The Story Of My Life From Childhood To Manhood by Georg Ebers
Chapter XXV. The Summers of My Convalescence.
While I spent the winters in my mother's house in industrious work and pleasant social life, the summers took me out of the city into the open air. I always went first with my faithful nurse and companion to Wildbad; the remainder of the warm season I spent on the Elbe, sometimes with my mother, sometimes with my aunt.
I used the Wildbad springs in all seventeen times. For two summers, aided by a servant, I descended from a wheel-chair into the warm water; in the third I could dispense with assistance; and from the fourth for several lustra I moved unchecked with a steady step. After a long interval, owing to a severe relapse of the apparently conquered disease, I returned to them.
The Wurtemberg Wildbad is one of the oldest cures in Germany. The legend of the Count Mirtemberg, who discovered its healing powers by seeing a wild boar go down to the warm spring to wash its wound, has been rendered familiar by Uhland to every German. Ulrich von Hutten also used it. It rises in a Black Forest valley inclosed by stately mountains, a little stream, the Enz, crystal clear, and abounding in trout.
The small town on both banks of the river expands, ere the Enz loses itself in the leafage, into the Kurplatz, where one stately building of lightred sandstone adjoins another. The little white church stands at the left. But the foil, the background for everything, is the beautiful foliage, which is as beneficial to the eyes as are the springs to the suffering body. This fountain of health has special qualities. The Swabian says, "just right, like Wildbad." It gushes just the right degree of heat for the bath from the gravelly sand. After bathing early in the morning I rested an hour, and when I rose obeyed any other directions of the physician in charge of the watering-place.
The remainder of the day, if the weather was pleasant, I spent out of doors, usually in the grounds under the leafy trees and groups of shrubs on the shore of the Enz. On the bank of the clear little stream stood a wooden arbour, where the murmur of the waves rippling over the mossy granite blocks invited dreams and meditation. During my whole sojourn in Wildbad I always passed several hours a day here. During my period of instruction I was busied with grammatical studies in ancient Egyptian text or archaeological works. In after years, instead of Minerva, I summoned the muse and committed to paper the thoughts and images which had been created in my mind at home. I wrote here the greater portion of An Egyptian Princess, and afterwards many a chapter of Uarda, Homo Sum, and other novels.
I was rarely interrupted, for the report had spread that I wished to be alone while at work; yet even the first year I did not lack acquaintances.
Even during our first stay at Wildbad, which, with the Hirsau interruption, lasted more than three months, my mother had formed an intimate friendship with Frau von Burckhardt, in which I too was included. The lady possessed rare tact in harmonizing the very diverse elements which her husband, the physician in charge, brought to her. Every one felt at ease in her house and found congenial society there. So it happened that for a long time the Villa Burckhardt was the rendezvous of the most eminent persons who sought the healing influence of the Wildbad spring. Next to this, it was the Burckhardts who constantly drew us back to the Enz.
Were I to number the persons whom I met here and whose acquaintanceship I consider a benefit, the list would be a long one. Some I shall mention later. The first years we saw most frequently the song-writer Silcher, from Tubingen, Justus von Liebig, the Munich zoologist von Siebold, the Belgian artist Louis Gallait, the author Moritz Hartmann, Gervinus, and, lastly, the wife of the Stuttgart publisher Eduard Hallberger, and the never-to-be-forgotten Frau Puricelli and her daughter Jenny.
Silcher, an unusually attractive old man, joined us frequently. No other composer's songs found their way so surely to the hearts of the people. Many, as "I know not what it means," "I must go hence to-morrow," are supposed to be folk-songs. It was a real pleasure to hear him sing them in our little circle in his weak old voice. He was then seventy, but his freshness and vivacity made him appear younger. The chivalrous courtesy he showed to all ladies was wonderfully winning.
Justus Liebig's manners were no less attractive, but in him genuine amiability was united to the elegance of the man of the world who had long been one of the most distinguished scholars of his day. He must have been remarkably handsome in his youth, and though at that time past fifty, the delicate outlines of his profile were wholly unmarred.
Conversation with him was always profitable and the ease with which he made subjects farthest from his own sphere of investigation--chemistry perfectly clear was unique in its way. Unfortunately, I have been denied any deeper insight into the science which he so greatly advanced, but I still remember how thoroughly I understood him when he explained some results of agricultural chemistry. He eagerly endeavoured to dissuade the gentlemen of his acquaintance from smoking after dinner, which he had found by experiment to be injurious.
