HER LIFE AND LETTERS
MRS. [Kate] VAUGHAN JENNINGS
WITH A PORTRAIT, ENGRAVED FROM A PAINTING BY DAFFINGER
HENRY S. KING & CO., LONDON.
BY PERMISSION TO
WHO FIRST MADE
KNOWN IN ENGLAND.
RAHEL: HER LIFE AND LETTERS
Wide horizon, eager life,
Busy years of honest strife;
Ever seeking, ever founding,
Never ending, ever rounding,
Guarding tenderly the old,
Taking of the new glad hold,
Pure in purpose, bright in heart –
Thus we gain – at least a start! – GOETHE
AMONG those assertions which have of late years become axioms, is that which affirms the intellectual vigour of the Germans. We accept without a question the professional statement that »all the best books are German books,« and yet our most modern experience has not led us to look for any special intellectual delight in German society generally, still less in that of German women.
It is with some surprise therefore that we trace, in the letters and memoirs connected with the early part of this century in Germany, the influence of more or less gifted women upon the writers of that time.
We all believed long ago in the eulogy of Tacitus upon the womanliness of the German women, and in those [S. 2] poets of the middle ages, the Walthers, Gottfrieds, Frauenlobs, who were never weary of extolling that grace and beauty which we will hope were not altogether ideal. But it is hard, in the face of the combined luxury and household drudgery of the present day, to realise the more intellectual life, led by women as well as by men in many parts of Germany, sixty or seventy years ago.
The French Revolution, in its wide–spread influence, brought to German women a higher recognition than they had ever yet received. As by a sudden inspiration, the dawning century began to appreciate the intellectual sympathy, the suggestive genius, which are perfectly compatible with the smallest household duties and with the all–pervading care for others which is the special and compensating privilege of women.
This appreciation reached its climax in Berlin, in the enthusiastic homage rendered to Rahel Levin. As a representative woman, she is at one the creation and the expression of the quick–pulsed life of a stirring epoch in European history. Her character can only be fully understood in connection with those events in which she took her share, and with that society of which she formed the controlling centre.
Rahel attained her social position in spite of circumstances. To her were denied the most advantages which surrounded the early years of Madame de Stael and of Madame Récamier. Rank, wealth, beauty, she had not. It was the simple force of her acute intellect in its rare combination with an ardent emotional nature that attracted towards her the ablest minds of her time. From [S. 3] the variety of her friendships we learn the breadth and many–sidedness of her character. If we contrast the thoughtful tenderness of Henriette Herz with the daring intellect and passion of the Countess Pachta, the purity and earnestness of Fichte with the unscrupulous cleverness of Gentz, we become aware of an elasticity of friendship almost unintelligible to us with our feelings of insular reserve. But Rahel possessed a magnetic power for drawing out the best nature of all those with whom she came in contact. She had for each, sympathy or counsel, admiration or censure, as the case might demand.
The influence of her salon, with certain interruptions during the War of Liberation, extended over some twenty years. It differed from its older rivals in Paris, that of Madame de StaÁl were concerned mainly about politics; while the men and women who gathered round Rahel, from their great variety of gifts, ministered to the spread of a universal culture. Science, art, society, philosophy, theology, were all represented by people of more or less talent, and became subjects of daily interest and discussion. Her salon might be said to represent a miniature Renaissance, whose wider development, like that of its great prototype, was hindered by the outer barbarism of war.
It was at the blooming Whitsuntide of the year 1771, that the Levin household was gladdened by the birth of the first child. Probably no member of it then cared to speculate about the career which we have anticipated in [S. 4] the above remarks. All had present occupation enough in the precarious state of the mother, and in shielding from adverse influence the tiny spark of new life. Carefully rolled in cotton wool, the first hours of the child’s existence were passed under the unceasing watchfulness of doctor and nurse. This ordeal survived, she grew and flourished, and in due time received the name of Rahel Antonie Friederike Levin.
