- Transcribers Note: In this book the authors words and their usage have been faithfully transcribed. -
DEBIT AND CREDIT.
Translated from the German of Gustav Freytag,
WITH A PREFACE,
BY CHRISTIAN CHARLES JOSIAS BUNSEN,
D.D., D.C.L., D.PH.
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS,
LETTER FROM CHEVALIER BUNSEN.
CHARLOTTENBERG, NEAR HEIDELBERG, 10th October, 1857.
DEAR SIR,—It is now about five months since you expressed to me a wish that I might be induced to imbody, in a few pages, my views on the peculiar interest I attached—as you had been informed by a common friend—to the most popular German novel of the age, Gustav Freytag's Soll und Haben. I confess I was at first startled by your proposal. It is true that, although I have not the honor of knowing the author personally, his book inspired me with uncommon interest when I read it soon after its appearance in 1855, and I did not hesitate to recommend translation into English, as I had, in London, recommended that of the Life of Perthes, since so successfully translated and edited under your auspices. I also admit that I thought, and continue to think, the English public at large would the better appreciate, not only the merits, but also the importance of the work, if they were informed of the bearing that it has upon the reality of things on the Continent; for, although Soll und Haben is a work altogether of fiction, and not what is called a book of tendency, political or social, it exhibits, nevertheless, more strikingly than any other I know, some highly important social facts, which are more generally felt than understood. It reveals a state of the relations of the higher and of the middle classes of society, in the eastern provinces of Prussia and the adjacent German and Slavonic countries, which are evidently connected with a general social movement proceeding from irresistible realities, and, in the main, independent of local circumstances and of political events. A few explanatory words might certainly assist the English reader in appreciating the truth and impartiality of the picture of reality exhibited in this novel, and thus considerably enhance the enjoyment of its poetical beauties, which speak for themselves.
At the same time, I thought that many other persons might explain this much better than I, who am besides, and have been ever since I left England, exclusively engaged in studies and compositions of a different character. As, however, you thought the English public would like to read what I might have to say on the subject, and that some observations on the book in general, and on the circumstances alluded to in particular, would prove a good means of introducing the author and his work to your countrymen, I gladly engaged to employ a time of recreation in one of our German baths in writing a few pages on the subject, to be ready by the 1st of August. I was the more encouraged to do so when, early in July, you communicated to me the proof-sheets of the first volume of a translation, which I found not only to be faithful in an eminent degree, but also to rival successfully the spirited tone and classical style for which the German original is justly and universally admired.
I began, accordingly, on the 15th July, to write the Introductory Remarks desired by you, when circumstances occurred over which I had no control, and neither leisure nor strength could be found for a literary composition.
Now that I have regained both, I have thought it advisable to let you have the best I can offer you in the shortest time possible, and therefore send you a short Memoir on the subject, written in German, placing it wholly at your disposal, and leaving it entirely to you to give it either in part or in its totality to the English public, as may seem best adapted to the occasion.
I shall be glad to hear of the success of your Translation, and remain, with sincere consideration,
Dear sir, yours truly, BUNSEN.
TO THOMAS CONSTABLE, ESQ.
PREFACE BY CHEVALIER BUNSEN.
THE HISTORY AND SPIRIT OF THE BOOK.
Since our German literature attained maturity, no novel has achieved a reputation so immediate, or one so likely to increase and to endure, as Soll und Haben, by Gustav Freytag. In the present, apparently apathetic tone and temper of our nation, a book must be of rare excellence which, in spite of its relatively high price (15s.), has passed through six editions within two years; and which, notwithstanding the carping criticism of a certain party in Church and State, has won most honorable recognition on every hand. To form a just conception of the hold the work has taken of the hearts of men in the educated middle rank, it needs but to be told that hundreds of fathers belonging to the higher industrious classes have presented this novel to their sons at the outset of their career, not less as a work of national interest than as a testimony to the dignity and high importance they attribute to the social position they are called to occupy, and to their faith in the future that awaits it.
The author, a man about fifty years of age, and by birth a Silesian, is editor of the Grenz-bote (Border Messenger), a highly-esteemed political and literary journal, published in Leipsic. His residence alternates between that city and a small estate near Gotha. Growing up amid the influences of a highly cultivated family circle, and having become an accomplished philologist under Lachmann, of Berlin, he early acquired valuable life-experience, and formed distinguished social connections. He also gained reputation as an author by skillfully arranged and carefully elaborated dramatic compositions—the weak point in the modern German school.
The enthusiastic reception of his novel can not, however, be attributed to these earlier labors, nor to the personal influence of its author. The favor of the public has certainly been obtained in great measure by the rare intrinsic merit of the composition, in which we find aptly chosen and melodious language, thoroughly artistic conception, life-like portraiture, and highly cultivated literary taste. We see before us a national and classic writer, not one of those mere journalists who count nowadays in Germany for men of letters.
The story, very unpretending in its opening, soon expands and becomes more exciting, always increasing in significance as it proceeds. The pattern of the web is soon disclosed after the various threads have been arranged upon the loom; and yet the reader is occasionally surprised, now by the appearance on the stage of a clever Americanized German, now by the unexpected introduction of threatening complications, and even of important political events. Though confined within a seemingly narrow circle, every incident, and especially the Polish struggle, is depicted grandly and to the life. In all this the author proves himself to be a perfect artist and a true poet, not only in the treatment of separate events, but in the far more rare and higher art of leading his conception to a satisfactory development and denouement. As this requirement does not seem to be generally apprehended either by the writers or the critics of our modern novels, I shall take the liberty of somewhat more earnestly attempting its vindication.
The romance of modern times, if at all deserving of the name it inherits from its predecessors in the romantic Middle Ages, represents the latest stadium of the epic.
Every romance is intended, or ought to be, a new Iliad or Odyssey; in other words, a poetic representation of a course of events consistent with the highest laws of moral government, whether it delineate the general history of a people, or narrate the fortunes of a chosen hero. If we pass in review the romances of the last three centuries, we shall find that those only have arrested the attention of more than one or two generations which have satisfied this requirement. Every other romance, let it moralize ever so loudly, is still immoral; let it offer ever so much of so-called wisdom, is still irrational. The excellence of a romance, like that of an epic or a drama, lies in the apprehension and truthful exhibition of the course of human things.
Candide, which may appear to be an exception, owes its prolonged existence to the charm of style and language; and, after all, how much less it is now read than Robinson Crusoe, the work of the talented De Foe; or than the Vicar of Wakefield, that simple narrative by Voltaire's English contemporary. Whether or not the cause can be clearly defined is here of little consequence; but an unskillfully developed romance is like a musical composition that concludes with discord unresolved—without perhaps inquiring wherefore, it leaves an unpleasant impression on the mind.
If we carry our investigation deeper, we shall find that any such defect violates our sense of artistic propriety, because it offends against our healthy human instinct of the fundamental natural laws; and the artistic merit, as well of a romance as of an epic, rises in proportion as the plot is naturally developed, instead of being conducted to its solution by a series of violent leaps and make-shifts, or even by a pretentious sham. We shall take occasion hereafter to illustrate these views by suitable examples.
That the work we are now considering fulfills, in a high degree, this requirement of refined artistic feeling and artistic treatment, will be at once apparent to all discriminating readers, though it can not be denied that there are many of the higher and more delicate chords which Soll und Haben never strikes. The characters to whom we are introduced appear to breathe a certain prosaic atmosphere, and the humorous and comic scenes occasionally interwoven with the narrative bear no comparison, in poetic delicacy of touch, with the creations of Cervantes, nor yet with the plastic power of those of Fielding.
The author has given most evidence of poetic power in the delineation of those dark characters who intrude like ghosts and demons upon the fair and healthy current of the book, and vanish anon into the caverns and cellars whence they came.
The great importance of the work, and the key to the almost unexampled favor it has won, must be sought in a quite different direction—in the close relation to the real and actual in our present social condition, maintained throughout its pages. Such a relation is manifested, in very various ways, in every novel of distinguished excellence. The object of all alike is the same—to exhibit and establish, by means of a narrative more or less fictitious, the really true and enduring elements in the complicated or contradictory phenomena of a period or a character. The poetic truthfulness of the immortal Don Quixote lies not so much in the absurdities of an effete Spanish chivalry as in the portraiture that lies beneath, of the insignificance and profligacy of the life of the higher ranks, which had succeeded the more decorous manners of the Middle Ages. Don Quixote is not the only hero of the book, but also the shattered Spanish people, among whom he moves with gipsies and smugglers for companions, treading with all the freshness of imperishable youth upon the buried ruins of political and spiritual life, rejoicing in the geniality of the climate and the tranquillity of the country, reposing proudly on his ancestral dignity. This conception—and not alone the pure and lofty nature of the crazy besieger of wind-mills, who, in spite of all, stands forth as at once the worthiest, and fundamentally the wisest character in the book—constitutes the poetic background, and the twilight glimmer amid the prevailing darkness in the life of the higher classes. We feel that there is assuredly something deeply human and of living power in these elements, and this reality will one day obtain the victory over all opponents.
By what an entirely different atmosphere do we feel ourselves to be surrounded in Gil Blas, where the highest poetry, the cunning dexterity of the modern Spanish Figaro, is manifested in the midst of a depraved nobility, and a priesthood alive only to their own material interests. It is only the most perfect art that could have retained for this novel readers in every quarter of the world. The denouement is as perfect as with such materials it can be; and we feel that, instead of Voltaire's withering and satiric contempt of all humanity, an element of unfeigned good-humor lies in the background of the picture. How far inferior is Swift! and how utterly horrible is the abandoned humor of a despair that leaves all in flames behind it, which breathes upon us from the pages of the unhappy Rabelais!
