The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 12/Letters from Italy/Part I
FROM CARLSBAD TO THE BRENNER.
Sept. 3, 1786.
As early as three o'clock in the morning, I stole out of Carlsbad; for otherwise I should not have been allowed to depart quietly. The band of friends, who, on the 28th of August, rejoiced to celebrate my birthday, had in some degree acquired a right to detain me. However, it was impossible to stay here any longer. Having packed a portmanteau merely, and a knapsack, I jumped alone into a post-chaise; and by half-past eight, on a beautifully calm but foggy morning, I arrived at Zevoda. The upper clouds were streaky and fleecy, the lower ones heavy. This appeared to me a good sign. I hoped, that, after so wretched a summer, we should enjoy a fine autumn. About twelve I got to Egra, under a warm and shining sun; and now it occurred to me, that this place had the same latitude as my own native town, and it was a real pleasure to me once more to take my midday meal beneath a bright sky, at the fiftieth degree.
On entering Bavaria, one comes at once on the monastery of Waldsassen, with the valuable domain of the ecclesiastical lords who were wise sooner than other men. It lies in a dish-like, not to say caldron-like, hollow, in a beautiful wheat-ground, enclosed on all sides by slightly ascending and fertile heights. This cloister also possesses settlements in the neighbouring districts. The soil is decomposed slate clay. The marl which is found in this mineral formation, and which, as yet undecomposed, slowly crumbles, makes the earth loose and extremely fertile. The land continues to rise until you come to Tirschenreuth, and the waters flow against you, to fall into the Egra and the Elbe. From Tirschenreuth it descends southwards, and the streams run toward the Danube. I can very rapidly form an idea of a country as soon as I know by examination which way even the least brook runs, and can determine the river to whose basin it belongs. By this means, even in those districts of which it is impossible to take a survey, one can, in thought, form a connection between lines of mountains and valleys. From the last-mentioned place begins an excellent road formed of granite. A better one cannot be conceived; for, as the decomposed granite consists of gravelly and argillaceous earths, they bind excellently together, and form a solid foundation, so as to make a road as smooth as a threshing-floor. The country through which it runs looks so much the worse: it also consists of a granite-sand, lies very flat and marshy, and the excellent road is all the more desirable. And as, moreover, the roads descend gradually from this plane, one gets on with a rapidity that strikingly contrasts with the general snail's pace of Bohemian travelling. The enclosed billet will give you the names of the different stages. Suffice it to say, that, on the second morning, I was at Ratisbon; and so I did these twenty-four miles and a half in thirty-nine hours. As the day began to dawn, I found myself between Schwondorf and Regenstauf; and I observed here a change for the better in the cultivation of the land. The soil was no longer the mere débris of the rock, but a mixed alluvial deposit. The inundation by which it was deposited must have been caused by the ebb and flood, from the basin of the Danube, into all the valleys which at present drain their water into it. In this way were formed the natural boles (pölder) on which the tillage is carried on. This remark applies to all lands in the neighbourhood of large or small streams, and with this guide any observer may form a conclusion as to the soils suited for tillage.
Ratisbon is, indeed, beautifully situated. The country could not but invite men to settle, and build a city in it, and the spiritual lords have shown their judgment. All the land around the town belongs to them: in the city itself churches crowd churches, and monastic buildings are no less thick. The Danube reminds me of the dear old Main. At Frankfort, indeed, the river and bridges have a better appearance: here, however, the view of the northern suburb, Stadt-amhof, looks very pretty, as it lies before you across the river.
Immediately on my arrival I betook myself to the College of the Jesuits, where the annual play was being acted by the pupils. I saw the end of the opera and the beginning of the tragedy. They did not act worse than many an unexperienced company of amateurs, and their dresses were beautiful, almost too superb. This public exhibition also served to convince me still more strongly of the worldly prudence of the Jesuits. They neglect nothing that is likely to produce an effect, and contrive to practise it with interest and care. In this there is not merely prudence, such as we understand the term abstractedly: it is associated with a real pleasure in the matter in hand, a sympathy and a fellow feeling, a taste, such as arises from the experience of life. As this great society has among its members organ-builders, sculptors, and gilders, so, assuredly, there are some who patronise the stage with learning and taste; and, just as they decorate their churches with appropriate ornaments, these clear-sighted men take advantage of the world's sensual eye by an imposing theatre.
