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odious relations, the most disgusting foregone conclusions'. the most profound depths of profligacy are hinted at, or indicated, with a recklessness and cold-blooded callousness of taste and feeling which throw most of the French novelists into the shadeexcept, perhaps, M. le Bibliophele Jacob, whose Danse 'Macabre' is well entitled to a place beside the collected works of his German contemporary.
Take any one of these romances, and it is a work of difficulty to select a single character-we will not say virtuous or noble, for of such a creature the author does not seem to have even a conception-but a single being free from odious and degrading vice. What a picture-gallery of murderers, traitors, adulterers, ravishers, for instance, do the male characters in the Natural Son' present;- Philip Verner, his hideous associate Simon, Thurneisen, Prince Bernhard, Kaunitz, Father Theodore-most of them steeped fathom-deep in murders and debaucheries, which they perpetrate with a coolness and self-complacency quite without precedent. Adultery and incest, ingredients generally considered too strong for most fictions, are to Spindler things of course; a murder with him is a matter of three lines; he absolutely thrives on poisons, like Mithridates himself. Even his hero Archibald, the natural son, seems to be but a shade better than the wretches among whom his destiny is cast; and to be indebted only to chance, not to conscience, for this comparatively less degraded moral position. Of principle he has not a vestige; his senses and his passions are the only springs by which he is impelled; he begins with an unsuccessful attempt at murder, and ends with a successful one. Even Father Hubert, whom the author seems to hold up to us as a model of piety and virtue, administers to Archibald on parting with him a series of advices, inculcating gross hypocrisy and deceit; and allowing so liberal a latitude to his conduct, that the young disciple himself is represented as doubting a little whether the holy father could be in earnest. If such be the character of the male actors in the scene, it must be admitted, that Spindler has provided them with female helpmates every way worthy of them. Barbara and the Margravine of Burgau are monsters from whom the reader turns in disgust; and even those characters which are represented in more favourable colours, such as Maria and the Countess de Florenges, and in which the author probably intended to embody his ideal of feminine excellence, though perhaps not accountable for the darker crimes of those we have named, are yet entirely destitute of chastity or female honour; and their characters afford nothing in the contemplation of which the mind, detaching itself from the atrocious web of guilt and profligacy in which it has been entangled, can find a momentary repose.
While Spindler manifests such a degree of insensibility to the moral beauty of character, it will easily be imagined, that his taste in the selection of incidents is not likely to be very refined; and that he will use unsparingly the vulgar sources of painful interest afforded by the accumulation of objects morally or physically revolting. Yet it would be difficult, without an actual perusal of these volumes in the original German, to conceive how far this perversion of taste has been carried. The good taste of the translator, for instance, has softened the odious scene of the death of the profligate Barbara, and its cause; and in the same manner, in the hideous interview between Bernhard and the Margravine of Burgau, where the Prince, whose frame is corrupted by the mal de Naples, endeavours to communicate the infection to his former paramour by a kiss (!)-he has, by omitting the previous description (à la Fracastorius) of Bernhard's condition, partly veiled the full atrocity of the scene; though, at the same time, he has necessarily left it in some degree unintelligible. But enough of these loathsome references: the reader will be sufficiently able to form his judgment from those instances to which we have alluded, as to the taste by which the selection of the incidents is in general guided.