Fielding's novels, Tom Jones in particular, bear the same resemblance to the composition of Cervantes that the paintings of Murillo bear to those of Rembrandt. The peculiarity of Wilhelm Meister as a novel is more difficult of apprehension, if one does not seek the novel where in truth it lies—in the story of Mignon and the Harper, and only sees in the remainder the certainly somewhat diffuse but deeply-thought and classically-delineated picture of the earnest striving after culture of a German in the end of the eighteenth century. It would argue, however, as it appears to me, much prejudice, and an utterly unreasonable temper, not to recognize a perfect novel in the Wahlverwandschaften, however absolutely one may deny the propriety of thus tampering with and endangering the holiest family relationships, or thus making them the subjects of a work of fiction. Goethe, however, has here placed before us, and that with the most noble seriousness and the most artistic skill, a reality which lies deep in human nature and the period he represents. The tragical complications and consequences resulting even from errors which never took shape in evil deeds could not in the highest tragedy be represented more purely and strikingly than here. The stain of impurity rests upon the soul of him who thinks that he detects it, not in the book itself. Ottilie is as pure and immortal a creation of genius as Mignon.
As novel-literature has developed itself in Europe, an attempt has been made to employ it as a mirror of the past, into which mankind shall love to look, and thereby ascertain whether civilization has advanced or retrograded with the lapse of time. This is a reaction against the eighteenth century, and it appears under two forms—the idealistic-sentimental and the strongly realistic-social. The earliest instance in Germany of the romantic school, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, is the apotheosis of the art and literature of the Middle Ages. The writings of Walter Scott put an end to this sentimentalism, and this is indeed their highest merit. Those of his works will continue to maintain the most prominent place, standing forth as true and living representations of character, which deal with the events of Scottish history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Still more the work of genius, however, and of deeper worth, Hope's Anastasius must be admitted to be—that marvelous picture of life in the Levant, and in the whole Turkish Empire, as far as Arabia, as it was about the end of the last and the beginning of the present century. In this work truth and fiction are most happily blended; the episodes, especially that of Euphrosyne, may be placed, without disparagement, beside the novels of Cervantes, and strike far deeper chords in the human heart than the creations of Walter Scott. Kingsley's Hypatia, alone of modern works, is worthy to be named along with it. That, indeed, is a marvelous and daring composition, with a still higher aim and still deeper soul-pictures. Both of them will live forever as examples of union of the idealistic and the realistic schools, poetic evocations of a by-gone reality, with all the truth and poetry of new creations. In reading either of them we forget that the work is as instructive as it is imaginative.
The most vehement longing of our times, however, is manifestly after a faithful mirror of the present; that is to say, after a life-picture of the social relations and the struggles to which the evils of the present day have given rise. We feel that great events are being enacted; that greater still are in preparation; and we long for an epic, a world-moulding epic, to imbody and depict them. The undertaking is a dangerous one—many a lance is shivered in the first encounter. A mere tendency-novel is in itself a monster. A picture of the age must be, in the highest acceptation of the word, a poem. It must not represent real persons or places—it must create such. It must not ingraft itself upon the passing and the accidental, but be pervaded by a poetic intuition of the real. He that attempts it must look with a poet's eye at the real and enduring elements in the confusing contradictions of the time, and place the result before us as an actual existence. It has been the high privilege of the English realistic school, which we may call without hesitation the school of Dickens, that it has been the first to strike the key-note with a firm and skillful hand. Its excellence would stand out with undimmed lustre had it not, as its gloomy background, the French school of Victor Hugo and Balzac, that opposite of "the poetry of despair," as Goethe calls it. Here again, in this new English school, has the genius of Kingsley alighted. Most of his novels belong to it. And, besides himself and Dickens, there stand forth as its most brilliant members the distinguished authoress of Mary Barton, and the sorely-tried Charlotte Bronte, the gifted writer of Jane Eyre—too soon, alas! removed from us. This school has portrayed, in colors doubtless somewhat strong, the sufferings and the virtues, the dangers and the hopes of the working-classes, especially in towns and factories. But, instead of enjoining hatred of the higher classes, and despair of all improvement in the future for humanity, a healthy tone pervades their writings throughout, and an unwavering and cheering hope of better things to come shines through the gloomy clouds that surround the dreary present. There are throes of anguish—but they tell of coming deliverance; there are discords—but they resolve into harmony. The spirit finds, pervading the entire composition, that satisfaction of the desires of our higher nature which constitutes true artistic success.
Dickens, too, has at length chosen the real life of the working-classes in their relations to those above them as a subject for his masterly pen. Dombey and Son will not readily be forgotten.
It was necessary to take a comprehensive view of novel literature, and—although in the merest outline—still to look at it in its historical connection, in order to find the suitable niche for a book which claims an important place in its European development; for it is precisely in the class last described—that which undertakes faithfully, and yet in a poetic spirit, to represent the real condition of our most peculiar and intimate social relations—that our author has chosen to enroll himself. With what a full appreciation of this high end, and with what patriotic enthusiasm he has entered on his task, the admirable dedication of the work at once declares, which is addressed to a talented and liberal-minded prince, deservedly beloved and honored throughout Germany. In the work itself, besides, there occur repeated pictures of these relations, which display at once a clear comprehension of the social problem, and a poetic power which keeps pace with the power of life-like description. To come more closely to the point, however, what is that reality which is exhibited in the story of our novel? We should very inadequately describe it were we to say, the nobility of labor and the duties of property, particularly those of the proprietor of land. This is certainly the key-note of the whole conservative-social, or Dickens school, to which the novel belongs. It is not, however, the conflict between rich and poor, between labor and capital in general, and between manufacturers and their people in particular, whose natural course is here detailed. And this is a point which an English reader must above all keep clearly in view. He will otherwise altogether fail to understand the author's purpose; for it is just here that the entirely different blending of the social masses in England and in Germany is displayed. We have here the conflict between the feudal system and that class of industrial and wealthy persons, together with the majority of the educated public functionaries, who constitute in Germany the citizen-class. Before the fall of the Prussian monarchy in 1807, the noble families—for the most part hereditary knights (Herrn von)—almost entirely monopolized the governmental and higher municipal posts, and a considerable portion of the peasantry were under servitude to them as feudal superiors. The numbers of the lesser nobility—in consequence of the right of every nobleman's son, of whatever grade, to bear his father's title—were so great, and since the introduction by the great Elector,[A] and his royal successors, of the new system of taxation, their revenues had become so small, that they considered themselves entitled to the monopoly of all the higher offices of state, and regarded every citizen of culture, fortune, and consideration with jealousy, as an upstart. The new monarchic constitution of 1808-12, which has immortalized the names of Frederick William III., and of his ministers, Stein and Hardenberg, altered this system, and abolished the vassalage and feudal service of the peasants in those provinces that lie to the east of the Elbe. The fruits of this wise act of social reform were soon apparent, not only in the increase of prosperity and of the population, but also in that steady and progressive elevation of the national spirit which alone made it possible in 1813-14 for the house of Hohenzollern to raise the monarchy to the first rank among the European powers.
[Footnote A: The friend and brother-in-law of William III.]
The further development in Prussia of political freedom unfortunately did not keep pace with these social changes; and so—to say no more—it happened that the consequences of all half measures soon resulted. Even before the struggles of 1848, down to which period the story of our novel reaches, the classes of the more polished nobility and citizens, instead of fusing into one band of gentry, and thus forming the basis of a landed aristocracy, had assumed an unfriendly attitude, in consequence of a stagnation in the growth of a national lower nobility as the head of the wealthy and cultivated bourgeoisie, resulting from an unhappy reaction which then took place in Prussia. The feudal proprietor was meanwhile becoming continually poorer, because he lived beyond his income. Falling into embarrassments of every sort, he has recourse for aid to the provincial banks. His habits of life, however, often prevent him from employing these loans on the improvement of his property, and he seldom makes farming the steady occupation and business of his life. But he allows himself readily to become involved in the establishment of factories—whether for the manufacture of brandy or for the production of beet-root sugar—which promise a larger and speedier return, besides the enhancement of the value of the land. But, in order to succeed in such undertakings, he wants the requisite capital and experience. He manifests even less prudence in the conduct of these speculations than in the cultivation of his ancestral acres, and the inevitable result ensues that an ever-increasing debt at length necessitates the sale of his estate. Such estates are ever more and more frequently becoming the property of the merchant or manufacturer from the town, or perhaps of the neighboring proprietor of the same inferior rank, who has lately settled in the country, and become entitled to the exercise of equal rights with the hereditary owner. There is no essential difference in social culture between the two classes, but there is a mighty difference between the habits of their lives. The mercantile class of citizens is in Germany more refined than in any other country, and has more political ambition than the corresponding class in England has yet exhibited. The families of public functionaries constitute the other half of the cultivated citizen class; and as the former have the superiority in point of wealth, so these bear the palm in respect of intellectual culture and administrative talent. Almost all authors, since the days of Luther, have belonged to this class. In school and college learning, in information, and in the conduct of public affairs, the citizen is thus, for the most part, as far superior to the nobleman as in fashionable manners the latter is to him. The whole nation, however, enjoys alike the advantage of military education, and every man may become an officer who passes the necessary examination. Thus, in the manufacturing towns, the citizens occupy the highest place, and the nobility in the garrison towns and those of royal residence. This fact, however, must not be lost sight of—that Berlin, the most populous city of Germany, has also gradually become the chief and the richest commercial one, while the great fortress of Magdeburg has also been becoming the seat of a wealthy and cultivated mercantile community.
