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Galgenberg, Sept. 9th.
Dear Mr. Anstruther,—But it is true. Our servants do not get more than from 100 to 250 marks a year, and indeed I think it is a great deal and cannot see why, because you spend as much (you say you do, so I must believe it) in a month on gloves and ties, it should make you hate yourself. Do not hate yourself. Your doing so doesn't make us pay our servants more. Why, how do you suppose we could get all we need out of our hundred pounds a year—I translate our marks into your pounds for your greater convenience—if we had to give a servant more than eight of them and for our house more than fifteen? Papa and I do not like to be kept hungry in the matter of books, and we shall probably spend every penny of our income; but I know a number of families with children who live decently and have occasional coffee-parties and put by for their daughters' trousseaux on the same sum. As for the servants themselves, have I not described Johanna's splendid appearance on her Sundays, her white dress and gloves, and the pink ribbons round her waist? She finds her wages will buy these things and still leave enough for the savings-bank. She is quite content. Only I don't know if she would remain so if you were to come and lament over her and tell her what a little way you make the same money go. You see, she would probably not grasp the true significance of the admission, which is, I take it, not that she has too little but that you spend too much. Yet how can I from my Galgenberg judge what is necessary in gloves and ties for a splendid young man like yourself? The sum seems to me terrific. There must be stacks of gloves and ties constantly growing higher about your path. You, then, spend on these two things alone almost exactly what we three spend in a year on everything. But my astonishment is only the measure of my ignorance. Do not hate yourself. Either spend the money without compunction, or, if you have compunction, don't spend it. A sinner should always, I think, sin gayly or not at all. I don't mean that you in this are a sinner; I only mean that as a general principle half-hearted sinners are contemptible. It is a poor creature who while he sins is sorry. If he must sin, let him at least do it with all his heart, and having done it waste no time in whimpers but try to turn his back on it and his face toward the good. Please do not hate yourself. I am sure you have to have the things. Your letter is more than usually depressed. Please do not hate yourself. It does no good and lowers your vitality. It is as bad as sorrow, which surely is very bad. I think nothing great was done by any one who wasted time peering about among his faults; but if ever you meet the pastor who prepared me for confirmation don't tell him I said so. I don't know how it is with yours in England, but here the pastors seem altogether unable to bear listening to descriptions of plain facts. When they come to doctor my soul, why may I not tell them its symptoms as badly as I tell my body's symptoms to the physician who would heal it? He is not shocked or angry when I show him my sore places; he recommends a plaster or a dose, encourages, and goes away. But your spiritual doctor takes your spiritual sore places as a kind of personal affront; at least, his manner often shows indignation in proportion as you are frank. Instead of being patient, he hardly lets you speak; instead of prescribing, he denounces; instead of helping, he passionately scolds; and so you do not go to him again, but fight through your later miseries alone. Just at the time of my preparation for confirmation my mother died. My heart, blank with sorrow, was very fit for religious impressions and consolations. The preparation lasts two years, and three times every week during that time I went to classes. For two years I was not allowed to dance or to go to even the mildest parties. For two years, from sixteen to eighteen, I was earnest, prayerful, humbly seeking after righteousness. Then one day, when questionings had come upon me that my conscience could not approve, I went to the pastor who had prepared me as confidently as I would go with a toothache to a dentist, and bared my sensitive conscience to him and begged to have my thoughts arranged and my doubts and questionings settled. To my amazement and extreme fright I beheld him shocked, angry, hardly able to endure hearing me tell all I had been wondering. It seemed very strange. I sat at last with downcast eyes, silent, ashamed, my heart shrunk back into reserve and frost. I was not being helped; I was being scolded, and bitterly scolded. At last at the door some special word of blame stung me to heat, and I cried, 'Herr Pastor, when my tongue is bad and I show it to a doctor, he gives me a pill. Are you not the doctor of my spirit? Why, then, when I come to you to be healed, do you, instead of giving me medicine, so cruelly rate me?'
And he, staring at me a moment aghast, struck his hands together above his head. 'Thy father!' he cried, 'Thy father! It is he who speaks—it is he speaking in thee. Such words come not unaided from the mouth of eighteen, from the mouth of one confirmed by these very hands. Ach, miserable maiden, it is not with such as thee that Paradise is peopled. The taint of thy parentage is heavy upon thee. Thou art not, thou canst not be, thou hast never been, a child of God.'
And that was all I got for my pains.