The circumstances surrounding the childhood of Rahel do not form a pleasant picture, or augur well for future development. Her organisation was susceptible in the extreme, alike to pain or pleasure. During her early years she was wayward and impatient of restraint. Frau Levin never found the clue to the child’s character, and as years passed on misconceptions arose on both sides, which were a cause of intense pain to Rahel’s affectionate other. Her father was a well–known jeweller in Berlin, in easy though not wealthy circumstances. He was an autocrat in the family circle, and his tyranny was a continual source of irritation to Rahel and of suffering to her mother, who yielded everything for the sake of peace, and was crushed in spirit and in health by his continual harshness.
Rahel was early taught to seek social and intellectual sympathy beyond the family circle, and her favourite resort was the house of the Jewish philosopher and reformer, Moses Mendelssohn. There was no actual Judengasse in Berlin, as at Frankfort, and the position of the Jews was less ignominious than in other parts of the country. It is true that Israelitish descent [S. 5] was a barrier to advancement under government, to professorships, or state apppointments; but it did not prevent the appreciation of Jewish gold and Jewish learning by needy and erudite Christians. It was their learning and intellectual power which gave to Friedländer, Moses Mendelssohn, Marcus Herz, and others, a social position beyond the attainment of Jews in less cultivated cities.
Rahel’s early friends were Henriette and Dorothea Mendelssohn, bright, intelligent girls, in advance of her in years as well as in all matters of technical training. Their father was remarkable for his belief in the education of daughters as well as of sons, and no pains were spared by him to secure their being highly educated in the true sense of the words. Their natural powers were brought out, tested, developed; their imaginations had full play, and they grew up able to employ their trained mental faculties upon all questions that came within their reach. Thus, without any remarkable gift of genius or of beauty, they were sought after to the end of their days as women whose companionship was always desirable and delightful. Other friends they also had in common, among whom we shall find the beautiful and accomplished wife of Marcus Herz. At sixteen Rahel was not learned, not even technically well educated. She was self–trained, and read people as other girls read books. She could write very clever, chatty letters, but was quite unequal to a work like that of Mademoiselle Necker at the same age, upon Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois.
Rahel’s youth was quiet and uneventful. There is only [S. 6] one incident bearing strongly upon her future character, which has come down to us. A burly French gentleman, in the inevitable powder and pigtail of the day, with fierce eyebrows and broad features, pitted with small–pox, was to be seen walking about Berlin. He called upon the king, carried his own letters to post, studied the world through his lorgnette, behaved like any ordinary mortal, and yet was no less a person than Mirabeau. Like all other visitors to Berlin at that time, he sought an introduction to the house of Marcus Herz, and it was probably there that Rahel first made his acquaintance. As yet, his lawsuits and love affairs had not rendered him notorious, nor had his association with the nobler movements of the French Revolution elevated him into a popular hero. But Rahel at sixteen was at once arrested by the novelty and boldness of his ideas. His resistless eloquence, his unresting energy, stirred her waking thought, and roused her enthusiastic admiration. The seeds were then sown of that love of liberty which bore fruit for her country in the day of need, and in a later and more peaceful time caused her salon to be looked on with suspicion by a feeble and ignoble government.
Her health appears to have required frequent change of scene, and Teplitz became a favourite resort, not more on account of the mineral waters and fine climate than of the charming scenery and pleasant society always to be found there. In 1795 she was there alone with her maid, and consoles herself by writing letters to Gustav Brinckmann, a young Swede, afterwards ambassador at Berlin, whose friendship for her continued throughout her life.
To Gustav von Brinckmann, in Berlin.
Teplitz, August, 1795.
It is right and proper and wise and good that I should write to you, although I cannot adequately thank you for the book: the writing itself will be an acknowledgement. What is there so interesting as a new acquaintance? So, first of all, about Herr von Burgsdorf. I thank you for the thought of making us acquainted. Tell him we already know each other. Goethe is a sufficient connecting link for anything that is or can be called human. I had hoped, however, that the nearer acquaintance might have developed itself with pleasure to myself and without discomfort to him. Besides, I do already know something of him and his friendship, and so forth.