Instead of desiring landed property, and perhaps a patent of nobility for his children, and an alliance with some noble country family, the rich citizen rather sticks to his business, and prefers a young man in his own rank, or perhaps a clergyman, or professor, or some municipal officer as a suitor to his daughter, to the elegant officer or man of noble blood; for the richest and most refined citizen, though the wife or daughter of a noble official, is not entitled to appear at court with her husband or her father. It is not, therefore, as in England or Scotland, the aim of a man who has plied his industrious calling with success to assume the rank and habits of a nobleman or country squire. The rich man remains in town among his equals. It is only when we understand this difference in the condition of the social relations in Germany and in England that the scope and intention of our novel can be apprehended.
It would be a mistake to suppose that our remarks are only applicable to the eastern provinces of Prussia. If, perhaps, they are less harshly manifested in the western division of our kingdom, and indeed in Western Germany, it is in consequence of noble families being fewer in number, and the conditions of property being more favorable to the citizen class. The defective principle is the same, as also the national feeling in regard to it. It is easily understood, indeed, how this should have become much stronger since 1850, seeing that the greater and lesser nobility have blindly united in endeavoring to bring about a reaction—demanding all possible and impossible privileges and exemptions, or compensations, and are separating themselves more and more widely from the body of the nation.
In Silesia and Posen, however, the theatres on which our story is enacted, other and peculiar elements, though lying, perhaps, beneath the surface, affect the social relations of the various classes. In both provinces, but especially in Posen, the great majority of noblemen are the proprietors of land, and the enactment under Hardenberg and Stein in 1808-10, in regard to peasant rights, had been very imperfectly carried out in districts where vassalage, as in all countries of Slavonic origin, was nearly universal. Many estates are of large extent, and some, indeed, are strictly entailed. These circumstances naturally give to a country life in Silesia or Posen quite a different character than that in the Rhine provinces. In Posen, besides, two foreign elements—found in Silesia also in a far lesser degree—exercise a mighty influence on the social relations of the people. One is the Jewish, the other the Polish element. In Posen, the Jews constitute in the country the class of innkeepers and farmers; of course, they carry on some trade in addition. The large banking establishments are partly, the smaller ones almost exclusively, in their hands. They become, by these means, occasionally the possessors of land; but they regard such property almost always as a mere subject for speculation, and it is but rarely that the quondam innkeeper or peddler settles down as a tiller of the soil. In Silesia, their chief seat is in Breslau, where the general trade of the country, as well as the purchase and the sale of land, is for the most part transacted. It is a pretty general feeling in Germany that Freytag has not dealt altogether impartially with this class, by failing to introduce in contrast to the abandoned men whom he selects for exhibition a single honest, upright Jew, a character not wanting among that remarkable people. The inextinguishable higher element of our nature, and the fruits of German culture, are manifested, it is true, in the Jewish hero of the tale, ignorant alike of the world and its ways, buried among his cherished books, and doomed to early death; but this is done more as a poetic comfort to humanity than in honor of Judaism, from which plainly in his inmost soul he had departed, that he might turn to the Christianized spirit and to the poetry of the Gentiles.
The Polish element, however, is of still far greater importance. Forming, as they once did, with the exception of a few German settlements, the entire population of the province, the Poles have become, in the course of the last century, and especially since the removal of restrictions on the sale of land, less numerous year by year. In Posen proper they constitute, numerically, perhaps the half of the population; but in point of prosperity and mental culture their influence is scarcely as one fourth upon the whole. On the other hand, in some districts, as, for instance, in Gnesen, the Polish influence predominates in the towns, and reigns undisputed in the country. The middle class is exclusively German or Jewish; where these elements are lacking, there is none. The Polish vassal, emancipated by the enactment of 1810, is gradually ripening into an independent yeoman, and knows full well that he owes his freedom, not to his former Polish masters, but to Prussian legislation and administration. The exhibition of these social relations, as they were manifested by the contending parties in 1848, is, in all respects, one of the most admirable portions of our novel. The events are all vividly depicted, and, in all essential points, historically true. One feature here appears, little known in foreign lands, but deserving careful observation, not only on its own account, but as a key to the meaning and intention of the attractive narrative before us.
The two national elements may be thus generally characterized: The Prusso-German element is Protestant; the Polish element is Catholic. Possessing equal rights, the former is continually pressing onward with irresistible force, as in Ireland, in virtue of the principles of industry and frugality by which it is animated. This is true alike of landlord and tenant, of merchant and official.
The passionate and ill-regulated Polish element stands forth in opposition—the intellectual and peculiarly courteous and accomplished nobility, as well as the priesthood—but in vain. Seeing that the law secures perfect equality of rights, and is impartially administered; that, besides, the conduct of the German settlers is correct and inoffensive, the Poles can adduce no well-grounded causes of complaint either against their neighbors or the government. It is their innate want of order that throws business, money, and, at length, the land itself, into the hands of Jews and Protestants. This fact is also here worthy of notice, that the Jewish usurer is disappearing or withdrawing wherever the Protestant element is taking firmer ground. The Jew remains in the country, but becomes a citizen, and sometimes even a peasant-proprietor. This phenomenon is manifesting itself also in other places where there is a concurrence of the German and Slavonic elements. In Prussia, however, there is this peculiarity in addition, of which Freytag has made the most effective use—I mean the education of the Prussian people, not alone in the national schools, but also in the science of national defense, which this people of seventeen millions has in common with Sparta and with Rome.
It is well known that every Prussian not physically disqualified, of whatever rank he be, must become a soldier. The volunteer serves in the line for one year, and without pay; other persons serve for two or three years. Thereafter, all beyond the age of twenty-five are yearly called out as militia, and drilled for several weeks after harvest. This enactment has been in force since 1813, and it is a well-known fact, brought prominently forward in the work before us, that, notwithstanding the immense sacrifice it requires, it is enthusiastically cherished by the nation as a school of manly discipline, and as exercising a most beneficial influence on all classes of society. This institution it is which gives that high standard of order, duty, and military honor, and that mutual confidence between officers and men, which at the first glance distinguishes the Prussian, not only from the Russian, but the Austrian soldier. This high feeling of confidence in the national defenses is indeed peculiar to Prussia beyond the other German nations, and may be at once recognized in the manly and dignified bearing, even of the lowest classes, alike in town and country.
This spirit is depicted to the life in the striking episode of the troubles in the year 1848. Even in the wildest months of that year, when the German minority were left entirely to their own resources, this spirit of order and mutual confidence continued undisturbed. Our patriotic author has never needed to draw upon his imagination for facts, though he has depicted with consummate skill the actual reality. We feel that it has been to him a labor of love to console himself and his fellow-countrymen under so many disappointments and shattered hopes, to cherish and to strengthen that sense of independence, without which no people can stand erect among the nations.
The Prusso-German population feel it to be a mission in the cause of civilization to press forward in occupation of the Sarmatian territory—a sacred duty, which, however, can only be fulfilled by honest means, by privations and self-sacrificing exertions of every kind. In such a spirit must the work be carried forward; this is the suggestive thought with which our author's narrative concludes. It is not without a meaning, we believe, that the zealous German hero of the book is furnished with the money necessary for carrying out his schemes by a fellow-countryman and friend, who had returned to his fatherland with a fortune acquired beyond the Atlantic. Our talented author has certainly not lost sight of the fact that Germany, as a whole, has as little recovered from the devastation of the Thirty Years' War as the eastern districts of Prussia have recovered from the effects of the war with France in the present century. Let the faults and failings of our national German character be what they may (and we should like to know what nation has endured and survived similar spoliation and partition), the greatest sin of Germany during the last two hundred years, especially in the less-favored north, has always been its poverty—the condition of all classes, with few exceptions. National poverty, however, becomes indeed a political sin when a people, by its cultivation, has become constitutionally fit for freedom.
In the background of the whole picture of the disordered and sickly condition of our social circumstances here so vividly presented, the author has plainly discerned Dante's noble proverb—
"Di liberta indipendenza e primo grado."
The existence of independent citizen-families qualified and ready for every public service, though beyond the need of such employment—this is the fundamental condition of a healthy development of political freedom, alike impregnable by revolution and reaction; this is the only sure ground and basis on which a constitutional form of government can be reared and administered with advantage to every class, repressing alike successfully absolutism and democracy.
And now we have reached the point where we are enabled to gather up, and to express to the reader, without desiring to forestall his own judgment, or to load him with axioms and formulas beyond his comprehension, the beautiful fundamental idea of the book, clearly and simply.
We would express it thus: The future of all European states depends mainly on three propositions, and the politics of every statesman of our period are determined by the way in which he views them.
These propositions are,
1st. The fusion of the educated classes, and the total abolition of bureaucracy, and all social barriers between the ancient nobility and the educated classes in the nation, especially the industrial and mercantile population.
2d. The just and Christian bearing of this united body toward the working-classes, especially in towns.
3d. The recognition of the mighty fact that the educated middle classes of all nations, but especially of those of Germany, are perfectly aware that even the present, but still more the near future, is their own, if they advance along the legal path to a perfect constitutional monarchy, resisting all temptations to the right hand or to the left, not with imbittered feelings, but in the cheerful temper of a moral self-confidence.
