Autumn Days in Weimar
WEIMAR is one of those places which the ordinary tourist never really sees. Probably nine tenths of our rapid countrymen, who travel the direct railway line from Frankfort to Berlin, reach the end of their journey with a confused impression of broad belts of farm-land, ranges of wooded mountains, half a dozen gray towers, stately stone stations with the inevitable telegraphic bell and conductor’s whistle, and flying glimpses of cities which they afterwards vainly endeavor to disentangle and label with their separate names. Eisenach, Gotha, Erfurt, Weimar, and Naumburg lie strung along the line, in the northern skirt of that old Hercynian Forest which once stretched unbroken from the Rhine to the Elbe, and each is the entrance to its own near region of landscape and legend. But their best charms are not manifest at a distance, or caught in hurrying past. The Ettersberg is the tamest possible hill, and Weimar a dull little town in a hollow among bare, windy uplands, to the traveler with a through ticket.
Even one who spares a day from his itinerary — who reverently inspects Schiller’s room, looks at the outside of Goethe’s house, walks the length of the park, and gives an hour each to the library, castle, and museum — will be apt to wonder what attraction drew so many of Germany’s greatest minds to a place so sober, quiet, and contracted in all its ways and circumstances. If he be familiar with the history of the illustrious period, the remembrance of the primitive diversions of Duchess Anna Amalia and young Karl August will suggest a livelier life than he now finds in the streets of Weimar. He will scent, perforce, an atmosphere of prosaic conventionalism, where the ancient magic is as thoroughly gone as the scent of roses when summer is over. With a dreary sinking of the imagination, he will recall the decadence that succeeds a glorious age, and something of the sadness of a cemetery will cling to his recollections of the place.
But Weimar, among other German cities, is like a still-tongued, inconspicuous, yet very genuine person in a gay and talkative company, — not to be known too easily, and loved forever when once truly known. Four different times, with intervals of years between, I went thither for a day, took the same walks, saw the same sights, and left with the same vague sense of disappointment and regret. I can thus estimate the character of the superficial impression which many others, doubtless, take home with them. During the summer and autumn months, when the court is absent, there are hours when scarcely even a peasant is encountered in the shady walks along the 11m; when the market-women knit, in the lack of customers, on the square before the Rathhaus, and when the memorial statues seem to sleep in bronze, since no one spares a part of his own life to awaken them.
Moreover, there is nearly as much local pride and jealousy among the capitals of the small mid-German principalities, as among our nascent Western cities. The intercourse of their citizens is singularly limited; and, inasmuch as each has its special traditions of venerable age, its peculiarities of social life and public habits, a narrow criticism is often applied where the diversity might be heartily enjoyed. All Germany still remembers the old caricatures in the Fliegende Blätter of Munich, where Beisele sits on the aristocratic side of the theatre at Weimar, while Eisele is placed opposite, among the burghers; and both are afterwards imprisoned tor addressing a young lady as “ Fräulein ” instead of “ Mademoiselle.” 'The former illustration was a just satire at the time; but the rule it ridicules was abolished more than twenty years ago. The latter, of course, was a grotesque exaggeration, illustrating the fact that the freest and most enlightened German capital for more than fifty years had somehow come to be regarded as the home of all obsolete social etiquette. I imagine that this was mainly a remnant of the jealousy engendered by Weimar’s glory, and that it had been kept alive by rival court-circles and the classes which they influence, rather than by the people at large. The latter are not always so narrow in their likings as those above them.
I came back to Weimar for a longer stay, on a cold, dull October morning. My room in the hotel looked across a sort of boulevard, marking the site of a moat outside the ancient wall of the town, over the front of the building belonging to the Erholung (Recreation) — the one club of the place — to the spire of the Stadtkirche where Herder preached. For a background I had the wooded hill and massive military barracks beyond the Ilm. The lovely park, the creation of Karl August and Goethe, lay unseen in the hollow between; south and west of me, I knew, there were only high, bare fields; and I wondered whether the famous authors who once dwelt within my range of vision ever seemed to themselves as lonely and forsaken as their monuments — or myself — on such a day. I took a spiritless walk through the streets, and came back without delivering one of my three notes of introduction. There was the Schiller house, with its merchandise of plaster-casts and photographs in the window beside the door; there was the Goethe house, inhabited at last (for curtains were visible behind the window-panes), but still looking gloomy and forlorn; the library, with no sign of ,ife around it; and at a restaurant near the theatre, kept by Werther, one individual was drinking his solitary beer!
