E. T. A. (Ernst Theodor Amadeus) Hoffmann.

The Serapion Brethren, Vol. II online

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Online LibraryE. T. A. (Ernst Theodor Amadeus) HoffmannThe Serapion Brethren, Vol. II → online text (page 1 of 47)
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Produced by Charles Bowen, from scans provided by Google Books

Transcriber's notes:

Source of scans: Google Books:

Diacritical marks:
1.found in the word D[=a]-l[ve]s
[=a] = a macron; [=A] = A macron.
[ve] = e caron; [vE] = E caron.

2. [oe] = diphthong oe.





Translated from the German












The ever-fluctuating vicissitudes of human life had once more scattered
our little group of friends asunder. Sylvester had gone back to his
country home; Ottmar had travelled away on business, and so had
Cyprian; Vincent was still in the town, but (after his accustomed
fashion) he had disappeared in the turmoil, and was nowhere to be seen;
Lothair was nursing Theodore, who had been laid on a bed of sickness by
a malady long struggled against, which was destined to keep him there
for a considerable time.

Indeed, several months had gone by, when Ottmar (whose sudden and
unlooked-for departure had been the chief cause of the breaking up of
the "Club") came back, to find, in place of the full-fledged "Serapion
Brotherhood," one friend, barely convalescent, and bearing the traces
of a severe illness in his pale face, abandoned by the Brethren, with
the exception of one, who was tasking him severely by constant
outbreaks of a grim and capricious "humour."

For Lothair was once more finding himself in one of those strange and
peculiar moods of mind in which all life seemed to him to have become
weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, by reason of the everlasting
mockery ("chaff" might be the modern expression of this idea) of the
inimical daemonic power which, like a pedantic tutor, ignores and
contemns the _nature_ of men; giving man (as a tutor of the sort would
do) bitter drugs and nauseous medicines, instead of sweet and delicious
macaroons, to the end that his said pupil, man, may take a distaste at
his own nature, enjoy it no more, and thus keep his digestion in good

"What an unfortunate idea it was," Lothair cried out, in the gloomiest
ill-humour, when Ottmar came in and found him sitting with
Theodore - "what an unfortunate idea it was of ours to insist on binding
ourselves together again so closely, jumping over all the clefts which
time had split between us! It is Cyprian whom we have to thank for
laying the foundation-stone of Saint Serapion, on which we built an
edifice which seemed destined to last a lifetime, and tumbled down into
ruin in a few moons. One ought not to hang one's heart on to anything,
or give one's mind over to the impressions of excitements from without;
and I was a fool to do so, for I must confess to you that the way in
which we came together on those Serapion evenings took such a hold on
my whole being that, when the brethren so suddenly dispersed themselves
over the world, my life felt to me as weary, stale, flat and
unprofitable as the melancholy Prince Hamlet's did to him."

"Forasmuch as no spirit has arisen from the grave, revisiting the
glimpses of the moon, to incite you to revenge," said Ottmar, with a
laugh, "and as you are not called upon to send your sweetheart
to a nunnery, or to thrust a poisoned rapier into the heart of a
murderer-king, I think you ought not to give way to Prince Hamlet's
melancholy, and should consider that it would be the grossest
selfishness to renounce every league of alliance into which
congenially-minded people enter because the storms of life possess the
power of interfering with it. Human beings ought not to draw in their
antennas at every ungentle touch, like supersensitive insects. Is the
remembrance of hours passed in gladsome kindly intercourse nothing to
you? All through my journeyings I have thought of you continually. On
the evenings of the meetings of the Serapion Club (which, of course, I
supposed to be still in full swing) I always took my place amongst you,
in spirit; assimilated all the delightful and entertaining things going
on amongst you (entertaining you, at the same time, with whatever the
spirit moved me to contribute to you). But it is absurd to continue in
this vein. Is there, in Lothair's mind, really the slightest trace of
that which his momentary 'out-of-tuneness' has made him say? Does he
not himself admit that the cause of his being out of tune is merely the
fact of our having been dispersed?"

