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watching, in the hope of gaining some intelligence of her, though perhaps at last we could not perceive anything but indistinct shadows, upon which to form conjectures, that were always reciprocally communicated.
Once so fresh is the recollection in my memory, that it seems as though the event had happened but yesterday—we could distinguish pretty clearly upon the curtain, the shadow of a person with a spoon in her hand, apparently going to give some medicine to the unhappy sufferer. My companion began to weep bitterly, though in the public street; and so deeply was I affected by his situation, that my tears flowed in scarcely less abundance. It was natural enough that such a scene should make an impression upon me, too strong to be effaced by any lapse of time. The night was dark and dismal, the weather stormy. These circumstances, together with the glimmer of the lamp from the sick room, the shadow of the person with the spoon faintly seen upon the curtain, the sobs and agony of the afflicted youth, the melancholy reflection that a lovely girl, whom I had often seen skipping and dancing about in all the gaiety of health and spirits, was perhaps at that moment dying, formed a combination of images capable of setting a less ardent imagination than mine into a tempest of emotions. The effect upon me was so powerful, that when the poor girl actually died, I felt the most poignant anguish of heart, exclusive of all considerations of sympathy for her lover.
I, however, soon found a source of consolation not granted to him. I wrote an elegy upon her death ; and as it was not composed with any attention to poetical rules, but was dictated solely by feeling, I succeeded far better in this attempt than in anything I had yet produced. It was seriously suggested by some friends, that the poem ought to be printed. The bare idea of this raised such exquisite transports in my bosom, that, notwithstanding my real affection for the youth, and sorrow for the maiden, I believe, if a prayer of mine would have recalled her to life, I could not have prevailed upon myself to offer it up at the expense of this offspring of my brain. Thus did the vanity of authorship first exercise its all-powerful tyranny over me. The elegy was never printed, for what reason I do not recollect, but the applause I received from the composition would entirely have effaced my sorrow, even though the unfortunate girl had been my own beloved.
I come now to that period of my life when, from the circumstances into which I was accidentally thrown, my future destiny was irrevocably decided, and I was doomed to experience all the pains and pleasures that inevitably attend the dramatic writer. The deceased player, Abbott, came with his strolling company to Weimar, and fitted up the riding-house as a theatre. Never within my memory had Weimar been visited by any players, and my curiosity was excited beyond all bounds. It will easily be imagined, then, what transports I felt when Musæus, the admirable Musæus, who had always honoured me with his particular notice, and who at that time was governor of the pages, came one evening, and requested my mother to let me accompany him to the play.
With a sacred awe did I enter the theatre, an awe the Castle church was never capable of inspiring, The number of lights, the crowd assembled, the guards, the mysterious curtain, altogether raised my expectation to an unexampled pitch. The play was Klopstock's 'Death of Adam. Musæus let me stand upon the bench before him, that I might see over the heads of the other spectators. The curtain drew up: I was all eyes, all ears. Not a word, a look, or an attitude, escaped me. I was impatient if any one of the audience coughed or blew his nose. I absolutely stamped with my foot upon the bench if a troublesome neighbour began to talk to Musæus, who was too complaisant not to answer him. No! alive as my heart has always been to powerful impressions, never did I experience anything equal to the present.
I came home almost stunned with delight. I was asked, how I liked the play ? Ah, my God! LIKED!“ What a feeble word to describe my feelings ! I wanted some new mode of expression coined on purpose to represent them : none of the old ones were sufficiently forcible. Fain would I have painted in the most vivid colours all I had seen, in hopes to make others feel it as I did, but I was only convinced of the impotence of words to accomplish my aim. I neither knew where to begin nor to end. I would have asked no greater blessing of fate, than to grant that I might be present every night at such a performance. Robinson Crusoe's island was no longer an object of desire to me, for on that desert spot there could be no theatre. It was totally incomprehensible to my mind how people could talk of the play with so much composure, and go on calmly and quietly with their avocations as usual. According to my ideas, they ought all to have run about the streets, like the citizens of Abdera, crying, “ Oh! thou ruler over gods and men! Mighty, mighty Abbott !” Did any one ask my mother whether she intended to go that evening to the theatre, and she answered in the negative, that she was engaged to take a walk, or something of the like kind, “ My God!” I thought within myself, “ how is it possible that those who can do as they please, should prefer a walk to the
Inexpressible therefore were my transports, when, not long after, a regular theatre was instituted at Weimar, under the patronage of the duchess Amelia, that favourite of the muses. The company was undoubtedly one of the best at that time in Germany, since the family of Seiler, Brandes, Böck, and the immortal Eckhof, were the principal performers.
Eckhof! thou great and good man, I bless thy ashes ! Thou didst assist to form my heart and un.
derstanding, to awaken many a noble feeling in my bosom, and by thy wonderful performances, to enrich my reason and fancy with ideas and conceptions that could only have been inspired through such a medium. Often when I have seen thee pass by our house in a morning to rehearsal, dressed in a plain coat and an uncombed periwig, with a stooping unassuming gait, how have I been astonished at reflecting that this was the same man who, in the evening when he walked the stage as a king or general, seemed born to com. mand! Thy representations of the human character, at those moments, were to me a school of wisdom, while by thy conduct off the stage thou didst instruct me how to separate real merit from external ostentation.
As Richard the Third, duke Michael, Odoardo, and father Rode, Eckhof was unrivalled. Plays were performed three nights in the week, and
my obtaining permission to be present at them depended partly on my general good behaviour, partly on my particular diligence in my studies. A French governess was in those days chief arbitress of the supreme bliss of my life. With her I used to read and translate madame de Beaumont's works, and every day had a testimonial home with me, consisting either of bon, mediocre, or the dreadful word mal. If the latter, adieu to all thoughts of the play for that evening, as my mother was never accessible to intreaties. How often, therefore, when madame Louvel's pen was dipped into the ink to write the fatal word mal, have I taken her beautiful white hand, kissed it, and bathed it with my tears, till I could prevail on her to moderate the severity of my sentence at least into a mediocre !
My passion for the stage increased every day. As the theatre was entirely supported by the court, there was no paying for admission, but a limited number of tickets were regularly given out. Thus, on festival days, when a new piece or some grand pantomime ballet was to be performed, and the concourse of company who wished to be present was consequently unusually great, it often happened that so insignificant a personage as myself could not procure a ticket. But as my curiosity was on such occasions more strongly excited than ever, I was obliged to have recourse to stratagem for its gratification. Every avenue leading to the theatre, every corner of the house, was as well known to me as the inside of my coat pocket, even the passages under the stage were as familiar to me, as to the man that lighted the lamps. When I was hard pressed for admittance, therefore, I used to stand at the entrance allotted to the performers, and slip in dexterously behind the guards Then, to escape pursuit, I crept instantly under the stage, whence a little door led into the orchestra. Through this I got behind the great drum, which being somewhat elevated, completely concealed my little person, and here I could see the performance very commodiously. Would to heaven Ì had always shewn equal address with respect to the great drama of the world! That I had never engaged in contests with malice and envy, which stand as guards everywhere, but had only stolen in behind them, not venturing upon the stage myself, but remaining underneath it, or at least in the orchestra, concealed by the great drum. Happy the trimmers of the lamps, who are never clapped or hissed, and who perhaps at home, as they represent a contented family-scene, can exclaim with Gresset :
« Une éternité de gloire,
Vaut-elle un jour de bonheur ?" may venture to assert, that among all the frequenters of the theatre, old or young, I was always the most attentive. I need only adduce in proof of my attention, that I could repeat the whole of Lessing's Emilia Galotti' by heart, without ever having seen the book. It must however be observed, and