* * * * *
It is faith in truths such as these that has inspired our author in the composition of the work which is here offered to the English reading public. It is his highest praise, however, that he has imbodied this faith in a true work of art, which speaks for itself. He has thereby enkindled or strengthened a like faith in many thousand hearts, and that with a noble and conciliatory intention which the dedication well expresses.
The admirable delineation of character, the richness of invention, the artistic arrangement, the lively descriptions of nature, will be ever more fully acknowledged by the sympathizing reader as he advances in the perusal of the attractive volumes.
TO HIS HIGHNESS ERNEST II.,
DUKE OF SAXE-COBURG-GOTHA.
I visited Kallenberg one lovely evening in the month of May. The high ground near the castle was steeped in perfume from the blossoms of the spring, and the leaves of the pink acacia cast their checkered shadows on the dewy grass. Beneath me, in the shady valley, deer bounded fearless from their covert in the wood, following greedily with their eyes the bright figure of that lady who greets with kind and hospitable welcome all who enter the precincts of the castle—men, and all living things. The repose of evening lay on hill and dale; no sound was heard save the occasional roll of thunder from afar above the bright and cheerful landscape. On this very evening, leaning against the wall of the ancient castle, your highness gazed with troubled aspect into the gloomy distance. What my noble prince then said about the conflicts of the last few years, the relaxed and utterly despondent temper of the nation, and the duty of authors, at such a time especially, to show the people, for their encouragement and elevation, as in a mirror, what they are capable of doing—those were golden words, revealing a great grasp of intellect and a warm heart, and their echo will not soon die away in the heart of him who heard them. It was on that evening the desire awoke within me to grace with your highness's name the work whose plan had been already in my mind.
Nearly two years have passed since then. A terrible war is raging, and Germans look with gloomy apprehension to the future of their fatherland. At such a time, when the strongest political feelings agitate the life of every individual, that spirit of cheerful tranquillity, so needful to an author for the artistic moulding of his creations, readily forsakes his writing-table. It is long, alas! since the German author has enjoyed it. He has far too little interest in home and foreign life; he wants that composure and proud satisfaction which the writers of other countries feel in dwelling on the past and present of their nation, while he has enough and to spare of humiliation on account of his country, of wishes unfulfilled and passionate indignation. At such a time, in drawing an imaginative picture, not love alone, but hatred too, flows freely and readily from the pen—practical tendencies are apt to usurp the place of poetic fancy; and, instead of a genial tone and temper, the reader is apt to find an unpleasing mixture of blunt reality and artificial sentiment.
Surrounded by such dangers, it becomes twofold the duty of an author carefully to avoid distortion in the outline of his pictures, and to keep his own soul free from unjust prepossession. To give the highest expression to the beautiful in its noblest form is not the privilege of every time; but, in all times alike, it is the duty of the writer of fiction to be true to his art and to his country. To seek for this truth, and where found to exhibit it, I hold to be the duty of my own life.
And now let me dedicate, with deepest reverence, my unimportant work to you, my honored lord. I shall rejoice if this novel leaves on the mind of your highness the impression that its conception is in faithful keeping with the laws of life and of art, without ever being a slavish copy of the accidental occurrences of the day.
LEIPSIC, April, 1855.
DEBIT AND CREDIT.
Ostrau is a small town near the Oder, celebrated even as far as Poland for its gymnasium and its gingerbread. In this patriarchal spot had dwelt for many years the accountant-royal, Wohlfart, an enthusiastically loyal subject, and a hearty lover of his fellow-men—with one or two exceptions. He married late in life, and his wife and he lived in a small house, the garden of which he himself kept in order. For a long time the happy pair were childless; but at length came a day when the good woman, having smartened up her white bed-curtains with a broad fringe and heavy tassels, disappeared behind them amid the approbation of all her female friends. It was under the shade of those white bed-curtains that the hero of our tale was born.
Anton was a good child, who, according to his mother, displayed remarkable peculiarities from the very day of his birth. For instance, he had a great objection to going to bed at the proper hour; he would pore time untold over his picture-alphabet, and hold lengthy conversations with the red cock depicted upon its last page, imploring him to exert himself in the cause of his young family, and not allow the maid-servant to carry them off and roast them. Lastly, he would often run away from his playfellows, and sit lost in thought in a corner of the room. His greatest delight, however, was to perch himself on a chair opposite his father, cross his legs in the same way, and smoke a mimic pipe in emulation. Moreover, he was so seldom naughty, that all such of the female population of Ostrau as took a gloomy view of things in general held it doubtful that he could live to grow up, till one day Anton publicly thrashed the councilor's son, which in some degree modified the opinions concerning him. In short, he was just the boy that the only child of warm-hearted parents might be expected to prove. At school he was an example of industry; and when the drawing-master began to declare that he must be a painter, and the classical teacher to devote him to Philology, the boy might have been in some danger of being diverted from the serious pursuit of any one specific calling but for an accident which determined his choice.
Every Christmas evening the mail brought to the house of the paternal Wohlfart a box containing a loaf of the finest sugar and a quantity of the best coffee. This sugar the good man himself broke into squares: the coffee was roasted by his wife's own hands; and the complacency with which they sipped their first cup was pleasant to behold. These were seasons when, to the childish soul of Anton, the whole house seemed pervaded with poetry, and his father was never weary of telling him the history of this periodical present. Many years ago, he had chanced to find, in a dusty bundle of law-papers, a document of great importance to a well-known mercantile house in the capital. This document he had at once forwarded, and, in consequence of it, the firm had been enabled to gain a long-pending lawsuit, which had previously threatened to go against them; upon which the young head of the concern had written his acknowledgments, and Wohlfart had refused to be thanked, having, he said, only done his duty. From that time forth the box we have described made its appearance every Christmas evening, accompanied by a few cordial lines, to which Wohlfart responded in a masterpiece of caligraphy, expressing his surprise at the unexpected arrival, and wishing a happy new year to the firm. The old gentleman persisted, even to his wife, in treating this Christmas box as a mere accident, a trifle, a whim of some clerk in the house of T. O. Schroeter, and yearly protested against the expectation of its arrival, by which the good woman's household purchases were more or less influenced. But its arrival was, in reality, of the utmost importance in his eyes; and that, not for the sake of the actual coffee and sugar themselves, but of the poetry of this connecting link between him and the life of a perfect stranger. He carefully tied up all the letters of the firm, together with three love-letters from his wife. He became a connoisseur in colonial produce, an oracle in coffee, whose decision was much deferred to by the Ostrau shopkeepers. He began to interest himself in the affairs of the great firm, and never failed to note the ups and downs reported in a certain corner of the newspapers, wholly mysterious to the uninitiated. Nay, he even indulged in fancy speculations and an ideal partnership, chafed when sugars fell, and chuckled at the rise of coffee.
A strange, invisible, filmy thread it was, this which connected Wohlfart's quiet household with the activity of the great mercantile world, and yet it was by this that little Anton's whole life was swayed; for when the old gentleman sat in his garden of an evening in his satin cap, and pipe in his mouth, he would dilate upon the advantages of trade, and ask his son whether he should like to be a merchant; whereupon a kind of kaleidoscope-picture suddenly shaped itself in the little fellow's mind, made up of sugar-loaves, raisins, and almonds, golden oranges, his father's smile, and the mysterious delight which the arrival of the box always occasioned him, and he replied at once, "Yes, father, that I should!"
Let no one say that our life is poor in poetical influences; still does the enchantress sway us mortals as of old. Rather let each take heed what dreams he nurses in his heart's innermost fold, for when they are full grown they may prove tyrants, ay, and cruel ones too.
In this way the Wohlfart family lived on for many a year; and whenever the good woman privately entreated her husband to form some decision as to the boy's way of life, he would reply, "It is formed already; he is to be a merchant." But in his own heart he was a little doubtful as to how this dream of his could ever be realized.
Meanwhile a dark day drew on, when the shutters of the house remained late unclosed, the servant-girl with red eyes, ran up and down the steps, the doctor came and shook his head, the old gentleman stood in prayer near his wife's bed, and the boy knelt sobbing by, while his dying mother's hand still tried to stroke his curls. Three days later came the funeral, and father and son sat together alone. Both wept, but the boy's red cheeks returned. Not so the old man's health and strength. Not that he complained; he still sat and smoked his pipe as before, and still concerned himself about the price of sugars, but there was no heart in the smoking or the concern; and he would often look anxiously at his young companion, who wondered what his father could have on his mind. One evening, when he had for the hundredth time asked him whether he would really like to be a merchant, and received the unvarying answer, he rose from his seat with an air of decision, and told the servant-girl to order a conveyance to take him the next morning to the capital, but he said nothing about the object of his expedition.
Late on the following day he returned in a very different mood—happier, indeed, than he had ever been since his wife's death. He enchanted his son by his account of the incredible charms of the extensive business, and the kindness of the great merchant toward himself. He had been invited to dinner, he had eaten peewits' eggs, and drunk Greek wine, compared to which the very best wine in Ostrau was mere vinegar; and, above all, he had received the promise of having his son taken into their office, and a few hints as to the future course of his education. The very next day saw Anton seated at a ledger, disposing arbitrarily of hundreds of thousands, converting them into every existing currency, and putting them out at every possible rate of interest.
