Home  »  Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  »  Chapter IV

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

Book III

Chapter IV

THE DISORDERS and mischievous tricks of some frolick-some companions still farther augmented the disquietudes and distresses of the night: these gay people woke each other, each played a thousand giddy pranks to plague his fellow. The next morning dawned amid loud complaints against their friend the Baron, for having so deceived them, for having given so very false a notion of the order and comfort that awaited their arrival. However, to their great surprise and consolation, at an early hour, the Count himself, attended by a few servants, made his entrance, and inquired about their circumstances. He appeared much vexed on discovering how badly they had fared, and the Baron, who came limping along, supported on the arm of a servant, bitterly accused the Steward for neglecting his commands on this occasion; showing great anxiety to have that person punished for his disobedience.

The Count gave immediate orders that everything should be arranged, in his presence, to the utmost possible convenience of the guests. While this was going on, some officers arrived, who forthwith scraped acquaintance with the actresses. The Count assembled all the company before him, spoke to each by name, introduced a few jokes among his observations; so that every one was charmed at the gracious condescension of his Lordship. At last it came to Wilhelm’s turn; he appeared with Mignon holding by his hand. Our friend excused himself, in the best terms he could, for the freedom he had taken; the Count, on the other hand, spoke as if the visit had been looked for.

A gentleman, who stood beside the Count, and who, although he wore no uniform, appeared to be an officer, conversed with Wilhelm; he was evidently not a common man. His large keen blue eyes, looking out from beneath a high brow; his light-coloured hair, thrown carelessly back; his middle stature; everything about him showed an active, firm and decisive mode of being. His questions were lively; he seemed to be at home in all that he inquired about.

Wilhelm asked the Baron what this person was; but found that he had little good to say of him. “He held the rank of Major, was the special favourite of the Prince, managed his most secret affairs, was, in short, regarded as his right arm. Nay, there was reason to believe him the Prince’s natural son. He had been on embassies in France, England, Italy; in all those places he had greatly distinguished himself; by which means he was grown conceited, imagining, among other pretensions, that he thoroughly understood the literature of Germany, and allowing himself to vent all kinds of sorry jests upon it. He, the Baron, was in the habit of avoiding all intercourse with him; and Wilhelm would do well to imitate that conduct, for it somehow happened that no one could be near him without being punished for it. He was called Jarno; though nobody knew rightly what to make of such a name.”

Wilhelm had nothing to urge against all this: he had felt a sort of inclination for the stranger, though he noticed in him something cold and repulsive.

The company being arranged and distributed throughout the Castle, Melina issued the strictest orders, that they should behave themselves with decency; the women live in a separate quarter; and each direct his whole attention to the study of dramatic art, and of the characters he had to play. He posted up written ordinances, consisting of many articles, upon all the doors. He settled the amount of fine, which should be levied upon each transgressor, and put into a common box.

This edict was but little heeded. Young officers went out and in; they jested not in the most modest fashion with the actresses; made game of the actors; and annihilated the whole system of police, before it had the smallest time to take root in the community. The people ran chasing one another through the rooms, they changed clothes, they disguised themselves. Melina, attempting to be rigorous with a few at first, was exasperated by every sort of insolence; and when the Count soon after sent for him to come and view the place where his theatre was to be erected, matters grew worse and worse. The young gentry devised a thousand broad jokes; by the help of some actors, they became yet coarser; it seemed as if the old Castle had been altogether given up to an infuriate host; and the racket did not end till dinner.

Meanwhile the Count had led Melina over to a large hall, which, though belonging to the old Castle, communicated by a gallery with the new one: it seemed very well adapted for being changed into a little theatre. Here the sagacious lord of the mansion pointed out in person how he wanted everything to be.

The labour now commenced in the greatest haste; the stage-apparatus was erected and furbished up; what decorations they had brought along with them and could employ, were set in order; and what was wanting, was prepared by some skilful workmen of the Count’s. Wilhelm likewise put his hand to the business; he assisted in settling the perspective, in laying off the outlines of the scenery; he was very anxious that nothing should be executed clumsily. The Count, who frequently came in to inspect their progress, was highly satisfied; he showed particularly how they should proceed in every case, displaying an uncommon knowledge of all the arts they were concerned with.

Next began the business of rehearsing, in good earnest, and there would have been enough of space and leisure for this undertaking, had the actors not continually been interrupted by the presence of visitors. Some new guests were daily arriving, and each insisted on viewing the operations of the company.