« VorigeDoorgaan »
nally preoccupied with some of those lofty | motive of this confidence and Ellen struck thoughts identified with superior minds. a few notes, to divert attention from her Some celebrated authors were spoken of; he remained silent. Baron von Noth leaned over towards me and said, in a low voice, "It seems that our new acquaintance is not literary.'
Then, to our great astonishment, a rich and harmonious voice was heard, and Ellen continued, accompanied by the finest tenor I ever listened to in my life.
The baron bit his lips; Werter was pale with surprise. The warmest applause followed the conclusion of the beautiful duet.
"I should be surprised at that," I replied; "and, what is more, I would lay a wager that he is musical." The baron drew back, with a movement of vexation, and, as if to test my sagacity, he asked Ellen to sing something. The amiable girl begged him to excuse her, but without putting forward any of those small pretexts which most young ladies would have invented on the instant. Her mother's authority was needed to vanquish her instinctive resistance. Her prelude testified to some unwonted agitation; its first notes roused the Jew from his reverie; soon she recovered herself, and her visible emotion did but add a fresh charm to the habitu-ed al expression of her singing.
Suddenly she stopped short, declaring that her memory failed her.
The baron, who sought a vent for his illhumor, said to the young girl, pointing to the Jew's stick
Mrs. Müller cast a scrutinizing glance at the Jew, whose countenance, which had resumed its habitual calmness, showed nothing that could excite her suspicions. She judged that such a man was not at all dangerous, and accepted his offer. Malthus bowed with cold dignity-doubtless appreciating the
"If any thing should halt in the accompaniment, there is what will restore the measure.'
Ellen rose, cast a look at the baron, which meant, "One meets people like you everywhere," and left the room. Malthus took up a newspaper, and reed until we separated for the night.
The Jew led the regular life of a man who knows the value of time. He worked until noon, paid or received a few visits, went upon Change about two o'clock, then shut himself up in his apartment and was visible to nobody, and at precisely four o'clock entered Mr. Müller's room, where Ellen await
him at the piano. It was easy to see that he daily assumed a greater ascendancy over the mind of his pupil, whose progress was rapid.
When Malthus smiled, Ellen's charming countenance assumed an indescribable expression of satisfaction; but as soon as he relapsed into his habitual thoughtful mood, the poor girl's soul appeared suspended in a sympathetic medium; she saw nothing, answered nobody ;-in a word, she instinctively assimilated herself to the mysterious being whose influence governed her. When Malthus leaned on his cane in walking, Ellen seemed to say, "My arm would support him so well!"
The Jew, however, did not limp disagreeably; his left leg was well formed, and his symmetrical figure showed the disturbarce in its harmony to have been the result of an accident. He had the appearance of having long become reconciled to his infirmity, like a soldier who considers his wounds a glorious evidence of his devotion to his country.
I had more than once felt tempted to ask Malthus the history of his lameness; but he eluded with so much care every approach to the subject, that I deemed myself obliged to respect his secret.
Two months passed thus, and I had opportunity of appreciating all the right-mindedness, generosity, and enlightenment that dwelt in the accessible part of that extraordinary soul. In presence of this dangerous rival, who triumphed without a struggle, the baron became almost tender. His self-love cruelly suffered to see preferred to him a lame merchant with a fine voice. He some
Ellen was really to be pitied. When Malthus took Werter's part, I saw that she was on the point of fainting. Her countenance, naturally so gentle, was overshadowed by an expression of vexation and displeasure. She had taken the Jew's benevolent defence of the student for a mark of indifference. Whilst still under the influence of this painful impression, the Baron's declaration came to add to her agitation; she cast a reproachful glance at Malthus, sank back in her chair, and swooned away. The Jew sprang forward, took her in his arms, laid her on a sofa, and knelt down beside her.
times attempted to quiz him; but Malthus confounded him so completely by the aptness of his retorts, that the laughers were never on the side of the baron.
One night that the family party was assembled, Werter approached Mr. Müller with a suppliant air, and delivered to him a letter from his father. The poor young man's agitation made me suspect that the letter contained a proposal. Mr. Müller read it with attention and handed it to his wife, who rapidly glanced over it and cast a scrutinizing glance at her daughter, to make sure whether or no she was forewarned of this step. A mother's pride is always flattered under such circumstances, and the first impulse is generally favorable to the man who has singled out the object of her dearest affections; but the second thought is one of prudence; a separation, the many risks of the future, soon check the instinctive satisfaction of the maternal heart, and a thousand motives concur to arrest the desired consent.
