A Tragedy In Five Acts
By Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Translated by Anna Swanwick
In 1775, when Goethe was twenty-six, and before he went to Weimar, he began to write "Egmont" After working on it at intervals for twelve years, he finished it at Rome in 1787.
The scene of the drama is laid in the Low Countries at the beginning of the revolt against Spain. In the fifteenth century Philip of Burgundy had usurped dominion over several of the provinces of the Netherlands, and through him they had passed into the power of his descendant, the Emperor Charles V. This powerful ruler abolished the constitutional rights of the provinces, and introduced the Inquisition in order to stamp out Protestantism. Prominent among his officers was the Fleming, Lamoral, Count Egmont, upon whom he lavished honors and opportunities of service—opportunities so well improved that, by his victories over the French at Saint-Quentin (1557) and Gravelines (1558) Egmont made a reputation as one of the most brilliant generals in Europe, and became the idol of his countrymen. When in 1559 a new Regent of the Netherlands was to be created, the people hoped that Philip II, who had succeeded Charles, would choose Egmont; but instead he appointed his half-sister Margaret, Duchess of Parma. Under the new Regent the persecution of the Protestants was rigorously pressed, and in 1565 Egmont, though a Catholic, was sent to Madrid to plead for clemency. He was received by the King with every appearance of cordiality, but shortly after his return home the Duke of Alva was sent to the Netherlands with instructions to put down with an iron hand all resistance to his master's will. How terribly he carried out his orders has been told by Prescott and Motley. Egmont was an early victim, but his martyrdom, with that of Count Horn, and later the assassination of William of Orange, roused the Netherlands to a resistance that ended only with the complete throwing off of the Spanish yoke.
Such in outline is the background chosen by Goethe for his tragedy. With many changes in detail, the dramatist has still preserved a picture of a historical situation of absorbing interest, and has painted a group of admirable portraits. The drama has long been a favorite on the stage, where it enjoys the advantage of Beethoven's musical setting.
Margaret of Parma, (Daughter of Charles V., and Regent of the Netherlands) Count Egmont, (Prince of Gaure) The Duke of Alva William of Orange Ferdinand, (his natural Son) Machiavel, in the service of the Regent Richard, (Egmont's Private Secretary)
Silva, Gomez, (in the service of Alva) Clara, (the Beloved of Egmont) Her Mother Brackenburg, (a Citizen's Son), and Vansen, (a Clerk) Soest, (a Shopkeeper), Jetter, (a Tailor), A Carpenter, A Soapboiler (Citizens of Brussels) Buyck, (a Hollander), a Soldier under Egmont Ruysum, (a Frieslander), an invalid Soldier, and deaf People, Attendants, Guards, &c.
The Scene is laid in Brussels.
SCENE I.—Soldiers and Citizens (with cross-bows)
Jetter (steps forward, and bends his cross-bow). Soest, Buyck, Ruysum
Soest. Come, shoot away, and have done with it! You won't beat me! Three black rings, you never made such a shot in all your life. And so I'm master for this year.
Jetter. Master and king to boot; who envies you? You'll have to pay double reckoning; 'tis only fair you should pay for your dexterity.
Buyck. Jetter, I'll buy your shot, share the prize, and treat the company. I have already been here so long, and am a debtor for so many civilities. If I miss, then it shall be as if you had shot.
Soest. I ought to have a voice, for in fact I am the loser. No matter! Come, Buyck, shoot away.
Buyck (shoots). Now, corporal, look out!—One! Two! Three! Four!
Soest. Four rings! So be it!
All. Hurrah! Long live the King! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Buyck. Thanks, sirs, master even were too much! Thanks for the honour.
Jetter. You have no one to thank but yourself. Ruysum. Let me tell you—
Soest. How now, grey-beard?
Ruysum. Let me tell you!—He shoots like his master, he shoots like Egmont.
Buyck. Compared with him I am only a bungler. He aims with the rifle as no one else does. Not only when he's lucky or in the vein; no! he levels, and the bull's-eye is pierced. I have learned from him. He were indeed a blockhead, who could serve under him and learn nothing!—But, sirs, let us not forget! A king maintains his followers; and so, wine here, at the king's charge!
Jetter. We have agreed among ourselves that each—
Buyck. I am a foreigner, and a king, and care not a jot for your laws and customs.
Jetter. Why, you are worse than the Spaniard, who has not yet ventured to meddle with them.
Ruysum. What does he say?
Soest (loud to Ruysum). He wants to treat us; he will not hear of our clubbing together, the king paying only a double share.
Ruysum. Let him! under protest, however! 'Tis his master's fashion, too, to be munificent, and to let the money flow in a good cause. (Wine is brought.)
All. Here's to his Majesty! Hurrah!
Jetter (to Buyck). That means your Majesty, of course, Buyck. My hearty thanks, if it be so.
Soest. Assuredly! A Netherlander does not find it easy to drink the health of his Spanish majesty from his heart.
Soest (aloud). Philip the Second, King of Spain.
Ruysum. Our most gracious king and master! Long life to him.
Soest. Did you not like his father, Charles the Fifth, better?
Ruysum. God bless him! He was a king indeed! His hand reached over the whole earth, and he was all in all. Yet, when he met you, he'd greet you just as one neighbour greets another,—and if you were frightened, he knew so well how to put you at your ease—ay, you understand me—he walked out, rode out, just as it came into his head, with very few followers. We all wept when he resigned the government here to his son. You understand me—he is another sort of man, he's more majestic.
Jetter. When he was here, he never appeared in public, except in pomp and royal state. He speaks little, they say.
Soest. He is no king for us Netherlanders. Our princes must be joyous and free like ourselves, must live and let live. We will neither be despised nor oppressed, good-natured fools though we be.
Jetter. The king, methinks, were a gracious sovereign enough, if he had only better counsellors.
Soest. No, no! He has no affection for us Netherlanders; he has no heart for the people; he loves us not; how then can we love him? Why is everybody so fond of Count Egmont? Why are we all so devoted to him? Why, because one can read in his face that he loves us; because joyousness, open-heartedness, and good-nature, speak in his eyes; because he possesses nothing that he does not share with him who needs it, ay, and with him who needs it not. Long live Count Egmont! Buyck, it is for you to give the first toast; give us your master's health.
Buyck. With all my heart; here's to Count Egmont! Hurrah!
Ruysum Conqueror of St. Quintin.
Buyck. The hero of Gravelines.
Ruysum. St. Quintin was my last battle. I was hardly able to crawl along, and could with difficulty carry my heavy rifle. I managed, notwithstanding, to singe the skin of the French once more, and, as a parting gift, received a grazing shot in my right leg.
Buyck. Gravelines! Ha, my friends, we had sharp work of it there! The victory was all our own. Did not those French dogs carry fire and desolation into the very heart of Flanders? We gave it them, however! The old hard-listed veterans held out bravely for a while, but we pushed on, fired away, and laid about us, till they made wry faces, and their lines gave way. Then Egmont's horse was shot under him; and for a long time we fought pell-mell, man to man, horse to horse, troop to troop, on the broad, flat, sea-sand. Suddenly, as if from heaven, down came the cannon shot from the mouth of the river, bang, bang, right into the midst of the French. These were English, who, under Admiral Malin, happened to be sailing past from Dunkirk. They did not help us much, 'tis true; they could only approach with their smallest vessels, and that not near enough;—besides, their shot fell sometimes among our troops. It did some good, however! It broke the French lines, and raised our courage. Away it went. Helter-skelter! topsy-turvy! all struck dead, or forced into the water; the fellows were drowned the moment they tasted the water, while we Hollanders dashed in after them. Being amphibious, we were as much in our element as frogs, and hacked away at the enemy, and shot them down as if they had been ducks. The few who struggled through, were struck dead in their flight by the peasant women, armed with hoes and pitchforks. His Gallic majesty was compelled at once to hold out his paw and make peace. And that peace you owe to us, to the great Egmont.
All. Hurrah, for the great Egmont! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Jetter. Had they but appointed him Regent, instead of Margaret of Parma!
Soest. Not so! Truth is truth! I'll not hear Margaret abused. Now it is my turn. Long live our gracious lady!
All. Long life to her!
Soest. Truly, there are excellent women in that family. Long live the Regent!
Jetter. Prudent is she, and moderate in all she does; if she would only not hold so fast and stiffly with the priests. It is partly her fault, too, that we have the fourteen new mitres in the land. Of what use are they, I should like to know? Why, that foreigners may be shoved into the good benefices, where formerly abbots were chosen out of the chapters! And we're to believe it's for the sake of religion. We know better. Three bishops were enough for us; things went on decently and reputably. Now each must busy himself as if he were needed; and this gives rise every moment to dissensions and ill-will. And the more you agitate the matter, so much the worse it grows. (They drink.)
Soest. But it was the will of the king; she cannot alter it, one way or another.
Jetter. Then we may not even sing the new psalms; but ribald songs, as many as we please. And why? There is heresy in them, they say, and heaven knows what. I have sung some of them, however; they are new, to be sure, but I see no harm in them.
Buyck. Ask their leave, forsooth! In our province, we sing just what we please. That's because Count Egmont is our stadtholder, who does not trouble himself about such matters. In Ghent, Ypres, and throughout the whole of Flanders, anybody sings them that chooses. (Aloud to Ruysum.) There is nothing more harmless than a spiritual song—Is there, father?
Ruysum. What, indeed! It is a godly work, and truly edifying.
Jetter. They say, however, that they are not of the right sort, not of their sort, and, since it is dangerous, we had better leave them alone. The officers of the Inquisition are always lurking and spying about; many an honest fellow has already fallen into their clutches. They had not gone so far as to meddle with conscience! If they will not allow me to do what I like, they might at least let me think and sing as I please.
Soest. The Inquisition won't do here. We are not made like the Spaniards, to let our consciences be tyrannized over. The nobles must look to it, and clip its wings betimes.
Jetter. It is a great bore. Whenever it comes into their worships' heads to break into my house, and I am sitting there at my work, humming a French psalm, thinking nothing about it, neither good nor bad—singing it just because it is in my throat;—forthwith I'm a heretic, and am clapped into prison. Or if I am passing through the country, and stand near a crowd listening to a new preacher, one of those who have come from Germany; instantly I'm called a rebel, and am in danger of losing my head! Have you ever heard one of these preachers?