For several weeks we played whist with him every evening, for Liebig, like so many other scholars, regarded card-playing as the best recreation after severe tension of the mind. During the pauses and the supper which interrupted the game, he told us many things of former times. Once he even spoke of his youth and the days which determined his destiny. The following event seems to me especially worth recording.
When a young and wholly unknown student he had gone to Paris to bring his discovery of fulminic acid to the notice of the Academy. On one of the famous Tuesdays he had waited vainly for the introduction of his work, and at the close of the session he rose sadly to leave the hall, when an elderly academician in whose hand he thought he had seen his treatise addressed a few words to him concerning his discovery in very fluent French and invited him to dine the following Thursday. Then the stranger suddenly disappeared, and Liebig, with the painful feeling of being considered a very uncivil fellow, was obliged to let the Thursday pass without accepting the invitation so important to him. But on Saturday some one knocked at the door of his modest little room and introduced himself as Alexander von Humboldt's valet. He had been told to spare no trouble in the search, for the absence of his inexperienced countryman from the dinner which would have enabled him to make the acquaintance of the leaders of his science in Paris had not only been noticed by Humboldt, but had filled him with anxiety. When Liebig went that very day to his kind patron he was received at first with gay jests, afterwards with the kindest sympathy.
The great naturalist had read his paper and perceived the writer's future promise. He at once made him acquainted with Gay Lussac, the famous Parisian chemist, and Liebig was thus placed on the road to the lofty position which he was afterwards to occupy in all the departments of science.
The Munich zoologist von Siebold we first knew intimately years after. I shall have more to say of him later, and also of the historian Gervinus, who, behind apparently repellant arrogance, concealed the noblest human benevolence.
After the first treatment, which occupied six weeks, the physician ordered an intermission of the baths. I was to leave Wildbad to strengthen in the pure air of the Black Forest the health I had gained. On the Enz we had been in the midst of society. The new residence was to afford me an opportunity to lead a lonely, quiet life with my mother and my books, which latter, however, were only to be used in moderation.
Shortly before our departure we had taken a longer drive with our new friends Fran Puricelli and her daughter Jenny to the Hirsau cloister.
The daughter specially attracted me. She was pretty, well educated, and possessed so much independence and keenness of mind that this alone would have sufficed to render her remarkable.
Afterwards I often thought simultaneously of her and Nenny, yet they were totally unlike in character, having nothing in common save their steadfast faith and the power of looking with happy confidence beyond this life into death.
The devout Protestant had created a religion of her own, in which everything that she loved and which she found beautiful and sacred had a place.
Jenny's imagination was no less vivid, but she used it merely to behold in the form most congenial to her nature and sense of beauty what faith commanded her to accept. For Jenny the Church had already devised and arranged what Nenny's poetic soul created. The Protestant had succeeded in blending Father and Son into one in order to pray to love itself. The Catholic, besides the Holy Trinity, had made the Virgin Mother the embodiment of the feeling dearest to her girlish heart and bestowed on her the form of the person whom she loved best on earth, and regarded as the personification of everything good and beautiful. This was her older sister Fanny, who had married a few years before a cousin of the same name.
When she at last appeared I was surprised, for I had never met a woman who combined with such rare beauty and queenly dignity so much winning amiability. Nothing could be more touching than the manner in which this admired, brilliant woman of the world devoted herself to the sick girl.
This lady was present during our conversations, which often turned upon religious questions.
At first I had avoided the subject, but the young girl constantly returned to it, and I soon perceived that I must summon all my energies to hold my ground against her subtle dialectics. Once when I expressed my scruples to her sister, she answered, smiling: "Don't be uneasy on that score; Jenny's armour is strong, but she has sharp arrows in her quiver."
And so indeed it proved.
She felt so sure of her own convictions that she might investigate without peril the views of those who held a different belief, and beheld in me, as it were, the embodiment of this opportunity, so she gave me no peace until I had explained the meaning of the words pantheism, atheism, materialism, etc.
At first I was very cautious, but when I perceived that the opinions of the doubters and deniers merely inspired her with pity, I spoke more freely.
Her soul was like a polished plate of metal on which a picture is etched. This, her belief, remained uninjured. Whatever else might be reflected from the mirror-like surface soon vanished, leaving no trace.