"Theodore's illness," said Lothair, "which nearly sent him to his
grave, was not a matter, either, calculated to put me into a happy
state of mind."

"No," said Ottmar, "but Theodore is well again; and as to the Serapion
Club, I cannot see why it should not be considered to be in full
working order, now that three of the Brethren are met together."

"Ottmar is perfectly right," said Theodore; "it is a matter of
indisputable necessity that we should have a meeting, in true
Serapiontic fashion, as early as possible. The germ which we form will
sprout into a tree full of fresh life and vigour, bearing flowers and
fruit - I mean that that bird of passage, Cyprian, will come back:
Sylvester will soon be unhappy, there where he is, away; and when the
nightingales cease singing, he will long for music of another kind; and
Vincent will emerge from the billows again, no doubt, and chirp his
little song."

"Have it your own way," said Lothair, rather more gently than before;
"only don't expect _me_ to have anything to do with it. However, I
promise that I will be present when you assemble Serapiontically; and,
as Theodore ought to be in the open air as much as possible, I suggest
that we hold our meeting out of doors."

So they fixed upon the last day of May - which was only a few days
off - for the time; and on a pretty public-garden in the neighbourhood,
not too much frequented, for the place, of their next Serapiontic

A thunderstorm, passing quickly over, and merely sprinkling the trees
and bushes with a few drops of Heaven's balsam, had relieved the sultry
oppressiveness of the day. The beautiful garden was lying all still, in
the most exquisite brightness. The delicious perfume of leaves and
flowers streamed through it, while the birds, twittering and trilling
in happiness, went rustling amongst the branches, and bathed themselves
in the bedewed leafage.

"How refreshed I feel, through and through!" Theodore cried, when the
friends had sate themselves down in the shade of some thickly-foliaged
lime-trees; "every trace of illness, down to the most infinitesimal,
has left me. I feel as if a redoubled life had dawned on me, in my
active consciousness of reciprocity of action between me and the
external. A man must have been as ill as I have been to be capable of
this sensation, which, strengthening mind and body, must surely be (as
I feel it to be) the true life-elixir which the Eternal Power, the
ruling World-spirit, administers to us, directly and without
intermediation. The vivifying breath of Nature is breathing out of my
own breast. I seem to be floating in that glorious blue Heaven which is
vaulted over us, with every burden lifted away from me!"

"This," said Ottmar, "shows that you are quite well again, beloved
friend; and all glory to the Eternal Power which fitted you out with an
organisation strong enough to survive an illness like that which you
have gone through. It is a marvel that you recovered at all, and still
a greater that you recovered so quickly."

"For my part," said Lothair, "I am not surprised that he got well so
soon, because I never had a moment's doubt that he would. You may
believe me, Ottmar, when I tell you that, wretched as the state in
which his physical condition appeared to be, he was never really ill,
mentally; and so long as the spirit keeps sound - well! it was really
enough to vex one to death that Theodore, ill as he was, was always in
better spirits than I was, although I was a perfectly well and sound
man; and that, so soon as his bodily sufferings gave him an interval of
rest, he delighted in the wildest fun and jests. At the same time, he
has the rare power of remembering his feverish illusions. The doctor
had forbidden him to talk; but when _I_ wished to tell him this, that
and the other in quiet moments, he would motion me to be silent and not
disturb his thoughts, which were busy over some important composition,
or other matter of the kind."

