Home  »  Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  »  Chapter X

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

Book V

Chapter X

THE MAIN rehearsal was at length concluded; it had lasted very long. Serlo and Wilhelm still found much to care for: notwithstanding all the time which had already been consumed in preparation, some highly necessary matters had been left to the very last moment.

Thus, the pictures of the kings, for instance, were not ready; and the scene between Hamlet and his Mother, from which so powerful an effect was looked for, had a very helpless aspect, as the business stood; for neither Ghost nor painted image of him was at present forthcoming. Serlo made a jest of this perplexity: “We should be in a pretty scrape,” said he, “if the Ghost were to decline appearing, and the guard had nothing to fight with but the air, and our prompter were obliged to speak the spirit’s part from the side-scenes.”

“We will not scare away our strange friend by unbelief,” said Wilhelm: “doubtless at the proper season he will come, and astonish us as much as the spectators.”

“Well, certainly,” said Serlo, “I shall be a happy man tomorrow night, when once this piece is fairly acted. It costs us more arrangement than I dreamed of.”

“But none of you,” exclaimed Philina, “will be happier than I, little as my part disturbs me. Really, to hear a single subject talked of forever and forever, when after all there is nothing to come of it, beyond an exhibition which will be forgotten like so many hundred others, this is what I have not patience for. In Heaven’s name, not so many pros and cons! The guests you entertain have always something to object against the dinner; nay, if you could hear them talk of it at home, they cannot understand how it was possible to undergo so sad a business.”

“Let me turn your illustration, pretty one, to my own advantage,” answered Wilhelm. “Consider how much must be done by art and nature, by traffickers and tradesmen, before an entertainment can be given. How many years the stag must wander in the forest, the fish in the river or the sea, before they can deserve to grace our table! And what cares and consultations with her cooks and servants has the lady of the house submitted to! Observe with what indifference the people swallow the production of the distant vintager, the seaman and the vintner, as if it were a thing of course. And ought these men to cease from labouring, providing and preparing; ought the master of the house to cease from purchasing and laying up the fruit of their exertions, because at last the enjoyment if affords is transitory? But no enjoyment can be transitory; the impression which it leaves is permanent; and what is done with diligence and effort communicates to the spectator a hidden force, of which we cannot say how far its influence may reach.”

“’Tis all one to me,” replied Philina; “only here again I must observe that you men are constantly at variance with yourselves. With all this conscientious horror at curtailing Shakspeare, you have missed the finest thought there was in Hamlet!”

“The finest?” cried our friend.

“Certainly the finest,” said Philina; “the Prince himself takes pleasure in it.”

“And it is?” inquired Serlo.

“If you wore a wig,” replied Philina, “I would pluck it very coolly off you; for I think you need to have your understanding opened.”

The rest began to think what she could mean; the conversation paused. The party arose; it was now grown late; they seemed about to separate. While they were standing, in this undetermined mood, Philina all at once struck-up a song, with a very graceful, pleasing tune:

  • Sing me not with such emotion
  • How the night so lonesome is;
  • Pretty maids, I’ve got a notion
  • It is the reverse of this.
  • For as wife and man are plighted,
  • And the better half the wife;
  • So is night to day united,
  • Night’s the better half of life.
  • Can you joy in bustling daytime,
  • Day when none can get his will?
  • It is good for work, for haytime,
  • For much other it is ill.
  • But when, in the nightly glooming,
  • Social lamp on table glows,
  • Face for faces dear illuming,
  • And such jest and joyance goes;
  • When the fiery pert young fellow,
  • Wont by day to run or ride,
  • Whispering now some tale would tell O,
  • All so gentle by your side;
  • When the nightingale to lovers
  • Lovingly her songlet sings,
  • Which for exiles and sad rovers
  • Like mere woe and wailing rings:
  • With a heart how lightsome feeling
  • Do ye count the kindly clock,
  • Which, twelve times deliberate pealing,
  • Tells you none tonight shall knock!
  • Therefore, on all fit occasions,
  • Mark it, maidens, what I sing:
  • Every day its own vexations,
  • And the night its joys will bring.
  • She made a little courtesy on concluding, and Serlo gave a loud “Bravo!” She scuttled off, and left the room with a teehee of laughter. They heard her singing and skipping as she went down-stairs.

