JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
THE GERMAN CLASSICS
MASTERPIECES OF GERMAN LITERATURE
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
IN TWENTY VOLUMES
CONTENTS OF VOLUME II
INTRODUCTION TO THE ELECTIVE AFFINITIES. By Calvin Thomas
THE ELECTIVE AFFINITIES. Translated by James Anthony Froude and R. Dillon Boylan
SHAKESPEARE AND AGAIN SHAKESPEARE. Translated by Julia Franklin
ORATION ON WIELAND. Translated by Louis H. Gray
THE PEDAGOGIC PROVINCE (from "Wilhelm Meister's Travels"). Translated by R. Dillon Boylan
WINCKELMANN AND HIS AGE. Translated by George Krielin
MAXIMS AND REFLECTIONS. Translated by Bailey Saunders
ECKERMANN'S CONVERSATION WITH GOETHE. Translated by John Oxenford
GOETHE'S CORRESPONDENCE WITH WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT AND HIS WIFE. Translated by Louis H. Gray
GOETHE'S CORRESPONDENCE WITH K. F. ZELTER. Translated by Frances H. King
Edward reading aloud to Charlotte and the Captain
Charlotte receives Ottilie. By P. Grotjohann
Edward and Ottilie. By P. Grotjohann
Edward, Charlotte, Ottilie and the Captain discuss the new plan of the house. By Franz Simm
Ottilie examines Edward's Presents. By P Grotjohann
Luciana posing as Queen Artemisia. By P. Grotjohann
Ottilie. By Wilhelm von Kaulbach
The Old Theatre, Weimar. By Peter Woltze
Martin Wieland. By E. Hader
Weimar seen from the North
Goethe and his Secretary. By Johann Josef Schmeller
The Garden at Goethe's City House, Weimar. By Peter Woltze
Schiller's Garden House at Jena. Drawing by Goethe
The float at Jena. Drawing by Goethe
View into the Saale Valley near Jena. Drawing by Goethe
INTRODUCTION TO THE ELECTIVE AFFINITIES
In the spring of the year 1807 Goethe began work on the second part of Wilhelm Meister. He had no very definite plot in view, but proposed to make room for a number of short stories, all relating to the subject of renunciation, which was to be the central theme of the Wanderjahre. In the course of the summer, while he was taking the waters at Karlsbad, two or three of the stories were written. The following spring he set about elaborating another tale of renunciation, the idea of which had occurred to him some time before. But somehow it refused to be confined within the limits of a novelette. As he proceeded the matter grew apace, until it finally developed into the novel which was given to the world in 1809 under the title of The Elective Affinities.
When that which should be a short story is expanded into a novel one can usually detect the padding and the embroidery. So it is certainly in this case. Those long descriptions of landscape-gardening; the copious extracts from Ottilie's diary, containing many thoughts which would hardly have entered the head of such a girl; the pages given to subordinate characters, whose comings and goings have no very obvious connection with the story,—all these retard the narrative and tend to hide the essential idea. The strange title, too, has served to divert attention from the real centre of gravity. Had the tale been called, say, "Ottilie's Expiation," there would have been less room for misunderstanding and irrelevant criticism; there would have been less concern over the moral, and more over the artistic, aspect of the story.
What then was the essential idea? Simply to describe a peculiar tragedy resulting from the invasion of the marriage relation by lawless passion. As for the title, it should be remembered that there was just then a tendency to look for curious analogies between physical law and the operations of the human mind. Great interest was felt in suggestion, occult influence, and all that sort of thing. Goethe himself had lately been lecturing on magnetism. He had also observed, as no one can fail to observe, that the sexual attraction sometimes seems to act like chemical affinity: it breaks up old unions, forms new combinations, destroys pre-existing bodies, as if it were a law that must work itself out, whatever the consequences. Such a process will now and then defy prudence, self-respect, duty, even religion,—going its way like a blind and ruthless law of physics. But if this is to happen the recombining elements must, of course, have each its specific character; else there is no affinity and no tragedy.
It is no part of the analogy that the pressure of sex is always and by its very nature like the attraction of atoms. Aside from the fact that character consists largely in the steady inhibition of instinct and passion by the will, there is this momentous difference between atoms or molecules, on the one hand, and souls on the other: the character of the atom or molecule is constant, that of the soul is highly variable. There is no room here for remarks on free will and determinism; suffice it to say that Goethe does not preach any doctrine of mechanical determinism in human relations. The scientific analogy must not be pressed too hard. It is really not important, since after all nothing turns on it. Whatever interest the novel has it would have if all reference to chemistry had been omitted. Goethe's thesis, if he can be said to have one, is simply that character is fate.
He imagines a middle-aged man and woman, Edward and Charlotte, who are, to all seeming, happily united in marriage. Each has been married before to an unloved mate who has conveniently died, leaving them both free to yield to the gentle pull of long-past youthful attachment. Their feeling for each other is only a mild friendship, but that does not appear to augur ill, since they are well-to-do, and their fine estate offers them both a plenty of interesting work. Edward has a highly esteemed friend called the Captain, who is for the moment without suitable employment for his ability and energy. Edward can give him just the needed work, with great advantage to the property, and would like to do so. Charlotte fears that the presence of the Captain may disturb their pleasant idyl, but finally yields. She herself has a niece, Ottilie, a beautiful girl whom no one understands and who is not doing well at her boarding-school. Charlotte would like to have the girl under her own care. After much debate the pair take both the Captain and Ottilie into their spacious castle.
And now the elective affinity begins to do its disastrous work. Edward, who has always indulged himself in every whim and has no other standard of conduct, falls madly in love with the charming Ottilie, who has a passion for making herself useful and serving everybody. She adapts herself to Edward, fails to see what a shabby specimen of a man he really is, humors his whims, and worships him—at first in an innocent girlish way. Charlotte is not long in discovering that the Captain is a much better man than her husband; she loves him, but within the limits of wifely duty. In the vulgar world of prose such a tangle could be most easily straightened out by divorce and remarriage. This is what Edward proposes and tries to bring about. The others are almost won over to this solution when the event happens that precipitates the tragedy: the child of Edward and Charlotte is accidentally drowned by Ottilie's carelessness.
It is a very dubious link in Goethe's fiction that this child, while the genuine offspring of Edward and Charlotte, has the features of Ottilie and the Captain. From the moment of the drowning Ottilie is a changed being. Her character quickly matures; like a wakened sleep-walker she sees what a dangerous path she has been treading. She feels that marriage with Edward would be a crime. She resists his passionate appeals, and her remorse takes on a morbid tinge. It becomes a fixed idea. Happiness is not for her. She must renounce it all. She must atone—atone—for her awful sin. For a moment they plan to send her back to school, but she cannot tear herself away from Edward's sinister presence. At last she refuses food and gradually starves herself to death. The wretched Edward does likewise.
Any just appreciation of Goethe's art in The Elective Affinities must begin by recognizing that it is about Ottilie. For her sake the book was written. It is a study of a delicately organized virgin soul caught in the meshes of an ignoble fate and beating its wings in hopeless misery until death ends the struggle. The other characters are ordinary people: Charlotte and the Captain ordinary in their good sense and self-control, Edward ordinary in his moral flabbiness and his foolish infatuation. His death, to be sure, is unthinkable for such a man and does but testify to the unearthly attraction with which the girl is invested by Goethe's art. The figure of Ottilie, like that of her spiritual sister Mignon, is irradiated by a light that never was on sea or land. She is a creature of romance, and we learn without much surprise that her dead body performs miracles. One is reminded of that medieval lady who is doomed to eat the heart of her crusading lover and then refuses all other food and dies. That Edward is quite unworthy of the girl's love, that the death of the child is no sufficient reason for her morbid remorse, is quite immaterial, since at the end of the tale we are no longer in the realm of normal psychology. A season of dreamy happiness, as she moves about in a world unrealized; then a terrible shock, and after that, remorse, renunciation, hopelessness, the will to die. Such is the logic of the tale.