Tell me, what mood were you in when you wrote? Was it not, apart from its dejection, one rather inclined to peevishness? You ask, for instance, why I write so much about a tipsy trumpeter when I know you are anxious to hear about the other things I never tell you. I can't imagine what they are. You must let me write how and what I like—bear with me while I discourse of roses and nasturtium-beds, of rain and sunshine, clouds and wind, cats, birds, servants, even trumpeters. My life holds nothing greater than these. If you want to hear from me you must hear also of them. And why have you taken so bitter a dislike to our gifted young neighbor down the hill, calling him contemptuously a fiddler? He is certainly a fiddler, if to fiddle in one's hours of ease produces one, and perhaps you would be twice as happy as you are if you could fiddle half so wonderfully as he does. He is gone. His holiday either came to an end or was put to an end by Johanna's fiancé. Now, in these early September days, this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, of cloudy mornings and calm evenings and golden afternoons, he has turned his back on the hills and forests, on the reddening creepers and sweetening grapes, on the splash of water among ferns and rocks, on all those fresh, quiet things that make life worth having, and is sitting at a desk somewhere in Berlin doggedly bent on becoming, by means of a great outlay of days and years, a Landrath, a Regierungsrath, a Geheimrath, and a Wirklicher Geheimrath mit dem Prädikat Excellenz. When he has done that he will take down his hat and go forth at last to enjoy life, and will find to his surprise that it isn't there, that it is all behind him, a heap of dusty days piled in the corners of offices, and that his knees shake as he goes about looking for it, and that he can no longer even tune his fiddle by himself but has to have it done for him by the footman.
Isn't that what happens to all you wise men, so prudently determined to make your way in the world? You must be very sure of another life, or how could you bear to squander this? The things you are missing—oh, the things you are missing!—while you so carefully add little gain to little gain, or what I would rather call little loss to little loss. I see no point in slaving day after day through one's best years. Suppose you do not, in the end, have a footman to open your door—the footman is merely a symbol, conveniently expressing the multitude of superfluities that gather about the declining years of the person who has got on, things bought with the sacrifice of his life, and none of them giving him back the lost power, gone with youth, to enjoy them—suppose, then, you do not end gloriously with a footman, what of that? I must be blind, for I never can see the desirability of these trappings. Yet they surely are of an immense desirability, since everybody, really everybody, is willing to give so much in payment for them. Our elder neighbor down the hill has actually given his eyes and his back; he peers at life through spectacles, and walks about like Wordsworth's leech-gatherer, bent double through poking about for years in the muddy pools of little boys' badly written exercises; and here he is at fifty still not satisfied with what he has earned, still going on drudging the whole year round, except for his six short weeks in summer. His wife is thrifty; they have only the one son; they live frugally; long ago they must have put by enough to keep them warm and fed and clothed without his doing another stroke of work.
I was interrupted there by a message from him asking if I would come down and help him gather up the windfalls in his orchard, his wife being busy pickling beans. I went, my head full of what I had just been writing to you, and I gathered up together with the apples a little lesson in the foolishness of officious and hasty criticism. It was this way:
Our baskets being full, and our backs rested, he groaned and said that in another week he must leave for Weimar.
'But you like your work,' said I.
'I detest my work,' he said peevishly. 'I detest teaching. I detest little boys.'
'Then why—' I began, but stopped.
'Why? Why? Because I detest it is no reason why I should not do it.'
'Yes, it is.'
'What, and at my age begin another?'
'You would not have me idle?'
'Yes, I would.'
He stared at me gravely through his spectacles. 'This is unprincipled,' he said.
I laughed. It is years since I have observed that the principled groan a good deal and make discontented criticisms of life, and I don't think I care to be one of them.
'It is,' he persisted, seeing that I only laughed.
'Is it?' said I.
'It is man's lot to work,' said he.
'Is it?' said I.
'Certainly,' said he.
'If he cannot get it done in less time, certainly.'
'All through the years of his life?'
'All through the years of his strength, certainly.'
'My dear young lady, have you been living again on vegetables lately?'
'Your words sound as though your thoughts were watery.'
A nettled silence fell upon me, and while I was arranging how best to convince him of their substance he was shaking his head and saying that it was strange how the most intelligent women are unable really to think. 'Water,' he continued, 'is indispensable in its proper place and good in many others where, strictly, it might be done without. I have nothing to say against watery emotions, watery sentiments, even watery affections, especially in ladies, who would be less charming in proportion as they were more rigid. Ebb and flow, uncertainty, instability, unaccountableness, are becoming to your sex. But in the region of thought, of the intellect, of pure reason, everything should be very dry. The one place, my dear young lady, in which I will endure no water is on the brain.'
I had no answer ready. There seemed to be nothing left to do but to go home. I did go a few steps up the orchard, reflecting on the way men have of telling you you cannot think, or are not logical, at the very moment when you appear to yourself to be most unanswerable—a regrettable habit that at once puts a stop to interesting conversation,—and presently, as I was nearing our fence, he called after me. 'Fräulein Rose-Marie,' he called pleasantly.
'Well?' said I, looking down at him over a displeased shoulder.
'Come back and dine with us.'
'There is mutton for dinner, and before that a soup full of the concentrated strength of beasts. Up there I know you will eat carrots and stewed apples, and I shall never be able to make you see what I see.'