You will have from me to–day only the most disjointed questions, by no means a letter. I hear from no one. However bad I may be, I am still better than others at correspondence. Because I, upon principle and system, do not write, they also do not. What I do with reason, they follow without reason, and the blame recoils upon me, because they carefully reserve all means of defence. Do not imagine that it distresses me, for what is there to write about? The only people who write what is worth having are Jettchen and Dorothea Veit. All that is interesting, intelligent, or amusing to me, I have already read in your two letters. So it was only a mild passionless upbraiding of destiny. . . . The lady upon whose account I really continue to stay here, is one of the first order. She would be perfect if she had only once been thoroughly unhappy. (Can you understand this? Please do, this time, [S. 8] without an explanation.) Moreover, she is one of the most charming creatures, blonde and blue–eyed, with such a face, figure, grace, expression, character – in short, if she were to be only two days in Berlin, you would be for ever relieved of that most inconvenient guest called a heart.
Think how I am living here now on account of this Countess Pachta, – of the fine air, of my health, of innumerable little reasons. Goethe says in Götz, »Everything has two or three causes.« Still I do not live with the countess, only near her; quite alone with my servant. I dine and sup alone; in short, I am given over to the winds and waves. Yet I am not more deserted than I feel at home; it is the same always. I am not sure myself whether it is a happiness, because any day one may become more miserable, and it is well to be beforehand. In general terms, I ought now to be called happy, since I do not wish for more happiness – I know there is no such thing. I am only wainting for a little health, and then to collect a few ideas. I feel as though many years ago something within me had been shattered, and I have a kind of savage pleasure in the thought that it can never be bruised and broken again. . . .
I always believe that everything that is, or that happens, has its appointed influence. Why then should wishes be without result? Wishes that are intelligent, genuine, fervent, such as we think would draw down the stars, these surely must accomplish something. I think they belong to the general harmony of things of things and must do their work. For although nothing may be right, yet we [S. 8] do see through the tangled, crooked lines where they might be straighter. I hold that an earnest wish ought to accomplish something. In this case it would be my strongest right to see Goethe. Why is he always to be seen by his washerwoman and bootcleaner, by aristocrats and men who write on law and the origin of stones?
I thank you, as I ought, and as you could wish, for your sympathy. I am glad that my brother has showed you the letter. I pity you with the pity of a connoisseur about the teeth – and the peruke is simply dreadful. . . . Is Humboldt still in Berlin? What a pity your neighbour is gone – that comes of speculation! The Countess Pachta is a friend of the uncivilised Herr Hess, your Hamburg friend. I shall come again about the end of August. It will be good and bad then, as it is now. My friend Gualtieri is still here. Farewell! I fare tolerably. Apropos, there is here a young, handsome, and amiable sister–in–law of Bernstorff, who tells me that the Meyers will be here in a few days. Adieu. Your R.
From all the letters of this period we gather that matters were not smooth in the Levin home. In addition to family disagreements, Rahel had anxiety and sorrow of her own, which are obviously alluded to in the above letter, and no doubt were the town talk of Berlin. Rahel had become engaged to a Count von Finkenstein after a long and persistent courtship. She yielded probably in spite of her better judgement. With her quick perception she must have foreseen those inevitably difficulties, in which the count would not believe until they came tangibly before him. At length, after much anxious [S. 10] hesitation, Rahel released the count from his engagement, mainly on the ground of the difference in social rank, and the strong objection entertained by his family to his marriage with a Jewess. Thus this harassing affair, which had extended over several years, was brought to a conclusion never afterwards to be regretted. At the same time, a temperament so ardent, and a nervous system so finely strung as that of Rahel, could not pass through such an experience without deep suffering both of mind and body. A long and severe illness followed, after which, in 1800, she made a somewhat lengthened stay in Paris.
Rahel had long been familiar with French literature and language. She had known well many of the French émigrés who had been from time to time resident in Berlin, and therefore found herself at once able to enter into the thought and life of the lively capital. Jean Paul said of a letter which was shown to him, »It is worth ten descriptions; no one has thus, at a glance, understood and characterised the French people. What eyes they were to see, so keen and clearly, the truth, and only the truth.«
It is interesting to observe in the few letters that have been preserved of this date, how Rahel, in the intensity of her own sense of loss and loneliness, and in her physical prostration, still occupies her thoughts with those dear to her at home. She still cares for all their trifling needs. Certain little children in whom she is interested are on no account to have their curls cut, they are to use »huile antique put on with a small brush.« She further entreats that they may not be sent away to school before her [S. 11] return. Then her sister Rosa, who is about to be married, receives strict injunctions not to fret her mother about her outfit, to buy only what is necessary, and leave the rest until she reaches her new home in Amsterdam, Rahel undertaking to make full compensation in the new Paris fashions she is prepared to bring with her.