THE ELECTIVE AFFINITIES
TRANSLATED BY JAMES ANTHONY FROUDE AND R. DILLON BOYLAN
Edward—so we shall call a wealthy nobleman in the prime of life—had been spending several hours of a fine April morning in his nursery-garden, budding the stems of some young trees with cuttings which had been recently sent to him.
He had finished what he was about, and having laid his tools together in their box, was complacently surveying his work, when the gardener came up and complimented his master on his industry.
"Have you seen my wife anywhere?" inquired Edward, as he moved to go away.
"My lady is alone yonder in the new grounds," said the man; "the summer-house which she has been making on the rock over against the castle is finished today, and really it is beautiful. It cannot fail to please your grace. The view from it is perfect:—the village at your feet; a little to your right the church, with its tower, which you can just see over; and directly opposite you, the castle and the garden."
"Quite true," replied Edward; "I can see the people at work a few steps from where I am standing."
"And then, to the right of the church again," continued the gardener, "is the opening of the valley; and you look along over a range of wood and meadow far into the distance. The steps up the rock, too, are excellently arranged. My gracious lady understands these things; it is a pleasure to work under her."
"Go to her," said Edward, "and desire her to be so good as to wait for me there. Tell her I wish to see this new creation of hers, and enjoy it with her."
The gardener went rapidly off, and Edward soon followed. Descending the terrace, and stopping as he passed to look into the hot-houses and the forcing-pits, he came presently to the stream, and thence, over a narrow bridge, to a place where the walk leading to the summer-house branched off in two directions. One path led across the churchyard, immediately up the face of the rock. The other, into which he struck, wound away to the left, with a more gradual ascent, through a pretty shrubbery. Where the two paths joined again, a seat had been made, where he stopped a few moments to rest; and then, following the now single road, he found himself, after scrambling along among steps and slopes of all sorts and kinds, conducted at last through a narrow more or less steep outlet to the summer-house.
Charlotte was standing at the door to receive her husband. She made him sit down where, without moving, he could command a view of the different landscapes through the door and window—these serving as frames, in which they were set like pictures. Spring was coming on; a rich, beautiful life would soon everywhere be bursting; and Edward spoke of it with delight.
"There is only one thing which I should observe," he added, "the summer-house itself is rather small."
"It is large enough for you and me, at any rate," answered Charlotte.
"Certainly," said Edward; "there is room for a third, too, easily."
"Of course; and for a fourth also," replied Charlotte. "For larger parties we can contrive other places."
"Now that we are here by ourselves, with no one to disturb us, and in such a pleasant mood," said Edward, "it is a good opportunity for me to tell you that I have for some time had something on my mind, about which I have wished to speak to you, but have never been able to muster up my courage."
"I have observed that there has been something of the sort," said Charlotte.
"And even now," Edward went on, "if it were not for a letter which the post brought me this morning, and which obliges me to come to some resolution today, I should very likely have still kept it to myself."
"What is it, then" asked Charlotte, turning affectionately toward him.
"It concerns our friend the Captain," answered Edward; "you know the unfortunate position in which he, like many others, is placed. It is through no fault of his own; but you may imagine how painful it must be for a person with his knowledge and talents and accomplishments, to find himself without employment. I—I will not hesitate any longer with what I am wishing for him. I should like to have him here with us for a time."
"We must think about that," replied Charlotte; "it should be considered on more sides than one."
"I am quite ready to tell you what I have in view," returned Edward. "Through his last letters there is a prevailing tone of despondency; not that he is really in any want. He knows thoroughly well how to limit his expenses; and I have taken care for everything absolutely necessary. It is no distress to him to accept obligations from me; all our lives we have been in the habit of borrowing from and lending to each other; and we could not tell, if we would, how our debtor and creditor account stands. It is being without occupation which is really fretting him. The many accomplishments which he has cultivated in himself, it is his only pleasure—indeed, it is his passion—to be daily and hourly exercising for the benefit of others. And now, to sit still, with his arms folded; or to go on studying, acquiring, and acquiring, when he can make no use of what he already possesses;—my dear creature, it is a painful situation; and alone as he is, he feels it doubly and trebly."
"But I thought," said Charlotte, "that he had had offers from many different quarters. I myself wrote to numbers of my own friends, male and female, for him; and, as I have reason to believe, not without effect."
"It is true," replied Edward; "but these very offers—these various proposals—have only caused him fresh embarrassment. Not one of them is at all suitable to such a person as he is. He would have nothing to do; he would have to sacrifice himself, his time, his purposes, his whole method of life; and to that he cannot bring himself. The more I think of it all, the more I feel about it, and the more anxious I am to see him here with us."
"It is very beautiful and amiable in you," answered Charlotte, "to enter with so much sympathy into your friend's position; only you must allow me to ask you to think of yourself and of me, as well."
"I have done that," replied Edward. "For ourselves, we can have nothing to expect from his presence with us, except pleasure and advantage. I will say nothing of the expense. In any case, if he came to us, it would be but small; and you know he will be of no inconvenience to us at all. He can have his own rooms in the right wing of the castle, and everything else can be arranged as simply as possible. What shall we not be thus doing for him! and how agreeable and how profitable may not his society prove to us! I have long been wishing for a plan of the property and the grounds. He will see to it, and get it made. You intend yourself to take the management of the estate, as soon as our present steward's term is expired; and that, you know, is a serious thing. His various information will be of immense benefit to us; I feel only too acutely how much I require a person of this kind. The country people have knowledge enough, but their way of imparting it is confused, and not always honest. The students from the towns and universities are sufficiently clever and orderly, but they are deficient in personal experience. From my friend, I can promise myself both knowledge and method, and hundreds of other circumstances I can easily conceive arising, affecting you as well as me, and from which I can foresee innumerable advantages. Thank you for so patiently listening to me. Now, do you say what you think, and say it out freely and fully; I will not interrupt you."
"Very well," replied Charlotte; "I will begin at once with a general observation. Men think most of the immediate—the present; and rightly, their calling being to do and to work; women, on the other hand, more of how things hang together in life; and that rightly too, because their destiny—the destiny of their families—is bound up in this interdependence, and it is exactly this which it is their mission to promote. So now let us cast a glance at our present and our past life; and you will acknowledge that the invitation of the Captain does not fall in so entirely with our purposes, our plans, and our arrangements. I will go back to those happy days of our earliest intercourse. We loved each other, young as we then were, with all our hearts. We were parted: you from me—your father, from an insatiable desire of wealth, choosing to marry you to an elderly and rich lady; I from you, having to give my hand, without any especial motive, to an excellent man, whom I respected, if I did not love. We became again free—you first, your poor mother at the same time leaving you in possession of your large fortune; I later, just at the time when you returned from abroad. So we met once more. We spoke of the past; we could enjoy and love the recollection of it; we might have been contented, in each other's society, to leave things as they were. You were urgent for our marriage. I at first hesitated. We were about the same age; but I as a woman had grown older than you as a man. At last I could not refuse you what you seemed to think the one thing you cared for. All the discomfort which you had ever experienced, at court, in the army, or in traveling, you were to recover from at my side; you would settle down and enjoy life; but only with me for your companion. I settled my daughter at a school, where she could be more completely educated than would be possible in the retirement of the country; and I placed my niece Ottilie there with her as well, who, perhaps, would have grown up better at home with me, under my own care. This was done with your consent, merely that we might have our own lives to ourselves—merely that we might enjoy undisturbed our so-long-wished-for, so-long-delayed happiness. We came here and settled ourselves. I undertook the domestic part of the menage, you the out-of-doors and the general control. My own principle has been to meet your wishes in everything, to live only for you. At least, let us give ourselves a fair trial how far in this way we can be enough for each other."
"Since the interdependence of things, as you call it, is your especial element," replied Edward, "one should either never listen to any of your trains of reasoning, or make up one's mind to allow you to be in the right; and, indeed, you have been in the right up to the present day. The foundation which we have hitherto been laying for ourselves, is of the true, sound sort; only, are we to build nothing upon it? is nothing to be developed out of it? All the work we have done—I in the garden, you in the park—is it all only for a pair of hermits?"
