The Serapionian Brethren
NUTCRACKER AND THE KING OF THE MICE
All day long on the twenty-fourth of December the children of Dr. Stahlbaum the public health officer were expressly forbidden to enter the drawing room, let alone the adjoining stateroom. Marie and Fritz sat cowering in a corner of the parlor at the back of the house; the gloom of late dusk had already set in, and they were beginning to find their surroundings downright gloomy because, in keeping with another of the day’s traditions, the servants where refraining from bringing candles into the room. In a whisper betokening the strictest secrecy, Fritz informed his younger sister (she had only just turned seven) that from early morning onwards clicking and clanging and faint hammering sounds had been heard in the two locked rooms. Moreover, he added, only a short while earlier he had seen a dark little man with a large box under his arm slinking through the vestibule, and he was quite sure that this man had been none other than Godfather Drosselmeier. Whereupon Marie clapped her little hands together for sheer joy and cried, “Ah, Godfather Drosselmeier will have made something lovely for us!” Drosselmeier the high court councilor was hardly a man of prepossessing appearance, being rather dwarfish and gaunt and bearing a thoroughly wrinkled face, a large black patch in place of a right eye, and absolutely no hair of his own, on account of which he wore an exquisitely beautiful white periwig made not of hair but of spun glass—in other words, a piece of completely artificial construction. All in all, the children's godfather was both an artifice himself and a master of artifices who understood the inner workings of clocks and watches and could even build entire timepieces from scratch. Accordingly whenever one of the beautiful clocks in Stahlbaum’s house was ill and unable to sing, Godfather Drosselmeier would come, remove his glass periwig, doff his little yellow frock coat, don a blue apron, and prod the insides of the timepiece with various pointed tools, thereby genuinely paining Marie but causing no harm whatsoever to the clock, which to the contrary would invariably come back to life and immediately begin whirring, chiming, and singing to the joy of everybody present. Whenever he came he would bring along in his satchel something nice for the children; one time it would be a little fellow who drolly rolled his eyes and presented his compliments to the ladies, the next it would be a box out of which leapt a little bird, the next something else entirely. But for Christmas Eve he had always prepared artifices of especially wondrous beauty whose construction cost him a good deal of time and labor; and in acknowledgement of this cost, as soon as the gifts had been presented to the children, the parents took them away and kept them under solicitous lock and key. “Ah, Godfather Drosselmeier will have made something lovely for us!” Marie now cried; but Fritz was of the opinion that this something could only be a fortress wherein all sorts of handsome soldiers would march up and down and perform their drills, and then some other soldiers who wanted to break into the fortress would have to show up, but then the soldiers inside the fortress would bravely open fire with cannons on the outside ones, thereby raising a thunderous devil of a racket. “No, no,” Marie interrupted Fritz: “Godfather Drosselmeier has told me of a lovely garden; in the garden is a large lake on which majestic swans with golden necklaces swim about and sing the prettiest songs. Then a little girl comes from the garden to the lakeshore and lures the swans to her, and she feeds them sweet marzipan.” “Swans don’t eat marzipan,” Fritz somewhat gruffly rejoined, “and Godfather Drosselmeier can’t make an entire garden either. And actually, we don’t even have very many of the toys he’s made; they’ve always been taken away from us straight-away; that’s why I much prefer the toys Papa and Mama give us—because we can keep them as long as we want and do what we like with them. Now the children began bandying back and forth guesses as to what this year’s parental gifts would be. Marie was of the opinion that Missy Trutchen (her one large doll) was very much changing for the worse, for more and more often she could not be set upright for an instant without gracelessly pitching over on to the floor, which never failed to leave the ghastliest dirt-streaks on her face; to say nothing of the prospective impossibility of ever restoring her clothes to their original pristine cleanness. All her vigorous chastisement of the doll had come to naught. Moreover, she said, Mama had smiled at the ecstasies she had been sent into by Gretchen’s little parasol. Fritz for his part averred that nothing would spruce up his royal stable like a wily fox, and that his army had not a single cavalryman in its ranks, as Papa was well aware. So the children knew full well that their parents had bought them all sorts of lovely presents that they were now in the midst of arranging; they were equally certain that these presents were imbued with the divine light shed with childlike piety and benevolence by the eyes of their dear savior Jesus Christ, and that, as if touched by the benedictory hand of God, each and every Christmas gift imparted a delight for which there was no substitute in point of sheer splendor. Of this their older sister Luise reminded the children even as they continued their whispered conference about the prospective gifts, and she added that their parents were but proxies for their dear savior Jesus Christ, who knew much better than the children themselves what was capable of imparting real pleasure and delight; and that on this account they must by no means hope and wish for everything under the sun, but instead silently and piously resign themselves to whatever they were actually to receive. Little Marie now grew quite pensive, but Fritz murmured to himself, “I’d really like to have a fox and some hussars.”
By now it was completely dark. Fritz and Marie huddled close together and no longer dared to speak a word; they were wafted by a gentle breeze that seemed to have been stirred up by wings of pure down, and they fancied that they could hear quite faint but distinctly majestic music playing in the distance. A luminous glow played on the wall opposite the children, informing them that now the Christ child had flown away on refulgent clouds to the houses of other happy children. At that moment the silvery “ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling” of a bell sounded, and the doors sprang open, letting in such a flood of bright light from the great drawing room that the children cried out, “Ah! Ah!,” and stood transfixed at the threshold. But then Papa and Mama stepped through the doorway, took the children by the hand, and said, “Come along now, come along now, dear children, and see what the holy Christ child has given you.”
I call upon you personally, my dear gentle reader or listener—Fritz or Theodor or Ernst or whatever your name may be—to revivify in your mind’s eye the image of the last Christmas table you saw, to picture all those lovely, parti-colored, jewel-encrusted presents, so that you will be able to imagine how the children with their shining eyes stood transfixed and completely speechless in the middle of the drawing room; how by and by Marie, fetching a deep sigh exclaimed, “Ah, how beautiful! How beautiful!” and Fritz attempted to cut a few brisk capers around the room with remarkable success. The children must have been especially well-behaved and attentive to their religious duties throughout the preceding year, for never before had they received a Christmas offering of such beauty and splendor as this one. The great Christmas tree in the middle was festooned with dozens of golden and silver apples; and sugared almonds, parti-colored bonbons, and virtually all other types of confectionery sprouted from its every branch like so many buds and flowers. But the most beautiful attribute of this marvelous tree was surely the hundreds of tiny candles that twinkled like little stars amidst its dark greenery, whereby in both radiating and containing light it seemed practically to be inviting the children to help themselves to its treasury of fruits and flowers. All the objects heaped up around the tree shone with superlative splendor and brilliance of color; every type of beautiful object imaginable was represented there; it was indeed quite literally indescribable! Marie could espy dolls of exquisitely delicate features, all manner of sprucely constructed items of dolls’ furniture, and what was most beautiful of all to behold, a little silk dress trimmed with delicate, parti-colored ribbons, which hung on a frame positioned in such a way that little Marie could contemplate it from all sides, as she proceeded to do while exclaiming over and over again, “Ah what a beautiful, ah what a lovely, lovely little dress: and to think that I shall actually—and most certainly—be allowed to put it on!” Fritz had meanwhile galloped and trotted around the table another three or four times in search of his new fox, which he did indeed find tethered to the table. Dismounting from his invisible horse, he said that the fox was a wild beast and basically a do-nothing, that he would come back for him later; and turned to the inspection of his new squadron of hussars, which were clad in red and gold, equipped with weapons of pure silver, and mounted on horses of such a lustrously white sheen that one would have thought that they, too, were made of pure silver. Now that the children had calmed down somewhat, they asked for their picture-books, which were duly brought over and placed open before them; on the pages of these books they could behold lovely flowers of all species, men and women of various colors, and even adorable, frolicking children, all of them painted so naturally that they seemed to be living and speaking. But no sooner did the children ask for these marvelous books than the bell sounded again. They now knew that Godfather Drosselmeier was about to present his gifts to them, and they ran to the table standing against the wall. Briskly the screen behind which he had been hiding for so long was whisked aside. And what did the children then behold? On a verdant lawn bejeweled with flowers of various brilliant colors stood a most majestic castle with numerous looking-glass windows and gates of gold. A glockenspiel began playing, gates and windows flew open, and in the halls inside the castle one could see tiny but daintily elegant ladies and gentlemen in plumed hats and long-trained gowns promenading about. In the middle room, which seemed to be virtually bathed in fire—so many miniature candles were burning in its chandeliers—children clad in little doublets and gowns were dancing to the accompaniment of the glockenspiel. All the while a gentleman in an emerald-green cloak repeatedly peeped through one of the windows, waved at the spectators, and then vanished; he looked just like Godfather Drosselmeier, and yet he was hardly bigger than Papa’s thumb; from time to he would appear downstairs at his window by the gate of the castle, and then he would once again withdraw. Now that he had propped his arms up on the table and taken a good look at the beautiful castle with its dancing and promenading little figures, Fritz said, “Godfather Drosselmeier! Please let me go into the castle!” The high court councilor gave him to understand that at present this was utterly impossible. And he was not mistaken, for it was sheer madness on the part of Fritz to propose entering a castle that even with its lofty golden towers included was still shorter than Fritz himself. Now Fritz himself realized this. By and by, as the ladies and gentlemen kept promenading to and fro, the children kept dancing, and the emerald man kept peeping through the same window—all exactly as they had been doing from the beginning—Godfather Drosselmeier interposed himself between Fritz and the front gates of the castle, prompting Fritz to cry out impatiently, “Godfather Drosselmeier, why don’t you come out of the castle at that other gate over there?” “That is not possible, my dear little Fritz,” replied the high court councilor. “Well then,” Fritz resumed, “why don’t you let that green man who keeps sticking his head out like a cuckoo walk about with the other people?” “That won’t be possible either,” demurred the high court councilor once again. “Well then,” cried Fritz, “the children will have to come downstairs so that I can get a better look at them." “For crying out loud! Nothing you have asked for is possible,” the high court councilor peevishly rejoined: “the mechanism must perform as it was designed to perform.” “Oh, re-e-e-ally?” asked Fritz, in an excruciated tone, “is it really impossible? Listen here Godfather Drosselmeier: if those dainty little doohickies of yours can’t do anything but move about in the same way over and over again, they aren’t worth a fig, and I shan’t take any further interest in them. No, give me my hussars over them any day: they have to maneuver forwards, backwards, whichever way I want them to, and they’re not locked up in some house.” And with that he dashed over to the Christmas table and let his squadron trot and traverse and assemble and fire to and fro on their sliver steeds to his heart’s content. Marie, too, had moved away from the castle, but softly and by degrees; for although she too had quickly grown tired of the little dolls’ promenading and dancing, she was much nicer and better behaved than her brother and did not wish to draw so much attention to herself. “Artifices of such intricacy as mine,” Drosselmeier rather dyspeptically remarked to the children’s parents, “are wasted on children as stupid as yours; I shall pack up my castle forthwith”; but their mother temporized by allowing the high court councilor to show her the inner workings of the castle and the marvelously intricate clockwork mechanism whereby the various movements of the little dolls were actuated. The councilor took the whole thing apart and then put it back together. This demonstration restored Drosselmeier’s good cheer in its entirety and prompted him to present a few more gifts to the children—a small assortment of lovely brown-skinned men and women with gilded faces, hands, and legs. They were made of briarwood and exuded an aroma as sweet and agreeable as that of gingerbread, to the enormous delight of both Fritz and Marie. In conformity with her mother’s wishes, their sister Luise had donned the lovely dress that she had received as a present, and was looking wonderfully pretty, but Marie—who had been told to don her own dress—preferred to spend a bit more time looking on. This privilege she was readily granted.
In point of fact, Marie was none too keen to leave the Christmas table, for there was one object on it that she had yet to look at as closely or attentively as she wished. Amid the thickly clustering parade of Fritz’s hussars, she could make out a quite splendid little man who was standing there silently and unassumingly at the base of the tree as if calmly awaiting the moment when the processing ranks would draw level with him. Admittedly, an exacting connoisseur of the human form would have found much to object to in his physique, inasmuch as, on top of the fact that his tall and hefty torso was entirely out of proportion with his short, spindly legs, his head was far too large. His costume, however, did much to make up for these shortcomings in suggesting that he was a man of both good taste and good breeding. Specifically, he was clad in a truly gorgeous hussar’s tunic of iridescent violet festooned with a multitude of white braids and little buttons, along with matching trousers and as lovely a pair of little boots as had ever graced the feet of any university student—nay, of any army officer. They fitted his dainty little legs more tightly than a pair of gloves, as though they had been painted on. To be sure, the splendor of his costume proper was rather drolly offset by the shabby, literally wooden-looking cape that hung from his shoulders and the tiny miner’s cap that surmounted his head; and this contrast set Marie musing that Godfather Drosselmeier was no less lovable a godfather for all his similar predilection for tatty capes and unsightly caps. And yet, Marie reflected, even if Godfather Drosselmeier were to dress as dapperly as the little man, he would certainly not be as handsome as him by a long chalk. The longer Marie gazed at this attractive man whom she had taken a shine to at first sight, the more keenly and intimately she became aware of the profound good nature bespoken by his face. His pale green, slightly bulging eyes evinced nothing but a combination of friendliness and benevolence. Luckily for him, the neatly trimmed beard that graced his chin was of white cotton and so made it especially easy to see the gentle smile that played upon his bright red lips. “Oh,” Marie at length exclaimed, “oh, dear father, to whom does that adorable man at the foot of the tree belong?” “That man,” replied her father, “that man, my dear child, “is here to work diligently for you all; with his teeth he will make mincemeat of the toughest nut; and he belongs just as much to Luise as to you and Fritz.” Whereupon her father carefully picked the man up off the table, and as he lifted the wooden cape as high as it would go, the little man’s mouth opened very, very wide, revealing two rows of white, pointy teeth. At her father’s behest, Marie shoved a nut into the opening and—Crack!—the man had bitten right through the nut, causing its shell to crumble away and letting its sweet kernel fall into Marie’s hand. Now there was no concealing from anybody including Marie the fact that this elegant little man was a latter-day member of the ancient Nutcracker family and a practitioner of the eponymous profession of his ancestors. Marie emitted a great cry of joy, prompting her father to say to her, “As you are so very fond of our friend Mr. Nutcracker, you must take especial care of him and protect him, even though, as I said, Luise and Fritz are as fully entitled as you are to make use of him!” Marie immediately took the nutcracker into her arms and started cracking nuts with him, but she selected only the smallest specimens so that the little man would not have to open his mouth too wide, but on the whole this did not become him. Marie was presently joined by Luise, and thus was Marie’s friend Nutcracker conscripted into cracking nuts for her sister, which, to judge by his unflaggingly friendly smile, he seemed more than game to do. By this point Fritz was worn out from his numerous marching drills and riding exercises, and having been highly delighted to hear the sound of cracking nuts, he bounded over to his sisters and burst into a hearty laugh at the expense of the funny little man who now, as Fritz also wanted to eat some nuts, passed from hand to hand, and what with all the snapping open and shut he scarcely got to keep his mouth still for a second. Fritz kept shoving in the biggest and toughest nuts, until finally, all at once—crack…crack—two little teeth fell out of the nutcracker’s mouth and his entire lower jaw went slack and wobbly. “Oh my poor dear nutcracker!” Marie cried, and snatched the little man from out of Fritz’s hands. “That is one dopey, simple-minded fellow you’ve got there,” said Fritz. “He wants to be a nutcracker, and he hasn’t even got a proper set of teeth; I’ll even bet he doesn’t know a single thing about his trade. Give him back to me, Marie! The stupid good-for-nothing is duty-bound to keep biting open nuts for me, even if he loses the rest of his teeth and his whole chin into the bargain, which is what he deserves anyway.” “No, no,” cried Marie, who was now past the verge of tears: “you shan’t take my little nutcracker from me; just look at how sadly he’s gazing at me and pointing at his wounded little mouth! But you are completely heartless: you whip your horses and think nothing of having a poor soldier shot to death.” “These things have to be done,” cried Fritz, “as you obviously don’t understand; but that nutcracker belongs to me as much as to you; hand him over this instant.” Marie began weeping fervently and swathed the ailing nutcracker in her little pocket handkerchief. Now their parents came over with Godfather Drosselmeier. To Marie’s distress her godfather sided with Fritz. But her father said, “I have expressly placed the nutcracker in Marie’s care, and as I see that care is what he stands in greatest need of at present, he must receive it from her, to the exclusion of all other contenders. I must add that I am truly astonished at Fritz’s exacting of gratuitous service from an ailing subordinate. As a seasoned military man ought he not to know better than to include a wounded soldier in the active rank and file?” Fritz was thoroughly abashed by this lecture, and without giving a single further thought to nuts and nutcrackers, he slunk away to the opposite side of the table, where his hussars, having posted the requisite sentries, had retired to their quarters for the night. Marie gathered up the nutcracker’s missing teeth; she had bound his broken chin in a slip of a white ribbon taken from her dress, and had subsequently swathed him in her kerchief even more solicitously than before. And so she cradled him like a little child in her arms, while browsing the lovely pictures in the new picture-books that lay amongst the day’s profusion of other presents. She grew quite uncharacteristically cross when Godfather Drosselmeier, laughing heartily all the while, repeatedly asked her how she could ever take such pleasure in flirting with such an incredibly hideous little man as this? That curious comparison to Drosselmeier that she had made the first time she laid eyes on the little man now came rushing back into her mind, and in a tone of the utmost seriousness, she said, “Who knows, dear Godfather, whether even if you dressed yourself up as nicely as my dear nutcracker, and put on such lovely, shiny little boots as he’s wearing—who knows if even then you’d look as handsome as he does!” Marie was at a complete loss to explain why her parents now burst into such uproarious peals of laughter, or why the high court councilor’s nose was now turning such a deep shade of red, or why he was not laughing with them nearly as loudly as he had done before. Perhaps there were certain peculiar causes that accounted for it.
To your immediate left as you as you enter the public health officer’s sitting room, there stands against the broad wall a tall, glass-windowed cabinet, in which the children store up all the lovely Christmas presents they have received from year to year. Luise was still a very little girl when her father commissioned the cabinet from a highly skilled carpenter, who fitted it with panes of such heavenly pellucidity, and contrived to assemble the whole thing so artfully, that everything in it looked almost shinier and prettier than it would have looked in the viewer’s own hands. On the top shelf, which Marie and Fritz could not reach, stood Godfather Drosselmeier’s artifices; immediately beneath it was the shelf for the picture-books; the two lowest shelves Fritz and Marie had permanently at their joint disposal; for all that, Marie always ended up stowing her dolls in the bottom shelf, while Fritz billeted his troops in the one above it. Today had witnessed no exception to this arrangement, for while Fritz had installed his hussars on top, Marie had placed Missy Trutchen off to the side underneath, inserted her lovely, immaculately clean new doll into the extremely well-appointed doll’s room, and treated herself to the sweets she had with her. I said that the room was extremely well- appointed, and that is very much the truth, for I do not know whether you, my attentive auditress Marie, just like little Miss Stahlbaum (you know full well, of course, that your first name is also Marie) but anyway!—as I was saying, I do not know whether you, like her, own a tiny sofa upholstered in a lovely floral pattern, a handful of the most delightful-looking little chairs, a dainty tea-table—but above all possessions a plain, neatly made little bed upon which the loveliest little dolls repose themselves? All these things were to be found in the corner of the cabinet, whose walls here were actually papered with colorful little pictures, and you can well imagine how the new doll whom Marie had only just learned to call Missy Claerchen must have felt very much at home in this room.
It had grown quite late; indeed, midnight itself was impending, and Godfather Drosselmeier had long since departed, and yet the children had hardly gotten their fill of the glass cabinet, for all their mother’s ardent admonitions to the effect that they really should at long last be getting to bed. “Granted,” Fritz at length exclaimed, “these poor fellows” (i.e., his hussars) “really could do with a snooze, and I’m sure as heck sure they’ll have a fat chance of getting one as long as I’m here!” Whereupon he left the room; Marie, on the other hand, ardently entreated her mother thus: “Please, dear Mother, let me stay here just a little while longer, just the tiniest bit longer; I have a few things left to attend to, and once I have attended to them, I certainly plan to go straight to bed!” Marie was a thoroughly pious and sensible child, and so her worthy mother felt no qualms whatsoever about leaving her on her own with her playthings. But at this moment Marie hardly seemed to be interested at all in her new doll and lovely playthings, and yet again she also seemed completely oblivious of the candles that were burning in a circle around the cabinet; her mother extinguished them all one by one, leaving only the lamp that hung suspended from the middle of the ceiling to disperse a gentle, ingratiating light throughout the room. “Don’t stay up too much longer, Marie dear, if you want to be able to get up on time tomorrow!” cried her mother, as she withdrew into her bedroom. As soon as Marie found herself alone, she immediately turned to the object of her heart’s preoccupation, a preoccupation that—for all its urgency, and for reasons unknown even to herself--she was quite incapable of disclosing to her mother. All this time she had been carrying slung over her arm the ailing nutcracker, who was still swathed in her pocket handkerchief. Now she carefully laid him on the table, gently, gently unwound the kerchief, and looked after his wounds. The nutcracker was very pale, and yet smiling with an intensely wistful geniality, such that the sight of him pierced Marie straight through the heart. “Ah, my little nutcracker,” she said ever so gently, “don’t be angry at Fritz for having hurt you so much; he didn’t mean to be so cruel; it’s just that this savage soldier’s life he’s been leading has made him a bit hard-hearted—otherwise he’s a truly worthy young man; I can assure you of that. But now I intend to care for you solicitously until your good health and good cheer are entirely restored to you; as for having your teeth set firmly back in place and your shoulder straightened out: that will have to be left to Godfather Drosselmeier, who is an expert at such things.” But Marie could not finish saying her piece, for as soon as she mentioned the name Drosselmeier, her friend Mr. Nutcracker cocked his jaw at a devilishly wry angle, and his eyes scintillated with pinpricks of green light. But in the next instant, before she could be properly horrified by this grotesque transformation, she once again beheld the honest nutcracker’s familiar face with its familiar wistful smile, and she realized that its disfigurement a moment earlier had been owing entirely to a brief flaring up of light cast by the ceiling lamp thanks to an equally transitory draught of air. “I am not some silly little girl who scares so easily as to fancy that a wooden doll is pulling faces at her! But I am too fond of Nutcracker by half because he is so droll and yet so good-natured, and so he has to be taken care of, as is only proper.” Whereupon Marie cradled her friend Mr. Nutcracker in her arms, approached the cabinet, crouched down in front of it, and addressed her new doll thus: “I heartily beseech you, Missy Claerchen, to give up your bed to the injured nutcracker, and to commit yourself, for lack of a better alternative, to the sofa. Remember that you are in perfect health, and in full possession of your strength; otherwise your cheeks would not be so plump and such a deep shade of red; and also remember that very few of even the loveliest dolls own such a cushy sofa as yours.”
Missy Claerchen, resplendent and resentful in her Yuletide brand-newness, refused to say a word. “But why am I making such a fuss about this?” said Marie said, pulled out the bed, gently and tenderly laid the nutcracker in it, wrapped around his injured shoulders a lovely little ribbon that she usually wore around her waist, and tucked him in right up to the underside of his nose. “But,” she continued, “I can’t very well leave him in the same room as naughty Clara,” and so saying, she placed the little bed, nutcracker and all, in the shelf above hers, so that it came to nestle alongside the lovely village where Fritz’s troops were billeted. She shut and locked the cabinet and headed towards her bedroom, but then—listen up, children!—then she began to hear a faint, ever so faint, whispering and swishing and rustling on all sides of the room—behind the stove, behind the chairs, behind the cupboards. All the while the clock on the wall was whirring ever more loudly and yet somehow failing to chime. Marie looked at the clock: the gilded owl perched on top of it had covered it from top to bottom with its lowered wings, and its hideous hook-beaked cat’s head was outthrust at a grotesque distance from its body. And it whirred even more violently, and in its whirring the following words could clearly be discerned: “softly whirr and cause no fear: that’s the task of every gear. King of the mice has a subtle ear; rouse him with an ancient tune; softly sound the nightside noon; he will hear it very soon!” And in exact conformity with these orders the clock struck twelve as softly and unreverberantly as could be! Marie began to be genuinely quite frightened, and she nearly fled the room in horror when she saw Godfather Drosselmeier sitting in place of the owl on top of the clock, with his yellow coat-tails dangling down on either side of the clock like wings; but she pulled herself together, and cried out loudly and tearfully, “Godfather Drosselmeier, Godfather Drosselmeir, what are you doing up there? Come down and stop frightening me so, you naughty Godfather Drosselmeier!” But then from all sides of the room issued peals of demented laughter and whistling, and a thousand tiny feet could be heard scampering and scurrying behind the walls, and a thousand tiny lights could be seen gleaming through the cracks between the floorboards. Wait: no!—they weren’t lights, but tiny flashing eyes, and Marie suddenly realized that all around her mice were poking their noses out and pulling themselves up from beneath the floor to its surface. Soon they were trotting, trotting, trotting, and hopping, hopping, hopping, into every side and corner of the room; ever thicker and ever more luminous heaps of mice were galloping to and fro; and at length they arranged themselves into ranks and files of the sort that Fritz would arrange his troops into when he was about to lead them into battle. Marie found this all extremely comical, for unlike many other children she had no natural aversion to mice; and the very last trace of her fear was on the point of vanishing when there suddenly commenced a peculiar, steady whistling sound that was so ghastly and piercing that it made icy chills run down her spine! Ah what things she now beheld! No, in all frankness, my dear and honored reader Fritz, I know that you, just like the wise and courageous General Fritz Stahlbaum, have your heart in the right place, but if you had seen what Marie now saw before her very eyes, in all frankness you would have run away; I even believe you would have leapt straight into bed and pulled the covers much farther over your ears than was strictly necessary. But of course poor Marie was hardly in a position to do any of those things now, for—listen up, children!—right smack dab in front of her feet a jet of sand and lime and pieces of broken marble stones shot up from the floor with a truly ghastly hissing and whistling sound, and seven mouse-heads with seven brightly scintillating crowns heaved themselves to the surface. Presently the body of the mouse on whose necks the seven heads had grown worked its way completely above ground and the large mouse with the seven diadems squeaked a resonant cheer at the entire horde, which proceeded to set itself in motion and--giddy-up and off!—galloped, galloped, galloped, right up to the very doors of the cabinet, right up to Marie herself, who was still standing directly in front of it. So far Marie’s heart for sheer terror and panic had been throbbing so violently that she had been thinking that it was bound at any second to burst out of her chest and thereby kill her; but now she suddenly felt as though the circulation of the blood in her veins had come to a standstill. Half unconscious, she tottered backwards; then she heard a rumble and a clink, and the glass front of the cabinet, with which her elbow had just collided, collapsed in shards. She immediately felt a stabbing pain in her left arm, but also a sudden and pronounced relaxation of tension around her heart; the cheeping and whistling had stopped, and complete silence permeated the room; and although she could not see them, she assumed that the mice were still nearby, and had merely been frightened back into their holes by the sound of the shattering glass. But then what was this? Directly behind her in the cabinet she heard a curious rumbling as the faintest voices began muttering as follows: “We’re up and about, up and about—to arms and the field, before the night's out—we’re up and about—let’s put them to rout!” And immediately thereafter she heard several little bells sounding together concordantly, to the most exquisitely charming effect. “Ah, of course: it’s my little glockenspiel!” Marie delightedly exclaimed, and briskly leaping aside to get a view of the cabinet, she saw therein the most strangely lit and peopled and busied sight she had ever seen. Several dolls were running in every which direction and thrusting at and parrying each other. Then all of a sudden, Nutcracker flung aside the counterpane, leapt out of the bed with both feet forward, and loudly exclaimed: “Crack, crack, crack—you stupid rodent pack—stupid crazy guff –enough’s enough—crick and crack and huff and puff—the purest guff.” And with that he drew his tiny sword and flourished it in the air and cried, “You, my dear retainers, friends, and brothers—do you intend to assist me in my arduous struggle?” Immediately three scaramouches, a pantaloon, four chimney-sweeps, two zither-players, and a drummer heartily rejoined, “Yes, sir: we are your loyal servants; we’ll struggle alongside you through thick and thin—win or lose, live or die!” and hastened to follow the lead of the ecstatic Nutcracker, who was now bravely risking the leap to the bottom shelf. Yes! The other dolls had all successfully made the plunge, for not only were they clad in splendid garments of lawn and silk, but also their very innards were basically nothing but cotton and chaff, so that they plumped down on to the bottom shelf just like little sacks of wool. But as for poor Nutcracker: well, he would certainly have broken both his arms and legs—for I’ll have you know it was a two-foot drop to the bottom shelf, and his body was as brittle as if it had been carved directly out of a single piece of linden-wood—had not Missy Claerchen leapt from the sofa and caught our sword-brandishing hero in her accommodatingly pliant arms just in the nick of time. “Oh my dear, worthy, wonderful Claerchen!” sobbed Marie: “How sorely I misjudged you! You were in fact only too happy to give up your little bed to our friend Mr. Nutcracker!” But now Missy Claerchen spoke thus, as she tenderly clasped the young hero to her silken bosom: “For pity’s sake, my lord, give heed to your present wounds and infirmities and avoid the battlefield; behold how your valiant retainers are rallying with gusto for battle and in full certainty of victory. The scaramouches, the pantaloon, the chimney-sweeps, the zither-players, and the drummers are already down there, and the motto-figurines on my shelf are already up and bestirring themselves with remarkable alacrity; I beg you, my lord, to rest out the battle in my arms, or else to spectate on your victory from the lofty security of my plumed hat!” Thus spoke Claerchen, but Nutcracker grew so refractory and started kicking so hard to be set free that Claerchen ultimately had no choice but to set him down on the floor. But no sooner had he been set free than he fell with exemplary gallantry to his knees and whispered, “Oh dear lady! In every battle and in all adversity that comes my way, I shall treasure the memory of your most gracious and merciful succor!” Then Claerchen stooped down low enough to grab him by his little arm, gently lifted him up, quickly undid her sequin-spangled waistband, and made as if to wrap the little man up in it, but he fell back two steps, laid his hand on his breast, and solemnly intoned, “Waste not your kindness on me, dear lady, for—” he broke off, fetched a deep sigh, tore off the little ribbon in which Marie had swathed his shoulder, pressed it to his lips, tied it round his neck like a scarf, and, brandishing his drawn sword, leapt as quickly and nimbly as a sparrow over the ledge of the cabinet and on to the floor. Note well, my most dear and gentle listeners, that long before he had come properly to life Nutcracker was most cannily sensible of Marie’s tender and virtuous feelings for him, and that it was only on account of his settled attachment to Marie that he refused to accept or wear Missy Claerchen’s ribbon, for all its lustrous handsomeness. Out of loyalty and affection Nutcracker preferred to trick himself out in Marie’s unassuming little ribbon. But what ever was to happen next? As soon as Nutcracker touched down, the cheeping and squeaking started up again. Oh no! Beneath the large table in the center of the room the hideous and immeasurably huge horde of mice were gathered, and the abominable mouse with seven heads stood tall and proud amidst the lot of them! What ever was to happen next?