»News I never write,« says Rahel to Rosa, »no one need ask me for it. You may have it in the papers, but I know none, and none shall pass my lips or my pen. We have mild summer weather, and can be in the Tuileries immediately when it does not rain. But only think of it; there is no one here for whose sake I care to go into a theatre, and there are some twenty open every day. At home I have the people, but no plays: here it is reversed. But I bear it all with patience.«
Again to Rosa in Amsterdam after her marriage: –
»Since your last letter I have felt most sad. You are gone! No Rosa will again come out to meet me with faithful step and heart, knowing my sorrow through and through. When I am ill in body or in soul, I shall be alone – alone. Your step is no longer in those evermore empty rooms. To risk a happiness. O God! I cannot even risk it, But all is well with me! . . . . Dear Rosa, what may not lie before you! But no, your name is Rosa, you have blue eyes, and quite another life than I, with my star, name, and eyes. Life seems over for me. I know it, but cannot feel it. I have a red heart like others, though with a dark, hopeless, ugly fate. But after all it is not fate, nor poverty, nor anything of that kind. But! –
»Greet mamma a thousand times. Tell her I congratulate [S. 12] her from my whole heart – the more that she never knew any joy through me – it was not God’s will – but in her place I should have had great compassion for such a child. Still, she must not be sad about me! I know how much she has done for me, and I thank her with deep feeling, I think the more of it as she looks at the things so differently. Tell her the destiny before me is like that of nations and great men who are borne up and down upon the sea of existence. From of old such men have seemed to me like spring blossoms carried by the wind, wildly tossed; none knows where they fall; only the fewest bear fruit; the seasons run their course; man goes carelessly on and hs enough to do live. Tell mamma this. God strengthen you. I look for a letter from Marcus. Then, my journey must be determined by wheather and roads. The trees blossom, but it is not spring as with us. Many things are uglier here in nature and elsewhere. Adieu! R. L.«
It was at this time that Rahel first became conscious of the want of power to express the thoughts which crowded her active brain. While possessing the breadth and originality of thought, the brightness and fertility of intellect, the keen sensibility to suffering, which we admire in our own Mrs. Browning, she was denied the channels of expression, and accomplished its appointed work in its own way. From Teplitz, in 1795, she writes to Baron Brinckmann: –
»Will you take a thought of mine and put it into heroic verse or rhyme – I think without rhyme would be best. [S. 13] There was an illumination here yesterday, and we sat on the further shore of the lake to enjoy it. But instead of looking at the lamps, I looked at the water and at the sky: there was one bright immovable star. I saw it also reflected in the water, but the wind ruffling the surface, changed its shape and dimmed its lustre. So it is with men, I thought; we judge them from far off, disturbed and dulled by circumstances. Instead of the fixed star, we see only the moving water, and do not trouble to look upward.«
Again, in the same year to David Veit, then studying philosophy and medicine in the University of Jena: –
»Tell me candidly, did you ever meet with a person cultivated after my fashion? I never did. Others, who are ignorant of a subject, are not even aware that they know nothing about it. But with me it is different. I know my ignorance and the cure for it, and yet remain as I was before. How can any one know so exactly, so thoroughly, so aesthetically, I might almost say, what is well written, and yet not be able to mend one’s own work. My taste, my judgement, are continually ripening, but I express myself less clearly than the humblest woman who has only read the ›Three Friedrichs of Siegfried.‹ People with far more stupidity at command can write and speak better. I feel this every day, and sometimes to my annoyance. I should, at least, like to be able to trace the cause, since I am aware of the fact. I weigh every ›and,‹ ›well,‹ ›then,‹ – every syllable; I know perfectly every [S. 14] shade of difference between writers, and can characterise them better than most people, and yet my own work is not better for it. I know perfectly when I have written a good sentence, but still that does not help me. I even speac like a roturier! If I had not a few original thoughts, ignorant folks would not say I also was ignorant.«
This candour, although somewhat extreme in its expression, reveals the one failing which prevented Rahel from filling that definite place in literature to which she might well have attained. Personally associated, with the earlier writers of the Romantic School, she lacked, with them, that plastic power which might have given to their imaginative genius appropriate form, and to posterity an abiding literature.
