« AnkstesnisTęsti »
stitution needs mending, then all the country by Seldwyla, and each has offered to bestow knows that at that moment money is tight upon him its freedom if he will only pronounce among the Seldwylers. Besides this they like in its favor. To appease them, since he already to change their opinions and principles, and are has a home of his own which is as proud as always in opposition the very day after a new their ambitious communes, he tells them that in government has been chosen.' If it be too radi- every town and valley in Switzerland stands a cal, to vex it, they range themselves round the tower of Seldwyla ; that this spot is a combinaconservative pious parson of the town, whom tion of many such towns, and must be regarded only yesterday they turned into ridicule, court as imaginary. Some have suggested that it is him, crowd his church, praise his sermons, and Rapperschwyl. The stories are obviously laid hawk about his tracts and Bâle Missionary So- near the Lake of Zurich. But Keller will be beciety reports, without, however, contributing a trayed into no geographical definitions. Howfarthing. If, on the other hand, a half-way con- ever, while these towns seek to secure their Homer servative government is in power, at once they during his lifetime, a greater change has come gather round their schoolmaster, and the parson over the real Seldwyla in the course of the last has to pay a heavy sum to the glazier. Should, ten years than has occurred for centuries. Or however, a government of liberal jurists and rich rather, to speak more correctly, the general life men be at the helm, at once they combine with of the land has so shaped itself that the peculiar the nearest socialists and elect them into the faculties of the Seldwylers have found a fruitful council, demanding a veto, and direct self-gov- field for due development, so that they have ernment with permanent assemblies. But very become more like other people. This is espesoon they are tired of this, speak as though they cially recognizable in the growth of speculation in are weary of public life, and let half a dozen stocks, a lazy business that just suits their temsleepy old bankrupts attend to the elections, while perament. But since that time they laugh less, they lounge in taverns, watching their labors, and are monosyllabic, have little time to spare for laughing in their sleeves. Yesterday they were jokes or playing tricks. Instead of bankruptcies enthusiastic for confederate life, and righteously with disgrace attached to them, they now arindignant that absolute national unity was not range with their creditors. Politics they have established in 1848 ; to-day they are as ardent almost abandoned, because they think these lead for cantonal sovereignty, and send no representa- 'to war. Already the Seldwylers are like every tives to the national council. Occasionally, when one else, nothing more of interest occurs among they carry things too far, and their agitations and them. Therefore the author in a second volume motions threaten the peace, the government sends has gathered in an aftermath from the past events a commission of inquiry to regulate the manage- of the little town. Each volume contains five ment of the Seldwyla communal property. This stories. “Romeo and Juliet of the Village" is always subdues them, they have to look after the gem of the series; indeed, it deserves the affairs at home, and danger is averted. All this palm above all else that Keller has ever penned. causes them great pleasure, which is only ex- The story opens with a carefully detailed picture ceeded by the annual festivity, when the young of two worthy Swiss peasants who, on a fine wine ferments and the whole place smells of September morning, are plowing their respective must, and there is a devil of a noise about, and fields. These fields lie touching each other on the Seldwylers are more good-for-nothing than a slope of the river that runs near the town. usual. Yet it is a curious fact that, the more Between their properties lies a like piece of good-for-nothing a Seldwyler is at home, the ground, but it was barren and only covered with better he becomes when he goes out into the stones and weeds. And the rubbish seems likely world, and quits the warm, sunny valley in which to accumulate, for each peasant throws on these he has not thriven.