"It were well," she said, "first to know what Ellen thinks."
The words were like a ray of light to the poor girl, whose countenance expressed the utmost surprise.
"Besides, he is very young," added Mrs. Müller, loud enongh for the baron to hear.
Werter's position was painful; he stammered a few words, became embarrassed, and abruptly left the room.
"A mere child," quoth the baron, should be sent to his books."
Malthus, who had observed all that passed, rested his two hands on his stick, like a man disposed to argue the point, and warmly defended the student.
"And who is that ?" inquired Mrs. Müller, with ill-concealed curiosity.
"Myself, madam," replied the councillor "Baron von Noth."
"It can not be denied," he said, in conclu-clared himself before me." sion, "that the young man's choice pleads in his favor; and his embarrassinent, which at that age is not unbecoming, proves, in my opinion, that, whilst aspiring to so great a happiness, he has sufficient modesty to admit himself unworthy of it."
"If a declaration were a sufficient proof of merit," interrupted the councillor, "I know one man who would not hesitate."
By the way in which this was spoken, the dissyllable "myself" appeared lengthened by all the importance of the personage.
"At my age men do not change," continued the baron; "and the present is a guar
antee for the future."
"You have not understood me, then ?" he exclaimed.
Ellen opened her eyes, and beheld at her feet the man whom her heart had selected; and, absorbed in her passion, unconscious of the presence of those who stood around, she murmured, in a feeble voice—
"Yours! Yours alone!—ever yours!" "Sir," said Malthus to Mr. Müller, "my proposal comes rather late; but I hope you will be so good as to take it into consideration."
In the Jew's manner there was the dignity of a man in a position to dictate conditions. Ellen had recovered herself. As to Mr. Müller, there had not been time for his habitual phlegm to become disturbed; but his wife could not restrain a smile at this dramatic complication, whose denouement remained in suspense.
"Mr. Y.," said she to me, somewhat maliciously, "do you not feel the effect of example ?"
"Perhaps I might have been unable to resist," I replied, "had not Mr. Malthus de
Ellen blushed, and the Jew pressed my hand. Just then Werter re-entered the room, pale and downcast, like a man who comes to hear sentence passed upon him. There was profound silence which lasted several minutes, or at least seemed to me to do so. At last Mr. Müller broke it.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I am much flattered by the honor you have done me
He paused, and seemed to be recalling past events to his mind. During this short silence, Werter gazed at us in turn with an air of astonishment, and I doubt not that he included me in the number of his rivals.
"I have something to tell you," continued Mr. Müller, "which will perhaps modify your present intentions. About ten years ago I had to visit Berlin, where my father had just died. The winding up of his affairs
proved complicated and troublesome, and I was obliged to place my interests in the hands of a lawyer who had been recommend ed to me as extremely skilful. The business at last settled, I found myself entitled to about forty thousand florins, which I proposed to embark in trade. I was happily married, and Ellen was seven years old. Our little fortune had been greatly impaired by a succession of losses, for which this inheritance would compensate.
"One day I went to my lawyer's to receive the money. He had disappeared, taking it with him. Despair took possession me; I dared not impart the fatal news to my wife, and, I confess it with shame, I determined on suicide. All that day I rambled about the country, and at nightfall I approached the banks of the Spree. Climbing upon the parapet of a high bridge, I gazed with gloomy delight into the dark waters that rolled beneath. On my knees upon the stone, I offered up a short but fervent prayer to Him who wounds and heals; I commended my wife and daughter to His mercy, and precipitated myself from the bridge. I was struggling instinctively against death, when I felt myself seized by a vigorous arm. A man swam near me, and drew me towards the shore, which we both reached.
"It was so dark that I could not distinguish the features of my preserver, but the tones of his voice made an impression upon me which has not yet been effaced, and I have met but one man whose voice has reminded me of that of the generous unknown. He compelled me to go home with him, questioned me as to my motives for so desperate an act, and, to my extreme astonishment, handed me a portfolio containing forty thousand florins, on the express condition that I should take no steps to find him out. I entreated him to accept my marriage-ring, at sight of which I promised to repay the
loan, as soon as it should be possible for me to do so. He took the ring, and I left him, my heart brimful of gratitude.
