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Imaginary portraits, p.19

Imaginary Portraits, page 19


Imaginary Portraits

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heraway to be fined, or worse, amid the jeers of the bystanders, alwaysready to deal hardly with "the gipsy," at which precise [141] momentthe tall Duke Carl, like the flash of a trusty sword, had leapt fromthe palace stair and caused her to pass on in peace. She had halfdetected him through his disguise; in due time news of his reappearancehad been ceremoniously carried to her in her little cottage, and theremembrance of her hung about him not ungratefully, as he went withdelight upon his way.

  The first long stage of his journey over, in headlong flight night andday, he found himself one summer morning under the heat of what seemeda southern sun, at last really at large on the Bergstrasse, with therich plain of the Palatinate on his left hand; on the right handvineyards, seen now for the first time, sloping up into the crispbeeches of the Odenwald. By Weinheim only an empty tower remained ofthe Castle of Windeck. He lay for the night in the great whitewashedguest-chamber of the Capuchin convent.

  The national rivers, like the national woods, have a family likeness:the Main, the Lahn, the Moselle, the Neckar, the Rhine. By help ofsuch accommodation as chance afforded, partly on the stream itself,partly along the banks, he pursued the leisurely winding course of oneof the prettiest of these, tarrying for awhile in the towns, grey,white, or red, which came in his way, tasting their delightful native"little" wines, peeping into their old overloaded churches, inspectingthe church furniture, or trying the [142] organs. For three nights heslept, warm and dry, on the hay stored in a deserted cloister, and,attracted into the neighbouring minster for a snatch of church music,narrowly escaped detection. By miraculous chance the grimmest lord ofRosenmold was there within, recognised the youth and hiscompanions--visitors naturally conspicuous, amid the crowd of peasantsaround them--and for some hours was upon their traces. After uncleantown streets the country air was a perfume by contrast, or actuallyscented with pinewoods. One seemed to breathe with it fancies of thewoods, the hills, and water--of a sort of souls in the landscape, butcheerful and genial now, happy souls! A distant group of pines on theverge of a great upland awoke a violent desire to be there--seemed tochallenge one to proceed thither. Was their infinite view thence? Itwas like an outpost of some far-off fancy land, a pledge of the realityof such. Above Cassel, the airy hills curved in one black outlineagainst a glowing sky, pregnant, one could fancy, with weird forms,which might be at their old diableries again on those remote places erenight was quite come there. At last in the streets, the hundredchurches, of Cologne, he feels something of a "Gothic" enthusiasm, andall a German's enthusiasm for the Rhine.

  Through the length and breadth of the Rhine country the vintage wasbegun. The red ruins on the heights, the white-walled villages, white[143] Saint Nepomuc upon the bridges, were but isolated high notes ofcontrast in a landscape, sleepy and indistinct under the flood ofsunshine, with a headiness in it like that of must, of the new wine.The noise of the vineyards came through the lovely haze, still, attimes, with the sharp sound of a bell--death-bell, perhaps, or only acrazy summons to the vintagers. And amid those broad, willowy reachesof the Rhine at length, from Bingen to Mannheim, where the brown hillswander into airy, blue distance, like a little picture of paradise, hefelt that France was at hand. Before him lay the road thither, easyand straight.--That well of light so close! But, unexpectedly, thecapricious incidence of his own humour with the opportunity did notsuggest, as he would have wagered it must, "Go, drink at once!" Was itthat France had come to be of no account at all, in comparison ofItaly, of Greece? or that, as he passed over the German land, theconviction had come, "For you, France, Italy, Hellas, is here!"--thatsome recognition of the untried spiritual possibilities of meek Germanyhad for Carl transferred the ideal land out of space beyond the Alps orthe Rhine, into future time, whither he must be the leader? A littlechilly of humour, in spite of his manly strength, he was journeyingpartly in search of physical heat. To-day certainly, in this greatvineyard, physical heat was about him in measure sufficient, at leastfor [144] a German constitution. Might it be not otherwise with theimaginative, the intellectual, heat and light; the real need being thatof an interpreter--Apollo, illuminant rather as the revealer than asthe bringer of light? With large belief that the Eclaircissement, theAufklaerung (he had already found the name for the thing) would indeedcome, he had been in much bewilderment whence and how. Here, he beganto see that it could be in no other way than by action of informingthought upon the vast accumulated material of which Germany was inpossession: art, poetry, fiction, an entire imaginative world,following reasonably upon a deeper understanding of the past, ofnature, of one's self--an understanding of all beside through theknowledge of one's self. To understand, would be the indispensablefirst step towards the enlargement of the great past, of one's littlepresent, by criticism, by imagination. Then, the imprisoned souls ofnature would speak as of old. The Middle Age, in Germany, where thepast has had such generous reprisals, never far from us, would reassertits mystic spell, for the better understanding of our Raffaelle. Thespirits of distant Hellas would reawake in the men and women of littleGerman towns. Distant times, the most alien thoughts, would come neartogether, as elements in a great historic symphony. A kind of ardent,new patriotism awoke in him, sensitive for the first time at the wordsnational [145] poesy, national art and literature, German philosophy.To the resources of the past, of himself, of what was possible forGerman mind, more and more his mind opens as he goes on his way. Afree, open space had been determined, which something now to becreated, created by him, must occupy. "Only," he thought, "if I hadcoadjutors! If these thoughts would awake in but one other mind!"