Soest. Brave fellows! Not long ago, I heard one of them preach in a field, before thousands and thousands of people. A different sort of dish he gave us from that of our humdrum preachers, who, from the pulpit, choke their hearers with scraps of Latin. He spoke from his heart; told us how we had till now been led by the nose, how we had been kept in darkness, and how we might procure more light;—ay, and he proved it all out of the Bible.
Jetter. There may be something in it. I always said as much, and have often pondered over the matter. It has long been running in my head.
Buyck. All the people run after them.
Soest. No wonder, since they hear both what is good and what is new.
Jetter. And what is it all about? Surely they might let every one preach after his own fashion.
Buyck. Come, sirs! While you are talking, you; forget the wine and the Prince of Orange.
Jetter. We must not forget him. He's a very wall of defence. In thinking of him, one fancies, that if one could only hide behind him, the devil himself could not get at one. Here's to William of Orange! Hurrah!
All. Hurrah! Hurrah!
Soest. Now, grey-heard, let's have your toast.
Ruysum. Here's to old soldiers! To all soldiers! War for ever!
Buyck. Bravo, old fellow. Here's to all soldiers. War for ever!
Jetter. War! War! Do ye know what ye are shouting about? That it should slip glibly from your tongue is natural enough; but what wretched work it is for us, I have not words to tell you. To be stunned the whole year round by the beating of the drum; to hear of nothing except how one troop marched here, and another there; how they came over this height, and halted near that mill; how many were left dead on this field, and how many on that; how they press forward, and how one wins, and another loses, without being able to comprehend what they are fighting about; how a town is taken, how the citizens are put to the sword, and how it fares with the poor women and innocent children. This is a grief and a trouble, and then one thinks every moment, "Here they come! It will be our turn next."
Soest. Therefore every citizen must be practised in the use of arms.
Jetter. Fine talking, indeed, for him who has a wife and children. And yet I would rather hear of soldiers than see them.
Buyck. I might take offence at that.
Jetter. It was not intended for you, countryman. When we got rid of the Spanish garrison, we breathed freely again.
Soest. Faith! They pressed on you heavily enough.
Jetter. Mind your own business.
Soest. They came to sharp quarters with you.
Jetter. Hold your tongue.
Soest. They drove him out of kitchen, cellar, chamber—and bed. (They laugh.)
Jetter. You are a blockhead.
Buyck. Peace, sirs! Must the soldier cry peace? Since you will not hear anything about us, let us have a toast of your own—a citizen's toast.
Jetter. We're all ready for that! Safety and peace!
Soest. Order and freedom!
Buyck. Bravo! That will content us all.
(They ring their glasses together, and joyously repeat the words, but in such a manner that each utters a different sound, and it becomes a kind of chant. The old man listens, and at length joins in.)
All. Safety and peace! Order and freedom!
SCENE II.—-Palace of the Regent
Margaret of Parma (in a hunting dress). Courtiers, Pages, Servants
Regent. Put off the hunt, I shall not ride to-day. Bid Machiavel attend me.
[Exeunt all but the Regent.
The thought of these terrible events leaves me no repose! Nothing can amuse, nothing divert my mind. These images, these cares are always before me. The king will now say that these are the natural fruits of my kindness, of my clemency; yet my conscience assures me that I have adopted the wisest, the most prudent course. Ought I sooner to have kindled, and spread abroad these flames with the breath of wrath? My hope was to keep them in, to let them smoulder in their own ashes. Yes, my inward conviction, and my knowledge of the circumstances, justify my conduct in my own eyes; but in what light will it appear to my brother! For, can it be denied that the insolence of these foreign teachers waxes daily more audacious? They have desecrated our sanctuaries, unsettled the dull minds of the people, and conjured up amongst them a spirit of delusion. Impure spirits have mingled among the insurgents, horrible deeds have been perpetrated, which to think of makes one shudder, and of these a circumstantial account must be transmitted instantly to court. Prompt and minute must be my communication, lest rumour outrun my messenger, and the king suspect that some particulars have been purposely withheld. I can see no means, severe or mild, by which to stem the evil. Oh, what are we great ones on the waves of humanity? We think to control them, and are ourselves driven to and fro, hither and thither.
Regent. Are the despatches to the king prepared?
Machiavel. In an hour they will be ready for your signature.
Regent. Have you made the report sufficiently circumstantial?
Machiavel. Full and circumstantial, as the king loves to have it. I relate how the rage of the iconoclasts first broke out at St. Omer. How a furious multitude, with staves, hatchets, hammers, ladders, and cords, accompanied by a few armed men, first assailed the chapels, churches, and convents, drove out the worshippers, forced the barred gates, threw everything into confusion, tore down the altars, destroyed the statues of the saints, defaced the pictures, and dashed to atoms, and trampled under foot, whatever came in their way that was consecrated and holy. How the crowd increased as it advanced, and how the inhabitants of Ypres opened their gates at its approach. How, with incredible rapidity, they demolished the cathedral, and burned the library of the bishop. How a vast multitude, possessed by the like frenzy, dispersed themselves through Menin, Comines, Verviers, Lille, nowhere encountered opposition; and how, through almost the whole of Flanders, in a single moment, the monstrous conspiracy declared itself, and was accomplished.
Regent. Alas! Your recital rends my heart anew; and the fear that the evil will wax greater and greater, adds to my grief. Tell me your thoughts, Machiavel!
Machiavel. Pardon me, your Highness, my thoughts will appear to you but as idle fancies; and though you always seem well satisfied with my services, you have seldom felt inclined to follow my advice. How often have you said in jest: "You see too far, Machiavel! You should be an historian; he who acts, must provide for the exigence of the hour." And yet have I not predicted this terrible history? Have I not foreseen it all?
Regent. I too foresee many things, without being able to avert them.
Machiavel. In one word, then:—-you will not be able to suppress the new faith. Let it be recognized, separate its votaries from the true believers, give them churches of their own, include them within the pale of social order, subject them to the restraints of law,—do this, and you will at once tranquillize the insurgents. All other measures will prove abortive, and you will depopulate the country.
Regent. Have you forgotten with what aversion the mere suggestion of toleration was rejected by my brother? Know you not, how in every letter he urgently recommends to me the maintenance of the true faith? That he will not hear of tranquility and order being restored at the expense of religion? Even in the provinces, does he not maintain spies, unknown to us, in order to ascertain who inclines to the new doctrines? Has he not, to our astonishment, named to us this or that individual residing in our very neighbourhood, who, without its being known, was obnoxious to the charge of heresy? Does he not enjoin harshness and severity? and am I to be lenient? Am I to recommend for his adoption measures of indulgence and toleration? Should I not thus lose all credit with him, and at once forfeit his confidence?
Machiavel. I know it. The king commands and puts you in full possession of his intentions. You are to restore tranquillity and peace by measures which cannot fail still more to embitter men's minds, and which must inevitably kindle the flames of war from one extremity of the country to the other. Consider well what you are doing. The principal merchants are infected—nobles, citizens, soldiers. What avails persisting in our opinion, when everything is changing around us? Oh, that some good genius would suggest to Philip that it better becomes a monarch to govern burghers of two different creeds, than to excite them to mutual destruction.
Regent. Never let me hear such words again. Full well I know that the policy of statesmen rarely maintains truth and fidelity; that it excludes from the heart candour, charity, toleration. In secular affairs, this is, alas! only too true; but shall we trifle with God as we do with each other? Shall we be indifferent to our established faith, for the sake of which so many have sacrificed their lives? Shall we abandon it to these far-fetched, uncertain, and self-contradicting heresies?
Machiavel. Think not the worse of me for what I have uttered.
Regent. I know you and your fidelity. I know too that a man may be both honest and sagacious, and yet miss the best and nearest way to the salvation of his soul. There are others, Machiavel, men whom I esteem, yet whom I needs must blame.
Machiavel. To whom do you refer?
Regent. I must confess that Egmont caused me to-day deep and heart-felt annoyance.
Machiavel. How so?
Regent. By his accustomed demeanour, his usual indifference and levity. I received the fatal tidings as I was leaving church, attended by him and several others. I did not restrain my anguish, I broke forth into lamentations, loud and deep, and turning to him, exclaimed, "See what is going on in your province! Do you suffer it, Count, you, in whom the king confided so implicitly?"
Machiavel. And what was his reply?
Regent. As if it were a mere trifle, an affair of no moment, he answered: "Were the Netherlanders but satisfied as to their constitution! The rest would soon follow."
Machiavel. There was, perhaps, more truth than discretion or piety in his words. How can we hope to acquire and to maintain the confidence of the Netherlander, when he sees that we are more interested in appropriating his possessions, than in promoting his welfare, temporal or spiritual? Does the number of souls saved by the new bishops exceed that of the fat benefices they have swallowed? And are they not for the most part foreigners? As yet, the office of stadtholder has been held by Netherlanders; but do not the Spaniards betray their great and irresistible desire to possess themselves of these places? Will not people prefer being governed by their own countrymen, and according to their ancient customs, rather than by foreigners, who, from their first entrance into the land, endeavour to enrich themselves at the general expense, who measure everything by a foreign standard, and who exercise their authority without cordiality or sympathy?
Regent. You take part with our opponents?
Machiavel. Assuredly not in my heart. Would that with my understanding I could be wholly on our side!
Regent. If such your disposition, it were better I should resign the regency to them; for both Egmont and Orange entertained great hopes of occupying this position. Then they were adversaries, now they are leagued against me, and have become friends—inseparable friends.
Machiavel. A dangerous pair.
Regent. To speak candidly, I fear Orange.—I fear for Egmont.—Orange meditates some dangerous scheme, his thoughts are far-reaching, he is reserved, appears to accede to everything, never contradicts, and while maintaining the show of reverence, with clear foresight accomplishes his own designs.
Machiavel. Egmont, on the contrary, advances with a bold step, as if the world were all his own.
Regent. He bears his head as proudly as if the hand of majesty were not suspended over him.
Machiavel. The eyes of all the people are fixed upon him, and he is the idol of their hearts.
Regent. He has never assumed the least disguise, and carries himself as if no one had a right to call him to account. He still bears the name of Egmont. Count Egmont is the title by which he loves to hear himself addressed, as though he would fain be reminded that his ancestors were masters of Guelderland. Why does he not assume his proper title,—Prince of Gaure? What object has he in view? Would he again revive extinguished claims?