We have heard it said, however, that in all this laboured display of profligacy, Spindler has exhibited an accurate copy of the manners and morals of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; and that instead of being blamed for his want of poetical feeling, he ought rather to be lauded as a most correct and pains-taking chronicler. Now, we can easily imagine that in one sense Spindler has studied the period from which his novels have chiefly been drawn; he has acquired a tolerable familiarity with its external and more salient features; he can paint with tolerable correctness its tournaments, banquets, trials, courts, and combats; but that he has ever got beyond the outside, or formed the least conception of the spirit of these ages, we deny. Crimes enough, doubtless, there were in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; but never did they exhibit the barren waste which they present in the pages of Spindler; great virtues, great discoveries redeemed their vices and their weaknesses; never perhaps at any period did the nobler feelings of the soul manifest themselves in the higher mind of the age with more steadfastness and devotion. In how different a spirit has a similar period been treated by Goethe in his Goetz of Berlichingen!' There we find no one-sided view of society, excluding its virtues and admitting only its crimes; beside the treachery and vacillation of Weislingen, is placed the stainless honour and warmhearted truth of the ironhanded Goetz; beside the profligacy of Adelheid, the maiden modesty of Maria, the matronly simplicity, and fidelity unto
death, of Elizabeth; amidst the stormy and sorrowful scenes of the drama, we are ever reminded of the peace which virtue gives; we turn from the agonizing death of Weislingen, poisoned by his own guilty wife in the chambers of his gloomy castle, to the placid departure of Goetz, in the arms of his Elizabeth, under the free air of heaven, and feel at once that the one picture, with its bright lights as well as strong shadows, is a true and natural one; the other, all shade, and painted in the blackest and coarsest colours,—a hideous and unnatural caricature.
Entertaining these opinions, it will not be expected that we should attempt any outline of the present work; and if we make a single extract, it is with the view rather of showing that the translator has performed his task with ability, than as affording any characteristic specimen of the original. It is the scene where Archibald, the natural son, after having escaped some former attempts of his unnatural brother, Philip Verner, against his life, makes a last appeal to his feelings by suddenly introducing himself to him, after years of absence, at his Christmas banquet.
It was Christmas time, and the house of Philip Verner, Merchant of Ulm, resounded with musical instruments. A grand feast was held there, to celebrate some occasion of rejoicing. In short, the merchant's firstborn son was to be admitted, by baptism, into the number of Christians. The tables were loaded with the most costly viands, served upon dishes of silver. The apartments were fumigated with the most expensive perfumes; and the glittering tables were surrounded by richly-dressed guests. Notwithstanding all this, however, the guest who would have been most welcome, by name Hilarity, that all-enlivening joy, was absent. The company sat at table with a stiff formality; the master of the house presided with an anxious countenance and depressed spirits; and the christening might have been taken for a funeral feast, had not a couple of minstrels, by their jovial songs, continued to throw a pale gleam of joy upon the meeting.
In a neighbouring apartment too the same scene was enacting, where the mistress reclined upon a splendid sofa, with her child by her side, and attempted to assume an appearance of gaiety towards her female friends. An evil genius seemed to exert his influence over the entire household. The very servants moved about in silence, the counterparts of their master; and in a retired room, lay old Simon, in a violent fever; while two implacable enemies, Life and Death, were sternly disputing his possession. At the foot of his bed sat a skilful physician, watching the progress of the disease-feeling the patient's pulse-listening with astonishment to the extraordinary disclosures which delirium forced from him-and awaiting the result of the crisis which was to restore him to life, or sink him to the grave.
Philip's reflections also were rather busied with the death-bed of his confidant than with the christening of his child; and he impatiently
counted the minutes until he could, with propriety, leave his guests, at least for a short time.
• In the interim, however, a servant entered, and announced, "that a young lad was standing without, and a poor one too, to judge from his rags; he is travelling about, and has called here, in order, as he says, to impart news to you of so joyful a nature as he thinks will ensure him a handsome reward."
"Hem!" said Verner, rubbing his bald forehead; "I have indeed sworn never again to listen to any wandering beggar, but as I celebrate a festival to-day, and he is a messenger of good, I will see him. Let him enter; but let it be understood that he is to be brief."
The servant retired, and returned soon after, leading in a pale, ragged youth. His forehead, and one of his eyes, were covered with a black handkerchief, which nearly covered his entire head. A thick mustachio shaded his upper lip. His gait was tottering and feeble. He stopped at the door, as if unwilling to enter; and as the entire company continued gazing at him with evident astonishment, Philip thought it would be a good opportunity for displaying his generosity.
"Come here," he said, in a half-friendly tone; "I see that you have come here to beg, but as I happen to-day to be in good humour, you will not miss a good present, provided that you bring me the welcome news which you promised."