unclaimed acres whatever encumbers his own That a strange merry town like this lends fields. Thus they plow on, until mid-day, when itself to all manner of strange careers is not as- a little hand-cart comes up from the village, drawn tonishing. Of these, as Keller says in his pref- by a boy of seven and a little girl of six. It conace, he proposes to narrate a few, which, though tains the dinner of the two men, and among the in some senses exceptional, yet could not have food thrones a naked one-legged doll. The men happened except at Seldwyla. Now, Seldwyla is halt from their labor, and sit down in a furrow not a real town, as we have said, but a typical to discuss their meal. Their conversation turns one; still it is characteristic of its truth to nature upon the middle field, and each tells the other that in the preface to his second volume, pub- how the commune has tried to induce him to lished fifteen years after the first, the author pay rent for it until its lawful owner should aptells us that seven towns in Switzerland have pear. No one has yet claimed it, but they feel been disputing as to which of them is intended pretty well convinced it must belong to a certain
black fiddler who lives with the homeless folk and be placed in the public asylum. His house and can produce no baptismal certificate, for he and remaining acre are sold to pay his creditors, is the very image of the owner who disappeared and Vrenchen must go out into the world and from Seldwyla many years ago. It is a pity for earn her living. As she sadly ponders this, the the soil to let it lie thus fallow, they agree. While last day in the empty, lonely house, thinking of they eat and talk, the children have been playing Sali, he comes in. In vain they try to cheer each in the desert field, until in the hot noonday sun other; their future looks too drear, they must both drop to sleep exhausted. Meantime the part, and yet they feel that separated they can fathers have finished plowing, but before leaving know no joy. In her despair the fancy seizes work each tears a deep furrow into the middle Vrenchen that she must dance once more with field that adjoins his own. Neither takes notice Sali, must spend one more day of happiness ; of the other's deed, though each sees what the then, come what may, she will bear it. Toother has done. Harvest succeeds harvest, and morrow is Kermess at a neighboring placeeach year sees the ownerless field grow narrower could they not go? Sali consents. Early next and narrower; the stones upon it have risen to day he fetches her, and she quits her empty, a ridge so high that the boy and girl, though they desolate home. They pass through a wood, they have grown taller, can no longer see across it halt at a wayside inn, they linger beside streams, when they come to visit their fathers at their they talk and are silent in turns. It is such a work. Years pass. The commune decides that happy day, as bright in their hearts as the cloudthe waste land must be sold. Manz and Marti, less sky above their heads! When afternoon the two peasants, are the only people who care comes they join the dancers. The black fiddler to bid for it, every one in Seldwyla knowing how leads the music, he smiles as he perceives them. the ground had become reduced. Finally it is On and on they dance; the moon rises and floods knocked down to Manz, who instantly complains the floor with light, midnight comes and the that Marti hás lately cut off a three-cornered guests leave, and still Vrenchen and Sali can not piece of the land that is now his, and summons make up their minds to part. Indeed, it has him to straighten the boundary. A violent alter- grown only harder. The fiddler interposes; they cation ensues, and a lawsuit is finally commenced are foolish children, he says, he will advise them. that robs both men of their sound judgment, im- He and his friends are returning to the mounpoverishes their estates, wastes their time, and tains, they will give them bridal escort, he will only ends in their mutual ruin. The hatred be- furnish the music, and once among the housetween them, of course, hinders the meeting of less folk they will need no forms to celebrate their children. Moreover, Manz leaves Seldwyla. their wedding. He works upon their feelings After some years Sali meets Vrenchen, and the till they consent, almost without knowing what old childish love is reawakened. Their delight they do, and the wild procession goes out into at meeting is great, but Vrenchen fears lest her the night singing and playing. But as they pass father should learn that she is speaking to his Vrenchen's former home Sali's reason returns. enemy's son. She begs Sali be gone, and at last He detains the girl, and they manage to escape promises to meet him on their old play-ground. unperceived. But as the frenzied notes of the Here they are interrupted by the black fiddler. fiddle fade into the distance and all is still around He greets them with a sardonic smile. He knows them, Sali says, “We have fled from these, but them, he says; they are the children of those how shall we fee from ourselves?” With paswho have robbed him of his land. Well, they sionate ardor Vrenchen implores him never to will come to no good, he feels sure, and he will leave her. For a time Sali keeps his reason, but live to see them go the way of all flesh before his love and her ardor are too strong for his him. Nevertheless, if they wish to dance, he is young blood. After all, he counts but nineteen willing to fiddle. This sinister apparition casts years. There is only one thing they can do, he a gloom over their meeting, but it does not last says, hold their wedding at this hour, and then long. Vrenchen's joyous nature casts off the perish together in the river. They find a hayangry omen with a merry laugh, and the two barge anchored to the shore; Sali looses it, they chatter away, bemoan their fathers' hatred, and step into the soft fragrant mass, and the boat regret the glad days spent on this spot. In happy floats slowly down stream, past woods through talk they pass the afternoon sitting in the high which the moonlight glints, past dark meadows, corn, listening to the singing of the lark, and past sleeping farms. At chill daybreak two pale dreaming day-dreams fervent as her song. figures, holding each other in a tight embrace, Here Marti finds them. Furious with both, he slip into the river, and when the sun has fully insults Sali, who loses all self-control, and hurls risen the boat comes to a standstill at the neara stone at Marti that strikes him down senseless. est town. It is empty, and none can tell how it He recovers, but only to prove a hopeless idiot, came thither.