Machiavel. I hold him for a faithful servant of the king.
Regent. Were he so inclined, what important service could he not render to the government? Whereas, now, without benefiting himself, he has caused us unspeakable vexation. His banquets and entertainment have done more to unite the nobles and to knit them together than the most dangerous secret associations. With his toasts, his guests have drunk in a permanent intoxication, a giddy frenzy, that never subsides. How often have his facetious jests stirred up the minds of the populace? and what an excitement was produced among the mob by the new liveries, and the extravagant devices of his followers!
Machiavel. I am convinced he had no design.
Regent. Be that as it may, it is bad enough. As I said before, he injures us without benefiting himself. He treats as a jest matters of serious import; and, not to appear negligent and remiss, we are forced to treat seriously what he intended as a jest. Thus one urges on the other; and what we are endeavouring to avert is actually brought to pass. He is more dangerous than the acknowledged head of a conspiracy; and I am much mistaken if it is not all remembered against him at court. I cannot deny that scarcely a day passes in which he does not wound me—deeply wound me.
Machiavel. He appears to me to act on all occasions, according to the dictates of his conscience. Regent. His conscience has a convenient mirror. His demeanour is often offensive. He carries himself as if he felt he were the master here, and were withheld by courtesy alone from making us feel his supremacy; as if he would not exactly drive us out of the country; there'll be no need for that.
Machiavel. I entreat you, put not too harsh a construction upon his frank and joyous temper, which treats lightly matters of serious moment. You but injure yourself and him.
Regent. I interpret nothing. I speak only of inevitable consequences, and I know him. His patent of nobility and the Golden Fleece upon his breast strengthen his confidence, his audacity. Both can protect him against any sudden outbreak of royal displeasure. Consider the matter closely, and he is alone responsible for the whole mischief that has broken out in Flanders. From the first, he connived at the proceedings of the foreign teachers, avoided stringent measures, and perhaps rejoiced in secret that they gave us so much to do. Let me alone; on this occasion, I will give utterance to that which weighs upon my heart; I will not shoot my arrow in vain. I know where he is vulnerable. For he is vulnerable.
Machiavel. Have you summoned the council? Will Orange attend?
Regent. I have sent for him to Antwerp. I will lay upon their shoulders the burden of responsibility; they shall either strenuously co-operate with me in quelling the evil, or at once declare themselves rebels. Let the letters be completed without delay, and bring them for my signature. Then hasten to despatch the trusty Vasca to Madrid, he is faithful and indefatigable; let him use all diligence, that he may not be anticipated by common report, that my brother, may receive the intelligence first through him. I will myself speak with him ere he departs.
Machiavel. Your orders shall be promptly and punctually obeyed.
SCENE III.—Citizen's House
Clara, her Mother, Brackenburg
Clara. Will you not hold the yarn for me, Brackenburg?
Brackenburg. I entreat you, excuse me, Clara.
Clara. What ails you? Why refuse me this trifling service?
Brackenburg. When I hold the yarn, I stand as it were spell-bound before you, and cannot escape your eyes.
Clara. Nonsense! Come and hold!
Mother (knitting in her arm-chair). Give us a song! Brackenburg sings so good a second. You used to be merry once, and I had always something to laugh at.
Clara. Well, let us sing.
Brackenburg. As you please.
Clara. Merrily, then, and sing away! 'Tis a soldier's song, my favourite.
(She winds yarn, and sings with Brackenburg.)
The drum is resounding, And shrill the fife plays; My love, for the battle, His brave troop arrays; He lifts his lance high, And the people he sways. My blood it is boiling! My heart throbs pit-pat! Oh, had I a jacket, With hose and with hat! How boldly I'd follow, And march through the gate; Through all the wide province I'd follow him straight. The foe yield, we capture Or shoot them! Ah, me! What heart-thrilling rapture A soldier to be!
(During the song, Brackenburg has frequently looked at Clara; at length his voice falters, his eyes fill with tears, he lets the skein fall, and goes to the window. Clara finishes the song alone, her Mother motions to her, half displeased, she rises, advances a few steps towards him, turns back, as if irresolute, and again sits down.)
Mother. What is going on in the street, Brackenburg? I hear soldiers marching.
Brackenburg. It is the Regent's body-guard.
Clara. At this hour? What can it mean? (She rises and joins Brackenburg at the window.) That is not the daily guard; it is more numerous! almost all the troops! Oh, Brackenburg, go! Learn what it means. It must be something unusual. Go, good Brackenburg, do me this favour.
Brackenburg. I am going! I will return immediately. (He offers his hand to Clara, and she gives him hers.)
Mother. Thou sendest him away so soon!
Clara. I am curious; and, besides—do not be angry, Mother—his presence pains me. I never know how I ought to behave towards him. I have done him a wrong, and it goes to my very heart to see how deeply he feels it. Well, it can't be helped now!
Mother. He is such a true-hearted fellow!
Clara. I cannot help it, I must treat him kindly. Often without a thought, I return the gentle, loving pressure of his hand. I reproach myself that I am deceiving him, that I am nourishing in his heart a vain hope. I am in a sad plight! God knows, I do not willingly deceive him. I do not wish him to hope, yet I cannot let him despair!
Mother. That is not as it should be.
Clara. I liked him once, and in my soul I like him still I could have married him; yet I believe I was never really in love with him.
Mother. Thou wouldst always have been happy with him.
Clara. I should have been provided for, and have led a quiet life.
Mother. And through thy fault it has all been trifled away.
Clara, I am in a strange position. When I think how it has come to pass, I know it, indeed, and I know it not. But I have only to look upon Egmont, and I understand it all; ay, and stranger things would seem natural then. Oh, what a man he is! All the provinces worship him. And in his arms, should I not be the happiest creature in the world?
Mother. And how will it be in the future?
Clara. I only ask, does he love me?—does he love me?—as if there were any doubt about it.
Mother. One has nothing but anxiety of heart with one's children. Always care and sorrow, whatever may be the end of it! It cannot come to good! Thou hast made thyself wretched! Thou hast made thy Mother wretched too.
Clara (quietly). Yet thou didst allow it in the beginning.
Mother. Alas! I was too indulgent; I am always too indulgent.
Clara. When Egmont rode by, and I ran to the window, did you chide me then? Did you not come to the window yourself? When he looked up, smiled, nodded, and greeted me, was it displeasing to you? Did you not feel yourself honoured in your daughter?
Mother. Go on with your reproaches.
Clara (with emotion). Then, when he passed more frequently, and we felt sure that it was on my account that he came this way, did you not remark it yourself with secret joy? Did you call me away when I stood behind the window-pane and awaited him?
Mother. Could I imagine that it would go so far?
Clara (with faltering voice, and repressed tears). And then, one evening, when, enveloped in his mantle, he surprised us as we sat at our lamp, who busied herself in receiving him, while I remained, lost in astonishment, as if fastened to my chair?
Mother. Could I imagine that the prudent Clara would so soon be carried away by this unhappy love? I must now endure that my daughter—
Clara (bursting into tears). Mother! How can you? You take pleasure in tormenting me!
Mother (weeping). Ay, weep away! Make me yet more wretched by thy grief. Is it not misery enough that my only daughter is a castaway?
Clara (rising, and speaking coldly). A castaway! The beloved of Egmont a castaway!—What princess would not envy the poor Clara a place in his heart? Oh, Mother,—my own Mother, you were not wont to speak thus! Dear Mother, be kind!—Let the people think, let the neighbours whisper what they like—this chamber, this lowly house is a paradise, since Egmont's love dwelt here.
Mother. One cannot help liking him, that is true. He is always so kind, frank, and open-hearted.
Clara. There is not a drop of false blood in his veins. And then, Mother, he is indeed the great Egmont; yet, when he comes to me, how tender he is, how kind! How he tries to conceal from me his rank, his bravery! How anxious he is about me! so entirely the man, the friend, the lover.
Mother. DO you expect him to-day?
Clara. Have you not seen how often I go to the window? Have you not noticed how I listen to every noise at the door?—Though I know that he will not come before night, yet, from the time when I rise in the morning, I keep expecting him every moment. Were I but a boy, to follow him always, to the court and everywhere! Could I but carry his colours in the field—!
Mother. You were always such a lively, restless creature; even as a little child, now wild, now thoughtful. Will you not dress yourself a little better?
Clara. Perhaps, Mother, if I want something to do.—Yesterday, some of his people went by, singing songs in honour. At least his name was in the songs! The rest I could not understand. My heart leaped up into my throat,—I would fain have called them back if I had not felt ashamed.
Mother. Take care! Thy impetuous nature will ruin all. Thou wilt betray thyself before the people; as, not long ago, at thy cousin's, when thou roundest out the woodcut with the description, and didst exclaim, with a cry: "Count Egmont!"—I grew as red as fire.
Clara. Could I help crying out? It was the battle of Gravelines, and I found in the picture the letter C. and then looked for it in the description below. There it stood, "Count Egmont, with his horse shot under him." I shuddered, and afterwards I could not help laughing at the woodcut figure of Egmont, as tall as the neighbouring tower of Gravelines, and the English ships at the side.—When I remember how I used to conceive of a battle, and what an idea I had, as a girl, of Count Egmont; when I listened to descriptions of him, and of all the other earls and princes;—and think how it is with me now!
Clara. Well, what is going on?
Brackenburg. Nothing certain is known. It is rumoured that an insurrection has lately broken out in Flanders; the Regent is afraid of its spreading here. The castle is strongly garrisoned, the burghers are crowding to the gates, and the streets are thronged with people. I will hasten at once to my old father. (As if about to go.)
Clara. Shall we see you to-morrow? I must change my dress a little. I am expecting my cousin, and I look too untidy. Come, Mother, help me a moment. Take the book, Brackenburg, and bring me such another story.
Brackenburg (extending his hand). Your hand.
Clara (refusing hers). When you come next.
[Exeunt Mother and DAUGHTER.