  At Strasbourg, with its mountainous goblin houses, nine stories high,grouped snugly, in the midst of that inclement plain, like a greatstork's nest around the romantic red steeple of its cathedral, DukeCarl became fairly captive to the Middle Age. Tarrying there weekafter week he worked hard, but (without a ray of light from others) inone long mistake, at the chronology and history of the colouredwindows. Antiquity's very self seemed expressed there, on thevisionary images of king or patriarch, in the deeply incised marks ofcharacter, the hoary hair, the massive proportions, telling of a lengthof years beyond what is lived now. Surely, past ages, could one get atthe historic soul of them, were not dead but living, rich in company,for the entertainment, the expansion, of the present: and Duke Carl wasstill without suspicion of the cynic afterthought that such historicsoul was but an arbitrary substitution, a generous loan of one's self.

  The mystic soul of Nature laid hold on him [146] next, saying, "Come!understand, interpret me!" He was awakened one morning by the jingleof sledge-bells along the street beneath his windows. Winter haddescended betimes from the mountains: the pale Rhine below the bridgeof boats on the long way to Kehl was swollen with ice, and for thefirst time he realised that Switzerland was at hand. On a sudden hewas captive to the enthusiasm of the mountains, and hastened along thevalley of the Rhine by Alt Breisach and Basle, unrepelled by a thousanddifficulties, to Swiss farmhouses and lonely villages, solemn still,and untouched by strangers. At Grindelwald, sleeping at last in theclose neighbourhood of the greater Alps, he had the sense of anoverbrooding presence, of some strange new companions around him. Hereone might yield one's self to the unalterable imaginative appeal of theelements in their highest force and simplicity--light, air, water,earth. On very early spring days a mantle was suddenly lifted; theAlps were an apex of natural glory, towards which, in broadening spacesof light, the whole of Europe sloped upwards. Through them, on theright hand, as he journeyed on, were the doorways to Italy, to Como orVenice, from yonder peak Italy's self was visible!--as, on the lefthand, in the South-german towns, in a high-toned, artistic fineness, inthe dainty, flowered ironwork for instance, the overflow of Italiangenius was traceable. These things [147] presented themselves at lastonly to remind him that, in a new intellectual hope, he was already onhis way home. Straight through life, straight through nature and man,with one's own self-knowledge as a light thereon, not by way of thegeographical It
aly or Greece, lay the road to the new Hellas, to berealised now as the outcome of home-born German genius. At times, inthat early fine weather, looking now not southwards, but towardsGermany, he seemed to trace the outspread of a faint, not whollynatural, aurora over the dark northern country. And it was in anactual sunrise that the news came which finally put him on thedirectest road homewards. One hardly dared breathe in the rapid upriseof all-embracing light which seemed like the intellectual rising of theFatherland, when up the straggling path to his high beech-grown summit(was one safe nowhere?) protesting over the roughness of the way, camethe too familiar voices (ennui itself made audible) of certain highfunctionaries of Rosenmold, come to claim their new sovereign, closeupon the runaway.

  Bringing news of the old Duke's decease! With a real grief at hisheart,
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