Such this story, which is told with simple Keller's novelettes run in the usual groove, and earnestness and pathos. Its construction is mas- love is by no means always or often the pivot of terly. This, however, is far from being the case his plots. A poor tailor who is leaving Seldwyla
, as a rule. In point of construction there is in search of work is the hero of “ Clothes make usually much to condemn in Keller: it is often the Man." This tailor has the weakness always lax and shapeless, his stories are apt to plunge to dress in a long cloak and a Polish fur cap, like fairy tales into the midst of their subject. which give an air of distinction to his appearance, He seems to fancy that we too are Seldwylers and lead to his being mistaken for a count. The and have known our neighbors and their con- incident is trivial and hackneyed, not so its decerns since childhood, that it is only needful to velopment. The stupefied assent of the tailor to mention so-and-so for the whole bearings to rise the honors that are heaped upon him leads to up before us. This literalness, however, throws many absurd situations. Though we despise so powerful an air of reality over Keller's cre- the man's initial weakness that led him step by ations that even when these points are exagger- step into a web of falsehood, the story is so inated we do not feel the exaggeration as we read, geniously told that we can never withhold our but are carried along by the stream of his per- sympathy, and are relieved when all ends well suasive plausibility. Into the “Romeo and Ju- and he wins a rich bride, who having deemed liet” there enters no element of the burlesque, him a count remains faithful to a tailor. The rarely absent from Keller's stories. Its Nemesis way in which he is unmasked is characteristically is Hellenic in its remorselessness. Nor is there Swiss. It is the custom in various parts of the anything forced or unnatural in the feelings and country for the young people of the towns to acts of these youthful peasants.
divert themselves in winter with masquerade “ Frau Regel Amrain and her Youngest- sledge-processions. Such a procession a few born” is a loosely framed tale, showing how a winters ago started from Samaden in the Engaworthy, practical woman saved her son from the dine and visited the neighboring towns, parodying devious career of the Seldwyla youths, and con- the past and present of that district—the sledges verted him into a worthy burgher. The feeling of the past bearing the herdsmen, the spinningof public spirit is strongly developed in the wheels, Alpine horns, and dairy utensils of forSwiss, where it is every man's duty to hold mer days; the sledges of the present containing views upon the government and assist in it. And tourists, red guide-books in hand, or armed with this is admirably brought out here. In “The Alpenstöcke, ropes, and ice-axes, waiters and Three Righteous Combmakers ” Keller lets loose landlords bearing bills of endless length. And all his fun and extravagance, and inimitable it is such a procession, starting from Seldwyla, proto read. It is an excellent skit upon apparent ceeded to Goldach to open the eyes of its inhabiprobity of conduct unrooted in true morality, the tants to the real status of their presumed Polish counterfeit for which the real thing is often mis- count. Their cavalcade represented a very histaken. These three phlegmatic and avaricious tory of tailoring, depicting tailors of all times young combmakers try to establish a good name and nations. The foremost sledge bore the inin Seldwyla, because each wishes to succeed his scription " Men make Clothes," the last, “Clothes master in the business. They all appear so ex- make Men." To the confusion of the luckless cellent the master can not choose between them, workman, the party parade before him as he is yet neither can he afford to keep more than one about to celebrate his wedding. A gentle touch in his employ. He therefore proposes an absurd of irony runs through the whole, revealing how race to decide the matter, and all Seldwyla turns the Swiss, like their brother republicans the out to see the fun, which, as usual, they think is Americans, attach great value to titles. “ Faber got up for their especial delectation. A canny Fortunæ suæ" ("The Smith of his Fortune ") is old maid, the possessor of some money, has also a trifle too broad, but it contains some ludicrous been wooed by the three. She favors none, for scenes. We are not told whether John Kabys she is resolved only to marry the one that will knew this proverb—he certainly from boyhood become the master. When she hears of the built his life upon the idea. How he sets about proposed race she joins her admirers and befools achieving his fortune without doing real work for each in turn until she is at last herself befooled, the same, and how his attempts end in grievous and is made to accept the man she least favored, failures, must be read to be enjoyed. The seriand who wins both business and bride by a hap- ous close surprises in such a pure extravaganza. py ruse.