Brackenburg (alone). I had resolved to go away again at once; and yet, when she takes me at my word, and lets me leave her, I feel as if I could go mad,—Wretched man! Does the fate of thy fatherland, does the growing disturbance fail to move thee?—Are countryman and Spaniard the same to thee? and carest thou not who rules, and who is in the right? I wad a different sort of fellow as a schoolboy!—Then, when an exercise in oratory was given; "Brutus' Speech for Liberty," for instance, Fritz was ever the first, and the rector would say: "If it were only spoken more deliberately, the words not all huddled together."—Then my blood boiled, and longed for action.—Now I drag along, bound by the eyes of a maiden. I cannot leave her! yet she, alas, cannot love me!—ah—no—-she—she cannot have entirely rejected me—not entirely—yet half love is no love!—I will endure it no longer!—Can it be true what a friend lately whispered in my ear, that she secretly admits a man into the house by night, when she always sends me away modestly before evening? No, it cannot be true! It is a lie! A base, slanderous lie! Clara is as innocent as I am wretched.—She has rejected me, has thrust me from her heart—and shall I live on thus? I cannot, I will not endure it. Already my native land is convulsed by internal strife, and do I perish abjectly amid the tumult? I will not endure it! When the trumpet sounds, when a shot falls, it thrills through my bone and marrow! But, alas, it does not rouse me! It does not summon me to join the onslaught, to rescue, to dare.—Wretched, degrading position! Better end it at once! Not long ago, I threw myself into the water; I sank—but nature in her agony was too strong for me; I felt that I could swim, and saved myself against my will. Could I but forget the time when she loved me, seemed to love me!—Why has this happiness penetrated my very bone and marrow? Why have these hopes, while disclosing to me a distant paradise, consumed all the enjoyment of life?—And that first, that only kiss!—Here (laying his hand upon the table), here we were alone,—she had always been kind and friendly towards me,—then she seemed to soften,—she looked at me,—my brain reeled,—I felt her lips on mine,—and—and now?—Die, wretch! Why dost thou hesitate? (He draws a phial from his pocket.) Thou healing poison, it shall not have been in vain that I stole thee from my brother's medicine chest! From this anxious fear, this dizziness, this death-agony, thou shalt deliver me at once.
SCENE I.—Square in Brussels
Jetter and a Master Carpenter (meeting)
Carpenter. Did I not tell you beforehand? Eight days ago, at the guild, I said there would be serious disturbances?
Jetter. Is it, then, true that they have plundered the churches in Flanders?
Carpenter. They have utterly destroyed both churches and chapels. They have left nothing standing but the four bare walls. The lowest rabble! And this it is that damages our good cause. We ought rather to have laid our claims before the Regent, formally and decidedly, and then have stood by them. If we speak now, if we assemble now, it will be said that we are joining the insurgents.
Jetter. Ay, so every one thinks at first. Why should you thrust your nose into the mess? The neck is closely connected with it.
Carpenter. I am always uneasy when tumults arise among the mob—among people who have nothing to lose. They use as a pretext that to which we also must appeal, and plunge the country in misery.
Soest. Good day, sirs! What news? Is it true that the image-breakers are coming straight in this direction?
Carpenter. Here they shall touch nothing, at any rate.
Soest. A soldier came into my shop just now to buy tobacco; I questioned him about the matter. The Regent, though so brave and prudent a lady, has for once lost her presence of mind. Things must be bad indeed when she thus takes refuge behind her guards. The castle is strongly garrisoned. It is even rumoured that she means to fly from the town.
Carpenter. Forth she shall not go! Her presence protects us, and we will ensure her safety better than her mustachioed gentry. If she only maintains our rights and privileges, we will stand faithfully by her.
[Enter a Soapboiler.
Soapboiler. An ugly business this! a bad business! Troubles are beginning; all things are going wrong! Mind you keep quiet, or they'll take you also for rioters.
Soest. Here come the seven wise men of Greece.
Soapboiler. I know there are many who in secret hold with the Calvinists, abuse the bishops, and care not for the king. But a loyal subject, a sincere Catholic—!
(By degrees others join the speakers, and listen.)
Vansen. God save you, sirs! What news?
Carpenter. Have nothing to do with him, he's a dangerous fellow.
Jetter. Is he not secretary to Dr. Wiets?
Carpenter. He has already had several masters. First he was a clerk, and as one patron after another turned him off, on account of his roguish tricks, he now dabbles in the business of notary and advocate, and is a brandy-drinker to boot. (More people gather round and stand in groups.)
Vansen. So here you are, putting your heads together. Well, it is worth talking about.
Soest. I think so too.
Vansen. Now if only one of you had heart and another head enough for the work, we might break the Spanish fetters at once.
Soest. Sirs! you must not talk thus. We have taken our oath to the king.
Vansen. And the king to us. Mark that!
Jetter. There's sense in that? Tell us your opinion.
Others. Hearken to him; he's a clever fellow. He's sharp enough. I had an old master once, who possessed a collection of parchments, among which were charters of ancient constitutions, contracts, and privileges. He set great store, too, by the rarest books. One of these contained our whole constitution; how, at first, we Netherlanders had princes of our own, who governed according to hereditary laws, rights, and usages; how our ancestors paid due honour to their sovereign so long as he governed them equitably; and how they were immediately on their guard the moment he was for overstepping his bounds. The states were down upon him at once; for every province, however small, had its own chamber and representatives.
Carpenter. Hold your tongue! We knew that long ago! Every honest citizen learns as much about the constitution as he needs.
Jetter. Let him speak; one may always learn something.
Soest. He is quite right.
Several Citizens. Go on! Go on! One does not hear this every day.
Vansen. You citizens, forsooth! You live only in the present; and as you tamely follow the trade inherited from your fathers, so you let the government do with you just as it pleases. You make no inquiry into the origin, the history, or the rights of a Regent; and in consequence of this negligence, the Spaniard has drawn the net over your ears.
Soest. Who cares for that, if one has only daily bread?
Jetter. The devil! Why did not some one come forward and tell us this in time?
Vansen. I tell it you now. The King of Spain, whose good fortune it is to bear sway over these provinces, has no right to govern them otherwise than the petty princes who formerly possessed them separately. Do you understand that?
Jetter. Explain it to us.
Vansen. Why, it is as dear as the sun. Must you not be governed according to your provincial laws? How comes that?
A Citizen. Certainly!
Vansen. Has not the burgher of Brussels a different law from the burgher of Antwerp? The burgher of Antwerp from the burgher of Ghent? How comes that?
Another Citizen. By heavens!
Vansen. But if you let matters run on thus, they will soon tell you a different story. Fie on you! Philip, through a woman, now ventures to do what neither Charles the Bold, Frederick the Warrior, nor Charles the Fifth could accomplish.
Soest. Yes, yes! The old princes tried it also.
Vansen. Ay! But our ancestors kept a sharp look-out. If they thought themselves aggrieved by their sovereign, they would perhaps get his son and heir into their hands, detain him as a hostage, and surrender him only on the most favourable conditions. Our fathers were men! They knew their own interests! They knew how to lay hold on what they wanted, and to get it established! They were men of the right sort! and hence it is that our privileges are so dearly defined, our liberties so well secured.
Soest. What are you saying about our liberties?
All. Our liberties! our privileges! Tell us about our privileges.
Vansen. All the provinces have their peculiar advantages, but we of Brabant are the most splendidly provided for. I have read it all.
Soest. Say on.
Jetter. Let us hear.
A Citizen. Pray do.
Vansen. First, it stands written:—The Duke of Brabant shall be to us a good and faithful sovereign.
Soest. Good! Stands it so?
Jetter. Faithful? Is that true?
Vansen. As I tell you. He is bound to us as we are to him. Secondly: In the exercise of his authority he shall neither exert arbitrary power, nor exhibit caprice, himself, nor shall he, either directly or indirectly, sanction them in others.
Jetter. Bravo! Bravo! Not exert arbitrary power.
Soest. Nor exhibit caprice.
Another. And not sanction them in others! That is the main point. Not sanction them, either directly or indirectly.
Vansen. In express words.
Jetter. Get us the book.
A Citizen. Yes, we must see it.
Others. The book! The book!
Another. We will to the Regent with the book.
Another. Sir doctor, you shall be spokesman.
Soapboiler. Oh, the dolts!
Others. Something more out of the book!
Soapboiler. I'll knock his teeth down his throat if he says another word.
People. We'll see who dares to lay hands upon him. Tell us about our privileges! Have we any more privileges?
Vansen. Many, very good and very wholesome ones too. Thus it stands: The sovereign shall neither benefit the clergy, nor increase their number, without the consent of the nobles and of the states. Mark that! Nor shall he alter the constitution of the country.
Soest. Stands it so?
Vansen. I'll show it you, as it was written down two or three centuries ago.
A Citizen. And we tolerate the new bishops? The nobles must protect us, we will make a row else!
Others. And we suffer ourselves to be intimidated by the Inquisition?
Vansen. It is your own fault.
People. We have Egmont! We have Orange! They will protect our interests.
Vansen. Your brothers in Flanders are beginning the good work.
Soapboiler. Dog! (Strikes him.)
(Others oppose the Soapboiler, and exclaim,) Are you also a Spaniard?
Another. What! This honourable man?
Another. This learned man?
(They attack the Soapboiler.)
Carpenter. For heaven's sake, peace!
(Others mingle in the fray.)
Carpenter. Citizens, what means this?
(Boys whistle, throw stones, set on dogs; citizens stand and gape, people come running up, others walk quietly to and fro, others play all sorts of pranks, shout and huzza.)
Others. Freedom and privilege! Privilege and freedom!
[Enter Egmont, with followers.
Egmont. Peace! Peace! good people. What is the matter? Peace, I say! Separate them.
Carpenter. My good lord, you come like an angel from heaven. Hush! See you nothing? Count Egmont! Honour to Count Egmont!
Egmont. Here, too! What are you about? Burgher against burgher! Does not even the neighbourhood of our royal mistress oppose a barrier to this frenzy? Disperse yourselves, and go about your business. 'Tis a bad sign when you thus keep holiday on working days. How did the disturbance begin?
(The tumult gradually subsides, and the people gather around Egmont.)
Carpenter. They are fighting about their privileges.
Egmont. Which they will forfeit through their own folly,—and who are you? You seem honest people.
Carpenter. 'Tis our wish to be so.
Egmont. Your calling?
Carpenter. A Carpenter, and master of the guild.
Egmont. And you?
Soest. A shopkeeper.
Egmont. And you?
Jetter. A tailor.
Egmont. I remember, you were employed upon the liveries of my people. Your name is Jetter.
Jetter. To think of your grace remembering it!
