Monday, July 28, 2014

A Translation of Die Serapionsbrüder by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Part Two.

‘The man of whom I about to speak,’ began Theodor, is none other than Councilor Krespel in H----.

‘This Councilor Krespel was truly one of the most extraordinarily peculiar individuals I ever encountered in all my life.  Upon moving to H----, in which I was planning to reside for a brief spell, I found the whole town abuzz with gossip about him, because one of his zaniest pranks had just reached its acme of zaniness.  Krespel was famous as an erudite and adroit jurist and as a capable diplomat. One of the less significant German princelings had commissioned him to compose a petition whose aim was to secure his legally well-founded possession of a certain territory, a petition that was to be addressed to the Holy Roman Emperor at his court.  The petition was resoundingly successful, and because Krespel had once complained that he had never been able to find a truly comfortable dwelling-place, the prince undertook to reward him for his work on the document by covering the cost of a house that Krespel was to have designed and built entirely to his own specifications. The prince was also prepared to pay for the site of the house, which he likewise left to Krespel’s choice, but Krespel had no interest in building on fresh ground; instead he was adamant that the house should be erected in the middle of his own garden, which was situated just outside the city gates, in an absolutely beautiful tract of land.  In one lump purchase he bought all the materials that might conceivably be needed to build a house from scratch and had them transported from inside the city to his garden, whereupon day after day he was seen pottering about the site dressed in his outlandish suit of clothes (which, incidentally, he had tailored and sewn himself according to his own fixed sartorial principles)—slaking the lime, sifting the sand, and arranging the bricks into regular, orderly stacks, etc.  He had neither consulted a single architect nor drafted any sort of plan of the house on his own.  One fine day, though, he went to a capable master bricklayer in H--- and asked him to present himself—along with all his workmen and apprentices, and plenty of day-laborers, etc.—in the garden at the crack of dawn next morning for the purpose of building the house.  The builder naturally asked to see the plan, and boggled not a little when Krespel replied that no plan was even marginally necessary, and that everything would simply fall into its proper place. Next morning on arriving at the site with his people, the builder beheld a perfectly square-shaped indentation in the earth, and Krespel said, “Here is where the foundation of my house is to be laid, and when that is finished, I would like you to begin erecting four walls at the same time, and to keep working on them until I tell you they are tall enough.”  “What about the windows and the doors; what about the transverse walls?!” exclaimed the builder in apparent shock at Krespel’s apparent insanity. “Just do as I tell you, my good man,” Krespel equably replied: “everything else will take care of itself.”  Only by promises of the most lavish remuneration was the builder prevailed upon to undertake this insane construction project; but never was such a project more swimmingly executed, for amid the incessant laughter of the workers, who never left the site, because they were provided with food and drink in abundance, the four walls rose higher and higher with incredible rapidity, until one fine day, Krespel cried out “Stop!” The trowels and hammers instantly fell silent; the workers climbed down from the scaffolding, and as they gathered round Krespel in a circle, each of their mirth-smitten countenances seemed to be asking, “So what’s next?” “Gangway!” cried Krespel; then he ran to one end of the garden, and slowly strode back to his square, shaking his head in dissatisfaction as he drew within a few inches of the wall; then he ran to the other end of the garden and again strode slowly back to the square and again shook his head just before he reached the wall.  He repeated this business a few more times, until he finally stopped with the tip of his pointy nose literally touching the wall and shouted, “Right here, people, right here: knock out a door for me right here, knock out a door for me right here!”  He supplied precise measurements of length and breadth in feet and inches, and space was made for the door as he had ordered.  Now he entered the house, and smiled contentedly when the builder remarked that the walls were exactly the right height for a proper and serviceable two-story dwelling.  Krespel paced sedately up and down the interior of the structure, with the bricklayers, hammers and pickaxes in hand, closely dogging his heels; and no sooner had he cried: “Here—a window six feet high and four feet wide!; there-a smaller window three feet high and two feet wide!,” than the desired openings were expeditiously made.  In the very midst of this operation, I arrived in H----, and it was most delightful to behold all those hundreds of people standing around the garden and erupting into a chorus of jubilation each time the bricks were withdrawn and a new window sprang into being out of what had seemed to be a blank wall only seconds earlier.  Krespel dealt with the remainder of the construction of the house and all its attendant tasks in exactly the same fashion, such that everything had to be done on the spot and in instantaneous response to the proprietor’s instructions.  The comicality of the entire undertaking, the newly won conviction that the whole business was being dispatched more creditably than anybody had expected, and, above all, Krespel’s generosity, which admittedly cost him nothing, were acknowledged all around with boundless good humor.  Thus were the difficulties inevitably attending an improvisational method of construction most expeditiously overcome, and in no time at all there stood in the middle of the garden a completely finished house, a house that from the outside would have struck even the most raving lunatic as somewhat odd-looking, for no two of its windows, etc., were of the same size; yet whose interior layout inspired a peculiar but quite unqualified feeling of contentment.  All who entered the house attested as much, and I myself felt the feeling when Krespel ushered me into a closer acquaintance with him.  You see, I had so far never spoken to this strange man; the construction of the house had taken up so much of his time that during it he had not once observed his custom of lunching on Tuesdays at the table of Professor M***, to whom, when the professor expressly invited him over, he sent word that he would not set foot outside the structure before the housewarming dinner in honor of it had taken place.  All his friends and acquaintances were eagerly looking forward to a huge feast; but Krespel had actually invited to the dinner only the complete roster of foremen, journeymen, apprentices, and dogsbodies involved in the construction of his house.  He treated them to the most exquisite dishes: bricklayers’ apprentices recklessly gourmandized partridge patties, carpenters’ boys joyously planed away at roasted pheasants, and hungry dogsbodies for once helped themselves to the choicest pieces of the truffle fricassee.  In the evening the men were joined by their wives and daughters, and a grand ball commenced.  Krespel danced a few perfunctory waltzes with the wives of the various master artisans, but then he grabbed a violin, took a seat alongside the ensemble of local instrumentalists who were serving as the house band, and proceeded to do the duties of concertmaster and conductor for the remainder of the ball, which lasted all through the night and into the broad daylight hours of the following morning.  