"Yes," said Theodore, laughing, "I can assure you that Lothair's
communications were of a very peculiar kidney at that time. Directly
after the dispersion of the Serapion Brethren he became possessed by a
foul fiend of evil humours. This you probably have gathered; but you
cannot, by any possibility, divine the extraordinary ideas which he got
into his head at this period of gloom and dejection. One day he came
to my bedside (for I had taken to my bed by that time) stating
that the old Chronicle Books were the grandest and richest mines and
treasure-houses of tales, legends, novels and dramas. Cyprian said the
same long ago, and it is true. Next day I noticed, although my malady
was besetting me sorely, that Lothair was sitting immersed in an old
folio. Moreover, he went every day to the public library and got
together all the old Chronicles he could lay his hands upon. _That_ was
all very well; but, besides, he got his head filled with the strange
old legends which are contained in those venerable books; and when, in
my hours of comparative quiet, he bestirred himself to talk to me on
'entertaining' subjects, what I heard of was war and pestilence,
monstrous abortions, hurricanes, comets, fires and floods, witches,
auto-da-fé's, enchantments, miracles, and, above all other subjects,
his talk was of the manifold works and devices of the Devil - who, as we
know, plays such an important part in all those old stories that one
can hardly imagine what has become of him _now_, when he seems to keep
so quietly in the background, unless he may perhaps have put on some
new dress which renders him unrecognizable. Now tell me, Ottmar, don't
you think such subjects of conversation well suited for a man in my
then state of health?"

"Don't condemn me unheard," cried Lothair. "It is true, and I will
maintain it fearlessly, that, for writers of tales, there is an immense
amount of splendid material in those ancient Chronicles. But you know
that _I_ have never taken much interest in them, and least of all in
their _diablerie_. However, the evening before Cyprian went away I had
a great argument with him as to his having far too much to do with the
Devil and his family; and I told him candidly that my present opinion
of his tale, 'The Singers' Contest,' is that it is a thoroughly faulty
and bungling piece of work, although when he read it to us I approved
of it, for many specious reasons. Upon this he attacked me in the
character of a real _advocatum diaboli_, and told me such a quantity of
things, out of old Chronicles and from other sources, that my head
fairly reeled. And then, when Theodore fell ill, I was seized upon and
overmastered by real, bitter gloom and misery. Somehow, I scarce know
how or why, Cyprian's 'Singers' Contest' came back to my mind again.
Nay, the Devil himself appeared to me in person one night when I
couldn't sleep; and although I was a good deal frightened by the evil
fellow, still I could not help respecting him, and paying him my duty
as an ever helpful aide-de-camp of tale-writers in lack of help; and,
by way of spiting you all, I determined to set to work and surpass even
Cyprian himself in the line of the fearsome and the terrible."

"_You_, Lothair, undertake the fearful and terrible!" said Ottmar,
laughing - "you, whose bright and fanciful genius would seem expressly
adapted to wave the wand of comedy!"

"Even so," said Lothair; "such was my idea. And as a first step towards
carrying it out, I set to work to rummage in those old Chronicles which
Cyprian had told me were the very treasure-houses of the diabolical;
but I admit that it all turned out quite differently from what I had

"I can fully confirm that," said Theodore. "I can assure you it is
astonishing, and most delicious, the way in which the Devil and the
gruesomest witch-trials adapt themselves to the mental bent and style
of the author of 'Nutcracker and the King of Mice.' Just let me tell
you, dear Ottmar, how I chanced to lay my hands upon an experimental
essay on this subject of our doughty Lothair's. He had just left me one
day when I was getting to be strong enough to creep about the room a
little, and I found, upon the table where he had been writing, the
truly remarkable book entitled 'Haftitii Michrochronicon Berlinense,'
open at the page where, _inter alia_, occurs what follows: -

"'Ye Divell, in this year of Grace, appeared bodily in ye streets of
Berlin, and attended funerals, conducting himself thereat
sorrowfullie,' &c., &c., &c.

"You will see, my dear Ottmar, that this entertaining piece of
intelligence was of a nature to delight me immensely; but some pages in
Lothair's handwriting delighted me still more. In those he had welded
up the accounts of this curious conduct of the Devil with a horrible
case of misbirth, and a gruesome trial for witchcraft, into an
_ensemble_ of the most delightful and entertaining description. I have
got those pages here; I brought them in my pocket to amuse you with

He took them out of his pocket and handed them to Ottmar.

"What!" cried Lothair, "the affair which I styled 'Some Account of the
Life of a Well-known Character,' which I thought was torn up and
destroyed long ago - the abortive product of a fit of capricious fancy;
can it be that you have captured _that_ from me and kept it, to bring
me into discredit with persons of taste and culture? Here with the
wretched piece of scribbling, that I may tear it up and scatter it to
the winds of heaven."