The young girl died shortly after our separation the following year. She had grown very dear to my heart. Her beloved image appears to me most frequently as she looked in the days when she was suffering, with thick, fair hair falling in silken masses on her white dress, but amid keen physical pain the love of pleasure natural to youth still lingered. She went with me--both in wheel-chairs--to a ball at the Kursaal, and looked so pretty in an airy, white dress which her mother and sister had arranged for their darling, that I should have longed to dance with her had not this pleasure been denied me.
Hirsau had first been suggested as a resting-place, but it was doubtful whether we should find what we needed there. If not, the carriage was to convey us to beautiful, quiet Herrenalb, between Wildbad and Baden-Baden.
But we found what we sought, the most suitable house possible, whose landlady proved to have been trained as a cook in a Frankfort hotel.
The lodgings we engaged were among the most "romantic" I have ever occupied, for our landlord's house was built in the ruins of the monastery just beside the old refectory. The windows of one room looked out upon the cloisters and the Virgin's chapel, the only part of the once stately building spared by the French in 1692.
A venerable abode of intellectual life was destroyed with this monastery, founded by a Count von Calw early in the ninth century. The tower which has been preserved is one of the oldest and most interesting works of Romanesque architecture in Germany.
A quieter spot cannot be imagined, for I was the first who sought recreation here. Surrounded by memories of olden days, and absolutely undisturbed, I could create admirably. But one cannot remain permanently secluded from mankind.
First came the Herr Kameralverwalter, whose stately residence stood near the monastery, and in his wife's name invited us to use their pretty garden.
This gentleman's title threw his name so far into the shade that I had known the pleasant couple five weeks before I found it was Belfinger.
We also made the acquaintance of our host, Herr Meyer. Strange and varied were the paths along which Fate had led this man. As a rich bachelor he had welcomed guests to his ever-open house with salvos of artillery, and hence was still called Cannon Meyer, though, after having squandered his patrimony, he remained absent from his home for many years. His career in America was one of perpetual vicissitudes and full of adventures. Afore than once he barely escaped death. At last, conquered by homesickness, he returned to the Black Forest, and with a good, industrious wife.
His house in the monastery suited his longing for rest; he obtained a position in the morocco factory in the valley below, which afforded him a support, and his daughters provided for his physical comfort.
The big, broad-shouldered man with the huge mustache and deep, bass voice looked like some grey-haired knight whose giant arm could have dealt that Swabian stroke which cleft the foe from skull to saddle, and yet at that time he was occupied from morning until night in the delicate work splitting the calf skin from whose thin surfaces, when divided into two portions, fine morocco is made.
We also met the family of Herr Zahn, in whose factory this leather was manufactured; and when in the East I saw red, yellow, and green slippers on the feet of so many Moslems, I could not help thinking of the shady Black Forest.
Sometimes we drove to the little neighbouring town of Calw, where we were most kindly received. The mornings were uninterrupted, and my work was very successful. Afternoon sometimes brought visitors from Wildbad, among whom was the artist Gallait, who with his wife and two young daughters had come to use the water of the springs. His paintings, "Egmont in Prison," "The Beheaded Counts Egmont and Horn," and many others, had aroused the utmost admiration. Praise and honours of all kinds had consequently been lavished upon him. This had brought him to the Spree, and he had often been a welcome guest in our home.
Like Menzel, Cornelius, Alma Tadema, and Meissonier, he was small in stature, but the features of his well-formed face were anything but insignificant. His whole person was distinguished by something I might term "neatness." Without any touch of dudishness he gave the impression of having "just stepped out of a bandbox." From the white cravat which he always wore, to the little red ribbon of the order in his buttonhole, everything about him was faultless.
Madame Gallait, a Parisian by birth, was the very embodiment of the French woman in the most charming sense of the word, and the bond which united her to her husband seemed enduring and as if woven by the cheeriest gods of love. Unfortunately, it did not last.
After leaving Hirsau, we again met the Gallaits in Wildbad and spent some delightful days with them. The Von Burckhardts, Fran Henrietta Hallberger, the wife of the Stuttgart publisher, the Puricellis, ourselves, and later the author Moritz Hartmann, were the only persons with whom they associated. We always met every afternoon at a certain place in the grounds, where we talked or some one read aloud. On these occasions, at Gallait's suggestion, everybody who was so disposed sketched. My portrait, which he drew for my mother at that time in black and red pencils, is now in my wife's possession. I also took my sketch-book, for he had seen the school volume I had filled with arabesques just before leaving Keilhau, and I still remember the 'merveilleux and incroyable, inoui, and insense' which he lavished on the certainly extravagant creatures of my love-sick imagination.