“You, my loyal retainer, Mr. Drummer,” cried Nutcracker: “summon the troops to march!” whereupon the drummer launched into a tattoo of such extraordinary virtuosity that it set the windows of the cabinet shaking and trembling. Now from within the cabinet Marie heard a good deal of bashing and clattering, and it eventually dawned on her that the lid of the case that served as the quarters of Fritz’s army had been forced open, and that the soldiers had escaped and jumped to the bottom shelf, where they were now assembling in neatly serried ranks. Nutcracker dashed up and down the lists, mercilessly hectoring the troops in his enthusiasm. “Not a dog of a trumpeter is shifting or stirring!” he furiously exclaimed, only to turn abruptly to the pantaloon—he whose face had turned rather pale and whose oversized chin was shaking quite violently—and solemnly address him thus: “General, I know of your courage and experience, I entrust to you the command of the complete cavalry and artillery; you have no need of a horse, as your legs are so long that you can reach a tolerable gallop on your own two feet. Now follow your function.” So pantaloon immediately thrust two of his lanky little fingers into his mouth and whistled so forcefully, that the resultant sound was as strident as a hundred toy trumpets sounding simultaneously at full volume. Then there was a tremendous amount of whinnying and stamping inside the cabinet, and lo! Fritz’s cuirassiers, dragoons, and, most spectacular of all, his resplendently shiny new hussars, emerged from the case and descended to the floor, where they presently drew to an expectant halt. Now with standards flying and drums and trumpets sounding, regiment upon regiment paraded past Nutcracker and contributed its long row of soldiers to an army that eventually covered the entire floor of the room. But now in front of the front-most row of troops were posted Fritz’s cannons, attended on all sides by their gunners, and before Marie knew it, there was a boom and another boom; and she beheld whole crowds within the horde of mice covered in powder to their great embarrassment. Especially damaging to them, though, was a heavy discharge from the battery that had been assembled on Mama’s footstool and that now—Boom!—Boom!—fired one round of gingerbread ordnance after another into the mice and sent them toppling over. And yet the mice continued to draw ever nearer and even managed to overrun a few of the cannons, but then there was a noise that went PRR—PRR—PRR, and Marie could scarcely see what was happening for all the smoke and dust. But this much was certain: that each side was laying into the other with the bitterest intensity, and that victory was in no hurry to yield itself up to either one. The army of mice was continuing to grow larger and larger, and the tiny silver pellets that they wielded with considerable aplomb as missiles were now smashing into the cabinet itself. Despair-stricken, Claerchen and Trutchen were running about in every which direction and wringing their tiny hands raw. “Am I—the loveliest doll yet sewn--destined to die in the most efflorescent hour of my maidenhood?" cried Claerchen. “Have I preserved myself so well for so long only to perish here within the four walls of my own apartment?” cried Trutchen. With that they fell into each other’s arms, and wailed so loudly that they could be heard even above the infernal din of the battle. For of the spectacle that was now commencing you, my honored listeners, will scarcely form an adequate notion. First Marie heard a sound like this--Prr, prrr—puff, piff—shnetterding—shnetterding—boom, brrroom, boom, brruom, boom—which set the mice and their king squeaking and squealing, and then she once again heard Nutcracker’s powerful voice, parceling out orders for needful tasks; and finally she saw Nutcracker in person striding directly through the beleaguered battalions! Pantaloon had accrued considerable glory in a handful of cavalry charges, but Fritz’s hussars were being pelted with the fetid discharge of the mice’s artillery, which bored lethal holes into their red jerkins and thereby prevented them from even attempting to advance. Pantaloon let them turn aside to the left and in the delirium of command, he forced his own cuirassiers and dragoons to do the same; so that they all turned left and headed homeward. In so doing, they left the battery posted on the footstool exposed to attack; and in no time flat, a hideous troop of mice assailed it with such force that they overturned the entire footstool, including the gunners and cannons. Nutcracker seemed quite dismayed and ordered the right wing to make a retrograde movement. Now you know full well, my dear listener Fritz, what with all your experience of war, that to make such a movement is virtually tantamount to retreating; and you will have already begun to join me in mourning in advance the disaster that was all but destined to overwhelm the army of Marie’s beloved little Nutcracker! For all that, avert your eyes from this calamity and behold the left flank of Nutcracker’s army, wherein everything is still very much in order, and commander-in-chief and army alike still have very good reason to be hopeful. During the most heated period of the battle several mouse cavalry squadrons had quietly, quietly debouched from under the chest of drawers, and, emitting loud squeaks of rage, had pounced on to the left flank of Nutcracker’s army—but what resistance did they meet with there for all their fury! Slowly--because the roughness of the terrain would not allow them to proceed quickly-- the battalion of motto-figurines, escorted by two Chinese emperors, had advanced and gathered themselves together into a square formation. This valiant, splendid, and brilliantly parti-colored contingent composed of numerous gardeners, Tyroleans, Tunguses, hairdressers, harlequins, cupids, lions, tigers, meerkats, and monkeys, fought with exemplary composure, courage, and stamina. In the light of its Spartan-worthy valor, this elite battalion most certainly would have snatched victory from the foe’s jaws had not a charging enemy cavalry captain been so rash and impertinent as to bite off the head of one of the Chinese emperors, which in then falling to the floor struck dead a meerkat and two Tunguses. These casualties produced a gap through which the enemy surged, and in short order the entire battalion was gnawed to bits. But the enemy gained precious little advantage from this outrage. No sooner did one of the mouse-army’s cavalry officers gnaw through his valiant adversary than he received a tiny printed label in the neck, whereupon he immediately died. But what did this avail Nutcracker’s army, an army that had long been steadily diminishing in strength and losing more and more men, such that by now the unfortunate Nutcracker was standing with his back flush against the cabinet and defending it with the assistance of only a tiny handful of subordinates? “The reserves must report to me at once! Pantaloon, Scaramouche, Drummer—where are you?” Thus cried Nutcracker, who still hoped to elicit one more deployment of fresh troops from the cabinet. And in fact a handful of brown-skinned briarwood men and women with golden faces, hats, and helmets did report, but they thrashed about so fumblingly that their weapons never even grazed any of the enemy; such that, indeed, if left to their own devices they surely would have knocked their own general’s—Nutcracker’s—cap off his head. In any event, the enemy chasseurs soon bit their legs off, causing them to topple over and collaterally crush to death several of Nutcracker’s comrades in arms. Now Nutcracker was completely surrounded by the enemy and at the highest pitch of fear and need. He tried to leap over the threshold of the cabinet, but his legs were too short; Claerchen and Trutchen lay unconscious, dead to the world; they could not help him. The giddy capering of mounted hussars and dragoons in every direction but towards him prompted him to cry out in abject despair, “A horse, a horse!—A kingdom for a horse!” In the blink of an eye, two enemy skirmishers seized hold of him by his wooden cape; and then, squeaking triumphantly from all seven of his voice-boxes, the king of the mice came bounding up to him. Marie could no longer contain herself: “O my poor Nutcracker—my poor Nutcracker!” she exclaimed through a succession of sobs; then, without being quite fully aware of what she was doing, she pulled off her left shoe and flung it with main force into the thick of the horde of mice at their king. In the blink of an eye they all seemed to fly away and vanish even as Marie felt a second--and this time much more strident—stabbing pain in her left arm, and fainted dead away on to the floor.
When Marie next woke up, from a sleep of deathlike profundity, she was lying in her own little bed, and the sun was shining brightly and coruscatingly through the frosted panes of her bedroom window. A strange man was sitting close beside her, but she soon recognized him as Mr. Wendelstern the surgeon. He quietly announced, “She is awake!” Whereupon her mother drew near and gazed at her with harriedly searching eyes. “Ah, Mother dear,” little Marie gently murmured: “does this mean that all the horrible mice are now gone, and that my worthy Nutcracker is safe and sound?” “Don’t talk such foolish nonsense, Marie dear,” replied her mother: “what do mice have to do with the nutcracker? But you, you naughty child, have caused us no end of worry and grief. This is the kind of thing that happens when children are froward and headstrong and don’t obey their parents. Last night you were up very late playing with your dolls; you got sleepy, and it’s possible that you were frightened by some little mouse—not that we’ve ever had any mouse problems here—dashing out into the room;in any event, you hit your arm against one of the door-panes of the glass cabinet and cut your arm so badly that in the opinion of Mr. Wendelstern, who has removed the shards of glass that were still stuck in the wound, if one of those shards had touched an artery you might very well have ended up with a paralyzed arm, or even have bled to death. Thank the good Lord I happened to wake up at midnight and, on noticing that you were still absent despite the lateness of the hour, to get out of bed and go into the sitting room. You were lying there unconscious on the floor next to the cabinet, and bleeding profusely. In my terror I came quite close to fainting dead away myself. You were lying there, and I saw strewn all around you multitudes of Fritz’s lead soldiers and other dolls—figurines, gingerbread men; but Nutcracker was lying clasped in the crook of your bleeding arm, and not far away from you lay your left shoe.” “Oh mother dear, mother dear,” Marie interjected, “don’t you see? Those were just traces of the mighty battle between the dolls and the mice, and the only reason I got so frightened was that the mice were about to capture poor Nutcracker, who was the commander of the army of dolls. Then I hurled my shoe into the horde of mice, and I don’t remember anything that happened after that.” Mr. Wendelstern exchanged a significant glance with Marie’s mother and whispered gently to Marie, “That really will do, my dear child! Calm yourself: the mice are all gone, and your little nutcracker is residing happily and healthily in the glass cabinet.” Then the doctor entered the room and spoke at length with Mr. Wendelstern; then he took Marie’s pulse, and she could clearly hear that they were conferring about a case of septic fever. And so she had to stay in bed and take medicine for the next several days, even though, apart from the occasional twinge in her arm, she did not feel the least bit unwell. She knew that little Nutcracker had escaped unscathed from the battle, and from time to time as if in a dream she fancied she heard him say quite distinctly but sadly, “Marie, my dearest lady, I am much obliged to you, but there yet remains something you can do for me!” Marie tried as hard as she could to think of what this something could be; but in vain, for nothing came to mind. Marie could not play with her toys at all on account of the injury to her arm, and she tried instead to read, or rather leaf through, her picture-books; but the images swam before her eyes in such a bizarre fashion that she was forced to leave off. And so time passed for her with wearisome slowness, and she could hardly wait for the close of each day, when her mother would sit down at her bedside and read and tell her many splendid things. Her mother had just finished the excellent story of Prince Fakardin when the door opened, and Godfather Drosselmeier walked in, saying, “I really must see with my own eyes how this ailing and injured girl Marie is faring.” As soon as Marie beheld Father Drosselmeier in his little yellow coat, the image from that night when Nutcracker lost the battle against the mice came quite palpably to life before her eyes, and she reflexively cried out to the high court councilor, “O Godfather Drosselmeier, you behaved really horribly; I saw you sitting on the clock and covering it with your wings so that it wouldn’t make any noise when it struck, lest the mice should be scared away; and I heard you calling out to the king of the mice! Why didn’t you come to the aid of Nutcracker? Why didn’t you come to my aid, you horrible Godfather Drosselmeier? Wasn’t it really all your awful fault that I ended up ailing and injured in bed in the first place?” “What ever has gotten into you, Marie dear?” asked her mother in a thoroughly appalled tone of voice. But Godfather Drosselmeier started pulling the most outlandish faces and uttered the following words in a burring monotone: “The clock could not but softly whirr: its pendulum refused to stir. P-p-pendulums must whirr and burr--softly whirr. Now the bells sound loud and clear--ding and dong and dong and ding--little girl-dolls have no fear; the chime has sounded in the night to put the King of the mice in full flight. And now the owl has taken wing; the chime’s still sounding ding, ding, ding. The clocks must only softly whirr: their pendulums refused to stir; whirr and purr and purr and whirr; purr and whirr.” With eyes wide open, Marie stared transfixed by the sight of Godfather Drosselmeier, for he now looked both altogether different from and much more hideous than he usually did, and his right arm was flitting this way and that as though it were being jerked about like some sort of marionette. These antics of her godfather’s would have been enough to make her shudder had her mother not been present from their beginning, and had Fritz not slunk into the room in their midst and eventually interrupted them with peals of boisterous laughter. “There you go again, Godfather Drosselmeier,” cried Fritz: “acting much too silly by half; you’re behaving today exactly like my old jumping jack, which I threw away behind the kitchen stove ages ago.” The children’s mother remained obdurately unsmiling and said, “My dear High Court Councilor, this fooling about of yours is downright bizarre; what, pray tell, exactly do you mean by it?” “Good heavens!” replied Drosselmeier with a laugh: “Have you all quite forgotten my little watchmaker’s ditty? It is my constant wont to sing it to such invalids as Marie.” Whereupon he made a beeline for Marie’s immediate bedside, and said, “Please don’t be too cross with me because I failed to gouge out all fourteen of the King of the Mice’s eyes, for it just wasn’t to be; but in lieu of this achievement, I am determined to do something that will properly enrapture you.” With these words, the high court councilor reached into his satchel and gently, ever so gently, extracted from it nothing less than Nutcracker himself, whose missing teeth he had expertly remounted and whose broken jawbone he had no less skillfully reset. Marie gave out a loud cry of joy, but her mother said with a smile, “Don’t you see at last now how kindly disposed Godfather Drossemleier is to your nutcracker?” “But you must of course make allowances, Marie,” said the high court councilor, disregarding the public health officer’s wife’s remark, “for the fact that even before he was hurt Nutcracker wasn’t exactly an ideal specimen of an adult male human, and that his face hasn’t ever been exactly pretty. If you are inclined to listen to it, I shall be more than happy to recount to you the story of how this strain of hideousness was introduced into the Nutcrackers’ family bloodline and subsequently transmitted to generations of Nutcrackers. But perchance you are already familiar with the history of Princess Pirlipat, Mistress Mauserinks the sorceress, and the master watchmaker? “Wait a minute, Godfather Drosselmeier,” broke in Fritz from out of the blue; “wait a minute: you’ve sure enough reset Nutcracker’s teeth, and his chin isn’t wobbly any longer; but why is he missing his sword? Why haven’t you bothered to sling a sword round his waist?” “Ai-ai-ai!” exclaimed the high court councilor in utter exasperation: “Must you nitpick and bellyache about absolutely everything, my boy? What the devil do I care about Nutcracker’s sword? I’ve cured his physical ailments; now he can jolly well scrounge up for himself whatever blasted kind of sword he wants.” “That’s right!” cried Fritz: “He’s quite a clever fellow, so he certainly must know how to go about finding weapons.” “So Marie,” resumed the high court councilor: “Are you or are you not familiar with the history of Princess Pirlipat?” “Indeed I’m not,” replied Marie: “do tell it, dear godfather; do tell it!” “I hope, my dear high court councilor,” said the public health officer’s wife, “I hope that this story will not be as horrifying as the ones you usually tell?” “On the contrary, my dearest lady,” replied Drosselmeier: “the account that I am about to have the honor of relating is downright comical.” “Do tell us the story, dear Godfather, do tell it!” cried the children, and so the high court councilor began thus:
The Fairy Tale about the Hard Nut
“Pirlipat’s mother was the wife of a king, hence she was a queen; and Pirlipat herself was from the very instant of her birth onwards a born princess. The king was beside himself with joy at the sight of his lovely little daughter lying in her cradle; he gave a great shout of jubilation; he jigged and pirouetted about on one leg and exclaimed over and over again, ‘Huzzah! Has anyone ever seen anything more beautiful than my little Pirlipat?’ Whereupon all the ministers, generals, presidents, and field-officers leapt about on one leg just like their sovereign, and shouted ‘No, never!’ And indeed it could hardly be denied that no fairer child than Princess Pirlipat had been born in the history of the earth’s existence. Her little face seemed to have been woven from lily-white and rose-red silk fleece, her little eyes were scintillating orbs of living azure, and the sight of her hair curling in tiny locks of golden thread was downright adorable. In addition, Pirlipat had brought into the world two rows of tiny pearl-white teeth, with which, only two hours after her birth, she bit the finger of the chancellor as he was trying to get a closer look at her features, and thereby provoked him to exclaim, ‘By jiminy!’ Actually, some people maintain that he exclaimed, ‘Ouch!’; to this day the question remains hotly disputed. In any case, she really did bite the chancellor’s finger, and thereby proved to the delight of the entire country that not only beauty but also spirit, brains, and courage dwelt in Pirlipat’s angelic little body. As I said, everybody was very merry—apart from the queen, who was exceedingly anxious and restless; nobody knew why. Her anxiety manifested itself most conspicuously in the extreme elaborateness of her arrangements to keep intruders away from Pirlipat’s cradle. Not only were two gentlemen-at-arms posted at the entrance to the child’s room; but also, in addition to the two nurses stationed immediately beside the cradle itself, six others were disposed about the room and obliged to sit up all night every night. But even more incomprehensibly, and to all appearances downright insanely, each of these six nurses was required to take a tomcat into her lap and stroke it throughout her vigil, so that the animal was kept in a state of constant agitation. No matter how long you tried, my dear children, you would never guess the reason for the queen’s institution of all these bizarre rituals; fortunately, I know what that reason was and intend to disclose it to you forthwith. Some years earlier a number of noble kings and handsome princes had gathered at the court of Pirlipat’s father; and for the duration of their stay there was no shortage of pomp and pageantry as the guests were regaled with a succession of jousting-matches, plays, and balls. To show that he was not lacking in gold and silver on this occasion, the king planned to dig deep into the royal treasury and put on a truly lavish entertainment. And as the palace chef had privately informed him that according to the astronomer royal the present moment was an especially propitious one for pig-slaughtering, he decided that the great event would be a mighty sausage-fest; and having done so, he jumped into his carriage and personally invited all the kings and princes ‘round for a spoonful or two of soup,’ grossly understating the scale and nature of the event so that he might revel in the surprise his guests would feel at the sight of all those mouth-watering sausages. Then he addressed his wife, the queen, in affectionately coaxing tones, thus: ‘Now you know very well, darling, how much I love sausage!’ The queen indeed knew very well what he meant by this, namely nothing less than that, as on all previous sausage-exigent occasions, she herself should personally undertake the needful task of preparing the sausages. The treasurer was obliged immediately to deliver the large gold sausage-pot and the silver saucepans to the cook; a mighty sandalwood-fueled fire was lit; the queen donned her damask apron, and soon the pot was exuding the fragrant steam of sausage-soup. The ingratiating aroma permeated every room in the palace, including the privy council chamber; the king could not contain himself for sheer enraptured delight. ‘Excuse me, gentlemen!’ he cried, then dashed to the kitchen, embraced the queen, stirred the mixture in the pot a bit with his golden scepter, and returned pacified to the privy council chamber. A critical moment had just been reached—the moment when the lard was to be sliced into cubes and roasted on silver gridirons. The ladies-in-waiting stood aside, as the queen, out of reverent devotion to her regal spouse, insisted on attending to this business entirely on her own. But no sooner did the lard begin to sizzle than a reedy little voice was heard to whisper, ‘Give me a bite of the sausage, sister! I will have my share of the feast, for I too am a queen, after all. Give me a bite of the sausage!’
The queen instantly recognized the voice as that of Mistress Mauserinks. Mistress Mauserinks had been living in the King’s palace for quite a number of years. She claimed to be related to the royal family and even to be queen of a realm called Mausolea, and in keeping with these pretensions she presided over a sizable court of her own under the stove. The queen was a kind and charitable soul, and so, although she had no intention of acknowledging Mistress Mauserinks as a queen and her sister, she sincerely harbored no wish to see her starve on this festive day, and therefore cried, ‘Come on out, Mistress Mauserinks: of course I’ll let you have a taste of my lard.’ Whereupon Mistress Mauserinks very nimbly and gaily leapt out and onto the top of the stove and with her dainty little paws snatched away one after the other the little dollops of lard that the queen guilelessly handed out to her. But then all of Mistress Mauserinks’s godfathers and aunties came leaping out along with her seven sons (very naughty boys); the lot of them laid into the lard, and, alone as she was, the affrighted queen was powerless to stop them. Fortunately, just then the mistress of ceremonies walked in and chased away the importunate guests in time to spare a small portion of the lard. The mathematician royal was immediately summoned, and under his direction this portion was ingeniously distributed among all the sausages. Drums and trumpets sounded, and all the visiting princes and potentates—some on white palfreys, others in crystal coaches—processed in their resplendent ceremonial robes to the sausage-fest. The king welcomed them warmly and respectfully and sat down at the head of the table as behooved the crowned and sceptered ruler of the land. As early as the serving of the liver-sausage course, one could see the king growing paler and paler and lifting his eyes heavenward; faint sighs escaped his breast; a violent pain seemed to be gnawing at his heart! But with the serving of the black pudding, he sank back into his easy chair sobbing and groaning; he clasped both hands over his eyes; he wailed and moaned. The banqueters all leapt from their chairs; the physician in ordinary labored in vain to ascertain the unfortunate king’s pulse-rate; a profound and nameless affliction seemed to be tearing him to pieces. At last, at long last, after many lengthy entreaties, after the application of such strong remedies as burnt goose-feathers and the like, the king came round after a fashion, and stammered out the scarcely audible words ‘Not enough lard.’ Whereupon the queen in despair threw herself at his feet and sobbed, ‘O my poor, unfortunate royal spouse! O what pain must you have suffered! But behold the culprit here at your feet—punish her, punish her severely—ah—Mistress Mauserinks with her seven sons, godfathers, and aunties devoured the lard and—’ here she broke off and fell over in a dead faint. But now the king leapt up freshly afire with rage and exclaimed, ‘Mistress of Ceremonies, how did this happen?’ The mistress of ceremonies related to him as much as she knew, and the king resolved to take revenge on Mistress Mauserinks and her family for having gobbled away his lard. The privy council were summoned; they resolved to bring Mistress Mauserinks to trial and to confiscate all her goods and chattels; but the king, convinced as he was that pending her conviction she would continue stealing lard from him, decided to turn the entire matter over to his watchmaker royal-cum-china manufacturer. This gentleman, who happened, just like me, to be named Christian Elias Drosselmeier, promised that by means of a most peculiar political operation he would drive Mistress Mauserinks and her family away from the palace for all time. The operation centered on a collection of ingenious little machines of his own construction, machines into which one placed a tiny sliver of grilled lard. Drosselmeier installed these machines all around Mistress Mauserinks’s dwelling. Mistress Mauserinks herself was far too shrewd not to see through Drosselmeier’s stratagem, and she did her best to apprise her dimmer relatives of it; but all her warnings and expostulations came to naught: lured by the sweet aroma of grilled lard, all seven of her sons and her many, many godfathers and aunties marched straight into Drosselmeier’s machines, wherein, just as they were about to nibble up the lard, they were trapped by the abrupt descent of a metal grating—and immediately thereafter they were ignominiously executed right there in the kitchen. Mistress Mauserinks now took up her little bundle of possessions and quitted this scene of horror. Sorrow, despair, and revenge swelled her breast. Everybody at court heartily rejoiced at this turn of events; but the queen was distraught, for she understood Mistress Mauserinks’s cast of mind and knew full well that she would not let the death of her sons and relations go unavenged. And indeed one day not long afterwards, while the queen was in the midst of preparing for her royal spouse a lung puree that he especially fancied, Mistress Mauserinks appeared out of nowhere and said, ‘My sons, my godfathers, and my aunties have been slain; be vigilant, Mistress Queen, lest the mouse queen bite your little princess in half; be very vigilant.’ Whereupon she vanished once again, apparently for good; but the queen was so startled by the whole event that she dropped the puree into the fire; thus once again one of the king’s favorite dishes was ruined thanks to Mistress Mauserinks, and once again the king was wildly enraged as a consequence. But that’s enough for tonight; the rest will have to wait until next time.”
The more ardently Marie begged Godfather Drosselmeier to continue telling the story, by which she was utterly captivated, the more obdurately he refused to be persuaded; until finally he leapt to his feet and said, “Too much all at once is unhealthy; the rest really must wait until tomorrow.” Just as the high court councilor was about to step out the door, Fritz said, “But tell me, Godfather Drosselmeier: is it really true then that you built the mousetraps?” “What a foolish question!” cried Fritz’s mother, but the high court councilor smiled a very peculiar smile and softly said, “Am I not after all a master watchmaker? And yet people are wondering if I can even build a simple mousetrap.”
The Fairy Tale about the Hard Nut Continued
“Now you know children,” resumed High Court Councilor Drosselmeier the following evening, “now you know, children, exactly why the queen had the exquisitely beautiful little Princess Pirlipat so solicitously watched over. Was she not compelled to fear that Mistress Mauserinks would carry out her threat, and bite the little princess to death? Drosselmeier’s machines were of no use whatsoever against the shrewd and clever Mistress Mauserinks, but the astronomer royal, who was also an augur and an astrologer, claimed as a certainty that tomcats of the Purr family were capable of keeping Mistress Mauserinks away from the cradle; and it was for this reason that each of the nurses held a son of this family—who had meanwhile been engaged as undersecretaries for foreign affairs by the court—in her lap, and was obliged to try through judicious petting to alleviate some of the tediousness of his service to the State. One night on the very stroke of twelve, one of the two head-nurses sitting right next to the cradle awoke with a start as if from a profound slumber. The entire room was fast asleep: nary a purr could be heard; the silence was so profoundly dead that you could make out the pecking of the woodworms against the background of it!—but imagine the shock the head nurse got when right under her nose she beheld a large and extremely hideous mouse standing erect on its hind legs and already nuzzling the princess’s face with its repulsive muzzle. With a horrified shriek she leapt to her feet; everybody else immediately woke up, but by then Mistress Mauserinks (for the large mouse in Pirlipat’s cradle had been none other than she) was dashing towards one of the corners of the room. The undersecretaries rushed after her, but too late—she had vanished through a crack in the floor. All the uproar woke up little Pirlipat, who began crying most pitiably. ‘Thank Heaven!” exclaimed the nurses: ‘she’s alive.’ But how great was their horror when they glanced at Pirlipat and noticed what had become of the tender, lovely little infant! In place of her roseate little angel’s head crowned with golden tresses, a disproportionately large, misshapen giant’s noggin sat atop the scrunched-up body of a diminutive hunchback; her wee button eyes of clearest azure had metamorphosed into a pair of huge, goggling green bug eyes, and her delicate little mouth had been distended into a hideous rictus stretching from ear to ear. The queen in her woe and lamentation was fain to die; and the king’s study had to be lined with padded rugs because he now did nothing but run over and over again headfirst into its walls while exclaiming in an exceedingly lugubrious tone, ‘Oh what an unfortunate monarch am I!’ Although he now readily perceived that he would have done better to eat lard-free sausages and leave Mistress Mauserinks and her kindred in peace under the stove, it never occurred to him to admit as much; instead, he simply laid all the blame for his calamity on his watchmaker royal-cum-china manufacturer, Christian Elias Drosselmeier from Nuremberg. In this spirit, he sagely decreed that unless within the next four weeks Drosselmeier restored Princess Pirlipat to her former condition or at least prescribed an infallible means of effecting this restoration, he was to suffer an ignominious death under the executioner’s axe. Drosselmeier was more than mildly terrified; but for all that, he did not scruple to stake his future on his luck and his professional skill, and he immediately set to work on the operation that first struck him as likely to be effectual. With great dexterity he took little Princess Pirlipat apart, unscrewed her little hands and feet, and forthwith examined her inner structure; but to his disappointment he discovered that the Princess would keep getting more grotesque as she grew up, and he was at an utter loss what to say or do about this problem. He carefully put the princess back together and sank dejectedly to the floor before her cradle, which he was forbidden to leave. By now the fourth week had arrived; indeed, it was already Wednesday, and the king stopped by the nursery to glare at him with rage-enkindled eyes and wave his scepter menacingly at him as he cried, ‘Christian Elias Drosselmeier, cure the princess, or thou needs must die!’ Drosselmeier then began to weep bitterly, but little Princess Pirlipat gaily cracked nuts. For the first time the china manufacturer was struck by Pirlipat’s unusual appetite for nuts, and by the coincidental circumstance that she had come into the world with a full set of miniature teeth. In point of fact, just after her metamorphosis she would not stop crying until by chance somebody offered her a nut, which she promptly cracked open; then she devoured its contents and immediately calmed down. And since then the nurses had found that nothing but nuts would do the trick of pacifying her. ‘Oh holy instinct of nature, eternally inscrutable mutual sympathy of all beings!’ cried Johann Elias Drosselmeier: ‘thou hast pointed me to the door of the mystery; I will knock, and it will open.’ He immediately asked for permission to speak with the astronomer royal, to whom under heavy guard he was then led. The two gentlemen embraced amid much weeping, for they were intimate friends; then they withdrew into a secret closet and consulted numerous books treating of instinct, of sympathies and antipathies and other mysterious subjects. Night settled in; the astronomer royal gazed at the stars, and with the help of Drosselmeier, who was also highly skilled in this art, he cast Princess Pirlipat’s horoscope. This was no easy task, for the orbits of her stars and planets kept getting more and more tangled up in each other the longer they studied them; but eventually—O joy of joys!—it became clear to them that to undo the spell that was disfiguring her and regain her former beauty the princess needed only to partake of the sweet kernel of the krakatuk nut.
The krakatuk nut had such a hard shell that a forty eight-pound cannon could run over it without breaking it. And yet according to the horoscope, this selfsame hard nut would have to be bitten open in the presence of the princess by a man who had never before shaved or worn boots, and who was subsequently supposed to proffer to her the nut’s kernel while keeping his eyes shut. Only after then taking seven steps backward without stumbling would the young man be permitted to open his eyes. Drosselmeier had been working with the astronomer for three days and three nights straight, and the king was just sitting down to lunch on Saturday, when Drosselmeier, who was scheduled to be beheaded at the crack of dawn the following day, dashed flush with joy and jubilation into the dining-hall and announced the means he had discovered of restoring to Princess Pirlipat her lost beauty. The king embraced him with hearty goodwill, and promised him a diamond-studded sword, four medals, and two new Sunday coats. ‘Right after lunch,’ he chummily added, ‘we’ll get to work; see to it, my dear china manufacturer, that the requisite krakatuk nut-bearing unshaven young fellow in low-tops is ready to hand, and don’t let him touch a drop of wine before the job, lest he stumble while doing that seven-step crabwalk; afterwards he can drink himself into a stupor if he likes.’ Drosselmeier was mightily dismayed by this little speech of the king, to whom he only just managed to stammer out amid much quaking and quailing that although the hard nut and the young man with the powerful bite had been definitively ascertained as the means to effect the desired retransformation, it nonetheless remained a matter of some doubt whether the nut and the nutcracker themselves could ever be found. Incensed in the extreme, the king brandished his scepter high in the air, above the top of his crown, and exclaimed in a leonine roar, ‘Then be it on your own head!’ Luckily for the fear and sorrow-stricken Drosselmeier, the king had very much enjoyed his lunch on that day and was therefore more disposed than usual to give audience to rational arguments; arguments with which the magnanimous queen did not neglect to ply her husband, moved as she was by Drosselmeier’s plight. Drosselmeier himself eventually screwed up enough courage to point out that he had after all accomplished in full the task that had been assigned to him—namely, that of specifying the means by which the princess was to be cured—and had consequently earned the privilege of continuing to live. The king dismissed this remonstration as mere artless quibbling and idle twaddle, but in the end, after drinking a glass of stomach-tonic, he resolved that the watchmaker and the astronomer should hit the road and not return until they had bagged an authentic krakatuk nut. Meanwhile, in an arrangement devised by the queen, the nut-biter would be procured by way of a series of summonses to be run as advertisements in the major newspapers and intelligence-gazettes both at home and abroad.” Here the high court councilor once again left off, and he promised to tell them the rest of the tale the following evening.
