Home  »  Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  »  Chapter V

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

Book III

Chapter V

THE BARON had, for several days, been cheering Wilhelm with the hope of being formally presented to the Countess. “I have told this excellent lady,” said he, “so much about the talent and fine sentiment displayed in your compositions, that she feels quite impatient to see you, and hear one or two of them read. Be prepared, therefore, to come over at a moment’s notice; for, the first morning she is at leisure, you will certainly be called on.” He then pointed out to him the afterpiece it would be proper to produce on that occasion; adding, that doubtless it would recommend him to no usual degree of favour. The lady, he declared, was extremely sorry that a guest like him had happened to arrive at a time of such confusion, when they could not entertain him in a style more suitable to his merits and their own wishes.

In consequence of this information, Wilhelm, with the most sedulous attention, set about preparing the piece, which was to usher him into the great world. “Hitherto,” said he, “thou hast laboured in silence for thyself; applauded only by a small circle of friends. Thou hast for a time despaired of thy abilities, and art yet full of anxious doubts whether even thy present path is the right one, and whether thy talent for the stage at all corresponds with thy inclination for it. In the hearing of such practised judges, in the closet where no illusion can take place, the attempt is far more hazardous than elsewhere; and yet I would not willingly recoil from the experiment; I could wish to add this pleasure to my former enjoyments, and if it might be, to give extension and stability to my hopes from the future.”

He accordingly went through some pieces; read them with the keenest critical eye; made corrections here and there; recited them aloud, that he might be perfect in his tones and expression: and finally selected the work, which he was best acquainted with, and hoped to gain most honour by. He put it in his pocket, one morning, on being summoned to attend the Countess.

The Baron had assured him that there would be no one present, but the lady herself and a worthy female friend of hers. On entering the chamber, the Baroness von C—— advanced with great friendliness to meet him; expressed her happiness at making his acquaintance; and introduced him to the Countess, who was then under the hands of her hairdresser. The Countess received him with kind words and looks; but it vexed him to see Philina kneeling at her chair, and playing a thousand fooleries. “The poor child,” said the Baroness, “has just been singing to us. Finish the song you were in the midst of; we should not like to lose it.”

Wilhelm listened to her quavering with great patience, being anxious for the friseur’s departure before he should begin to read. They offered him a cup of chocolate, the Baroness herself handing him the biscuit. Yet, in spite of these civilities, he relished not his breakfast; he was longing too eagerly to lay before the lovely Countess some performance t hat might interest and gratify her. Philina too stood somewhat in his way; on former occasions, while listening to him, she had more than once been troublesome. He looked at the friseur with a painful feeling, hoping every moment that the tower of curls would be complete.

Meanwhile the Count came in, and began to talk of the fresh visitors he was expecting, of the day’s occupations or amusements, and of various domestic matters that were started. On his retiring, some officers sent to ask permission of the Countess to pay their respects to her, as they had to leave the Castle before dinner. The footman having come to his post at the door, she permitted him to usher in the gentlemen.

The Baroness amid these interruptions gave herself some pains to entertain our friend, and showed him much consideration; all which he accepted with becoming reverence, though not without a little absence of mind. He often felt for the manuscript in his pocket; and hoped for his deliverance every instant. He was almost losing patience, when a man-milliner was introduced, and immediately began without mercy to open his papers, bags and bandboxes; pressing all his various wares upon the ladies, with an importunity peculiar to that species of creature.

The company increased. The Baroness cast a look at Wilhelm, and then whispered with the Countess: he noticed this, but did not understand the purpose of it. The whole, however, became clear enough, when, after an hour of painful and fruitless endurance, he went away. He then found a beautiful pocket-book, of English manufacture, in his pocket. The Baroness had dextrously put it there without his notice; and soon afterwards the Countess’s little Black came out, and handed him an elegantly flowered waistcoat, without very clearly saying whence it came.