To-day I am writing in latitude forty-nine degrees. The weather promises to be fair, and even here the people complain of the coldness and wet of the past summer. The morning was cool, but it was the beginning of a glorious and temperate day. The mild atmosphere which the mighty river brings with it is something quite peculiar. The fruits are nothing very surprising. I have tasted, indeed, some excellent pears; but I am longing for grapes and figs.
My attention is riveted by the actions and principles of the Jesuits. Their churches, towers, and buildings have a something great and perfect in their plan, which imposes all beholders with a secret awe. In the decoration, gold, silver, metal, and polished marble are accumulated in such splendour and profusion as must dazzle the beggars of all ranks. Here and there one fails not to meet with something in bad taste in order to appease and to attract humanity. This is the general character of the external ritual of the Roman Catholic Church; but I have never seen it applied with so much shrewdness, tact, and consistency as among the Jesuits. Here all tends to this one end. Unlike the members of the other spiritual orders, they do not continue an old, worn-out ceremonial, but, humouring the spirit of the age, continually deck it out with fresh pomp and splendour.
A rare stone is quarried here into blocks. In appearance it is a species of conglomerate: however, it must be held to be older, more primary, and of a porphyritic nature. It is of a greenish colour, mixed with quartz, and is porous: in it are found large pieces of very solid jasper, in which, again, are to be seen little round pieces of a kind of breccia, A specimen would have been very instructive, and one could not help longing for one. The rock, however, was too solid; and I had taken a vow not to load myself with stones on this journey.
Munich, Sept. 6, 1786.
At half-past twelve on the 5th of September, I set off for Ratisbon. At Abbach the country is beautiful, while the Danube dashes against hmestone rocks as far as Saal; the limestone somewhat similar to that at Osteroda, on the Hartz,—close, but, on the whole, porous. By six a. m. I was in Munich; and, after having looked about me for some twelve hours, I will notice only a few points. In the Sculpture Gallery I did not find myself at home. I must practise my eye, first of all, on paintings. There are some excellent things here. The sketches of Rubens from the Luxembourg Gallery caused me the greatest delight.
Here, also, is the rare toy, a model of Trajan's Pillar. The material lapis-lazuli, and the figures in gilt. It is, at any rate, a rare piece of workmanship, and in this light one takes pleasure in looking at it.
In the Hall of the Antiques I soon felt that my eye was not much practised on such objects. On this account I was unwilling to stay long there, and to waste my time. There was much that did not take my fancy, without my being able to say why. A Drusus attracted my attention; two Antonines pleased me, as also did a few other things. On the whole, the arrangement of the objects was not happy, although there is an evident attempt to make a display with them; and the hall, or rather the museum, would have a good appearance if it were kept in better repair and cleaner. In the Cabinet of Natural History I saw beautiful things from the Tyrol, which in smaller specimens I was already acquainted with, and, indeed, possessed.
I was met by a woman with figs, which, as the first, tasted delicious; but the fruit in general is not good, considering the latitude of forty-eight degrees. Every one is complaining here of the wet and cold. A mist, which might well be called a rain, overtook me this morning early, before I reached Munich. Throughout the day the wind has continued to blow cold from off the Tyrolese mountains. As I looked toward them from the tower, I found them covered, and the whole heavens shrouded with clouds. Now, at setting, the sun is shining on the top of the ancient tower, which stands right opposite to my window. Pardon me that I dwell so much on wind and weather. The traveller by land is almost as much dependent upon them as the voyager by sea; and it would be a sad thing if my autumn in foreign lands should be as little favoured as my summer at home.
And now straight for Innspruck. What a deal I pass over, both on my right and on my left, in order to carry out the one thought which has become almost too old in my soul!
Mittelwald, Sept. 7, 1786.
It seems as if my guardian-spirit had said "Amen" to my "Credo," and I thank him that he has brought me to this place on so fine a day. My last postilion said, with a joyous exclamation, it was the first in the whole summer. I cherish in quiet my superstition that it will long continue so: however, my friends must pardon me if again I talk of air and clouds.