The Fairy Tale about the Hard Nut Concluded
And indeed, first thing the following evening, right after the candles had been lit, Godfather Drosselmeier turned up again and resumed his tale thus: “Drosselmeier and the astronomer royal spent fifteen whole years on the road without managing to track down the krakatuk nut. I could fill four entire weeks telling you children all about the places they passed through and all the strange and peculiar things that happened to them during this period; in lieu of that, though, I shall content myself with saying that at the end of those fifteen years, in the midst of his despondency over the nut, Drosselmeier was suddenly seized by a profound yearning for his beloved native city of Nuremburg. This yearning came upon him with especial acuity on one occasion in particular, when he and his friend were smoking a little pipe of shag tobacco in the middle of a huge forest in Asia. ‘O fair native city of Nuremburg—fair city: he who thee lately has not seen—wheresoever else he may have been, from London to Paris to Petrovaradeen—must find his own heart a cold and empty shell; within thy walls he always longs to dwell—within the walls of Nuremberg, fair city, whose windowed houses look so pretty.’ As Drosselmeier carried on in this exceedingly lugubrious vein, the astronomer was sympathetically overcome by his friend’s sorrow and launched into a moan so reverberantly pathetic that it could be heard throughout the length and breadth of Asia. But he presently recovered his composure, wiped the tears from his eyes, and asked, ‘But why, my esteemed colleague, are we sitting here moaning? Why don’t we just go to Nuremberg; for after all, does it really make any difference where or how we look for this blasted krakatuk nut?’ ‘No, I guess it doesn’t,’ replied Drosselmeier, who was much consoled by his friend’s reflection. The two men instantly stood up, emptied their pipes, and straightaway made a beeline out of the forest in the middle of Asia and towards Nuremburg. As soon as they got there, Drosselmeier dashed off to visit his cousin, the doll-maker, varnisher, and gilder Christoph Zacharias Drosselmeier, whom he had not seen in many, many years, and to whom the watchmaker now related the entire history of Princess Pirlipat, Mistress Mauserinks, and the kraktuk nut, during which tale Christoph Zacharias repeatedly clapped his hands and exclaimed in astonishment, ‘Ah cousin, cousin: what marvelous events are these!’ Drosselmeier also told him about the adventures he had met with during his extensive travels—about how he had spent two years at the court of the Date King, how he had been haughtily refused an audience by the Almond Prince, how he had futilely consulted the scientific researchers at the Acorn Institute—in short, about all the ways and places in which he had failed to catch the faintest whiff of a trail to the krakatuk nut. During this second narrative, Christoph Zacharias frequently snapped his fingers, pivoted about on one foot, clicked his tongue, and followed up this series of movements with an ejaculation of ‘Hm hm—ee—ai—oh—speak of the devil!’ Finally he threw his wig and cap into the air and cried, ‘Cousin, cousin! You may put your mind at ease; at ease may your mind be put, I tell you; for as sure as I’ve ever been right about anything, I know I’m in possession of the very krakatuk nut of which you have been speaking.’ Whereupon he produced a box from which he pulled out a gilded nut that was no bigger or smaller than a nut usually is. ‘You see,’ he said, while showing the nut to his cousin; ‘You see, there’s a rather interesting story behind this nut. Once many years ago there came to Nuremberg at Christmastime a strange man with a bag full of nuts, nuts that he was offering for sale. Directly in front of my puppet stall in the town market, he got into a fight, and he put the bag down in order to defend himself more capably against his opponent, our local nut-vendor, who had pounced on the stranger because he did not want him selling nuts here. At that moment a heavily laden wagon drove over the bag; all the nuts inside it were smashed to bits—all, that is, except one, which the strange man, smiling a peculiar smile, offered to sell for a single shiny twenty-thaler coin from the year 1720. Miraculously enough, I discovered a twenty-thaler piece from that very year in my wallet, and I bought the nut without quite knowing why I was willing to pay so much for it; then I gilded it without quite knowing why I thought it deserved such an honor.’ Any suspicion that Cousin Cristoph’s nut might not be the sought-after krakatuk nut after all vanished the instant it was examined by the astronomer royal, who had been summoned to the doll-maker’s house and who, after scraping the gold shell of the nut clean, descried on its surface the word krakatuk engraved in Chinese characters. The delight of the travelers was boundless, and Cousin Christoph was the happiest man under the sun when Drosselmeier averred to him that his fortune was made, in that in addition to a handsome pension he would from now on be receiving as much gilding-gold as he needed for free. Both the china-manufacturer and the astronomer had already donned their nightcaps and were about to go to bed, when the latter—namely the astronomer—remarked, ‘Esteemed and most worthy colleague, good things only ever happen in pairs. Is it not possible that we have discovered here not only the krakatuk nut but also the young man who will bite it open and restore the princess’s beauty? The youth I am referring to is none other than the son of your esteemed cousin! No,’ he enthusiastically continued: ‘I refuse to sleep a wink; rather, I shall devote tonight to casting this young man’s horoscope, which I am determined to have finished doing by dawn.’ Whereupon he tore off his nightcap and immediately began his observation of the heavens. Cousin Christoph’s son did indeed happen to be a tall, attractive youth who had never either shaved or worn boots. Granted, in his early adolescence he had performed a stint as a jumping-jack for a few consecutive Christmases, but nobody ever held this against him, for the performance had merely been a part and consequence of the painstaking course of study his father had imposed on him. On all twelve days of each of these Christmases he wore an outfit consisting of a beautiful gold-trimmed scarlet coat, a sword, a hat—which he kept off his head and tucked under one arm—and an exquisitely coiffed bag wig. Thus resplendently attired he would stand in his father’s stall and crack open nuts for young girls out of instinctive chivalry, in recognition of which service the girls sweetly dubbed him the Handsome Little Nutcracker. The next morning the astronomer exultantly threw his arms around the china-manufacturer and cried, ‘He’s the one! We’ve got him! We’ve found him! My dearest colleague, there are only two things we must make sure of. First of all, you’ve got to braid your excellent nephew a sturdy wooden pigtail to be attached to his lower jawbone in such a fashion that the latter can be raised and lowered with great speed and vigor; next, when we go to the palace we must take great care not to let on that we have brought the young nut-biter along with us; he must arrive some time after us. I have read in the horoscope that after a few unsuccessful dental attempts on the nut, the king will promise the hand of the princess and succession to the throne to whoever bites open the nut and restores to the princess her lost beauty.” Cousin Cristoph the doll-maker was highly gratified that his little son was to marry Princess Pirlipat and become a prince and a king, and without hesitation he confided the boy to the exclusive care of the two emissaries. The pigtail that Drosselmeier attached to the jaw of his young and promising nephew worked amazingly well, enabling him to pulverize spectacularly the super-tough peach-stones on which he was practicing his biting skills.
No sooner did Drosselmeier and the astronomer inform the royal court of their discovery of the krakatuk nut than the necessary summonses were issued, and by the time the travelers arrived at the palace with the magic restorative of beauty in hand, the royal residence was already teeming with scads of extremely handsome young men, some of whom were even princes and all of whom wanted to employ their healthy young chops in an attempt at reversing the spell on the princess. The emissaries were more than slightly appalled when they beheld the princess for the first time in sixteen years. Her little body with its tiny hands and feet could scarcely bear the weight of her huge, shapeless head. The hideousness of her face was compounded by a thick white cotton moustache-and-beard that had sprouted from her upper lip and chin. Everything the astronomer had read in the horoscope came to pass. One shoe-shod greenhorn after another bit his teeth and jaws sore on the nut without doing the princess the slightest good, and afterwards, as he was dragged away half unconscious to the dentist in attendance, each of them would sigh, ‘That’s a hard nut to crack!’ When desperation finally prompted the king to promise his daughter and kingdom to anyone who succeeded in breaking the spell, the polite and mild-mannered Drosselmeier boy came forward and asked for permission to begin his attempt. Princess Pirlipat had not fancied any of the other contenders nearly as much as she did young Drosselmeier; she clasped her tiny hands to her heart and ardently sighed, ‘Ah, if only he should be the one finally to bite open the krakatuk nut, and to become my husband!’ After saluting the king, queen, and, finally, Princess Pirlipat, with courtly grace, young Drosselmeier received the krakatuk nut from the hands of the master of ceremonies, placed it between his teeth without further ado, gave a hefty tug to his pigtail, and—crack! crack!—the shell of the nut crumbled into a heap of fragments. He deftly picked the kernel clean of the fibers of the inner integument that still clung to it, then handed it over to the princess with a low ceremonial bow, and finally shut his eyes and began walking backwards. The princess directly swallowed the kernel and—o wonder of wonders!—the deformed figure vanished, and in its place appeared a young woman of angelic beauty whose face seemed to have been woven from flocks of lilywhite and rose-red silk, whose eyes were as dazzlingly blue as the sky, whose full lustrous tresses were like crimped filaments of gold. The music of trumpets and kettledrums mingled with the uproarious jubilation of the crowd of spectators. The king and all his courtiers danced about on one leg each just as they had done on the day of Pirlipat’s birth, and eau de cologne had to be administered to the queen because she had fallen into a swoon for sheer joy and delight. All this hullabaloo was more than slightly detrimental to the concentration of young Drosselmeier, who had yet to complete his sequence of steps, but he retained enough composure to continue all the way to the seventh and final one, which he was just extending his right foot to execute when who should emerge from beneath the floor but Mistress Mauserinks, squeaking and squealing in a most hideous timbre; such that when Drosselmeier lowered his foot he stepped on her and stumbled so precipitately that he very nearly fell over. And then—o misfortune of misfortunes!—all of a sudden the young man became as deformed as the princess had been a few minutes earlier. His body was wizened and shriveled and could scarcely bear the weight of his fat, misshapen head with its large, bulging eyes and broad, gaping mouth. In place of the pigtail, there now hung along his back a short wooden cape with which he controlled the movement of his lower jaw. The watchmaker and astronomer were beside themselves with terror and revulsion at this metamorphosis, but for all that they could not help taking in the simultaneous spectacle of Mistress Mauserinks wallowing on the floor in her own blood. Her wickedness had not gone unavenged, for the sharp heel of young Drosselmeier’s shoe had cut into her neck so forcefully that she was bound to die of the wound. But even in the midst of her death throes she squeaked and squealed most pitiably, ‘O super-hard nut krakatuk, thou brings’t an end to all my luck. Nutcracker you’ll receive your boon: you too will be in death’s hands soon; my seven-crownèd little son will pay you back for what you’ve done; his mother’s vengeance he’ll secure; of that, Nutcracker, do be sure. O life, so fresh and red to see, how loathly am I torn from thee!’ With this cry Mistress Mauserinks expired and was removed by the royal stove-heater. Meanwhile everybody had quite forgotten about young Drosselmeier; but by and by the princess reminded the king of his promise, whereupon he immediately ordered the young hero to be brought into the royal presence. But when the unfortunate young man stepped forward in all his misshapenness, the princess covered her face with both hands and screamed, ‘Away, away, with this abominable nutcracker!’ And with that the court marshal seized him by his diminutive shoulders and flung him out of the front door of the palace. The king was flush with rage at the thought that a nutcracker had been presented to him as a prospective son-in-law; he blamed the whole debacle on the ineptitude of the watchmaker and the astronomer and banished them both from his court for all time. The fact that none of these misfortunes had been mentioned in the horoscope he had cast at Nuremberg did nothing to deter the astronomer from once again consulting the stars, which he construed as predicting that young Drosselmeier would acquit himself so well in his new station in life that he would become a prince and king despite his disfigurement. But the disfigurement would vanish only after he had slain the king of the mice—a title to be assumed by the seven-headed son born to Mistress Mauserinks after the death of her first seven sons—and won the heart of a lady in spite of his unprepossessing shape. And indeed at subsequent Christmases young Drosselmeier has been allegedly sighted at his father’s stall at Nuremburg, where he is said to carry on his old vocation of nutcracker—but now with the regal bearing of a prince! That, children, is the fairy tale about the hard nut, and now you know why people so often say that somebody or something ‘is a hard nut to crack,’ and how nutcrackers came to be so hideous.”
Thus the high court councilor concluded his tale. Marie was of the opinion that Princess Pirlipat was basically nothing but an ungrateful little so-and-so; Fritz for his part assured her that if Nutcracker would just start acting like a brave fellow, he would make short work of the king of the mice and get back his old handsome face and body straight-away.
Uncle and Nephew
If any of my most highly honored readers or listeners has ever been unlucky enough to cut himself on a piece of glass, he will know at first hand how painful it is when it is happening, as well as what a nasty business it tends to make for one afterwards, in that it takes such a long time for the wound to heal. But on top of these vexations, Marie had to stay in bed for almost a full week, because every time she tried to get up, she would immediately feel violently dizzy. At long last, though, she recovered completely, and felt quite well enough to gambol about the sitting room as merrily as she had done before the accident. The glass cabinet presented an exquisitely lovely appearance, for its shelves were lined with brand new-looking trees and flowers and houses and beautiful dolls in dazzling attire. But none of these objects delighted Marie nearly as much as the rediscovery of her Nutcracker standing on the second shelf and grinning at her through two uninterrupted rows of perfectly straight little teeth. As she was joyously gazing at her darling, she suddenly realized with an anxious tremor of the heart that everything that Godfather Drosselmeier had related during those three nights at her bedside had been nothing less than the prehistory of this nutcracker’s quarrel with Mistress Mauserinks and her son. Now she knew that her Nutcracker could be none other than young Drosselmeier from Nuremberg, Godfather Drosselmeier’s charming but regrettably witch-cursed nephew. For at no point during her godfather’s tale had she doubted that the expert watchmaker at the court of Pirlipat’s father had been High Court Councilor Drosselmeier himself. “But why then didn’t your uncle help you; why didn’t he help you?” Marie wailed, as it became ever more keenly apparent to her that in the battle she had witnessed Nutcracker had been fighting to save his kingdom and crown. For after all, were not all the rest of the dolls now his subjects, and hence had the astronomer royal’s prophecy not been fulfilled, and young Drosselmeier not become king of the realm of dolls? In the course of pondering all these matters so thoroughly, clever Marie also came sincerely to believe that if she merely credited Nutcracker and his vassals with life and the power of motion, they would immediately come to life and start moving. But this did not happen; rather, the dolls remained standing there impassive and motionless, and Marie, far from renouncing her deep conviction in her own animating power, simply blamed their catatonia on the lingering influence of the spell Mistress Mauserinks and her seven-headed son had cast on them. “And yet,” she said aloud to the nutcracker, “even if you are incapable of moving or uttering a single word to me, dear Mr. Drosselmeier, I still know that you understand me and know how much I am looking out for you; you can count on my help if you need it. At the very least I intend to ask your uncle to rush to your aid with his expertise the next time you are in a fix.” Nutcracker remained silent and composed, but it seemed to Marie that he was breathing a gentle sigh through the glass doors of the cabinet, which thereupon seemed to sing in a tiny tintinnabulatory voice the scarcely audible words: “Oh little Marie, protectress of me: yours shall I be, my little Marie.” The blood-chilling shudders that now shook Marie’s frame paradoxically imbued her with a curious but pronounced sense of well-being. Dusk had set in; the public health officer entered the house in the company of Godfather Drosselmeier, and it was not long before Luise had set the tea-table and the family were all sitting around it and conversing about all manner of mirthful topics. During the first general lull in the conversation, Marie fixed her big blue eyes directly on Godfather Drosselmeier’s and said, “I now know, dear Godfather Drosselmeier, that my Nutcracker is your nephew, young Drosselmeier from Nuremburg; that he has actually become a prince, or, rather, a king, as your companion the astronomer predicted; but you of course know that he is now involved in a war to the death with Mistress Mauserinks’s son, the hideous king of the mice. Why won’t you help him?” Marie now once again recounted the entire history of the battle and of how she had come to witness it, although numerous times she was forced to leave off by the peals of raucous laughter her tale elicited from her mother and Luise. Of all present only Fritz and Godfather Drosselmeier seemed completely unamused. “Where ever does the girl get all these crazy notions from?” asked the public health officer. “Well,” replied the girl’s mother, “you know she has a very active imagination, but these particular products of it are just daydreams she had under the powerful influence of septic fever.” “The whole story is a lie,” said Fritz: “my red hussars—by Pasha Manelka’s wounds!—are by no means such cowards as she makes them out to be, as I could show you in any pitched battle.” But now Godfather Drosselmeier smiled a peculiar smile, picked up little Marie, set her down on his lap, and said more gently than ever before, “Ah, our dear Marie is more blessed by fortune than everybody else here including me: like Pirlipat, you, Marie, are a born princess, for you reign unchallenged in a kingdom of shimmering beauty. But much suffering awaits you if you take our poor misshapen Nutcracker under your protection, for the king of the mice is determined to destroy him by hook or by crook. But I cannot save him; you and you alone can do so; be steadfast and true.” Neither Marie nor anybody else understood what he meant by these words; and the public health officer found them so odd that he checked Drosselmeier’s pulse and said, “My dear friend, your blood is strongly congested towards your head; I shall prescribe you something.” But the public health officer’s wife thoughtfully shook her head and softly said, “I have something like a notion of what the high court councilor means, only I can’t quite put it into words.”
One moonlit night not long afterwards, Marie was awoken by a strange racket that seemed to be coming from a corner of the room. It sounded like tiny pebbles being rolled and tossed to and fro, interspersed with a truly nauseating succession of squeaks and squeals. “Ah, the mice, the mice are coming back!” Marie exclaimed in terror, and she wished with all her heart to wake up her mother; but every sound she tried to make stuck in her throat, and every muscle she tried to move refused to budge, as she beheld the king of the mice, complete with seven scintillating crowns and seven scintillating pairs of eyes, emerging from a hole in the wall, circling the room along the wainscoting, and finally leaping in a single mighty bound from the floor on to the little table right beside Marie’s bed. “Hee-hee-hee, little girl: give me all your sugar peas and your marzipan, or I’ll bite your nutcracker in two—in two!” Thus squealed the king of the mice, snapping and gnashing his teeth all the while, before dashing straight back to and through the hole in the wall. Marie was so terrified by this ghastly vision that next morning her face was as pale as could be, and on the inside she was thoroughly discomposed, almost too confused to utter a single word. A hundred times she was on the point of telling her mother or Luise or at least Fritz what had happened to her, but each of these times she was checked by this thought: “Will any of them believe me anyway, and won’t they all laugh me out of the room besides?” But one thing was quite clear to her: if she wanted to save Nutcracker’s life, she would have to hand over her sugar peas and marzipan to the king of the mice. Accordingly, the following evening she placed her entire store of these two confections at the foot of the toy-cabinet. In the morning the public health officer’s wife said, “I don’t know where all these mice that have suddenly appeared in our sitting room are coming from. Look, Marie, my poor child!—they have eaten up all your candy.” Indeed most of the candy was now gone; although for all his voracity the king of the mice had not found the stuffed marzipan quite to his liking and so had merely nibbled at it with his sharp teeth, such that it was inedible anyhow and would have to be thrown away. But Marie was far from being at all upset about the candy; to the contrary, she was immeasurably delighted because from its disappearance she inferred that her Nutcracker’s life had been saved. But just imagine how she felt when the following night she heard something squeaking and squealing right next to her ear. It was once again the king of the mice; his eyes were scintillating even more abominably, and he was squeaking even more revoltingly through his teeth, than two nights before. “Give me your sugar dolls and gum dragon dolls, little girl, or I’ll bite your nutcracker in two, in two!” were his words this time, and then he once again dashed off. Marie was quite distraught; next morning, she went to the cabinet and gazed with the most woebegone expression at her little sugar dolls and gum dragon dolls. But she was well within her rights to be upset; for you, the other Marie, my attentive auditress, can only begin to imagine what a superlatively lovely collection of sugar and gum dragon figurines little Marie Stahlbaum possessed. Right abreast of an adorable shepherd who in company with his shepherdess was grazing a complete herd of tiny milk-white sheep round whom his little sheepdog friskily leaped about; right abreast of this shepherd, I say, two postmen trudged along with letters in their hands, and four adorable little couples—four sprucely attired swains and four resplendently groomed maidens—swung to and fro in a Russian swing-set. Then, behind a small group of dancers, were Farmer Caraway and the Maid of Orleans, neither of whom Marie cared very much about; but even farther back, in one of the rear corners of the shelf, stood a rosy-cheeked little boy whom she loved more than all the others; and as Marie sighted him her eyes welled up with tears. “Ah,” she cried, turning to Nutcracker: “dear Mr. Drosselmeier, you know I’m doing everything in my power to try to save you; but it’s really hard!” Yet so tearful was the expression on Nutcracker’s face, and so vivid in her mind was the image of king of the mice’s seven sets of jaws agape to devour the unfortunate youth, that Marie resolved to sacrifice her entire collection to the loathsome rodent. And so that evening she did the same with the little sugar dolls as she had done with the candy: she set them at the foot of the cabinet. She kissed the shepherd, the shepherdess, the lambkins, and finally pulled her favorite, the rosy-cheeked little gum dragon boy, out of his corner; though she then placed him at the very back of the group on the floor. Farmer Caraway and the Maid of Orleans, on the other hand, were obliged to stand in the first row. “No, this is too much,” cried the public health officer’s wife next morning: “there really must be some mouse of monstrously huge size living in the glass cabinet, because all of Marie’s lovely little sugar dolls have been gnawed and chewed to pieces.” Marie naturally could not forbear weeping at first, but she was soon all smiles again upon thinking, “What difference does it make as long as Nutcracker’s life has been saved?” That evening, as Marie’s mother was telling the high court councilor about the mischief that a mouse had wrought in the children’s glass cabinet, the public health officer said, “It’s a truly abominable pity that we can’t manage to exterminate this rotten mouse that has gotten up to so much mischief in the glass cabinet and devoured all of poor Marie’s candy.” “Hey,” Fritz merrily chimed in: “the baker downstairs has a really first-rate gray undersecretary for foreign affairs that I’ll go borrow for us. This undersecretary will put an end to the whole thing straight away by biting the head off the awful mouse, whether she is Mistress Mauserinks herself or her son, the king of the mice.” “And not only will he take care of the mouse,” said the public health officer’s wife with a laugh, “but he’ll also jump all over our chairs and tables, and overturn cups and glasses, and cause a thousand other kinds of damage.” “No, he won’t,” dissented Fritz: “the baker’s undersecretary is a highly capable fellow; I’d give anything to be able to walk along pointy rooftops as gracefully as him.” “Please, let us not have any cats prowling around here at night,” pleaded Luise, who could not stand cats. “In all fairness,” said the public health officer, “in all fairness, Fritz’s idea of getting a cat is a very good one; for now, though, let us try setting a trap. Haven’t we got one?” “We really should get Godfather Drosselmeier to make us one,” cried Fritz, “for after all he invented the thing.” Everybody laughed, and in the wake of the public health officer’s wife’s subsequent assurances that not a single mousetrap was to be found in the entire house, the high court councilor announced that he owned several machines of that sort, and he immediately had a truly first-rate mousetrap brought over from his lodgings. At this point Fritz and Marie realized that they were about to witness in the living present the events of their godfather’s fairy tale about the hard nut. While their cook Dottie was grilling the lard, Marie quivered and trembled, her imagination suffused with the tale and its marvels, and she said to this simple woman whom she had known all her life, “Ah, your majesty, my queen, beware of Mistress Mauserinks and her family.” Fritz, for his part, had drawn his trusty broadsword, and he said, “I wish they’d show their snouts right now, because I’m just itching for a chance to wipe one of them out.” But not a creature stirred either on or beneath the stove. Next, after the high court councilor had secured the lard with a piece of thin thread and gently, ever so gently, placed the trap at the foot of the glass cabinet, Fritz cried, “Make sure, Godfather Watchmaker, that the king of the mice doesn’t play any tricks on you.” But oh, what a horrible night the following one was for Marie! She woke up to ice-cold shivers rippling up and down her arm, and a nauseatingly scraggy something brushing against her cheek, and a telltale succession of squeaks and squeals sounding in her ear. The abominable king of the mice was actually sitting on her shoulder, drooling blood from all seven of his mouths, and gnashing and snapping his teeth, as he hissed in the ear of the terror-and-horror-stricken Marie: “Tee-hee, tee-hee, I’m not coming to tea! You’ll never catch me, tee-hee! Give me all your picture-books, your little dress too, or you’ll never get a minute’s rest. And if all this you fail to do, your little Nutcracker will be bit in two, and then you’ll sure be feeling blue. Tee-hee, tee-hee, squeak, squeak!" Now Marie was full of sorrow and sadness; she looked quite wan and perturbed when next morning her mother said, “That naughty mouse still hasn’t been caught,” whereupon her mother, believing that Marie’s pallor was owing to grief at the loss of her candy, continued, “but don’t worry, my dear child: we’re bound to get rid of this awful mouse in the end. If the traps don’t work, we’ll just have to let Fritz bring in his gray undersecretary for foreign affairs.” No sooner did Marie find herself alone in the sitting room than she stepped up to the glass cabinet, and sobbingly addressed the nutcracker thus: “Ah my dear, worthy Mr. Drosselmeier, what can I, a wretched unfortunate young girl, do for you? Suppose I do now offer up all my picture-books, and even that lovely little new dress that the Holy Christ Child gave me, to the teeth of the abominable king of the mice? Won’t he then just keep asking for more and more things anyway, until I finally have nothing left to give, and he tries to bite me instead of you in two? Oh, what ever am I, poor child that I am, to do now? What ever am I to do now?” As little Marie was bemoaning and lamenting her plight thus, she noticed that over the course of the previous night Nutcracker had acquired a large spot of blood on his neck. Since learning that her Nutcracker was actually the young nephew of the high court councilor, she had stopped carrying him about and kissing and cuddling him; indeed, out of a kind of bashfulness she had been reluctant even to touch him; but now, she carefully took him off the shelf and began wiping away the bloodstain from his neck with her handkerchief. But just imagine her state of mind when she suddenly felt Nutcracker's body growing warm in her hands, and then beginning to stir. Straight-away she set him back down on the shelf, whereupon the little Nutcracker's tiny mouth started wobbling to and fro, as he laboriously and softly murmured, "Ah, most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, my dear and most excellent friend, how grateful I am for all that you have done for me! But don't, please don't, sacrifice any picture-books or Christmas dresses for my sake. Just find me a sword, a sword, I promise to take care of the rest, no matter–” Here Nutcracker’s power of speech deserted him, and his eyes ceased being animated by the most ardently wistful melancholy and became cold and lifeless once again. But Marie felt not the slightest trace of horror; to the contrary, she fairly leapt for joy at the realization that she now had a means of saving Nutcracker without making any further aggrieving sacrifices to the king of the mice. But where was she to get hold of a sword for the little fellow? Marie decided to seek Fritz’s advice; and that evening, as the two of them were sitting on their own in the sitting room before the glass cabinet, she told him of all her experiences with Nutcracker and the king of the mice, and of the need for someone to intervene to save Nutcracker’s life. No part of Marie’s account made Fritz more gravely pensive than her report that his hussars had been so badly routed in the battle. He asked her very earnestly whether such a thing had actually happened, and after Marie gave him her word that it actually had, Fritz marched briskly up to the cabinet and harangued his hussars with great pathos; then, by way of punishing them for their selfishness and cowardice, he snipped the insignias off their caps one by one, and forbade them to play their regimental trumpet march at all during the next year. After he had finished administering punishment to his troops, Fritz returned to Marie and said, “As for the sword, I can fit the nutcracker out with one, because just yesterday I gave an old colonel in my cuirassiers an honorable discharge with a retirement pension, so he won’t be needing his fine, sharp saber any longer.” The aforesaid colonel was spending his newly awarded retirement in one of the rear corners of the third shelf. He was summarily fetched down and forced to relinquish his splendid little silver saber, which was then slung round the waist of Nutcracker.
Next night Marie could not get to sleep for sheer panicked worry; round midnight, she fancied she could hear a curious din of rustling and rattling somewhere in the room. Then all of a sudden there came a loud “Squeak!” “The king of the mice, the king of the mice!” cried Marie, leaping out of bed in terrified shock. Now all was silent, and remained so for a while; but by and by there was a faint, faint knock at the door, followed by a dainty little voice exclaiming, “Dearest Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, I pray you, open up at once; I have wonderful, happy tidings for you!” Marie recognized the voice as young Drosselmeier’s and immediately threw on her nightgown and flung open the door. There in the passageway stood little Nutcracker, holding a bloody sword in his right hand and a wax candle in his left. As soon as he saw Marie, he fell to his knees and said, “Dear lady! You alone steeled my knightly courage and gave my arm the strength to do battle with the wanton villain who dared fleer and gibe at you. The perfidious king of the mice now lies vanquished and writhing in his own blood! Do not, I beseech you, dear lady, disdain to accept the trophies of this victory from the hand of your eternally devoted knight!” Whereupon with exemplary dexterity he shook the king of the mice’s seven golden crowns off his left arm and into the hands of Marie, who received the diadems with boundless joy. Nutcracker rose and continued thus: “Ah, worthiest Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, what glorious sights I could reveal to you now that I have vanquished my foe, if you should only deign to follow me for a few brief paces! Oh please do, most worthy, worthy young lady; please do!”