"No, no," cried Theodore; "you must read it to Ottmar, as a penance for
what you inflicted on me in my illness with your horrible weird
Chronicle matter."

"Well," said Lothair, "I suppose I can't refuse, though I shall cut a
strange figure before this very grave and carefully-behaved gentleman.
However, here goes." So Lothair took the papers, and read as follows: -


In the year one thousand five hundred and fifty-one there was to be
seen in the streets of Berlin, particularly in the evening twilight, a
gentleman of fine and distinguished appearance. He wore a rich and
beautiful doublet, trimmed with sable, white galligaskins, and slashed
shoes; on his head was a satin barret cap with a red feather. His
manners were charming, and highly polished. He bowed politely to
everybody, particularly to ladies, both married and single; and to
_them_ he was wont to address civil and complimentary speeches. He
would say: "Donna! if you have any wish or desire in the depths of your
heart, pray command your most humble servant, who will devote his
humble powers to the utmost to be entirely at your disposal and
service." This was what he said to married ladies of position. To the
unmarried he said: "Heaven grant you a nice husband, worthy of your
loveliness and virtues." To the men he behaved just as charmingly, and
it was no wonder that everybody was fond of this stranger, and came to
his assistance when he would stand hesitating, in doubt and difficulty,
at some crossing, apparently not knowing how to get over it; for though
a well-grown and handsomely-proportioned person in most respects, he
had one lame foot, and was obliged to go about with a crutch. But as
soon as anybody gave him a hand to help him at a crossing, he would
instantly jump up with him some six ells or so into the air, and not
come to the ground again within a distance of some twelve paces on the
other side of the crossing. This rather astonished people, it need not
be said, and one or two sprained their legs slightly in the process.
But the stranger excused himself by saying that, before his leg was
lame, he had been principal dancer at the Court of the King of Hungary;
so that, when he felt himself called upon to take a jump, the old habit
came back upon him, and, willy-nilly, he could not help springing up
into the air as he used to do in the exercise of his profession. The
people were satisfied with this explanation, and even took much delight
in seeing some privy councillor, clergyman, or other person of position
and respectability, taking a great jump of this sort hand-in-hand with
the stranger.

But, merry and cheerful as he seemed to be, his behaviour changed at
times in a most extraordinary manner; for he would often go about the
streets at night and knock at people's doors; and when they opened to
him, he would be standing there in white grave clothes, raising a
terrible crying and howling, at which they were fearfully frightened;
but he would apologize the following day, saying that he was compelled
to do this to remind the citizens and himself of the perishableness of
the body, and the imperishableness of the soul, to which their minds
ought always to be carefully directed. He would weep a little as he
said this, which touched the folks very much. He went to all the
funerals, following the coffin with reverent step, and conducting
himself like one overwhelmed with sorrow, so that he could not join in
the hymns for sobbing and lamenting. But, overcome with grief as he was
on those occasions, he was just as delighted and happy at marriages,
which in those days were celebrated in a very splendid style at the
town-hall. There he would sing all sorts of songs in a loud and
delightful voice, and dance for hours on end with the bride and the
young ladies (on his sound leg, adroitly drawing the lame one out of
the way), behaving and evincing himself on those occasions as a man of
the most delightful manners and bearing. But the best of it was that he
always gave the marrying couples delightful presents, so that of course
he was always a most welcome guest. He gave them gold chains,
bracelets, and other valuable things; so that the goodness, the
liberality, and the superior morality of this stranger became bruited
abroad throughout the city of Berlin, and even reached the ears of the
Elector himself. The Elector thought that a person of this sort would
be a great ornament at his own Court, and caused him to be sounded as
to his willingness to accept an appointment there. The stranger,
however, wrote back an answer (in vermilion letters, on a piece of
parchment a yard and a half in length, and the same in breadth) to the
effect that he was most submissively grateful for the honour offered to
him, but implored his Serene Highness to permit him to remain in the
enjoyment of the citizenesque life which was so wholly conformed to all
his sentiments, in peace; adding that he had selected Berlin, in
preference to many other cities, as his residence, because he had
nowhere else met with such charming people, persons of such
truthfulness and uprightness, of so much "feeling," of such a sense for
fine and delightful "manners" so exquisitely after his own heart in
every respect. The Elector, and his whole Court along with him, much
admired and wondered at the beautiful style in which this reply of the
stranger was conceived, and the matter was allowed to rest there.