"Well, well," replied Charlotte, "very well. What we have to look to is, that we introduce no alien element, nothing which shall cross or obstruct us. Remember, our plans, even those which only concern our amusements, depend mainly on our being together. You were to read to me, in consecutive order, the journal which you made when you were abroad. You were to take the opportunity of arranging it, putting all the loose matter connected with it in its place; and with me to work with you and help you, out of these invaluable but chaotic leaves and sheets to put together a complete thing, which should give pleasure to ourselves and to others. I promised to assist you in transcribing; and we thought it would be so pleasant, so delightful, so charming, to travel over in recollection the world which we were unable to see together. The beginning is already made. Then, in the evenings, you have taken up your flute again, accompanying me on the piano, while of visits backwards and forwards among the neighborhood, there is abundance. For my part, I have been promising myself out of all this the first really happy summer I have ever thought to spend in my life."
"Only I cannot see," replied Edward, rubbing his forehead, "how, through every bit of this which you have been so sweetly and so sensibly laying before me, the Captain's presence can be any interruption; I should rather have thought it would give it all fresh zest and life. He was my companion during a part of my travels. He made many observations from a different point of view from mine. We can put it all together, and so make a charmingly complete work of it."
"Well, then, I will acknowledge openly," answered Charlotte, with some impatience, "my feeling is against this plan. I have an instinct which tells me no good will come of it."
"You women are invincible in this way," replied Edward. "You are so sensible, that there is no answering you, then so affectionate, that one is glad to give way to you; full of feelings, which one cannot wound, and full of forebodings, which terrify one."
"I am not superstitious," said Charlotte; "and I care nothing for these dim sensations, merely as such; but in general they are the result of unconscious recollections of happy or unhappy consequences, which we have experienced as following on our own or others' actions. Nothing is of greater moment, in any state of things, than the intervention of a third person. I have seen friends, brothers and sisters, lovers, husbands and wives, whose relation to each other, through the accidental or intentional introduction of a third person, has been altogether changed—whose whole moral condition has been inverted by it."
"That may very well be," replied Edward, "with people who live on without looking where they are going; but not, surely, with persons whom experience has taught to understand themselves."
"That understanding ourselves, my dearest husband," insisted Charlotte, "is no such certain weapon. It is very often a most dangerous one for the person who bears it. And out of all this, at least so much seems to arise, that we should not be in too great a hurry. Let me have a few days to think; don't decide."
"As the matter stands," returned Edward, "wait as many days as we will, we shall still be in too great a hurry. The arguments for and against are all before us; all we want is the conclusion, and as things are, I think the best thing we can do is to draw lots."
"I know," said Charlotte, "that in doubtful cases it is your way to leave them to chance. To me, in such a serious matter, this seems almost a crime."
"Then what am I to write to the Captain?" cried Edward; "for write I must at once."
"Write him a kind, sensible, sympathizing letter," answered Charlotte.
"That is as good as none at all," replied Edward.
"And there are many cases," answered she, "in which we are obliged, and in which it is the real kindness, rather to write nothing than not to write."
Edward was alone in his room. The repetition of the incidents of his life from Charlotte's lips; the representation of their mutual situation, their mutual purposes, had worked him, sensitive as he was, into a very pleasant state of mind. While close to her—while in her presence—he had felt so happy, that he had thought out a warm, kind, but quiet and indefinite epistle which he would send to the Captain. When, however, he had settled himself at his writing-table, and taken up his friend's letter to read it over once more, the sad condition of this excellent man rose again vividly before him. The feelings which had been all day distressing him again awoke, and it appeared impossible to him to leave one whom he called his friend in such painful embarrassment.
Edward was unaccustomed to deny himself anything. The only child, and consequently the spoilt child, of wealthy parents, who had persuaded him into a singular, but highly advantageous marriage with a lady far older than himself; and again by her petted and indulged in every possible way, she seeking to reward his kindness to her by the utmost liberality; after her early death his own master, traveling independently of every one, equal to all contingencies and all changes, with desires never excessive, but multiple and various—free-hearted, generous, brave, at times even noble—what was there in the world to cross or thwart him?
Hitherto, everything had gone as he desired! Charlotte had become his; he had won her at last, with an obstinate, a romantic fidelity; and now he felt himself, for the first time, contradicted, crossed in his wishes, when those wishes were to invite to his home the friend of his youth—just as he was longing, as it were, to throw open his whole heart to him. He felt annoyed, impatient; he took up his pen again and again, and as often threw it down again, because he could not make up his mind what to write. Against his wife's wishes he would not go; against her expressed desire he could not. Ill at ease as he was, it would have been impossible for him, even if he had wished, to write a quiet, easy letter. The most natural thing to do, was to put it off. In a few words, he begged his friend to forgive him for having left his letter unanswered; that day he was unable to write circumstantially; but shortly, he hoped to be able to tell him what he felt at greater length.
The next day, as they were walking to the same spot, Charlotte took the opportunity of bringing back the conversation to the subject, perhaps because she knew that there is no surer way of rooting out any plan or purpose than by often talking it over.
It was what Edward was wishing. He expressed him self in his own way, kindly and sweetly. For although, sensitive as, he was, he flamed up readily—although the vehemence with which he desired anything made him pressing, and his obstinacy made him impatient—his words were so softened by his wish to spare the feelings of those to whom he was speaking, that it was impossible not to be charmed, even when one most disagreed, with him.
This morning, he first contrived to bring Charlotte into the happiest humor, and then so disarmed her with the graceful turn which he gave to the conversation, that she cried out at last:
"You are determined that what I refused to the husband you will make me grant to the lover. At least, my dearest," she continued, "I will acknowledge that your wishes,—and the warmth and sweetness with which you express them, have not left me untouched, have not left me unmoved. You drive me to make a confession;—till now, I too have had a concealment from you; I am in exactly the same position with you, and I have hitherto been putting the same restraint on my inclination which I have been exhorting you to put on yours."
"Glad am I to hear that," said Edward. "In the married state, a difference of opinion now and then, I see, is no bad thing; we learn something of each other by it."
"You are to learn at present, then," said Charlotte, "that it is with me about Ottilie as it is with you about the Captain. The dear child is most uncomfortable at the school, and I am thoroughly uneasy about her. Luciana, my daughter, born as she is for the world, is there training hourly for the world; languages, history, everything that is taught there, she acquires with so much ease that, as it were, she learns them off at sight. She has quick natural gifts, and an excellent memory; one may almost say she forgets everything, and in a moment calls it all back again. She distinguishes herself above every one at the school with the freedom of her carriage, the grace of her movement, and the elegance of her address, and with the inborn royalty of nature makes herself the queen of the little circle there. The superior of the establishment regards her as a little divinity, who, under her hands, is shaping into excellence, and who will do her honor, gain her reputation, and bring her a large increase of pupils; the first pages of this good lady's letters, and her monthly notices of progress, are forever hymns about the excellence of such a child, which I have to translate into my own prose; while her concluding sentences about Ottilie are nothing but excuse after excuse—attempts at explaining how it can be that a girl in other respects growing up so lovely seems coming to nothing, and shows neither capacity nor accomplishment. This, and the little she has to say besides, is no riddle to me, because I can see in this dear child the same character as that of her mother, who was my own dearest friend; who grew up with myself, and whose daughter, I am certain, if I had the care of her education, would form into an exquisite creature.