The Kingdom of Dolls
I trust that on this occasion not one of you children would have scrupled for an instant to follow honest, good-natured Nutcracker, to whom nothing was more foreign than an unkind thought. But Marie was all the more willing to follow him because she was well aware of the extent of Nutcracker’s debt of gratitude to her, and was confident that he would be as good as his word and indeed show her many a glorious sight. Accordingly, she said to him, “I will go with you, Mr. Drosselmeier, but you mustn’t take me very far, and I mustn’t be gone for very long, because I certainly haven’t got anywhere near a full night’s rest yet.” “For that very reason,” replied Nutcracker, “I have chosen the shortest route, although it is somewhat arduous.” He led the way, and Marie followed him to the vestibule of the house, where he drew to a halt before the enormous wardrobe stationed there. Marie noticed to her astonishment that the doors of this wardrobe, which were normally kept shut and locked, were now standing wide open, so that she could distinctly see her father’s traveling coat of fox fur hanging at the very front. With great agility, Nutcracker climbed on to the bottom ledge and over its ridge of ornamental woodwork, so that he could reach and lay hold of the great tassel attached to the end of a thick cord that hung from the back of the fox-fur coat. Nutcracker gave a mighty tug to this tassel, and immediately a very elegant flight of cedar-wood steps descended from the coat’s nearer sleeve. “Will your ladyship very kindly ascend?” cried Nutcracker. Marie would and did, but no sooner had she climbed through the sleeve—no sooner was she gazing out at the coat’s collar—than she was met by a flood of dazzlingly bright light, and suddenly found herself standing in a vast, splendid meadow fragrant with the sweetest smells and sparkling with a million tiny lights like so many scintillating precious stones. “We are now standing in the Candy Meadow, said Nutcracker, “but we are just about to walk through that gateway.” Now, upon raising her eyes, Marie first became aware of the beautiful gateway rising from the meadow only a few paces ahead of them. It looked as if it were made entirely of white, brown, and crimson–streaked marble, but as Marie drew nearer to it she could clearly see that the entire structure consisted of sugared almonds and raisins that had been fused together by baking, for precisely which reason—so Nutcracker assured her, as they were passing through the gateway—it was known as the Almond-and-Raisin Gate. Vulgar souls very boorishly called it the Students’ Slop Portal. On a gallery built into this gateway, a gallery made to all appearances out of barley-sugar, six little monkeys in scarlet jackets performed janissary music of such unexampled beauty that Marie scarcely noticed that she was steadily moving ever farther forward into the meadow of parti-colored marble that was really nothing more than an exquisitely wrought tissue of sweetmeats. By and by she was wafted by the sweetest aromas, which emanated from a marvelous little forest that was unfolding on either side of their path. The gloom of the foliage was shot through here and there and from time to time by tiny flashes of light that shone so brightly that during their brief term one could clearly see fruits of gold and silver dangling from brilliantly parti-colored branches, and tree-trunks and boughs festooned with ribbons and bunches of flowers, like so many betrothed couples and their merry wedding guests. And when the draughts of fragrance emanating from the orange trees began soughing like undulating zephyrs, they set the twigs and the leaves stirring and the tinsel crinkling and tinkling in a way that sounded just like jubilant music, to whose accompaniment the scintillating little points of light could not help frisking about and dancing. “Ah, how lovely it is here!” cried Marie for sheer overwhelming bliss and delight. “We are in the Christmas Forest, most worthy young lady,” said little Nutcracker. “Ah,” Marie continued, “If only I could linger here for just a little while! Oh, it’s really too lovely by half here.” Nutcracker clapped his little hands and straight-away they were approached by a small band of tiny shepherds and shepherdesses and hunters and huntresses who were so white that one might have thought they were made of pure sugar, and whom Marie hitherto had not noticed, even though they had been roaming about the forest all the while. They brought up to Marie a delightful armchair of pure gold, laid a white licorice cushion on its seat, and with courtly politeness invited her to be seated. No sooner had she done so than the shepherds and shepherdesses launched into a very nicely choreographed ballet, which was most genteelly accompanied by the hunters on their horns and trumpets. “I beg your pardon, most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum,” said Nutcracker, “I beg your pardon, for the miserable quality of the dancing; but those people all hailed from our automated ballet corps, who are incapable of doing anything but the same steps over and over again, and there is likewise an explanation for the somnolence and insipidity of the hunters’ trumpeting. You see, while the sugar-basket does indeed hang above their nose in the Christmas trees, it is suspended from a rather great height! But shall we not walk a bit farther?” “Ah, it was all very nice indeed, and I liked it so very much!” said Marie as she rose from the chair and set off behind Nutcracker, who was already leading the way forward. They were walking along a sweetly rushing and whispering stream from which all the glorious fragrances that pervaded the entire forest seemed to be wafting. “It is the Orange Stream,” said Nutcracker in reply to Marie’s query about it, “but for all its fragrance, it cannot compare in point of breadth and beauty with the Lemonade River, which likewise empties into the Almond-Milk Sea.” And in point of fact, very soon afterwards Marie became aware of a pronounced rushing and babbling sound as her gaze alighted upon the broad course of the Lemonade River, which meandered along in proud, cream-colored rapids surging between carbuncles of a vividly incandescent green. A breeze of exceptional coolness, fortifying to heart and lungs alike, billowed up from the noble current. Not far from it a creek of deep yellow-hued waters plodded laboriously along; on its banks were seated all manner of adorable little children angling for plump little fishes that were no sooner caught than devoured. On drawing nearer Marie noticed that these fish looked like hazelnuts. A short distance away and beside this river lay an exceedingly pretty little village; all its buildings—houses, church, parsonage, barns—were dark brown in color, yet adorned with golden roofs, and many of the walls were so colorfully painted that it looked as though whole candied lemon-peels and almonds had been applied to them. That is Gingerbreadville,” said Nutcracker, “which lies on the banks of the Honey River; its inhabitants are quite charming but also generally rather ill-tempered, because they suffer from the most horrible toothaches, and so I don’t think we should even stop by there.” At that moment Marie noticed a little town composed of a colorful assortment of houses that were both literally transparent and charming to behold. Nutcracker made straight for the town; and Marie heard a ridiculously loud din like that of a celebrating crowd as they approached its market square, where she beheld thousands of overladen carts—like so many dainty little people—stopping, trying to unload, and just on the point of unloading. But to all appearances, their cargo entirely consisted of brightly colored pieces of paper and of bars of chocolate. “We are in Bonbonton,” said Nutcracker, “where a consignment from Paperland and the Chocolate King has just arrived. The poor Bonbontonians were recently badly menaced by the Admiral of the Gnats, and this is why they are now covering their houses with the presents from Paperland and erecting fortifications made of the sturdy wall-segments sent to them by the Chocolate King. But most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, we simply haven’t the time to visit every little town and village in this country: to the capital! To the capital! Nutcracker hurried onwards, and aglow with curiosity, Marie followed him. It was not long before a magnificent perfume of roses began to pervade the air and everything in every direction seemed to be bathed in a gentle roseate luster. Marie noticed that this was all the reflection of a glittering pinkish-red pool whose waters were surging and rippling towards them in little waves like a succession of marvelously lovely notes and melodies. On the surface of this charming body of water, which extended far in every direction like a large lake, a number of majestically beautiful silver swans with gold necklaces swam about and vied with each other for first prize in the singing of the prettiest songs, in time to which hundreds of tiny diamond fishes leapt out of and into the roseate waters like so many coordinated dancers. “Ah!” cried Marie in rapt delight, “Ah: this is the real-life original of the lake that Godfather Drosselmeier was planning to build for me, and I myself am the girl who was going to caress the lovely little swans.” Little Nutcracker smiled a highly derisive smile that she had never seen on his face before, and said, “My uncle certainly could never manage to build such a thing; you, dear Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, are much better qualified to do so—but let us stop brooding over this at once and begin our voyage across the Rose Lake to the capital."
Little Nutcracker clapped his little hands once again, whereupon the Rose Lake began to surge more violently; the waves splashed at a higher crest, and from off in the distance there drew ever nearer an object that Marie gradually realized was a seashell-shaped coach made out of actual sunbeam-scintillating precious stones and drawn by two dolphins covered in scales of pure gold. Twelve of the most adorable little Moors in little caps and aprons woven out of lustrous hummingbird feathers leapt on to the shore and, gliding ever so gently through the intervening waves, carried first Marie and then Nutcracker into the coach, which forthwith launched itself back into the lake. Oh, what a beautiful sight was Marie’s traversal of that lake in that seashell coach wafted all about by the fragrance of roses and coddled all about by roseate waves! The two gold-scaled dolphins raised their nostrils and spouted into the air jets of pure crystal, which in subsequently descending into the shimmering and sparkling waves sounded like two delicate little silver voices sweetly singing thus: “Who swims these waters pink and bright? The sprite! Little midges! ding ding little fishes, sim sim—swans! swa swa, golden bird! trarah, surging waves—at ease! ring, sing, fly, pry—little sprites, little sprites come along; rose waves, chill, swill, swill aloft! aloft!” But the twelve little Moors who had leapt up on to the back of the seashell coach seemed genuinely offended by the singing of the jets of water, for they shook their parasols so violently that the date-leaves out of which they were made crinkled and crackled, and with their feet stamped out an extraordinarily curious rhythm and sang: “Clap and clip and clip and clap, up and down—Moors’ dance-riots shan’t be quiet; at ease, fish—at ease, swans, drone on seashell coach, drone on, clap and clip and clip and clap and up and down!”
“Moors make for very amusing company,” said Nutcracker in a somewhat disconcerted tone, “but they are going to turn my lake into one huge enclave of insurrection.” And in actual fact, there presently commenced a bewildering din of marvelous voices, which seemed to be swimming through both the lake itself and the air above it, but Marie paid it no mind and instead gazed into the aromatic rose-waves, from each of which the fetchingly gracious countenance of a young girl smiled up at her. “Oh,” she joyfully exclaimed while clapping together her tiny little hands, “oh, do come take a look, dear Mr. Drosselmeier! That girl down there smiling that magically lovely smile at me is Princess Pirlipat. Oh, do please just come and take a look, dear Mr. Drosselmeier!” But Nutcracker simply sighed a quasi-lugubrious sigh and said, “O most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, that girl is not Princess Pirlipat, but you; and each and every one of those faces smiling so fetchingly up at you from the rose-waves is none other than your own sweet countenance.” Whereupon Marie suddenly started back from the reflection and firmly shut her eyes for sheer shame and embarrassment. At this same moment the twelve Moors were lifting her out of the seashell coach and conveying her ashore. She found herself in a little copse, which was almost even more beautiful than the Christmas Forest, given how resplendently the whole of it shimmered and sparkled; but the most exceptionally wonderful part of it was its array of exotic fruits, which hung on every tree and not only bore skins of the most peculiar colors but also exuded an assortment of truly marvelous scents. “We are in the Grove of Preserves,” said Nutcracker, “but the capital is over yonder.” And what did Marie now behold? How shall I ever begin to describe to you, children, the beauty and majesty of that city that now loomed so resplendently before Marie’s gaze, on the horizon at the far end of a meadow teeming with flowers? Not only were the walls and spires of the town bedecked with the most majestic colors, but even from a strictly architectural point of view its buildings were simply beyond compare. For in lieu of roofs the houses were topped by crowns wrought in an elegant wickerwork pattern, and the towers were wreathed in the most elegant and colorful crockets the human eye had ever seen. As they passed through the city gate, which looked as though it had been built out of whole macaroons and candied fruits, a division of silver soldiers presented arms and a little man in a brocaded dressing-gown threw his arms around Nutcracker’s neck and cried, “Welcome, my most worthy lord and prince, welcome to Sweetsburg!” Marie marveled not a little at seeing young Nutcracker acknowledged as a prince by this man who was obviously of a very high rank. But now she heard a chorus of well-tuned little voices that was so clamorous, so joyful and mirthful, so lyrical and playful, that Marie could pay no mind to anything else, and simply asked Nutcracker point-blank what ever the meaning of the whole thing was. “O most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum,” replied Nutcracker, “it is nothing unusual; Sweetsburg is both a populous and a merry town, here one is always surrounded by people singing and laughing like this; but if you please, don’t let us tarry.” The very briefest of walks brought them to the town’s large market square, which afforded an especially splendid view. On all sides the buildings were made of filigreed confectionery, gallery upon gallery towered overhead, in the center stood a tall, sugar-glazed baumkuchen obelisk surrounded by four exquisitely wrought fountains that sprayed orsade, lemonade and other noble sweetened beverages into the air, and the basin was filling with pure cream that looked so delicious that one wanted to spoon it up. But prettier than all of this were the superlatively lovely little people that jostled against one another cheek by jowl in the thousands and shouted for joy and laughed and jested and sang—this was, in short, the source of the clamor that Marie had already heard in the distance and that proximity was now swelling to a near-deafening volume. The crowd was composed of beautifully attired ladies and gentlemen, Armenians and Greeks, Jews and Tirolians, officers and enlisted soldiers, and priests and
shepherds and clowns–in short, every possible sort of people to be found in the world. In one corner of the square, the tumult increased; the sea of people parted to make way for the grand mogul, who was being carried along on a palanquin, escorted by ninety-three grandees of the kingdom and seven-hundred slaves. But it happened that in the opposite corner the five hundred-strong fishermen’s guild were holding their annual parade, such that it was most untimely of the Turkish sovereign to get it into his head to ride through the square with three thousand janissaries, who were followed by the great procession from the interrupted Feast of the Sacrifice, playing their tintinnabulatory marching-tune, singing, “Thanks be to the almighty sun-god,” and heading straight for—and eventually reaching—the baumkuchen. What a prodigious amount of crowding and jostling and surging and squeaking it all amounted to! And soon it was augmented by many a wail of lamentation, for amid all the bustle a fisherman had knocked off a Brahmin’s head, and the Grand Mogul had come very close to being run over by a clown. The din grew more and more riotous, and people were already beginning to kick and punch one another throughout the crowd, when the man in the brocaded dressing gown who had greeted Nutcracker at the gate scrambled up on to the baumkuchen and, after ringing a bell with a highly resonant peal three times, called out three times very loudly: “Pastry-Cook! Pastry-Cook! Pastry-Cook!” The tumult immediately subsided; everybody attended to his own safety as best he could, and after the two processions had extricated themselves from each other, the begrimed Grand Mogul had been dusted off, and the Brahmin had had his head reset, the clamor recommenced in its original merry tone. “What was the meaning of that business about the pastry-cook, worthy Mr. Drosselmeier?” asked Marie. “Ah, most worthy Mademoiselle Stahlbaum,” replied Nutcracker, “in this place Pastry-Cook is an unknown but very horrible power that people believe can fashion human beings into whatever it desires; it is the doom that rules over this merry little nation, and they fear it so very much that the mere mention of its name can calm the most riotous outbreak of disorder, as our esteemed mayor has just demonstrated. When Pastry-Cook’s name is mentioned, everybody gives over all thought of earthly matters, all thought of breaking ribs and smashing heads, and looks into himself and asks, ‘What is man and what can be made out of him?’” Marie could not contain a loud cry of wonderment, nay of the utmost astonishment, as she now suddenly found herself standing before a castle bathed in a roseate luster and topped with a hundred skyscraping towers. But here and there against the castle’s outer walls were strewn refulgent bouquets of violets, narcissuses, tulips, and gillyflowers, whose darkly incandescent hues only enhanced the dazzling, pinkishly opalescent whiteness of the background. The large cupola of the central structure and the pyramidal roofs of the towers were studded with a thousand coruscating little gold and silver stars. “Now we are standing before the marzipan castle,” said Nutcracker. Marie was totally overwhelmed by the sight of the magic palace, but in the midst of her excitement she did not fail to notice the badly damaged state of the roof of one of the taller towers, which a number of tiny little men on a cinnamon-stick scaffold seemed to be trying to repair. Before she had a chance to ask Nutcracker about this, he was already explaining it to her. “Not long ago this beautiful castle was threatened with devastating damage, if not outright destruction. Our city had fallen into the baneful path of Sweet Tooth the giant, a path whose traversal very speedily saw the giant making short work of the roof of that tower and beginning to tuck into the great cupola itself; but at this point the Sweetsburgers brought him as tribute an entire city district plus a considerable portion of the Grove of Preserves, and having managed to sate himself on these offerings, he pressed on to fresher feeding-grounds.” At that moment gentle and highly ingratiating strains of music were heard; the castle gates flew open and out stepped twelve tiny pages with lighted clove stems that they carried like torches in their tiny little hands. Each of their heads consisted of a single pearl, their bodies were made of rubies and emeralds, and, what was more, they moved about on the most exquisite little feet of pure wrought gold. The pages were followed by four ladies, each of whom was nearly as tall as Marie’s doll Missy Claerchen; but they were all so exquisitely and resplendently attired that Marie instantly recognized them as the born princesses that they were. They embraced Nutcracker with the utmost tenderness, all the while exclaiming in bittersweet tones, “O my prince! My most worthy prince! O my brother!” Nutcracker seemed very much moved; he wiped copious tears from his eyes, then he took Marie by the hand and said with great pathos, “This is Mademoiselle Marie Stahlbaum, the daughter of a highly estimable public health officer, and the savior of my life! Had she not flung her slipper just in the nick of time, had she not secured for me the saber of a certain retired colonel, I would now be lying in my grave thanks to the mercilessly riving teeth of the execrable king of the mice. Ah, this Mademoiselle Stahlbaum!—is Pirlipat, although a born princess, truly her equal in point of beauty, kindness, and virtue? No, I say, no!” All the ladies cried in echo, “No!” and threw their arms around her neck and exclaimed through heartfelt sobs, “O you noble savior of our dear princely brother—most excellent Mademoiselle Stahlbaum!” Now the ladies escorted Marie and Nutcracker into the heart of the palace, specifically into a hall whose walls were made out of iridescently coruscating pure crystals. But what Marie delighted in more than anything else were the exquisitely lovely little chairs, chests of drawers, writing-desks, etc. disposed about the room; all of these were made out of cedar or Brazil-wood and strewn with golden flowers. The princesses entreated Marie and Nutcracker to be seated, and said that they would forthwith prepare a dinner with their own hands. Next they carried in a heap of tiny little pots and little bowls made from the finest Japanese porcelain; of spoons, knives, and forks; of graters, stew-pots, and other requisites for cooking. Then they brought in the loveliest pieces of fruit and confectionery that Marie had ever seen, and with the daintiest motions of their tiny little snow-white hands they began to squeeze the fruit, to pulverize the spices, to grate the sugared almonds—in short to act the housewife with such aplomb, that Marie could easily perceive that they were all consummate masters of the culinary arts, and that she and Nutcracker could look forward to a truly exquisite meal. In her keen desire to familiarize herself properly with such things, Marie secretly wished she could join in the princesses’ activities as a full-fledged fellow-cook. Whereupon the most beautiful of Nutcracker’s sisters, as if having divined this wish, handed Marie a little golden mortar and pestle and said to her, “O my dear friend, the precious savior of my brother, do pulverize a little of this sugar-candy!” As Marie now cheerfully betook herself to the pestle, and thereby elicited from the mortar the most charming and delightful reverberation, like the strains of a winsome little ditty, Nutcracker began to recount in considerable detail how his army had come to fight a gruesome battle with the army of the king of the mice, how he had been half defeated by the cowardice of his own troops, how the king of the mice had subsequently tried to bite him in two, and how Marie in order to save Nutcracker from this fate had had to sacrifice several of his subjects who had entered into her service, etc. At some point during this story, Marie noticed that the words Nutcracker was uttering, and indeed the blows of her pestle, were sounding more and more remote and less and less distinct; soon she saw ascending heaps of silver gauze like banks of fog, in which the princesses, the pages, Nutcracker, and, indeed, even she herself, were swimming—she could hear a curious singing and humming and whirring sound that seemed to be dying away into the distance; now Marie felt herself rising, as if on ascending billows of air, ever higher and higher—higher and higher—higher and higher…
With a “Prr!,” nay, a “Puff!,” Marie hit the ground from an immeasurable height. Now that was quite a jolt! But straight-away she opened her eyes, and found herself lying in her own little bed; it was broad daylight, and her mother was standing beside her and saying, “I don’t know how you can stand to sleep so late; breakfast was over ages ago!” Doubtless you, my distinguished readers and listeners, will have correctly gathered by now that Marie, having been fairly stupefied by all the wonders she had beheld, eventually fell asleep in the great hall of the marzipan palace, and that the Moors or the pages or possibly even the princesses themselves then brought her home and put her to bed. “O mother, dear mother, you won’t believe all the places young Mr. Drosselmeier took me to last night, and all the lovely things I saw there!” She then proceeded to relate all the events of the night before almost as accurately as I have just done, and her mother gazed at her in utter astonishment. When Marie had finished, her mother said, “You have had a long and very lovely dream, Marie dear, but now you must clear your mind of all that.” But Marie maintained with hard nut-like obstinacy that she had not been dreaming, that she had really and truly seen everything she had just described; and so her mother went to the glass cabinet, took out Nutcracker, who had been standing at his usual place on the third shelf, and said, “You foolish girl! How can you possibly believe this wooden doll from Nuremberg capable of life and motion?” “But mother dear!” cried Marie, “I am as certain as can be that my little Nutcracker is young Mr. Drosselmeier from Nuremberg, Godfather Drosselmeier’s nephew.” Whereupon both the public health officer and his wife burst into peals of resounding laughter. “Ah” Marie continued in an almost lachrymose voice, “father dear, to think you’re actually laughing at my Nutcracker even though he spoke some very kind words about you, because you see, when we had arrived at the marzipan palace and he was introducing me to his sisters, he said that you were a highly estimable public health officer!” The laughter at her expense grew even louder, as Luise, and eventually even Fritz, joined in it. And so Marie ran into the next room, pulled out of her tiny little jewelry box the king of the mice’s seven crowns, and handed them over to her mother with these words: “See, mother dear: these are the king of the mice’s seven crowns, which last night Mr. Drosselmeier handed over to me as tokens of his victory.” In rapt astonishment the public health officer’s wife contemplated the little crowns, which had been so finely wrought out of some unidentifiable but highly scintillating metal, that she found it hard to believe that they were the work of human hands. Even the chief medical officer could not get enough of gazing at the little crowns, and soon father and mother alike were pressing Marie to tell them where she had got the crowns from. But of course she could not help sticking to what she had originally said, and when her father then scolded her roundly and even called her a no-good little liar, she began copiously weeping, and she wailed, “Oh what a poor child am I! Oh what a poor child am I! What ever am I supposed to say?” At that moment the door opened. The high court councilor entered and cried: “What’s this? What’s this? My little goddaughter Marie weeping and sobbing? What’s this? What’s this?” The public health officer informed him of everything that had just happened, at the same time showing him the crowns. No sooner had the high court councilor set his eyes on them, than he laughed and exclaimed, “Poppycock, poppycock! These are the little crowns that years ago I used to wear on my watch-chain, and that I gave to little Marie as a present for her second birthday. Don’t you two remember?” Neither the public health officer nor his wife could remember anything of the kind, but Marie, now realizing if nothing else that her parents’ faces were both looking friendly again, rushed up to Godfather Drosselmeier and cried, “Ah, of course you know the whole truth about it, Godfather Drosselmeier; why won’t you come out and say it? Why won’t you say that my Nutcracker is your nephew, young Mr. Drosselmeier from Nuremberg, and that it is he who gave me the crowns?” But the high court councilor merely scowled at her with fearsome glumness and muttered, “What inane, simple-minded poppycock.” Whereupon the public health officer took little Marie aside and said to her in a very serious tone, “Listen to me, Marie: I want you to stop all this joking and tall tale-telling at once, and if I hear you say one more time that that silly, misshapen Nutcracker is the high court councilor’s nephew, I swear I will throw not only Nutcracker but also every single one of your other dolls—Missy Claerchen included—straight out the window.” Now poor Marie was obviously debarred from talking about the very thing that was her heart and mind’s chief preoccupation, for you may well and rightly believe that a person who has experienced such splendid and beautiful things as Marie had experienced can hardly forget them. Even—note well, my distinguished reader or listener Fritz—even your comrade Fritz Stahlbaum would immediately turn his back on his sister if she started to tell him about the marvelous kingdom in which she had been so very happy. He is said even to have occasionally muttered the phrase “Silly goose!” through clenched teeth, but I find it very hard to believe that in the light of his otherwise universally attested kind-heartedness; in any case, this much is certain—that he no longer believed a word that Marie had ever told him; at a public parade of his hussars he made a formal apology to them for the aspersions he had cast on them; he affixed replace their lost standards with much taller and more lustrous tufts of goose-quills, and he even allowed them to play their regimental march again. Well, now! You and I know better than anyone else the kind of showing the hussars’ courage made once those awful bullets started staining their scarlet jerkins!
Marie was no longer allowed to speak about her adventures, but images of the marvelous fairy kingdom flitted about her in sweetly undulating delirium and mild beauteous euphony; she had only to concentrate her thoughts on the beloved kingdom to behold it once again in its entirety, and so by and by she ceased to play with her toys and began to spend all her time sitting motionless and silent and withdrawn, which caused her to be upbraided as a silly little dreamer by everyone in the house. One day the high court councilor happened to be repairing a clock at the public health officer’s house. Marie was sitting before the glass cabinet, immersed in her dreams and gazing at the nutcracker; then all of a sudden, as if involuntarily, she blurted out, “Ah, dear Mr. Drosselmeier; if only you were actually alive, I would never act like Princess Pirlipat and spurn you because for my sake you had stopped being a handsome young man!” Like a shot the high court councilor cried out, “Poppycock, absolute poppycock!” But at that same instant, from out of nowhere came a loud bang, like the sound of an explosion, that was of such volume and forcefulness that it knocked Marie unconscious and out of her chair. When she came to, she found her mother busying herself about her and saying, “I don’t see how a big girl like you can’t even manage to keep her place in a chair! Here is the high court councilor’s nephew just arrived from Nuremberg: do please be on your best behavior!” She looked up; the high court counselor had re-donned his glass wig and yellow frock coat, and he was placidly smiling; but he was also holding the hand of an admittedly short but extremely well-proportioned young man. This young man’s little face was like a composition in milk and blood; he was wearing a magnificent scarlet frock coat trimmed with gold brocade, white silk stockings, and low-cut shoes; in his frilly shirt-front he sported an exquisitely lovely bunch of flowers; his hair was elegantly coiffed and powdered, and down his back hung a truly splendid pigtail. The tiny sword at his side shone as resplendently as if it were made of actual jewels, and the little hat tucked under his arm had been woven out of flocks of silk. The ingratiating impeccability of the youth’s manners was instantly attested to by the heap of splendid sweetmeats and playthings—including notably some exquisite marzipan and the very same figurines the king of the mice had gnawed to bits–that he had brought with him for Marie, and to which he had not forgotten to add a saber of wondrously beautiful workmanship for Fritz. During dinner this polite young man cracked nuts for the entire table; the hardest of these nuts were no match for him; with his right hand he would stick the nut in his mouth, with his left he would tug at his pigtail, and—crack!—the nut would crumble to pieces. Marie had turned bright red the moment she set eyes on the well-mannered youth, and she turned even redder when after dinner young Drosselmeier invited her to go with him to the glass cabinet in the sitting room. “Play together to your hearts’ content, children,” cried the high court councilor: “now that my clocks are all in fine working order, my objections are at an end.” But no sooner did young Drosselmeier find himself alone with Marie than he fell on one knee and said, “O my supremely excellent lady, Mademoiselle Stahlbaum, you behold at your feet the blessed Drosselmeier whose life you saved on this very spot! You graciously declared that you would not try to shame me as that loathsome Princess Pirlipat did after I became ugly for her sake!—at that instant I stopped being a lowly nutcracker and regained my original, not-disagreeable form. O my excellent lady, bless me with the gift of your dear hand, share with me my kingdom and my crown, rule alongside me at the marzipan castle, for there I have been enthroned as king!” Marie raised the youth to his feet and gently said, “Dear Mr. Drosselmeier! You are a sweet and virtuous person, and as you also rule over an attractive country inhabited by extremely charming and merry people, I shall accept you as my husband!” Whereupon Marie was immediately betrothed to Drosselmeier. They say that exactly one year later he had her brought to him in a golden carriage drawn by silver horses. Their wedding ball was attended by twenty two-thousand exquisitely resplendent dolls bedizened from head to foot with pearls and diamonds, and as of this very hour Marie is said still to be queen of a realm in every corner of which one may behold coruscating Christmas forests, translucent marzipan castles; in short, all manner of superlatively splendid things—provided one has eyes that can perceive them.
That was the fairy tale about Nutcracker and the king of the mice.
“Tell me,” said Theodor, “tell me, my dear Lothar, how you can get away with calling your ‘Nutcracker and the King of the Mice’ a children’s fairy tale, given that no child could possibly discern the fine threads that run uninterruptedly through the whole thing and hold together what superficially comes across as a collection of completely heterogeneous segments. At most a child will be struck by these segments as individual episodes and every now and then be delighted by them.”
“And is that not enough?” retorted Lothar. “It seems to me,” he continued, “that it is a very grave error to suppose that children with lively and fertile imaginations (and these are perforce the only children of concern to us) can derive any enjoyment whatsoever from the vacuous fopperies that are passed off to the world as fairy tales. No, they demand something better than that, and it is astonishing how vividly and accurately their minds comprehend many things that completely go over the heads of many super-intelligent dads. Take note of this and have some respect for them! I have already read my tale to the only people I can acknowledge as competent critics, namely my sister’s children. Fritz, an accomplished military campaigner, was enchanted by his namesake’s army; the description of the battle positively enraptured him—he imitated my prr and pooff and schnetterdeng and boom in piercing shrieks; he shifted nervously to and fro on his chair—indeed!—every now and then he glanced at his saber, as if he were just on the point of racing out into the fray to aid poor Nutcracker as the latter was drawn into greater and greater danger. I can assure you that as of then my nephew Fritz had not read either Shakespeare or the latest dispatches from the front, and so he most certainly had no inkling of the significance of ‘A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!’ or of the allusions to the military evolution of that most horrifying of all battles. My dear, tender-hearted niece Eugenie no less intuitively grasped Marie’s sweet devotion to the little nutcracker, and she was moved to tears when Marie sacrificed sweetmeats, picture books, and even her little Christmas dress solely in the hope of saving her darling’s life; not for an instant did she doubt the reality of the coruscating candy meadow onto which Marie descended from the ominous collar of the fox-fur coat in her father’s wardrobe. The kingdom of dolls delighted the children beyond all measure.”
“That part of the tale,” chimed in Ottmar, “is most certainly the most successful part, if you have children in mind as your ideal readers or listeners. As for the interpolation of tale about the hard nut, although it contains the binding core of the entire story, I think it was a mistake, because it makes the plot too complicated, and in it the various threads of the story are stretched and spread over too great a distance.
“To be sure, you have already termed us incompetent critics and thereby enjoined us to silence, but I cannot conceal from you my conviction that if you ever present your work to a general readership, you will find that many reasonable people—and in particular the far from negligible subclass of reasonable people who have never been children—will shrug and shake their heads by way of signifying that they regard the whole thing as a lot of crazy, motley, madcap tosh, or at least that you must have had the assistance of a mightily powerful case of brain fever, inasmuch as (so they will reason) no person of sound mind ever could have produced such an absurdity.” “In that case,” said Lothar with a laugh, “in that case, I shall bow my head to the excellent head-shaker, lay my hand on my breast, and woefully assure him that it is of precious little assistance to the poor author to be visited by any number or manner of fantastic visions in the delirious confusion of his dreams; to the contrary, he must utterly eschew the use of such fantastic materials until he has carefully and judiciously pondered them at the tribunal of his understanding, and spun all the threads of his narrative to its required degree of delicacy and strength. Indeed, I would even go so far as to say that there is no kind of literary work that more exactingly demands a clear and calm frame of mind on the part of its executant than a story that blazes in every which direction with all the anarchic playfulness of unbridled caprice, a work that for all its waywardness should and must contain a firm and solid core.”
“And who,” said Cyprian, “who would ever think of gainsaying you on this point? But be that as it may, it is still quite an audacious undertaking to splice pure fantasy into everyday life, to slap enchanted jester’s caps onto the heads of serious ordinary people such as high court councilors, archivists, and students, thereby causing them to slink like freakishly fantastic ghosts through the busiest streets of the most illustrious cities in broad daylight, and to fly off the handle at each and every one of their honest next-door neighbors. It is true that in the course of your narrative there spontaneously arises a certain ironic tone that nettles sluggardly minds, or, rather, imperceptibly lures these minds into your foreign realm of enchantment like a good-natured rogue.”
“This ironic tone,” said Theodor, “could be the most dangerous of all hazards, for it is a jagged rock on which the inventive and descriptive charm that we demand from every fairy tale can very easily run aground and founder.”