Finally, on the Tuesday after this celebration, which had signalized Councilor Krespel as a true friend of the common people, I enjoyed the by no means negligible pleasure of being introduced to him at Professor M***’s residence.  Invention cannot devise anything more astonishing than Krespel’s demeanor.  As he was stiff and awkward in all his movements, you constantly expected him to bump into or break something, but neither of these things ever happened, and you knew they didn’t because the lady of the house never even came close to turning pale whenever he swung himself round the dining table, on which the most exquisitely beautiful teacups were poised, or when he maneuvered past the looking-glass, when extended all the way to the floor, or even when he picked up a splendidly embellished porcelain flowerpot and pivoted it about in the air as if trying to give kaleidoscopic play to the colors of its exterior.   Generally Krespel would fill the time before lunch was served by meticulously inspecting every object in the Professor’s dining room; he would even go so far as to climb up on to an upholstered chair, reach up to one of the paintings hanging on the wall, take it down, and then hang it back up.  Moreover, he was both a voluble and a vehement talker; sometimes (during the meal itself this was particularly conspicuous) he would quickly jump from topic to topic; at other times he simply could not manage to let go of an idea, and would lay into it over and over again; he would get lost in all sorts of labyrinths that he could not find his way out of but by laying into a completely fresh subject.  The tone of his voice was sometimes throaty and vehemently vociferous, at other times softly drawling and lyrical, but it was always an inappropriate one for whatever he happened to be talking about.  When the topic of conversation was music, and somebody was praising a new composer, Krespel would smile, and in his soft lyrical voice say, “For my part, I would like to see the black-plumed Prince of Darkness cast that perverter of notes ten thousand fathoms down into the pit of hell!” Then he would vehemently and savagely blurt out, “She is an angel of heaven; from her one hears nothing but pure, divinely consecrated sounds and pitches.” And tears were standing in his eyes as he said this.  To make sense of the remark and the tears you would have to be lucky enough to remember that somebody had mentioned a famous female vocalist an hour earlier.  One day when the main course had been roast hare, I observed him painstakingly picking clean the bones of the animal over his plate and asking very pointedly for its feet, which the professor’s five-year-old daughter brought to him with a most ingratiating smile.  All through the meal the children had done little but gaze ingratiatingly at the councilor; now they rose and approached him—not eagerly and impetuously, but timidly and reverentially, and at three paces’ distance from him they drew no nearer. “What ever is going to happen next?” I silently asked myself.  Dessert was served; then the councilor pulled out of his satchel a box containing a small steel lathe, which he fastened tightly to the table; and now by whittling at the rabbit bones as he turned them on the lathe he produced with incredible dexterity and celerity all manner of tiny little cases and boxes and beads, and the children received these presents from him with much jubilation.  Later, just as everybody was adjourning from the table, the professor’s niece asked, “What ever is our Antonia up to, dear Mr. Councilor?”  Krespel made the kind of face a person makes on biting into a bitter Seville orange, a face intended to give the impression that he has in fact just tasted something delightfully sweet, but soon this expression contracted into a horrifying mask in whose features nothing could be seen but a bitter, grim—nay, to my eyes a downright diabolical species of scorn.“OurOur dear Antonia?” he asked in an unpleasant, drawling, lyrical voice.  The professor quickly intervened: from the look he cast at his niece, I gathered that she had touched a string that could not but sound a sharply dissonant note in Krespel’s psyche.  Then, seizing the councilor by both hands, the professor asked him with hearty jollity, “How is your violin collection coming along?” Krespel’s face immediately brightened, and he replied, “Excellently, professor: you know that splendid Amati fiddle I recently told you about—the one that a windfall volleyed into my hands? Well this morning I took a saw to it. I hope Antonia has painstakingly reduced what was left of it to sawdust by now.”  “Antonia is a good child,” said the professor. “Yes, indeed she is!” cried the councilor, now briskly turning round, seizing his hat and walking-stick, and dashing straight towards and out the front door.  As he passed behind me, I caught his reflection in the mirror and saw that his eyes were welling up with tears.

‘As soon as the councilor was gone, I entreated the professor to explain to me straightaway the nature of Krespel’s involvement with violins and more particularly with this person named Antonia. “Well, you see,” said the professor, “the councilor is such a singular individual in everything he does that he even practices the noble art of violin-making in his own inimitably insane fashion.”
 “Violin-making?” I repeated in utter astonishment.  “Indeed,” replied the professor: “connoisseurs of the instrument regard Krespel as the producer of the most splendid violins obtainable in our age; moreover, he occasionally used to let other people play on his especially successful productions, but that was quite some time ago now.  Once Krespel has finished a violin, he plays it once or twice himself—and plays it, to be sure, with the most masterly technique and the most ravishing expressiveness; but then he hangs it up alongside his former productions and never again touches it or allows anybody else to touch it. Whenever some violin made by one of the old master violin makers happens to be up for sale, the councilor will buy it for whatever price the seller demands.  And just as with his own violins, he plays these others exactly once; then he takes them apart in order to examine their inner structure, and if he does not find there exactly what he fancied he was looking for, he grumpily tosses the pieces into a large chest that is virtually brimming over with the wreckage of dismantled violins.  “But what about the business with Antonia?” I briskly and vehemently asked. “Ah, now that is a matter that might lead me to denounce the councilor in the severest imaginable terms, were I not convinced that in some mysterious and peculiar fashion it must be reconcilable with the councilor’s absolutely fundamental and well-nigh abjectly compliant good-naturedness.  When the councilor arrived here in H--- several years ago, he lived an austere anchorite’s existence in a gloomy little house on ----- Street, with only an elderly housekeeper for company.  By and by his eccentricities aroused the curiosity of his neighbors, and no sooner did he perceive this than he sought and obtained the acquaintance of people in other parts of the city.  Not only in my house but also in countless others people got so used to him that he became indispensable.  Despite his rough exterior, even the children loved him beyond all measure, and they showed their love for him without annoying him in the slightest, in that their manner towards him, although ingratiating in the extreme, was marked by a certain awestricken reserve that spared him the usual infantile importunities.  