Thus another year passed away. Anton was just eighteen, when again the windows remained darkened, and the red-eyed servant-girl ran up and down, and the doctor shook his head. This time it was the old gentleman by whose bed Anton sat, holding both his hands. But there was no keeping him back; and after repeatedly blessing his son, he died, and Anton was left alone in the silent dwelling, at the entrance of a new life.
Old Wohlfart had not been an accountant for nothing; he left his house in the highest order; his affairs were balanced to a farthing, and he had written a letter of introduction to the merchant only a few days before his death. A month later, on a fine summer morning, Anton stood upon the threshold of his home, placed the key in a friendly hand, made over his luggage to the carrier, and, with his father's letter in his pocket, took his way to the great city.
The new-mown grass was already fading in the sun when Anton shook the hand of the neighbor who had accompanied him as far as the nearest station to the capital, and then walked off merrily along the high road. The day was bright, the mower was heard whetting his scythe in the meadows close by, and the indefatigable lark sang high overhead. On all sides rose church-towers, central points of villages buried in woods, near many of which might be seen a stately baronial residence.
Anton hurried on as if his feet were winged; the future lay before him sunny as the plain, a life of radiant dreams and evergreen hopes; his heart beat high, his eyes beamed, he felt intoxicated by the beauty and the fragrance around him. Whenever he saw a mower, he called out to him that it was a lovely day, and got many a friendly greeting in return. The very birds seemed as though they congratulated him, and cheered him onward.
He now took a footpath that led through a meadow, crossed a bridge, and found himself in a plantation with neatly-graveled paths. As he went on, it more and more assumed the character of a garden; a sudden turn, and he stood on a grass-plot, and saw a gentleman's seat, with two side towers and a balcony, rise before him. Vines and climbing roses ran up the towers, and beneath the balcony was a vestibule well filled with flowers. In short, to our Anton, brought up as he had been in a small town, it all appeared beauteous and stately in the extreme. He sat down behind a bushy lilac, and gave himself up to the contemplation of the scene. How happy the inhabitants must be! how noble! how refined! A certain respect for every thing of acknowledged distinction and importance was innate in the son of the accountant; and when, in the midst of the beauty around him, his thoughts reverted to himself, he felt utterly insignificant, a species of social pigmy scarcely visible to the naked eye.
For some time he sat and looked in perfect stillness; at last the picture shifted. A lovely lady came out on the balcony clad in light summer attire, with white lace sleeves, and stood there like a statue. When a gay paroquet flew out of the room and lighted on her hand, Anton's admiration went on increasing; but when a young girl followed the bird, and wound her arms around the lovely lady's neck, and the paroquet kept wheeling about them, and perching now on the shoulder of one, and then on that of the other, his feeling of veneration became such that he blushed deeply, and drew back further into the lilac-tree's shadow.
Then, with his imagination filled by what he had seen, he went with elastic step along the broad walk, hoping to find a way of exit.
Soon he heard a horse's feet behind him, and saw the younger of the two ladies come riding after him, mounted upon a black pony, and using her parasol as a whip. Now the ladies of Ostrau were not in the habit of riding. He had, indeed, once upon a time, beheld a professional equestrian with very red cheeks and flowing garments, and had unspeakably admired her, but now the same feeling was far more intense. He stood still and bowed reverentially. The young girl acknowledged his homage by a gracious nod, pulled up her horse, and asked whether he wished to speak to her father.
"I crave your pardon," replied Anton, with the deepest respect; "probably I am in a path not open to strangers. I came across the meadow, and saw no gate and no hedge."
"The gate is on the bridge; it is open by day," said the young lady, with great benignity, for reverence was not the sentiment her fourteen years often inspired, and she was the more pleased therewith. "But, since you are in the garden," continued she, "will you not look around? We shall be very glad if it give you pleasure."
"I have already taken that liberty," replied Anton, with another bow. "I have been on the lawn before the castle: it is magnificent."
"Yes," said the young lady, reining in her pony; "the gardener laid it out under mamma's own direction."
"Then the lady who stood with you on the balcony was your mother?" timidly inquired Anton.
"What! you have been watching us, then? Do you know that that was wrong?"
"Forgive me," was the humble reply; "I retreated at once, but it was such a lovely sight—the two ladies, the roses in full blossom, the framework of vine leaves—I shall never forget it."
"He is charming!" thought the young girl. "Since you have already seen the garden," said she, condescendingly, "you must go to the point from which we have the best view. I am on my way thither now, if you like to follow."
Anton followed, lost in delight. The lady bade her horse walk slowly, and played the cicerone. At last she dismounted and led the pony, whereupon Anton ventured to stroke his neck—an attention which the little fellow took in good part, and returned by sniffing his coat pockets. "He trusts you," said the young lady; "he is a sagacious beast." She then tied the bridle round his neck, told him to go home, and turning to Anton, added, "We are going into the flower-garden, where he must not come; and so, you see, he trots back to his stable."
"This pony is a perfect wonder," cried Anton.
"He is very fond of me; he does all I tell him," was the reply.
Anton thought that the most natural thing in the world.
"I think you are of a good family," said the little lady, decidedly, looking at Anton with a discriminating air.
"No," replied he, sadly. "My father died last month, my dear mother a year ago; I am alone, and on my way to the capital." His lips quivered as he spoke.
The lady looked at him with the utmost sympathy, and in some embarrassment. "Oh, poor, poor lad!" cried she. "But come quickly; I have something to show you. These are the beds of early strawberries; there are still a few. Do, pray, take them. No guest must leave my father's house without partaking of the best each season brings. Pray, pray eat them."
Anton looked at her with tearful eyes.
"I am going to share with you," said she, taking two strawberries. Upon that, the youth obediently followed her example.
"And now I will take you across the garden," said she, leading him to a little lake where old swans and young were swimming about.
"They are coming hither," cried Anton, in delight.
"They know that I have something for them," said his companion, loosening the while the chain of a small boat. "Now, sir, jump in, and I will row you across, for yonder lies your way."
"I can not think of troubling you."
"No opposition!" said she, imperatively, and they set off.
Anton was entranced. Behind, the rich green trees; beneath, the clear water rippling round the prow; opposite him, the slender figure of his companion, and the swans, her snowy subjects, following in her train—it was a dream such as is only granted to youth.
The boat grounded; Anton leaped out, and involuntarily offered his hand, which the little lady touched with the tips of her fingers as she wished him good-by. He sprang up the hill and looked down. Through an opening in the wood he saw the castle with its flag floating, and its vines and roses shining in the sun.
"How noble! how magnificent!" said he, aloud.
"If you were to count out to that baron a hundred thousand dollars, he would not sell you the property he inherited from his father," said a sharp voice behind him. He angrily turned; the dream was gone; he stood on the dusty highway, and saw a meanly-dressed youth, with a great bundle under his arm, looking at him with cool familiarity.
"Is it you, Veitel Itzig?" cried Anton, without showing much pleasure at the meeting. Indeed, young Itzig was by no means a pleasant apparition, pale, haggard, red-haired, and shabbily clothed as he was. He came from Ostrau, and had been a schoolfellow of Anton's, who had once fought a battle on his behalf, and had stood between the young Jew and the general ill-will of the other boys. But of late they had seldom met, just often enough to give Itzig an opportunity of keeping up in some measure their old schooldays' familiarity.
"They say that you are going to the great city to learn business," added Veitel; "to be taught how to twist up paper bags and sell treacle to old women. I am going there too, but I mean to make my fortune."
To this Anton replied, dryly enough, "Go, then, and make it, and do not let me detain you."
"There's no need to hurry," said the other, carelessly; "I will walk on with you, if you are not ashamed of my dress." This appeal to our hero's humanity was successful, and, casting a last look at the castle, he went on his way, his unwelcome companion a foot or so behind him. At length he turned, and inquired who the proprietor was.
Itzig displayed wonderful familiarity with the subject. The baron, said he, had only two children, large flocks, and a clear estate. His son was at a military school. Finally, observing Anton's interest, he remarked, "If you wish for his property, I will buy it for you."
"Thanks," was the cold reply. "You have just told me he was not disposed to sell."
"When a man is not disposed to sell, he must be forced to do so."
"You are the very person to force him, I suppose," replied Anton, thoroughly out of patience.
"Whether I am or not, does not signify; there is a receipt for making any man sell."
"What! can they be bewitched, or given some magic potion?" asked Anton, contemptuously.
"A hundred thousand dollars is a potion that can work wonders; but a poor man must get hold of a secret to accomplish his ends. Now, I am on my way to town to get at the knowledge of this secret. It is all contained in certain papers, and I will search for those papers till I find them."
Anton looked askance at his companion as at a lunatic, and at length replied, "Poor Veitel, you never will find them."
However, Itzig went on to say confidentially, "Never repeat what I tell you. Those papers have been in our town; and a certain person, who is become a very great man now, got them from an old dying beggar-man, who gave them to him one night that he watched by his bedside."
"And do you know this man?" inquired Anton, in a tone of curiosity.
"Never mind whether I know him or not," answered the other, slyly. "I shall find out the receipt I spoke of. And if ever you wish to have this baron's property, horses, flocks, and his pretty daughter to boot, I'll buy them for you, for the sake of our old friendship, and the thrashing you once gave some of our schoolfellows on my account."
"Take care," said Anton, "that you don't turn out a thorough rascal; you seem to me to be in the fair way."
So saying, he crossed over to the other side of the road in high dudgeon; but Itzig took his caution with the utmost equanimity, and ever and anon, as they passed different country-seats, gave him an account of the names and rentals of their proprietors, so that Anton was perfectly stupefied with the extent of his statistical information. At length both walked on in silence.