“Is it even possible,” chimed in Lothar, “to ascertain a set of prescriptive criteria for such fictive compositions? That noble, profound master, Tieck, the creator of the most charming fairy tales imaginable, has put only a few scattered if intelligent and instructive remarks on them into the mouths of the personae in his Phantusus. According to these remarks, the principal desideratum of a fairy tale is a silently momentous narrative tone, a certain innocence in the descriptive language; a quality that captivates the soul like gently rhapsodizing music, without din or bombast. A work of fantasy, according to Tieck’s personae, ought not to leave behind the faintest trace of a bitter aftertaste; it should be followed, rather, by an aftersavor, a melodious echo. But do these remarks really specify the single infungible note that must be struck by this genre of fiction? I am not about to give any further consideration to my ‘Nutcracker,’ because I myself confess that it is dominated by a certain indefensible wantonness, and because in it I have dwelt at rather too much length on adults and their actions; but I must observe that our distant friend’s fairy tale ‘The Golden Pot,’ to which you, Cyprian, alluded earlier, perhaps contains something more of what the master requires, and perhaps for this very reason it has received many a favorable sentence at the courts of criticism. What is more, I have bound myself under oath to bring a new fairy tale to the little critics in my sister’s nursery next Christmas, and I solemnly promise you to luxuriate less in wanton fantasy, and to be gentler, more childlike. For now, be content that I have brought you out of the terrifying, horror-ridden great pit at Falun and into the light of day, and that you have become merry and of good cheer as befits the brethren of Serapion, especially at the moment when they must take leave of one another. For even as I speak I can hear the midnight hour chiming.”
“May Serapion,” cried Theodor, as he rose from his chair and raised aloft his brimful glass, “may Serapion henceforth stand by us and give us the strength and the courage to recount what we have beheld with the eyes of our true spirit!”
“With this invocation of our patron saint, let us part once again as worthy Serapionian brethren!”
So said Cyprian, and once again they all clinked their glasses together, rejoicing from the very bottom of their hearts in the intimacy and warmth of feeling that were ever more firmly consolidating their fair union.
“There can be no doubt whatsoever,” said Lothar at the next gathering of the Serapionian Brethren, “there can be no doubt whatsoever that today our friend Cyprian has something quite peculiar on his mind and in his mind’s eye, just as he did on that St. Serapion’s Day that catalyzed the formation of our new union. He looks quite pale and distracted; he is bending only half an ear to our conversation; and although he is most certainly of sound body and sitting here in our midst, mentally speaking he seems to be very much elsewhere.”
“And by being elsewhere,” chimed in Ottmar, “he may be bringing himself closer to the madman whose name day he is perhaps celebrating at this very moment.”
“And perhaps,” added Theodor, “he is also discharging the surplus energy of his psyche in eccentric sparks, as he takes all too much pleasure in doing. But I am sure that once he is finished, he will regain his old subtle sensitivity to his fellow human beings and rejoin our circle, in which he will be quite unable to help enjoying himself.”
“You are doing me an injustice,” said Cyprian, “for the cause of my distraction is not some lunatic intellectual construct but rather a piece of news that will undoubtedly delight you all. Allow me to inform you that today our friend Sylvester has arrived back in town from his sojourn in the country.”
The friends rejoiced vociferously at this announcement, for they all heartily loved and esteemed Sylvester, a silent, companionable man whose inner poetry shone forth most splendidly in beams of gentle, beauteous radiance.
“We couldn’t ask for a worthier Serapionian brother,” said Theodor, “than our friend Sylvester.” To be sure, he is silent and withdrawn, and it costs him a great deal of effort to get going as a contributor to a full-fledged conversation, but at the same time no writer has ever been more sensitively receptive to the work of a colleague than he is. He doesn’t need to say more than a few words himself, for the expression on his face clearly and eloquently reveals to others the impression being made on him by his friend’s words, and whenever his inner contentment irradiates his features, and, indeed, his entire body, I feel more content, happier, freer, merely in virtue of being near him!”
“In point of fact,” began Ottmar, “it is this very quality that makes Sylvester such an unusual person. It seems as if our most recent writers have been quite studiously raging against that unassumingness that might very well be the most characteristic quality of true poetic genius, and even the better-minded among them could stand to be warier of whipping out their sword merely in order to defend their claims, given that they are absolutely incapable of re-sheathing it. Sylvester roams the world unarmed like an innocent child. We have often accused him of being too easygoing, of having accomplished far too little in virtue of the very fecundity of his genius. But must one always, constantly be writing and writing? When Sylvester sits down and takes the true measure of an idea or object in words, it is because he is irresistibly impelled to do so. He certainly never commits to paper anything that he has not intimately felt and beheld in his soul of souls, and for this reason alone he must be admitted to our society as a true Serapionian Brother.”
“Apart,” said Lothar, “from that mystical and agreeable numeral, seven, I loathe all odd numbers and believe that five Serapionian Brethren will never be capable of flourishing; six, by contrast, will sit very gracefully around this circular table. Sylvester has arrived in town today, and as it happens, that unsettled, unsteady soul Vincenz will soon be dropping anchor here. We all know him well; we know that aside from his fundamental good-naturedness, which he shares with Sylvester, he embodies the most strident contrast to him. Whereas Sylvester is silent and withdrawn, Vinzenz brims over with knavish impertinence. He has an indefatigable ability to representing everything, the most humdrum and the most extraordinary phenomena, by means of the most bizarre images, and what is more, he declaims all his utterances in a clear, almost strident tone and with an extremely droll degree of pathos, such that his conversation is often akin to a gallery of the most brilliantly parti-colored magic-lantern images, images that in their incessantly restless alternation sweep your senses along and will not allow you to get anything in the way of a sustained, contemplative view of any subject.”
“You have indeed,” chimed in Theodor, “described our friend Vinzenz very accurately. But in connection with him you must not forget something notably peculiar—namely that his splendidly luminous erudition and his unstoppable and brilliantly combustive sense of humor are both subservient to his soul’s utter captivation by all things mystical, and that he invariably injects a strong dash of mysticism into his scientific speculations. You are all doubtless aware that he has become positively addicted to the study of the science of medicine?”
“To be sure,” rejoined Ottmar, “and what is more, he is the most zealous proponent of mesmerism alive, and I cannot deny that I have heard straight from his mouth the most sagacious and profound pronouncements that are to be uttered on this obscure subject.”
“Ho ho!” cried Lothar, laughing. “My dear Ottmar, have you really been tutored by every mesmerist since the time of Mesmer himself?—for I don’t see how you could otherwise so confidently proclaim your ability to recognize the most sagacious and profound pronouncements that can be made about mesmerism. But it is indeed true that in virtue of the pellucidity of his gaze he is better qualified than a thousand other people to conjure dreams and intimations into a system. And what is more, he discusses the subject with a jovial lightheartedness that I find quite ingratiating. Not long ago, when Vinzenz’s wanderings brought him into a town where I already happened to be, I was plagued by an absolutely unbearable nervous headache. All the usual remedies had proved fruitless; Vinzenz stepped into the room; I immediately started complaining to him about my affliction. ‘What?’ he cried in his patented clear voice, ‘What? You’re suffering from a headache. Nothing more than that? It’ll be a cinch! In ten minutes I can exorcise your headache to wherever you like—into the back of that chair, into that ink bottle, into that spittoon, out of that window.’ And with these words he began his mesmeric operation! It didn’t relieve my headache in the slightest, but I could not help laughing heartily, and Vinzenz delightedly exclaimed, ‘Do you see, my friend, how I have soundly trounced your headache in a trice?’ Alas, I could not but ruefully avow to him that my headache was every bit as agonizing as before, but Vinzenz assured me that my present headache was but a delusory echo of the earlier one. And yet that pesky echo lasted several more days. I must take this opportunity to confess to you, my worthy Serapionian Brethren, that I have absolutely no faith in the curative power of so-called mesmerism. The ingenious intellectual efforts undertaken on its behalf remind me of the disquisitions of the English academicians whom the king directed to determine why a bucket of water with a ten-pound fish in it weighed no more than another one filled with water alone. Several of them had already successfully solved the problem and were pining to demonstrate their ingenuity to the king, when somebody sagely suggested that the very question at issue should be investigated beforehand. Whereupon the fish fully asserted its rights; on the scales it contributed its exactly appropriate addition to the weight on its side; and lo and behold, the very problem to which these sages had produced the most magnificent solutions by dint of the most penetrating reflections proved to be absolutely nonexistent.”
“Now, now,” said Ottmar, “hold on there, you unpoetic, schismatic infidel! If you don’t believe in mesmerism, how do you explain the fact that not so very long ago—but at this point I am obliged tell you two, Cyprian and Theodor, a quite ponderously circumstantial story that will make all Lothar’s ignominiously disdainful expressions of unbelief come tumbling back on to his own head. You will already have heard that not so very long ago our Lothar was suffering from an ailment that principally attacked his nerves; it had an indescribably debilitating effect on him: it spoiled his sense of humor and drained away all his pleasure in living. One day I enter his room as the very embodiment of sympathy, the very embodiment of commiseration. Lothar is sitting there in his armchair, a nightcap pulled down over his ears, pale, sleep-starved, and bleary-eyed; sitting across from him, whom God has certainly not blessed with a superfluity of height, is a man of equally short stature who starts breathing on him and then runs his fingers over his hunched back and places his hand on the hollow beneath his breastbone and gently whispers: ‘How do you feel now, Lothar my dear fellow?’ And Lothar opens his little eyes and smiles quite a tearful smile and says through a sigh: ‘Better—much better, dearest Doctor!’ In short, Lothar, who has no faith in the curative power of mesmerism, who explains away everything as an empty mental phantom, Lothar, who pours scorn on all mesmerists—who sees nothing but empty mystification in their activities—Lothar allowed himself to be mesmerized!”
Cyprian and Theodor laughed heartily at the grotesque image Ottmar had conjured up before their very eyes. “How dare you,” said Lothar, “how dare you breathe so much as a word about such things, Ottmar? The physical principle exerts such a deleterious influence on the psychic principle, and every human being is so lamentably weak in virtue of the extremely peculiar constitution of his organism, that every abnormal condition, every illness, engenders in him a fit of anxiety, a momentary madness, that impels him to engage in the most bizarre activities. Highly intelligent men who have found the remedies of the physicians ineffectual have been known to take refuge in old crones’ cures and to make fervently religious use of homeopathic prescriptions and Lord knows what else! The fact that once upon a time I succumbed to the lure of mesmerism during a violent attack of nerves is an illustration of my ordinary human frailty and of nothing beyond that.”
“You must forgive me,” chimed in Cyprian, “you must forgive me, my dear Lothar, for regarding your present inclination to cock a skeptical eye at mesmerism as the product of a mere passing fit of pique. What is mesmerism, conceived as a means of healing, other than the potential energy of the psychic principle, which energy enables us to master the physical principle; to sound it to its uttermost depths; to apprehend even the slightest abnormality in its condition, and to make right this condition through the comprehensive understanding of such abnormalities? It is impossible for you to deny the power of our psychic principle, impossible for you to even to wish to turn a deaf ear to the wondrous chords that resound into us and out of us, to the mystery-laden music of the spheres, which is the great immutable animating principle of nature itself.”
“You are carrying on,” retorted Lothar, “in your usual vein; you are reveling in mystical ravings. I will concede to you that the doctrine of mesmerism, in veering quite noticeably into the domain of the phantasmal, is endlessly appealing to everyone of a poetic disposition. I myself can hardly deny that the dark matter of that doctrine has innervated and vivified my very soul of souls or that I continue to find it powerfully stimulating, but I must ask you to hear me out as I deliver a brief and candid recitation of my credo. Whoever is so audacious and foolhardy as to attempt to penetrate the deepest mystery of nature axiomatically wishes to acquire definitive knowledge, or failing that, a distinct intimation, of the essence of that mysterious ligature that conjoins the mind and the body and thereby conditions our soul. And yet mesmerism is entirely based on the presumption of this knowledge, and as long as the latter remains unattainable, the doctrine in the derivation of its data from individual perceptions, which are often simply illusions, will be of no greater value than the heuristic groping of those who have been blind since birth. It is certain that there are heightened states in which the mind overpowers the body, inhibiting its movement, and thereby exerts a powerful influence productive of some extremely peculiar phenomena. Intimations, dark presentiments, take on distinct shapes, and we behold with all the force of our complete comprehensive capacity that which torpidly slumbered deep in our soul; one such state is the dream, which is undoubtedly the most marvelous phenomenon in the human organism, whose highest potentiality may very well (to my mind) be manifested in so-called somnambulism. But it is equally certain that such a state presupposes some kind of abnormality in the relationship between the psychic and physical principle. Our most vivid and forceful dreams come upon us when the body is in the grip of some pathological emotion. The mind then exploits its fellow-sovereign’s impotence, and taking sole possession of the throne, makes the body its feudal vassal, utterly beholden to its every beck and call. Of course mesmerism is also supposed to be indicated by some pathological condition of the body. It may moreover be the case that from time to time nature permits a psychic dualism wherein the twofold reciprocity of spiritual intercourse engenders the most remarkable phenomena, but in my opinion, such a dualism must be permitted by nature, and it seems to me that any attempt to evoke it at will and without the license of the queen is possibly treasonous and most certainly a very hazardous act. I will go even further. I cannot deny that experience has shown me that the deliberate evocation of that potential state of the soul, if that state is indicated by some abnormality in the organism, is possible; moreover, I shall concede that the alien psychic principle can in highly mysterious manner capture the spiritual potential of the mesmerized person in some fluid—or whatever else one cares to term it—in the medium fully embodied in and radiating from the mesmerist (thanks to magnetic manipulation) and by capturing it produce that condition that deviates from the rule of all human life and existence and that even in its much-vaunted ecstasy carries within it all the horror of the alien spiritual realm. I say I cannot deny any of that, but in defiance of all theories to the contrary, I will always regard this procedure as a recklessly perpetrated act of unholy violence whose effects have yet to be ascertained. Somebody somewhere has said that mesmerism is a dangerously sharp scalpel in the hands of a child, and I second that dictum wholeheartedly. If people must be so presumptuous as to try to exert an influence on the spiritual principles of their fellow men and women, it seems to me that the barbaric doctrine of the spiritualists—which without recourse to any manipulation engages nothing but conscious desires and beliefs—is by far the purest and the most innocent. To secure a strong will is to pose a modest question to nature, the question of whether she will allow spiritual dualism, and she alone can make that decision. In this respect a proper mesmerism at the baquet in which the mesmerist refrains from intervening may at least be less harmless, inasmuch as during such an event the exertion of any adverse effects by an alien spiritual principle is unimaginable. And yet!: the world is now teeming with people recklessly—and indeed, in the throes of arrant self-deception and unwitting ostentation—practicing that darkest of all the dark sciences, if one may by any stretch of the imagination term mesmerism a science. A certain foreign doctor has related that like Bartels in his Physiology and Physics of Mesmerism he was astonished to find German doctors treating mesmerized individuals as despotically and experimenting on them as brazenly as if they had a physical apparatus in the room with them. In the light of the these unfortunate goings-on, I would much—very much—rather disbelieve in mesmerism, or at least in its curative powers, than be prepared to accept the notion that my very own life might someday be irrevocably destroyed by that spooky dalliance with an alien force.”
“The only conclusion,” chimed in Theodor, “the only conclusion to be drawn from all the far from superficial or spurious things you have just said about mesmerism is that it was in direct defiance of your own convictions that you regaled us earlier on with the little anecdote about the ten-pound fish, that you actually believe wholeheartedly in the influential powers of mesmerism, that out of pure dread you have firmly resolved not to let any mesmerist’s manipulative fingers anywhere near the ganglia of your back or any other part of your body. As it happens, I am just as fearful of alien spiritual principles as you are, and you must permit me to append to your credo an illustrative footnote in the form of a story about how I got mixed up in mesmerism. It was thanks to a certain university friend of mine who was zealously studying the science of medicine that I was introduced to the mysterious doctrine of mesmerism. As you all are well acquainted with the kind of person I am, it will not surprise you to learn that I was profoundly captivated by everything pertaining to that doctrine that came my way. I read everything about it that I could get my hands on, including, eventually, a well-known and clever description of mesmerism as a medical treatment. From the beginning this book tended to arouse my skepticism, for it gave no specifically scientific consideration to its subject and largely consisted of a catalogue of examples; and it also uncritically mixed together proven facts with the stuff of fairy tales and indeed with phenomena that had been conclusively debunked as pure myth. My friend was impervious to all my attempts to persuade him of the reasonableness of my reservations and finally averred to me that a purely theoretical study of mesmerism could never awaken in me the faith that was indispensable to an acceptance of the doctrine, and that this awakening would take place only once I had witnessed some mesmeric operations with my own eyes. But in those days there were no opportunities to do that at the university; even if a promising mesmerist had been locatable there, not a single person there evinced the slightest inclination towards somnambulism or clairvoyance.
“I came to the capital of our kingdom. Just then mesmerism was in full flower there. The entire town was talking about the marvelous mesmeric crises of an intelligent and highly cultivated lady who after a few not especially significant attacks of nerves had almost spontaneously become a sleepwalker and then a clairvoyant whom the most assiduous devotees of mesmerism termed the most psychically gifted person there had ever been or ever could be. I succeeded in making the acquaintance of the doctor who was treating her, and as he instantly perceived that I was an enthusiastic student with a hunger for knowledge, he promised to bring me into the presence of this lady as soon as she began to slip into one of her crises. And so he did: at six o’clock one evening, he said to me, ‘Come along; I am certain that my patient has just fallen into a mesmeric slumber.’ On tenterhooks with anticipation, I entered the lady’s elegant, and indeed ornately decorated, apartment. The windows were completely covered by drawn pink silk curtains, so that the rays of the setting sun magically bathed the entire interior of the room in a roseate luster. The somnambulist lay supine on the sofa and attired in a highly alluring negligée; her eyes were firmly shut, and she was breathing softly as though immersed in the deepest of slumbers.
Gathered around her in a circle of substantial circumference were a small number of true believers—a pair of young women who were rolling their eyes, heaving deep sighs, and generally giving every sign of being all too eager to be in the somnambulist’s place to the edification of two young men, an army officer and a well-educated civilian, who both seemed to set very ardent hopes on this important moment, and a pair of elderly ladies who with bowed heads and clasped hands were eavesdropping on their somnambulistic friend’s every breath. Everybody was awaiting her attainment of the authentic peak of receptiveness to clairvoyant visions. At length, the mesmerist, who had initially forborne entering into communication with his subject—for, as he had assured them all, once established any communicative link would be extremely difficult to break–approached the somnambulist and began speaking with her. She described to him certain moments during which he had been thinking about her with especial intensity earlier that day and also mentioned many other things that had happened to him in the course of it. Finally she asked him to cast aside the ring that he was carrying with him in a red morocco leather box and that he had never before had on his person—to cast it aside because, she said, its gold and more especially its diamond were exerting an inimical influence on her. Evincing every sign of the most profound astonishment, the mesmerist stepped back and produced the just-mentioned case and ring, which he had received from the jeweler’s only a few hours earlier, so that the somnambulist could have learned of its existence only via the mesmeric link. This miracle with the ring exerted such a powerful influence on the two young ladies that, heaving a deep sigh apiece they instantly sought refuge in an armchair, and by means of a few well-aimed taps from the mesmerist, they both collapsed into a mesmeric slumber. Once the fatal box had been cast aside, the mesmerist performed a few stunts with his somnambulist especially for my delectation. She sneezed when he took a pinch of snuff, she read a letter that he had placed against the hollow beneath her breastbone, etc. At length he tried to use his influence to establish a communicative link between the somnambulist and me. The attempt was magnificently successful. She described me from head to toe and averred that she had long since known that the mesmerist had a certain friend of whose features she had formed an exact picture and that she had been expecting the mesmerist to bring him to see her this very day. She seemed to be highly gratified by my presence. Suddenly she stopped speaking and sat bolt upright; it seemed to me that her eyelids were trembling, that her lips were twitching slightly. The mesmerist reported to the inquisitive spectators that the somnambulist was passing over into the fifth level, into that state in which the mind is capable of contemplating itself in isolation from the external world of the senses. Thanks to this news the young men’s attention was distracted from the slumbering demoiselles at the very moment when they were beginning to become interesting. One of them had already averred with conviction that the young officer’s hairstyle, with which she now enjoyed a mesmeric link, had a very agreeable aura; but the other maintained that the general’s wife who lived on the ground floor of the house was just then drinking fine caravan tea whose aroma she could smell through the first floor, and she clairvoyantly prophesied that in a quarter of an hour she would awake from her mesmeric slumber and drink some tea herself and even have a bit of cake to boot. The somnambulating lady recommenced speaking, but in a strange new voice that I must admit I found uncommonly euphonious. Moreover, she was speaking in such a mystical vein and employing such outlandish figures of speech that I could not make head or tail of what she was saying; meanwhile the mesmerist assured us that she was saying the most magnificent, profound, and instructive things about her own stomach. I could not but sincerely believe he was telling the truth. Next the mesmerist explained that having broken free of her stomach she was now really soaring. From time to time she seemed to be uttering entire sentences I had read somewhere before—for example in Novalis’s fragments or Schelling’s On the Soul of the World. Then she stiffened and sank back into the cushions. The mesmerist believed that she would soon be waking up and asked us to leave the room because, he said, the sight of so many people standing round her at that moment might have an adverse effect on her. So we were sent home. The two demoiselles, to whom everybody had long since ceased paying any attention, had thought it proper to awaken even earlier and now softly slunk out of the room. You can hardly imagine what a peculiar effect the entire scene had on me. Setting aside the two fatuous young women, who had been happy enough to occupy the uninteresting position of inert spectators, I could not fend off the thought that the lady somnambulist on the sofa had been giving a well-thought out, scripted, and impeccably rehearsed performance with great artistry.
I knew the mesmerist too well—namely, as a man of the utmost probity and candor who could not but have abhorred a comedy of this sort from the very depths of his soul—to harbor the faintest suspicion that he might have contributed to any such imposture for his own material benefit, let alone out of some tedious proselytizing impulse. If such an imposture was being practiced, it must have been the exclusive handiwork of the lady, whose artistry was presumably more than a match for the scientific knowledge, insight, and powers of observation of the doctor, who was perhaps rather too keenly infatuated with the new theory for his own good. I was not within my rights to ask what purpose such self-torture—for there was no other word for the simulation of such a violently disruptive state—what purpose such self-torture could serve. For had I not already learned of the Devil-possessed Ursuline sisters of Loudon, of the meowing nuns, of those women contorted into hideously disjointed postures by their ecstasies, not to mention that woman in the hospital at Würzburg who, in utter disregard of the most excruciating pain, drove needles and shards of broken glass into the holes left in her arms by bloodletting merely in order to surprise her doctor with the presence of these foreign bodies in her bloodstream, or, indeed, the case of the notorious Manson woman in very recent times—indeed, I reflected, did not every age have its passel of women willing to put their health, their lives, their reputations, their freedom, at risk, merely for the sake of persuading the world to regard them as extraordinary beings and to speak of them as miraculous apparitions? But back to my somnambulizing lady! I did at least venture to hint gently at my doubts about her to the doctor. But he averred with a smile that these doubts were but a defeated man’s last feeble gasps of shammed scepticism. He said that the lady had repeatedly told him my presence was exerting a beneficent influence on her, and that such being the case, he very much hoped that I would become a regular guest of hers during these sessions, and that in doing this I would become wholly convinced of the validity of the theory. And in point of fact, I attended several more of the sessions and gradually found myself inclining to a belief in mesmerism, and this inclination approached a full-fledged conviction when, after I had got the mesmerist to put me in communication with her during one of her somnambulistic trances, she began telling me about the most inconceivably arcane events of my own life, including a nervous illness I had contracted after death had snatched a beloved sister away from me. But to my great annoyance, the number of my fellow-guests kept increasing, and the mesmerist began trying to pass the lady off as a veritable soothsaying Sybil, inasmuch as he started having her utter oracular pronouncements on the lives and states of health of total strangers with whom he put her in communication. One day I recognized one of the spectators as a famous old physician who was known to be the most cantankerous doubter, the fiercest adversary, of the mesmeric cure. Before he arrived, the lady, already immersed in her mesmeric slumber, had predicted that this time the trance would last longer than usual, and that she would not awake until two full hours had passed. Soon afterwards she reached the highest level of clairvoyance and began her mystical oration. The mesmerist assured us that at this highest level of genuine ecstasy the somnambulist, a spiritually pure being, had completely sloughed off her corporeal integument and was utterly insensible to every form of physical pain. The old doctor was of the opinion that for the benefit of science and for the sake of convincing all the unfaithful a radical experiment was now in order. He proposed pressing a red-hot iron against the sole of one of the lady’s feet and seeing if she subsequently remained impassive. He acknowledged that such an experiment might seem barbarically cruel, but that in this case it would not be, as the medicament necessary to alleviate any ensuing burns could be applied immediately, for he happened to have ready to hand a goodly quantity of just such a remedy, together with a small iron. He produced from his bag both the iron and the medicine. The mesmerist assured everyone that upon waking the lady would pay no mind to the pain she would be suffering for the benefit of the noble cause of science, and he called for a stewpot. The vessel was brought in; the doctor stuck his little iron into the embers of the hearth. At that moment the lady made a sudden, convulsive movement, fetched a deep sigh, woke up, and complained that she was indisposed! The old doctor cast a withering glance at her, unceremoniously cooled his iron in the mesmerically charged water directly within reach on the tea-table, stuck the iron back into his bag, took up his hat and cane, and exited the premises. The scales fell from my eyes; I hurried away, exasperated, infuriated by the ignoble piece of mystification that the refined lady had foisted upon her kind-hearted mesmerist and upon all the rest of us.
The news that neither the mesmerist nor those pious souls who regarded their visits to the lady’s salon as a kind of divine service had been enlightened in the slightest by the old doctor’s stratagem should surprise you no more than the news that for my part I then rejected the whole practice of mesmerism as a wholly chimerical simulation of clairvoyance and did not care to hear another word about it ever again.
My destiny brought me to B----. There, too, mesmerism was much talked about, but no mention was made of any attempts to practice it. People did talk about a certain doctor, an estimable and famous physician who was of an advanced age like the doctor back in the capital who carried gruesome anti-somnambulistic irons in his bag; he was the director of the city’s splendidly appointed hospital and a firm and outspoken adversary of mesmeric healing, and it was said that he had cavalierly forbidden his subordinates to practice it.
It therefore naturally came as a great surprise when I eventually learned that this selfsame physician was practicing mesmerism at the hospital, albeit under conditions of the utmost secrecy.
After I had gotten to know the worthy man fairly well, I tried to get him talking on the subject of mesmerism. He eluded my efforts. Eventually, when I had been talking about that dark science long enough to prove that I was something of an authority on it, he asked me how the practice of mesmeric healing was faring in the capital. Without further ado, I quite frankly and candidly told him the marvelous story about the somnambulistic lady who suddenly returned from celestial rapture to terrestrial soil when she learned she was about to receive a slight burn on one of her feet. “That will do, that will do!” he cried as sparks of lightning flashed in his eyes, and he abruptly broke off the conversation. Eventually, after I had more firmly secured his trust and goodwill, he said that numerous indisputably authentic experiences had convinced him of the existence of this mysterious natural force known as mesmerism and of the beneficence of this force in certain cases, but that he regarded the awakening of this force as the most dangerous experiment ever effected, an experiment that only physicians capable of maintaining perfect spiritual composure in the presence of the most passionate enthusiasm should be entrusted to carry out. He said that in the practice of no other science was self-deception likelier, nay, easier; and that he regarded as inauthentic every experiment in which the mesmeric patient had been told very many tales about the wonders of mesmerism beforehand and was intelligent and cultivated enough to have some idea of what it was all about. That poetic or fundamentally highly strung souls found the allure of existing in a higher spiritual world far too seductive to avoid reflexively yielding to all manner of outlandish imaginings in their ardent yearning to attain this state of being. That the mesmerist’s fancied dominion over the foreign psychic principle was quite an amusing thing when he surrendered unconditionally to the rhapsodic fantasies of such overwrought persons instead of curbing them with the bit and bridle of prosaic reality. Moreover, he by no means denied that he himself practiced mesmeric healing at his hospital. And yet, he said, he believed that his manner of applying it, with a pure, firm sense of conviction and with the help of doctors especially chosen by him and operating under his strictest supervision, precluded any possibility of malpractice, that indeed his method could only eventuate in both beneficent effects on the patients and the amplification of mankind’s knowledge of this most mysterious of all medical remedies. He concluded by promising to break all his own rules and allow me to witness a session of mesmeric healing if a case requiring it should arise, provided that I promised to forestall the importunities of the inquisitive mobility by maintaining absolute silence after the session.
Chance soon afforded me the sight of one of the most remarkable somnambulists the world has yet known.
In the house of a poor farmer in a village about 20 miles from B. the chief doctor of the mesmeric circle discovered a girl of sixteen whose parents bewailed her condition amid the shedding of bitter tears. They said that their daughter could be properly termed neither ill nor healthy. That she felt no pain, no discomfort, ate and drank, often slept for days on end, and at the same was losing weight and getting wearier and weaker with each passing day, such that for some time it had been quite out of the question for her to do any work. The doctor convinced himself that the condition afflicting the poor child was rooted in a nervous malady and that the mesmeric cure was most certainly indicated in this case. He explained to her parents that that it would be quite impossible to cure their daughter there in the village, but that in B. she could be cured completely if they would only resolve to bring the child to the hospital there, where she would receive the best care and medicines, for neither of which would they be charged a single kreutzer. After much difficult wrangling they consented to this proposal. Even before the administration of the mesmeric cure had begun, I repaired to the hospital with my medical friend to witness it. I found the girl in a well-lighted, high-ceilinged room that had been scrupulously furnished with every conceivable convenience. She had a very delicate bone-structure for a woman of her humble station, and her finely sculpted face could have been called almost beautiful had it not been disfigured by her lifeless eyes, the cadaverous pallor of her complexion, and her bloodless lips. It seemed to me that her illness might very well have been exerting a detrimental influence on her intellectual faculties; she seemed to be possessed of very limited powers of comprehension, and she answered every question posed to her only with great effort and in the broad, execrable, incomprehensible dialect of the peasantry in that part of the country. The director had chosen as her mesmerist a young, vigorous medical student whose entire visage radiated candor and good-naturedness and in whose interventions he had convinced himself the girl would acquiesce. The course of mesmeric treatments began. There was never any talk whatsoever about admitting idle curiosity-seekers, having the patient perform any showy tricks, or the like. Nobody apart from the mesmerist was ever in attendance but the director, who supervised the all the sessions with the utmost concentration and the most scrupulous attention to their minutest details, and myself. At first the child seemed fairly unreceptive, but soon she was regularly making rapid ascents from level to level, until after three weeks she attained the state of genuine clairvoyance. You must spare me the labor of mentioning every single one of the miraculous phenomena that now manifested themselves in each of these crises; let it suffice for me to assure you here, where no deception is possible, that in my heart of hearts I was convinced of the reality of that state that the professors of magnetism describe as the highest level of clairvoyance. In this state, Kluge says, the rapport with the mesmerist is so intimate that the clairvoyant not only instantaneously knows when the mesmerist’s thoughts are wandering and not intently dwelling on the clairvoyant’s condition, but can also ever-so- distinctly apprehend all the images and ideas forming in the mesmerist’s soul. At the same time the clairvoyant becomes completely subservient to the will of his mesmerist, at the behest of whose psychic principle alone he is capable of thinking, speaking, or acting. This description exactly corresponds to the condition in which our somnambulistic peasant girl found herself. I’ve no wish to bore you with everything that happened to the patient and her mesmerist when they were in this state, but let me give you just one example, and for me the most telling one! While still in this condition, and while smiling the most charming smile, the child spoke in the pure, cultivated German of her mesmerist, and she repeatedly delivered her replies in the most cultivated tone, and by means of the most judiciously selected words—in short, exactly as the mesmerist himself would have delivered them. And as she was thus holding forth, her cheeks blushed, her lips turned an incandescent purple, and each and every lineament of her countenance seemed genuinely ennobled!