As I started from Munich, about five o'clock, the sky had cleared. On the mountains of the Tyrol the clouds stood in huge masses. Nor did the streaks in the lower regions move. The road lies on the heights, over bills of alluvial gravel, while below one sees the Isar flowing slowly. Here the work of the inundations of the primal oceans becomes conceivable. In many granite rubbles I found the counterparts of the specimens in my cabinet, for which I have to thank Knebel.
The mists rising from the river and the meadows hung about for a time; but at last they, too, dispersed. Between these gravelly hills, which you must think of as extending, both in length and breadth, for many leagues, is a highly beautiful and fertile region like that in the basin of the Regen. Now one comes again upon the Isar, and observes in its channel a precipitous section of the gravel-hills, at least a hundred and fifty feet high. I arrived at Wolfrathshausen, and reached the eight and fortieth degree. The sun was scorching hot. No one relies on the fine weather. Every one is complaining of the past year, and bitterly weeping over the arrangements of Providence.
And now a new world opened upon me. I was approaching the mountains, which stood out more and more distinctly.
Benedictbeuern has a glorious situation, and charms one at first sight. On a fertile plain is a long and broad white building, and behind it a broad and lofty ridge of rocks. Next, one ascends to the Kochelsee, and, still higher on the mountains, to the Walchensee. Here I greeted the first snow-capped summit, and, in the midst of my admiration at being so near the snowy mountains, I was informed that yesterday it had thundered in these parts, and that snow had fallen on the heights. From these meteoric tokens people draw hopes of better weather, and from this early snow anticipate change in the atmosphere. The rocks around me are all of limestone, of the oldest formation, and containing no fossils. These limestone mountains extend, in vast, unbroken ranges, from Dalmatia to Mount St. Gothard. Hacquet has travelled over a considerable portion of the chain. They dip on the primary rocks of the quartz and clay.
I reached Walchensee about half-past four. About three miles from this place I met with a pretty adventure. A harper and his daughter, a little girl of about eleven years, were walking before me, and he begged of me to take up his child. He went on with his instrument. I let her sit by my side; and she very carefully placed at her feet a large new box,—a pretty and accomplished creature, and already pretty well acquainted with the world. She had been on a pilgrimage on foot, with her mother, to Maria Einsiedel; and both had determined to go upon the still longer journey to St. Jago of Compostella, when her mother was carried off by death, and was unable to fulfil her vow. It was impossible, she thought, to do too much in honour of the Mother of God. After a great fire, in which a whole house was burnt to the lowest foundation, she herself had seen the image of the Mother of God, which stood over the door, beneath a glass frame,—image and glass both uninjured; which was surely a palpable miracle. All her journeys she had taken on foot. She had just played in Munich, before the elector of Bavaria, and altogether her performances had been witnessed by one and twenty princely personages. She quite entertained me. Pretty, large hazel eyes, a proud forehead, which she frequently wrinkled by an elevation of the brows. She was natural and agreeable when she spoke, and especially when she laughed out loud with the free laugh of childhood. When, on the other hand, she was silent, she seemed to have a meaning in it, and, with her upper lip, had a sinister expression. I spoke with her on very many subjects: she was at home with all of them, and made most pertinent remarks. Thus she asked me once what tree one we came to was. It was a huge and beautiful maple, the first I had seen on my whole journey. She narrowly observed it, and was quite delighted when several more appeared, and she was able to recognise this tree. She was going, she told me, to Botzen, for the fair, where she guessed I, too, was hastening. When she met me there, I must buy her a fairing; which, of course, I promised to do. She intended to put on there her new coif, which she had had made out of her earnings at Munich. She would show it to me beforehand. So she opened the bandbox; and I could not do less than admire the head-gear, with its rich embroidery and beautiful ribbons.
Over another pleasant prospect we felt a mutual pleasure. She asserted that we had fine weather before us; for they always carried their barometer with them, and that was the harp. When the treble-string twanged, it was sure to be fine weather; and it had done so yesterday. I accepted the omen, and we parted in the best of humours and with the hope of a speedy meeting.
On the Brenner, Sept. 8, 1786.