Egmont. I do not easily forget any one whom I have seen or conversed with. Do what you can, good people, to keep the peace; you stand in bad repute enough already. Provoke not the king still farther. The power, after all, is in his hands. An honest burgher, who maintains himself industriously, has everywhere as much freedom as he wants.
Carpenter. That now is just our misfortune! With all due deference, your grace, 'tis the idle portion of the community, your drunkards and vagabonds, who quarrel for want of something to do, and clamour about privilege because they are hungry; they impose upon the curious and the credulous, and, in order to obtain a pot of beer, excite disturbances that will bring misery upon thousands. That is just what they want. We keep our houses and chests too well guarded; they would fain drive us away from them with fire-brands.
Egmont. You shall have all needful assistance; measures have been taken to stem the evil by force. Make a firm stand against the new doctrines, and do not imagine that privileges are secured by sedition, Remain at home; suffer no crowds to assemble in the streets. Sensible people can accomplish much.
(In the meantime the crowd has for the most part dispersed.)
Carpenter. Thanks, your excellency—thanks for your good opinion! We will do what in us lies. (Exit Egmont.) A gracious lord! A true Netherlander! Nothing of the Spaniard about him.
Jetter. If we had only him for a Regent? 'Tis a pleasure to follow him.
Soest. The king won't hear of that. He takes care to appoint his own people to the place.
Jetter. Did you notice his dress? It was of the newest fashion—after the Spanish cut.
Carpenter. A handsome gentleman.
Jetter. His head now were a dainty morsel for a heads-man.
Soest. Are you mad? What are you thinking about?
Jetter. It is stupid enough that such an idea should come into one's head! But so it is. Whenever I see a fine long neck, I cannot help thinking how well it would suit the block. These cursed executions! One cannot get them out of one's head. When the lads are swimming, and I chance to see a naked back, I think forthwith of the dozens I have seen beaten with rods. If I meet a portly gentleman, I fancy I already see him roasting at the stake. At night, in my dreams, I am tortured in every limb; one cannot have a single hour's enjoyment; all merriment and fun have long been forgotten. These terrible images seem burnt in upon my brain.
SCENE II.—Egmont's residence
His Secretary (at a desk with papers. He rises impatiently)
Secretary. Still he comes not! And I have been waiting already full two hours, pen in hand, the paper before me; and just to-day I was anxious to be out so early. The floor burns under my feet. I can with difficulty restrain my impatience. "Be punctual to the hour:" Such was his parting injunction; now he comes not. There is so much business to get through, I shall not have finished before midnight. He overlooks one's faults, it is true; methinks it would be better though, were he more strict, so he dismissed one at the appointed time. One could then arrange one's plans. It is now full two hours since he left the Regent; who knows whom he may have chanced to meet by the way?
Egmont. Well, how do matters look?
Secretary. I am ready, and three couriers are waiting.
Egmont. I have detained you too long; you look somewhat out of humour.
Secretary. In obedience to your command I have already been in attendance for some time. Here are the papers!
Egmont. Donna Elvira will be angry with me, when she learns that I have detained you.
Secretary. You are pleased to jest.
Egmont. No, no. Be not ashamed. I admire your taste. She is pretty, and I have no objection that you should have a friend at the castle. What say the letters?
Secretary. Much, my lord, but withal little that is satisfactory.
Egmont. 'Tis well that we have pleasures at home, we have the less occasion to seek them from abroad. Is there much that requires attention?
Secretary. Enough, my lord; three couriers are in attendance.
Egmont. Proceed! The most important.
Secretary. All is important.
Egmont. One after the other; only be prompt.
Secretary. Captain Breda sends an account of the occurrences that have further taken place in Ghent and the surrounding districts. The tumult is for the most part allayed.
Egmont. He doubtless reports individual acts of folly and temerity?
Secretary. He does, my lord.
Egmont. Spare me the recital.
Secretary. Six of the mob who tore down the image of the Virgin at Verviers have been arrested. He inquires whether they are to be hanged like the others.
Egmont. I am weary of hanging; let them be flogged and discharged.
Secretary. There are two women among them; are they to be flogged also?
Egmont. He may admonish them and let them go.
Secretary. Brink, of Breda's company, wants to marry; the captain hopes you will not allow it. There are so many women among the troops, he writes, that when on the march, they resemble a gang of gypsies rather than regular soldiers.
Egmont. We must overlook it in his case. He is a fine young fellow, and moreover entreated me so earnestly before I came away. This must be the last time, however; though it grieves me to refuse the poor fellows their best pastime; they have enough without that to torment them.
Secretary. Two of your people, Seter and Hart, have ill-treated a damsel, the daughter of an inn-keeper. They got her alone and she could not escape from them.
Egmont. If she be an honest maiden and they used violence, let them be flogged three days in succession; and if they have any property, let him retain as much of it as will portion the girl.
Secretary. One of the foreign preachers has been discovered passing secretly through Comines. He swore that he was on the point of leaving for France. According to orders, he ought to be beheaded.
Egmont. Let him be conducted quietly to the frontier, and there admonished that, the next time, he will not escape so easily.
Secretary. A letter from your steward. He writes that money comes in slowly, he can with difficulty send you the required sum within the week; the late disturbances have thrown everything into the greatest confusion.
Egmont. Money must be had! It is for him to look to the means.
Secretary. He says he will do his utmost, and at length proposes to sue and imprison Raymond, who has been so long in your debt.
Egmont. But he has promised to pay!
Secretary. The last time he fixed a fortnight himself.
Egmont. Well, grant him another fortnight; after that he may proceed against him.
Secretary. You do well. His non-payment of the money proceeds not from inability, but from want of inclination. He will trifle no longer when he sees that you are in earnest. The steward further proposes to withhold, for half a month, the pensions which you allow to the old soldiers, widows, and others. In the meantime some expedient may be devised; they must make their arrangements accordingly.
Egmont. But what arrangements can be made here? These poor people want the money more than I do. He must not think of it.
Secretary. How then, my lord, is he to raise the required sum?
Egmont. It is his business to think of that. He was told so in a former letter.
Secretary. And therefore he makes these proposals.
Egmont. They will never do;—he must think of something else. Let him suggest expedients that are admissible, and, before all, let him procure the money.
Secretary. I have again before me the letter from Count Oliva. Pardon my recalling it to your remembrance. Before all others, the aged count deserves a detailed reply. You proposed writing to him with your own hand. Doubtless, he loves you as a father.
Egmont. I cannot command the time;—and of all detestable things, writing is to me the most detestable. You imitate my hand so admirably, do you write in my name. I am expecting Orange. I cannot do it;—I wish, however, that something soothing should be written, to allay his fears.
Secretary. Just give me a notion of what you wish to communicate; I will at once draw up the answer, and lay it before you. It shall be so written that it might pass for your hand in a court of justice.
Egmont. Give me the letter. (After glancing over it.) Dear, excellent, old man! Wert thou then so cautious in thy youth? Didst thou never mount a breach? Didst thou remain in the rear of battle at the suggestion of prudence?—What affectionate solicitude! He has indeed my safety and happiness at heart, but considers not, that he who lives but to save his life, is already dead.—Charge him not to be anxious on my account; I act as circumstances require, and shall be upon my guard. Let him use his influence at court in my favour, and be assured of my warmest thanks.
Secretary. Is that all? He expects still more.
Egmont. What can I say? If you choose to write more fully, do so. The matter turns upon a single point; he would have me live as I cannot live. That I am joyous, live fast, take matters easily, is my good fortune; nor would! exchange it for the safety of a sepulchre. My blood rebels against the Spanish mode of life, nor have I the least inclination to regulate my movements by the new and cautious measures of the court. Do I live only to think of life? Am I to forego the enjoyment of the present moment in order to secure the next? And must that in its turn be consumed in anxieties and idle fears?
Secretary. I entreat you, my lord, be not so harsh towards the venerable man. You are wont to be friendly towards every one. Say a kindly word to allay the anxiety of your noble friend. See how considerate he is, with what delicacy he warns you.
Egmont. Yet he harps continually on the same string. He knows of old how I detest these admonitions. They serve only to perplex and are of no avail. What if I were a somnambulist, and trod the giddy summit of a lofty house,—were it the part of friendship to call me by my name, to warn me of my danger, to waken, to kill me? Let each choose his own path, and provide for his own safety.
Secretary. It may become you to be without a fear, but those who know and love you—
Egmont (looking over the letter). Then he recalls the old story of our sayings and doings, one evening, in the wantonness of conviviality and wine; and what conclusions and inferences were thence drawn and circulated throughout the whole kingdom! Well, we had a cap and bells embroidered on the sleeves of our servants' liveries, and afterwards exchanged this senseless device for a bundle of arrows;—a still more dangerous symbol for those who are bent upon discovering a meaning where nothing is meant, These and similar follies were conceived and brought forth in a moment of merriment. It was at our suggestion that a noble troop, with beggars' wallets, and a self-chosen nickname, with mock humility recalled the King's duty to his remembrance. It was at our suggestion too—well, what does it signify? Is a carnival jest to be construed into high treason? Are we to be grudged the scanty, variegated rags, wherewith a youthful spirit and heated imagination would adorn the poor nakedness of life? Take life too seriously, and what is it worth? If the morning wake us to no new joys, if in the evening we have no pleasures to hope for, is it worth the trouble of dressing and undressing? Does the sun shine on me to-day, that I may reflect on what happened yesterday? That I may endeavour to foresee and control, what can neither be foreseen nor controlled,—the destiny of the morrow? Spare me these reflections, we will leave them to scholars and courtiers. Let them ponder and contrive, creep hither and thither, and surreptitiously achieve their ends.—If you can make use of these suggestions, without swelling your letter into a volume, it is well. Everything appears of exaggerated importance to the good old man. 'Tis thus the friend, who has long held our hand, grasps it more warmly ere he quits his hold.
Secretary. Pardon me, the pedestrian grows dizzy when he beholds the charioteer drive past with whirling speed.
Egmont. Child! Child! Forbear! As if goaded by invisible spirits, the sun-steeds of time bear onward the light car of our destiny; and nothing remains for us but, with calm self-possession, firmly to grasp the reins, and now right, now left, to steer the wheels here from the precipice and there from the rock. Whither he is hasting, who knows? Does any one consider whence he came?
Secretary. My lord! my lord!