Naturally I was impressed, but more significantly the utter absence of willpower on the part of the somnambulist, her total surrender of her ego, her dismally abject dependence on a foreign spiritual principle—nay, the predication of her very existence on this foreign principle—filled me with horror and disgust. Indeed, I could not help feeling the most profound, heartrending compassion for the poor girl, and this feeling persisted even as I was compelled to observe that the course of mesmeric treatment was proving highly salutary as the little darling blossomed into the very picture of vigorous good health and thanked the mesmerist, the director, and even me for all the improvement she was enjoying—all the while speaking her dialect more broadly and more incomprehensibly than ever before. The director seemed to notice my unfavorable attitude and to share it. We have never come to a consensus on this case, and with very good reason! I have never since been able to bring myself to be present at a session of mesmeric treatment, for I cannot bear to think of the kinds of experiences I might have at such a session now that I have followed the course of treatment administered to that peasant girl, an example of mesmeric treatment whose complete authenticity demonstrated the marvelous power of mesmerism to me while at the same time placing me at the edge of a terrible abyss that I could not gaze down into without shuddering. And so I have been firmly converted to Lothar’s opinion.”
“And I,” chimed in Ottmar, “and I should like to add that I am of the exact same opinion as both of you, and so we now we are all of one mind regarding this marvelous mystery that we have been discussing. To be sure, my fellow champions of mesmerism, any competent physician who is a proponent of mesmerism will quite rationally and soundly rebuke us, nay, scold us like children, for daring to pit our vague, untutored laymen’s hunch against a clear and professionally formed conviction; nevertheless, I believe we shall prove hard to convince. But we also mustn’t forget that none of us can ever be entirely averse to mesmerism, given that in our Serapionian efforts mesmerism can quite often serve as quite an effective lever for setting unknown, mysterious forces in motion. You yourself, my dear Lothar, have often availed yourself of this lever, and even in your edifying tale about Nutcracker and the Mouse King, Marie is occasionally nothing other than a little somnambulist. But whither have we rambled so far afield of our original subject, namely our friend Vincenz?”
“The transition was a natural one,” said Lothar; “our path through the field forged itself. If Vinzenz becomes a member of our brotherhood, we shall inevitably end up spending even more time discussing the mysterious matters with which he is quite genuinely obsessed. But several minutes ago Cyprian stopped paying attention to our conversation and produced a manuscript from his pocket, and he has been leafing through that manuscript instead of listening to us ever since. Protocol requires us to give him the floor now so that he can disburden his heart.”
“As a matter of fact,” said Cyprian, “I did find your conversation about mesmerism tedious and annoying, and if you don’t mind, I’ll read you a Serapionian tale that Wagenseil’s history of Nuremberg inspired me to compose. And as you are listening, you must bear in mind that it was never my intention to pen some critical antiquarian disquisition on that famous War of the Wartburg; that instead and after my own fashion, I exploited that event as the subject of a story in which I described everything exactly as it appeared to me in all the pellucid clarity of my soul’s eye.”
The Contest of the Singers
During the night of the equinox, when winter and spring are just on the point of parting company, a man was sitting in a solitary chamber with Johann Christoph Wagenseil’s book on the ingratiating art of the Meistersingers lying open before him on his desk. Outside a roaring, blustering tempest was sweeping the fields amd beating fat raindrops against the clattering windows, and winter was whistling and howling its frantic farewells through every chimney in the house as the beams of the full moon flitted and fluttered on the walls like pale ghosts. But the man paid no heed to any of this; instead, he slammed the book shut and, still utterly captivated by its enchanting depiction of a long-bygone age, gazed pensively into the crackling and spluttering flames in the fireplace. Then he felt as though some invisible being were draping one veil after another over his head, so that everything around him seemed to be dissolving into an ever-thickening mist. The savage fury of the storm and the crackling of the fire were transformed into gentle harmonic whispering and murmuring, and an inner voice told him that this was the dream whose wings so fetchingly soughed whenever it lay down to sleep on the bosom of humankind like a pious child and awkened the inner eye with a sweet kiss, thus enabling it to behold the images of a higher life full of luster and splendor. A blindingly bright light flared up from below with all the suddenness of a bolt of lightning; the veil-hooded man opened his eyes, but his gaze was no longer occluded by any veils or misty clouds. He was lying on a patch of flowering greensward in the middle of a beautifully luxuriant forest. The springs were murmuring, the bushes were whispering as if exchanging amorous secrets, and intermittently a nightingale sang its sweet plaint. The matutinal wind rose, and by rolling along the clouds in its way as it forged ahead, it cleared a path for the bright, ingratiating sunlight, which by and by was shimmering on all the luscious green leaves and awakening the little birds, who then burst into gladsome trills and began flitting and hopping from twig to twig. Then the merry sound of horns being winded resounded from afar; the quarry rustlingly shook itself out of its slumbers; does and stags with canny eyes peeked out of the bushes for a look at the man lying on the ground and then timorously sprang back into the covert. The horns fell silent, but immediately afterwards a new sound commenced, the sound of harps and voices playing and singing together in magnificent harmony like the music of heaven. The beauteous vocal music drew nearer and nearer; hunters with their spears in their hands and their shiny hunting-horns slung over their shoulders emerged on horseback from the depths of the forest. They were followed by a fine figure of a gentleman riding a handsome golden-brown steed and attired in the old German style; at his side on a palfrey rode a dazzlingly beautiful lady in exquisite finery. But now astride six steeds of various colors there arrived six men whose attire and expressive faces were redolent of a long-bygone age. They had laid their horses’ reins across their necks and were playing lutes and harps and singing in wondrously clear-toned voices as their horses, at once pacified and guided by the sweet music’s enchantment, danced along the forest path behind the royal couple in a succession of short jumps. And when, every so often, the music fell silent for a few seconds, the hunters would wind the horns, and the neighing of the steeds would resound like an exuberant cry of jubilation. Sumptuously liveried pages and footmen rounded out the festive procession, which then vanished into the deep undergrowth of the forest.
Still profoundly dumbstruck by this curious, marvelous spectacle, our man pulled himself up from the ground and cried out in an enraptured tone: “O Lord of heaven and earth: has that noble antique age really emerged from its tomb in the churchyard of history? Who were all those magnificent people?” Then a deep voice behind him said: “Hey, dear sir! Can you really have failed to recognize those men and women who still hold your thoughts and your senses in thrall?” He turned around and took in the sight of a serious and highly preposessing man in a long, curly wig and an entirely black suit that looked as though it dated from about the year 1680. He instantly recognized this man as the learned old Professor Johann Christoph Wagenseil, who continued speaking thus: “You really should have known that the fine figure of a gentleman in a princely cloak was none other than the redoubtable Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia. The lady riding beside him was the jewel of his court, the noble Countess Mathilde, the astonishingly young widow of the late elderly Count Cuno von Falkenstein. The six men riding behind behind them while singing and playing lutes and harps are the six masters of song whom the noble landgrave, a ruler devoted body and soul to the beauteous art of vocal music, has assembled at his court. The merry hunt has just commenced, but afterwards the singers will gather in a lovely clearing in the middle of the forest and begin a singing competition. Let us repair thither forthwith, so that we shall already be there at the conclusion of the hunt. They set out for the clearing, and as they were walking, the forest and the distant cliff-faces reverberated with the winding of the horns, the baying of the hounds, the huzzahing of the hunters. Everything unfolded as if in obliging conformity to Professor Wagenseil wishes; no sooner did they reach the luminously golden-green clearing than the landgrave, the countess, and the six masters were just visible in the distance and slowly drawing nearer: “I will now” began Wagenseil, “I will now, my dear sir!, point out to you each of the masters and tell you their names. Do you see that man who is so gaily looking in every which direction as he holds the reins taut and lets his horse approach us with a merilly mincing gait? See the landgrave nodding at him; see him bursting into a resounding peal of laughter. That is the ebullient Walther von Vogelweid. The one with the broad shoulders, with the thick curly beard, with a knight’s armaments; the one who is riding towards us at a ponderous pace on the back of a steed striped like a tiger—that is Reinhard von Zwekhstein. Hey, hey—look at that man on the little piebald horse who is actually riding deeper into the woods instead of towards us! He is gazing meditatively into space; he is smiling as though beauteous images were rising up from the earth before his eyes. That is the formidable Professor Heinrich Schreiber. His mind is indeed very much in another place; he obviously is not giving a thought either to this clearing or to the singing competition, for as you can see, my dear sir, by now he has burrowed so deeply into the narrow forest path that the tips of the tree-branches are grazing his temples. Now Johannes Bitterolff is trotting over to him. Do you see Bitterolff—that handsome red-bearded man on a dun? He is calling out to the professor. The latter is awakening from his reverie. Now the two of them are rejoining the group. What is that tremendous roar coming from that dense patch of shrubbery? Do roving whirlwinds really keep so close to the ground in the forest? Hey! It is no whirlwind, but a horseman spurning his steed with such ferocity that it is ascending into the air with its sides covered in lather. Just take a look at that beauteously pale youth with his eyes all ablaze and every muscle in his face drawn taut with suffering, as though he is being tormented by some invisible being sitting behind him in the saddle. That is Heinrich von Ofterdingen. So what can possibly have come over him? At first he was riding towards us so calmly and singing along with the other masters so majestically! But O, behold, now, the magnificent rider on the snow-white Arabic horse. Behold him leaping down from the saddle, behold how, with the reins slung round his arm, in a gesture of truly knightly gallantry he reaches his hand over to Countess Mathilde and floats her gently down from her palfry. How gracefully he stands there radiantly gazing at the lovely woman with his clear blue eyes. He is Wolfframb von Eschinbach! But now they are all taking their places; the singing competition is about to begin!”
Each of the masters, one after the other, now sang a majestic song. It was easy to perceive that each of them was striving to surpass the master who had sung before him. But in the end not one of them seemed to have attained his goal; it was quite impossible to determine which of them had sung most majestically—and yet Lady Mathilde was leaning over towards Wolfframb von Eschinbach as if she were about to crown him with the victor’s wreath she was holding in her hands. At that moment Heinrich von Ofterdingen leapt up from his seat; sparks of savage fire flashed from his dark eyes; as he swiftly stepped forward into middle of the clearing, a gust of wind tore his beret off his head, leaving his bared forelocks standing upright like spikes atop his death-pale brow. “Stop!” he shrieked, “stop! The prize has not been won yet; my song, my song must be sung, and only then may the landgrave decide who is entitled to receive the wreath.” Whereupon by some utterly inscrutable agency there appeared in his hand an instrument of eldritch construction, a lute in the shape of some petrified creature never before seen on earth. He began strumming this lute so forcefully that its drone carried to the very verge of the forest. Then he began singing along in a sonorous voice. His song praised and extolled the foreign king who was more powerful than all other kings, a king to whom all masters were obliged to pay homage if they shunned the path to shame and ignomy. From time to time the lute emitted certain strangely jarring tones that had an unmistakably derisive sound to them. The landgrave glared furiously at the impetuous singer. Then the other masters rose and began singing a different song in unison. It seemed that Ofterdingen’s song was about to be drowned out completely by this chorus, but he kept plucking the strings of his instrument; forcefully and ever more forcefully he plucked them, until they all broke with an ear-rending wail of terror. In the place of the lute, which Otterdingen had been cradling in his arm, a horrifying tenebrous figure was standing directly in front of Otterdingen, who was starting to sink to the ground; the figure then embraced him and lifted him high into the air. The masters’ singing died away in an echo; black fog descended on the forest and into the clearing and draped everything in nocturnal darkness. Then a majestically coruscating milk-white star ascended from the depths and ambled upwards along the celestial path, drawing along behind it the singers sitting atop refulgent clouds and strumming their instruments and singing. A shimmering luminescence trembled through the meadow; the voices of the forest awoke from their torpid slumber and swelled skywards and mellifluously joined in the music of the masters.
You will readily perceive, dearest reader!, that the man who dreamed all this is the selfsame man who is about to lead you into the company of the masters who with whom he was made acquainted by Professor Johann Christoph Wagenseil.
It sometimes happens that when we see unidentifiable figures approaching us from the twilit distance, our heart palpitates with curiosity as to who they could possibly be, as to what schemes they could possibly be contriving. And they keep coming nearer and nearer. We can distinguish the colors of their clothing, their faces; we can hear that they are talking, although their words dissolve into the distant air currents before they can reach us. But now the figures plunge into the azure mist of a deep valley. At this point we scarcely expect them to climb back out of the depths and to walk up to us and salute us, thereby allowing us to touch them and converse with them. For were they to do so we should be hard-pressed indeed to say how these people who have assumed such familiar forms and shapes in our immediate presence could possibly be the same as those other figures who looked so astonishingly strange when seen from afar.
May the dream that is about to be recounted to you, dear reader, excite sensations like these in your mind’s sensorium. May you graciously vouchsafe your humble narrator the privilege of escorting you forthwith to the court of the Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia at the fair Wartburg.
The Master Singers at the Wartburg
It might have been in about the year of our Lord 1208 that the noble landgrave of Thuringia, a zealous admirer and vigorous patron of the beauteous art of vocal music, had gathered six master singers at his court. The members of this assembly were Wolfframb von Eschinbach, Walther von der Vogelweid, Reinhard von Zwekhstein, Heinrich Schreiber, Johannes Bitterolff, all of knightly rank; and Heinrich von Ofterdingen, a private citizen of Eisenach. The masters lived together in harmony and loving piety like priests of a single church, and day in and day out it was their sole and constant endeavor to glorify and pay genuine reverence to vocal music, the fairest celestial gift with which the Lord has seen fit to bless mankind. To be sure, each of them had his own melody, but just as every note in a chord sounds different from the all others and yet all the notes sound together with the most ingratiating euphony, the various melodies of the masters sounded in harmonious simultaneity and shone like the various beams of a single star of love. In consequence, none of the singers regarded his own melody as the best one; rather, each of them revered all the others and sincerely believed that his melody could never sound as beautiful on its own as when accompanied by its fellows, for it is only once the individual note has been bidden a loving welcome by one of its newly awakened kindred that that it can truly soar and joyously ascend to the heavens.
When Walther von der Vogelweid’s and the landgrave’s songs were courtly and graceful and full of cheeky good humor to boot, Reinhard von Zwekhstein would sing in a rumbustious, marital vein with weighty words. When Heinrich Schreiber waxed scholarly and profound, Johannes Bitterolff would brim over with radiance and abound with elaborate similes and turns of phrase. Heinrich von Ofterdingen’s songs penetrated the listener’s very soul of souls; being thoroughly suffused with the agonies of yearning himself, he knew how to enkindle the deepest melancholy in every breast. But these tender lays were often interrupted by harsh and hideous tones, tones that seemed to issue from his sore and riven heart, in which spiteful contumely was lodged, boring into it and feeding off it like some parasitic poisonous insect. Nobody knew how Heinrich had come to be afflicted by such a pestiferous force. Wolfframb von Eschinbach had been born in Switzerland. His songs were like the winsome grace and clarity of the skies over his native country; his melodies evoked the beauteous continuous sounding of bells and shawms. But they were interrupted in their own right by the savage roaring of waterfalls, by the rumbling of thunder through the precipitous montane ravines. When he sang, each of his listeners miraculously floated alongside him on the glittering waves of a mighty, beauteous river, at one moment gliding gently along its surface, at the next braving the onslaught of storm-churned billows, and finally steering the boat into a secure port with triumphal merriment once the danger had been overcome. Despite his youth, Wolfframb von Eschinbach might very well have been the most experienced of all the masters gathered at the court. Since his earliest childhood he had been utterly devoted to the art of vocal music, and the moment he ceased to be a child and became a youth he set out on a journey that took him through many countries until he met the great mastersinger named Friedebrand. This man faithfully instructed him in his art and introduced him to the manuscripts of many masters’ poems, poems that imbued his inner world with light and enabled him to discern in sharp outline everything that had formerly seemed turbid and shapeless to him. But most significantly, at Siegebrunnen in Scotland, Master Friedebrand gave him several books from which he selected stories that he adapted into German songs; the most important of these were one about Gamurret and his son Parcivall and another about the Margrave Wilhelm von Narben and the stalwart Rennewart; another master singer subsequently rewrote this second poem in common German rhyme at the request of some people of rank who had trouble understanding Eschinbach’s songs, and he also expanded it into a long book. And so perforce Wolfframb’s fame as an artist spread far and wide, and he found favor with many princes and great lords. He visited many courts, and in every one of them he was handsomely honored for his mastery of his art, until finally the highly enlightened Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia, who had heard him praised from every point of the compass, called him to his court. Thanks not only to his great artistry but also to his meekness and humility, Wolfframb won the landgrave’s favor in very little time, and it may very well have been the case that Heinrich von Ofterdingen, who had formerly stood in the noontime sunlight of the sovereign’s grace, was obliged to withdraw ever so slightly into the shadows. Nevertheless, none of the other masters was more generously or lovingly devoted to Wolfframb than Heinrich von Ofterdingen himself. Wolfframb recipcrocated this devotion from the very bottom of his heart, and the two of them stood face to face engulfed in their mutual love, as the other masters surrounded them like a beauteously luminous wreath.
Heinrich von Ofterdingen’s SecretThe ascendancy of the restless, strife-riven element in Ofterdingen’s character increased with each passing day. His gaze grew gloomier and more vagrant; his countenance grew paler and paler. Unlike those of the other masters—who had composed songs on the most exalted subjects in Holy Scripture and now raised their joyful voices in praise of the courtly ladies and their gallant lordly champion—Ofterdingen’s songs only bewailed the immeasurable torments of earthly existence and often resembled the piteous woebegone cries of a mortally wounded soul yearning in vain for deliverance in death. Everybody believed he was hopelessly in love; but all attempts to elicit the particulars of his secret from him proved futile. The landgrave himself, whose very heart and soul were devoted to the youth, ventured in a solitary hour to ask him to reveal the cause of his sorrow. He gave him his word as a prince that he would summon up all his strength to banish whatever evil menanced him or, by bringing him closer to whatever object of desire he now despaired of attaining, to transform his grievous affliction into high-spirited hope; but like the others, he proved utterly powerless to persuade the youth to disclose to him the innermost chamber of his heart. “Ah, my noble liege,” cried Ofterdingen, as scalding tears welled up from his eyes, “Ah, my noble liege, do I myself even know what infernal monster has seized me with its incandescent claws and is now holding me aloft between heaven and earth so that I no longer belong here below and thirst in vain for the joys of the realm above me? The pagan poets tell of certain shades of the departed who belong neither in Elysium nor in Hades. They range along the banks of the Acheron, and the murky river-vapors, through which not a single star of hope ever so feebly gleams, echo with their terrified sighs, with the horrifying woebegone expressions of their nameless torment. Their wailing, their pleading, is futile; the old ferryman implacably rebuffs them when they try to climb into the baleful boat. My own existence is tantamount to such a state of terrible damnation.”
Not long after speaking with the landgrave in this manner, Heinrich von Ofterdingen became genuinely ill and left the Wartburg for
. In tones of bitter lamentation, the masters
averred that one of the fairest flowers of their wreath was now ineluctably
condemned to wither away before his time as if he were being blasted by some
fatal miasma. At the same time Wolfframb
von Eschinbach had by no means given up all hope, for he was of the opinion
that inasmuch as Ofterdingen’s spiritual malaise was being transformed into
corporeal suffering at this very moment, a full recovery might yet be an
imminent possibility; for did not the soul often fall ill as a consequence of
its intuitive premonition of corporeal pain? And he reasoned that this might
well have happened to Ofterdingen, whom he now intended to nuture and comfort. Eisenach
And so Wolfframb set off immediately for Eisenach. When he entered Ofterdingen’s chamber, the singer was lying stretched out on a daybed; he was as listless as a man on the utmost verge of death, and his eyes were half-closed. His lute was hanging on the wall; it was covered in dust, and many of its strings were broken. After Wolframb had sat down at his side, delivered the heartfelt salutations of the landgrave and masters, and uttered some further sincerely pleasant pleasantries, Heinrich began speaking in a listless, ailing voice: “I have undergone many peculiar experiences. I very probably behaved like a madman towards all of you; you all very probably believed that it was some terrible secret, a secret I was deliberately keeping locked up in my breast, that was wrenching me to and fro to such pernicious effect. Ah! The truth is that my cheerless condition was a mystery even to me. My breast was riven by furious anguish, but try as I might I could not fathom the cause of this affliction. All my achievements struck me as wretched and worthless; all the songs that I had formerly valued so highly sounded false, feeble—unworthy of the most incompetent schoolboy. Yet at the same time, besotted by the delirum of vanity as I was, I ardently yearned to outstrip you, Wolfframb—to outstrip all the other masters. An unknown happiness, heaven’s highest bliss, was poised high above me, like a coruscating golden star, and I was impelled either to soar up to that star’s level or to sink disconsolately into nonexistence. I gazed up at the sky; I stretched my arms yearningly upward, whereupon I was wafted by bloodcurdling gusts of wind fanned towards me by a pair of ice-cold wings, and a voice said, “What is the aim of all your hope, of all your yearning? Have you not been blinded; has your strength not been broken; are you not now quite incapable of withstanding the radiance of your hope, of embracing your celestial happiness?” Now—now the mystery has been solved, and I myself am privy to my own secret. It is killing me, but in giving me death it it is also vouchsafing me eternal heavenly bliss. I was lying ailing and infirm here in this bed. It might have been during the night, for the feverish delirium that had been tossing me to and fro in paroxysms of roaring and raging was ebbing away. I felt calm; a gentle, beneficent warmth was gliding through my psyche. I felt as though I were floating along on dark clouds in the vast expanse of the celestial realm. Then a coruscating bolt of lightning flashed through the darkness, and I cried out: “Mathilde!” I was awake; the dream had vanished. My heart thrilled with a strange, sweet terror, with indescribable ecstasy. I knew that I had cried out: “Mathilde!” and I took fright, for I believed that the meadows and the forests, that all the mountains and ravines, were now echoing with her sweet name, that a thousand voices would be directly reporting to her that I loved her with an inexpressible intensity and would love her unto death; that she, she was the coruscating star that had radiantly awoken that all-consuming pain of inconsolable yearning in my soul of souls—indeed that flames of love were now blazing up within me and that my soul was now thirsting for, craving, her beauty and graciousness! You now know my secret, Wolfframb, and I implore you to bury it deep in your breast. You are aware that I am calm and of good cheer, and you will surely take me at my word when I assure you that I would rather perish than make myself a laughingstock for you all by fatuously toiling away at my métier. You—you, who love Mathilde, you to whom she is drawn in turn by a complementary love—are the one to whom I am obliged to say everything that I still have to say, the one to whom I must confide all of it unreservedly and in full. As soon as I have recovered I shall be departing for foreign lands with the mortal wound still gaping in my bleeding breast. You are therefore now hearing that I have reached the end, and so you may tell Mathilde that I—”
The young man was incapable of speaking any further; he sank back into the bedclothes and turned his face to the wall. His violent sobs betrayed the struggle raging within him. Wolfframb was more than slightly dismayed by what Heinrich had just revealed to him. With his gaze sunken earthwards, he sat there at the edge of the bed and pondered and pondered how to go about resucing his friend from the delirium of fatuous passion that would otherwise inevitably plunge him into perdition.
He tried to utter every possible formula of consolation, nay, even to persuade the ailing youth to return to the Wartburg, fortify his breast with hope, and boldly step into the clear sunshine that the noble lady Mathilde radiated in every direction. He said that he was even inclined to believe that he, Wolfframb, himself had nothing but his songs to thank for Mathilde’s kindly disposition towards him, and that Ofterdingen needed only to soar comparably aloft in his own beauteous vocal compositions in order to secure Mathilde’s favor in his own right. Poor Heinrich gazed at him with a gloomy mien and said, “You will never see me at the Wartburg again. Would you really have me hurl myself into the flames? Shall I not in fact enjoy a sweeter and more beauteous death by dying of longing for her at this great distance?” Wolframb left, and Ofterdingen remained in Eisenach.
The Further Life History of Heinrich von Ofterdingen
It often happens that after threatening to tear our breast asunder, the pain of love at length becomes a downright homey feeling, so much so that we even come to nurture it and cherish it. And the searing cries of lamentation formerly extorted from us by unspeakable torment metamorphose into melodious peals of sweet woe that reverberate in our psyche like a distant echo and soothingly and curatively lay themselves to rest on the bleeding wound. Heinrich von Ofterdingen’s pain underwent just such a transformation. He remained ardently, yearningly in love, but he no longer gazed into the black abyss of despair; rather, he raised his eyes skyward towards the iridescent clouds of springtime. From this point onwards it seemed to him as though his beloved were gazing at him from the distant heights with her sweetly gracious eyes and kindling in his breast the noblest songs he had ever sung. He took his lute down from the wall, restrung it, and stepped out into the beauteous spring, which had just sprung into bloom. And once he was outdoors it was only a matter of a very little time before he was drawn with ineluctable force to the environs of the Wartburg. And when he at last descried the castle’s coruscating battlements and reflected that he would never see Mathilde again, that his life was destined to remain nothing but a continuous spasm of inconsolable yearning, that Wolfframb von Eschinbach had already won the noble lady’s heart thanks to the mighty prowess of his vocal music, all the beauteous images limned in his mind by the pencil of hope sank into the gloom of night and his soul of souls was riven by all the mortal torments inflictable by boundless jealousy and despair. Whereupon he fled with the celerity of a man goaded by evil spirits; he fled back to his solitary chamber, where he at once found himself able to sing songs that brought him sweet dreams in which his beloved herself figured.
For a long time he managed to avoid coming anywhere near the Wartburg. But one day, quite without even knowing how himself, he wandered into the forest that was faced by the Wartburg and upon emerging from which one was afforded an immediate view of the castle. He had reached the part of the forest where strangely shaped stones overgrown with brightly colored moss reared up amid thick shrubs and all kinds of hideous prickly undergrowth. He clambered laboriously into the middle of this area, where through a gap between the rocks he beheld the spires of the Wartburg towering in the distance. Thereupon he sat down on the ground, and fending off all malevolently tormenting thoughts, he lost himself in sweet reveries of hope.
The sun had long since set; from out of the murky fog that had settled atop the mountain peaks the incandescent red disc of the moon ascended. The nocturnal wind whirled through the tall trees, and the blast of its glacially cold breath caused the shrubbery to shiver and shudder like a fever patient. Shrieking nocturnal birds soared skyward from out of the rocks and commenced their manic flight. The babbling of the sylvan brooks became more vociferous; even the rippling of their distant sources grew audible. But then as the moon began shining more brightly through the woods, a distant sung melody surged towards him from its direction. He realized that the masters at the Wartburg had just begun singing their pious evening songs. He pictured Mathilde still gazing at her beloved Wolfframb in the circle of singers as she retired for the night. All the love and bliss in the universe resided in this gaze, which could not but awaken the enchantment of dreams of incomparable sweetness in her beloved’s soul. Heinrich, whose heart was on the point of bursting with longing and desire, took up his lute and began a song, and in so doing he sang as he perhaps had never sung even once before. The night wind subsided and then ceased; the trees and shrubs fell silent; the notes of Heinrich’s performance shone through the tenebrous stillness of the forest as though they were enveloped in moonbeams. When at length the last beat of his song was on the point of dying away into the distance, a burst of shrill and strident laughter suddenly erupted directly behind him. In terror he turned swiftly around and beheld a tall, shadowy figure, and even before he could take stock of what was happening, the figure was screaming at him in a genuinely hideous voice, “Ah, I’ve been wandering around here a good while in search of whoever in the world could be singing such magnificent songs in the midst of the pitch-dark night. So it’s you, is it, Heinrich von Ofterdingen? I really should have known, for you are without a doubt the very worst of the so-called masters up there at the Wartburg, and that inanely demented song utterly devoid of thought and melody could have issued from no mouth but yours.” Half in residual terror, half in nascent rage, Heinrich cried, “And who might you be—you who recognize me and fancy yourself entitled to taunt me in such insulting terms here?” With these words, Ofterdingen laid a hand on the hilt of his sword. But the black figure immediately burst into another peal of shrilly raucous laughter, and as he was laughing a beam of moonlight fell on his face and afforded Ofterdingen a brief but distinct glimpse of his savagely coruscating eyes, his sunken cheeks, his pointed red beard, his mouth, twisted by laughter into a contemptuous grimace, his sumptuous black raiment, his black feather-surmounted hat. “Hey,” said the stranger, “hey, young fellow, surely you’re not going to use a lethal weapon on me just because I criticized your songs? Admittedly, you famous singers probably don’t appreciate criticism much, and in fact you probably even expect people to praise to the skies every little ditty you come up with no matter how fundamentally execrable it actually is. But precisely because I don’t care for your songs and am willing to come right out and tell you that you are certainly no master and at most a mediocre student of the art of vocal music, you really ought to realize that I am a true friend who has nothing but kind intentions towards you.” “How,” said Ofterdingen, as he shuddered from head to toe in reaction to the uncanniness of what he had just heard, “can you be my friend and have kind intentions towards me when I cannot recall having ever seen you so much as once in my life? Without answering this question, the stranger continued thus: “This is a curiously beautiful spot; the night that surrounds us is downright cozy; I shall now sit down with you in the dear old luster of the moon, and as we both know you won’t be heading back to Eisenach straight-away, we can have ourselves a little chat. Pay some heed to what I am about to say; you may find it instructive.” With these words he seated himself on the large moss-covered stone right next to Ofterdingen. The latter was now struggling with the most peculiar emotions. Although he had no real reason for being timorous, in the desolate solitude of the night in this eerie place he could not quell the profound horror aroused in his soul by the strange man’s voice and indeed by his entire being. He felt a well-nigh-irresistible impulse to send him tumbling down the steep declivity at their feet and into the roaring mountain stream at its base. But immediately thereafter felt as though every one of his limbs was paralyzed. Meanwhile the stranger sidled even closer to Ofterdingen and said softly, almost whisperingly, into his ear, “I have just come from the Wartburg: up there I heard the downright execrable, pedantic singing of the so-called masters; but the Lady Mathilde is perhaps the sweetest and loveliest being on the face of the earth.” “Mathilde!” cried Ofterdingen in a tone of exquisitely poignant sorrow. “Ho ho!” laughed the stranger, “Ho ho, young fellow, am I right in thinking you take an interest in the young lady? But for now let us talk of more serious, or, rather, higher matters: I am referring to the noble art of vocal music. It may well be that you lot up there are all well-intentioned with your songs, that all that stuff comes out of you quite smoothly and naturally, but you haven’t got the foggiest notion of what the deeper art of the singer is actually all about. I intend to give you just a few hints as to the true essentials of this art, and then perhaps you will manage to understand on your own how the path you are ambling along can never lead you to the goal you have set yourself.” Now the black-clad man began to extol the art of vocal music in a most peculiar discourse that sounded almost like a series of outlandish songs of foreign origin. As the stranger spoke, image upon image arose in Heinrich’s soul and vanished as if blown away by a tempest; he felt as if he were becoming privy to an entire new world brimming over with luxuriant shapes. Each of the stranger’s words ignited dazzling flames that swiftly blazed up and just as swiftly died away. The two men were sitting in the full and direct light of the moon, and Heinrich now noticed that the stranger’s countenance was by no means as hideous as it had first seemed to him.
from an otherworldly fire were emanating from his eyes, and yet (Heinrich
fancied) a downright endearing smile was playing about his lips and his large
aquiline nose and high forehead served only to impart a supremely eloquent
expression of redoubtable strength to his features. “I don’t know,” said Ofterdingen when the
stranger fell silent, “I don’t know what to call the peculiar feeling your
speech is awakening in me. I feel as
though the first intimation of the art of vocal music is only now awakening
within me, as though everything I have believed about it until now has been
altogether vulgar and wrongheaded and the true nature of the art is only now
dawning on me. As you yourself are
undoubtedly a grand master of that art, I implore you to accept me into your
tutelage, for I ardently crave greater knowledge and promise to be a diligent pupil. The stranger burst into another peal of his
hideous laughter and rose from his seat; and upon seeing this veritable
colossus with savagely distorted features standing at his full height, Heinrich
von Ofterdingen was once again seized by all the horror he had originally felt
when he was first accosted by the stranger.