You have seen today how effortlessly he wins children over with his mastery of all manner of artful tricks.  We all assumed he was an old bachelor, and he never contradicted our assumption.  Not many years into his residence here, he suddenly left town; nobody knew where he had gone, and he came back a few months later.  The evening after his return, Krespel’s windows were all illuminated; this unusual circumstance on its own attracted the neighbors’ attention, but it was soon joined by something even more arresting, namely, the sound of a quite wonderfully majestic female voice singing to the accompaniment of a pianoforte.  Then the tones of a violin began bestirring themselves, and they presently entered into a full-blown pitched battle with the voice.  It was immediately obvious to everyone that the violinist was the councilor.  I myself joined the considerable crowd of people that had gathered in front of the councilor’s house, and I must confess to you that compared with the voice of this unknown woman, compared with her inimitable, profoundly soul-penetrating delivery throughout this recital, the performances of the most illustrious female vocalists I had ever heard seemed flat and expressionless.  I had never had an inkling that a human voice was capable of notes of such sustained length, of such nightingalesque trills, of such ebbing and flowing, of such crescendoing to the loudness of the mightiest organ, of such diminuendoing to the quietness of the faintest whisper.   There was not a single person present who did not find himself enveloped in an enchantment of unparalleled sweetness, and when the woman stopped singing, the profound silence that ensued was broken only by the softest of sighs.  It may have been midnight by the time we heard another sound, namely that of the councilor speaking with great vehemence in alternation with another man, who, to judge by his tone, seemed to be reproaching Krespel for something; and every now and then a young woman would chime in in short, plaintive snatches of speech.  The councilor’s exclamations became more and more vehement, until at length he fell into that drawling, lyrical tone with which you are familiar.  A loud cry from the girl interrupted his lyrical tirade, and then for a while there was dead silence, until suddenly someone could be heard clumping down the staircase, and a young man rushed sobbing out of the house, flung himself into a post-chaise that was waiting nearby, and drove off with great speed.  The next day the councilor was in an uncommonly good mood, and nobody had the courage to ask him to explain what had happened the previous night.  But upon questioning, the housekeeper said that the councilor had returned home in the company of a very young girl who was as pretty as a picture, that he called her Antonia, and that it was she who had sung so beautifullyThe old woman added that they had arrived with a young man who had evinced great tenderness of feeling towards Antonia and could not but have been her fiancé.  But, she said, he had been obliged to leave almost immediately at the councilor’s categorical insistence.  The precise nature of Antonia’s relationship with the councilor remains a mystery to this day, but this much is certain—that he lords it over the poor girl in the most egregious manner.   He watches over her like Doctor Bartolo guarding his ward in The Barber of Seville; she hardly ever affords so much as a glimpse of herself at the window. Whenever, in response to only the most ardently supplicating entreaties, has he been prevailed upon to introduce her into a social setting, he follows her every movement with the eyes of Argus, and refuses to let her hear a single note of music, let alone sing; indeed, he no longer allows her even to sing at home.  Among the general public of the town, Antonia’s singing that night has become the soul-stirring and imagination-enkindling stuff of a true legend, the legend of a prodigy, a prodigy of genuinely miraculous abilities, and even people who have never heard her sing a note are wont to say, upon hearing some other female vocalist have a go at it in our concert hall, ‘Who does this common warbler think she is anyway?  The only woman who has any business singing is Antonia.’”  
‘You know how easily I become completely obsessed with such fantastic phenomena, and you can well imagine how needful I found it to make Antonia’s acquaintance.  I was actually already glancingly familiar with the public’s ecstasies over  Antonia’s vocal prowess, but I had never had any inkling that that glorious woman was a local figure, let alone that that madman Krespel held her captive like some sort of tyrannical enchanter.   Naturally I heard Antonia’s wondrous vocalizing in a dream the very night after my conversation with the professor, and because this dream centered on a magisterial Adagio (ludicrously enough, I took it for one of my own compositions) in which she most movingly vowed to rescue me, I soon resolved to break into Krespel’s house like a second Astolfo into Alzine’s magic fortress, and to release the queen of song from her ignominious fetters.  
‘But everything turned out very differently from the way I had imagined; for no sooner had I seen the councilor two or at most three times, and engaged with him in as many animated discussions about the ideal structure of violins, than he of his own accord invited me to call on him at his house.  I did so, and he displayed to me his rich treasure trove of violins.  It consisted of no fewer than thirty instruments hanging in a single cabinet, and among these one stood out in bearing all the hallmarks of the classic style of the early violin makers (the carved lion’s head, etc.), and being mounted higher than all the others on a specially installed corolla, it seemed to rule over them as their queen.  “This violin,” said Krespel in reply to my query about it, “this violin is a most remarkable, marvelous piece by an unknown master who was probably a contemporary of Tartini.   I am totally convinced that there is something special about its inner structure, and that if I were to take it apart I would discover the key to a mystery that I have been trying to solve for the longest time, but—laugh at me if you like, sir—but this lifeless object, to which I merely impart the initial stimulus to life and sound, often speaks to me of its own accord in a most extraordinary fashion, and the first time I played it, I felt as if I were merely the magnetizer enabling the sleepwalker to stir from her bed, as if the notes I was playing were somehow the verbatim expression of the violin’s own innermost thoughts.  I certainly wouldn’t have you suppose that I am enough of a simpleton to be swayed even for an instant by such childish imaginings; nevertheless it is true that for some strange reason, I was never able to bring myself to make the tiniest incision in this stupid, lifeless object.  Now I’m glad I left it intact, for since Antonia’s arrival here, it has been my pleasure from time to time to play her a little something on this instrument.  Antonia enjoys it; she really enjoys it.”  The emotion visible on the councilor’s face as he spoke these words emboldened me to cry out to him, “O Councilor Krespel, my dear friend, may I not prevail upon you to play this instrument for her in my presence?”  “Whereupon Krespel cut me one of his sweet-and-sour looks and replied in his drawling lyrical voice, “No, you mayn’t, Mr Studiosus, my dear friend!”  Thus brusquely was my request rebuffed.  