During these exercises in drawing he related many incidents of his own life, and never was he more interesting than while describing his first success.
He was the son of a poor widow in the little Belgian town of Tournay. While a school-boy he greatly enjoyed drawing, and an able teacher perceived his talent.
Once he saw in the newspaper an Antwerp competition for a prize. A certain subject--if I am not mistaken, Moses drawing water from the rock in the wilderness--was to be executed with pencil or charcoal. He went to work also, though with his defective training he had not the least hope of success. When he sent off the finished drawing he avoided taking his mother into his confidence in order to protect her from disappointment.
On the day the prize was to be awarded the wish to see the work of the successful competitor drew him to Antwerp, and what was his surprise, on entering the hall, to hear his own name proclaimed as the victor's!
His mother supported herself and him by a little business in soap. To increase her delight he had changed the gold paid to him into shining five franc pieces. His pockets almost burst under the weight, but there was no end to the rejoicing when he flung one handful of silver coins after another on the little counter and told how he had obtained them.
No one who heard him relate this story could help liking him.
Another distinguished visitor at Hirsau was Prince Puckler Muskau. He had heard that his young Kottbus acquaintance had begun to devote himself to Egyptology. This interested the old man, who, as a special favourite of Mohammed Ali, had spent delightful days on the Nile and made all sorts of plans for Egypt. Besides, he was personally acquainted with the great founders of my science, Thomas Young and Francois Champollion, and had obtained an insight into deciphering the hieroglyphics. He knew all the results of the investigations, and expressed an opinion concerning them. Without having entered deeply into details he often hit the nail on the head. I doubt whether he had ever held in his hand a book on these subjects, but he had listened to the answers given by others to his skilful questions with the same keen attention that he bestowed on mine, and the gift of comprehension peculiar to him enabled him to rapidly shape what he heard into a distinctly outlined picture. Therefore he must have seemed to laymen a very compendium of science, yet he never used this faculty to dazzle others or give himself the appearance of erudition.
"Man cannot be God," he wrote--I am quoting from a letter received the day after his visit--"yet 'to be like unto God' need not remain a mere theological phrase to the aspirant. Omniscience is certainly one of the noblest attributes of the Most High, and the nearer man approaches it the more surely he gains at least the shadow of a quality to which he cannot aspire."
Finally he discussed his gardening work in the park at Branitz, and I regret having noted only the main outlines of what he said, for it was as interesting as it was admirable. I can only cite the following sentence from a letter addressed to Blasewitz: "What was I to do? A prince without a country, like myself, wishes at least to be ruler in one domain, and that I am, as creator of a park. The subjects over whom I reign obey me better than the Russians, who still retain a trace of free will, submit to their Czar. My trees and bushes obey only me and the eternal laws implanted in their nature, and which I know. Should they swerve from them even a finger's breadth they would no longer be themselves. It is pleasant to reign over such subjects, and I would rather be a despot over vegetable organisms than a constitutional king and executor of the will of the 'images of God,' as men call the sovereign people."
He talked most delightfully of the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohammed Ali, and described the plan which he had laid before this brilliant ruler of arranging a park around the temple on the island of Philae, and creating on the eastern bank of the hill beneath shady trees, opposite to the beautiful island of Isis, a sanitarium especially for consumptives; and whoever has seen this lovely spot will feel tempted to predict great prosperity for such an enterprise. My mother had heard the prince indulge in paradoxical assertions in gay society, and the earnestness which he now showed led her to remark that she had never seen two natures so radically unlike united in one individual. Had she been able to follow his career in life she would have recovered a third, fourth, and fifth.
These visits brought life and change into our quiet existence, and when four weeks later my brother Ludo joined us he was delighted with the improvement in my appearance, and I myself felt the benefit which my paralyzed muscles had received from the baths and the seclusion.
The second season at Wildbad, thanks to the increased intimacy with the friends whose acquaintance we had made there, was even more enjoyable than the first.
Frau Hallberger was a very beautiful young woman. Her husband, who was to become my dearest friend, was detained in Stuttgart by business. She was unfortunately obliged to use the waters of the springs medicinally, and many an hour was clouded by mental and physical discomfort.
Yet the vivacity of her intellect, her rare familiarity with all the newest literature, and her unusually keen appreciation of everything which was beautiful in nature stimulated and charmed us. I have never seen any one seek flowers in the field and forest so eagerly, and she made them into beautiful bouquets, which Louis Gallait called "bewitching flower madrigals."
