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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Hermann and Dorothea.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.



THUS did the modest son slip away from the angry upbraiding;

But in the tone he had taken at first, the father continued:

“That comes not out of a man which he has not in him; and hardly

Shall the joy ever be mine of seeing my dearest wish granted:

That my son may not as his father be, but a better.

What would become of the house, and what of the city if each one

Were not with pleasure and always intent on maintaining, renewing,

Yea, and improving, too, as time and the foreigner teach us!

Man is not meant, forsooth, to grow from the ground like a mushroom,

Quickly to perish away on the spot of ground that begot him,

Leaving to trace behind of himself and his animate action!

As by the house we straightway can tell the mind of the master,

So, when we walk through a city, we judge of the persons who rule it.

For where the towers and walls are falling to ruin; where offal

Lies in heaps in the gutters, and alleys with offal are littered;

Where from its place has started the stone, and no one resets it;

Where the timbers are rotting away, and the house is awaiting

Vainly its new supports,—that place we may know is ill governed.

Since if not from above work order and cleanliness downward,

Easily grows the citizen used to untidy postponement;

Just as the beggar grows likewise used to his ragged apparel.

Therefore I wished that our Hermann might early set out on some travels;

That he at least might behold the cities of Strasburg and Frankfort,

Friendly Mannheim, too, that is cheerful and evenly builded.

He that has once beheld cities so cleanly and large, never after

Ceases his own native city, though small it may be, to embellish.

Do not the strangers who come here commend the repairs in our gateway,

Notice our whitewashed tower, and the church we have newly rebuilded?

Are not all praising our pavement? the covered canals full of water,

Laid with a wise distribution, which furnish us profit and safety,

So that no sooner does fire break out than ’tis promptly arrested?

Has not all this come to pass since the time of our great conflagration?

Builder I six times was named by the council, and won the approval,

Won moreover the heartfelt thanks of all the good burghers,

Actively carrying out what I planned, and also fulfilling

What had by upright men been designed, and left uncompleted.

Finally grew the same zeal in every one of the council;

All now labor together, and firmly decided already

Stands it to build the new causeway that shall with the highroad connect us.

But I am sorely afraid that will not be the way with our children.

Some think only of pleasure and perishable apparel;

Others will cower at home, and behind the stove will sit brooding.

One of this kind, as I fear, we shall find to the last in our Hermann.”

Straightway answered and said the good and intelligent mother.

“Why wilt thou always, father, be doing our son such injustice?

That least of all is the way to bring thy wish to fulfilment.

We have no power to fashion our children as suiteth our fancy;

As they are given by God, we so must have them and love them;

Teach them as best we can, and let each of them follow his nature.

One will have talents of one sort, and different talents another.

Every one uses his own; in his own individual fashion,

Each must be happy and good. I will not have my Hermann found fault with;

For he is worthy, I know, of the goods he shall one day inherit;

Will be an excellent landlord, a pattern to burghers and builders;

Neither in council, as I can foresee, will he be the most backward.

But thou keepest shut up in his breast all the poor fellow’s spirit,

Finding such fault with him daily, and censuring as thou but now hast.”

And on the instant she quitted the room, and after him hurried,

Hoping she somewhere might find him, and might with her words of affection

Cheer him again, her excellent son, for well he deserved it.

Thereupon when she was gone, the father thus smiling continued:

“What a strange folk, to be sure, are these women; and just like the children;

Both of them bent upon living according as suiteth their pleasure,

While we others must never do aught but flatter and praise them.

Once for all time holds good the ancients’ trustworthy proverb:

‘Whoever goes not forward comes backward.’ So must it be always.”

Thereupon answered and said, in a tone of reflection, the doctor:

“That, sir neighbor, I willingly grant; for myself I am always

Casting about for improvement,—things new, so they be not too costly.

But what profits a man, who has not abundance of money,

Being thus active and stirring, and bettering inside and outside?

Only too much is the citizen cramped: the good, though he know it,

Has he no means to acquire because too slender his purse is,

While his needs are too great; and thus is he constantly hampered.

Many the things I had done; but then the cost of such changes

Who does not fear, especially now in this season of danger?

Long since my house was smiling upon me in modish apparel!

Long since great panes of glass were gleaming in all of the windows!

But who can do as the merchant does, who, with his resources,

Knows the methods as well by which the best is arrived at?

Look at that house over yonder,—the new one; behold with what splendor

’Gainst the background of green stand out the white spirals of stucco!

Great are the panes in the windows; and how the glass sparkles and glitters,

Casting quite into the shade the rest of the market-place houses!

Yet just after the fire were our two houses the finest,

This of the Golden Lion, and mine of the sign of the Angel.

So was my garden, too, throughout the whole neighborhood famous:

Every traveller stopped and gazed through the red palisadoes,

Caught by the beggars there carved in stone and the dwarfs of bright colors.

Then whosoever had coffee served in the beautiful grotto,—

Standing there now all covered with dust and partly in ruins,—

Used to be mightily pleased with the glimmering light of the mussels

Spread out in beautiful order; and even the eye of the critic

Used by the sight of my corals and potter’s ore to be dazzled.

So in my parlor, too, they would always admire the painting.

Where in a garden are gaily dressed ladies and gentlemen walking,

And with their taper fingers are plucking and holding the flowers.

But who would look at it now! In sooth, so great my vexation

Scarcely I venture abroad. All now must be other and tasteful,

So they call it; and white are the laths and benches of wood-work;

Everything simple and smooth; no carving longer or gilding

Can be endured, and the woods from abroad are of all the most costly.

Well, I too should be glad could I get for myself something novel;

Glad to keep up with the times, and be changing my furniture often;

Yet must we all be afraid of touching the veriest trifle.

For who among us has means for paying the work-people’s wages?

Lately I had an idea of giving the Archangel Michael,

Making the sign of my shop, another fresh coating of gilding,

And to the terrible dragon abut his feet that is winding;

But I een let him stay browned as he is: I dreaded the charges.”