her old plump, comical figure, and her face was not now red but pale. The dwarf, who still wore the embroidered coat of an old French marquis, with a powdered wig, seemed to be somewhat taller, probably because he had become so fearfully thin. He displayed as before his skill in fencing, and seemed to be wheezing out his old boasts, but spoke so softly that I could not catch a word, and it was only by the movements of his lips that I could often observe that he was crowing like a cock.
"While these laughably horrible distorted images moved before my eyes with unseeming haste, I perceived that Laurence breathed more restlessly. A cold shudder ran like frost through all her body, and her beautiful limbs twitched convulsively, as if with intolerable pain. But at last, supple as an eel, she slid and slipped from my arms, stood in a second in the centre of the room, and began to dance, while the mother with the drum and the dwarf with the triangle again raised their softly muffled music. She danced as she had done on the Waterloo Bridge and on the crossings of London. There was the same mysterious pantomime, the same passionate leaps, the same Bacchic casting back of the head, many times the same bending down to the earth, as if listening to what was being said below, then the old trembling, the growing pale, the frozen stillness, and yet again the listening with the ear inclined. And she also rubbed her hands as if washing them. At last she seemed to again cast her deep, painful, imploring glance at me, but it was only in the features of her deathly pale face that I recognised the glance, not in her eyes, for they were closed. The music sounded ever softer, the drum-mother and the dwarf growing paler, dimmer, and whirling away like mist, at last disappeared altogether, but Laurence remained as before, dancing with closed eyes. This dancing, as if blind, in the silent room by night, gave the beautiful creature such a ghostly air that I often shuddered, and was heartily glad when she ceased to dance, and glided and slipped, as softly as she had flown away, back into my arms.
"Certainly the sight of this scene was not agreeable. But man accustoms himself to everything, and it is possible that the unearthly mystery of this woman gave her a peculiar charm, which mingled with my feelings a terrible tenderness—enough that in a few weeks I was no longer amazed in the least when by night I heard the ring of the drum and triangle, and my dear Laurence suddenly leaped up and danced a solo with closed eyes. Her husband, the old Buonapartist, commanded near Paris, and his duties allowed him to pass only his days in the city. As a matter of course he became my most intimate friend, and he wept bright tears when the day came for him to bid me for a long time adieu. He travelled with his wife to Sicily, and I have never seen either of them since."
As Maximilian finished this story he quickly took his hat and slipped out of the room.
- Schloss—castle, chateau, a country villa of a superior kind. Generally a castle, but not invariably.
- Die gnädige Herrschaft. "Quality" is still used by negroes in America, as it was in the time of Queen Anne, to signify aristocracy.
- Selig, blessed, is used for late or deceased. Hence, as Longfellow observed, a German widow always speaks of her departed husband as "her blessed man."
- A strange book might be written on this subject of men who have literally loved statues, and Bonifacius has in his Historia Ludicra, or Strange Stories, collected a number of instances from antiquity of men thus inspired. There is a story current in Florence of an Englishman who was enamoured of the Venus di Medicis. Most remarkable of all the literature on this subject, which Heine seems to have studied thoroughly, is a chapter on Gli Amori Sacrilegi, in a book entitled Delle Bizzarerie Academicke di Gio, Francesco Loredano, Venice, 1667. This monograph, which certainly inspired Heine in these passages, is supposed to be a speech by Amicles of Athens, defending, or rather vindicating, himself from the accusation of having made love to a statue of Venus. It is a masterpiece of aesthetic cynicism. There are indications in other works by Heine that be had read this book. A reductio ad absurdum of this freak of love is furnished in Mr. F. Anstey's witty novelette, The Tinted Venus, where, instead of a man being enamoured of a statue, a statue, vivified, becomes enamoured of a man. The story of Pygmalion and Galatea is thus reversed with the happiest effect.—Translator.
- Vergegenwärtigen—"To bring it before (me)." Gegenwart is, however, "the present." To recall or realise it.
- Der Einfluss der bildenden Künste. The fine or cultured arts which shape material and thereby mind. Plastic aits is the usual but less truthful equivalent.
- This is very beautiful, but of doubtful truth. While there is much beauty and refinement among the more prosperous classes in Italy, it is unquestionably true that a majority of the Italian emigrants who come to the United States are altogether the worst and most degraded-looking foreigners in the country, being rivalled in this respect only by those from the Slavonian slums of Hungary and Austria. I have seen thousands of these emigrants, who come almost entirely from Southern Italy.—Translator.
- Jettatore. One who has the evil eye, and casts (jetta) its influence on others. The sign to avert it is made in Southern Italy by grasping the middle and ring finger with the thumb and throwing out the fore and little finger to resemble horns. In Tuscany it is more commonly la fica, or castagna, that is, closing the fist, so that the thumb protrudes between the third and middle finger.
- Tiré a quatre épingles. Said of one who has taken extreme pains to be well or showily dressed.
- Geist, esprit.
- Heine here speaks very sincerely. This was the tone, and indeed the cant, of the Romanticists in the Thirties. "Oh, I like to look gloomy and melancholy!" said in those days in my hearing a young man who had been told that his dressing in black gave him a sombre appearance.