One enters the Tyrol by Scharnitz, The boundary-line is marked by a wall which bars the passage through the valley, and abuts on both sides on the mountains. It looks well. On one side the rocks are fortified; on the other they ascend perpendicularly. From Seefeld the road continually grew more interesting, and from Benedictbeuern to this place it went on ascending, from height to height: while all the streams of the neighbouring districts were making for the Isar. Now one caught a sight, over a ridge of rocks, of the Valley of the Inn; and Inzingen lay before us. The sun was high and hot, so that I was obllged to throw off some of my coats; for indeed, with the varying atmosphere of the day, I am obliged frequently to change my clothing.
At Zierl one begins to descend into the Valley of the Inn. Its situation is indescribably beautiful, and the bright beams of the sun made it look quite cheerful. The postilion went faster than I wished; for he had not yet heard mass, and was anxious to be present at it at Innspruck, where, as it was the festival of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, he hoped to be a devout participant. Accordingly, we rattled along the banks of the Inn, hurrying by Martinswand,—a vast, precipitous, wall-like rock of limestone. To the spot where the Emperor Maximilian is said to have lost himself, I ventured to descend, and came up again without a guide; although it is, in any case, a rash undertaking.
Innspruck is gloriously situated in a rich, broad valley, between high rocks and mountains. Everybody and everything was decked out in honour of the Virgin's Nativity. At first I had some wish to stop there, but it promised neither rest nor peace. For a little while I amused myself with the son of my host. At last the people who were to attend to me came in one by one. For the sake of health, and prosperity to the flocks, they had all gone on a pilgrimage to Wilden,—a place of worship on the mountains, about three miles and a half from the city. About two o'clock, as my rolling carriage divided the gay, merry throng, every one was in holiday garb and promenade.
From Innspruck the road becomes even still more beautiful: no powers of description can equal it. The most frequented road, ascending a gorge which empties its waters into the Inn, offers to the eye innumerable varieties of scenery. While the road often runs close to the most rugged rocks, indeed is frequently cut right through them, one sees the other side above you slightly inclining, and cultivated with the most surprising skill. On the high and broad-ascending surface lie valleys, houses, cottages, and cabins, white-washed, glittering among the fields and hedges. Soon all changed: the land becomes available only for pasture, until it, too, terminates on the precipitous ascent. I have gained some ideas for my scheme of a creation; none, however, perfectly new and unexpected. I have also dreamed much of the model I have so long talked about, by which I am desirous to give a notion of all that is brooding in my own mind, and which in nature itself I cannot point out to every eye.
Now it grew darker and darker; individual objects were lost in the obscurity; the masses became constantly vaster and grander; at last, as the whole moved before me like some deeply mysterious figure, the moon suddenly illuminated the snow-capped summits; and now I am waiting till morning shall light up this rocky chasm in which I am shut up on the boundary-line of the north and south.
I must again add a few remarks on the weather, which, perhaps, favours me so highly in return for the great attention I pay to it. On the lowlands one has good or bad weather when it is already settled for either: on the mountains one is present with the beginning of the change. I have so often experienced this when, on my travels, or walks, or hunting-excursions, I have passed days and nights between the cliffs in the mountain forests. On such occasions a conceit occurred to me, which I give you as nothing better, but which, however, I cannot get rid of, as indeed, generally, such conceits are, of all things, most difficult to get rid of. I altogether look upon it as a truth; and so I will now give utterance to it, especially as I have already so often had occasion to prove the indulgence of my friends.