"This, however, has not fallen in with our plan, and as one ought not to be picking and pulling, or for ever introducing new elements among the conditions of our lives, I think it better to bear, and to conquer as I can, even the unpleasant impression that my daughter, who knows very well that poor Ottilie is entirely dependent upon us, does not refrain from flourishing her own successes in her face, and so, to a certain extent, destroys the little good which we have done for her. Who are well trained enough never to wound others by a parade of their own advantages? and who stands so high as not at times to suffer under such a slight? In trials like these, Ottilie's character is growing in strength, but since I have clearly known the painfulness of her situation, I have been thinking over all possible ways to make some other arrangement. Every hour I am expecting an answer to my own last letter, and then I do not mean to hesitate any more. So, my dear Edward, it is with me. We have both, you see, the same sorrows to bear, touching both our hearts in the same point. Let us bear them together, since we neither of us can press our own against the other."
"We are strange creatures," said Edward, smiling. "If we can only put out of sight anything which troubles us, we fancy at once we have got rid of it. We can give up much in the large and general; but to make sacrifices in little things is a demand to which we are rarely equal. So it was with my mother,—as long as I lived with her, while a boy and a young man, she could not bear to let me be a moment out of her sight. If I was out later than usual in my ride, some misfortune must have happened to me. If I got wet through in a shower, a fever was inevitable. I traveled; I was absent from her altogether; and, at once, I scarcely seemed to belong to her. If we look at it closer," he continued, "we are both acting very foolishly, very culpably. Two very noble natures, both of which have the closest claims on our affection, we are leaving exposed to pain and distress, merely to avoid exposing ourselves to a chance of danger. If this is not to be called selfish, what is? You take Ottilie. Let me have the Captain; and, for a short period, at least, let the trial be made."
"We might venture it," said Charlotte, thoughtfully, "if the danger were only to ourselves. But do you think it prudent to bring Ottilie and the Captain into a situation where they must necessarily be so closely intimate; the Captain, a man no older than yourself, of an age (I am not saying this to flatter you) when a man becomes first capable of love and first deserving of it, and a girl of Ottilie's attractiveness?"
"I cannot conceive how you can rate Ottilie so high," replied Edward. "I can only explain it to myself by supposing her to have inherited your affection for her mother. Pretty she is, no doubt. I remember the Captain observing it to me, when we came back last year, and met her at your aunt's. Attractive she is,—she has particularly pretty eyes; but I do not know that she made the slightest impression upon me."
"That was quite proper in you," said Charlotte, "seeing that I was there; and, although she is much younger than I, the presence of your old friend had so many charms for you, that you overlooked the promise of the opening beauty. It is one of your ways; and that is one reason why it is so pleasant to live with you."
Charlotte, openly as she appeared to be speaking, was keeping back something, nevertheless; which was that at the time when Edward came first back from abroad, she had purposely thrown Ottilie in his way, to secure, if possible, so desirable a match for her protegee. For of herself, at that time, in connection with Edward, she never thought at all. The Captain, also, had a hint given to him to draw Edward's attention to her; but the latter, who was clinging determinately to his early affection for Charlotte, looked neither right nor left, and was only happy in the feeling that it was at last within his power to obtain for himself the one happiness which he so earnestly desired; and which a series of incidents had appeared to have placed forever beyond his reach.
They were on the point of descending the new grounds, in order to return to the castle, when a servant came hastily to meet them, and, with a laugh on his face, called up from below, "Will your grace be pleased to come quickly to the castle? The Herr Mittler has just galloped into the court. He shouted to us, to go all of us in search of you, and we were to ask whether there was need; 'whether there is need,' he cried after us, 'do you hear? But be quick, be quick.'"
"The odd fellow," exclaimed Edward. "But has he not come at the right time, Charlotte? Tell him, there is need,—grievous need. He must alight. See his horse taken care of. Take him into the saloon, and let him have some luncheon. We shall be with him immediately."
"Let us take the nearest way," he said to his wife, and struck into the path across the churchyard, which he usually avoided. He was not a little surprised to find here, too, traces of Charlotte's delicate hand. Sparing, as far as possible, the old monuments, she had contrived to level it, and lay it carefully out, so as to make it appear a pleasant spot on which the eye and the imagination could equally repose with pleasure. The oldest stones had each their special honor assigned them. They were ranged according to their dates along the wall, either leaning against it, or let into it, or however it could be contrived; and the string-course of the church was thus variously ornamented.
Edward was singularly affected as he came in upon it through the little wicket; he pressed Charlotte's hand, and tears started into his eyes. But these were very soon put to flight, by the appearance of their singular visitor. This gentleman had declined sitting down in the castle; he had ridden straight through the village to the churchyard gate; and then, halting, he called out to his friends, "Are you not making a fool of me? Is there need, really? If there is, I can stay till mid-day. But don't keep me. I have a great deal to do before night."
"Since you have taken the trouble to come so far," cried Edward to him, in answer, "you had better come through the gate. We meet at a solemn spot. Come and see the variety which Charlotte has thrown over its sadness."
"Inside there," called out the rider, "come I neither on horseback, nor in carriage, nor on foot. These here rest in peace: with them I have nothing to do. One day I shall be carried in feet foremost. I must bear that as I can. Is it serious, I want to know?"
"Indeed it is," cried Charlotte, "right serious. For the first time in our married lives, we are in a strait and difficulty, from which we do not know how to extricate ourselves."
"You do not look as if it were so," answered he. "But I will believe you. If you are deceiving me, for the future you shall help yourselves. Follow me quickly, my horse will be none the worse for a rest."
The three speedily found themselves in the saloon together. Luncheon was brought in, and Mittler told them what that day he had done, and was going to do. This eccentric person had in early life been a clergyman, and had distinguished himself in his office by the never-resting activity with which he contrived to make up and put an end to quarrels: quarrels in families, and quarrels between neighbors; first among the individuals immediately about him, and afterward among whole congregations, and among the country gentlemen round. While he was in the ministry, no married couple was allowed to separate; and the district courts were untroubled with either cause or process. A knowledge of the law, he was well aware, was necessary to him. He gave himself with all his might to the study of it, and very soon felt himself a match for the best trained advocate. His circle of activity extended wonderfully, and people were on the point of inducing him to move to the Residence, where he would find opportunities of exercising in the higher circles what he had begun in the lowest, when he won a considerable sum of money in a lottery. With this, he bought himself a small property. He let the ground to a tenant, and made it the centre of his operations, with the fixed determination, or rather in accordance with his old customs and inclinations, never to enter a house when there was no dispute to make up, and no help to be given. People who were superstitious about names, and about what they imported, maintained that it was his being called Mittler which drove him to take upon himself this strange employment.
Luncheon was laid on the table, and the stranger then solemnly pressed his host not to wait any longer with the disclosure which he had to make. Immediately after refreshing himself he would be obliged to leave them.
Husband and wife made a circumstantial confession; but scarcely had he caught the substance of the matter, when he started angrily up from the table, rushed out of the saloon, and ordered his horse to be saddled instantly.
"Either you do not know me, you do not understand me," he cried, "or you are sorely mischievous. Do you call this a quarrel? Is there any want of help here? Do you suppose that I am in the world to give advice? Of all occupations which man can pursue, that is the most foolish. Every man must be his own counsellor, and do what he cannot let alone. If all go well, let him be happy, let him enjoy his wisdom and his fortune; if it go ill, I am at hand to do what I can for him. The man who desires to be rid of an evil knows what he wants; but the man who desires something better than he has got is stone blind. Yes, yes, laugh as you will, he is playing blindman's-buff; perhaps he gets hold of something, but the question is what he has got hold of. Do as you will, it is all one. Invite your friends to you, or let them be, it is all the same. The most prudent plans I have seen miscarry, and the most foolish succeed. Don't split your brains about it; and if, one way or the other, evil comes of what you settle, don't fret; send for me, and you shall be helped. Till which time, I am your humble servant."
So saying, he sprang on his horse, without waiting the arrival of the coffee.
"Here you see," said Charlotte, "the small service a third person can be, when things are off their balance between two persons closely connected; we are left, if possible, more confused and more uncertain than we were."
They would both, probably, have continued hesitating some time longer, had not a letter arrived from the Captain, in reply to Edward's last. He had made up his mind to accept one of the situations which had been offered him, although it was not in the least up to his mark. He was to share the ennui of certain wealthy persons of rank, who depended on his ability to dissipate it.