Egmont. I stand high, but I can and must rise yet higher. Courage, strength, and hope possess my soul. Not yet have I attained the height of my ambition; that once achieved, I will stand firmly and without fear. Should I fall, should a thunder-clap, a storm-blast, ay, a false step of my own, precipitate me into the abyss, so be it! I shall lie there with thousands of others. I have never disdained, even for a trifling stake, to throw the bloody die with my gallant comrades; and shall I hesitate now, when all that is most precious in life is set upon the cast?
Secretary. Oh, my lord! you know not what you say! May Heaven protect you!
Egmont Collect your papers. Orange is coming. Dispatch what is most urgent, that the couriers may set forth before the gates are closed. The rest may wait. Leave the Count's letter till to-morrow. Fail not to visit Elvira, and greet her from me. Inform yourself concerning the Regent's health. She cannot be well, though she would fain conceal it.
Egmont. Welcome, Orange; you appear somewhat disturbed.
Orange. What say you to our conference with the Regent?
Egmont. I found nothing extraordinary in her manner of receiving us. I have often seen her thus before. She appeared to me to be somewhat indisposed.
Orange. Marked you not that she was more reserved than usual? She began by cautiously approving our conduct during the late insurrection; glanced at the false light in which, nevertheless, it might be viewed; and finally turned the discourse to her favourite topic—that her gracious demeanour, her friendship for us Netherlanders, had never been sufficiently recognized, never appreciated as it deserved; that nothing came to a prosperous issue; that for her part she was beginning to grow weary of it; that the king must at last resolve upon other measures. Did you hear that?
Egmont. Not all; I was thinking at the time of something else. She is a woman, good Orange, and all women expect that every one shall submit passively to their gentle yoke; that every Hercules shall lay aside his lion's skin, assume the distaff, and swell their train; and, because they are themselves peaceably inclined, imagine forsooth, that the ferment which seizes a nation, the storm which powerful rivals excite against one another, may be allayed by one soothing word, and the most discordant elements be brought to unite in tranquil harmony at their feet. 'Tis thus with her; and since she cannot accomplish her object, why she has no resource left but to lose her temper, to menace us with direful prospects for the future, and to threaten to take her departure.
Orange. Think you not that this time she will fulfil her threat?
Egmont. Never! How often have I seen her actually prepared for the journey? Whither should she go? Being here a stadtholder, a queen, think you that she could endure to spend her days in insignificance at her brother's court, or to repair to Italy, and there drag on her existence among her old family connections?
Orange. She is held incapable of this determination, because you have already seen her hesitate and draw back; nevertheless, it lies in her to take this step; new circumstances may impel her to the long-delayed resolve. What if she were to depart, and the king to send another?
Egmont. Why, he would come, and he also would have business enough upon his hands. He would arrive with vast projects and schemes to reduce all things to order, to subjugate and combine; and to-day he would be occupied with this trifle, to-morrow with that, and the day following have to deal with some unexpected hindrance. He would spend one month in forming plans, another in mortification at their failure, and half a year would be consumed in cares for a single province. With him also time would pass, his head grow dizzy, and things hold on their ordinary course, till instead of sailing into the open sea, according to the plan which he had previously marked out, he might thank if, amid the tempest, he were able to keep his vessel off the rocks.
Orange. What if the king were advised to try an experiment?
Egmont. Which should be—?
Orange. To try how the body would get on without the head.
Orange. Egmont, our interests have for years weighed upon my heart; I ever stand as over a chess-board, and regard no move of my adversary as insignificant; and as men of science carefully investigate the secrets of nature, so I hold it to be the duty, ay, the very vocation of a prince, to acquaint himself with the dispositions and intentions of all parties. I have reason to fear an outbreak. The king has long acted according to certain principles; he finds that they do not lead to a prosperous issue; what more probable than that he should seek it some other way?
Egmont. I do not believe it. When a man grows old, has attempted much, and finds that the world cannot be made to move according to his will, he must needs grow weary of it at last.
Orange. One thing has yet to be attempted.
Orange. To spare the people, and to put an end to the princes.
Egmont. How many have long been haunted by this dread? There is no cause for such anxiety.
Orange. Once I felt anxious; gradually I became suspicious; suspicion has at length grown into certainty.
Egmont. Has the king more faithful servants than ourselves?
Orange. We serve him after our own fashion; and, between ourselves, it must be confessed that we understand pretty well how to make the interests of the king square with our own.
Egmont. And who does not? He has our duty and submission, in so far as they are his due.
Orange. But what if he should arrogate still more, and regard as disloyalty what we esteem the maintenance of our just rights?
Egmont. We shall know in that case how to defend ourselves. Let him assemble the Knights of the Golden Fleece; we will submit ourselves to their decision.
Orange. What if the sentence were to precede the trial? punishment, the sentence?
Egmont. It were an injustice of which Philip is incapable; a folly which I cannot impute either to him or to his counsellors.
Orange. And how if they were both unjust and foolish?
Egmont. No, Orange, it is impossible. Who would venture to lay hands on us? The attempt to capture us were a vain and fruitless enterprize. No, they dare not raise the standard of tyranny so high. The breeze that should waft these tidings over the land would kindle a mighty conflagration. And what object would they have in view? The king alone has no power either to judge or to condemn us and would they attempt our lives by assassination? They cannot intend it. A terrible league would unite the entire people. Direful hate and eternal separation from the crown of Spain would, on the instant, be forcibly declared.
Orange. The flames would then rage over our grave, and the blood of our enemies flow, a vain oblation. Let us consider, Egmont.
Egmont. But how could they effect this purpose?
Orange. Alva is on the way.
Egmont. I do not believe it.
Orange. I know it.
Egmont. The Regent appeared to know nothing of it.
Orange. And, therefore, the stronger is my conviction. The Regent will give place to him. I know his blood-thirsty disposition, and he brings an army with him.
Egmont. To harass the provinces anew? The people will be exasperated to the last degree.
Orange. Their leaders will be secured.
Egmont. No! No!
Orange. Let us retire, each to his province. There we can strengthen ourselves; the Duke will not begin with open violence.
Egmont. Must we not greet him when he comes?
Orange. We will delay.
Egmont. What if, on his arrival, he should summon us in the king's name?
Orange. We will answer evasively.
Egmont. And if he is urgent?
Orange. We will excuse ourselves.
Egmont. And if he insist?
Orange. We shall be the less disposed to come.
Egmont. Then war is declared; and we are rebels. Do not suffer prudence to mislead you, Orange. I know it is not fear that makes you yield. Consider this step.
Orange. I have considered it.
Egmont. Consider for what you are answerable if you are wrong. For the most fatal war that ever yet desolated a country. Your refusal is the signal that at once summons the provinces to arms, that justifies every cruelty for which Spain has hitherto so anxiously sought a pretext. With a single nod you will excite to the direst confusion what, with patient effort, we have so long kept in abeyance. Think of the towns, the nobles, the people; think of commerce, agriculture, trade! Realize the murder, the desolation! Calmly the soldier beholds his comrade fall beside him in the battlefield. But towards you, carried downwards by the stream, shall float the corpses of citizens, of children, of maidens, till, aghast with horror, you shall no longer know whose cause you are defending, since you shall see those, for whose liberty you drew the sword, perishing around you. And what will be your emotions when conscience whispers, "It was for my own safety that I drew it "?
Orange. We are not ordinary men, Egmont. If it becomes us to sacrifice ourselves for thousands, it becomes us no less to spare ourselves for thousands.
Egmont. He who spares himself becomes an object of suspicion ever to himself.
Orange. He who is sure of his own motives can, with confidence, advance or retreat.
Egmont. Your own act will render certain the evil that you dread.
Orange. Wisdom and courage alike prompt us to meet an inevitable evil.
Egmont. When the danger is imminent the faintest hope should be taken into account.
Orange We have not the smallest footing left; we are on the very brink of the precipice.
Egmont. Is the king's favour on ground so narrow?
Orange. Not narrow, perhaps, but slippery.
Egmont. By heavens! he is belied. I cannot endure that he should be so meanly thought of! He is Charles's son, and incapable of meanness.
Orange. Kings of course do nothing mean.
Egmont. He should be better known.
Orange. Our knowledge counsels us not to await the result of a dangerous experiment.
Egmont. No experiment is dangerous, the result of which we have the courage to meet.
Orange. You are irritated, Egmont.
Egmont. I must see with my own eyes.
Orange. Oh that for once you saw with mine! My friend, because your eyes are open, you imagine that you see. I go! Await Alva's arrival, and God be with you! My refusal to do so may perhaps save you. The dragon may deem the prey not worth seizing, if he cannot swallow us both. Perhaps he may delay, in order more surely to execute his purpose; in the meantime you may see matters in their true light. But then, be prompt! Lose not a moment! Save,—oh, save yourself! Farewell!—Let nothing escape your vigilance:—how many troops he brings with him; how he garrisons the town; what force the Regent retains; how your friends are prepared. Send me tidings—Egmont—Egmont. What would you?
Orange (grasping his hand). Be persuaded! Go with me!
Egmont. How! Tears, Orange!
Orange. To weep for a lost friend is not unmanly.
Egmont. You deem me lost?
Orange. You are lost! Consider! Only a brief respite is left you. Farewell.
Egmont (alone). Strange that the thoughts of other men should exert such an influence over us. These fears would never have entered my mind; and this man infects me with his solicitude. Away! 'Tis a foreign drop in my blood! Kind nature, cast it forth! And to erase the furrowed lines from my brow there yet remains indeed a friendly means.
SCENE I.—Palace of the Regent Margaret of Parma
Regent. I might have expected it. Ha! when we live immersed in anxiety and toil, we imagine that we achieve the utmost that is possible; while he, who, from a distance, looks on and commands, believes that he requires only the possible. O ye kings! I had not thought it could have galled me thus. It is so sweet to reign!—and to abdicate? I know not how my father could do so; but I will also.
Machiavel appears in the back-ground
Regent. Approach, Machiavel. I am thinking over this letter from my brother.
Machiavel. May I know what it contains?
Regent. As much tender consideration for me as anxiety for his states. He extols the firmness, the industry, the fidelity, with which I have hitherto watched over the interests of his Majesty in these provinces. He condoles with me that the unbridled people occasion me so much trouble. He is so thoroughly convinced of the depth of my views, so extraordinarily satisfied with the prudence of my conduct, that I must almost say the letter is too politely written for a king—certainly for a brother.
Machiavel. It is not the first time that he has testified to you his just satisfaction.