The waiter presently summoned me to the table d'hôte, placing me between half a dozen transient guests and a company of as many gentlemen whose winebottles and napkin-rings marked them as habitués. The latter immediately excited my interest and attracted me towards them. The chairman’s place was occupied by a hale, ruddy gentleman, who proved to be Dr. R—, Director of the Museum, to whom I was commended by a mutual friend. An English scholar and an English artist sat near him, and he used their language with as much fluency as his own. There was also a young Swiss artist, handsome as the Antinous; Baron von Salis, Adjutant of the Hereditary Grand Duke, and beside him, as if still illustrating the friendship between the poet Salis and Schiller, sat the grandson of the latter, Baron von Gleichen-Russwurm.
There could have been no more refined and genial company; the most of its members added the lustre of tradition to their own accomplishments, and the temporary additions to it, from time to time, were drawn from the same circle. In the evening, after the early closing of the theatre, the “ Intendant,” Baron von Loën, a relative of Goethe on the Textor side, came frequently; Baron von Stein sometimes drove over from his estate of Kochberg, famous in the annals of his grandmother, Frau von Stein; the families of Herder, Wieland, and Knebel were included in the common acquaintance, and many an old story, familiar elsewhere to the scholar only, here belonged to the presumed knowledge of all. The kindly courtesy with which room was made for me in this little society was no false promise of the enjoyment which I drew from it. Many a light which I had fancied extinguished soon began to send its rays out of Weimar’s past; many an old interest proclaimed its stubborn life; until, in this new atmosphere, the heroic forms ceased to be mere shadows, drew nearer and nearer, and finally recovered as much reality of being as knowledge, memory, and fancy can bestow upon the dead.
I arose from my first dinner with only an instinct of the coming good fortune; for my acquaintance with the company began, quite frankly and unconventionally, in the evening. But the desire to know somebody was aroused at last. I selected a letter to the Privy CourtCouncilor, Schöll, whose name will be familiar to all Goethe-students as that of a rarely accomplished editor and critic. His residence is in the Schillerstrasse, next to that of Schiller’s ghost, but I found him in his official quarters in the library. There was something in his high brow, brown bright eyes, and masculine nose, which suggested a milder and livelier Goethe; nor was I disappointed. The days that followed revealed to me much of the same mixture of wisdom and humor, of receptive, combative, and sympathetic intellect, mellowed by warm social qualities, which characterize all the local traditions of the. great master’s intercourse with others.
Herr Schöll introduced me to the librarian, Dr. Köhler, a man in whom scholarly fame is exceptionally linked with great modesty. The two were about to take their daily walk through the park to the village of Ober-Weimar, nearly two miles distant. I asked permission to be the third. The mist was already less dank, the first touches of autumn on the park trees less melancholy; a few single saunterers or pairs were abroad in the paths, and some market-women, with empty baskets on their shoulders, descended the steps, passed the artificial grottoes at the base of the hill, and took their way across the first meadow towards Goethe’s gardenhouse. Below us, under the wooded bluff, lay the lonely pathway of shade beside the Ilm, which was Schiller’s favorite walk: the crest, which we followed, with its freer outlook between the gaps in the foliage, its larger spaces of light and air, was preferred by Goethe.
The whole park, in fact, was created by Goethe and Karl August. It was a successful effort to base landscape-gardening upon nature, at a time when all Germany was painfully imitating the formalism of Versailles. Count Rumford’s similar achievement at Munich was some years later. The grottoes and an artificial ruin are the only incongruous features in the plan, and they are now so hidden or modified by the action of vegetable growth that they scarcely interfere with the first impression of an exquisite natural valley, gradually melting into pasture-meadows and cultivated fields. There is nothing forced or studied in the grouping of the trees or the disposition of the shrubbery; the turf harbors all the tribes of wild-flowers in their turn, and the paths add the one touch of luxury, of subdued and civilized nature, which we should be willing to find in the most waste and desolate places. A soft, sweet air of repose hangs over the valley; people linger rather than hurry when they enter it; the town is not noisy enough to disturb the solitude; even the highway to Belvedere, which skirts one side of the park, is half concealed by its avenue of broad-armed trees, and what little human labor is visible upon the remoter hills becomes a picture, and no more.