The Baron of Rothsattel was one of the few men whom not only the world pronounced happy, but who believed himself to be so. The descendant of an ancient and honorable house, he had married, out of sheer love, a beautiful young lady without any fortune. Like a sensible man, he had retired with her into the country, lived for his family, and within his means. He was a thoroughly noble-hearted man, still handsome and dignified in appearance, an affectionate husband, a hospitable host; in short, the very model of a landed proprietor. His means were not, indeed, very large, but he might have sold his property over and over again for a far higher sum than the sagacious Itzig had surmised, had he felt any inclination to do so. Two healthy, intelligent children completed his domestic happiness; the boy was about to enter the military career, which had been that of all his ancestors; the girl was to remain yet a while under her mother's wing. Like all men of old descent, our baron was a good deal given to speculate upon the past and the future of his family. We have said that his means were not large, and though he had always intended to lay by, the time for beginning to do so had never yet come. Either some improvement to house or grounds was wanted, or a trip to the baths—rendered necessary by his wife's delicate health—consumed the overplus income. Reflections of this nature were occupying him just now, as he came galloping up the great chestnut avenue. The cloud on his brow was, however, but a little one, and it soon vanished in sunshine when he saw the flutter of feminine garments, and found that his wife and daughter were coming to meet him. He leaped off his horse, kissed his favorite child on the brow, and cheerfully remarked to his wife, "We have capital weather for the harvest; the bailiff vows we never have had such a crop."
"You are a fortunate man, Oscar," said the baroness, tenderly.
"Yes, ever since I brought you here, seventeen years ago," replied he, with a politeness that came from the heart.
"There are indeed seventeen years since then," cried his wife, "and they have flown by like a summer day. We have been very happy, Oscar," said she, bending over his arm, and looking gratefully in his face.
"Been happy!" cried the baron; "why, so we still are, and I see not why we should not continue so."
"Hush!" implored she. "I often feel that so much sunshine can not last forever. I desire, as it were, to fast and do penance, thus to propitiate the envy of fortune."
"Come, come," was the good-humored reply; "fortune has given us a few rubs already: we have had our clouds, only this little hand has always conjured them away. Why, have you not had plague enough with the servants, the pranks of the children, and sometimes with your tyrant too, that you should be wishing for more?"
"You dear tyrant!" cried the wife, "I owe all my happiness to you; and, after seventeen years, I am as proud as ever of my husband and my home. When you brought me here, a poor maid of honor, with nothing but my trinket-box, and that a gift, I first learned the blessedness of being mistress in my own house, and obeying no other will than that of a beloved husband."
"And yet you gave up much for me," returned the baron; "I have had many a fear lest our country life should seem petty and dull to you, a favorite at court."
"There I obeyed, here I rule," said the baroness, laughing. "There I had nothing besides my fine dresses that I could call my own; here, every thing around is mine. You belong to me (she wound her arms around the baron), and so do the children, the castle, and our silver candlesticks."
"The new ones are only plated," suggested the baron.
"Never mind; no one finds it out," cried she, merrily. "When I look at our own dinner-service, and see your and my arms on the plates, two spoonfuls give me ten times more satisfaction than all the courses of the court dinner ever did."
"You are a bright example of contentment," said the baron; "and for your and the children's sake, I wish this property were ten times larger, so that I might keep a page and a couple of maids of honor for my lady wife."
"For heaven's sake, no maids of honor; and as for a page, I need none with such an attentive knight as yourself."
And so the pair walked on to the house, Lenore having taken possession of the horse's bridle, affectionately exhorting him to raise as little dust as possible.
"I see a carriage," said the baron, as they drew near the door; "have any visitors come?"
"It is only Ehrenthal, who wished to see you," replied his wife, "and meanwhile expended all his pretty speeches upon us. Lenore was so arrogant that it was high time I should carry her off—the droll man was quite put out of countenance by the saucy girl."
The baron smiled. "I like him the best of his class," said he. "His manners are at least not repulsive, and I have always found him obliging. How do you do, Mr. Ehrenthal; what brings you here?"
Mr. Ehrenthal was a portly man in the prime of life, with a face too yellow, fat, and cunning to be considered exactly handsome. He wore gaiters, and a large diamond breast-pin, and advanced with a series of low bows toward the baron.
"Your servant, good sir," said he, with a deferential smile; "although no business matters lead me here, I must sometimes crave permission to look round your farm, it is such a treat and refreshment to me; all your live-stock is so sleek and well-fed, and the barns and stables in such perfect order. The very sparrows look better off here than elsewhere. To a man of business, who is often obliged to see things going to wrack and ruin, it is a delight, indeed, to contemplate an estate like yours."
"You are so complimentary, Mr. Ehrenthal, that I can but believe you have some weighty business on hand. Do you want to make a bargain with me?" asked the count, good-naturedly.
With a virtuous shake of the head in refutation of the charge, Mr. Ehrenthal went on: "Not a word of business, baron, not a word. Our business, when we have any, admits of no compliments—good money and good stock, that is our plan; and so, please God, it will be. I merely came, in passing by"—here he waved his hand—"in passing by, to inquire about one of the horses the baron has to sell; I promised a friend to make inquiries. But I can settle the matter with the bailiff."
"No, no; come along with me, Ehrenthal—I am going to take my horse to the stable."
With many bows to the ladies, Ehrenthal followed, and, arrived at the stable-door, respectfully insisted that the baron should enter it first. After the customary questions and answers, the baron took him to the cow-house, and he then fervently requested to see the calves, and then the sheep. Being an experienced man, his praise, although somewhat exaggerated, was in the main judicious, and the baron heard it with pleasure.
After the inspection of the sheep, there was a pause, Ehrenthal being quite overcome by the thickness and fineness of their fleece. He nodded and winked in ecstasy. "What wool!" said he; "what it will be next spring! Do you know, baron, you are a most fortunate man? Have you good accounts of the young gentleman, your son?"
"Thank you, he wrote to us yesterday, and sent us his testimonials."
"He will be like his father, a nobleman of the first order, and a rich man too; the baron knows how to provide for his children."
"I am not laying by," was the careless reply.
"Laying by, indeed!" said the tradesman, with the utmost contempt for any thing so plebeian; "and why should you? When old Ehrenthal is dead and gone, you will be able to leave the young gentleman this property—with—between ourselves—a very large sum indeed, besides a dowry to your daughter of—of—what shall I say? of fifty thousand dollars, at least."
"You are mistaken," said the baron, gravely; "I am not so rich."
"Not so rich!" cried Ehrenthal, ready to resent the speech, if it had not been made by the baron himself. "Why, you may then be so any moment you like; any one, with a property like yours, can double his capital in ten years, without the slightest risk. Why not take joint-stock promissory notes upon your estate?"
Ehrenthal alluded to a great joint-stock company of landed proprietors which lent money on a first mortgage on estates. This money took the form of promissory notes, made payable to the holder. The company itself paid interest to those who accepted the mortgages, and advanced money on them, raising from its own debtors, in addition to the interest, a small sum as commission, for the purpose of defraying expenses, and also for the gradual extinction of the debt incurred.
"I will have nothing to do with money transactions," said the baron, proudly. But the string the tradesman had touched went on vibrating notwithstanding.
"Transactions such as those I speak of are carried on by every prince," continued Mr. Ehrenthal, fervently. "If you were to do as I suggested, you might any day obtain fifty thousand dollars in good parchment. For it you would pay to the company four per cent.; and if you merely let the mortgages lie in your cash-box, they would bring you in three and a half. So you would only have a half per cent. to pay, and by so doing you would liquidate the capital."
"That is to say, I am to run into debt in order to get rich," said the baron, shrugging his shoulders.
"Excuse me, baron; if a nobleman like you has fifty thousand dollars lying by him, for which he only pays a half per cent., he may buy up half the world. There are always opportunities of getting estates for a mere nothing, or shares in mines, or something or other, if you only have the money ready. Or you might establish some kind of works on your property; as, for instance, for making beet-root sugar, like Herr von Bergue; or a brewery, like your neighbor, Count Horn. There is no possible risk to be feared. Why, you would receive ten, twenty, ay, fifty per cent. for the capital borrowed at four per cent."
The baron looked down thoughtfully. Ideas of the sort had often flitted across his mind. It was just the time when numerous industrial speculations had started up, and landed proprietors looked upon them as the best way to increase their means. Mr. Ehrenthal perceived the effect his words had taken, and concluded in the obsequious tone most natural to him: "But what right have I to give any advice to a nobleman like you? Only, every capitalist will tell you that in our days this is the surest method by which a man of rank can provide for his family; and, when the grass is growing over old Ehrenthal's grave, you will think of me and say, 'Ehrenthal was but a plain man, but he gave me advice which has proved advantageous to my family.'"
The baron still looked thoughtfully down. His mind was made up, but he merely replied, with affected indifference, "I will think the matter over." Ehrenthal asked no more.
It was a pity that the baron did not see the expression of the tradesman's face as he got into his conveyance and drove away. He told the coachman to go slowly through the grounds, and looked with delight at the flourishing crops on either side. "A fine property," he went on muttering to himself; "truly a fine property."
Meanwhile the baroness sat in the shrubbery, and turned over the leaves of a new magazine, every now and then casting a look at her daughter, who was occupied in framing, with old newspapers and flowers, a grotesque decoration for the pony's head and neck, while he kept tearing away all of it that he could reach. As soon as she caught her mother's glance, she flew to her, and began to talk nonsense to the smart ladies and gentlemen who displayed the fashions in the pages of the magazine. At first her mother laughed, but by-and-by she said, "Lenore, you are now a great girl, and yet a mere child. We have been too careless about your education; it is high time that you should begin and learn more systematically, my poor darling."
