Home  »  Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  »  Chapter II

J.W. von Goethe (1749–1832). Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Book V

Chapter II

“IT was therefore, and it always must be, right for every one, on any opportunity, to follow his vocation and exhibit his activity. Scarcely had the good old man been gone a quarter of an hour, when everything in the house began moving by a different plan than his. Friends, acquaintances, relations, crowded forward; especially all sorts of people who on such occasions use to gain anything. They fetched and carried, they counted, wrote and reckoned; some brought wine and meat, others ate and drank; and none seemed busier than the women getting out the mournings.

“Such being the case, thou wilt not blame me that, in this emergency, I likewise thought of my advantage. I made myself as active, and as helpful to thy sister, as I could; and so soon as it was any way decorous, signified to her that it had now become our business to accelerate a union, which our parents in their too great circumspection had hitherto postponed.

“Do not suppose, however, that it came into our heads to take possession of that monstrous empty house. We are more modest, and more rational. Thou shalt hear our plan: thy sister, so soon as we are married, comes to our house; and thy mother comes along with her. ‘How can that be?’ thou wilt say; ‘you have scarcely room for yourselves in that hampered nest.’ There lies the art of it, my friend! Good packing renders all things possible; thou wouldst not believe what space one finds, when one desires to occupy little. The large house we shall sell; an opportunity occurs for this; and the money we shall draw for it will produce a hundred-fold.

“I hope this meets thy views: I hope also thou hast not inherited the smallest particle of those unprofitable tastes for which thy father and thy grandfather were noted. The latter placed his greatest happiness in having about him a multitude of dull-looking works of art, which no one, I may well say no one, could enjoy with him; the former lived in a stately pomp, which he suffered no one to enjoy with him. We mean to manage otherwise, and we expect thy approbation.

“It is true, I myself in all the house have no place whatever but the stool before my writing-desk; and I see not clearly where they will be able to put a cradle down: but in return, the room we shall have out of doors will be the more abundant. Coffee-houses and clubs for the husband; walks and drives for the wife: and pleasant country jaunts for both. But the chief advantage in our plan is, that the round table being now completely filled, our father cannot ask his friends to dinner, who the more he strove to entertain them, used to laugh at him the more.

“Now, no superfluity for us! Not too much furniture and apparatus; no coach, no horses! Nothing but money; and the liberty, day after day, to do what you like in reason. No wardrobes; still the best and newest on your back: the man may wear his coat till it is done; the wife may truck her gown the moment it is going out of fashion. There is nothing so unsufferable to me as an old huckster’s shop of property. If you would offer me a jewel, on condition of my wearing it daily on my finger, I would not accept it; for how can one conceive any pleasure in a dead capital? This then is my confession of faith: To transact your business, to make money, to be merry with your household; and about the rest of the earth to trouble yourself no farther than where you can be of service to it.

“But ere now thou art saying: ‘And pray what is to be done with me in this sage plan of yours? Where shall I find shelter, when you have sold my own house, and not the smallest room remains in yours?’

“This is in truth the main point, brother; and in this too I shall have it in my power to serve thee. But first I must present the just tribute of my praise for time so spent as thine has been.

“Tell me, how hast thou within a few weeks become so skilled in every useful, interesting object? Highly as I thought of thy powers, I did not reckon such attention and such diligence among the number. Thy journal shows us with what profit thou art travelling. The description of the iron and the copper forges is exquisite; it evinces a complete knowledge of the subject. I myself was once there; but my relation, compared with this, has but a very bungled look. The whole letter on the linen-trade is full of information; the remarks on commercial competition are at once just and striking. In one or two places there are errors in addition, which indeed are very pardonable.

“But what most delights my father and myself is thy thorough knowledge of husbandry, and the improvement of landed property. We have thoughts of purchasing a large estate, at present under sequestration, in a very fruitful district. For paying it, we mean to use the money realised by the sale of the house; another portion we shall borrow; a portion may remain unpaid. And we count on thee for going thither, and superintending the improvement of it; by which means, before many years are passed, the land, to speak in moderation, will have risen above a third in value. We shall then bring it to the market again; seek out a larger piece; improve and trade as formerly. For all this, thou art the man. Our pens, meanwhile, will not lie idle here; and so by and by we shall rise to be enviable people.

“For the present, fare thee well! Enjoy life on thy journey, and turn thy face wherever thou canst find contentment and advantage. For the next half year we shall not need thee; thou canst look about thee in the world as thou pleasest; a judicious person finds his best instruction in his travels. Farewell! I rejoice at being connected with thee so closely by relation, and now united with thee in the spirit of activity.”

Well as this letter might be penned, and full of economical truths as it was, Wilhelm felt displeased with it for more than one reason. The praise bestowed on him for his pretended statistical, technological and rural knowledge, was a silent reprimand. The ideal of the happiness of civic life, which his worthy brother sketched, by no means charmed him; on the contrary, a secret spirit of contradiction dragged him forcibly the other way. He convinced himself that, except on the stage, he could nowhere find that mental culture which he longed to give himself: he seemed to grow the more decided in his resolution, the more strongly Werner, without knowing it, opposed him. Thus assailed, he collected all his arguments together, and buttressed his opinions in his mind the more carefully, the more desirable he reckoned it to show them in a favourable light to Werner; and in this manner he produced an answer, which also we insert.