Page images
PDF
EPUB

throat, like a Hottentot. But, in the end, such is the influence of truth, when we can have the whole of it, that we dismiss Johnson like a friend to whose disagreeable habits and peculiarities we had become accustomed, while his sterling virtues had won our respect and confidence. If I had seen Johnson once, I should probably have no impression but that made on my imagination by his fame and his austere wisdom, and should remain awe-struck; at the second interview I might have disliked him. But Boswell has given me a friend, and I love the old fellow, though I cannot love his bull-dog manners, and worse than bull-dog prejudices.

Were it possible to have of Goethe as universal, many-sided, and faithful a picture, it would be something transcendent in interest; but I do not think he had a Boswell near him, nor any one, I imagine, who would be inclined to buy immortality at the same price with that worthy ;-at least Ekermann does not seem such a man.

*

* A lady a near and dear relation of Goythe, who had lived for very many years in the closest communion with him, was pressed by arguments and splendid offers of emolument to give to the world the domestic life of the poet, or at least contribute some notes with regard to his private conversations and opinions. She refused at once and decidedly. “I had," said she, “ several reasons for this. In the first place, I have not a good memory, and I have a very lively imagination; I could not always trust myself. What I should say would be something very near the truth, and very like the truth, but would it be the truth ? How bould [ send into the world a book, of the exact truth of which I could not in my own conscience, and to my own conviction, be ussured? A second reason was, that Goethe did not die young; I could not do him any justice he was unable to do himself, by telling the world what he would have done, what he could have done, or what he had intended to do, if time had been given. He lived long enough to accomplish his own fame. He told the world all he chose the world to know; and if not, is it for mefor me!--to fill up the vacancy, by telling what, perhaps, he never meant to be told?-what I owed to his boundless love and confidence?--that were too horrible!”

The account of nimself in the introduction is the most charming little bit of autobiography I have ever met with ; it is written to account for his first

h introduction to, and subsequent intercourse with, Goethe, and is only too short. The perfect simplicity and modesty, yet good taste and even elegance of this little history, are quite captivating. The struggles of a poor German scholar, the secret aspirations, the feelings, the sorrows, the toils, the hardships, of a refined and gentle spirit, striving with obscurity and vulgar cares and poverty, are all briefly but graphically touched,-a sketch only, yet full of life and truth. Ekermann, it seems, was the son of a poor cotlager and peddler, residing, when not engaged in his ambulatory traffic, in a little village near Hamburg. Though steeped in poverty, they seem to have been above actual want, and not unhappy. For the first fourteen years of his life Ekermann was employed in taking care of their only cow, the chief support of the family; gathering wood for firing in the winter; and in summer occasionally assisting his father in carrying the package of small wares with which he travelled through the neighboring villages. “All this time,” says Ekermann, “I was so far from being tor

or any

mented by any secret ambition for higher things

intuitive longing after science or literature that I did not even know that they existed.” Ir this case, as in many others, accident, as we call it developed the latent faculties of a mind of no com mon order. A woodcut of a galloping horse—the excise stamp, on a paper of tobacco which hin father brought from Hamburg-first excited his admiration, and then the wish to imitate what he admired. He attempted to copy the horse with a pen and ink; succeeded, much to his own delight and the wonder of his simple parents; and then, by dint of copying some poor engravings, (lent to him by a potter in the neighborhood, who used them to ornament his ware,) he became a tolerable draughtsman; he was then noticed and encouraged by a gentleman, who asked him if he should lik to become a painter. Now the only idea of a painter which had ever occurred to his father an) mother was that of a house-painter; and as they had seen house-painters at Hamburg suspended on dangerous scaffolds, when decorating the exterior of the buildings there, his tender mother begged him not to think of a trade in which he ran the risk of breaking his neck; and the offer was respectfully declined.

In the family of the gentleman who noticed him, Ekermann picked up a little French, Latin, and music; and now the thirst for information was awake ened in his mind; he studied with diligence, and, as a clerk in different offices, maintained himseli till the breaking out of the war of deliverance in 1813. He then, like every man who could carry a firelock, enrolled himself in the army, and made the campaigns of 1813 and 1814. The corps in which he served was marched into Flanders, and there for the first time he had the perception of what pictures are, of all that he had lost in refusing to become a painter, and could have went, as he says, for very grief and self-reproach. He passed all his leisure in wandering through the churches, gazing on the works of the great Flemish masters. At once the resolution to become an artist took possession of his mind. When his regiment was disbanded, he set to work and placed himself under the tuition of Ramberg, in Hanover. There is something very touching in this part of his history; he had himself nothing in the world no means of subsistence; but he had a friend in tolerable circumstances at Hanover; he made his solitary way through the snow on foot to that city, and took up his residence with this friend of his youth, who shared with him his home and slender income. Anxious, however, not to be a burden longer than was absolutely necessary, he sought employment, worked so hard as to injure his health, and brought himself to the verge of the grave,-in short, he was obliged to give up all hope of studying art as a profession, and he took to literature; here he showed the same indefatigable temper, and, conscious of his imperfect educa. tion, he put himself to school; and, that he might

а

be enabled to pay for instruction, procured the situation of a clerk in a public office. At the age of twenty-six he became a scholar in the second class of the Gymnasium, among boys of fourteen and fifteen. Here, he says, the most advanced pupils in the school, far from turning him into ridicule, treated him with every mark of respect, and even Assisted him in his studies; but between his clerk's office and his schooling there remained to him scarce one moment either for food or exercise; he who was eager to perfect himself in the classics, remained ignorant of the great laws by which he held his existence; and we are not surprised to find that the result of these excessive efforts was broken health, a constitution almost destroyed, and, in fact, permanently injured. In the midst of all this, Ekermann found time to fall deeply in love; and the wish to obtain distinction and some settled means of subsistence assumed another, a more pleasing, and a more anxious form. But ill health and a desultory education were against him. He wrote a book of poems, which was published and met with some success; the profits enabled him to go to a university, where for some time he seems to have entertained the hope of procuring an office, or a professorship, which should enable him to marry. Thus year after year passed. In the year 1822, he wrote his “ Beiträge zur Poesie,” (poetical essays,) and sent the MSS., with a modest letter, to Goethe, the result was, an invitation to Weimar, where he finally took up his residence.

a

« EelmineJätka »