Ober-Weimar, also, claims its share of the literary traditions. Schiller once took refuge there, to get on more rapidly with his work by escaping company, but was sorely disturbed by the festal noises of a rural wedding. When we bad taken seats in the dingy guest-room of a tavern, with cups of inspiring coffee before us, my new friend pointed to the stone bridge over the Ilm, and said: “The Duchess Anna Amalia took that for one of her artistic studies. ” Some days afterwards, I turned over a portfolio of her sketches, in the museum, and could easily imagine what sort, of a study she made of it. The mannered drawing of that day finds its climax in Oeser, who gave Goethe his first lessons. Its crispy, woolly foliage, wooden rocks, and blurred foregrounds, dotted here and there with bits of rigid detail, are verily astonishing to behold. Even Meyer, who was so often sound in theory, never freed himself, in practice, from the cramped, artificial restraints of the school.
Goethe’s own drawings are a curious illustration of a correct instinct struggling with a false system, which he had not technical skill enough to break through. His most rapid sketches are always his best. The outlines are free and bold; light and shade, in masses, are often well disposed; and if he had possessed a fine sense of color he might have developed, under other influences, into a tolerable artist. But when he comes to detail, he never releases himself from Oeser’s method, and all the freedom of his first outlines disappears in the process. I have seen his original drawing of the cloven tower of Heidelberg Castle, a crude but by no means a bad performance; then Oeser’s copy of it, changed, stiffened, hardly to be recognized as the same thing; and, finally, Goethe’s laborious copy of Oeser, emphasizing all the faults of the latter. The few drawings he made in Rome — especially a very clean and careful sketch of the Capitol, in India ink — give the best evidence of Goethe’s amateur talent.
We took the meadow-path back to the town, passing the classic garden-house, where the poet plucked his earliest violets and raised his asparagus for Frau von Stein; where he was sometimes obliged to borrow a plate of corned beef, when the duke and duchess came unexpectedly to tea; where he taught Christiane Vulpius something of the metamorphosis of plants; and where, later, Thackeray took coffee under the trees planted in those early days. I looked over the gate, and could well believe that the same larkspurs and pot-marigolds had been blossoming under the windows for a century past. But there were dead leaves on all the paths, and the steep hill-side immediately in the rear looked moldy with shade and moisture. It is an inviting spot, with its sheltered, sunny site; although hardly ten minutes’ walk from the town, its front looks only upon meadows, trees, and the dark, gliding, silent Ilm.
The rock-work on the opposite side of the stream is rather clumsily done. Goethe was so enthusiastic a geologist that he could hardly have had his own way in its arrangement; but he partly relieved the stiff masses by stone stairways, landings, and tablets with inscriptions. Beside one of the paths of shade which lead to the top of the bluff he placed a rude piece of sculpture, representing a serpent coiled around an altar and devouring an offering-cake laid upon it. The common people, unable to understand the symbol, soon invented a legend of their own to interpret it; the present generation of peasants firmly believes that a huge serpent infested the banks of the Ilm, in ancient times, and was poisoned by some unknown knight or saint. There is also a little bark hut, too new to be quite the same, in all its parts, which Karl August erected. Its very plainness seems to be suggestive of mystery to certain minds, and the stranger may carry away some singular statements and conjectures, unless he knows how to weigh his authority.
One of my first visits was to Preller, the Homeric painter, whose frescoes illustrating the Odyssey are such a superb adornment of the long corridor in the museum. Nearly as old as the century, having been developed under Goethe’s encouragement and Karl August’s generous patronage, he was to me, as Tegnèr says of Thorsten Vikingsson, “ a living legend.” I found him in his studio, with three young ladies working so zealously under his direction that only one of them looked up, — but she was just finishing an admirable crayon drawing of the Farnese Torso. Preller was painting a scene near Olevano, in the Sabine Mountains, with an Arcadian group in the foreground. I accepted an invitation to call at his house, and withdrew before he had time to lay down his brush.