It happened that just then the lady of Councillor Walter Lütkens was,
for the first time, "as ladies wish to be who love their lords"; and
the old _accoucheuse_, Mistress Barbara Roloffin, predicted that this
fine, grand lady, overflowing with health and strength, would
undoubtedly bring into the world a grand and vigorous son, so that Herr
Walter Lütkens was all hope and gladness. Our "stranger," who had been
a guest at Lütkens's wedding, was in the habit of calling at his house
now and then; and it chanced that he made one of those calls of his on
an evening when Barbara Roloffin was there.

As soon as old Barbara set eyes on the stranger she gave a marvellous
loud ejaculation of delight, and it appeared as though all the deep
wrinkles of her face smoothed themselves out in an instant. Her pale
lips and cheeks grew red, and the youth and beauty to which she had
long said "good-bye" came back to her again. She cried out, "Ah, ah,
Herr Junker! Is this you that I see here really and truly? Is this you,
yourself? Oh, I welcome you! I am so delighted to see you!" and she was
nearly falling down at his feet.

But he answered this demonstration in words of anger, whilst his eyes
flashed fire. Nobody could understand what it was that he said to her.
But the old woman shrunk into a corner, as pale and wrinkled as she had
been at first, and whimpering faintly and unintelligibly.

"My dear Mr. Lütkens," the stranger said to the master of the house, "I
hope you will take great care lest something annoying may happen in
your house here. I really hope, with all my heart, that everything will
go well on this auspicious occasion. But this old creature, Barbara
Roloffin, is by no means so well up to her business as perhaps you
suppose. She is an old acquaintance of mine, and I am sorry to say that
she has on many occasions not paid proper attention to her patients."

Both Lütkens and his wife had been very anxious, and had felt most eery
and uncanny about this whole business, and full of suspicion as to old
Barbara Roloffin, particularly when they remembered the extraordinary
transfiguration which took place in her when she saw the stranger. They
had very great suspicions that she was in the practice of black and
unholy arts, so that they forbade her to cross the threshold of their
house any more, and they made arrangements with another _accoucheuse_.

On this, old Barbara was very angry, and said that Lütkens and his wife
would pay very dearly for what they had done to her.

Lütkens's hope and gladness were turned into bitter heart-sorrow and
deep grief, when his wife brought into the world a horrible changeling
in place of the beautiful boy predicted by Barbara Roloffin. It was a
creature all chestnut brown, with two horns on its head, great fat
eyes, no nose whatever, a big wide mouth with a white tongue sticking
out of it upside down, and no neck. Its head was down between its
shoulders; its body was wrinkled and swollen; its arms came out just
above its hips, and it had long, thin shanks.

Mr. Lütkens wept and lamented terribly. "Oh, just heavens!" he cried;
"what in the name of goodness is going to be the outcome of this? Can
this little one ever be expected to tread in his father's steps? Was
there ever such a thing known as a Member of Council with a couple of
horns on his head, and chestnut brown all over?"

The stranger consoled Lütkens as much as ever he could. He pointed out
to him that a good education does a great deal; that though, as
concerned form and appearance, the new-born thing was really to be
characterized as a most arrant schismatic, still he ventured to say
that it looked about it very understandingly with its fat eyes, and
that there was room for a deal of wisdom between the two horns on its

Online LibraryE. T. A. (Ernst Theodor Amadeus) HoffmannThe Serapion Brethren, Vol. II → online text (page 1 of 47)