Next he obliged me to accompany him on a wearisome tour of his omnium gatherum of mostly childish curiosities; finally, he reached into a coffer and produced from it a folded-up piece of paper that he pressed into my hand while intoning with great solemnity, “You are a lover of art; accept this gift as a precious keepsake that you are bound for ever to treasure above all your other possessions.” Whereupon he took me by the shoulders and shoved me very gently to the very threshold of the front door, embraced me, and withdrew.  The man had literally shown me to the door in the most painfully symbolic fashion.  Upon unfolding the paper I discovered that it contained an eighth of an inch-long piece of a violin’s E string, and on that its underside were written these words: “From the E string with which the blessed Stamitz strung his violin during the last concert he ever gave.” Because my unceremonious ejection from the house had immediately followed my first allusion to Antonia, I concluded that I would never be allowed to see her; but this was not the case, for the second time I called on the councilor I found her with him in his bedchamber, where she was helping him to assemble a violin.  At first glance Antonia’s looks made no very strong impression, but by and by one found it impossible to tear one’s gaze away from the azure eyes and winsome roseate lips that were the glory of her uncommonly lovely and tenderly shaped person.  Her complexion was very pale, but whenever she fetchingly smiled in response to a witty or droll remark her cheeks would instantly flush with a fiery red that soon subsided into a gentle twilit pink.  I conversed with Antonia uninhibitedly, and at no point did I notice Krespel evincing a hint of the Argus-eyed vigilance attributed to him by the professor; rather, he behaved pretty much exactly as he did at other times, and, indeed, he seemed to regard my interviews with the girl in a very favorable light.  And so my visits to the councilor became more frequent, and as we grew more and more accustomed to one another’s company, our little tripartite circle was pervaded by an extraordinary feeling of contented well-being that delighted us to the very cores of our respective souls.  The councilor continued to delight me with his incredibly absurd antics, but in truth it was Antonia and her irresistibly bewitching charms who kept me coming back, and made me bear with patience many things that I would otherwise have fled like the plague, being the hot-headed and highly strung creature I was in those days.  You see, the councilor’s quirky eccentricity was all too often alloyed with a strong streak of tactlessness and tediousness; but what I found most off-putting of all was that whenever I broached the topic of music, especially vocal music, he would immediately don his diabolically smiling face and revoltingly lyrical voice and interpose some generally banal remark on a completely unrelated subject.  From the profound sadness bespoken by Antonia’s gaze on these occasions, I conclusively gathered that the point of the non sequiturs was to forestall my tendering any sort of invitation to her to sing.  But I refused to relent.  The more obstacles the councilor placed in my path, the more my determination mounted; I simply had to hear Antonia sing, lest my very being should dissolve in a sea of dreams and premonitions of what would her singing would sound like. One evening Krespel was in an especially good mood; he had taken apart an old Cremona violin and discovered that its sound-post had been mounted at an angle that was about a half a degree more oblique than in other violins--an important revelation, which I put to immediate use!: I managed to get him thoroughly worked up on the subject of the proper method of playing the violin.  Krespel’s paean to the old master violinists’ emulation of the great naturalistic vocalists of their time made for an effortless transition to my remark that nowadays the opposite was true; namely that the technique of singers was much debased by their affected imitations of the decidedly unnatural leaps and runs of the instrumentalists. “What could be more absurd,” I cried, leaping from my chair and rushing to the piano, “what could be more absurd than those confounded grace-notes, which sound more like peas being sprinkled onto the ground than actual music?”  I sang several of those modern fermata passages that run all up and down the scale and purr along the way a toy top does right after you have set it spinning; to these I brusquely appended a trite succession of staccato chords by way of a cadence.  Krespel burst into an immoderately enthusiastic laugh and cried, “Ha! Ha! I might almost mistake you for one of our Germanified Italians or Italicized Germans stretching their wretched voice-boxes to the limit in an aria by Pucitta or Portogallo, or rather in some vocal farce along the lines of Maestro di Capella, or better still, Schiavo d'unprimo uomo. “Now,” I thought, “is the moment for me to make my move.”  “How about this?” I asked, turning to Antonia: “How about this?  Is Antonia not familiar with this style of singing?” and immediately launched into one of the noble, soulful songs of old Leonardo Leo.  Whereupon Antonia’s cheeks flushed; her freshly ensouled eyes sparkled with the luster of heaven; she dashed to the piano; her lips parted—but at that very instant Krespel rushed up behind me, grabbed me by the shoulders, and exclaimed in a strident tenor, “Dear boy!  Dear boy!  Dear boy!” Then, seizing my hand and bowing to me with downright courtly courtesy, he continued his address in a gentle singsong, thus: “In point of fact, my superlatively inestimable Mr. Studiosus, in point of fact, I should be flouting every principle of good breeding, every article of etiquette, if I were to express with the requisite volume and vigor my present desire for infernal Satan himself forthwith to give you a few gentle punches in the scruff of the neck with his taloned fists and thereby to, as it were, make short work of you; but even leaving this wish out of consideration, you must acknowledge, my dearest sir, that it is getting rather significantly dark, and that, even should I not elect to throw you forthwith down the front steps of this house, as the street lamps have not been lighted tonight, you are not unlikely to suffer some damage to your limbs on the pavements.  Go home straight-away, and I beg you not to bate a jot of affection for your loyal friend if perchance you should never again—and I do mean never again—find him at home when you call on him.”  Whereupon he threw his arms around me and pivoted us both around so that we were facing the door, to and out which, gripping me tightly all the while, he slowly showed me, thereby depriving me of even one last parting glance at Antonia.  You will readily admit that in my situation it was hardly possible to give the councilor a sound thrashing, as by all rights I really ought to have done. The professor laughed me to scorn and assured me that I had made a proper and permanent hash of my friendship with the councilor.  To play the devoted knight errant or the love-struck suitor gazing with woebegone eyes up at his mistress’s window was out of the question: Antonia was too estimable, I would almost say too sacrosanct, to be subjected to such antics.  Lacerated to the very core of my being as I was, I quitted H---; but by and by, and in conformity with their wont, the garish colors of the figments of my fancy faded, and Antonia—yes, including her singing voice, which I had never heard—subsided into something like a gentle, soothing roseate shimmer whose glow pervaded even the innermost recesses of my heart from time to time.