The next evening I found that he had only changed his locality, not his surroundings. The ladies — one of them a great-granddaughter of Herder — had a portfolio of original drawings by famous German artists before them, and were enjoying these and Preller’s instructive comments at the same time. They made room for me at the table, opposite the painter’s strong head and full, gray beard; on one side there was a cast of Trippers bust of Goethe, the Apollo head, modeled in Rome in 1787. The original is in the Weimar library. It is one of those heads whose dignity and beauty are all the more striking because it just falls short of the exact Greek symmetry. Though suggesting a demigod, it is still a possible man. Take the finest known heads, — Antoninus Pius, the young Augustus, Napoleon, Byron, — and this of Goethe at thirty-eight will seem the noblest and completest.
No cast had been made from Trippel’s bust until about five years ago, when the sculptor Arnold was allowed to make a certain number of copies. I was fortunate enough to obtain one, and I now said to Preller: “ I see the same head of Goethe here, and in the same position, as in my own room at home; only, opposite, I have placed the Venus of Milo. He, as man, should stand beside her, as woman. ”
He got up from the sofa, without saying a word, came to where I was sitting, and seized me by the arm. hollowing the hint of his action, I rose; he turned me a little to one sitle, and pointed silently at a bust of the Venus of Milo, which I had not noticed on entering the room. “ There she is! ” he exclaimed, at last; “ I see her every day of my life, but I never pass her without saying to myself: ' My God, how beautiful she is!’”
This lucky coincidence of taste was more efficient than hours of talk in opening the old painter’s heart. I spent many other evenings in his genial family circle, until he grew accustomed to unlock the store-house of his memory and bring forth many an illustrative anecdote of the man and men whom I wished to know. The clear intellectual perception, which always belongs to an artist whose genius lies in the harmonies of form no less than those of color, gave a special point and value to his narrations. No feature in them was of trivial import; he saw the personages again as he described them; he heard their voices, and his own, as he repeated their words, became an unconscious imitation. It all biographical studies could be made in this way, how delightful would be the author’s task!
Preller set before me a much more distinct picture of Goethe’s son, August, than I had been able to obtain from any published sources. He seems to have inherited his mother’s cheerful and amiable temperament, together with its sad physical failing, and much of his father’s personal beauty, with hardly a tithe of his mental capacity. He was tall and finely - formed; a badly - painted head, still in existence, has the ruddy color, full lips, and large, soft eyes of a very sensuous nature; but Preller asserts that he was also intelligent, sympathetic, capable, and every way attractive when in his right mind. The former was in Rome when he arrived there, and related to me the circumstances attending his death. Inasmuch as a brief outline of the story has recently been published,1 I feel at liberty to repeat it, in the artist’s own words: —
“ Shortly after young Goethe reached Rome, Kestncr" (the Prussian Secretary of Legation, and son of the Charlotte whom Goethe made famous in Werther) “proposed a trip to Albano and Nemi, and invited me to join in it. During our donkey-ride to the lake, after leaving Albano, Goethe complained of being very ill. He could scarcely keep his seat in the saddle, but, between us, we got him as far as Frascati, where we waited three hours to let him rest, before returning in the carriage to Rome. He was in a raging fever when we arrived; I put him to bed, watched with him all night, and left, him a little better in the morning. The next night I asked Rudolf Meyer, of Dresden, to share the watch with me. I sat up until midnight, then went into the next room and stretched myself out on some chairs. It seemed but a moment helote Meyer came into the room and said to me: ‘ Goethe is evidently very ill.’ I rose instantly and went to him; but I had hardly entered the door when Goethe made one leap from the bed, rushed towards me, threw his arms around my neck, and strained me to his breast with such violence that I thought I should have died on the spot. As soon as I was able, I loosened his arms and pushed him softly backwards towards the bed. He sank down passively and his head dropped upon the pillow. I waited; he did not move a muscle. Then I saw that he did not breathe. Leaving Meyer, I ran to the house of the physician, who came at once, but found that death had instantly followed the paroxysm. Kestner was thunderstruck when he heard the news.
“ The dissection showed that his brain was healthy,—only a little spot betrayed small-pox, which had not come out. This was the cause of his death. I attended his funeral and helped carry the corpse, but felt all the while as if in a strange dream, hardly conscious of what I saw and heard. Somewhere on the way home my senses entirely left me, and for many days there was a blank in my life. When I came to myself, I was almost lifeless, and covered with pustules; it was many months before I recovered my usual strength.”