- Heine was the first to make known in French this style of using æsthetic correspondences or signatures—to borrow a term from Swedenborg. It was carried to a ridiculous excess by his imitators, one of whom, in speaking of a ballet-girl, said: "The colour of her dancing is pyramidal." But Heine himself is occasionally extravagant in its use.
- It seems incredible that within my recollection Paganini (or his impresario) could have excited an extraordinary interest in the public by circulating such reports. Many laughed at them, but far more were moved or affected. "Who knows; there might be something in it." It was commonly said that Paganini had imprisoned the soul of his mother in his violin. This made a great impression on me, being at the time a small boy, and I can remember being detected by my mother in company with a younger brother engaged in killing a fly or bee in a toy violin—our intention being that its soul should eternally buzz in the instrument.—Translator.
- An old German invocation against dreaded spirits, spectres, &c.
- Die ganze gebildete Handelswelt.
- At the time here in question an entire suit of black for anyone not in mourning was unusual enough to attract attention. Dumas mentions it as something distingué in the Count of Monte Christo.
- Heine called himself a romanticist, but as regards the practical art of life and its associations, his heart was really in the later Renaissance, or Baroque period of the Regency.—Translator.
- Said to have been a trick of Paganini's, who could play admirably on three or two strings, or even one, as no one ever did before or since.
- In 1832–33 there was to be seen in every music-shop window a picture representing Paganini as a sorcerer fiddling among witches and imps.—Translator.
- All of these monsters, excepting perhaps the green camels' heads, which I do not remember, are to be found in pictures by Höllen-Breughel and Callot.—Translator.
- This seems to have been suggested by a very wild and beautiful German song and melody:—
"There is a hunter who blows his horn,
And ever by the night!
He blows the deer from out the corn,
And ever by the night!"
- Fatales. Absolutely adverse or destructive.
- There are many extraordinary conceptions in this work—that of comparing Paganini to Jehovah is not bad in its way—but for a tremendous perversion of truth this accusation of the English as impertinent questioners is unsurpassed. I have travelled much in my life and know the English fairly well, and consider that of all people on the face of the earth they mind their own business most, and are least given to such queries.—Translator.
- "Maximilian," it would appear, while in London, had access only to the plainest City ordinaries. But in this style of description he is far outdone by a noble French tourist, who declares, in a recently published book of travels, that in all the United States he found nothing fit to eat. This is worse even than plain roasts.—Translator.
- It is very characteristic of nervous, frivolous natures that they cannot conceive of gravity or calmness except as associated with dulness and suffering. The North American Indians are the most imperturbable of mortals, but they certainly suffer less from ennui than any others. But Heine had in reality only very second-hand stage-knowledge of the English.
- Geputzte Plumpheit. This implies rather a burly bluffness, not very much given to consider refined feelings. It is a little less than literal coarseness.
- Heine appears to be oblivious here to the fact that within his own lifetime criminals were publicly broken on the wheel in Germany. His sympathy for the Irishman who swindled "a rich banker" is but natural, if we may believe what is told in his Lives, that he himself, when in England, having been intrusted by his uncle with a letter of credit, on the express condition that he should only use a part of it, drew the whole. When his uncle found fault with him for this, the nephew asked him, with an audacious insolence that staggered the great banker, "My dear uncle, did you really expect not to have to pay for the honour of bearing my name?"—Translator.
- Hardly to be cited as inconsistent. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead—very deservedly—for cheating the Christian community out of a small sum and lying.—Translator.
- Making due allowance for the manner of description, and the hand-washing fragment borrowed from the ballet of Macbeth, it would appear that Heine had seen somewhere a dance by some Hungarian or Russian gypsy girl, without knowing what it meant. The listening to the speech of the Pchuvus or earth-spirit proves this.
- Dame de la Halle. Women noted for their Paris patois, or slang and vulgarity. A comparison recalling the remark of the English or American lady, who, in commenting on the superiority of the Gallic race to all others, remarked that in Paris even the lowest stable-boys wore French boots.
- Not exactly by "us," but by the Slavonian races, among whom the Vila is a sylvan spirit who assumes many forms. There is a rather old French ballet on this theme called Les Willis.
- Der Gang nach der Hinrichtung.
- Brotneid. Rivalry of bread.
- Heine here very oddly, and certainly quite unconsciously, repeats a line from an old English riddle on Eve—
"In the garden there strayed
A beautiful maid,
As fair as the flowers of the morn;
The first hour of her life
She was made a wife,
And was buried before she was born."
- Should this seem incredible to any reader, I would state that when I was a child not three years old, still suffering terribly from the results of a nervous fever, a very pious old lady was in the habit of frightening me in a manner every whit as cruel as that described by Laurence, and very much like it. Paving made me believe that a "bugaboo" lived in a certain closet, she would dress herself up in a horrible fashion, come out of the closet, and approach me growling. I have often wondered that I survived the awful terrors of this discipline, which, by the way, was common enough in nurseries at that time. Heine forgets to mention that such torturing children was usual when the supernatural was in fashion.
- Magdeburg means the virgin fortress.—Translator.