The ready appreciation of power in others, which we have seen in Rahel’s early enthusiasm for Mirabeau, now showed itself still more strongly. First through her busy brain and tongue and pen was spread in all directions the tidings of the advent of a new poet. Rahel became the interpreter of Goethe, not only by the keenness of her intellectual perception (which forestalled the criticism of Schlegel), but by her sympathetic insight into his poetic world of thought. She shared his strong realism, and believed that his genius could express, as no poet yet hat done, that harmony between the real and the ideal which was with her but a dim prophetic consciousness. It would appear to have been by force of contrast that Rahel’s fervent nature was led so completely into captivity by Goethe’s genius, with its calm pagan repose. It may be that in the intensity of her own enthusiasm [S. 15] she was unconscious of what he lacked in this respect. She became one of the earlies victims of that »daemonic fascination« which he exercised by his writings as well as in his personal intercourse. It must have been a wonderful experience to be roused, amid that slumbrous atmosphere of literary platitudes, by the appearance of »Götz von Berlichingen,« and to read and enjoy it without the intervention of a generation of critics. Rahel was soon installed high–priestess of Goethe–worship in Germany. Throughout her note–books and letters much fragmentary criticism upon Goethe was scattered. It was subsequently collected by Varnhagen von Ense and forwarded to Goethe, by whom it was acknowledged with Olympian affability. Goethe, although he did not make the personal acquaintance of Rahel until some years later, knew her well by report, and in conversation with Horn, about 1795, thus spoke of her: –
»Yes, she is a charming girl; strong in her emotions and yet prompt in their utterance; the one fact gives her importance, the other makes her agreeable. We admire her great originality, we feel that it is charming and that we are delighted. Undoubtedly there are many people in the world who seem original, but we have no certainty that it is not an illusion; that what we take to be the movement of a lofty intelligence is not simply a passing whim. It is not so with her; so far as I know she is always the same, always equally animated yet self–possessed. In short, she is what I shoud call a beautifu[l] soul, the more you know of her the more you feel at tracted and captivated by her.«
In reference to her love for his poetry, he continued: –
»It is doubly pleasant to me, because with her it is no general impression; she masters every idea in detail. A general impression is often a proof that we ground our admiration of a poet upon other people’s opinions. If we have apprehended his work in detail for ourselves, we naturally show that we have pure emotions and clear thoughts of our own.«
It was this common veneration for Goethe which first attracted Rahel toward Ludwig Tieck. In the old–fashioned family life of the Berlin rope–maker, in the background of the hempen coils, the young Ludwig had seen the literature of the past generation carefully treasured, and now the new poetry was received with open arms. The patriarch Tieck, while believing himself in all the fine phrases of the »Illuminati,« inconsistently allowed that »Götz von Berlichingen« should become the household idol of his children. In the intervals of school, in the pouring rain under a dim street lamp, or in bed with a feigned cold, the young Ludwig still read Goethe. He went through a severe crisis of Wertherism, out of which he emerged, strengthened by the robuster study of Shakespeare, to leave Goethe as a model and strike out paths – wandering ones perhaps – entirely his own. Rahel delighted in his genuineness of character, his vigour, his sarcasm, his fertile imagination, and her admiration ripened in the course of years to that heresy, shared only by a few, that »Tieck was the only poet worthy to stand beside Goethe.« [S. 17] Rahel recognised not alone the critical faculty, but the creative power which placed him far above other writers of the Romantic School. Only in this sense, indeed, could he be ever spoken of as its head. His personal character was too reserved, too individual for him to associate himself with numbers even as a leader. His enemies were numerous, but he suffered far less from them than from his avowed friends. He differed entirely from the later extravagances of the school, and remained unaffected by that æsthetic religiousness which betrayed many of them into the Roman Catholic Church.