The day afterwards, it happened, my friend Schöll related to me how Otfried Müller died in his arms, at Athens. Singularly enough a Greek gentleman joined us in our walk to Ober-Weimar,—for this soon became also my “ custom of an afternoon,” — and we talked of the Hill of Colonos until bunches of asphodel seemed to dot the meadows of the Ilm. Another day, while I was waiting in one of the rooms of the library and idly poring over a map, a stranger who had entered suddenly pointed to the Himalayas of Nepaul, and said : “ There is where I am at home.” But it is not the ostentatious tourists who thus quietly converge to Weimar from all quarters of the world.
The School of Art, established by the present grand duke, was convulsed by a semi-revolution during the whole of my stay. The prime cause thereof appeared to be a conflict of authority between the director, Count Kalkreuth, himself an excellent landscape artist, and the Belgian painter, Verlat, who
enjoyed the favor of the court. There was one time during the crisis when the students sharply took sides, and an emigration. almost en masse, was threatened. I was able to follow the movement, from day to day, through the confidential communications of some of the young artists concerned in it, but the story is scarcely important enough to be retold. Behind it, in the distance, — perhaps not at all evident to the most of the actors, — loomed the conflict of artistic theories, of the sensuous and the imaginative elements, of technical skill and the expression of ideas. The same struggle is going on all over the world. It is France, in league with Chinese silks and Japanese screens, against the extreme which is best illustrated by Kaulbach’s attempt to represent the Reformation on a single cartoon. The midlying truth, as is always the case, is felt rather than consciously perceived by the honest, single-minded artists who work and leave the battle to others.
In the studio of Baron von GleichenRusswurm, however, I found a refuge from the passing storm. He kept for himself the serene atmosphere of art, while the trouble lasted; and his pictures, wherein a strong realistic truth was always steeped in the purest poetic sentiment, entirely satisfied both forms of the artistic sense. If I am not mistaken, he is the only child of his mother, Schiller’s daughter Emilie, who most resembled the poet. In him the personal resemblance is weakened, but the genius is inherited and embodied in a new activity. His choice and treatment of subjects constantly reminded me of McKntee, whom, nevertheless, he but slightly suggests in technical quality. Like McEntee, he feels the infinite sweetness and sadness of late autumn; of dim skies and lowering masses of cloud; of dead leaves, lonely woodland brooks, brown marshes, and gray hillsides. Moreover, each has the same intense personal faith in his art, the same devotion to it for its own sake, and the same disregard of the transient popular tastes to which some artists submit, and foolishly imagine that they have found fame. If the remembrance of my friend at home so frequently was present while I sat watching Schiller’s grandson paint in Weimar, and beguiled me into a freedom hardly justified by so brief an acquaintance, it was delightful to find that the response came as frankly and heartily as if he had indeed been the older friend.
There are fewer traditions of Schiller in Weimar than of Goethe, for Schiller’s ill health during the five years of his residence there obliged him to limit the circle of his familiar associates. Like Goethe, his ordinary manner towards strangers was cold, reserved, and seemingly proud—because a finer nature instinctively guards itself against a possible intrusion; but this characteristic was never remembered against him and evermore spitefully repeated, as in the case of his great friend. In Eckermann’s Conversations, Goethe is reported as having called Schiller “ an aristocratic nature,” which he certainly was; but Goethe was only more democratic through the wider range of his intellectual interests. It is remarkable what strong harmonies held the two together, and what equally strong antagonisms were powerless to drive them apart.
I had a special interest in ascertaining the physical characteristics of both. One would suppose this to be an easy matter, but it was by no means so. In regard to height, weight, complexion, color of hair and eyes, there were a variety of memories: even those who had known the poets living seemed to color their knowledge by some reflected popular impression. Rietschel’s group, in the square before the theatre, is a direct violation of the truth. The two figures are colossal, being nine feet high; and Schiller, who is standing erect, with his head thrown back, as he never carried it during the last years of his life, is about two inches taller than Goethe. Now, Goethe’s stature was certainly not more than five feet ten inches, and probably a little less; his very erect carriage and wonderfully imposing presence made him seem taller. Schiller, on the contrary, was said to be the tallest man in the Grand Duchy, during his life ; his height was six feet three inches. But his gait was loose and awkward; he generally walked with stooped shoulders and bent head, and only his keen, intense, aspiring face, his broad brow, and large, gentle eyes, of a color varying between blue, gray, and pale-brown, made him personally majestic and impressive.