Edward's keen glance saw into the whole thing, and he pictured it out in just, sharp lines.
"Can we endure to think of our friend in such a position?" he cried; "you cannot be so cruel, Charlotte."
"That strange Mittler is right after all," replied Charlotte; "all such undertakings are ventures; what will come of them it is impossible to foresee. New elements introduced among us may be fruitful in fortune or in misfortune, without our having to take credit to ourselves for one or the other. I do not feel myself firm enough to oppose you further. Let us make the experiment; only one thing I will entreat of you—that it be only for a short time. You must allow me to exert myself more than ever, to use all my influence among all my connections, to find him some position which will satisfy him in his own way."
Edward poured out the warmest expressions of gratitude. He hastened, with a light, happy heart, to write off his proposals to his friend. Charlotte, in a postscript, was to signify her approbation with her own hand, and unite her own kind entreaties with his. She wrote, with a rapid pen, pleasantly and affectionately, but yet with a sort of haste which was not usual with her; and, most unlike herself, she disfigured the paper at last with a blot of ink, which put her out of temper, and which she only made worse with her attempts to wipe it away.
Edward laughed at her about it, and, as there was still room, added a second postscript, that his friend was to see from this symptom the impatience with which he was expected, and measure the speed at which he came to them by the haste in which the letter was written.
The messenger was gone; and Edward thought he could not give a more convincing evidence of his gratitude, than in insisting again and again that Charlotte should at once send for Ottilie from the school. She said she would think about it; and, for that evening, induced Edward to join with her in the enjoyment of a little music. Charlotte played exceedingly well on the piano, Edward not quite so well on the flute. He had taken a great deal of pains with it at times; but he was without the patience, without the perseverance, which are requisite for the completely successful cultivation of such a talent; consequently, his part was done unequally, some pieces well, only perhaps too quickly—while with others he hesitated, not being quite familiar with them; so that, for any one else, it would have been difficult to have gone through a duet with him. But Charlotte knew how to manage it. She held in, or let herself be run away with, and fulfilled in this way the double part of a skilful conductor and a prudent housewife, who are able always to keep right on the whole, although particular passages will now and then fall out of order.
The Captain came, having previously written a most sensible letter, which had entirely quieted Charlotte's apprehensions. So much clearness about himself, so just an understanding of his own position and the position of his friends, promised everything which was best and happiest.
The conversation of the first few hours, as is generally the case with friends who have not met for a long time, was eager, lively, almost exhausting. Toward evening, Charlotte proposed a walk to the new grounds. The Captain was delighted with the spot, and observed every beauty which had been first brought into sight and made enjoyable by the new walks. He had a practised eye, and at the same time one easily satisfied; and although he knew very well what was really valuable, he never, as so many persons do, made people who were showing him things of their own uncomfortable, by requiring more than the circumstances admitted of, or by mentioning anything more perfect, which he remembered having seen elsewhere.
When they arrived at the summer-house, they found it dressed out for a holiday, only, indeed, with artificial flowers and evergreens, but with some pretty bunches of natural corn-ears among them, and other field and garden fruit, so as to do credit to the taste which had arranged them.
"Although my husband does not like in general to have his birthday or christening-day kept," Charlotte said, "he will not object today to these few ornaments being expended on a treble festival."
"Treble?" cried Edward.
"Yes, indeed," she replied. "Our friend's arrival here we are bound to keep as a festival; and have you never thought, either of you, that this is the day on which you were both christened? Are you not both named Otto?"
The two friends shook hands across the little table.
"You bring back to my mind," Edward said, "this little link of our boyish affection. As children, we were both called so; but when we came to be at school together, it was the cause of much confusion, and I readily made over to him all my right to the pretty laconic name."
"Wherein you were not altogether so very high-minded," said the Captain; "for I well remember that the name of Edward had then begun to please you better, from its attractive sound when spoken by certain pretty lips."
They were now sitting all three round the same table where Charlotte had spoken so vehemently against their guest's coming to them. Edward, happy as he was, did not wish to remind his wife of that time; but he could not help saying, "There is good room here for one more person."
At this moment the notes of a bugle were heard across from the castle. Full of happy thoughts and feelings as the friends all were together, the sound fell in among them with a strong force of answering harmony. They listened silently, each for the moment withdrawing into himself, and feeling doubly happy in the fair circle of which he formed a part. The pause was first broken by Edward, who started up and walked out in front of the summer-house.
"Our friend must not think," he said to Charlotte, "that this narrow little valley forms the whole of our domain and possessions. Let us take him up to the top of the hill, where he can see farther and breathe more freely."
"For this once, then," answered Charlotte, "we must climb up the old footpath, which is not too easy. By the next time, I hope my walks and steps will have been carried right up."
And so, among rocks, and shrubs, and bushes, they made their way to the summit, where they found themselves, not on a level flat, but on a sloping grassy terrace, running along the ridge of the hill. The village, with the castle behind it, was out of sight. At the bottom of the valley, sheets of water were seen spreading out right and left, with wooded hills rising immediately from their opposite margin, and, at the end of the upper water, a wall of sharp, precipitous rocks directly overhanging it, their huge forms reflected in its level surface. In the hollow of the ravine, where a considerable brook ran into the lake, lay a mill, half hidden among the trees, a sweetly retired spot, most beautifully surrounded; and through the entire semicircle, over which the view extended, ran an endless variety of hills and valleys, copse and forest, the early green of which promised the near approach of a luxuriant clothing of foliage. In many places particular groups of trees caught the eye; and especially a cluster of planes and poplars directly at the spectator's feet, close to the edge of the centre lake. They were at their full growth, and they stood there, spreading out their boughs all around them, in fresh and luxuriant strength.
To these Edward called his friend's attention.
"I myself planted them," he cried, "when I was a boy. They were small trees which I rescued when my father was laying out the new part of the great castle garden, and in the middle of one summer had rooted them out. This year you will no doubt see them show their gratitude in a fresh set of shoots."
They returned to the castle in high spirits, and mutually pleased with each other. To the guest was allotted an agreeable and roomy set of apartments in the right wing of the castle; and here he rapidly got his books and papers and instruments in order, to go on with his usual occupation. But Edward, for the first few days, gave him no rest. He took him about everywhere, now on foot, now on horseback, making him acquainted with the country and with the estate; and he embraced the opportunity of imparting to him the wishes which he had been long entertaining, of getting at some better acquaintance with it, and learning to manage it more profitably.
"The first thing we have to do," said the Captain, "is to make a magnetic survey of the property. That is a pleasant and easy matter; and if it does not admit of entire exactness, it will be always useful, and will do, at any rate, for an agreeable beginning. It can be made, too, without any great staff of assistants, and one can be sure of getting it completed. If by-and-by you come to require anything more exact, it will be easy then to find some plan to have it made."
The Captain was exceedingly skilful at work of thus kind. He had brought with him whatever instruments he required, and commenced immediately. Edward provided him with a number of foresters and peasants, who, with his instruction, were able to render him all necessary assistance. The weather was favorable. The evenings and the early mornings were devoted to the designing and drawing, and in a short time it was all filled in and colored. Edward saw his possessions grow out like a new creation upon the paper; and it seemed as if now for the first time he knew what they were, as if they now first were properly his own.
Thus there came occasion to speak of the park, and of the ways of laying it out; a far better disposition of things being made possible after a survey of this kind, than could be arrived at by experimenting on nature, on partial and accidental impressions.
"We must make my wife understand this," said Edward.
"We must do nothing of the kind," replied the Captain, who did not like bringing his own notions in collision with those of others. He had learnt by experience that the motives and purposes by which men are influenced are far too various to be made to coalesce upon a single point, even on the most solid representations. "We must not do it," he cried; "she will be only confused. With her, as with all people who employ themselves on such matters merely as amateurs, the important thing is, rather that she shall do something, than that something shall be done. Such persons feel their way with nature. They have fancies for this plan or that; they do not venture on removing obstacles. They are not bold enough to make a sacrifice. They do not know beforehand in what their work is to result. They try an experiment—it succeeds—it fails; they alter it; they alter, perhaps, what they ought to leave alone, and leave what they ought to alter; and so, at last, there always remains but a patchwork, which pleases and amuses, but never satisfies."