When Jean Paul came to Berlin, in 1804, to be caressed and fêted, one of his first introductions was to the house of Rahel. They were mutually charmed, and Rahel on her part was expecially astonished to find Jean Paul, out of his books, so like the rest of the world, showing no sign of humour in his conversation, only the most genial bonhomie, so that at their first interview she exclaimed repeatedly, »You cannot be he.«
In reference to his visit there is an account of Varnhagen’s »Memoirs« of a conversation he held with Jean Paul when he saw him at Baireuth a year or two later: –
»Among other greetings,« writes Varnhagen, »I brought him one from Rahel Levin, with the modest question whether he remembered her? His whole face beamed with pleasure. ›How could one ever forget such a being?‹ he exclaimed energetically. ›She is an entirely original character, I liked her extremely, and the impression she made upon me is deepened as my own powers of perception have grown. [S. 18] She is the only woman in whom I have found genuine humour, the only humorous woman.‹ . . . . He then went on to praise other characteristics, and was not surprised when I interrupted him with the assurance that all the intellect, judgement, wit, which he thus praised, was to me much less than the depth and goodness of her heart. When I told him how many of her letters I had, some of my own and others given to me, he was quite jealous, and said if he lived in the same town with me he shoud insist upon having something, at least, out of every letter; that would be a real and original treasure; that Rahel wrote admirably when addressing some especial individual, but such personal stimulus was needed to draw her out; she never could with set purpose write a book. ›I can understand her now,‹ he continued, ›much better than when I was in Berlin, and should greatly like to meet her again. The more I think over some remarks and suggestions which she threw out, the more surprised I am at them. She is an artist opening out a new world; an exceptional being at war with ordinary life, or rather far away above it; and so she must remain unmarried.‹«
Rahel did write subsequently a few letters to Jean Paul, and took occasion to remonstrate with him upon the unreality of the women in his books.
With the opening century we find Rahel to have won for herself a social position in Berlin. Before we see her in her salon it may be interesting to gain some information about the state of society in this »centre of culture.« We cannot do better than retrace our steps a few decades, and seek a picture or two of Berlin daily life from among the recollections of Rahel’s contemporary and friend, Henriette Herz.
Daily, customary life, is a mean abode for man, unless he often opens the door and windows and looks out into a freer world beyond. – STERLING
In the dim oil-lighted streets of Berlin just a century ago, one almost omnipresent figure was that of the Jewish physician De Lemos. Preceded always by a servant carrying a lantern, he walked with slow and stately step, his compact figure well set off by immaculate silk stockings, buckle–shoes, gold–laced coat, and daintily–frilled linen. His careful dressed wig was surmounted by a three–cornered hat, but he held the dignity of a physician to be imperilled by anything so common as a cloak. Happily for him and for his family circle, the buckles, gold braid, and dignity in general, were only professional accessoires; and his loving temperament and genial pleasantry brightened the rare hours of the slippered ease at home, making him the idol of the house. His wife at home, making him the idol of the house. His wife held him in affectionate reverence, and revealed towards him the tender side of a nature which to all the outer world appeared reserved and cold. In the household circle she was a martinet, bent upon systematising everything, down to the smiles and tears of her daughters. She suffered from a complaint in the eyes, which probably was the cuase of much of that irritable severity which disturbed the peace of an otherwise happy home.
Henriette De Lemos was born in 1764. She was a favoured child, upon whom the traditional fairies showered lavishly their choicest gifts. Not the least enviable of these was that of elastic cheerfulness – rare as it is precious, and of priceless value to a life whose noonday heat was to be overshadowed by cloud and storm. All the stern régime of the mother broke down before the irrepressible Henriette. At ten years old she was full of life, of frolic, and of love, all brimming up into her dark brown eyes, in whose depths the gazer seemed to become lost, and uttering themselves in her alert and airy motion, whose buoyancy knew no response, brooked no restraint.
She pursued her studies – writing, geography, arithmetic, and Hebrew – mostly at home, until it dawned upon Madame De Lemos that more feminine accomplishments were needful. Henriette was sent to a "sewing school," where the many hours of knitting, sewing, and embroidery were no doubt a great weariness to the active girl, who consoled herself by fetching from the circulating library, which she passed daily, books of all kinds. When about twelve years old she was a spectator of one of those theatrical performances common among her father's friends. Her interest was roused, and her delight knew no bounds when her parents accepted for her an invitation to take part in a similar performance. The charming face and figure of the child made her quite an acquisition. The character assigned to her was that of a country belle in an operetta. She studied her part, perfected her minuet, practised her little songs, and admired over and over again the enchanting dress in which she was to appear. What could be more perfect, she thought, than white silk and [S. 21] rose colour, with silver–spangled boddice, white silk hat and china flowers?