When we look at the mountains, either closely or from a distance, and see their summits above us, at one time glittering in the sunshine, at another enveloped in mist, swept round with strong clouds, or blackened with showers, we are disposed to ascribe it all to the atmosphere, as we can easily with the eye see and discern its movements and changes. The mountains, on the other hand, with their glorious shapes, lie before our outward senses immovable. We take them to be dead, because they are rigid; and we believe them to be inactive, because they are at rest. For a long while, however, I cannot put off the impulse to ascribe, for the most part, to their imperceptible and secret influence the changes which are observable in the atmosphere. For instance, I believe that the mass of the earth generally, and therefore, also, in an especial way, its more considerable continents, do not exercise a constant and invariable force of attraction, but that this attractive force manifests itself by a certain pulse, which, according to intrinsic, necessary, and probably, also, accidental external causes, increases or decreases. Though all attempts by other objects to determine this oscillation may be too limited and rude, the atmosphere furnishes a standard both delicate and large enough to test their silent operations. When this attractive force decreases never so little, immediately the decrease in the gravity, and the diminished elasticity of the air, indicate this effect. The atmosphere is now unable to sustain the moisture which is diffused throughout it, either chemically or mechanically: the clouds lower, and the rain falls, and passes to the lowlands. When, however, the mountains increase their power of attraction, then the elasticity of the air is again restored, and two important phenomena result. First of all, the mountains collect around their summits vast masses of clouds, hold them fast and firm above themselves like second heads, until, as determined by the contest of electrical forces within them, they pour down as thunder-showers, rain or mist; and then, on all that remains, the electricity of the air operates, which is now restored to a capacity of retaining more water, dissolving and elaborating it. I saw quite clearly the dispersion of a cloudy mass of this kind. It was hanging on the very highest peak; the red tints of the setting sun still illuminated it. Slowly and slowly pieces detached themselves from either end. Some fleecy nebulæ were drawn off, and carried up still higher, and then disappeared; and in this manner, by degrees, the whole mass vanished, and was strangely spun away before my eyes, like a distaff, by invisible hands.
If my friends are disposed to laugh at the itinerant meteorologist and his strange theories, I shall, perhaps, give them more solid cause for laughter by some other of my remarks; for I must confess, that as my journey was, in fact, a flight from all the unshapely things which tormented me in latitude 51°, I hoped in 48° to meet with a true Goshen. But I found myself disappointed; for latitude alone does not make a climate and fine weather, but the mountain chains, especially such as intersect the land from east to west. In these, great changes are constantly going on; and the lands which he to the north have most to suffer from them. Thus, farther north, the weather throughout the summer was determined by the great Alpine range on which I am now writing. Here, for the last few months, it has rained incessantly, while a southeast or southwest wind carried the showers northwards. In Italy they are said to have had fine weather; indeed, a little too dry.
And now a few words on a kindred subject,—the vegetable world, which in so many ways depends on climate and moisture, and the height of the mountain ranges. Here, too, I have noticed no remarkable change, but still an improvement. In the valley before Innspruck, apples and pears are abundant; while the peaches and grapes are brought from the Welsh districts, or, in other words, the Southern Tyrol. Near Innspruck they grow a great deal of Indian corn and buckwheat, which they call blende. On the Brenner I first saw the larch, and near Schemberg the pine. Would the harper's daughter have questioned me about them also?
As regards the plants, I feel still more how perfect a tyro I am. Up to Munich I saw, I believed, none but those I was well accustomed to. In truth, my hurried travelling by day and night was not favourable to nicer observation on such objects. Now, it is true, I have my "Linnæus" at hand; and his terminology is well stamped on my brain. But whence are the time and quiet to come for analysing, which, if I at all know myself, will ever become my forte? I, therefore, sharpen my eye for the more general features; and, when I met with the first gentiana near the Walchensee, it struck me that it was always near the water that I had hitherto noticed any new plants.
What made me still more attentive was the influence which the altitude of the mountain region evidently had on plants. Not only did I meet there with new specimens, but I also observed that the growth of the old ones was materially altered. While, in the lower regions, branches and stalks were stronger and more sappy, the buds stood closer together, and the leaves broader, the higher you got on the mountains, the stalks and branches became more fragile, the buds were at greater intervals, and the leaves thinner and more lanceolate. I noticed this in the case of a willow and of a gentiana, and convinced myself that it was not a case of different species. So, also, near the Walchensee, I noticed longer and thinner rushes than else.
The limestone of the Alps which I have as yet travelled over has a grayish tint, and beautiful, singular, irregular forms; although the rock is divisible into blocks and strata. But as irregular strata occur, and the rock in general does not crumble equally under the influence of the weather, the sides and the peaks have a singular appearance. This kind of rock comes up the Brenner to a great height. In the region of the Upper Lake I noticed a slight modification. On a micaceous slate of dark green and gray colours, and thickly veined with quartz, lay a white, solid limestone, which, in its detritus, sparkled, and stood in great masses, with numberless clefts. Above it I again found micaceous slate, which, however, seemed to me to be of a softer texture than the first. Higher up still, there was to be seen a peculiar kind of gneiss, or rather a granitic species which approximated to gneiss, as in the district of Ellbogen. Here at the top, and opposite the Inn, the rock is micaceous slate. The streams which come from the mountains leave deposits of nothing but this stone and of the gray limestone.