    Serlo passed into another room; Wilhelm bade Aurelia good-night; but she continued looking at him for a few moments, and said:

    “How I dislike that woman! dislike her from my heart, and to her very slightest qualities! Those brown eyelashes, with her fair hair, which our brother thinks so charming, I cannot bear to look at; and that scar upon her brow has something in it so repulsive, so low and base, that I could recoil ten paces every time I meet her. She was lately telling as a joke, that her father, when she was a child, threw a plate at her head, of which this is the mark. It is well that she is marked in the eyes and brow, that those about her may be on their guard.”

    Wilhelm made no answer, and Aurelia went on, apparently with greater spleen:

    “It is next to impossible to speak a friendly or civil word to her, so deeply do I hate her, with all her wheedling. Would that we were rid of her! And you too, my friend, have a certain complaisance for the creature, a way of acting towards her, that grieves me to the soul; an attention which borders on respect; which, by Heaven! she does not merit.”

    “Whatever she may be,” replied our friend, “I owe her thanks. Her upbringing is to blame: to her natural character I would do justice.”

    “Character!” exclaimed Aurelia; “and do you think such a creature has a character? O you men! It is so like you! These are the women you deserve!”

    “My friend, can you suspect me?” answered Wilhelm. “I will give account of every minute I have spent beside her.”

    “Come, come,” replied Aurelia; “it is late, we will not quarrel. All like each, and each like all! Good-night, my friend! Good-night, my sparkling bird of Paradise!”

    Wilhelm asked how he had earned this title.

    “Another time,” cried she; “another time. They say it has no feet, but hovers in the air, and lives on æther. That, however, is a story, a poetic fiction. Good-night! Dream sweetly, if you are in luck!”

    She proceeded to her room; and he, being left alone, made haste to his.

    Half angrily he walked along his chamber to and fro. The jesting but decided tone of Aurelia had hurt him: he felt deeply how unjust she was. Could he treat Philina with unkindness or ill-nature? She had done no evil to him; but for any love to her, he could proudly and confidently take his conscience to witness that it was not so.

    On the point of beginning to undress, he was going forward to his bed to draw aside the curtains, when, not without extreme astonishment, he saw a pair of women’s slippers lying on the floor before it. One of them was resting on its sole, the other on its edge. They were Philina’s slippers; he recognised them but too well. He thought he noticed some disorder in the curtains; nay it seemed as if they moved. He stood, and looked with unaverted eyes.

    A new impulse, which he took for anger, cut his breath: after a short pause, he recovered, and cried in a firm tone: “Come out, Philina! What do you mean by this? Where is your sense, your modesty? Are we to be the speech of the house tomorrow?”

    Nothing stirred.

    “I do not jest,” continued he; “these pranks are little to my taste.”

    No sound! No motion!

    Irritated and determined, he at last went forward to the bed, and tore the curtains asunder. “Arise,” said he, “if I am not to give you up my room tonight.”

    With great surprise, he found his bed unoccupied; the sheets and pillows in the sleekest rest. He looked around; he searched, and searched, but found no traces of the rogue. Behind the bed, the stove, the drawers, there was nothing to he seen: he sought with great and greater diligence; a spiteful looker-on might have believed that he was seeking in the hope of finding.

    All thought of sleep was gone. He put the slippers on his table: went past it up and down; often paused before it; and a wicked sprite that watched him has asserted, that our friend employed himself for several hours about these dainty little shoes; that he viewed them with a certain interest; that he handled them and played with them: and it was not till towards morning that he threw himself on the bed, without undressing, where he fell asleep amidst a world of curious fantasies.

    He was still slumbering, when Serlo entered hastily: “Where are you?” cried he; “Still in bed? Impossible! I want you in the theatre; we have a thousand things to do.”