"I will not attempt to describe to you the joy with which I once more embraced my wife and daughter. God alone can repay my benefactor all the good he did us. I arranged my affairs, and we set out for Vienna, where I formed this establishment, of which I can not consider myself as more than the temporary possessor. You perceive, gentlemen, that Ellen has no dowry to expect, and that we may at any moment be reduced to a very precarious position."
Ellen's face was hidden by her hands. When Mr. Müller ceased speaking, we still listened. Presently the Jew broke silence.
"I have little," he said, "to add to your narration; the man who was so fortunate as to render you a service, remained a cripple for the rest of his days. When he plunged into the Spree, he struck against a stone, and since then he limps, as you perceive."
We were all motionless with surprise. Then Malthus drew a ring from his finger and handed it to Mr. Müller. The countenance of the latter, generally so cold in its expression, was suddenly extraordinarily agitated: tears started to his eyes, and he threw himself into his preserver's arms.
"All that I possess belongs to you," he cried, "and I have the happiness to inform you that your capital has doubled."
"Of all that you possess," replied Malthus, "I ask but one thing, to which I have no right."
The worthy German took the hand of his daughter, who trembled with happiness and surprise, and, placing it in that of the Jew
"Sir," he said, addressing himself to me, "you who have seen the world, and who are disinterested in this question, do you think that I could do better?"
THE influence of individuals on the destinies of the world is generally small. The great majority even of the rulers of mankind merely co-operate in a movement which would have pursued its pre-appointed track as rapidly and as completely if they had never existed. Their work may be well done; but, if they were not there, it would be done just as well by some one else. A few eminent men, whose talents and energy have been aided by fortune, have been able perceptibly to accelerate or perceptibly to retard, the progress of events. Hannibal was amongst the greatest statesmen, and was perhaps the greatest general, that the world has seen. All that his talents and his energy wielding the whole power of Carthage could do was to delay her fall for a few years. If Rome had not had Hannibal for an opponent she would have subdued Carthage a little sooner; if she had not had Cæsar for a leader she would have subdued Gaul a little later. If he had endeavored to support her republican institutions, they might have lasted until his death. The fall of Carthage, of Gaul, and of the Roman republic, were questions merely of time. But circumstances from time to time occur when the balance between two great events, or between two great systems of events, is so equally poised that the impulse given by a single hand may be decisive. If Lycurgus had died in infancy, the whole history of Greece might have been altered, and a change in the fortunes of Greece might have been a change in the fortunes of the world. The Athenian domination might have extended over Sicily and Magna Græcia, Rome might have been stifled in her early adolescence, and who can say what would now be the state of Europe if she had not undergone the Roman domination or received the Roman law? If the Barbarian invasion had found her a Greek or Carthaginian empire?
The beginning of the sixteenth century was one of these critical periods. Great forces, material and mental, were then opposed. The events which were to be the result of their conflict have not yet exhausted their influence they may affect the human race for many centuries to come. And these forces were so nicely balanced that the preponderance of religion or of superstition, of free inquiry or of unreasoning conformity, of France or of Germany, depended on the conduct of Charles V. and of Luther.
There seem to us to be no grounds for supposing that, if Luther had died in 1506, a novice in the Augustinian convent of Erfurth, the Reformation, such as it now is, would have taken place. At first sight, indeed, it may appear that the corruptions which he attacked were too gross and palpable to endure the improved intelligence of modern Europe. But we must recollect that on his death Protestantism ceased to extend itself. Its limits are now nearly such as he left them. What was Popish in 1546 remains Popish now. Nor is this to be asascribed to inferiority of political institutions or of cultivation. The democratic cantons of Switzerland, and the well-governed, industrious Flemings, are as strenuous in their adherence to Roman Catholicism as the despotically-ruled Danes have been in their rejection of it.
The most highly-civilized portions of the Continent are France, Italy, the Low Countries, and Germany. Not one-fourth of their inhabitants are Protestants. If the inherent vices of Popery have not destroyed it in France; if it has withstood there the learning and wisdom of the seventeenth century, the wit and license of the eighteenth, and the boldness and philosophy of the nineteenth, what right have we to assume that those vices would have been fatal to it in Great Britain.