Moritz Hartmann had not fully recovered from the severe illness which nearly caused his death while he was a reporter in the Crimean War. His father-in-law, Herr Rodiger, accompanied him and watched him with the most touching solicitude. My mother soon became sincerely attached to the author, who possessed every quality to win a woman's heart. He had been considered the handsomest member of the Frankfort Parliament, and no one could have helped gazing with pleasure at the faultless symmetry of his features. He also possessed an unusually musical voice. Gallait said that he first thought German a language pleasing to the ear when he heard it from Hartmann's lips.
These qualities soon won the heart of Frau Puricelli, who had at first been very averse to making his acquaintance. The devout, conservative lady had heard enough of his religious and political views to consider him detestable. But after Hartmann had talked and read aloud to her and her daughter in his charming way, she said to me, "What vexes me is that in my old age I can't help liking such a red Democrat."
During that summer was formed the bond of friendship which, to his life's premature end, united me to Moritz Hartmann, and led to a correspondence which afforded me the greater pleasure the more certain I became that he understood me. We met again in Wildbad the second and third summers, and with what pleasure I remember our conversations in the stillness of the shady woods! But we also shared a noisy amusement, that of pistol practice, to which we daily devoted an hour. I was obliged to fire from a wheel-chair, yet, like Hartmann, I could boast of many a good shot; but the skill of Herr Rodiger, the author's father-in-law, was really wonderful. Though his hand trembled constantly from an attack of palsy, I don't know now how many times he pierced the centre of the ace of hearts.
It was Hartmann, too, who constantly urged me to write. With all due regard for science, he said he could not admit its right to prison poesy when the latter showed so strong an impulse towards expression. I secretly admitted the truth of his remark, but whenever I yielded to the impulse to write I felt as if I were being disloyal to the mistress to whom I had devoted all my physical and mental powers.
The conflict which for a long time stirred my whole soul began. I could say much more of the first years I spent at Wildbad, but up to the fifth season they bore too much resemblance to one another to be described in detail.
A more brilliant summer than that of 1860 the quiet valley of the Enz will hardly witness again, for during that season the invalid widow of the Czar Nicholas of Russia came to the springs with a numerous suite, and her presence attracted many other crowned heads--the King of Prussia, afterwards the Emperor William I, her royal brother; her beautiful daughter, Queen Olga of Wurtemberg, who, when she walked through the grounds with her greyhound, called to mind the haughty Artemis; the Queen of Bavaria--But I will not enumerate all the royal personages who visited the Czarina, and whose presence gave the little town in the Black Forest an atmosphere of life and brilliancy. Not a day passed without affording some special feast for the eyes.
The Czarina admired beauty, and therefore among her attendants were many, ladies who possessed unusual attractions. When they were seated in a group on the steps of the hotel the picture was one never to be forgotten. A still more striking spectacle was afforded by a voyage made on the Enz by the ladies of the Czarina's court, attired in airy summer dresses and adorned with a lavish abundance of flowers. From the shore gentlemen flung them blossoms as they were borne swiftly down the mountain stream. I, too, had obtained some roses, intended especially for Princess Marie von Leuchtenberg, of whom the Czarina's physician, Dr. Karel, whose acquaintance we made at the Burckhardts, had told so many charming anecdotes that we could not help admiring her.
We also met a very beautiful Countess Keller, one of the Czarina's attendants, and I can still see distinctly the brilliant scene of her departure.
Wildbad was not then connected with the rest of the world by the railroad. The countess sat in an open victoria amid the countless gifts of flowers which had been lavished upon her as farewell presents. Count Wilhorsky, in the name of the Czarina, offered an exquisitely beautiful bouquet. As she received it, she exclaimed, "Think of me at nine o'clock," and the latter, with his hand on his heart, answered with a low bow, "Why, Countess, we shall think of you all day long."
At the same instant the postillion raised his long whip, the four bays started, a group of ladies and gentlemen, headed by the master of ceremonies, waved their handkerchiefs, and it seemed as if Flora herself was setting forth to bless the earth with flowers.
For a long time I imagined that during the first summer spent there I lived only for my health, my scientific studies, and from 1861 my novel An Egyptian Princess, to which I devoted several hours each day; but how much I learned from intercourse with so great a variety of persons, among whom were some whom a modest scholar is rarely permitted to know, I first realized afterwards. I allude here merely to the leaders of the aristocracy of the second empire, whose acquaintance I made through the son of my distinguished Parisian instructor, Vicomte de Rouge.