"Acknowledge candidly," said Edward, "that you do not like this new work of hers."
"The idea is excellent," he replied; "if the execution were equal to it, there would be no fault to find. But she has tormented herself to find her way up that rock; and she now torments every one, if you must have it, that she takes up after her. You cannot walk together, you cannot walk behind one another, with any freedom. Every moment your step is interrupted one way or another. There is no end to the mistakes which she has made."
"Would it have been easy to have done it otherwise?" asked Edward.
"Perfectly," replied the Captain. "She had only to break away a corner of the rock, which is now but an unsightly object, made up as it is of little pieces, and she would at once have a sweep for her walk and stone in abundance for the rough masonry work, to widen it in the bad places, and make it smooth. But this I tell you in strictest confidence. Her it would only confuse and annoy. What is done must remain as it is. If any more money and labor is to be spent there, there is abundance to do above the summer-house on the hill, which we can settle our own way."
If the two friends found in their occupation abundance of present employment, there was no lack either of entertaining reminiscences of early times, in which Charlotte took her part as well. They determined, moreover, that as soon as their immediate labors were finished, they would go to work upon the journal, and in this way, too, reproduce the past.
For the rest, when Edward and Charlotte were alone, there were fewer matters of private interest between them than formerly. This was especially the case since the fault-finding about the grounds, which Edward thought so just, and which he felt to the quick. He held his tongue about what the Captain had said for a long time; but at last, when he saw his wife again preparing to go to work above the summer-house, with her paths and steps, he could not contain himself any longer, but, after a few circumlocutions, came out with his new views.
Charlotte was thoroughly disturbed. She was sensible enough to perceive at once that they were right, but there was the difficulty with what was already done—and what was made was made. She had liked it; even what was wrong had become dear to her in its details. She fought against her convictions; she defended her little creations; she railed at men who were forever going to the broad and the great. They could not let a pastime, they could not let an amusement alone, she said, but they must go and make a work out of it, never thinking of the expense which their larger plans involved. She was provoked, annoyed, and angry. Her old plans she could not give up, the new she would not quite throw from her; but, divided as she was, for the present she put a stop to the work, and gave herself time to think the thing over, and let it ripen by itself.
At the same time that she lost this source of active amusement, the others were more and more together over their own business. They took to occupying themselves, moreover, with the flower-garden and the hot-houses; and as they filled up the intervals with the ordinary gentlemen's amusements, hunting, riding, buying, selling, breaking horses, and such matters, she was every day left more and more to herself. She devoted herself more assiduously than ever to her correspondence on account of the Captain; and yet she had many lonely hours; so that the information which she now received from the school became of more agreeable interest.
To a long-drawn letter of the superior of the establishment, filled with the usual expressions of delight at her daughter's progress, a brief postscript was attached, with a second from the hand of a gentleman in employment there as an Assistant, both of which we here communicate.
POSTSCRIPT OF THE SUPERIOR
"Of Ottilie, I can only repeat to your ladyship what I have already stated in my former letters. I do not know how to find fault with her, yet I cannot say that I am satisfied. She is always unassuming, always ready to oblige others; but it is not pleasing to see her so timid, so almost servile.
"Your ladyship lately sent her some money, with several little matters for her wardrobe. The money she has never touched, the dresses lie unworn in their place. She keeps her things very nice and very clean; but this is all she seems to care about. Again, I cannot praise her excessive abstemiousness in eating and drinking. There is no extravagance at our table, but there is nothing that I like better than to see the children eat enough of good, wholesome food. What is carefully provided and set before them ought to be taken; and to this I never can succeed in bringing Ottilie. She is always making herself some occupation or other, always finding something which she must do, something which the servants have neglected, to escape the second course or the dessert; and now it has to be considered (which I cannot help connecting with all this) that she frequently suffers, I have lately learnt, from pain in the left side of her head. It is only at times, but it is distressing, and may be of importance. So much upon this otherwise sweet and lovely girl."
SECOND POSTSCRIPT, BY THE ASSISTANT
"Our excellent superior commonly permits me to read the letters in which she communicates her observations upon her pupils to their parents and friends. Such of them as are addressed to your ladyship I ever read with twofold attention and pleasure. We have to congratulate you upon a daughter who unites in herself every brilliant quality with which people distinguish themselves in the world; and I at least think you no less fortunate in having had bestowed upon you, in your step-daughter, a child who has been born for the good and happiness of others, and assuredly also for her own. Ottilie is almost our only pupil about whom there is a difference of opinion between myself and our reverend superior. I do not complain of the very natural desire in that good lady to see outward and definite fruits arising from her labors. But there are also fruits which are not outward, which are of the true germinal sort, and which develop themselves sooner or later in a beautiful life. And this I am certain is the case with your protegee. So long as she has been under my care, I have watched her moving with an even step, slowly, steadily forward—never back. As with a child it is necessary to begin everything at the beginning, so it is with her. She can comprehend nothing which does not follow from what precedes it; let a thing be as simple and easy as possible, she can make nothing of it if it is not in a recognizable connection; but find the intermediate links, and make them clear to her, and then nothing is too difficult for her.
"Progressing with such slow steps, she remains behind her companions, who, with capacities of quite a different kind, hurry on and on, learn everything readily, connected or unconnected, recollect it with ease, and apply it with correctness. And again, some of the lessons here are given by excellent, but somewhat hasty and impatient teachers, who pass from result to result, cutting short the process by which they are arrived at; and these are not of the slightest service to her; she learns nothing from them. There is a complaint of her handwriting. They say she will not, or cannot, understand how to form her letters. I have examined closely into this. It is true she writes slowly, stiffly, if you like; but the hand is neither timid nor without character. The French language is not my department, but I have taught her something of it, in the step-by-step fashion; and this she understands easily. Indeed, it is singular that she knows a great deal, and knows it well, too; and yet when she is asked a question, it seems as if she knew nothing.
"To conclude generally, I should say she learns nothing like a person who is being educated, but she learns like one who is to educate—not like a pupil, but like a future teacher. Your ladyship may think it strange that I, as an educator and a teacher, can find no higher praise to give to any one than by a comparison with myself. I may leave it to your own good sense, to your deep knowledge of the world and of mankind, to make the best of my most inadequate, but well-intended expressions. You may satisfy yourself that you have much happiness to promise yourself from this child. I commend myself to your ladyship, and I beseech you to permit me to write to you again as soon as I see reason to believe that I have anything important or agreeable to communicate."
This letter gave Charlotte great pleasure. The contents of it coincided very closely with the notions which she had herself conceived of Ottilie. At the same time, she could not help smiling at the excessive interest of the Assistant, which seemed greater than the insight into a pupil's excellence usually calls forth. In her quiet, unprejudiced way of looking at things, this relation, among others, she was contented to permit to lie before her as a possibility; she could value the interest of so sensible a man in Ottilie, having learnt, among the lessons of her life, to see how highly true regard is to be prized in a world where indifference or dislike are the common natural residents.
The topographical chart of the property and its environs was completed. It was executed on a considerable scale; the character of the particular localities was made intelligible by various colors; and by means of a trigonometrical survey the Captain had been able to arrive at a very fair exactness of measurement. He had been rapid in his work. There was scarcely ever any one who could do with less sleep than this most laborious man; and, as his day was always devoted to an immediate purpose, every evening something had been done.