“Two years later, when I was already settled in B----, I embarked on a journey to southern Germany.  One evening, I suddenly beheld the spires of H--- towering amid the roseate haze of sunset; as I drew nearer to them, I was seized by an indescribable apprehensiveness, as though a heavy weight had just been placed on my breast; I could hardly breathe; I had to get out of the coach and get some fresh air.  But even once I was outside and walking abreast of the carriage as it trundled along, my discomfiture continued to mount, to such an extent that I was soon in physical pain.  By and by I fancied I could hear the solemn chords of a church chorale wafting through the air; then the sounds became more distinct, such that I could tell that they were being produced by a chorus of male voices singing some sort of hymn.  “What is that?  What is that?” I cried, as the strains of the hymn pierced my heart like a golden dagger.  “Can’t you see it? Can’t you see it?” replied the postilion from his driver’s perch beside me: “In that there churchyard they’re laying somebody in the earth.”  And in point of fact we were fast approaching a churchyard, where I could see a circle of people in mourning clothes standing around a grave that was about to be filled in.  My eyes welled up with tears; I felt as though all the joys and pleasures life had to offer were being buried in that grave.  In my speedy progress down the hill atop which the churchyard was sited, I soon lost sight of the grave, and the hymn fell silent; but moments later I found myself level with the black-clad mourners filing out of the church gate.  Among these people I observed the professor walking arm-in-arm with his niece; the two of them were so deeply immersed in their grief that they passed within inches of me without noticing me.  The niece was holding a handkerchief to her eyes and sobbing violently.  I thought it was out of the question for me to continue any farther into the town; I ordered the postilion to drive my manservant to my usual inn and hurried on foot to that old familiar spot beyond the city gates in the hope of shaking myself free of an emotional state that I tentatively attributed to some purely physical cause—for example, the overexcitement sometimes induced by travel.  Upon turning on to that avenue that leads to a pleasure garden, I witnessed a spectacle whose oddity beggared belief.  Councilor Krespel was being escorted along the street by two men in mourning from whose clutches he seemed to be struggling to escape by means of his entire repertoire of weird leaps and lunges.  He was as usual dressed in his outlandish gray self-tailored frock coat; but from his small three-cornered hat, which he wore cocked over one ear in military fashion, there hung a long, narrow strip of mourning crape that fluttered this way and that in the wind.  His waist was encircled by a sword-belt into which had been thrust not a sword but a long violin bow.  My blood turned to ice in all my limbs; “He’s gone mad,” I thought, as I slowly began trailing the three of them.  The men led him all the way to the doorstep of his house, where he embraced them while laughing a loud, raucous laugh.  They left him on his own, and now his gaze alighted on me; I was standing close enough to him to touch him.  He stared mutely at me for a while, then listlessly exclaimed, “Welcome, Mr. Studiosus!  You know the whole story too, of course”; whereupon he seized me by the arm and rushed me into the house, up the stairs, and into the room filled with hanging violins.  All the instruments were swathed in black crape; the unknown old master’s violin was now gone; in its place hung a wreath of cypress branches.  I now realized what had happened.  “Antonia! Ah, Antonia!” I cried in a tone of inconsolable lamentation.  The councilor was standing beside me as still as stone, with his arms folded across his chest.  I pointed at the cypress wreath.  “When she died,” the councilor quite solemnly and listlessly began, “when she died, that violin’s sound-post shattered with a menacing thunderclap, and its sounding-board splintered into a thousand pieces.”  Deeply shaken, I sank into an armchair, but the councilor for his part began singing a merry ditty in a harsh, throaty voice; and it was truly appalling to behold him hopping about on one foot as he sang, and as the strip of crepe attached to his hat (which he was still wearing) flitted all around the room and brushed against the violins along the wall; indeed, I could not suppress a cry of inordinate volume when a sudden counterturn in his strange dance sent the crape streamer sweeping across the breadth of my body; I felt as though the councilor were trying to drag me mummified down into the horrifying black pit of madness.  But then the councilor suddenly fell silent, stopped hopping, and in his lyrical voice said, “My dear boy, my dear boy, why did you cry out like that; did you just see the angel of death?  That is what always happens before the ceremony!”  Now he stepped into the center of the room, tore the violin bow out of the sword-belt, held it above his head with both hands, and bent it in two, causing it to splinter into several pieces.  With a loud laugh Krespel cried, “Now the staff has been broken over my head; do you get it, my dear boy; do you get it?  Come what may, come what might, now I am free, free, free—hooray, I’m free!  From now I shan’t build any more violins: no more violin-building for me; hooray, I’m free!”  Now the councilor began singing these last words (“No more violin making for me; hooray I’m free!”) to a tune that was gruesome in its untimely jollity, and resumed his one-legged jig about the room.  Overwhelmingly appalled as I was, I set out on what I wished to be a speedy exit from the house, but the councilor grabbed hold of me and very calmly said, “Don’t leave, Mr. Studiosus.  And don’t think of these outbursts of the anguish that is wracking me bodily with death-agonies as manifestations of insanity; think of them, rather, as the after-effects of my having long ago fabricated a dressing-gown that I dared presume would impart to me the outward aspect of inexorable fate, or of almighty God himself!”  The councilor continued ranting in this horrifyingly nonsensical vein until finally, after several minutes, he collapsed, exhausted, on to the floor; at my summons the old housekeeper entered the room and began attending to him, and I was immensely relieved when shortly thereafter I found myself back outdoors. Not for an instant after I first caught sight of him that day did I waver in my conviction that Krespel had gone completely insane; the professor, on the other hand, maintained that the councilor was anything but mad. “There are certain people,” he said, who by nature or a queer stroke of fortune are deprived of that opaque surface under cover of which the rest of us can indulge our most insane imaginings without attracting the slightest notice.  They may be likened to certain thin-carapaced insects that are especially rebarbative in appearance whenever they are in motion, because the busy play of their muscles is visible to the naked eye; although they have only to stop moving to become as unobtrusive-looking as any other member of their order.  The sorts of freakish whims that never leave our heads are in Krespel’s case destined to be outwardly manifested.  Being so often in thrall to that tricksy spirit that in the usual round of terrestrial activity is kept safely under lock and key, he cannot refrain from expressing the bitter scorn he so often feels in a succession of outrageous tics and high jinks.  