Regent. But the first time that it is a mere rhetorical figure.
Machiavel. I do not understand you.
Regent. You soon will.—For after this preamble he is of opinion that without soldiers, without a small army indeed,—-I shall always cut a sorry figure here! We did wrong, he says, to withdraw our troops from the provinces at the remonstrance of the inhabitants; a garrison, he thinks, which shall press upon the neck of the burgher, will prevent him, by its weight, from making any lofty spring.
Machiavel. It would irritate the public mind to the last degree.
Regent. The king thinks, however, do you hear?—he thinks that a clever general, one who never listens to reason, will be able to deal promptly with all parties;—people and nobles, citizens and peasants; he therefore sends, with a powerful army, the Duke of Alva.
Regent. You are surprised.
Machiavel. You say, he sends, he asks doubtless whether he should send.
Regent. The king asks not, he sends.
Machiavel. You will then have an experienced warrior in your service.
Regent. In my service? Speak out, Machiavel.
Machiavel. I would not anticipate you.
Regent. And I would I could dissimulate. It wounds me—wounds me to the quick. I had rather my brother would speak his mind than attach his signature to formal epistles drawn up by a Secretary of state.
Machiavel. Can they not comprehend?—
Regent. I know them both within and without. They would fain make a clean sweep; and since they cannot set about it themselves, they give their confidence to any one who comes with a besom in his hand. Oh, it seems to me as if I saw the king and his council worked upon this tapestry.
Machiavel. So distinctly!
Regent. No feature is wanting. There are good men among them. The honest Roderigo, so experienced and so moderate, who does not aim too high, yet lets nothing sink too low; the upright Alonzo, the diligent Freneda, the steadfast Las Vargas, and others who join them when the good party are in power. But there sits the hollow-eyed Toledan, with brazen front and deep fire-glance, muttering between his teeth about womanish softness, ill-timed concession, and that women can ride trained steeds, well enough, but are themselves bad masters of the horse, and the like pleasantries, which, in former times, I have been compelled to hear from political gentlemen.
Machiavel. You have chosen good colours for your picture.
Regent. Confess, Machiavel, among the tints from which I might select, there is no hue so livid, so jaundice-like, as Alva's complexion, and the colour he is wont to paint with. He regards every one as a blasphemer or traitor, for under this head they can all be racked, impaled, quartered, and burnt at pleasure. The good I have accomplished here appears as nothing seen from a distance, just because it is good. Then he dwells on every outbreak that is past, recalls every disturbance that is quieted, and brings before the king such a picture of mutiny, sedition, and audacity, that we appear to him to be actually devouring one another, when with us the transient explosion of a rude people has long been forgotten. Thus he conceives a cordial hatred for the poor people; he views them with horror, as beasts and monsters; looks around for fire and sword, and imagines that by such means human beings are subdued.
Machiavel. You appear to me too vehement; you take the matter too seriously. Do you not remain Regent?
Regent. I am aware of that. He will bring his instructions. I am old enough in state affairs to understand how people can be supplanted, without being actually deprived of office. First, he will produce a commission, couched in terms somewhat obscure and equivocal; he will stretch his authority, for the power is in his hands; if I complain, he will hint at secret instructions; if I desire to see them, he will answer evasively; if I insist, he will produce a paper of totally different import; and if this fail to satisfy me, he will go on precisely as if I had never interfered. Meanwhile he will have accomplished what I dread, and have frustrated my most cherished schemes.
Machiavel. I wish I could contradict you.
Regent. His harshness and cruelty will again arouse the turbulent spirit, which, with unspeakable patience, I have succeeded in quelling; I shall see my work destroyed before my eyes, and have besides to bear the blame of his wrongdoing.
Machiavel. Await it, your Highness.
Regent. I have sufficient self-command to remain quiet. Let him come; I will make way for him with the best grace ere he pushes me aside.
Machiavel. So important a step thus suddenly? Regent. 'Tis harder than you imagine. He who is accustomed to rule, to hold daily in his hand the destiny of thousands, descends from the throne as into the grave. Better thus, however, than linger a spectre among the living, and with hollow aspect endeavour to maintain a place which another has inherited, and already possesses and enjoys.
SCENE II.—Clara's dwelling
Clara and her Mother
Mother. Such a love as Brackenburg's I have never seen; I thought it was to be found only in romance books.
Clara (walking up and down the room, humming a song). With love's thrilling rapture What joy can compare!
Mother. He suspects thy attachment to Egmont; and yet, if thou wouldst but treat him a little kindly, I do believe he would marry thee still, if thou wouldst have him.
Blissful And tearful, With thought-teeming brain; Hoping And fearing In passionate pain; Now shouting in triumph, Now sunk in despair;— With love's thrilling rapture What joy can compare!
Mother. Have done with such baby-nonsense!
Clara. Nay, do not abuse it; 'tis a song of marvellous virtue. Many a time have I lulled a grown child to sleep with it.
Mother. Ay! Thou canst think of nothing but thy love. If it only did not put everything else out of thy head. Thou shouldst have more regard for Brackenburg, I tell thee. He may make thee happy yet some day.
Mother. Oh, yes! A time will come! You children live only in the present, and give no ear to our experience. Youth and happy love, all has an end; and there comes a time when one thanks God if one has any corner to creep into.
Clara (shudders, and after a pause stands up). Mother, let that time come—like death. To think of it beforehand is horrible! And if it come! If we must—then—we will bear ourselves as we may. Live without thee, Egmont! (Weeping.) No! It is impossible.
[Enter Egmont (enveloped in a horseman's cloak, his hat drawn over his face).
Clara (utters a cry and starts back). Egmont! (She hastens towards him.) Egmont! (She embraces and leans upon him.) O thou good, kind, sweet Egmont! Art thou come? Art thou here indeed!
Egmont. Good evening, Mother?
Mother. God save you, noble sir! My daughter has well-nigh pined to death, because you have stayed away so long; she talks and sings about you the live-long day.
Egmont. You will give me some supper?
Mother. You do us too much honour. If we only had anything—
Clara. Certainly! Be quiet, Mother; I have provided everything; there is something prepared. Do not betray me, Mother.
Mother. There's little enough.
Clara. Never mind! And then I think when he is with me I am never hungry; so he cannot, I should think, have any great appetite when I am with him.
Egmont. Do you think so? (Clara stamps with her foot and turns pettishly away.) What ails you?
Clara. How cold you are to-day! You have not yet offered me a kiss. Why do you keep your arms enveloped in your mantle, like a new-born babe? It becomes neither a soldier nor a lover to keep his arms muffled up.
Egmont. Sometimes, dearest, sometimes. When the soldier stands in ambush and would delude the foe, he collects his thoughts, gathers his mantle around him, and matures his plan and a lover—
Mother. Will you not take a seat, and make yourself comfortable? I must to the kitchen, Clara thinks of nothing when you are here. You must put up with what we have.
Egmont. Your good-will is the best seasoning.
Clara. And what then is my love?
Egmont. Just what thou wilt.
Clara. Liken it to anything, if you have the heart.
Egmont. But first. (He flings aside his mantle, and appears arrayed in a magnificent dress.)
Clara. Oh heavens!
Egmont. Now my arms are free! (Embraces her.)
Clara. Don't! You will spoil your dress. (She steps back.) How magnificent! I dare not touch you.
Egmont. Art thou satisfied? I promised to come once arrayed in Spanish fashion.
Clara. I had ceased to remind you of it; I thought you did not like it—ah, and the Golden Fleece!
Egmont. Thou seest it now.
Clara. And did the emperor really hang it round thy neck!
Egmont. He did, my child! And this chain and Order invest the wearer with the noblest privileges. On earth I acknowledge no judge over my actions, except the grand master of the Order, with the assembled chapter of knights.
Clara. Oh, thou mightest let the whole world sit in judgment over thee. The velvet is too splendid! and the braiding! and the embroidery! One knows not where to begin.
Egmont. There, look thy fill.
Clara. And the Golden Fleece! You told me its history, and said it is the symbol of everything great and precious, of everything that can be merited and won by diligence and toil. It is very precious—I may liken it to thy love;—even so I wear it next my heart;—and then—
Egmont. What wilt thou say?
Clara. And then again it is not like.
Egmont. How so?
Clara. I have not won it by diligence and toil, I have not deserved it.
Egmont. It is otherwise in love. Thou dost deserve it because thou hast not sought it—and, for the most part, those only obtain love who seek it not.
Clara. Is it from thine own experience that thou hast learned this? Didst thou make that proud remark in reference to thyself? Thou, whom all the people love?
Egmont. Would that I had done something for them! That I could do anything for them! It is their own good pleasure to love me.
Clara. Thou hast doubtless been with the Regent to-day?
Egmont. I have.
Clara. Art thou upon good terms with her?
Egmont So it would appear. We are kind and serviceable to each other.
Clara. And in thy heart?
Egmont. I like her. True, we have each our own views; but that is nothing to the purpose. She is an excellent woman, knows with whom she has to deal, and would be penetrating enough were she not quite so suspicious. I give her plenty of employment, because she is always suspecting some secret motive in my conduct when, in fact, I have none.
Clara. Really none?
Egmont. Well, with one little exception, perhaps. All wine deposits lees in the cask in the course of time. Orange furnishes her still better entertainment, and is a perpetual riddle. He has got the credit of harbouring some secret design; and she studies his brow to discover his thoughts, and his steps, to learn in what direction they are bent.
Clara. Does she dissemble?
Egmont. She is Regent—and do you ask?
Clara. Pardon me; I meant to say, is she false?
Egmont. Neither more nor less than everyone who has his own objects to attain.
Clara. I should never feel at home in the world. But she has a masculine spirit, and is another sort of woman from us housewives and sempstresses. She is great, steadfast, resolute.
Egmont. Yes, when matters are not too much involved. For once, however, she is a little disconcerted.
Clara. How so?
Egmont. She has a moustache, too, on her upper lip, and occasionally an attack of the gout. A regular Amazon.
Clara. A majestic woman! I should dread to appear before her.
Egmont. Yet thou art not wont to be timid! It would not be fear, only maidenly bashfulness.
(Clara casts down her eyes, takes his hand, and leans upon him.)
Egmont. I understand thee, dearest! Thou mayst raise thine eyes. (He kisses her eyes.)