"Let us now," he said to his friend, "go on to what remains for us, to the statistics of the estate. We shall have a good deal of work to get through at the beginning, and afterward we shall come to the farm estimates, and much else which will naturally arise out of them. Only we must have one thing distinctly settled and adhered to. Everything which is properly business we must keep carefully separate from life. Business requires earnestness and method; life must have a freer handling. Business demands the utmost stringency and sequence; in life, inconsecutiveness is frequently necessary, indeed, is charming and graceful. If you are firm in the first, you can afford yourself more liberty in the second; while if you mix them, you will find the free interfering with and breaking in upon the fixed."
In these sentiments Edward felt a slight reflection upon himself. Though not naturally disorderly, he could never bring himself to arrange his papers in their proper places. What he had to do in connection with others, was not kept separate from what depended only on himself. Business got mixed up with amusement, and serious work with recreation. Now, however, it was easy for him, with the help of a friend who would take the trouble upon himself; and a second "I" worked out the separation, to which the single "I" was always unequal.
In the Captain's wing, they contrived a depository for what concerned the present, and an archive for the past. Here they brought all the documents, papers, and notes from their various hiding-places, rooms, drawers, and boxes, with the utmost speed. Harmony and order were introduced into the wilderness, and the different packets were marked and registered in their several pigeon-holes. They found all they wanted in greater completeness even than they had expected; and here an old clerk was found of no slight service, who for the whole day and part of the night never left his desk, and with whom, till then, Edward had been always dissatisfied.
"I should not know him again," he said to his friend, "the man is so handy and useful."
"That," replied the Captain, "is because we give him nothing fresh to do till he has finished, at his convenience, what he has already; and so, as you perceive, he gets through a great deal. If you disturb him, he becomes useless at once."
Spending their days together in this way, in the evenings they never neglected their regular visits to Charlotte. If there was no party from the neighborhood, as was often the case, they read and talked, principally on subjects connected with the improvement of the condition and comfort of social life.
Charlotte, always accustomed to make the most of opportunities, not only saw her husband pleased, but found personal advantages for herself. Various domestic arrangements, which she had long wished to make, but which she did not know exactly how to set about, were managed for her through the contrivance of the Captain. Her domestic medicine-chest, hitherto but poorly furnished, was enlarged and enriched, and Charlotte herself, with the help of good books and personal instruction, was put in the way of being able to exercise her disposition to be of practical assistance more frequently and more efficiently than before.
In providing against accidents, which, though common, yet only too often find us unprepared, they thought it especially necessary to have at hand whatever is required for the recovery of drowning men—accidents of this kind, from the number of canals, reservoirs, and waterworks in the neighborhood, being of frequent occurrence. This department the Captain took expressly into his own hands; and the observation escaped Edward, that a case of this kind had made a very singular epoch in the life of his friend. The latter made no reply, but seemed to be trying to escape from a painful recollection. Edward immediately stopped; and Charlotte, who, as well as he, had a general knowledge of the story, took no notice of the expression.
"These preparations are all exceedingly valuable," said the Captain, one evening. "Now, however, we have not got the one thing which is most essential—a sensible man who understands how to manage it all. I know an army surgeon, whom I could exactly recommend for the place. You might get him at this moment, on easy terms. He is highly distinguished in his profession, and has frequently done more for me, in the treatment even of violent inward disorders, than celebrated physicians. Help upon the spot, is the thing you often most want in the country."
He was written for at once; and Edward and Charlotte were rejoiced to have found so good and necessary an object on which to expend so much of the money which they set apart for such accidental demands upon them.
Thus Charlotte, too, found means of making use, for her purposes, of the Captain's knowledge and practical skill; and she began to be quite reconciled to his presence, and to feel easy about any consequences which might ensue. She commonly prepared questions to ask him; among other things, it was one of her anxieties to provide against whatever was prejudicial to health and comfort, against poisons and such like. The lead-glazing on the china, the verdigris which formed about her copper and bronze vessels, etc., had long been a trouble to her. She got him to tell her about these, and, naturally, they often had to fall back on the first elements of medicine and chemistry.
An accidental, but welcome occasion for entertainment of this kind, was given by an inclination of Edward to read aloud. He had a particularly clear, deep voice, and earlier in life had earned himself a pleasant reputation for his feeling and lively recitations of works of poetry and oratory. At this time he was occupied with other subjects, and the books which, for some time past, he had been reading, were either chemical or on some other branch of natural or technical science.
One of his especial peculiarities—which, by-the-by, he very likely shares with a number of his fellow-creatures—was, that he could not bear to have any one looking over him when he was reading. In early life, when he used to read poems, plays, or stories, this had been the natural consequence of the desire which the reader feels, like the poet, or the actor, or the story-teller, to make surprises, to pause, to excite expectation; and this sort of effect was naturally defeated when a third person's eyes could run on before him, and see what was coming. On such occasions, therefore, he was accustomed to place himself in such a position that no one could get behind him. With a party of only three, this was unnecessary; and as with the present subject there was no opportunity for exciting feelings or giving the imagination a surprise, he did not take any particular pains to protect himself.
One evening he had placed himself carelessly, and Charlotte happened by accident to cast her eyes upon the page. His old impatience was aroused; he turned to her, and said, almost unkindly:
"I do wish, once for all, you would leave off doing a thing so out of taste and so disagreeable. When I read aloud to a person, is it not the same as if I was telling him something by word of mouth? The written, the printed word, is in the place of my own thoughts, of my own heart. If a window were broken into my brain or into my heart, and if the man to whom I am counting out my thoughts, or delivering my sentiments, one by one, knew beforehand exactly what was to come out of me, should I take the trouble to put them into words? When anybody looks over my book, I always feel as if I were being torn in two."
Charlotte's tact, in whatever circle she might be, large or small, was remarkable, and she was able to set aside disagreeable or excited expressions without appearing to notice them. When a conversation grew tedious, she knew how to interrupt it; when it halted, she could set it going. And this time her good gift did not forsake her.
"I am sure you will forgive me my fault," she said, when I tell you what it was this moment which came over me. I heard you reading something about Affinities, and I thought directly of some relations of mine, two of whom are just now occupying me a great deal. Then my attention went back to the book. I found it was not about living things at all, and I looked over to get the thread of it right again."
"It was the comparison which led you wrong and confused you," said Edward. "The subject is nothing but earths and minerals. But man is a true Narcissus; he delights to see his own image everywhere; and he spreads himself underneath the universe, like the amalgam behind the glass."
"Quite true," continued the Captain. "That is the way in which he treats everything external to himself. His wisdom and his folly, his will and his caprice, he attributes alike to the animal, the plant, the elements, and the gods."
"Would you," said Charlotte, "if it is not taking you away too much from the immediate subject, tell me briefly what is meant here by Affinities?"
"I shall be very glad indeed," replied the Captain, to whom Charlotte had addressed herself. "That is, I will tell you as well as I can. My ideas on the subject date ten years back; whether the scientific world continues to think the same about it, I cannot tell."
"It is most disagreeable," cried Edward, "that one cannot now-a-days learn a thing once for all, and have done with it. Our forefathers could keep to what they were taught when they were young; but we have, every five years, to make revolutions with them, if we do not wish to drop altogether out of fashion."
"We women need not be so particular," said Charlotte; "and, to speak the truth, I only want to know the meaning of the word. There is nothing more ridiculous in society than to misuse a strange technical word; and I only wish you to tell me in what sense the expression is made use of in connection with these things. What its scientific application is I am quite contented to leave to the learned; who, by-the-by, as far as I have been able to observe, do not find it easy to agree among themselves."
"Whereabouts shall we begin," said Edward, after a pause, to the Captain, "to come most quickly to the point?"
The latter, after thinking as little while, replied shortly:
"You must let me make what will seem a wide sweep; we shall be on our subject almost immediately."
Charlotte settled her work at her side, promising the fullest attention.
The Captain began:
"In all natural objects with which we are acquainted, we observe immediately that they have a certain relation to themselves. It may sound ridiculous to be asserting what is obvious to every one; but it is only by coming to a clear understanding together about what we know, that we can advance to what we do not know."