It guides what has dared to ascend from the earth back into the ground, but in so doing it vindicates the workings of divine providence, and therefore I believe that at the core of his mind Krespel is perfectly sane, notwithstanding all these bizarre antics that are outwardly indistinguishable from the symptoms of madness.  To be sure, Antonia’s sudden death may lie heavily on him at the moment, but I guarantee you that by this time tomorrow he’ll be back on his old hobby horse and putting it through its familiar paces.” And the professor’s prediction came more or less exactly true: the very next day the councilor seemed to be quite his old self again, although he did more coolly reiterate his resolution never to build another violin and added to it an equally firm promise never again even to play the instrument.  And my subsequent experience proved him as good as his word.  The professor’s suggestions strengthened me in my conviction that there had been something horribly criminal in Krespel’s ever-so-scrupulously veiled relations with Antonia; that, indeed, he had been directly and irredeemably responsible for her death itself.  I had no intention of leaving H--- until I had confronted him with the outrage I surmised he had committed, and thereby shaken him to the core of his being and wrested from him an open and total confession of guilt.  The longer I reflected on the whole affair, the more evident it seemed to me that Krespel was a villain of the basest sort, and the more impassioned and eloquent became my accusatory speech, which developed as if of its own accord into a real masterpiece of oratory.  And so, armed with my rhetoric and inflamed with my outrage, I hastened to the councilor’s house.  I walked in to find him turning a toy on his lathe and smiling placidly.   I laid into him immediately, thus: “How can your soul enjoy a moment’s peace when remorse for your heinous crime must be gnawing at it with the teeth of a serpent?” “What’s this?” he asked first, and then: “my dear friend, will you please be ever so kind as to have a seat?”  But I pressed on, becoming more and more overwrought the longer I spoke, first bluntly accusing him of having murdered Antonia, and then threatening him with the vengeance of eternal retribution.  Indeed and furthermore, as I had been bred to be a lawyer in the not too distant past, I involuntarily fell into the language of my old calling, and assured him that I would use every available means to follow the inculpating trail of evidence to its source, and to deliver him into the hands of some earthly judge while he still lived.  The actual immediate effect of this pompous speech, however, was to discompose me and not the councilor; for upon my reaching the end of it, he simply stared at me quite complacently without uttering a word, as if he expected me to continue speaking; as I in fact attempted to do, but everything that I was now saying struck me as so awkward and indeed absurd that I immediately fell silent once again.  For a moment, Krespel appeared to be gloating over my discomfiture; an impish smile flitted across his face.  But then he became quite serious indeed, and said in a solemn tone, “Young man!  you may take me for a fool and a madman if you like; for this I forgive you, seeing that we are both confined in the same madhouse; and you may likewise upbraid me for fancying that I am God the Father, because it is only your own delusion that you are God the Son that impels you to do so; but why must you venture to attempt to infiltrate and lay hold of the most secret threads of a life that always has been and always must be alien to you? She is yonder, and the mystery has already been solved!”  He fell silent, stood up, and paced up and down the room a few times.  I was bold enough to ask him for an explanation of his last remarks; he stared at me unflinchingly for a while, then took me by the hand, led me to the window, and swung open both of its casements.  With his arms propped up on the sill he leaned out into the open air, and thus positioned, gazing into the garden all the while, he told me the story of his life.  The moment he finished it, I left him, being too moved and abashed to do otherwise.

The part of this story pertaining to Antonia may be briefly recounted as follows.
  Twenty years ago, the councilor’s already passionate fondness for seeking out and buying the finest violins of the old masters drove him to Italy.  In those days he had yet to begin either building violins of his own or dismantling old violins made by others.  At Venice he heard the famous singer Angela ---i, who was then delivering outstanding performances of the principal female roles at the Teatro di San Benedetto.  His enthusiasm for Signora Angela was actuated not only by her art, which she admittedly practiced with   glorious fluency, but also by her angelic beauty.  The councilor sought and obtained an introduction to Angela; then, in the very teeth of her brusquely unencouraging demeanor, and mainly by means of his audacious and supremely expressive style of violin-playing, he managed to win her undivided devotion.  The extreme mutual intimacy they now enjoyed led in a very few weeks to marriage, a marriage that was not made public because Angela had no wish either to give up the surname that identified her as a famous singer or to append to it the much more cacophonous one of Krespel.  With a kind of frenzied irony Krespel described to me the inimitably distinctive way Signora Angela tormented and persecuted him the moment she became his wife.  It seemed to Krespel as though the collective obstinancy and capricious ill humor of all the prima donnas in the world had been channeled into Angela’s tiny body.  If he tried even to sit still for a minute, Angela would besiege him with a veritable horde of abbots, composer-conductors, and academics, who, in their ignorance of the fact that he was her husband, would mercilessly accuse him of being the most insufferable, uncivil, and altogether incompetent suitor the exquisitely good-humored Signora could ever be cursed with.  One of these scenes exasperated and demoralized Krespel so much that immediately after it he fled to Angela’s villa in the countryside, where he soon drove away all memory of the day’s afflictions by losing himself in a series of rhapsodic improvisations on his Cremona violin.  But this interval of blissful solitude was pitifully short-lived, for he had been playing for only a few minutes when the Signora, who had set off in hot pursuit of him, strode into the room.  At that moment she happened to be in the mood to play the tenderly affectionate consort; she caressed the councilor while cutting him the most winsomely languishing glances; she laid her head on his shoulder.  But the councilor, having ascended far beyond terrestrial reach into his private heaven of harmonies, just kept fiddling on with such vigor that the walls of the room echoed his strains, and that in his absentness he happened to jostle the Signora’s person rather violently with his bow and elbow.  The lady did not take this inadvertent collision at all kindly; indeed, she instantly left off caressing her husband, leapt back, exclaimed Bestia tedesca!, tore the violin out the councilor’s hands, and dashed it into a thousand pieces against the top of the marble dining-table.  For a moment the councilor simply stood there before her as if turned to stone; but then, as if newly roused from a dream, he laid hold of the Signora with a grip worthy of a giant, tossed her out of the nearest window—yes, a window of her very own villa—and without giving a single further thought to anything of any kind, fled first back to Venice and thence back to Germany.  