"Yes, worthy sir, I think, from the pleasure which I trust my intelligence will afford you, that I shall deserve a good present; but that I may not keep you longer in suspense, and as your servants here have desired me to be brief, know that I bring you news of your brother Archibald."
"Of Archibald !" cried all the guests, in amazement, "of him whom we have thought so long dead? Of Archibald ?"
"Of Archibald?" stammered Philip, thunderstruck.
"In my travels, I found your brother sick and in distress," pursued the stranger. "He was, like me, on his way to Ulm. He related to me his adventures-his misfortunes. As he has no one to look toas he can expect no assistance from any person but yourself, he has determined to fly to you-to fall at your feet-and to crave your protection, since all the world rejects him-But his weak condition not allowing him to keep pace with me on my journey, he has remained behind, and has earnestly entreated me to announce his approach, in the certainty that the intelligence would please you."
"Ha ha! ha!" laughed Philip, turning to his guests, "how does the tale, which this scarecrow has trumped up, in order to coax a florin out of my pocket, please you? Archibald alive? and on his way here! when I possess documentary proof of his death? Away with you, wretched liar! You cannot impose upon me."
"Worthy sir," cried the stranger, with warmth, "I am no liar; I will bring the thing to a proof. I will wait patiently in your house till your brother arrives; he will not be very long after me."
"A capital plan, indeed," answered Philip, with forced gaiety: "I
make no doubt of your patience. The vagrant intends to pass some days here, living well at my expense, and then hopes to slip off undetected; but he is mistaken. No! no! my friend; much as I should wish your news to be true-much as I should rejoice to receive, and be kind to that poor Archibald, who, in a fit of obstinacy and madness, fled from hence, were it only to give the lie to those malicious slanderers, who dared to assert that I had driven him to misery; nay, that I had maltreated, and even murdered him-I can nevertheless assure you, that your assertions are without foundation, and that the boy is dead; I have documents in my possession to prove what I assert."
Your documents are false," exclaimed the stranger, in a positive tone." But I rejoice to hear that you are so well disposed towards your brother, for I-I myself am Archibald !"
He tore the handkerchief from his brow; his golden locks appeared in all their beauty, the false beard was gone, and a fresh and healthful countenance replaced the pallid cheeks. The guests arose from their seats with a cry of surprise: Philip alone remained as it were petrified, staring at the youth with a fixed gaze, who, at the same time, extended his hand towards him, and said, in a friendly manner
<«How fortunate I am, brother, to have arrived on a day of rejoicing; for on occasions of this kind the heart is more alive to the kinder feelings of our nature than at other times. After an absence of six years I again enter my paternal mansion; no longer that of a father, it is true, but nevertheless of a brother. Deserted by the entire world, hungry, and friendless, I fly to you for assistance. God has conducted me thus far. You are a father, be also a brother; do not reject me. I have suffered much-borne much; let me at length find an asylum under your roof."
Philip preserved a moody silence. The guests were mute, as though they feared to disturb by a sound this exhibition of fraternal affection.
After a pause, Archibald, who had been anxiously watching his brother, continued, " Philip! brother Philip! look at me! like the prodigal son, I return to you in rags of poverty. 'Tis true, I have no longer a father who will receive me, but do you supply his place. Take me into your house! In the whole world I have no one to look to but yourself. Oh! do not reject me."
Philip still kept an obstinate silence.
Archibald, urged by feeling and affection, pursued in a pathetic tone, "Let me not wait so long for one friendly word. Reach me your hand. Believe me, it is against my will that I am become troublesome to you. This very day, on entering this city, I endeavoured to avoid it; I went first to the carpenter, with whose daughter, Gertrude, I used to play in my early childhood, entreated him to receive me as an apprentice to his craft; he refused me, because-because-I was not born in wedlock. It deeply pained me, but I thought that though the stranger reject me, still the brother will assist me."
"What a cunning impostor!" stammered Philip, who perceived that some of his guests appeared moved; "he acts his part so well, that one might almost take him for the person he pretends to be; but I am not to be so easily caught."