Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

he made. How much happier in this respect were we, than are the great mass of authors, whose works are commonly criticised by the world at large without any reason at all.

As, when a child, I would only draw my pious orisons from the sources of my own heart, so, now I would not offer up to the god of poetry the effusions of others, but was always among the small number who produced their own weeds from the garden of Parnassus. To this day I have in my possession several trifles composed for these occasions, which, without incurring the censure of a too great partiality for my own offspring, I think I might venture to assert would not be among the worst productions that usually compose the almanacks of the muses.

At that time ballads were much the rage. The almanacks swarmed with terrific legends of knights and ghosts, which, as tales of horror, could not fail of exciting my warmest admiration; nor was it unnatural in my ardour of authorship, that I should be inspired with a secret ambition of rivaling them. I therefore composed a ballad in the very highest flights of the ruling taste, a part of which I have still among my papers. It contained a sumptuous banquet, and a horrible murder; a ghost appeared preaching repentance, and the obdurate sinner was at length carried away by the devil. The versification was, however, easy and correct.

On the following Saturday, I scarcely knew how to wait for the appointed hour, before I produced this master-piece. The important moment arrived-my heart palpitated—I ascended the rostrum, and read my performance with a tremulous voice ;- but how did my eyes sparkle, how did my bosom swell with transport, when at the conclusion Musæus said, -Oh words never to be forgotten !-"Good! very good! -- from what almanack did you borrow it?"-Conceive, reader, if thou canst-but no, 'tis impossible

wear.

to conceive with what exultation I answered, “It is my own writing.”

“ Indeed!” said Musæus, “Well, well, bravo ! go on !”—I was almost beside myself, and would not have parted with the feelings of that moment to purchase a kingdom. With cheeks glowing with delight I returned to my seat, and as I observed that the eyes of all my school-fellows were fixed upon me, I concealed my face, with ostentatious modesty, in the blue cloak which all the scholars were obliged to

From that moment I considered myself as really a poet.

Musæus had said bravo! Musæus could think that the ballad was taken from an almanack-a species of publication, for which at that time I entertained a very high respect—who then could question my claim to be considered as a son of the muses? I had now proceeded in my career, and against every Saturday composed something new, but as it appeared to me that nothing could possibly equal my ballad, I contentedly reposed under my laurels, only gratifying my childish vanity by always carrying the beloved babe in my pocket, that no opportunity of spreading its fame might be lost by its not being at hand when I met with any one so goodnatured as to request the perusal of it.

Happily for me, Musæus understood as well how to check' conceit, as to encourage genius. Some months after, when the time was approaching, at which both tutors and pupils were to make an exhibition of their talents at a public examination before a numerous audience, Musæus wishing the examiners to be presented with some specimens of the scholars' progress

in composition, desired those whom he thought capable of it, to recite poems of their own writing. When it came to my tum, and he asked me what I should produce upon the occasion, I answered without hesitation, and with perfect selfsatisfaction, my“ ballad ”.

“Your ballad,” he replied; “ what ballad ?"

“ The same that Mr Professor was pleased to commend so highly some months ago,”. I returned, with a confidence and self-sufficiency that Mr Professor could not endure.

“Pshaw!” he replied ; “ away with the silly thing which I had long ago forgotten. No, no; pray let us have something new, something worth hearing."

I was thunderstruck. The mighty fabric of vanity erected in my bosom was overthrown in an instant, and shame stood weeping over the ruins. What was to be done?-I must cast off the laureal-wreath beneath which I had so long contentedly slumbered, and which I now first discovered to be withered, and endeavour to deserve a fresh crown.

Piqued as I was however, I roused all my energies, resolving to do something that should not disgrace my former attainments. I selected from 'Miller's Moral Pictures the story of the Unnatural Son, who kept his father in confinement, of which the following is an abstract:-A prodigal was once celebrating a grand festival at his castle, when one of the guests for want of room, was lodged at night in a remote apartment at the end of a long and solitary passage. At midnight the chamber-door opened, and a wretched, wan, meagre figure, loaded with chains, tottered in. He went up to the chimney, and scraping together the few remaining embers, sat down to warm his trembling hands. The guest astonished, started up in his bed, and examining this spirit, as at first he was almost inclined to think it, soon recogrized the features of his old friend, the father of his then host. Through the universal bustle in the house, his guards had not watched him with their usual care, and thus he had gotten loose, and was strolling about that part of the castle. This dreadful, but alas ! true story, I put into verse, and once more gained great applause from my tutor.

Out of the school-hours I also enjoyed the instruc

a

tion of that worthy man in many very important matters. From these private lectures I derived much more advantage than from the public ones, since they were devoted solely to forming my taste and morals. By them I learned thoroughly to know and value the excellent heart, and amiable domestic virtues of my instructor, and from valuing, was insensibly led to imitate them. Daily did my affectionate esteem for him increase, although he was sometimes pretty severe with me. I cannot here forbear relating an anecdote, partly because it shews his strong propensity to satire, even in the punishment of those under his tuition, and partly because I think that the more I speak of Musæus, the more entertaining and valuable I shall make my sketch.

I had been guilty of some boyish piece of mischief, I do not now recollect what, and my mother, who shrunk from punishing me herself, gave me Uriah's letter to Musæus, requesting that he would inflict on me such correction as he judged proportionate to the offence. He read the letter, represented my transgression to me very calmly, though very forcibly, and then ordered a stick to be brought from the wood house. The stick was brought-it was a willow staff which had grown somewhat crooked. He looked at it with a smile, took me by the arm, gave me several smart strokes over the back and shoulders, and then very coolly, and with an air of the utmost politeness, begged my pardon for having used a crooked weapon.

This piece of banter wounded me much more deeply than the severest chastisement. I never forgot it, and reminding him of the circumstance some years after, we laughed at it together very heartily. Í must however observe, and Musæus himself acknowledged the same thing, that this is a very improper mode of correction for any tutor to practise. Nothing is so exasperating to the young mind as sarcasm, nor does anything weaken the force of chastisement like its being accompanied with insult. For myself, I must confess that my bosom was for many weeks impressed with a strong feeling of resentment at this humiliation, nor perhaps had it easily been got over, had I not been so long accustomed to love and respect Musæus, that I scarcely knew how to regard him with other sensations; and a few words of encouragement to my talents, which from his mouth I always considered as invaluable, shortly after finally sealed his pardon.

While I was in the second class, I made another effort at dramatic writing. I selected Catiline's conspiracy as my subject, and composed on it a tragedy of five acts, which filled at least half a quire of paper. When it was finished, I applied to a schoolfellow of the name of Hügel, who was grown up, and was considered by the whole class as a great genius; with profound humility requesting him to read my production, and subjoin his remarks upon it at the end. This he did, and passed his sentence in the following words : “Very well, only a man cannot address one whom he calls my lord, as thou ?"*

In a moment the respect I had entertained for this sublime genius, as he was called, vanished, and was degraded into compassion. From the pieces I had seen performed, founded upon Grecian and Roman stories, I knew perfectly well that it was not only admissible, but even customary, among those nations to address all persons, how exalted soever their stations, in the style I had used, and I therefore settled the matter to my own entire satisfaction, that since the great Hügel could not find any other fault with my tragedy, it was consequently faultless. Had Eckhof been then at Weimar, I verily believe my vanity had even led me with great humility to offer him the piece

* To address a person of rank in Germany as thou, is considered as a very flagrant violation of propriety. The proper mode of address is in the third person plural.TRANSLATOR.

[ocr errors]
« PoprzedniaDalej »