'Heaven forbid that I ever should.'
'What, you do not desire to be reasonable?'
'I don't choose to argue with you.'
'Have I done anything?'
'You are not logical enough for me,' said I, anxious to be beforehand with the inevitable remark.
'Come, come,' said he, his face crinkling into smiles.
'It's true,' said I.
'Come back and prove it.'
'I will not.'
'It is the same thing.'
I went on up the hill.
'Come back, and tell me why you think I ought to give up my work and sit for the rest of my days with hanging hands.'
I turned and looked down at him. 'Because,' I said, 'are you not fifty? And is not that high time to begin and get something out of life?'
He adjusted his spectacles, and stared up at me attentively. 'Continue,' he said.
'I look at your life, at all those fifty years of it, and I see it insufferably monotonous.'
'Continue.' He nodded his head gently at each adjective and counted them off on his fingers.
'I see it full of ink-spots, dog-eared grammars, and little boys.'
'It is a constant going over the same ground—in itself a maddening process. No sooner do the boys reach a certain age and proficiency and become slightly more interesting than they go on to somebody else, and you begin again at the beginning with another batch. You teach in a bare-walled room with enormous glaring windows, and the ring of the electric tram-bell in the street below makes the commas in your sentences. You have been doing this every day for thirty years. The boys you taught at first are fathers of families now. The trees in the playground have grown from striplings into big shady things. Everything has gone on, and so have you—but you have only gone on getting drier and more bored.'
'Continue,' said he, smiling.
'Your intelligence,' said I, coming down a little nearer, 'restless at first, and for ever trying to push green shoots through the thick rind of routine—'
'Good. Quite good. Continue.'
'—through to a wider space, a more generous light—'
'Poetic. Quite poetic. My compliments.'
'Thank you. Your intelligence, then, for ever—for ever—you've interrupted me, and I don't know where I'd got to.'
'You have got to my intelligence having green shoots.'
'Oh, yes. Well, they're not green now. That's the point I've been stumbling toward. They ought to be, if you had taken bigger handfuls of leisure and had not wholly wasted your time drudging. But now they ought to be more than shoots—great trees, in whose shade we all would sit gratefully, and you enjoying free days, with the pleasant memory of free years behind you and the cheerful hope of roomy years to come. And during all that time of your imprisonment in a class-room the world outside went on its splendid way, the seasons filled it with beauty which you were not there to see, the sun shone and warmed other people, the winds blew and made other people's flesh tingle and their blood dance—you, of course, were cramped up with cold feet and a headache—the birds sang to other people tunes of heaven, while in your ears buzzed only the false quantities of reluctant little boys, the delicious rain—'
'Stop, stop. You forget I had to earn a living.'
'Of course you had. But you know you earned your living long ago. What you are earning now is much more like your dying—the dying, the atrophy of your soul. What does it matter if your wife has one bonnet less a year, and no silk dress—'
'Do not let her hear you,' he said, glancing round.
'—or if you keep no servant, and have less to eat on Sundays than your neighbors, give no parties, and don't cumber yourselves up with acquaintances who care nothing for you? If you gave up these things you could also give up drudging. You are too old to drudge. You have been too old these twenty years. A man of your brains—' he pretended to look grateful—'who cannot earn enough between twenty and thirty to keep him from the necessity of slaving for the rest of his days is not—is not—'
'Worthy of the name of man?'
'I don't know that that's a great thing,' said I doubtfully.
'Let it pass. It is an accepted ending to a sentence beginning as yours did. And now, my dear young lady, you have preached me a sermon—'
'Not a sermon.'
'Permitted me, then, to be present at a lecture—'
'Not a lecture.'
'Anyhow held forth on the unworthily puny outer conditions of my existence. Tell me, now, one thing. I concede the ink-spots, the little boys, the monotony, the tram-bells, the regrettable number of years; they are all there, and you with your vivid imagination see them all. But tell me one thing: has it never occurred to you that they are the merest shell, the merest husk and envelopment, and that it is possible that in spite of them—' his voice grew serious—'my life may be very rich within?'
And you, my friend, tell me another thing. Am I not desperately, hopelessly horrid? Short-sighted? Impertinent? The readiest jumper at conclusions? The most arrogant critic of other people? Rich within. Of course. Hidden with God. That is what I have never seen when I have looked on superciliously from the height of my own idleness at these drudging lives. And see how amazing has been my foolishness, for would not my own life judged from outside, this life here alone with Papa, this restricted, poor, solitary life, my first youth gone, my future without prospects, no distractions, few friends, Papa's affection growing vaguer as he grows older, would it not, looked at as I have been looking at my neighbor's, seem entirely blank and desolate? Yet how sincerely can I echo what he said—My life is very rich within. Yours sincerely,
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