"I think," interrupted Edward, "we can make the thing more clear to her, and to ourselves, with examples; conceive water, or oil, or quicksilver; among these you will see a certain oneness, a certain connection of their parts; and this oneness is never lost, except through force or some other determining cause. Let the cause cease to operate, and at once the parts unite again."
"Unquestionably," said Charlotte, "that is plain; rain-drops readily unite and form streams; and when we were children, it was our delight to play with quicksilver, and wonder at the little globules splitting and parting and running into one another."
"And here," said the Captain, "let me just cursorily mention one remarkable thing—I mean, that the full, complete correlation of parts which the fluid state makes possible, shows itself distinctly and universally in the globular form. The falling water-drop is round; you yourself spoke of the globules of quicksilver; and a drop of melted lead let fall, if it has time to harden before it reaches the ground, is found at the bottom in the shape of a ball."
"Let me try and see," said Charlotte, "whether I can understand where you are bringing me. As everything has a reference to itself, so it must have some relation to others."
"And that," interrupted Edward, "will be different according to the natural differences of the things themselves. Sometimes they will meet like friends and old acquaintances; they will come rapidly together, and unite without either having to alter itself at all—as wine mixes with water. Others, again, will remain as strangers side by side, and no amount of mechanical mixing or forcing will succeed in combining them. Oil and water may be shaken up together, and the next moment they are separate again, each by itself."
"One can almost fancy," said Charlotte, "that in these simple forms one sees people that one is acquainted with; one has met with just such things in the societies amongst which one has lived; and the strangest likenesses of all with these soulless creatures are in the masses in which men stand divided one against the other, in their classes and professions; the nobility and the third estate, for instance, or soldiers and civilians."
"Then again," replied Edward, "as these are united under common laws and customs, so there are intermediate members in our chemical world which will combine elements that are mutually repulsive."
"Oil, for instance," said the Captain, "we make combine with water with the help of alkalis——"
"Do not go on too fast with your lesson," said Charlotte. "Let me see that I keep step with you. Are we not here arrived among the affinities?"
"Exactly," replied the Captain; "we are on the point of apprehending them in all their power and distinctness; such natures as, when they come in contact, at once lay hold of each other, each mutually affecting the other, we speak of as having an affinity one for the other. With the alkalis and acids, for instance, the affinities are strikingly marked. They are of opposite natures; very likely their being of opposite natures is the secret of their inter-relational effect—each reaches out eagerly for its companion, they lay hold of each other, modify each other's character, and form in connection an entirely new substance. There is lime, you remember, which shows the strongest inclination for all sorts of acids—a distinct desire of combining with them. As soon as our chemical chest arrives, we can show you a number of entertaining experiments which will give you a clearer idea than words, and names, and technical expressions."
"It appears to me," said Charlotte, "that, if you choose to call these strange creatures of yours related, the relationship is not so much a relationship of blood as of soul or of spirit. It is the way in which we see all really deep friendship arise among men, opposite peculiarities of disposition being what best makes internal union possible. But I will wait to see what you can really show me of these mysterious proceedings; and for the present," she added, turning to Edward, "I will promise not to disturb you any more in your reading. You have taught me enough of what it is about to enable me to attend to it."
"No, no," replied Edward, "now that you have once stirred the thing, you shall not get off so easily. It is just the most complicated cases which are the most interesting. In these you come first to see the degrees of the affinities, to watch them as their power of attraction is weaker or stronger, nearer or more remote. Affinities begin really to interest only when they bring about separations."
"What!" cried Charlotte, "is that miserable word, which unhappily we hear so often now-a-days in the world; is that to be found in nature's lessons too?"
"Most certainly," answered Edward; "the title with which chemists were supposed to be most honorably distinguished was, artists of separation."
"It is not so any more," replied Charlotte; "and it is well that it is not. It is a higher art, and it is a higher merit, to unite. An artist of union is what we should welcome in every province of the universe. However, as we are on the subject again, give me an instance or two of what you mean."
"We had better keep," said the Captain, "to the same instances of which we have already been speaking. Thus, what we call limestone is a more or less pure calcareous earth in combination with a delicate acid, which is familiar to us in the form of a gas. Now, if we place a piece of this stone in diluted sulphuric acid, this will take possession of the lime, and appear with it in the form of gypsum, the gaseous acid at the same time going off in vapor. Here is a case of separation; a combination arises, and we believe ourselves now justified in applying to it the words 'Elective Affinity;' it really looks as if one relation had been deliberately chosen in preference to another.
"Forgive me," said Charlotte, "as I forgive the natural philosopher. I cannot see any choice in this; I see a natural necessity rather, and scarcely that. After all, it is perhaps merely a case of opportunity. Opportunity makes relations as it makes thieves; and as long as the talk is only of natural substances, the choice to me appears to be altogether in the hands of the chemist who brings the creatures together. Once, however, let them be brought together, and then God have mercy on them. In the present case, I cannot help being sorry for the poor acid gas, which is driven out up and down infinity again."
"The acid's business," answered the Captain, "is now to get connected with water, and so serve as a mineral fountain for the refreshing of sound or disordered mankind."
"That is very well for the gypsum to say," said Charlotte. "The gypsum is all right, is a body, is provided for. The other poor, desolate creature may have trouble enough to go through before it can find a second home for itself."
"I am much mistaken," said Edward, smiling, "if there be not some little arriere pensee behind this. Confess your wickedness! You mean me by your lime; the lime is laid hold of by the Captain, in the form of sulphuric acid, torn away from your agreeable society, and metamorphosed into a refractory gypsum."
"If your conscience prompts you to make such a reflection," replied Charlotte, "I certainly need not distress myself. These comparisons are pleasant and entertaining; and who is there that does not like playing with analogies? But man is raised very many steps above these elements; and if he has been somewhat liberal with such fine words as Election and Elective Affinities, he will do well to turn back again into himself, and take the opportunity of considering carefully the value and meaning of such expressions. Unhappily, we know cases enough where a connection apparently indissoluble between two persons, has, by the accidental introduction of a third, been utterly destroyed, and one or the other of the once happily united pair been driven out into the wilderness."
"Then you see how much more gallant the chemists are," said Edward. "They at once add a fourth, that neither may go away empty."
"Quite so," replied the Captain. "And those are the cases which are really most important and remarkable—cases where this attraction, this affinity, this separating and combining, can be exhibited, the two pairs severally crossing each other; where four creatures, connected previously, as two and two, are brought into contact, and at once forsake their first combination to form into a second. In this forsaking and embracing, this seeking and flying, we believe that we are indeed observing the effects of some higher determination; we attribute a sort of will and choice to such creatures, and feel really justified in using technical words, and speaking of 'Elective Affinities.'"
"Give me an instance of this," said Charlotte.
"One should not spoil such things with words," replied the Captain. "As I said before, as soon as I can show you the experiment, I can make it all intelligible and pleasant for you. For the present, I can give you nothing but horrible scientific expressions, which at the same time will give you no idea about the matter. You ought yourself to see these creatures, which seem so dead, and which are yet so full of inward energy and force, at work before your eyes. You should observe them with a real personal interest. Now they seek each other out, attract each other, seize, crush, devour, destroy each other, and then suddenly reappear again out of their combinations, and come forward in fresh, renovated, unexpected form; thus you will comprehend how we attribute to them a sort of immortality—how we speak of them as having sense and understanding; because we feel our own senses to be insufficient to observe them adequately, and our reason too weak to follow them."
"I quite agree," said Edward, "that the strange scientific nomenclature, to persons who have not been reconciled to it by a direct acquaintance with or understanding of its object, must seem unpleasant, even ridiculous; but we can easily, just for once, contrive with symbols to illustrate what we are speaking of."
"If you do not think it looks pedantic," answered the Captain, "I can put my meaning together with letters. Suppose an A connected so closely with a B, that all sorts of means, even violence, have been made use of to separate them, without effect. Then suppose a C in exactly the same position with respect to D. Bring the two pairs into contact; A will fling himself on D, C on B, without its being possible to say which had first left its first connection, or made the first move toward the second."