Only a short time after his return did he realize what he had done, and although he knew that the window was sited no higher than five feet from the ground, and that exigent circumstances had quite evidently necessitated his defenestration of Signora, he was nevertheless unremittingly racked by a feeling of guilt whose severity was only augmented by his recollection that Signora had quite unambiguously given him to understand that she was in the family way.  He hardly dared to write for any news of her, and he was more than a little astonished when some eight months later he received an exceedingly tender letter from his beloved spouse, a letter in which, in addition to refraining from breathing a single syllable about the contretemps at the villa, she divulged to him the news that she had been delivered of an exquisitely lovely little daughter and warmly entreated the Marito amato e padre felicissimo to repair to Venice with all speed.  But Krespel did nothing of the kind; instead, he sought out more minute particulars from a trusted friend of his in Venice, who informed him that Signora had sunk like a bird nto the spongy turf beneath the window, and that the aftereffects of her fall or plunge had been of a purely psychological nature.  To describe these aftereffects bluntly: she seemed to have been transformed into a completely different person by Krespel’s heroic deed, for no longer did she ever allow herself to be be discomposed by sulks, foolish whims, or any other genre of psychological disturbance; and the composer-conductor who was writing the music for the next carnival season was the happiest man under the sun, because Signora, whom he had formerly been obliged to humor unreservedly, was now delighted to sing his arias without demanding a single revision beforehand, let alone the hundred thousand changes she had used to require.  Incidentally, the friend added, the councilor would do well not to breathe a word about the cause of Angela’s cure, for if the secret ever got out, lady singers would be absconding through windows left and right.  The councilor wasted no time in dilly-dallying; he hired some horses, hitched them up to his carriage, and took his seat inside.   But even before they had set out the councilor suddenly cried out, “Stop!”  “Does it not stand to reason,” he then muttered to himself, “that the moment Angela catches sight of me, the Devil will regain total and utter possession of her?  And since the last time she was in his power I threw her out of a window, what shall I do this time but throw her out of a window again?  What other choice will I have?”  He got out of the carriage, wrote to his recovered wife a tender letter in which he cordially mentioned in passing that it had been most kind of her to boast unreservedly that her little daughter bore an ever-so-slight resemblance to him behind the ears, and… stayed in GermanyThese two letters marked the beginning of a very lively and extensive correspondence.  Assurances of love, invitations, laments over the absence of the beloved, forlorn hopes, desires, etc., flew back and forth from Venice to H---- and H----to Venice.  Eventually, Angela moved to Germany and, as everybody knows, dazzled audiences as the prima donna at the Grand Theater at F**.  Although she was no longer young, she enraptured everyone with the irresistible magic of her wonderfully majestic singing.  Her voice had not declined in the slightest.  By this time Antonia was a young woman, and her mother could not write to her father often or lengthily enough about what a first-rate singer she was blossoming into.  And Angela’s appraisal of her daughter was in fact seconded by Krespel’s friends in F**, who began nagging him to come to F** and marvel at this phenomenonal coincidence of two such sublimely accomplished female singers. These friends of his were completely unaware that the councilor had any connection whatsoever to the two women, let alone that he was the husband of the one and the father of the other.  Krespel would have been delighted to see his daughter, who dwelt in the very heart of his affections and sometimes even appeared to him in his dreams, but whenever he thought of his wife a profoundly strange feeling of unease would take hold of him, and so he remained sitting at home amid the lumber of his dismantled violins.  You all doubtless will have heard of F**’s promising young composer B., who one day suddenly vanished without a trace, for reasons known only to himself (but perhaps you were personally acquainted with him, and consequently know more than the rest of us?).  Anyway, this young man was so passionately in love with Antonia, who for her part wholeheartedly reciprocated his feelings, that he asked her mother for the girl’s hand in marriage, provided, of course, that the proposed union were sanctified by the benison of art.  Angela had no objections to the match, and Krespel assented to it all the more readily inasmuch as he had ruled in favor of the young maestro’s compositions from his strict judicial bench. Upon granting his consent, Krespel prepared himself to receive news that the wedding ceremony had taken place; what he got instead was a letter sealed in black wax and addressed to him in a hand that he had never seen before. In the letter, a certain Dr. R… reported to the councilor that Angela had fallen severely ill of complications from a cold caught on stage and had died on the very eve of the day appointed for Antonia’s wedding.  Angela had revealed to him, the doctor, that she was Krespel’s wife, and Antonia his daughter; hence, the doctor wrote, he would do well to hasten to Venice to minister to the needs of the poor girl, who for the moment was effectively an orphan.  Although the councilor was deeply shaken by Angela’s demise, he soon came to feel that a disruptive and unsettling principle had vanished from his life, and that for the first time in ages he could really breathe freely.  That same day he set out for F**.  You cannot imagine in what heartrending terms the councilor described to me the moment he first laid eyes on Antonia. Even the bizarre expression on his face evinced a marvelous depictive power whose eloquence I can scarcely begin to hint at.  Antonia had inherited all of Angela’s lovability and charm and none of her odious antithetical qualities. One never had to worry that her petticoat would ever, however occasionally or fleetingly, disclose a pair of equivocating little cloven feet.  Her young bridegroom introduced himself; Antonia, who instantly comprehended her eccentric father’s character and temperament with profound tenderness and sympathy, sang a certain motet by old Padre Martini that she knew the councilor had incessantly required Angela to sing to him during the high season of his courtship of her. The councilor wept torrents of tears; he had never heard even Angela sing so well.  The sound of Antonia’s voice was quite curious and distinctive; sometimes it recalled the soughing of the Aeolian harp, at other times the warbling of the nightingale.  The notes of every melody she sang sounded almost too expansive to be contained within a single human breast.  Antonia, aflush and aglow with joy and love, sang and re-sang all her most beautiful songs, in between which  B… would play on the piano with such virtuosity and élan as only a man positively intoxicated with enthusiasm was capable of.  At first Krespel was fairly swimming in an ocean of delight; then he grew pensive—silent—withdrawn.  Finally he leapt to his feet, clasped Antonia to his breast, and implored her very gently and listlessly, thus: “No more singing, no more singing, please, if you love me!  It’s crushing my heart—I’m so afraid—so afraid—no more singing!”