Goethe had dark-brown hair and eyes, the latter large and almost preternaturally luminous. His complexion, also, was more olive than fair; the nose nearly Roman, but with a Greek breadth at the base, and sensitive, dilating nostrils; the mouth and chin on the sculptor’s line, ample, but so entirely beautiful that they seemed smaller than their actual proportions. His face was always more or less tanned; he rarely lost the brand of the sun. In his later years it became ruddy, and a slight increase of fullness effaced many of the wrinkles of age. Stieler’s portrait (now in the Goethe mansion) painted when the poet was eighty, expresses an astonishing vital power. Preller once said to me: “ There never was such life in so old a man! If a cannon-ball had suddenly grazed my head, I could not have been more startled than when I heard of his death. I felt sure that he would live to be a hundred and fifty years old! ”
If Goethe illustrates as scarcely any other poet (yet we imagine both Homer and Shakespeare to have possessed the same) the perfect accord of intellectual and physical forces, Schiller is equally remarkable as an example of a mind triumphing over incessant bodily weaknesses and torments. During fourteen years he never knew a day of complete, unshaken health. He was fair and freckled, with so delicate a skin that the slightest excitement of his blood blushed through it. His thin, aggravated, aquiline nose was so conspicuous that he often laughingly referred to it as the triumphant result of constant pinching and pulling during his school days. His chin was almost equally prominent, giving him what his sister Christophine called a “ defiant and spiteful under lip.” His shock of hair, not parting into half-curls like Goethe’s, but straight and long, was of a yellowbrown hue, “shimmering into red,” as Caroline von Wolzogen poetically says. The picture of him touches our sympathies, as his bust or statue always does,—perhaps because he represents suffering and struggle so palpably. Beside him, Goethe seems to stand crowned by effortless achievement. But what a pair they are! Rietschel’s great success in his statues lies in his subtle expression of their noble friendship. Goethe’s hand on Schiller’s shoulder, and the one laurel wreath which the hands of both touch in such wise that you cannot be sure which gives or which takes, symbolize a reality far too rare in the annals of literature.
The theatre is built upon the ashes of the old one, which was burned down about the year 1825. It is small, but charmingly bright, agreeable, and convenient. Here, as in other small German capitals, families take their tickets for the season, ladies go alone when they have no company, and good manners on the part of the public are as certain as in any private society. In fact the tenor and soprano, or the tragic hero and heroine, are quite likely to be a part of the society of the place. They are government servants, appointed by the ruler, rewarded by frequent leavesof-absence when faithful, and pensioned when old or invalided. The organization of the theatre as an institution of the state has its disadvantages, and such as, in our country, would perhaps be insufferable; but it certainly elevates dramatic art, purifies it, and establishes it in its true place among the agents of civilization.
A few days after my arrival in Weimar, Schiller’s Wallenstein — the entire trilogy — was given. Knowing that the theatre was still faithful to its old traditions, and perhaps a little more Strictly so under the Intendancy of Baron von Loën, I went there at an early hour, expecting to get my former place in the front of the parquet, among a company of most intelligent ladies, every one of whom came unattended. But I found only a single seat vacant, in one of the rear boxes: the building was crammed, to the very summit of the gallery. And there was hardly a person present but had seen the play a score of times!
I never saw anything else so perfectly put upon the stage as Wallenstein’s Camp, the first part of the trilogy. A dialogue in verse, though never so picturesque and animated, with the merest thread of action, I had fancied, might be endured upon boards which had witnessed the Antigone of Sophocles revived, but must be sufficiently tedious to one accustomed to the hectic melodrama of our day. But a broad, evershifting background of by-play, upon which I had not reckoned, was here created. Just as the two poets had planned the representation of the piece, so it was given now. While Illo, Tertzky, Holker’s Jäger, or Butler’s Dragoons were speaking, there was all the bustle of a great camp of motley mercenaries behind them. The soldiers played dice, the vivandière was busy with her canteen, officers stalked past, guards presented arms, trumpets were blown in the distance, and the situation discussed by the speakers was made real in the costumes and actions of the groups which constantly formed and dissolved. Goethe despotically insisted on the smallest part being as carefully played as the greatest: an actor who surrounded himself with inferior players, to create a more conspicuous foil to his own performance, was never tolerated upon the Weimar stage. I suspect that bad playing in the most indifferent rôle would not be tolerated there now.