"I thought I was to have done with learning," said Lenore, pouting.
"Your French is still very imperfect, and your father wishes you to practice drawing, for which you have a talent."
"I only care for drawing caricatures," cried Lenore; "they are so easy."
"You must leave off drawing these; they spoil your taste, and make you satirical." Lenore hung her head. "And who was the young man with whom I saw you a short time ago?" continued the baroness, reprovingly.
"Do not scold me, dear mother," cried Lenore; "he was a stranger—a handsome, modest youth, on his way to the capital. He has neither father nor mother, and that made me so sorry for him."
Her mother kissed her, and said, "You are my own dear, wild girl. Go and call your father; his coffee will get cold."
As soon as the baron appeared, his head still full of his conversation with Ehrenthal, his wife laid her hand in his, and said, "Oscar, I am uneasy about Lenore!"
"Is she ill?" inquired her father, in alarm.
"No, she is well and good-hearted, but she is more free and unconventional than she should be at her age."
"She has been brought up in the country, and a fine, clever girl she is," replied the baron, soothingly.
"Yes, but she is too frank in her manner toward strangers," continued his wife; "I fear that she is in danger of becoming an original."
"Well, and is that a very great misfortune?" asked the baron, laughing.
"There can be no greater to a girl in our circle. Whatever is unusual in society is ridiculous, and the merest shade of eccentricity might ruin her prospects. I am afraid she will never improve in the country."
"What would the child do away from us, and growing up with strangers?"
"And yet," said the baroness, earnestly, "it must come to this, though I grieve to tell you so. She is rude to girls of her own age, disrespectful to ladies, and, on the other hand, much too forward to gentlemen."
"She will change," suggested the baron, after a pause.
"She will not change," returned the baroness, gently, "so long as she leaps over hedge and ditch with her father, and even accompanies him out hunting."
"I can not make up my mind to part with both children," said the kind-hearted father; "it would be hard upon us, indeed, and hardest upon you, you rigid matron!"
"Perhaps so," said the baroness, in a low voice, and her eyelids moistened; "but we must not think of ourselves, only of their future good."
The baron drew her closer to him, and said in a firm voice, "Listen, Elizabeth; when in earlier days we looked forward to these, we had other plans for Lenore's education. We resolved to spend the winter in town, to give the child some finishing lessons, and then to introduce her into the world. We will go this very winter to the capital."
The baroness looked up in amazement. "Dear, kind Oscar," cried she; "but—forgive the question—will not this be a great sacrifice to you in other respects?"
"No," was the cheerful reply; "I have plans which make it desirable for me to spend the winter in town."
He told them, and the move was decided upon.
The sun was already low when the travelers reached the suburbs of the capital. First came cottages, then villas, then the houses crowded closer, and the dust and noise made our hero's heart sink within him. He would soon have lost his way but for Veitel Itzig, who seemed to have a preference for by-streets and narrow flag-stones. At length they reached one of the main streets, where large houses, with pillared porticoes, gay shops, and a well-dressed crowd, proclaimed the triumph of wealth over poverty. Here they stopped before a lofty house. Itzig pointed out the door with a certain degree of deference, and said, "Here you are, and here you will soon get as proud as any of them; but, if you ever wish to know where I am to be found, you can inquire at Ehrenthal's, in Dyer Street. Good-night."
Anton entered with a beating heart, and felt for his father's letter. He had become so diffident, and his head felt so confused, that he would gladly have sat down for a moment to rest and compose himself. But there was no rest here. A great wagon stood at the door, and within, colossal bales and barrels; while broad-shouldered giants, with leathern aprons and short hooks in their belts, were carrying ladders, rattling chains, rolling casks, and tying thick ropes into artistic knots; while clerks, with pens behind their ears and papers in their hands, moved to and fro, and carriers in blue blouses received the different goods committed to their care. Clearly there was no rest to be had here. Anton ran up against a bale, nearly fell over a ladder, and was with difficulty saved by the loud "Take care!" of two leathern-aproned sons of Anak from being crushed flat under an immense tun of oil.
In the centre of all this movement—the sun around which porters, and clerks, and wagoners revolved—stood a young official, of decided air and few words, holding a large black pencil in his hand, with which he made colossal hieroglyphics on the bales before he desired the porters to move them. To him Anton addressed himself in a nearly inaudible voice, and was directed by a wave of the pencil to the counting-house. Slowly he approached the door, which it cost him a mighty effort to open, and as it gently yielded, and he saw the great room before him, his alarm was such that he could scarcely enter. His entrance, however, did not make much sensation. Half a dozen clerks were dashing in haste over the blue folio paper before them, to save the post. Only one of them, who sat next the door, rose, and asked what Anton was pleased to want.
Upon his replying that he wished to speak to Mr. Schroeter, there emerged from an inner room a tall man, with a deeply-marked visage, standing shirt-collar, and thoroughly English aspect. Anton took a rapid survey of his countenance, and felt his courage return. He at once discovered uprightness and kindness of heart, though the air and manner were somewhat stern. He rapidly drew out his letter, gave his name, and, in a broken voice, mentioned his father's death.
At this a friendly light beamed from the merchant's eyes; he opened the letter, read it attentively, and stretched out his hand, saying, "You are welcome." Then turning to one of the clerks, who wore a green coat and a gray over-sleeve on the right arm, he announced, "Mr. Wohlfart enters our office from this day." For an instant the six pens were silent, and the principal went on to say to Anton, "You must be tired; Mr. Jordan will show you your room: the rest to-morrow." So saying, he went back to his office, and the six pens began again with fearful rapidity.
The gentleman in the green coat rose, drew off his over-sleeve, carefully folded and locked it up, and invited Anton to follow him. Anton felt a different man to that he had done ten minutes before; he had now a home, and belonged to the business. Accordingly, as he passed, he patted a great bale as though it had been the shoulder of a friend, at which his conductor turned and benevolently vouchsafed the word "cotton;" next he rapped a gigantic barrel, and received the information "currants." He no longer fell over ladders—nay, he boldly pushed one out of his way, bestowed a friendly greeting upon one of the leathern-aproned Anakims, and felt pleased to be politely thanked in return, especially when informed that this was the head porter.
They crossed the court, mounted a well-worn staircase, and then Mr. Jordan opened the door of a room which he told Anton would most probably be his, and had been formerly occupied by a friend of his own. It was a neat little room, with a beautiful stucco cat sitting on the writing-table, which had been left by the former tenant for the benefit of his successor.
Mr. Jordan hurried off to the office, where he had to be earliest and latest of all; and Anton, with the help of a friendly servant, arranged his room and his dress.
Soon the green coat reappeared, and said that Mr. Schroeter was gone out, and not to be seen again that day. "Would the new-comer make the acquaintance of his colleagues? It was not necessary to dress."
Anton followed him down stairs, and Mr. Jordan was just about to knock at the door of a certain room, when it was opened by a handsome, slender young man, whose whole appearance made a great impression upon our hero.
He wore a riding-dress, had on a jockey's cap, and a whip in his hand. "So you are trotting your colt round already?" said the stranger, laughing. Mr. Jordan looked solemn, and went on to introduce Mr. Wohlfart, the new apprentice, just arrived; Herr von Fink, son of the great Hamburg firm, Fink and Becker.
"Heir of the greatest train-oil business in the world, and so forth," broke in Fink, carelessly. "Jordan, give me ten dollars; I want to pay the groom; add them to the rest." Then turning to Anton, he said, with some degree of politeness, "If you were coming to call upon me, as I guess from the festive air of your Mercury, I am sorry not to be at home, having to buy a new horse. I consider your visit paid, return you my most ceremonious thanks, and give you my blessing on your entrance." And, with a careless nod, he went rattling down the stairs.
Anton was a good deal discomposed by this cool behavior, and Jordan thought it desirable to add a short commentary of his own. "Fink only half belongs to us, and has been here but a short time. He was brought up in New York, and his father has sent him here to be made a rational being."
"Is he not rational, then?" inquired Anton, with some curiosity.
"Why, he is too wild, too full of mischief—else, a pleasant fellow enough. And now come with me; I have invited all our gentlemen to tea, that they may make your acquaintance."
Mr. Jordan's room was the largest of those appropriated to the clerks, and having a piano-forte and a few arm-chairs, it was occasionally used as a drawing-room.
Here, then, the gentlemen were sitting and standing, awaiting the new-comer. Anton went through the ceremony of introduction with becoming gravity, shaking each of them by the hand, and asking for their good-will and friendly assistance, as he had been but little in the world, and was totally inexperienced as to business. This candor produced a favorable impression. The conversation grew animated, and was seasoned with many allusions and jests wholly unintelligible to the stranger, who held his peace, and devoted himself to observation. First, there was the book-keeper, Liebold, a little, elderly man, with a gentle voice and a modest smile, that seemed to apologize to the world at large for his having taken the liberty of existing in it. He said but little, and had a way of always retracting what he had advanced, as, for example, "I admit this tea is too weak; though, to be sure, strong tea is unwholesome," and so on. Next came Mr. Pix, the despotic wielder of the black pencil, a decided kind of man, who seemed to look upon all social relations as mere business details, respectable but trivial. As a chair was wanting, he sat astride on a small table. Near him was Mr. Specht, who spoke much, and dealt in assertions that every one else disputed. Then there was a Mr. Baumann, with short hair and thoughtful aspect, very regular in his attendance at church, a contributor to every missionary association, and, as his friends declared, much inclined to be a missionary himself, but that the force of habit retained him in Germany and with the firm. Anton remarked with pleasure the courtesy and good feeling that prevailed. Being tired, he soon made his retreat; and having contradicted no one, and been friendly to all, he left a favorable impression behind.