Almost upon the eye of the play, the merry rehearsal party was stunned by the announcement that the Jewish elders had forbidden the representation. But in Henriette the organ of hope was large, and those china flowers must be worn. So, with the audacity of childhood, when the elders were assembled she appeared before the grating, and pleaded the cause of the discomfited performers. She concluded by telling them that it was beneath their dignity to interfere with the amusements of children. Strange to say, the greybeards retracted their prohibition, and the piece was triumphantly performed. In fact, the triumph of Henriette brought so much flattery and so many invitations, that her parent had the sense to stop her further appearances upon the boards.
Before Henriette was fifteen her father accepted for her an offer of marriage from a man who was her senior by many years. Marcus Herz had lately established himself as a physician near the De Lemos family. He was a pupil of Kant, a student of philosophy as well as of medicine. He had come from Königsberg with some misgivings; he dreaded the pedantry of Berlin. Then as now, while the friends of the true Berliner called him well informed, his enemies denounced him as a prig.
Henriette had occasionally seen Marcus Herz as she passed his window with her beloved romances under her arms, and also in her father's house, where, however, he showed no special interest in her. At the time of her betrothal she appears to have had no definite feeling of any kind about him, but was childishly delighted with the [S. 22] prospect of becoming a braut. The position of the young lady who is engaged – the "bride", as the Germans call her – has its privileges. Those to which Henriette looked forward with special interest were, evening walks with Marcus Herz, more pocket money, new bonnets, and above all, as soon as she was married, a friseur of her own. The engagement lasted three years, and scarcely fulfilled the lively promise, since evening walks and sentiment proved alike rare: the bridgegroom preferred a game at whist, with Henriette sitting by his side. He also began to supplement a little the deficiencies of her desultory education.
Among the fragmentary reminiscences which Henriette wrote in later life is this account of her wedding day: –
"Many, many years have rolled by, but every moment of that day lives before me. I woke from an uneasy sleep with a feeling of intense sadness. The thought of leaving my family, especially my father, disturbed me. There was nothing in the future to which I looked forward that could dispel the gloom of my spirit. At any other time, the white satin robe they brought would have enraptured me. But through my streaming thears I saw it and wore it with perfect indifference.
"The bridgegroom came, the guests assembled. My thoughts were all with my dear ones. The time of the ceremony approached. I felt that I must once more speak to my father. All my love at this moment could find no other utterance than in a tearful entreaty that he would pardon me if I had ever pained him, and would give me a parting blessing. He did so, embracing me [S. 23] and weeping: then signing to me to go, he said, in a faltering voice, 'child, do not break my heart.' These words I shall hear to my last moment. God did grant a blessing. I went forth into a rich and beautiful life.
"It was the first of December, 1779. The courtyard in which, according to Jewish custom, the baldachin was erected for the ceremony, lay deep in snow. Grand people, friends of the bridgegroom, crowded round with cold and curious looks. I was again made a show of, this time with pain. All was winter, within and without. The next morning the bride of fifteen years sat alone in her room. Full of conflicting emotions, I was longing intensely for one of the dear ones from home. Certainly they were all thinking of me. I hoped each moment would bring some of them. At last I heard steps upon the staircase; it was a man's step; it must be my father. The door opens; a long–cherished desire is most inopportunely fulfilled; it is the hairdresser!"1
The married life of Henriette Herz bore richer fruit than might have been anticipated from so wintry and unpromising a beginning. An affectionate attachement grew up between the apparently ill–assorted couple, and Henriette soon overlooked, the plainness of the face which gleamed with considerate kindness and was animated by a lively intellect. Her sincere affection and her unfailing tact enabled her to adapt herself perfectly to all her husband's plans and wishes, and "to make him als happy as it was in his nature to become through a wife." She was interested in his scientific studies, of some of
1 "Henriette Herz: ihr Leben und ihre Erinnerungen." Von J. Fürst.
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