Thus baldly told, it is impossible to John ends by being a nailsmith who late in life convey an adequate idea of the absurdity of the learns to know the happiness of modest labor story, which, narrated in Keller's quiet tone of and honest earnings. realism, carries us along over all buffoonery, so The Misused Love-Letters " is a medley of that while we read we fully believe. Neither do comedy and idyl. Here we are introduced to
one of those oddities Seldwyla breeds. Viggi his pocket-book behind him containing Grittli's Störteler, a shrewd and respectable merchant, letters. This Viggi finds, and, hoping to receive has the maggot to be thought learned, and by some ideas from the contents, reads with growand by even aspires to authorship. Under the ing astonishment and anger as he recognizes his pseudonym of “Kurt of the Forest ” he pro- own words and his wife's writing. He storms duces some wretched high-flown novelettes, con- home, will listen to no reason, and turns Grittli cocted with ideas stolen from various sources, out of the house. Both sue for divorce, which is and a tenth-rate paper publishes his lucubrations. accorded on the ground of incompatibility, and He now thinks himself an author, and desires Grittli's character is fully reëstablished, while that his good homely wife should rise to his Viggi is the general mark for ridicule. William, level, and become educated to be his muse. He however, is dismissed from his post as an unfit plies her in vain with old anthologies and ex- guide for youth. He leaves Seldwyla and farms tract-books. They convey no meaning to the a lonely plot of land some hours distant. In due good housewife accustomed to look after her do- time he becomes a worthy, steady character. He mestic concerns and lead an active life. No sug- still loves Grittli, and she has grown to love him. gestive utterances fall from her lips. Viggi now The story of their courtship and ultimate marthinks a correspondence might rouse her. He riage is a prose pastoral that makes us forget the has a business journey to make, and will write ludicrous opening of the tale. While in the forher romantic letters, to which she must reply. mer part we are in a false and distorted atmosOn no account, he enjoins, must domestic or phere, here a breeze which has come across trivial details creep into the letters; these she Alpine flowers and pure meadow-heights animates can add on a separate sheet. The despair of the whole. As a skit upon the pretensions of Grittli is great when a few hours after her hus- would-be authors, the story contains masterly band's departure there comes a missive of the touches, such as when Viggi is always on the most high-flown, turgid phrases that were ever search for ideas and characteristics which he bred in the brain of a foolish man. And to this carefully notes down, or when he passes an evenshe is to reply in a like strain. In despair she ing with authors of his sort, in whose converbethinks herself of her neighbor, an usher, who sations the words clique, honorarium, publisher, has the reputation of being a poetical dreamer, editor, paper, are the most prominent, while and who had often cast admiring eyes at the books are only read for business, and the classihandsome young woman next door. Copying cal writers are barely known by name. In “Diher husband's letter and changing it so that it etegen” the scene is laid at the close of the fifreads as if addressed to a man, she puts it into teenth century, and deals with the feuds between the youth's hands and begs him to let her have Seldwyla and a neighboring town, totally unlike
She meant no harm : the usher was it in character. The connecting links are two held fair game by the women-folk of Seldwyla, children, and here again Keller displays his marto all of whom he was more or less devoted. In velous insight into the complex workings of the due course William returns her an answer, in no childlike mind. His children are singularly real, wise behind her husband in sentimentality, and neither abnormally good nor naughty, but actual far exceeding it in sense and in reality of feeling. Alesh and blood, little mortals foreshadowing This letter Grittli copies, making the needful their future failings and virtues. And these chilchanges of sex. Her foolish husband is beside dren remain true to their first draught: the youth himself with joy when he gets this reply, and in- and maiden are the parents of the boy and girl. stantly writes another yet longer and more bom- And every incident in their lives and in the hosbastic epistle. Grittli again has recourse to Wil- tile attitude of the two towns rendered with liam. So for some weeks the twofold comedy of the same fidelity to nature. “Dietegen ” is a errors is played on, Viggi remaining absent long- complete and well-rounded composition, container than he had meant in order that a sufficient ing some dainty scenes and picturesque sketches number of these letters may accumulate, for he of mediæval life, with its beauty and its cruelty. intends to publish them as “ The Correspondence While “ Dietegen " takes us into the Switzerland of Two Contemporaries.” Meantime Grittli counts of the middle ages, “The Lost Laugh” shows on William's good nature not to be hurt when us its modern aspect, its political agitations, its he hears the whole thing is a joke. Indeed, she commercial activity, its religious dissensions. The has hinted as much to him from the first. But story opens with a national fête upon the Lake of William takes it seriously. One warm autumn Zurich, at which the hero and heroine first meet. day, as he is sitting in the wood, he is sudden- The parents of the latter are silk-manufacturers; ly surprised by Viggi Störteler, who has come the former has tried all manner of trades, but home unexpectedly. Wishing to avoid him, he has settled to none. This, however, in Switzerrises and walks away, but unfortunately he leaves land does not necessarily characterize a good-for