The latter now said in a booming voice that resounded far and wide
through the chasms, “You think that I am a grand master of the art of vocal music?
Well, I may very well be one of those
every now and then, but I most certainly cannot take on any pupils. I am, however, only too happy to offer good
advice to people who crave knowledge, as you indeed seem to do. Have you perchance heard tell of Klingsor,
that master of song profoundly schooled in all branches of knowledge? People say that he is a great necromancer and
even fraternizes with a certain person who is not a welcome sight in all
quarters. But don’t let that scare you
off, because people always assume that any skill they can’t understand or
practice themselves is some superhuman power that can be wielded only by divine
or infernal agents. Well! Master Klingsohr will show you the path that
will lead you to your goal. He resides
in Sparks Transylvania; hie yourself thither
forthwith. There you will learn how
science and art have procured the grand master an abundance of everything
pleasurable under the sun—glory, wealth, the favor of women. You heard me aright, young fellow! If Klingsohr were here, would the fair Countess Mathlide care even if
he slew the tender Wolfframb von Eschinbach, the sighing Swiss shepherd, for
her sake?” “Why do you mention her
name?” Wolffram von Eschinbach furiously demurred; “Leave me at once; your very
presence makes me shiver!” “Whoa,”
laughed the stranger, “don’t lose your temper, my little friend! If you’re shivering, it’s the cool night air
and the thinness of your doublet that are to blame, not me. Weren’t you having a perfectly fine time when
I was sitting right next to you and keeping you nice and toasty just now?” Why
need you shiver? Why need you freeze,
when I can serve you with blood and ardor?
As for what I said about Countess Mathilde, why I naturally only meant
that the favor of women may be obtained through the mastery of the art of song,
which Master Klingsohr can teach you.
Earlier on I poured scorn on your songs in order to draw your attention
to your egregious incompetence. But because
you intuitively grasped the truth straight-away when I was speaking to you of
the authentic art of song, I am sufficiently convinced that you possess real
ability. Perhaps it is your destiny to
tread in Master Klingsohr’s footsteps; if so, once you have fulfilled this
destiny, you will certainly be able to compete successfully for Mathilde’s
favor. Sally forth! Hie yourself to Transylvania. But wait: if you can’t hie yourself to
Translyvania straight-away, I highly recommend your sedulously studying a small
book that Master Klingsohr has written and that contains not only the rules of
the true art of vocal music, but also a few excellent songs by the master.”
With these words the stranger pulled out a small book whose blood-red cover glimmered brightly in the moonlight. He handed the book over to Heinrich von Ofterdingen.
As soon as the latter took hold of it, the stranger stepped back and vanished into the thicket. Heinrich sank into a deep slumber. When he awoke, the sun had already climbed to a great height. If the red book had no longer been lying in his lap, he would have regarded his entire encounter with the stranger merely as a peculiarly vivid dream.
On the Countess Mathilde. Events at the Wartburg
Undoubtedly, my highly beloved reader, you have at some point found yourself in a social circle composed exclusively of lovely women and sensible men, a group of acquaintances worthy of being likened to a beauteous braided garland of flowers of the most diverse variety of scents and brilliant colors, to a wreath of blossoms all vying to excel one another in splendor and sweetness. But just as the euphonious breath of music awakens joy and delight in every breast it passes through as it wafts across the world, in this circle it was surely the superlative loveliness of a single nobly resplendent woman that irradiated every member of this group and thereby produced that graceful harmony that governed its collective motion. By virtue of walking in the luster of her beauty, of adding their words and voices to her music, the other women seemed more beautiful, more gracious than they had done before; and the men felt their hearts expand and found themselves newly capable of giving effusive utterance in words or melodic notes to the rapture that had formerly remained timidly pent up within them, such that this eloquent uninhibitedness soon became the norm within the group. However laboriously and kind-heartedly the queen might have striven to apportion her benevolence equally among all her courtiers, one could not help noticing that she let her heavenly gaze linger with particular emphasis on that youth who was standing silently face to face with her and whose dazzling eyes tearful with sweet emotion betrayed the blissfulness of the love that was surging up within him. Many a man in the garland might have envied this youth’s good fortune, but none could hate him on account of it; indeed, to the contrary, every one of them who was separately bound to him in friendship could not but love him all the more deeply for his love’s sake.
Now the fairest flower in the fair garland of ladies and poets at the court of the Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia happened to be the Countess Mathilde, the widow of the Count Cuno von Fallkenstein who had died in advanced old age, and she outshone all the others in point of fragrance and splendor.
Wolfframb von Eschinbach was deeply moved by her graciousness and beauty the moment he first saw her and soon fell ardently in love. The other masters, who were likewise enraptured by the countess’s loveliness and graciousness, celebrated her beauty and clemency in a great number of ingratiating songs. Reinhard von Zwekhstein called her the lady of his thoughts, a woman for whose honor he would fain fight either sportingly in jousting tournaments or earnestly on the battlefield; Walther von der Vogelweid let his knightly love boldly blaze forth in frank declarations, while Heinrich Schreiber and Johannes Bitterolff labored to exalt the Lady Mathilde in marvelously intricate similes and other figures of speech. But Wolfframb’s songs came from the depths of his enamored heart and pierced Mathilde’s breast like coruscating sharp-tipped arrows. The other masters were well aware of this, but in their eyes Wolfframb’s amorous bliss surrounded them all with radiance like a beauteous solar corona and imparted strength and grace even to their own songs.
The first dark shadow that fell on Wolfframb’s illustrious life was Ofterdingen’s unfortunate secret. When he recalled that the other masters loved him even though they had also been smitten by Mathilde’s beauty, that it was solely in Ofterdingen’s heart that malevolent resentment had taken up joint residence with love, that Ofterdingen alone had been banished into the wasteland of friendless solitude by his passion for the countess, the bitter sorrow of the realization was more than he could bear. It often seemed to him as though Ofterdingen was simply in the grip of some baneful access of lunacy that would eventually spend itself, but then he would immediately be struck by the acutely painful reflection that he himself would undoubtedly have found his existence insufferable had he courted Mathilde’s favor in vain. “Besides,” he asked himself, “by the authority of what power dare I maintain that I have a juster title that to favor? Do I really deserve to be preferred to Ofterdingen? Am I better, more intelligent, more worthy of love, than him? In what sense are the two of us different from each other? So the formidable power of a balefully adversarial fate is crushing him to the ground, and I, his loyal friend, am blithely passing by without deigning to offer him a hand up. Ruminations such as these ultimately led him to resolve to go to Eisenach and do everything possible to convince Ofterdingen to return to the Wartburg. But by the time he reached
Heinrich von Ofterdingen had vanished, and nobody knew where he had gone. Sorrowfully Wolfframb von Eschinbach returned
to the Wartburg and announced Ofterdingen’s disappearance to the landgrave and
the masters. It was only now that they
all truly realized how deeply they loved him in spite of his pain-riven and
often quite bitterly sullen disposition.
They mourned him as though he were dead, and for a long time these
obsequies covered the masters’ music like a shroud of gloom and deprived their
songs of all luster and melody, until at length the image of the lost man began
retreating ever further into the distant recesses of their memories. Eisenach
By then spring had arrived, and with it all the gusto and good cheer of newly refortified life. At a charming spot in the castle garden surrounded by beautiful trees the masters had gathered to salute the young verdure, the burgeoning blooms and blossoms, in joyous songs. The landgrave, Countess Mathilde, and the other ladies had sat down on the grass in a circle, and Wolfframb von Eschinbach was just about to begin a song, when a young man with a lute in his hand stepped forward from behind the trees. In an access of joyous astonishment, they all instantly recognized him as the man they had given up for lost, Heinrich von Ofterdingen. The masters all stepped up to him and greeted him with hearty warmth. But without paying any particular regard to their salutations, he approached the landgrave and bowed reverentially to him and then to Countess Mathilde. He then said that he had completely recovered from the virulent illness that had so grievously afflicted him and that if for whatever special reason they did not wish to accept him back into the circle of the masters, he would greatly appreciate their allowing him to sing his own songs through alongside them despite this. The landgrave rejoined to Ofterdingen that although he had indeed been absent for some time, he had by no means stricken himself from the masters’ membership rolls in consequence and that he, the landgrave, was hard pressed to understand why Ofterdingen now believed himself to be alienated from the fair circle gathered there at the Wartburg. Whereupon the landgrave embraced him and even directed him to reoccupy his old place in the circle, the one between Walther von der Vogelweid and Wolfframb von Eschinbach. Everyone soon perceived that Ofterdingen’s entire character had completely changed. Instead of slinking along with his head bowed and his gaze cast earthward as before, he now strode boldly forward with his head held high. His visage was as pallid as before, but his gaze, formerly frenzied and erratic, was now steady and penetrating. In place of dejection a proud and gloomy earnestness sat on his brow, and every now and then a curious play of the muscles of his lips and cheeks bespoke a scorn that was downright eerie. He did not deign to speak a single word to the masters but rather took his seat in slience. While the others were singing he gazed up at the clouds, shifted his sitting position this way and that, counted sums on his fingers, yawned—in short, evinced nothing but boredom and annoyance in every conceivable manner. Wolfframb von Eschinbach sang a song in which he first praised the landgrave and then turned to the subject of the return of their friend whom they had all believed lost and whom he depicted with such deeply heartfelt affection that they were all very powerfully moved. But Heinrich von Ofterdingen knitted his brows, turned his back on Wolfframb, took up his lute, and strummed a few wondrously beautiful chords. Then he stationed himself in the middle of the circle and began a song whose style was so entirely unlike anything any of the others had ever sung, so outrageously unprecedented, that they were all extremely astonished—indeed, utterly stupefied in the end. It was as though he were using the mighty notes of his song as fists that were pounding on the gates of an ominous foreign kingdom and summoning the mysteries of the unknown power residing there. Then he called upon the stars and other heavenly bodies, and as the notes sounded on his lute subsided into a gentle whisper, the listeners fancied they could hear the tintinnabulation of the celestial spheres’ round dance. Now the chords soughed more vigorously, and incandescent fragrances wafted from his instrument as images of voluptuous amorous bliss blazed in the newly arisen Eden of all pleasure. Each of the listeners felt inwardly convulsed by a series of peculiar shudders. When Ofterdingen had finished singing and playing, profound silence prevailed all around, but then a jubilant round of tumultuous applause erupted. Countess Mathilde rose from her seat, walked up to Ofterdingen, and pressed onto his brow the garland that she had been carrying as the prize for the best song.
Ofterdingen’s countenance flushed a fiery red; he sank to his knees and ardently pressed the beautiful woman’s hands to his breast. As he was rising, his coruscating, stinging gaze alighted on his loyal friend Wolfframb von Eschinbach, who was trying to move closer to him but at the same time backing away from him, as though he were being physically detained by some spitefully inimical power. Only a single listener refrained from adding his voice to the otherwise unanimous acclaim, and that was the landgrave, who had become very serious and pensive as Ofterdingen was singing, and who now found himself scarcely capable of uttering a single word in praise of his marvelous song. Ofterdingen seemed markedly angry about this. Late that evening, when deep dusk had already set in, in a walkway in the castle garden, Wolfframb von Eschinbach happened to encounter his beloved friend, whom he had been seeking in vain for everywhere. He ran up to him, he pressed him to his breast and said, “So, my dear brother, you may very well have become nothing less than the world’s preeminent master of song. How in heaven’s name did you even begin to prepare for this triumph that none of us—possibly not even you yourself—ever suspected you would achieve? What spirit placed himself at your command and taught you the marvelous lays of another world? O noble and exalted master, let me embrace thee yet again.” “It is good,” said Heinrich von Ofterdingen, “it is good that you realize that I have soared to greater heights than you so-called masters, or rather that I alone have alighted and settled in that realm that you are striving in vain to reach in your aimless rovings along errant paths. You will therefore not take it amiss when I say that I find you lot and your despicable ditty-mongering downright asinine and tedious.” “So,” replied Wolfframb, “do you now despise us whom you formerly held in the highest regard? Will you henceforth hold us in utter contempt and disdain to have anything further to do with any of us? All friendship, all love, has vanished from your soul because you are a greater master than us! Do you no longer even regard me, Wolfframb, as worthy of your love because perchance I have not managed to soar as high in my songs as you have in yours? Ah, Heinrich, if I were to tell you how your song made me feel in my heart of hearts—” “—Please,” said Heinrich von Ofterdingen with a scornful laugh, “Please don’t keep this from me, as I might find it quite instructive.” “Heinrich!” Wolfframb began in a very firm and serious tone, “Heinrich! It is true that your song had a marvelous and undreamt-of melody and that its musical ideas ascended far beyond the heights of the highest clouds, but my innermost self told me that unalloyed human nature could not have served as the wellspring of such a lay, that it must rather have been engendered by alien powers, just like those strange, utterly foreign plants that our native soil is capable of bringing forth once the necromancer has liberally manured it with all the magic charms at his disposal. Heinrich, you have undoubtedly become a great master of the art of vocal music, and you are undoubtedly dealing with things of a truly grand significance—but do you still recognize the sweet salutation of the evening breeze as you are wandering through the deep shadows of the forest? Does your heart still leap with joy at when you hear the rustling of the trees, the roaring of the sylvan stream? Do you still behold flowers with the pious eyes of a child? Does the nightingale’s lament still make you wish to expire in an access of amorous pain? At such a moment do you still feel an infinite yearning attacking your breast, which has disclosed its loving essence to you in turn? Ah, Heinrich, there was much in your song that filled me with an unspeakable terror. I could not but be put in mind of that horrifying image of the shades ranging along the bank of the Acheron that you once limned for the landgrave when he asked you to reveal to him the cause of your melancholy. I could not but believe that you had abjured love in its entirety and that what you had obtained in exchange was merely the cheerless treasure of some wanderer lost in the desert. I feel as though you have purchased your mastery with all the joy in living that is vouchsafed exclusively to the pious, childlike soul. A gloomy intimation is taking hold of me. I am recalling what drove you away from the Wartburg, and I am also recalling the circumstances of your reappearance here. Success at many an endeavor now lies within your reach–perhaps the beauteous star of hope that I have hitherto beheld shining over me is setting on my own labors for ever—but Heinrich! Here! Take my hand; no grudge of any sort towards you can ever be welcome in my heart! Notwithstanding all the good fortune you are awash in at present, one day you may suddenly find yourself at the brink of a bottomless abyss and reeling in the whirlwind of vertigo, and just as you are about to plunge helplessly over the edge, I shall be standing behind you with a firm heart and holding you firmly in place with dependably strong hands and arms.
Heinrich von Ofterdingen had listened to everything Wolfframb von Eschinbach said in profound silence. Now he covered his face with his cloak and leapt quickly into the thicket of trees. Wolfframb heard him softly sobbing and sighing as he moved ever farther into the distance.
The Wartburg Contest
For all the enthusiasm with which the other masters initially admired and exalted Heinrich von Ofterdingen’s songs, they soon began talking of the impure melodies, the vain meretriciousness, nay, the outright wickedness of the lays produced by Heinrich. Only Countess Mathilde addressed herself with her entire soul to the singer, who extolled her beauty and gracefulness in a manner that all the masters—apart from Wolfframb von Eschinbach, who would not allow himself to express an opinion—denounced as heathenish and execrable. And before long Countess Mathilde’s entire bearing underwent a complete and total transformation. She looked down on all the other masters with scornful pride, and she even withdrew her favor from poor Wolfframb von Eschinbach. Things came to such a pass that Heinrich von Ofterdingen was obliged to instruct Countess Mathilde in the art of vocal music, and she herself began composing songs that were intended to sound exactly like those sung by Heinrich von Ofterdingen. But at that moment all the beguiled woman’s gracefulness and sweetness seemed to vanish. Neglecting all the arts with which comely women adorn themselves, renouncing all commerce with everything of a feminine nature, she metamorphosed into an eerily repellent hermaphrodite, loathed by women and derided by men. The landgrave, fearing that the countess’s madness would spread to the other ladies at the court like a virulent disease, issued a severe decree forbidding any lady to write poetry on pain of banishment, for which the men, being positively terrified by Mathilde’s fate, heartily thanked him. Countess Mathilde left the Wartburg and moved into a castle not far from Eisenach, and Heinrich von Ofterdingen would have followed her there had the landgrave not ordered him to stay and accept the masters’ challenge to engage in a contest with them. “You, sir,” said Landgrave Hermann to the high-spirited singer, “you, sir, thanks to your eerie, outlandish lays, have thrown the beauteous circle that I have assembled here into appalling confusion. I have always been impervious to your besotting charms, because from very first instant I realized that your songs do not come from the upright heart of a virtuous singer but are rather the fruit of the pernicious tuition of some false master. Of what use is all the pomp, all the pageantry, all the splendor in the world, if it is merely made to serve as the shroud of a lifeless corpse? You speak of lofty things, of the mysteries of nature, but not as they manifest themselves in the human breast, as sweet intimations of a higher life; but rather as the astrologer conceives of them and presumptuously attempts to measure them with his compass and yardstick. Shame on you, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, for having allowed your valiant spirit to submit to the tutelage of an unworthy master.”
“I do not know,” replied Heinrich von Ofterdingen, “I do not know, my lord, what I have done to deserve your wrath, your reproaches. Perhaps your opinion of me will change once you have learned the name of the master who has disclosed to me the mysteries of that kingdom of song that is vocal music’s homeland in the truest sense. I left your court in a state of profound dejection, and the pain that was on the point of annihilating me may very well have been but the aggressively thrusting shoot of the fair flower that lay buried in my soul of souls and yearning for the fecundating breath of a loftier strain of nature. In a most curious manner I came into possession of a small book in which the world’s greatest master of vocal music had elaborated the rules of the art with the most profound erudition and even included a few of his songs. And the more I read in this little book the clearer it became to me that the composition of songs would turn out to be a shabby business indeed if the singer were capable of verbalizing nothing but what he believed he was feeling within the confines of his own puny heart. But it certainly didn’t end there: by and by I felt as though I were intimately conjoined to unknown powers that often sang from within me in place of myself, and yet all the while on each of these occasions I still felt that I was the one doing the singing. My yearning to see the master in the flesh and hear his profound wisdom and impeccable rationality pouring forth from his own lips became an irresistible urge. I hit the road and headed for Transylvania. Yes, my lord, you heard me aright! It is Klingsohr himself whom I visited and to whom I owe the audaciously superterrestrial buoyancy of my songs. Perchance by now you have arrived at a more favorable opinion of my efforts.”
“The Archduke of Austria,” said the landgrave, “has said and written to me a great deal indeed in praise of your master. Master Klingsohr is a man schooled in some profound and mysterious bodies of knowledge. He calculates the course of the stars and discerns the well-nigh miraculous entanglement of their orbits with the humble trajectories of our terrestrial lives. The mysterious phenomena underlying the structures of metals, vegetables, and minerals are an open secret to him, and he is also intimately acquainted with the machinations of the world’s politicians and always stands within immediate reach of the Archduke should either his counsel or action be needed. But I do not know how all of this can be consistent with the purity of soul of a true singer, and indeed I am inclined to believe that precisely because Master Klingsohr is so wise in the ways of the world, his songs will never be capable of stirring my soul, however artful and well-thought out, however beautifully shaped, they may be. Now, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, my masters, who are virtually fuming with rage at your proud, high-handed attitude, would like you to compete with them in song over the course of a few days for the usual prize, and it is high time you did so.”
The masters’ contest commenced. But whether because Heinrich’s mind had become unhinged by false teaching and was no longer ever competent as a composer in the presence of the pure radiance of spiritual honesty or because the other masters’ powers were being redoubled by their newly heightened enthusiasm—never mind which!—one by one they pitted themselves against Ofterdingen in song, and one by one they defeated him and carried away the prize for which Heinrich was repeatedly striving in vain. Ofterdingen was positively incensed by this disgrace and now began to sing songs that amid derisive allusions to Landgrave Hermann exalted Ludwig the Seventh the Archduke of Austria above the stars and dubbed him the resplendently blazing sun that shone on all true art in glorious solitude. On top of this he also attacked the ladies of the court with disdainful words and proceeded to extol the beauty and graciousness of Countess Mathilde alone in profane and heathenish terms, such that all the other masters, gentle Wolfframb von Eschinbach not excepted, inevitably flew into a righteous rage and dragged his musical reputation through the mud in songs of the utmost ruthlessness and vehemence. By stripping away the false pomp of Ofterdingen’s songs,
Heinrich Schreiber and Johannes Bitterolff revealed the wretchedness of the scrawny little man who had been hiding himself beneath them, but Walther von der Vogelweid and Reinhard von Zwekhstein went further. They said that Ofterdingen’s undertaking deserved implacable vengeance, and they intended to wreak it on him personally, with swords in hand.
So Heinrich von Ofterdingen now saw his reputation as a singer and a composer dragged through the dirt and even found his life threatened. Brimming over with rage and despair, he called upon the noble-minded landgrave to protect his life, and even beyond that, to cede his office as arbitrator of the quarrel over supremacy in vocal music to the most famous singer of the age—namely, Master Klingsohr. “Things,” said the landgrave, “between you and the masters have come to such a pass that your quarrel is no longer merely over supremacy in vocal music. In your demented songs you have insulted me, and you have insulted the fair ladies of my court. Accordingly, your contest no longer impinges merely on the masters’ virtuosity but also on my honor and on the honor of those ladies. For all that, everything must be settled through a singing competition, and I shall allow your Master Klingsohr to serve as judge at that competition. One of my masters will be your opponent; he will be selected by lot, and then each of you may sing whatever material he chooses. But my executioner will be standing behind you with his unsheathed sword in his hands, and whichever of you loses will be executed immediately. Go; see to it that within the next year Master Klingsohr comes to the Wartburg to adjudicate this life-and-death contest.” Heinrich von Ofterdingen left the court, and thus peace was restored to the Wartburg for a time.
During this interval the songs that the masters had sung in opposition to Heinrich von Ofterdingen were collectively dubbed the Wartburg Contest.
Master Klingsohr Comes to Eisenach
Nearly an entire year had elapsed by the time the Wartburg received news that Master Klingsohr was actually in Eisenach and that he had taken lodgings at the house of a citizen by the name of Helgrefe who resided just inside the city wall at St. George’s Gate. The masters were delighted not a little that the vexing quarrel with Heinrich von Ofterdingen was finally about to be settled, but none of them was more ardently impatient to see the world-famous man than Wolfframb von Eschinbach. “Perhaps what people say,” he said to himself, “perhaps what people say about Klingsohr is true: perhaps he is devoted to the black arts, perhaps infernal powers stand ready to do his bidding, nay, perhaps these powers have even helped him to attain a mastery of every science in its entirety; but doesn’t the noblest wine sometimes grow out of the cinders of lava? What does the thirsty wanderer care if the grapes with which he refreshes himself have germinated out of the glowing fire of hell itself? Thus I resolve to revel in the master’s profound scientific knowledge and erudition without probing its mysteries and without appropriating any more of it than can be borne by an unsullied soul of true piety.”
Wolframb went down to Eisenach straight-away. At the doorstep of Helgrefe’s house he encountered a crowd of people who were all gazing longingly up at the house’s bay window. He recognized many of these gazers as students of vocal music, and they were asserting one thing after another about the famous master. One of them said that he had transcribed the words Klingsohr had spoken on being greeted by Helgrefe, another that he knew exactly what the master had been having for lunch; a third maintained that the master had actually looked at him and smiled because he had recognized him as a fellow-singer on account of the fact that he, like Klingsohr himself, had been wearing a beret, and a fifth even began singing a song that he said he had composed in imitation of Klingsohr’s style. In short, it all added up to a lot of tumultuous to-ing and fro-ing. Eventually Wolfframb von Eschinbach forced his way through the crowd with great effort and entered the house. Helgrefe warmly welcomed him and at his request ran upstairs to inform the master that he was there to see him. But upon returning, Helgrefe declared to Wolfframb that the Master was deeply immersed in his studies and could not speak with anybody at the moment; that he, Wolfframb, would have to inquire again in two hours. Wolfframb had no choice but to acquiesce in this delay. After he had returned two hours later and waited an additional hour, Helgrefe was given permission to lead him up to the master’s chamber. A manservant dressed in a curiously colorful sort of silk opened the door, and Wolfframb entered the room. Therein he beheld a tall, handsome man who was dressed in a long, wide-sleeved gown of deep red silk trimmed with sumptuous sable, and pacing slowly and solemnly up and down the room. His face was almost a living version of that of the heathen god Jupiter as typically represented by sculptors, so instinct with imperious earnestness was his brow, and so menacing were the flames that blazed forth from his large eyes. His chin and cheeks were covered in a thick, curly black beard, and his head was surmounted by either a strangely shaped beret or an oddly folded kerchief; it was impossible to tell which it was. The master had his arms crossed over his chest, and in a resonant voice he was declaiming and exclaiming words that Wolfframb found completely unintelligible. On taking a look around the room, which was full of all manner of outlandish-looking instruments, Wolfframb espied a pale little old man, scarcely three feet tall, sitting in a high chair at a desk and seemingly diligently employing a silver pen to commit everything Master Klingsohr was saying to a sheet of parchment. A goodly interval elapsed before the Master’s rigid gaze finally alighted on Wolfframb von Eschinbach, and he left off speaking and drew to a halt in the dead center of the room. Wolfframb now greeted the master in a set of gracious verses composed in the black strophic form. He said that he had come in order to be edified by Klingsohr’s mastery as a composer and asked him if he would do him the kindness of replying in the same strophic form and thereby allowing him to hear a sample of his art. Whereupon the master looked him up and down from head to foot with a furious eye and said, “Just who do you think you are, young fellow, to barge in on me like this with your silly verses and even challenge me to compose something on the spot, as though we were in the middle of a proper singing contest? Ha! Are you perchance none other than Wolfframb von Eschinbach, the most incompetent and ignorant greenhorn of all in that pack of amateur songsmiths up at the Wartburg who call themselves masters of the art of vocal music? No, my dear boy, you will have to do a great deal more growing before you next entertain the idea of trying conclusions with me.” Wolfframb von Eschinbach had most certainly not expected a reception like this one. The blood surged in his veins as he took in Klingsohr’s scornful words; never before had he been so acutely sensible of the strength that dwelt within him thanks to the largesse of heavenly power. He looked the proud master earnestly and firmly in the eye, and said, “You have not behaved well, Master Klingsohr, in lapsing into such a severe and bitter tone instead of addressing me as kindly and amiably as I greeted you. I know that you excel me in all domains of knowledge and indeed in the art of singing as well, but that does not entitle you to indulge in this vain boasting, which you ought to contemn as unworthy of yourself. I must now frankly declare to you, Master Klingsohr, that henceforth I shall believe all the rumors that have been circulating about you in the world. I shall believe that you have the powers of Hell at your command, that the eldritch and sinister sciences you have been practicing have enabled you to fraternize with evil spirits. I shall believe that your mastery as a composer is abjectly beholden to those infernal powers, because you have conjured forth out of the depths and into the light of day the dark spirits from which the human soul recoils in horror. Hence I shall further believe that it is this horror alone that has secured you your supremacy over other musicians, that your virtuosity owes nothing to the profound emotion of love that flows from the singer’s pure soul into every kindred heart and thereby captivates it in bands of sweet subjection. Finally, I shall believe that it is your corruption by this horror that has made you as proud as you are, and as no singer who has retained the purity of his heart can ever be.” “Ho ho!” retorted Meister Klingsor, “ho ho, young fellow, climb down from that lofty pinnacle before you fall! Regarding my supposed fraternization with eldritch and sinister powers you would do well to hold your tongue, for you don’t know a thing about it. The notion that I owe my mastery as a composer to them and to him is nothing but silly simpleminded children’s gossip. But do tell me, where does your acquaintance with the art of vocal music hail from? Do you really suppose that I am unaware that in Siegebrunnen in Scotland Master Friedebrand lent you several books that you in your ingratitude have never returned, and that you have based all your own songs on compositions contained in those books? If the Devil has been my helpmeet, you have likewise had a helpmeet in your own ungrateful heart. Wolfframb was well-nigh appalled by this loathsome accusation. He placed his hand on his breast and said, “So help me God! The spirit of falsehood is mighty indeed within you, Master Klingsohr. Surely you don’t actually believe I could have been base enough to rob my exalted Master Friedebrand of his majestic compositions so shamelessly. I will have you know, Master Klingsohr, that I held on to those compositions only as long as he wished me to, and that I returned them to him as soon as he asked for them. Have you yourself never derived any instruction at all from the compositions of other masters? “Perhaps,” resumed Master Klingsohr, evidently none too impressed by Wolfframb’s oration, “perhaps I have indeed, but what is the ultimate source of the principles of your art? What entitles you to regard yourself as my peer? Do you not know that I have diligently applied myself to courses of study in Rome, in Paris, in Krakow; that I have personally journeyed to the most distant countries of the Orient and investigated the mysteries of the Arab sages; that I have since excelled at all the singing academies and wrested the laurels from the brows of every singer I contended with; that I am a certified master of all seven liberal arts? But as for you, you who have lived all your life as an untutored layman cut off from all art and knowledge in the emptiness of Switzerland: how ever could you have attained fluency in the art of authentic vocal music? By now Wolfframb’s fury had subsided, perhaps because thanks to Klingsohr’s boastful speech the priceless gift of song in his soul of souls shone forth more brightly and joyously than before, just as sunbeams scintillate more beauteously when they victoriously pierce through the turbid clouds blown into their path by a savage thunderstorm. A mild, ingratiating smile had settled over his entire countenance, and it was in a calm, equable tone that he said to the enraged Master Klingsohr, “Now my dear master, I could very easily rejoin to you that although I have certainly not studied at Rome and Paris and visited Arab sages in their native country, in addition to my great mentor Master Friedebrand, whom I followed to the very heart of Scotland, I have conversed with a good many talented singers whose instruction has proved most profitable to me, and that like you I have won singing-prizes in many of our principal German princes’ courts. And yet I am of the opinion that all the instruction and conversation of the greatest singers in the world would have been of no use to me whatsoever if the eternal power of heaven had not implanted in my soul of souls the spark that flickers up in the beauteous beams of song, if I had not kept and if I did not still lovingly keep at arm’s length everything false and evil, if I did not endeavor with sincere enthusiasm to sing only those words and notes that utterly saturate my breast with sweet and joyous wistfulness.
Wolfframb von Eschinbach himself was at a loss to explain why he began singing a magnificent song in the golden key that he had composed only a short time before.