The fierce and stirring soldiers’ song at the close roused the audience as if they now heard it for the first time. Every actor sang his appropriate stanza, and the orchestra grandly supported them. Then the curtain rose upon The Piccolomini, with its crowd of martial characters. Their performance was unequal, but they were at least very clearly and carefully individualized. I was so deeply interested in hearing iambic blank verse correctly read, for the first time in my life, that I paid but slight attention to the representation of character. I had listened so long and vainly in other theatres that I had ceased to expect what I now heard; but surprise was soon lost in a delight which was renewed with every speaker. Herein they were all satisfactory.
This, also, we owe to Goethe. His programme of instructions to the players under his authority is less concise than .Hamlet’s, but it is equally clear and much more minute and practical. I have seen few actors on the English boards who could not yet learn something from it. His direction for the reading of blank verse is the single correct method: he insists that the measured lines shall be made recognizable to the hearer, not by a mechanical cadence, which would soon become intolerable, but by delicate inflections and rests, not so marked as the pauses of punctuation, but just enough to prevent the verse from lapsing into prose.
Our English actors and elocutionists, on the contrary, are not satisfied unless they make blank verse entirely prosaic in its pauses. They read, not by the metrical feet, but wholly by the punctuation; and many of them, where tlie phrase overruns the line, actually hasten the movement in order to avoid even the suspicion of a pause. Take, as an instance, Bryant’s Thanatopsis, and we shall at once see how they read the opening lines: —
She speaks a various language.
For his gayer hours she has a voice of gladness,
And she glides into his darker musings with a mild
and gentle sympathy,
That steals away their sharpness ere he is aware.”
How utterly the grave, majestic march of the original is lost, through this false method of reading! To the ear, the measured lines no longer exist, and the metrical spirit which informs them, endeavoring to assert itself in spite of the reader’s will, prevents the movement from being wholly that of prose. There are passages in Shakespeare so inherently rhythmical that the actor cannot escape giving them a partial music, and just these passages delight the hearer, though he may never have scanned a line in his life.
In listening to The Piecolomini, I followed the lines at first, but rather as an experiment, to be quite sure that they were distinctly indicated. Soon, however, I forgot to do it, yet still continued to hear them. That is, without the least approach to monotonous sing-song, — with as great a variety of pauses and cadences as in prose, only far more delicately adjusted, —the rhythmical character of the language constantly asserted itself. The passionate and poetical scenes of the play gained immeasurably thereby; for passion, in real life, is seldom without a rude, broken rhythm of its own. The pause at the end of a line could hardly be called a pause; it was the lightest lingering of tone, and the observance of it gave a certain dignity to characters which might have seemed vulgar, could they have hurled out rapid, unmeasured sentences, as upon our stage.
I was fortunate in chancing upon an unusually mild and benignant October. After the first dull days, a long period of mellow sunshine descended upon the outer world, while the social life of Weimar, with its fine and ripe culture, gradually opened to the stranger. The statues lost their look of loneliness and became the familiar, protecting Lares of the place: many a crooked old alley gave me glimpses of private gardennooks where the roses still budded in the sun; houses, unnoticeable at first, came to be inhabited by interesting phantoms or breathing, welcome acquaintances; and — best of all — the interest which chiefly drew me to Weimar was not dead or indifferent to its inhabitants.
One sunny afternoon the two scholars gave up their usual walk and rode with me to the Ettersburg, the grand-ducal country-seat, of which we hear so much during the days of Anna Amalia. The Ettersburg, both from the Weimar and the Erfurt sides, is such an unpromising blank of field and straight-edged forest, that I could not well imagine how it could hide such a seat of summer “ pleasaunce ” as the Burg must have been. The greater part of the road thither, a distance of some four or five miles, shows but the tamest scenery. The woodland along the summit of the ridge, planted in a poor, sandy soil, contains few stately trees, and when it falls away northward, on the farther side, the first glimpse of the tawny Saxon lowlands is not at all cheering.