Nor can the permanence of Roman Ca
*The Cloister Life of the Emperor Charles the tholicism be accounted for by its self-reformaFifth. By WILLIAM STERLING. tion. Without doubt, with the improved don, 1853. decorousness of modern times, some of its
grossest practical abuses have been removed | less momentous than those which would or palliated. Indulgencies are no longer on have followed the submission or the premapublic sale. The morals in monasteries and ture death of Luther. convents, and those of the secular clergy, are decent there is less of violent active persecution. But a church which claims to be infallible can not really reform her doctrines. Every error that she has once adopted becomes stereotyped, every step by which she has diverged from truth is irretrievable. All the worst superstitions of the Romish church are maintained by her at this instant as stoutly as they were when Luther first renounced her communion. The prohibition inquiry, the reliance on legendary traditions, the idolatry of relics, the invocation of saints, the adoration of the Virgin Mary, the merit ascribed to voluntary suffering, and to premeditated uselessness, "the conversion of the sacraments into charms, of public worship into a magic incantation muttered in a dead language, and of the duty of Christian Holiness into fantastic penances, pilgrimages, scapularies, and a whole train of superstitious observances worthy of paganism in its worst forms,"* are all in full vigor among many of the Teutonic races and among all the nations whose languages are derived from the Latin. The clergy of France, once the most intelligent defenders of the liberties of the Gallican church, are now more ultramontane than the Italians.
The Reformation would have spread over the whole of Germany and of the Netherlands. The inhabitants of those vast countries were all eager to throw off the dominion of Rome, and were kept under her yoke only by the tyranny and persecution of Charles. Germany would have remained an empire. It required the enthusiasm of a religious cause to rouse her feudatories to rise against their sovereign, and to force on him a treaty which in fact admitted their independence. It was to the treaty of Passau, to the shock then given to the Imperial sovereignty, that the Elector of Brandenburg, a hundred and fifty years after, owed his crown, and the Emperor, who had recognized one of his vassals as a king, lost all real authority over the others.
We repeat our belief that if Luther had not been born, or if he had wanted any one of that wonderful assemblage of moral and intellectual excellences that enabled him to triumph in the most difficult contest that ever was waged by man, if he had had less courage, less self-devotion, less diligence, less sagacity, less eloquence, less prudence, or less sincerity, the Pope would still be the spiritual ruler of all Western Europe and America, and the peculiar doctrines of Romanism would prevail there, doubted, indeed, or disbelieved, or unthought of, by the educated classes, and little understood by the uneducated, but conformed to by all.
On the other hand, if Charles V. had been able, like the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse, to shake off the prejudices of his early education,-if, like them, he had listened to Luther with candor, and, like them, had been convinced, and, instead of striving to crush the Reformation, had put himself at its head, a train of consequences would have been set in motion not
* Whately's Errors of Romanism, Essay vi.
If the whole of Germany and the Low Countries had remained one united body, if the former had not been laid waste by the thirty years' war, and the latter by the war which produced the independence of the United Provinces, such an empire would have been the arbiter of the Continent. Flanders, Alsace, Lorraine, and Franche Compté would have remained German; France would not have been able twice to threaten the independence of Europe; a Bourbon would not now be reigning in Spain.
No country would have gained so much by such a change in the course of events as Spain. In the first place, she would have become Protestant. Few of the phenomena of that remarkable period are more striking than the weakness of the hold which peculiar religious opinions then possessed over the bulk of the people of Europe. Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth, turned the English backwards and forwards, from Romanism to Protestantism, and from Protestantism to Romanism, at the will, we had almost said at the caprice, of the monarch for the time being. The pride of the Roman Catholics had not been roused by the rivalry of a new Church, with bishops, and revenues, and patronage, and power, and rank of its own. The Reformation appeared to them not the introduction of a hostile faith, but a purification of the old one, and wherever it was not persecuted it was adopted.
Ireland may appear to be an exception; but the real sovereigns of the greater part of Ireland were then its native chieftains. Henry VIII. and his immediate successors were hostile pretenders. And it may be added,