Master Klingsohr paced up and down in scarcely containable fury; then he drew to a halt and stood staring at Wolfframb as though he wished to drill straight through him with his blazing, unblinking eyes. Once Wolfframb had finished singing, Klingsohr laid both his hands on Wolfframb’s shoulders and softly and coolly said, “Now, Wolfframb, because you refuse to have it any other way, let the two of us have a singing contest, one with songs employing all sorts of keys and scales. But let us go elsewhere first; this room is unsuitable for such an activity, and you must enjoy a goblet of noble wine with me.”
At that moment the little man who had been writing earlier fell off his chair, and as he hit the floor with a thud he emitted a miniature moan. Klingsohr quickly turned round and kicked the dwarf into the cabinet at the base of the podium and shut its door. Wolfframb could hear the little man softly weeping and sobbing within. Next Klingsohr shut all the open books that were lying about here and there, and each time a book-cover snapped shut, the room was pervaded by a strange and unearthly sound like a heavy sigh heaved by someone on the verge of death. Now Klingsohr took hold of certain peculiar-looking roots which at that moment were behaving like strange, spooky creatures: their filaments and branches were writhing like arms and legs struggling to break free; indeed, from time to time a tiny grotesque human face would peep out and grin and laugh in a most hideous manner. And at the same time something began restlessly stirring inside the cabinets along all the walls and a large bird with blindingly gold wings whirred frantically around the room. Deep dusk had set in; Wolfframb was seized by a deep feeling of horror. Now Klingsohr produced a box out of which he took a stone that immediately flooded the entire room with dazzling sunlight. Everything fell silent, and Wolfframb no longer saw or heard a trace of any of the things that had terrified him only seconds earlier.
Two manservants dressed in the same curiously colorful silk livery as the one worn by the man who had let Wolfframb in entered with a magnificent suit of clothes that they helped Master Klingsohr to don.
Then Master Klingsohr and Wolfframb von Eschinbach went to the rathskeller.
Having drunk to reconciliation and friendship, they proceeded to challenge each other to sing melodies of the greatest diversity and artistry imaginable. There was no master present to determine which of them was prevailing against the other, but if there had been he undoubtedly would have declared Klingsohr the loser, for although he labored to exploit his great artistry and mighty intellect to their utmost, he never came close to matching the strength and grace of the simple songs improvised by Wolfframb von Eschinbach.
Wolfframb had just finished singing quite a splendid song when Master Klingsdohr leaned back in his cushioned chair, lowered his eyes, and softly and dejectedly said, “Earlier today you called me boastful and cocksure, Master Wolfframb, but you would be gravely mistaken if you supposed me to be so blinded by sheer vanity as to be unable to recognize the artistry of a true singer when I hear it; I would now be happy to meet with you in the wilderness, or in the hall of the masters. Nobody is here to judge between us, but I will tell you myself that you have defeated me, Master Wolfframb, and I hope that you will recognize that this concession proves that my form of artistry is authentic. “Oh, my dear Master Klingsohr,” rejoined Wolfframb von Eschinbach: “it is entirely possible that a peculiar joyousness has swelled my breast and thereby rendered the songs I have sung today more accomplished than my typical productions, but far be it from me regard this as a sign that I am an intrinsically greater artist than you. Perhaps today your soul of souls happened to be inaccessible to you. From time to time isn’t everyone weighed down by some oppressive burden like a dark cloud thank hangs over a bright meadow and keeps its flowering plants from raising their dazzling tops skyward?
But although today you have conceded to defeat to me, I heard many splendid things indeed in your beautiful songs, and for all either of us knows you may well prove the victor tomorrow.
Master Klingsohr cried, “Of what use to you is your pious humility?,” leapt up from his chair, stood beneath the window near the ceiling and with his back turned to Wolfframb, and gazed silently up at the pale moonbeams shining down from the heavens.
After quite a number of minutes of this, he turned round, stepped briskly up to Wolfframb, and, his eyes flashing with rage, he said in a strong voice, “You are correct in believing that dark powers are subservient to my knowledge; our inner essence must ever divide us. You have defeated me, but tomorrow night I shall send you a man named Nasias. Begin a singing contest with him, and take care that he does not defeat you.”
With these words Master Klingsohr stormed out of the ratskeller.
Nasias Pays Wolfframb von Eschinbach a Nocturnal Visit
Wolfframb was staying at the house of a citizen named Gottschalk who lived opposite Eisenach’s municipal granary. Gottschalk was an amiable, pious man who held his guest in high regard. It is quite possible that although Klingsohr and Eschinbach had believed that they were alone and out of earshot in the Ratskeller, certain people—perhaps some of the young students of vocal music who followed the famous master wherever he went and tried to snatch up every word that fell from his lips—had found a way of eavesdropping on the masters’ singing contest. The account of how Wolfframb had beaten the mighty Master Klingsohr at impromptu singing had spread through all of Eisenach, and so Gottschalk was among those who had heard it. Brimming over with high spirits, he dashed upstairs to his guest’s room and asked him how in the world the proud master had been prevailed upon to engage in a singing contest at the ratskeller. Wolfframb faithfully related to him everything that had happened and made no secret of the fact that Master Klingsohr had threatened to sic a man called Nasias on him that night and that he was supposed to pit himself against him in song. On taking this in, Gottschalk turned pale with terror, threw up his hands, and exclaimed in a woebegone tone, “Ah, great God in heaven, do you really not know, my dear sir, that Master Klingsohr has dealings with evil spirits that are under his control and that must do his bidding? Helgrefe, with whom Master Klingsohr has taken lodgings, has been telling his neighbors the most incredible things about his activities. He says that at nighttime it often seems as though there is a large assembly of people gathered in his room, even though nobody has been seen going into the house, and that then this strange singing starts, and there is an insane amount of bustle, and blinding light pours out of the window! Ah, perhaps this Nasias fellow that he’s threatened to sic on you is the Archfiend himself, who will plunge you into ruin! Leave here at once and take lodgings elsewhere, my dear sir; don’t sit here waiting to see if this visitor drops by; I implore you: leave here at once.” “Come now,” rejoined Wolfframb von Eschinbach, “Come now, Mr. Gottschalk, my dear landlord: I have been offered an opportunity to join in competition with another singer; I can’t very well shun this opportunity like a coward; such behavior would be most unworthy of a mastersinger. Whether Nasias is an evil spirit or not, I shall await his arrival calmly. Perhaps he’ll completely drown out my lays with all manner of songs composed on the far side of the Acheron, but if he tries to bewitch my pious heart and injure my immortal soul, he will undoubtedly fail. “I know full well,” said Gottschalk, “I know full well that you are a courageous gentleman who can’t be cowed by the Devil himself. But if you are determined not to change lodgings, I hope you’ll at least let my servant Jonas stay up with you in your room tonight. He is a hardworking, pious, and broad-shouldered fellow who’s completely incorruptible by singing. If at any point the infernal babbling starts making you feel faint and dizzy and Nasias tries to pull a fast one on you, Jonas will give a holler, and then we’ll move in with holy water and consecrated candles. They also say that the Devil can’t bear the smell of musk, which a certain Capuchin monk has worn in a sack on his breast. I will follow his example, and as soon as Jonas hollers, I’ll burn the musk in a way so that Master Nasias’s breath will give out on him as he’s singing. Wolfframb von Eschinbach smiled at his landlord’s goodhearted solicitude and said that he was fully prepared for everything and determined to be more than a match for Nasias. But he also said that Jonas, the pious, broad-shouldered fellow forearmed against every kind of singing, could stay up with him anyway. The fatal night had fallen. But all remained quiet. Then the church clock’s weights whirred and clanged as it struck twelve. A gust of wind roared through the house, hideous voices howled in confusion, and there arose a savage, cawing cry of fear like that of a flock of nocturnal birds scared into flight. Wollframb von Eschinbach had been quiescently yielding to all manner of pious and beauteous poetic reflections and had almost forgotten about the baleful visit. Now, though, icy shudders were coursing through the very core of his body and being; but with great effort he managed to pull himself together and step into the center of the room. Under the force of a violent blow that made the entire house rumble, the door flew open, and a tall figure surrounded by a fiery red luster was standing face-to-face with him and glaring at him with incandescently spiteful eyes. The figure was so horribly ghastly to behold that many another man would have lost every last dram of his courage at that moment—nay, would have sunk to the floor in savagely abject terror—but Wolfframb remained standing and asked in a firm and serious tone, “What are you doing or seeking in this place?” The figure cried out in a repellently shrill voice, “I am Nasias, and I have come here to do battle with you as a practitioner of the art of singing.” Nasias flung open his long cloak, and Wolfframb noticed that under his arms he was carrying a large number of books, which he then dropped onto the table just next to him. Immediately thereafter, Nasias launched into a peculiar song about the seven planets and about the music of the heavenly spheres as described in Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, and he varied his melodies with formidable and exceptionally curious artistry. Wolfframb had taken a seat in his large upholstered armchair, and he listened to the entirety of Nasias’s performance calmly and with his eyes closed. When he had finally finished his song, Eschinbach began singing a beauteous, pious song of religious devotion. At first during this performance Nasias leapt to and fro and made as if to blubber out some indignant interjections and to throw some of his weighty tomes at the singer, but as Wolfframb’s song became more and more sonorous and powerful, Nasias’s fiery aura grew fainter and fainter, and his body became increasingly small and wizened, until finally he was only a span high and was climbing up and down the cabinets in his red cloak and thick ruff, squeaking and meowing in the most repellent fashion all the while. After concluding his song, Wolfframb tried to catch him, but he instantly shot back up to his original height and breathed out hissing jets of flame in all directions. “Hey, hey,” Nasias then cried in a horrifyingly hollow voice, “Hey, hey, don’t trifle with me, mate! You may well be a fine theologian and fully conversant with all the sophistries and erudition contained in your fat book, but that doesn’t prove you are a singer who can try conclusions with my master and me. Let us sing a fair song of love, in doing which you may have to be a little more mindful of your skills.” Now Nasias began a song about fair Helen of Troy and about the boundlessly rapturous joys of the Mountain of Venus. In point of fact the song had a downright seductive sound, and the flames that Nasias sprayed all over the room as he was singing it seemed to metamorphose into perfumes redolent of wanton concupiscence and the delights of love, perfumes in which the mellifluous notes of the melody undulated up and down like fluttering cupids. Wolfframb was listening to this song just he had listened to the earlier ones—calmly and with his eyes closed. But by and by he began to feel as though he were wandering in the shady lanes of a lovely garden and the beauteous notes of a noble melody were slipping over the flowerbeds and breaking in through the dark foliage like glimmers of dawn sunlight, and as though the evil demon’s song were sinking into the night before them and the timorous nocturnal bird were cawing and plunging into the depths of the abyss in its flight from the victorious day. And as the notes effulged more and more resonantly, his breast trembled with sweet foreboding and inexpressible longing. Then she, the sole sustenance and constituent of his life, emerged from the thick underbrush in all the resplendence of her beauty and adorableness, and the leaves rustled and the radiantly pristine fountains bubbled as they saluted this supremely majestic woman in a thousand amorous sighs. As if borne along by the wings of a beauteous swan, she soared towards him on the pinions of song, and no sooner did his gaze alight on her celestial form than all the blissfulness of love of the purest and most pious kind was enkindled within his heart of hearts. In vain he struggled for words—and for notes. The instant she had vanished, he flung himself in superabundantly blissful rapture onto the parti-colored grass. He called her name into the air; in the ardency of his yearning he embraced the tall lilies; he kissed the roses with his burning lips, and all the flowers partook of his happiness; and the morning breeze, the springs, and the bushes spoke with him of the unutterable delight of pious love! And so as Nasias continued reeling off his vacuous love songs, Wolfframb recalled that moment when he first beheld Lady Mathilde in the garden at the Wartburg; just as at that moment, she was standing bodily before him in all her comeliness and adorableness; just as at that moment, she was lavishing on him a gaze instinct with piety and love. Wolfframb had not hearkened to a single measure of the evil demon’s vocal music, but when this music fell silent, Wolfframb began a song that extolled the celestial bliss of the pious singer’s pure love in notes of unsurpassable potency and splendor.
The demon grew more and more restless, until finally he began moaning in a loathsome manner and leaping about and causing all sorts of mischief all over the room. At this point Wolfframb rose from his armchair and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost commanded the demon to pack up his things and be gone. Spraying mighty jets of flame in all directions all the while, Nasias snatched up his books and through a burst of scornful laughter cried, “Piety, schmeity: you’re basically nothing but a lumbering layman, so yield the palm of victory to Klingsohr with all speed!” He roared out of the room like a tempest, and thick clouds of asphyxiating sulfur vapor filled the room.
Wolfframb opened the windows, and the fresh morning air poured in and chased away the demon’s foul scent. Jonas woke with a start from the deep slumber he had fallen into and was then more than slightly surprised to learn that the whole contest was already over. He called his master into the room. Wolfframb recounted all the particulars of what had happened, and much as Gottschalk had revered the noble Wolfframb even before the contest, he now regarded him as a kind of saint whose pious benison was capable of routing the pernicious powers of Hell. As Gottschalk was rounding out his tribute to his lodger he happened to glance upward, whereupon he noticed the following words written above the doorway in fiery characters: Piety, schmeity: you’re basically nothing but a lumbering layman, so yield the palm of victory to Klingsohr with all speed!
So in the course of his flight the demon had inscribed his parting words on the wall like an eternally standing challenge to a duel. “Not a single waking hour,” cried Gottschalk, “I’ll never be able to enjoy a single waking hour here in my own house while that abominable Devil’s script is blazing forth from that wall in derision of my dear Master Wolfframb von Eschinbach.” So saying, he ran straight to the masons’ to ask them to come over and whitewash the writing. But their efforts proved futile. They slathered on a layer of lime as thick as a finger, and yet the letters quickly burned through to its surface; indeed, even after they had hewn away not only all the lime but also all the plaster beneath it, Nasias’s message came blazing back through the red bricks at the heart of the wall. Gottschalk volubly lamented the ineffaceability of the writing and implored Wolfframb to sing a song eloquent and expressive enough to compel Nasias to wipe away the abominable words himself. Wolfframb said with a smile that such a feat might very well exceed his, Wolfframb’s, powers, and that it would be best for Gottschalk’s piece of mind for Wolfframb to leave Eisenach altogether because once he was gone, the writing might very well vanish on its own.
It was broad midday when Wofframb von Eschinbach left Eisenach with a gaily courageous heart and brimful of ebulliently high spirits, like a man with only the most dazzlingly resplendent prospects in sight. Not far from the town he crossed paths with Count Meinhard of Mühlberg and Walther von Vargel the cupbearer; each of them was clad in lustrous garments, riding a beauteously bedizened horse, and accompanied by a large retinue of servants. Wolfframb von Eschinbach greeted them and learned from them that Landgrave Hermann had dispatched them to Eisenach to collect the famous Master Klingsohr with all due ceremony and then conduct him to the Wartburg. Klingsohr had been spending his nights patiently and attentively observing the stars from a balcony on the topmost floor of Helfgrefes’s house. When at length he committed to parchment the lines of his first horoscope, two students of astrology who happened to be present at that moment concluded from his curious gaze, from his entire bearing, that his soul was harboring some important secret that he had read in the stars. They did not shrink from asking him what it was. In response Klingsohr rose from his chair and solemnly said, “Know that tonight the wife of the King Andrew II of
has borne him a daughter. But she will
be christened Hungary ,
and after her death Pope Gregory IX will canonize her for her piety and
virtue. And in the meantime this future
St. Elizabeth will be chosen as the wife of Ludwig, your Landgrave Hermann’s
This prophecy was immediately communicated to the landgrave, who was delighted by it to the very core of his heart. What was more, his opinion of Klingsohr underwent a radical change now that the famous master’s mysterious science had caused such a fair and auspicious star to shine on his house, and he resolved to have him conducted to the Wartburg with all the pomp and ceremony befitting a prince and a nobleman.Wolffbramb now voiced the conjecture that owing to these developments the Klingsohr-arbitrated singing contest to the death would not take place, especially given that Heinrich von Ofterdingen was nowhere to be seen and had yet to send word of his whereabouts. The knights assured him to the contrary that the landgrave had already received news of Heinrich von Ofterdingen’s arrival, that the inner courtyard of the Wartburg was being fitted out as a site for the contest, and that Stempel the executioner had been summoned to the Wartburg from Eisenach.
Master Klingsohr Leaves the Wartburg. Arbitration of the Poetry Contest
In a handsome chamber at the uppermost storey of the Wartburg, Landgrave Hermann and Master Klingsohr had a tête-à-tête conference; Klingsohr asseverated that the previous night he had indeed beheld a constellation in which Elisabeth’s birth had figured, and then he advised the Landgrave to dispatch a legation to the king of Hungary immediately and have the newborn princess wooed as a bride for his eleven-year-old son. The landgrave was highly gratified by this counsel, and when he went on to praise the master’s command of his science, Klingsohr began to descant on the mysteries of nature, on the microcosm and the macrocosm, so learnedly and eloquently that the landgrave, himself not entirely unschooled on such matters, was overcome with profound admiration. “Ah,” said the landgrave, “Ah, Master Klingsohr, I wish I could enjoy the pleasure of your instructive conversation at all times. Quit the inhospitable plains of Transylvania and take up residence at my court, at which, as you will acknowledge, art and science are more highly regarded than they are anywhere else. The masters of song will embrace you as their teacher, for you must surely be as richly gifted in that art as in astrology and other weighty sciences. So stay here for evermore, and think no longer of returning to Transylvania.” “Your highness,” rejoined Master Klingsohr, “your highness, I implore you to allow me to return to Eisenach within the hour and to continue thence to Transylvania. That country is by no means as inhospitable as you may suppose, and it also happens to be highly salutary to my intellectual labors. You must also bear in mind that I may not on any account risk offending my liege King Andreas II, thanks to whom, on account of my knowledge of mining, which has already afforded him access to many a shaft abounding in the most precious stones, I now enjoy an annual salary of three thousand silver marks and consequently a life imbued with that carefree tranquility in whose absence art and science can never thrive.” And even if perchance I could forgo this salary, here at the Wartburg I would be obliged to spend all my time wrangling and quarrelling with your masters. My art is based on different principles than theirs, and it is bound to be realized in performances that will differ from theirs both in manner and in matter. It may indeed be the case that what they term their piety and magnanimity is all they need in order to compose their own songs, and that like timorous children they are disinclined to venture into an unfamiliar place; far be it from me to disparage them on that account, but I shall never find it possible to join their ranks. “But surely,” said the landgrave, “you will still be staying long enough to serve as arbitrator of the lately irrupted quarrel between your pupil Heinrich von Ofterdingen and the other masters?” “I most certainly shall not be,” replied Klingsohr, “for how ever could I serve in such a capacity? And even if I could, I would not wish to. You, your highness, should arbitrate the quarrel yourself and in doing so simply make certain that your judgment reaffirms the voice of the people, which will assuredly be loud and clear enough. But please do not call Heinrich von Ofterdingen my pupil. I used to think he had courage and strength, but he only ever gnawed at the bitter shell of the nut and never tasted the sweetness of its kernel! But never mind that! Go ahead and select the date of the contest; I shall see to it that Heinrich von Ofterdingen shows up for it punctually.”
The landgrave’s most pressing entreaties left the intractably stubborn master completely unmoved. He stuck to his resolution, and, richly laden with presents from the landgrave, he left the Wartburg.
The fatal day on which the contest between the singers was appointed to begin and end had arrived. In the central courtyard of the fortress lists had been set up, almost as if a proper tournament were going to take place there. In the middle of the circle there were two black-draped chairs for the competing singers, and behind them a high scaffold had been erected. The landgrave had chosen two gentlemen of the court who were well-schooled in the art of vocal music—the very same two who had conducted Master Klingsohr to the Wartburg, Count Meinhard of Mühlberg and Walther von Vargel the cupbearer—as arbitrators. Opposite the contestants’ chairs a richly festooned dais had been erected for the arbitrators and the landgrave, and the dais was adjoined by rows of seats for the ladies of the court and the remaining spectators. But a separate black-draped bench next to the contestants and the scaffold had been allocated to the masters.
Thousands of spectators had shown up, and every place available for viewing the contest was occupied; from every window of the Wartburg, nay, from its very rooftops, some portion of the eagerly curious crowd was peering down. To the subdued sound of muted trumpets and kettledrums the landgrave, accompanied by the arbitrators, emerged from the gateway giving on to the courtyard and mounted the dais. Next the masters entered in a solemn procession led by Walther von der Vogelweid and took their places on the bench allocated to them. On the scaffold alongside his two assistants the executioner from Eisenach, Stempel, a colossal fellow of a savage, defiant aspect, stood swathed in a broad crimson cloak out of whose folds protruded the coruscating hilt of an enormous sword. A priest seated himself in front of the scaffold; he was Father Leonhard, whom the landgrave had appointed to give spiritual succor to the loser in the hour of his death.
An ominous silence, one in which every sigh was audible, hung over the crowd.
Everybody was transfixed with dread in anticipation of the unprecedented event that was about to take place. Then the landgrave’s marshal, Franz von Waldstromer, attired in the raiment of his office, stepped into the circle and once again read out both the official description of the quarrel that had occasioned the contest and Landgrave Hermann’s irrevocable decree mandating the loser’s execution by the sword. Father Leonhard raised his crucifix, and all the masters bared their heads, knelt before their bench, and swore to abide by the landgrave’s decree both willingly and cheerfully. Then Stempel swung his broad, lightning-flashing sword three times through the air and menacingly thundered that he would execute his charge with the greatest of skill and the clearest of consciences. The trumpets sounded. Marshal von Waldstromer stepped into the center of the circle and loudly and emphatically cried out, “Heinrich von Ofterdingen!” three times in succession.
And just as though Heinrich had been waiting unobserved at the very edge of the lists when the last cry of “Heinrich von Ofterdingen!” was subsiding into silence, he suddenly appeared next to the marshal in the middle of the circle. He bowed to the landgrave and said in a resolute voice that he had come at the landgrave’s behest to engage in combat with whichever master should be pitted against him, and that he would accept whatever judgment should be delivered by the chosen arbitrators. Whereupon the marshal presented the masters with a silver container from which each of them was required to draw a lottery tile. Upon unwrapping his tile, Wolfframb von Eschinbach beheld on it the sign betokening its holder’s appointment as Heinrich von Ofterdingen’s opponent. At first he was nearly overwhelmed with mortal terror at the thought that he would now have to engage in a combat to the death with his dearest friend, but by and by he came to feel instead that he should actually be grateful to the merciful powers of heaven for having chosen him as their champion. While he was certainly willing to die if he lost, he had also resolved that if he should prove the winner he would likewise submit to the fatal blow rather than allow Heinrich von Ofterdingen to die at the executioner’s hands. And so with good cheer and a gladsome countenance he seated himself in one of the black-draped chairs. But no sooner did he take in the sight of the countenance of his friend sitting across from him in the other chair than he was seized by a peculiar feeling of dread, for while in this deathly pallid face he undoubtedly beheld the features of Heinrich von Ofterdingen, its uncannily incandescent, coruscating eyes could not but put him in mind of Nasias.
Heinrich von Ofterdingen began his sequence of songs, and Wolfframb was almost beside himself with horror upon recognizing it as the exact same sequence that Nasias had sung on that ominous night down in Eisenach. But he pulled himself together with main force and countered his opponent’s effort with a song of such supreme nobility that its melody soared ever-farther skyward as it was taken up one by one by a thousand jubilant tongues, and by its conclusion the people were already prepared to declare him the victor. Nevertheless, at the command of the landgrave, Heinrich von Ofterdingnen was obliged to continue. He now began singing songs whose superlatively wondrous melodies exuded such exhilaration, such delight in living, that everyone sank into a sweet stupor, as if under the tranquilizing influence of the ardent, efflorescent breath of the foliage of distant India. Even Wolfframb von Eschinbach felt as though he had been transported to a foreign realm; he could no longer recollect his own songs, nor even recollect who he himself was. At that moment there came a murmur from the entrance to the circle, on both sides of which the crowd was falling back to make room for some new arrival. An electric shock pulsed through Wolfframb’s frame; he awoke from his reverie; he looked towards the source of the murmur, and—O Heaven Above!—beheld Lady Mathilde stepping into the circle, resplendent in all her comeliness and grace, just as on the very first occasion he had seen her, in the garden of the Wartburg. She cast at him a supremely soulful glance instinct with love of the utmost tenderness. Whereupon celestial delight, a veritable superlatively incandescent rapture, soared jubilantly skyward to the strains of the same song by means of which he had defeated the demon on that night. The people tempestuously and uproariously proclaimed him the victor. The landgrave and the arbitrators rose. Trumpets sounded; the marshal took the wreath from the landgrave’s hands in preparation for bringing it to the singer. Stempel readied himself to execute his office, but just as his henchmen were taking hold of the loser, they suddenly found themselves clutching at a cloud of black smoke that shot up into the air with a roar and a hiss and then evaporated. Heinrich von Ofterdingen had vanished in some inconceivable manner. All the spectators were running about in bewildered confusion, their faces pale with horror; there was talk of infernal apparitions, of the Archfiend himself. But the landgrave gathered all the masters around him and said to them, “I understand now what Master Klingsohr was actually insinuating in speaking about the singing contest in such peculiar and mysterious terms, and why he so adamantly refused to arbitrate the contest himself; and he is doubtless highly gratified that everything has turned out as it has done. Whether our victor’s opponent was Heinrich von Ofterdingen himself or some other person whom Kingsohr sent in lieu of his pupil is now immaterial. The outcome of the contest has redounded to your credit, my brave masters, and we are now free to give due reverence to the noble art of vocal music in peace and unity and to do everything in our power to further that art!”
A few of the landgrave’s servants who had been guarding the entrance to the fortress reported that at half-past six, when Wolfframb von Eschinbach had just defeated the supposed Heinrich von Ofterdingen, a figure who looked almost exactly like Master Klingsohr had dashed through the gates and out into the night on a snorting black horse.
Meanwhile Countess Mathilde had betaken herself to the Wartburg garden and Wolfframb von Eschinbach had followed her there.
When he found her sitting on a flower-covered grassy bank, her hands folded in her lap, her beautiful head hanging almost to the ground in dejection, he threw himself speechlessly at the lovely woman’s feet. Mathilde bestowed on her beloved an embrace instinct with ardently yearning desire. The pair shed copious fervid tears of sweet melancholy, of lovesickness. “Ah Wolfframb,” Mathilde said at length, “Ah Wolfframb, what a terrible dream has had me in its spell! How did I, a blind and guileless child, ever come to surrender myself to the demon that was hounding me? Can you ever find it in your heart to forgive me?”
Wolfframb clasped Mathilde in his arms, and for the very first time he pressed a succession of ardent kisses to the lovely woman’s sweet and roseate lips. He assured her that all along his heart had belonged to her alone; that in defiance of the infernal powers he had remained true to her; that she alone had been the lady of his thoughts, the lady who had inspired him to compose the song that had put the evildoer to flight. “O,” said Mathilde, “O my beloved, let me just explain to you the wondrous manner in which you rescued me from the baleful snare in which the fiend had caught me. One night not at all long ago, I found myself surrounded by outlandish and ghastly images. I myself did not know whether it was delight or anguish that was constricting my breast so violently that I was scarcely able to breathe. At the behest of some irresistible force, I began writing down a song, a song very much in the style of my uncannily inscrutable master and teacher, but then my senses were overwhelmed by a sound that was half euphonious and half cacophonous, and it suddenly seemed to me that what I had just written was not my song but rather the terrible spell that would infallibly summon the powers of darkness. A figure of savage and horrific appearance materialized, embraced me with arms as bright and hot as fire, and tried to drag me down into the black abyss. But suddenly the darkness was pierced through by the light of a song whose notes shimmered gently like twinkling stars in the firmament. The dark figure had fallen into a swoon and been forced to let go of me; now it furiously stretched its glowing arms out anew towards me, but it only managed to get hold of the song I had just composed, whereupon it threw itself into the abyss with a shriek. It was your song, the song you sang today, the song the evildoer was forced to flee, that came to my rescue. Now I am entirely yours; my songs have been replaced by my loyal love for you, a love whose superabundant bliss cannot be expressed in mere words!” Once again the lovers sank into each other’s arms, whereupon they found it impossible to leave off discussing the torments they had withstood and the sweet moment of their mutual rediscovery.
But in a dream she had had on the same night as the one on which Wolfframb completely defeated Nasias, Mathilde had distinctly heard and understood the song that Wolfframb was then singing at the utmost pitch of exaltation and with the most heartfelt, pious love, the same song that he subsequently performed to the same victorious effect during the contest at the Wartburg.
Late that evening Wolfframb von Eschinbach was sitting alone and thinking through some new songs in his room, when Gottschalk his landlord came in and joyously exclaimed, “O my noble, worthy sir, you have really soundly trounced the fiend with your great artistry. His loathsome words have spontaneously vanished from your room. A thousand thanks are your due. But I have here something that was delivered to my house with instructions to forward it to you.” With these words Gottschalk handed him a folded letter tightly sealed with wax.
Wolfframb von Escinbach tore open the letter. It was from Heinrich von Ofterdingen and read as follows:
“My dear Wolfframb! I salute you like a man who has recovered from a grave illness that bade fair to end in his unspeakably painful death. I have confronted many strange perils—but let me pass over in silence the hardships of a period that lies behind me like a dark, impenetrable mystery. You will still remember the words you spoke when in a surfeit of foolish high spirits I boasted of my inner strength, and of how it was destined to exalt me above you, and indeed above all masters. At the time you said that I might someday find myself at the edge of a bottomless abyss, reeling with vertigo and on the verge of falling in; and that at that moment you would be standing behind me with a steadfast heart and would take hold of me and keep me firmly in place with your strong arms. Wolfframb! What your prescient soul foretold actually came to pass. I was standing at the edge of the abyss, and you held me in place when I was completely dazed by a baleful access of vertigo. It was your glorious victory that in annihilating your opponent restored the gladsome gift of life to me. Yes, my dear Wolfframb! Your song caused the heavy veil of fog that surrounded me to vanish, and I found myself once again gazing up at the cloudless firmament. Must I not then love you doubly? You have singled out Klingsohr as a great master of the art of vocal music, which he undoubtedly is, but woe betide anyone who though not endowed with Klingsohr’s peculiar strength dares strive for relations with that dark realm whose power he exploits at will. I have forsworn my master; I am no longer inconsolably ranging along the bank of the infernal river; I have been restored to my native land. Mathilde! No, it was surely not that noble lady but rather some tenebrous apparition that filled my mind with illusory images of vain terrestrial pleasure! Forget all I did in a temporary phase of lunacy. Give my salutations to the masters, and tell them how I am faring. Adieu, my dearest Wolfframb; perhaps you will hear of me soon.”
Not long afterwards, news reached the Wartburg that Heinrich von Ofterdingen was residing at the court of Leopold VII, the Duke of Austria, and singing many splendid songs. Shortly later still, Landgrave Hermann received a fair copy of these songs including both their words and their melodies. All the masters rejoiced from the bottoms of their hearts, for they were convinced that Heinrich von Ofterdingen had forsworn all commerce with falsehood and that despite all the fiend’s temptations he had preserved his pure, pious singer’s soul intact.
Thus Wolfframb von Eschinbach’s unimpeachable command of the art of vocal music, in imbuing a soul of the utmost purity, secured him a glorious victory over the archfiend and in so doing delivered both his mistress from captivity and his friend from eternal perdition.
END OF PART VI
Translation Copyright © 2018 by Douglas Robertson