Clara. Let me be silent! Let me embrace thee! Let me look into thine eyes, and find there everything—hope and comfort, joy and sorrow! (She embraces and gazes on him.) Tell me! Oh, tell me! It seems so strange—art thou indeed Egmont! Count Egmont! The great Egmont, who makes so much noise in the world, who figures in the newspapers, who is the support and stay of the provinces?
Egmont. No, Clara, I am not he.
Egmont. Seest thou, Clara? Let me sit down! (He seats himself, she kneels on a footstool before him, rests her arms on his knees and looks up in his face.) That Egmont is a morose, cold, unbending Egmont, obliged to be upon his guard, to assume now this appearance and now that; harassed, misapprehended and perplexed, when the crowd esteem him light-hearted and gay; beloved by a people who do not know their own minds; honoured and extolled by the intractable multitude; surrounded by friends in whom he dares not confide; observed by men who are on the watch to supplant him; toiling and striving, often without an object, generally without a reward. O let me conceal how it fares with him, let me not speak of his feelings! But this Egmont, Clara, is calm, unreserved, happy, beloved and known by the best of hearts, which is also thoroughly known to him, and which he presses to his own with unbounded confidence and love. (He embraces her.) This is thy Egmont.
Clara. So let me die! The world has no joy after this!
SCENE I.—A Street
Jetter. Hist! neighbour,—a word!
Carpenter. Go your way and be quiet.
Jetter. Only one word. Is there nothing new?
Carpenter. Nothing, except that we are anew forbidden to speak.
Carpenter. Step here, close to this house. Take heed! Immediately on his arrival, the Duke of Alva published a decree, by which two or three, found conversing together in the streets, are without trial, declared guilty of high treason.
Carpenter. To speak of state affairs is prohibited on pain of perpetual imprisonment.
Jetter. Alas for our liberty!
Carpenter. And no one, on pain of death, shall censure the measures of government.
Jetter. Alas, for our heads!
Carpenter. And fathers, Mothers, children, kindred, friends, and servants, are invited, by the promise of large rewards, to disclose what passes in the privacy of our homes, before an expressly appointed tribunal.
Jetter. Let us go home.
Carpenter. And the obedient are promised that they shall suffer no injury, either in person or estate.
Jetter. How gracious!—-I felt ill at ease the moment the duke entered the town. Since then, it has seemed to me, as though the heavens were covered with black crape, which hangs so low, that one must stoop down to avoid knocking one's head against it.
Carpenter. And how do you like his soldiers? They are a different sort of crabs from those we have been used to.
Jetter. Faugh! It gives one the cramp at one's heart to see such a troop march down the street. As straight as tapers, with fixed look, only one step, however many there may be; and when they stand sentinel, and you pass one of them, it seems as though he would look you through and through; and he looks so stiff and morose, that you fancy you see a task-master at every corner. They offend my sight. Our militia were merry fellows; they took liberties, stood their legs astride, their hats over their ears, they lived and let live; these fellows are like machines with a devil inside them.
Carpenter. Were such an one to cry, "Halt!" and level his musket, think you one would stand?
Jetter. I should fall dead upon the spot.
Carpenter. Let us go home!
Jetter No good can come of it. Farewell.
Soest. Friends! Neighbours! Carpenter. Hush! Let us go.
Soest. Have you heard?
Jetter. Only too much!
Soest. The Regent is gone.
Jetter. Then Heaven help us.
Carpenter. She was some stay to us.
Soest. Her departure was sudden and secret. She could not agree with the duke; she has sent word to the nobles that she intends to return. No one believes it, however.
Carpenter. God pardon the nobles for letting this new yoke be laid upon our necks. They might have prevented it. Our privileges are gone.
Jetter. For Heaven's sake not a word about privileges. I already scent an execution; the sun will not come forth; the fogs are rank.
Soest. Orange, too, is gone.
Carpenter. Then are we quite deserted!
Soest, Count Egmont is still here.
Jetter. God be thanked! Strengthen him, all ye saints, to do his utmost; he is the only one who can help us.
Vansen. Have I at length found a few brave citizens who have not crept out of sight?
Jetter. Do us the favour to pass on.
Vansen. You are not civil.
Jetter. This is no time for compliments. Does your back itch again? are your wounds already healed?
Vansen. Ask a soldier about his wounds? Had I cared for blows, nothing good would have come of me.
Jetter. Matters may grow more serious.
Vansen. You feel from the gathering storm a pitiful weakness in your limbs, it seems.
Carpenter. Your limbs will soon be in motion elsewhere, if you do not keep quiet.
Vansen. Poor mice! The master of the house procures a new cat, and ye are straight in despair! The difference is very trifling; we shall get on as we did before, only be quiet.
Carpenter. You are an insolent knave.
Vansen. Gossip! Let the duke alone. The old cat looks as though he had swallowed devils, instead of mice, and could not now digest them. Let him alone, I say; he must eat, drink, and sleep, like other men. I am not afraid if we only watch our opportunity, At first he makes quick work Of it; by-and-by, however, he too will find that it is pleasanter to live in the larder, among flitches of bacon, and to rest by night, than to entrap a few solitary mice in the granary. Go to! I know the stadtholders.
Carpenter. What such a fellow can say with impunity! Had I said such a thing, I should not hold myself safe a moment.
Vansen. Do not make yourselves uneasy! God in heaven does not trouble himself about you, poor worms, much less the Regent.
Vansen. I know some for whom it would be better if, instead of their own high spirits, they had a little tailor's blood in their veins.
Carpenter. What mean you by that?
Vansen. Hum! I mean the count.
Jetter. Egmont! What has he to fear?
Vansen. I'm a poor devil, and could live a whole year round on what he loses in a single night; yet he would do well to give me his revenue for a twelvemonth, to have my head upon his shoulders for one quarter of an hour.
Jetter. You think yourself very clever; yet there is more sense in the hairs of Egmont's head, than in your brains.
Vansen. Perhaps so! Not more shrewdness, however. These gentry are the most apt to deceive themselves. He should be more chary of his confidence.
Jetter. How his tongue wags! Such a gentleman!
Vansen. Just because he is not a tailor.
Jetter. You audacious scoundrel!
Vansen. I only wish he had your courage in his limbs for an hour to make him uneasy, and plague and torment him, till he were compelled to leave the town.
Jetter. What nonsense you talk; why he's as safe as a star in heaven.
Vansen. Have you ever seen one snuff itself out? Off it went!
Carpenter. Who would dare to meddle with him?
Vansen. Will you interfere to prevent it? Will you stir up an insurrection if he is arrested?
Vansen. Will you risk your ribs for his sake?
Vansen (mimicking them). Eh! Oh! Ah! Run through the alphabet in your wonderment. So it is, and so it will remain. Heaven help him!
Jetter. Confound your impudence. Can such a noble, upright man have anything to fear?
Vansen. In this world the rogue has everywhere the advantage. At the bar, he makes a fool of the judge; on the bench, he takes pleasure in convicting the accused. I have had to copy out a protocol, where the commissary was handsomely rewarded by the court, both with praise and money, because through his cross-examination, an honest devil, against whom they had a grudge, was made out to be a rogue.
Carpenter. Why, that again is a downright lie. What can they want to get out of a man if he is innocent?
Vansen. Oh, you blockhead! When nothing can be worked out of a man by cross-examination, they work it into him. Honesty is rash and withal somewhat presumptuous; at first they question quietly enough, and the prisoner, proud of his innocence, as they call it, comes out with much that a sensible man would keep back! then, from these answers the inquisitor proceeds to put new questions, and is on the watch for the slightest contradiction; there he fastens his line; and, let the poor devil lose his self-possession, say too much here, or too little there, or, Heaven knows from what whim or other, let him withhold some trifling circumstance, or at any moment give way to fear—then we're on the right track, and, I assure you, no beggar-woman seeks for rags among the rubbish with more care than such a fabricator of rogues, from trifling, crooked, disjointed, misplaced, misprinted, and concealed facts and information, acknowledged or denied, endeavours at length to patch up a scarecrow, by means of which he may at least hang his victim in effigy; and the poor devil may thank Heaven if he is in a condition to see himself hanged.
Jetter. He has a ready tongue of his own.
Carpenter. This may serve well enough with flies. Wasps laugh at your cunning web.
Vansen. According to the kind of spider. The tall duke, now, has just the look of your garden spider; not the large-bellied kind, they are less dangerous; but your long-footed, meagre-bodied gentleman, that does not fatten on his diet, and whose threads are slender indeed, but not the less tenacious.
Jetter. Egmont is knight of the Golden Fleece, who dare lay hands on him? He can be tried only by his peers, by the assembled knights of his order. Your own foul tongue and evil conscience betray you into this nonsense.
Vansen. Think you that I wish him ill? I would you were in the right. He is an excellent gentleman. He once let off, with a sound drubbing, some good friends of mine, who would else have been hanged. Now take yourselves off! begone, I advise you! Yonder I see the patrol again commencing their round. They do not look as if they would be willing to fraternize with us over a glass. We must wait, and bide our time. I have a couple of nieces and a gossip of a tapster; if after enjoying themselves in their company, they are not tamed, they are regular wolves.
SCENE II.—The Palace of Eulenberg, Residence of the Duke of Alva
Silva and Gomez (meeting)
Silva. Have you executed the duke's commands?
Gomez. Punctually. All the day-patrols have received orders to assemble at the appointed time, at the various points that I have indicated. Meanwhile, they march as usual through the town to maintain order. Each is ignorant respecting the movements of the rest, and imagines the command to have reference to himself alone; thus in a moment the cordon can be formed, and all the avenues to the palace occupied. Know you the reason of this command?
Silva. I am accustomed blindly to obey; and to whom can one more easily render obedience than to the duke, since the event always proves the wisdom of his commands?
Gomez. Well! Well! I am not surprised that you are become as reserved and monosyllabic as the duke, since you are obliged to be always about his person; to me, however, who am accustomed to the lighter service of Italy, it seems strange enough. In loyalty and obedience, I am the same old soldier as ever; but I am wont to indulge in gossip and discussion; here, you are all silent, and seem as though you knew not how to enjoy yourselves. The duke, methinks, is like a brazen tower without gates, the garrison of which must be furnished with wings. Not long ago I heard him say at the table of a gay, jovial fellow that he was like a bad spirit-shop, with a brandy sign displayed; to allure idlers, vagabonds, and thieves.