nothing as it would with us. There various call- against the worship of mere forms that he comings are not so sharply separated. A merchant bats in these legends. But his purpose is hidden will turn clergyman, a clergyman merchant, an under airy conceits, and it is possible to read and officer a silk-weaver, without losing caste. Thus enjoy these dainty stories without a guess at Jucundus is no turncoat, but a versatile and resto their deeper aim. Written in the spirit of the less youth, who, however, proves not sufficiently middle ages, which saw no irreverence in familiworldly wise to cope with others, and nearly arity with divine things, they are carried out in comes to grief. The story is loosely put togeth- the pure and delicate spirit of noble humanism. er, and often halts to allow of disquisitions. Yet Perhaps the most racy and original is Keller's these are always put into the mouths of the va- amplification of the old legend told by St. Gregrious characters. The author never obtrudes. ory of Nyssa, of Musa, the girl who loved danNevertheless, we may safely infer that here we cing and was forbidden by the Virgin to exercise gain an insight into Keller's views on the burn- her pastime upon earth. In accordance with the ing questions of the day. We see his ardent records of the same Church father, the nine Liberalism, his hatred of formalism in any shape, Muses were permitted to quit hell once a year his dislike to phrase-making and the ritual ob- and enter heaven. Keller has availed himself of servances which have invaded even the plain this notion, and depicts the manner in which this Church of Calvin. In “The Lost Laugh " it is one day was spent. The Muses, in gratitude for particularly prominent how Keller's mind has a this annual respite from torment, compose a gait of its own, so that the development of his hymn of praise, which they propose to perform stories is often slow of growth, and his grasp, the next time they are admitted within the prethough penetrating, seems at times a little uncer- cincts of paradise. Words and melody are modtain in outline. Consequently he is apt to devi- eled upon the psalms they hear the angels sing. ate, but in the end he generally gathers up all But, alas ! the earth-tones, the earth-yearnings, his threads, and we come to understand the hid- the minor key of unfulfilled desires and aspiraden reason of apparent digressions. The Swiss tions so sobs through their composition that character, with its healthy and often jejune com- what seemed cheerful sounds like wailing when mon sense, its national self-consciousness and heard in heaven. Their hymn creates a disturbdemocratic pride, its absence of abstract range ance, and the nine are thenceforth banished from of thought, its stolidity, its true-heartedness and heaven for all time. The semi-comic, semisturdy honesty, is reproduced in the various char- mournful manner in which this incident is told is acters of this story.
incomparable, and so is the roguish gravity, the Between the publication of the first and quiet, unforced satire, that runs through these second volumes of The People of Seldwyla” seven tales. falls a work of a somewhat different kind, name- We now come to the last book published by ly, a cycle of Seven Legends." These stories Keller. He is not, therefore, as we see, a prolific (“ Märchen ") are perhaps the most individual of writer, and hence has the right to be heard, as Keller's productions, in which his comic instincts, he only speaks when he has something to say. his mirth, now purely genial, now underlaid with * Zurich Novelettes" (" Zürcher Novellen ") is the earnestness, his fantastic humors, have full play. collective title of the series. The fair city of The legends are all constructed upon the basis Zurich was till lately full of old-fashioned ways of Church traditions. In some cases Keller has and things, and boasts a long and agitated hismerely expanded these, in others he has caught tory, which furnishes rich matter to a chronicler, the spirit and form of the narrative but changed Keller traces this from mediæval times down to the conditions. The fundamental idea, however, the present day, connecting the whole by a loose is in all cases subverted. It is the human and framework, which probably serves an allegorical natural elements in man that are made to tri- purpose. The stories are supposed to be told by umph over the unnatural asceticisms of religious a godfather to his godson, Jaques, a youth whose fanatics. We are shown how enthusiasm can one desire it was to be an original, and who had be carried to an absurd pitch; how, when love read, to his sorrow, that our modern conditions interposes, the subject succumbs to natural emo- do not produce originals, but that all people are tions and is brought back to earth. Their whole alike, as though turned out by the dozen. He purport is to show that while we are in the world was determined to make an attempt to rise above we must do the world's work, and have no right this modern curse. He had various projects for thus to withdraw ourselves from its duties and achieving distinction. He had already planned a temptations for the selfish gratification of our new Ovid, which was to deal with the metamorown inclinations. Keller is a freethinker in the phoses of nymphs and mortals into the plants best and noblest sense of the word, a profoundly and dyes used in his father's factory, only somereligious soul unfettered by forms, and it is how the subject was not inspiring, and the book