The Ettersburg, however, proved to be indented by a deep, winding valley, upon the sheltered sides of which there grew majestic groves, interrupted by the vivid green of meadows. We passed a forester’s lodge, which the present grand duke copied from an English model: it was undeniably handsomer than the old German cottage, yet seemed a little out of place. In the little village straggling along the opposite slope, his Royal Highness has also endeavored to give a more cheerful aspect to the dwellings, by inserting bow-windows in their fronts, at his own expense. About one fourth of the householders, I noticed, had accepted the change, and their windows were already bright with geraniums, pinks, and rosemary.
The castle stands on a terrace, partly cut out of the hill-side. Shelves of garden descend to the meadow, and noble woods of maple, oak, and beech rise beyond. The ornamental grounds are very simply laid out, and soon lose themselves among the natural features of the landscape. The old ducal residence, a square structure, with no architectural character, stands in front of a small quadrangle containing guests’ and servants’ rooms, armory, theatre, and other apartments. The custodian pointed out the room which Schiller inhabited when he came hither to write the last act of Marie Stuart, and then admitted us into the chief building. Except the pretty portraits of Karl August and his brother, Prince Constantine, as small boys, and a few tolerable pictures, the rooms contain little of interest. Princey furniture, nowadays, has lost its particular pomp; anybody may have a Japanese cabinet or a Persian rug which was a rarity in the last century.
The Duchess Anna Amalia is the special ghost who haunts the Ettersburg. In a portrait of her from life, hanging in one of the chambers, I first clearly saw her likeness to her uncle, Frederick the Great. The eyes, of which the old Court-Marshal von Spiegel used to say that few persons could endure their full, level glance without an uneasy sensation that their secret souls were being inspected, are strikingly' similar to his, — large, clear, gray, and questioning in their expression. Many of the early pranks of Goethe were played here, with the duchess’s encouragement; though I believe it was Tieffurt where she sometimes rode out with her friends in a haywagon, and where she once put on Wieland’s coat when it rained. It is a little unjust that Goethe alone should bear the blame of what was then considered “ nature” by one party, and scandalous lawlessness by another. There were few courts at that day where dissipation took so innocent a form.
We strayed into the woods and found the trunk of an old beech-tree, whereupon the members of the illustrious Ettersburg company long ago carved their names. So many of the unknown and foolish crowd have followed them that most of the original runes have disappeared in a labyrinthine pattern of scars. Bertucli’s was the only name of which we could be at all certain. The bark is now protected by a wire netting, which worries the vandals without entirely keeping them off. I believe it was under this tree that Goethe kindled his funeral pyre of sentimental works, his own Werther among them, and pronounced an oration, the mere rumor of which provoked fiercer fires among his sensitive contemporaries. It was years before Jacobi could forgive the burning of his Woldemar, a book which is now read only by curious scholars.
Tieffurt, which is farther down the Ilm, a little more than two miles from Weimar, is almost as lonely a residence as the Ettersburg, but lies more cozily nestled in the river-vale. The dramatic entertainments, partly extemporized, winch were here acted in the open air, the river, its banks, trees, bushes, arbors, and a few painted castles or cottages representing stage and scenery, were diversions of the most charming character. They are features of an ideal literary life, which existed here for a brief while, but never elsewhere than here. It is a real loss that our accounts of them are so slight and so devoid of detail. Tradition keeps knowledge of the spot where the spectators sat, where the players appeared, where the lamps or torches were placed; but the performances themselves belong to the earliest years of the famous period, and there is no one living who remembers even having heard more of them than has already been written.
All the roads branching out of the little capital, in fact, have their associations, more or less remote. These may not come swiftly upon the visitor, for a multitude of them hide only in the privacy of individual knowledge. Through acquaintance with the society of the place, they arrive like pleasant accidents; some new fragment drops into every intimate conversation upon the old themes, and little by little a purple atmosphere of memories settles down over the hills which once seemed so bare. No; there had been nothing of that decadence which includes reaction; the finer culture which once made Weimar so illustrious pervades its present life. There is more than a conventional reverence for the great departed. Their instinct of development, their tastes, their reachings towards eternal Truth and eternal Beauty, have been transmitted to the descendants of those among whom and with whom they wrought. If achievement has ceased, the recognition which stimulates it remains. We can ask no more than this: would that we found it in greater cities.
- By Dr. Eitner, in a note attached to his translation of a part of Henry Crabb Robinson’s journals.↩