Meanwhile, Veitel Itzig made his way through the narrow and crowded streets till he reached a large house, the lower windows of which were secured by iron bars; while, on the drawing-room floor, the panes of glass were large, and showed white curtains within; the attic windows again being dirty, dusty, and here and there broken; in short, the house had a disreputable air, reminding one of an old gipsy who has thrown a new and gayly-colored shawl over her rags.
Into this house he entered, kissing his hand to a smart maid-servant, who resented the liberty. The dirty staircase led to a white door, on which the name "Hirsch Ehrenthal" was inscribed. He rang; and an old woman, with a torn cap, appeared, who, having heard his request, called out to those within, "Here is one from Ostrau, Itzig Veitel by name, who wishes to speak to Mr. Ehrenthal." A loud voice replied, "Let him wait;" and the clatter of plates showed that the man of business meant to finish his supper before he gave the future millionnaire a hearing. Accordingly, Veitel sat upon the steps admiring the brass plate and the white door, and wondering how the name of Itzig would look upon just such another. That led him to reflect how far he was from being as rich as this Hirsch Ehrenthal; and, feeling the half dozen ducats his mother had sewn into his waistcoat, he began to speculate how much he could daily add to them, provided the rich man took him into his service. In the midst of these reflections the door was flung open, and Mr. Ehrenthal stood before him, no longer the same man we saw in the morning; the deference, the kindness, all were gone. No Eastern despot so proud and lofty. Itzig felt his own insignificance, and stood humbly before his master.
"Here is a letter to Baruch Goldmann, in which Mr. Ehrenthal has sent for me," began Veitel.
"I wrote Goldmann word to send you, that I might see whether you would suit; nothing is yet settled," was the dignified reply.
"I came that you might see me, sir."
"And why did you come so late, young Itzig? this is not the time for business."
"I wished to show myself to-night, in case, sir, you should have any commission to give me for to-morrow. I thought I might be useful, as it is market-day; and I know most of the coachmen of the farmers who come in with rape-seed and other produce; and I know many of the brokers too."
"Are your papers in good order," was the reply, "so that I may have no trouble with the police?"
When Veitel had given satisfaction on this important subject, Ehrenthal vouchsafed to say, "If I take you into my house, you must turn your hand to any thing that I, or Mrs. Ehrenthal, or my son, may chance to order; you must clean the boots and shoes, and run errands for the cook."
"I will do any thing, Mr. Ehrenthal, to make you satisfied with me," was the humble reply.
"For this you will receive two dollars a month; and, if I make a good bargain by your assistance, you will have your share. As for your sleeping-quarters, they had better be with Loebel Pinkus, that I may know where to find you when wanted." So saying, Ehrenthal opened the door, and called, "Wife, Bernhard, Rosalie, come here."
Mrs. Ehrenthal was a portly lady in black silk, with strongly-marked eyebrows and black ringlets, who laid herself out to please, and was extremely successful, report averred. As for her daughter, she was, indeed, a perfect beauty, with magnificent eyes and complexion, and a very slightly aquiline nose. But how came Bernhard to be one of the family? Short, slight, with a pale, deeply-lined face, and bent figure, it was only his mouth and his clear eye that bespoke him young, and he was more negligently attired, too, than might have been expected. They all looked at Veitel in silence, while Ehrenthal proceeded to say that he had taken him into his service; and Veitel himself mentally resolved to be very subservient to the mother, to fall in love with the daughter, to clean carelessly Bernhard's boots, and carefully to search his pocket in brushing his coat. On the whole, he was well pleased with the arrangement made, and smiled to himself as he went along to Loebel Pinkus.
This Loebel Pinkus was a householder who kept a spirit-shop on the ground floor; but one thing was certain, no mere spirit-shop could have enriched him as this did. However, he bore a good character. The police willingly took a glass at his counter, for which he always declined payment. He paid his taxes regularly, and passed, indeed, for a friend of the executive. On the first floor he kept a lodging-house for bearded and beardless Jews. These gentlemen generally slipped in late and out early. Besides such regular guests, others of every age, sex, and creed arrived at irregular intervals. These had strictly private dealings with the host, and showed a great objection to having a lucifer match struck near their faces. The other lodgers took their own views of these peculiarities, but judged it best to keep them to themselves. In this house it was that Itzig went up a dark stair, and, groping along a dirty wall, came to a heavy oaken door, with a massive bolt, and, after a good push, entered a waste-looking room that ran the whole length of the house. In the middle stood an old table with a wretched oil lamp, and opposite the door a great partition, with several smaller doors, some of which were open, and showed that the whole consisted of narrow subdivisions, with hooks for hanging clothes. The small windows had faded blinds, but on the opposite side of the room the twilight entered through an open door that led to a wooden gallery running along the outside of the house.
Itzig threw down his bundle and went out on this gallery, which he viewed with much interest. Below him rolled a rapid stream of dirty water, hemmed in on either side by dilapidated wooden houses, most of which had similar galleries to every story. In olden times, the worthy guild of dyers had inhabited this street, but now they had changed their quarters, and instead of sheep and goat skins, there hung over the worm-eaten railings only the clothes of the poor put out to dry. Their colors contrasted strangely with the black woodwork; the light fell in a remarkable way upon the rude carvings, and the dark posts that started here and there out of the water. In short, it was a wretched place, save for cats, painters, or poor devils.
Young Itzig had already been here more than once, but never alone. Now he observed that a long, covered staircase led down from the gallery to the water's edge, and that a similar one ran up to the next house, whence he concluded that it would be possible to go from one house to another without doing more than wetting the feet; also, that when the water was low, one could walk along at the base of the houses, and he wondered whether there were men who availed themselves of these possibilities. His fancy was so much excited by this train of thought, that he ran back, crept into the partition, and found out that the wall at the back of it was also of wood. As this was the wall dividing the neighboring house from the one in which he was, he considered it a pleasant discovery, and was just going to see whether some chink in the main wall might not afford a further prospect, when he was disturbed by a hollow murmur, which showed him that he was not alone. So he settled himself upon a bag of straw opposite his companion, who was too sleepy to talk much. By-and-by Pinkus came in, placed a jug of water on the table, and locked the door outside. Itzig ate in the dark the dry bread he had in his pocket, and at length fell asleep to the snoring of his companion.
At the same hour his fellow-traveler wrapped himself round in his comfortable bed, looked about him more asleep than awake, and fancied that he saw the stucco cat rise on his feet, stretch out his paws, and proceed to wash his face. Before he had time to marvel at this, he fell asleep. Both the youths had their dreams. Anton's was of sitting on a gigantic bale, and flying on it through the air, while a certain lovely young lady stretched her arms out toward him; and Itzig's was of having become a baron, and being teased into flinging an alms to old Ehrenthal.
The following morning each set to work. Anton sat at the desk and copied letters, while Itzig, having brushed the collective boots and shoes of the Ehrenthal family, stationed himself as a spy at the door of the principal hotel, to watch a certain gentleman who was discontented with his master, and suspected of applying to other moneyed men.
The first idle hour he had, Anton drew from memory the castle, the balcony, and the turrets, on the best paper the town could afford; the next, he put the drawing in a gilt frame, and hung it over his sofa.
Just at first Anton found some difficulty in adapting himself to the new world in which he was placed.
The business was one of a kind becoming rare nowadays, when rail-roads and telegraphs unite remotest districts, and every merchant sends from the heart of the country to bid his agents purchase goods almost before they reach the shore. Yet there was a something about this old-fashioned house of a dignified, almost a princely character; and what was still better, it was well calculated to inspire confidence. At the time of which we speak, the sea was far off, facilities of communication were rare, so that the merchants' speculations were necessarily more independent, and involved greater hazard. The importance of such a mercantile house as this depended upon the quantity of stores it bought with its own money and at its own risk. Of these, a great part lay in long rows of warehouses along the river, some in the vaults of the old house itself, and some in the warehouses and stores of those around. Most of the tradesmen of the province provided themselves with colonial produce from the warehouses of the firm, whose agents were spread to east and south, and carried on, even as far as the Turkish frontier, a business which, if less regular and secure than the home trade, was often more lucrative than any other.
Thus it happened that the every-day routine afforded to the new apprentice a wide diversity of impressions and experiences. A varied procession poured through the counting-house from morning to evening; men of different costumes, all offering samples of different articles for sale—Polish Jews, beggars, men of business, carriers, porters, servants, etc. Anton found it difficult to concentrate his thoughts amid this endless going and coming, and to get through his work, simple as it was.
For instance, Mr. Braun, the agent of a friendly house in Hamburgh, had just come in and taken a sample of coffee out of his pocket. While it was being submitted to the principal, the agent went on gesticulating with his gold-headed cane, and talking about a recent storm, and the damage it had done. The door creaked, and a poorly-dressed woman entered.
"What do you want?" asked Mr. Specht.
Then came lamentable sounds, like the peeping of a sick hen, which changed, as soon as the merchant had put his hand into his pocket, into a joyful chuckle.