Not far from here must be the granitic base on which all rests. The maps show that one is on the side of the true great Brenner, from which the streams of a wide surrounding district take their rise.
The following is my external judgment of the people. They are active and straightforward. In form they are pretty generally alike. Hazel, well-opened eyes: with the women, brown and well-defined eyebrows, but with the men, light and thick. Among the gray rocks, the green hats of the men have a cheerful appearance. The hats are generally ornamented with ribbons, or broad silk sashes, and with fringes, which are prettily sewn on. On the other hand, the women disfigure themselves with white undressed cotton caps of a large size, very much like men's night-caps. These give them a very strange appearance; but abroad, they wear the green hats of the men, which become them very much.
I have opportunity of seeing the value the common class of people put upon peacock's feathers, and in general how every variegated feather is prized. He who wishes to travel through these mountains will do well to take with him a lot of them. A feather of this kind produced at the proper moment will serve instead of the ever-welcome "something to drink."
Whilst I am putting together, sorting, and arranging these sheets, in such a way that my friends may easily take a review of my fortunes up to this point, and that I may at the same time dismiss from my soul all that I have lately thought and experienced, I have, on the other hand, cast many a trembling look on some packets of which I must give a good but brief account. They are to be my fellow travellers: may they not exercise too great an influence on my next few days!
I brought with me to Carlsbad the whole of my manuscripts in order to complete the edition of my works which Goschen has undertaken. The unprinted ones I had long possessed in beautiful transcripts by the practised hand of Secretary Vögel. This active person accompanied me on this occasion in order that I might, if necessary, command his dexterous services. By this means, and with the never-failing coöperation of Herder, I was soon in a condition to send to the printer the first four volumes, and was on the point of doing the same with the last four. The latter consisted, for the most part, of mere unfinished sketches, indeed of fragments; for, in truth, my perverse habit of beginning many plans, and then, as the interest waned, laying them aside, had gradually gained strength with increasing years, occupations, and duties.
As I had brought these scraps with me, I readily listened to the requests of the literary circles of Carlsbad, and read out to them all that before had remained unknown to the world, which already was bitter enough in its complaints that much with which it had entertained itself still remained unfinished.
The celebration of my birthday consisted mainly in sending me several poems in the name of my commenced but unfinished works. Among these, one was distinguished above the rest. It was called "The Birds." A deputation of these happy creatures, being sent to a true friend, earnestly entreat him to found at once and establish the kingdom so long promised to them. Not less obvious and playful were the allusions to my other unfinished pieces; so that all at once they again possessed a living interest for me, and I related to my friends the designs I had formed, and the entire plans. This gave rise to the expression of wishes and urgent requests, and gave the game entirely into Herder's hands, while he attempted to induce me to take back these papers, and, above all, to bestow upon the "Iphigenia" the pains it well deserved. The fragment which lies before me is rather a sketch than a finished piece. It is written in poetical prose, which occasionally falls into a sort of iambical rhythm, and even imitates other syllabic metres. This, indeed, does great injury to the effect, unless it is read well, and unless, by skilful turns, this defect is carefully concealed. He pressed this matter on me very earnestly; and as I concealed from him, as well as the rest, the great extent of my intended tour, and as he believed I had nothing more in view than a mountain trip, and as he was always ridiculing my geographical and mineralogical studies, he insisted I should act much wiser, if, instead of breaking stones, I would put my hand to this work. I could not but give way to so many and well-meant remonstrances, but as yet I have had no opportunity to turn my attention to these matters. I now detach "Iphigenia" from the bundle, and take the play with me as my fellow-traveller into the beautiful and warm country of the South. The days are so long, and there will be nothing to disturb reflection, while the glorious objects of the surrounding scenery by no means depress the poetic nerve: indeed, assisted by movement and the free air, they rather stimulate and call it forth more quickly and more vividly.
- A German mile is exactly equal to four English geographical, and to rather more than four and a quarter ordinary miles. The distance in the text may therefore be roughly set down as one hundred and four miles English.—A. J. W. M.