 “No,” the councilor said to Dr. R** the next day, “those two dark red blotches I saw gathering on her cheeks as she sang yesterday were much more than some harmlessly mute physical trait of our family: they were tokens of the very state of affairs I had most keenly dreaded.”  The doctor, whose face had evinced great concern throughout this conversation, now remarked, “It may be owing to her having overexerted herself in singing at too early an age, or it may be a congenital problem; whatever the reason, suffice it to say that Antonia is suffering from an organic thoracic defect to which her voice owes both its extraordinary power and its curious timbre, that sound that fairly rings out head and shoulders above every other in the entire sphere of human vocal music.  But this defect will also undoubtedly cause her to die long before her time, and I give her at most six more months to live if she continues singing.”  The councilor felt as though his very soul were being hacked to pieces by a hundred swords.  He felt as though now, at the very moment when for the first time in his life a tree of effulgent beauty was deigning to afford him an unoccluded view of its wondrously resplendent flowers, he was being told that that tree would have to be chopped down at its roots and would never leaf or bloom again.   His mind was made up.  He told Antonia everything; he said that she could choose either to succumb to the temptations proffered to her by her bridegroom and the public and thereby die young, or to fill her dear old father’s declining days with a tranquility and joy he had yet to experience and thereby live for many, many years to come.   Antonia fell sobbing into her father’s arms; he for his part, anticipating full well as he did the trauma of the ensuing moments, had no wish to badger her into delivering a more articulate expression of her intentions.  He spoke to the bridegroom, but the latter assured him absent any prompting that not a note of sung music would ever again escape Antonia’s lips if he could help it; nevertheless, the councilor knew full that even B…would be unable to resist the temptation to hear Antonia sing; that at the very least he would have to hear her sing arias of his own composition.  Moreover, Antonia’s audience, the music-loving public, for all its awareness of her illness and keenness to keep abreast of the state of her health, did not for an instant cease clamoring for her to return to the stage; in the matter of the gratification of its cravings, this tribe is brutally egoistic.  Taking Antonia with him, the councilor vanished from F** and moved to H--.   B... got wind of their departure and was instantly racked with despair.  He set out for H--, to which rumor had directed him, and ultimately overtook the councilor on the road so that the two men arrived in the town on the very same day.  “Let me see him just one more time before I die,” Antonia implored her father.  “Die?  Die?” cried the councilor in a savage transport of rage, as ice-cold tremors of terror shook his very soul.  His daughter, the only creature in the world capable of kindling in him a relish for existence that he had never before known, of making him come to terms with life—this creature now tore herself free of his heart’s embrace, and he gamely allowed this appalling separation to take place!  B… of course played the piano, Antonia sang, and Krespel fiddled away merrily on his violin right up to the point when those telltale red blotches began to appear on Antonia’s cheeks.  At this point he called the music-making to a halt, and B… prepared to leave.  As he was bidding good-night to Antionia, she suddenly gave out a loud cry and slumped to the floor.  “I thought” (Krespel said to me), “I thought that she had well and truly died, as I had foreseen she must do; and having simply set myself atop the loftiest pinnacle of dispassionate detachment, I remained quite calm and at one with myself.  I seized B…--who  in his astonishment had turned quite pale and sheepish-looking--by the shoulders, and said (here the councilor fell into his sing-songish voice): since, my most estimable master-pianist, you have, in conformity with your wishes and desires, literally murdered your beloved bride, you may now calmly exit this house, and I shall interpret your departure as a tacit pardoning of my wish to run a brand-new, shiny, double-edged hunting-knife through your heart, to the end of  imparting a little color to my daugher’s now rather wan countenance with some drops of your precious blood.  'Run along now, and be quick, but even though I’m letting you go, don’t be surprised if I end up flinging a nice, sharp dagger into your back after all!I must have cut quite a horrifying appearance as I spoke these words; for no sooner had I finished uttering them than with a cry expressive of the most profound terror he leapt to his feet, tore himself free of my grasp, and dashed straight through the door and down the stairs.  Once B… was gone, the councilor tried to shift Antonia, who was still lying unconscious on the floor, into a sitting position; whereupon she heaved a deep sigh and opened her eyes, only to close them soon after and seemingly for good; whereupon Krespel broke into a loud, inconsolably lugubrious spell of weeping and wailing.  But although the doctor, who was immediately summoned by the housekeeper, acknowledged Antonia’s condition to be very serious, he was of no mind whatsoever to regard it as terminal; and, indeed, the girl recovered her strength much more quickly and thoroughly than the councilor had even dared to hope.  And once back on her feet she clove to Krespel with a downright childlike ardency of affection; she catered to his every whim and cheerfully weathered all his mad fits of spleen and flashes of insight.  She helped him take apart old violins and glue them back together.  “From now on I’ll do no more singing, and live for you alone,” she would smilingly whisper to her father whenever she had just refused yet another request for her to sing.  The councilor wished to spare her such moments as much as possible, and it was for this reason that he reluctantly began confining her to his own company and solicitously sequestering her from all music. He of course knew full well how painful Antonia must have been finding her complete renunciation of an art that she had practiced with such consummate mastery.  At some point during this period Krespel acquired that miraculous violin that he would eventually bury with her, and as he was just on the point of taking his saw to it, he suddenly caught Antonia gazing quite wistfully at him as she softly said, “This one too?” The councilor himself had no idea what unknown power was compelling him to leave the violin intact and to begin playing it.  He had only just delineated the very beginning of a melody when Antonia delightedly exclaimed, “Why, that’s my voice!  I’m singing again!” Krespel was moved to the very core of his soul; he played more splendidly than ever before, and when he launched into a series of ascending and descending sequences with astonishing virtuosity and expressiveness, Antonia clapped her hands together and cried out in an enraptured tone, “Ah, how well I’ve done!  How well I’ve done!” This moment marked the beginning of a period of great tranquility and cheerfulness in her life. Every now and then, she would say to the councilor, “I’m quite in the mood to sing something, father!  Then Krespel would take the violin down from the wall and play some of the loveliest songs Antonia had been famous for singing.  One night, shortly before this most recent appearance of mine in H******, the councilor was sitting in his bedchamber and fancied he could hear somebody playing his piano in the next room—Antonia’s room—and he soon realized beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was the sound of B… performing one of his usual introductory passages.  He tried to stand up, but he felt as though he were being prevented from stirring or budging an inch by some incredibly heavy weight, or by shackles of iron. Now Antonia began singing a series of gentle, sustained notes that steadily crescendoed to a devastating fortissimo, after which her miraculous vocal line assumed the contours of the main melody of that profoundly arresting song that B… had written in an impeccable imitation of the devout style of the old master-composers of church music.  Krespel said that the emotional condition in which he had then found himself had been an inconceivable marriage of appalling dread and unprecedented ecstasy. Suddenly he was enveloped in a dazzling lucidity in the midst of which he now beheld B… and Antonia entwined in each other’s arms and gazing into each other’s eyes with enraptured bliss. Meanwhile, he continued to hear the melody and the accompaniment of the song, even though Antonia clearly was not singing and B… clearly was not playing the piano.   Then the councilor fainted into a kind of lethargic semi-consciousness in which the song and the vision alike sank without a trace.  When he came to, the horrible feeling of dread from his dream had not gone away.  He dashed over to Antonia’s room. She was lying supine on the sofa with her eyes closed, an expression of smiling beatitude on her face, and her hands clasped piously over her heart, as though she were asleep and dreaming of the joys and ecstasies of heaven.  But she was dead.”

Over the course of Theodor’s recounting of the preceding tale, Lothar evinced his impatience with the narrative--nay, his outright antipathy to it—in numerous and various ways.  First he rose and paced up and down the room, then he sat back down and drained and refilled one glass of wine after another, then he walked up to Theodor’s writing-desk, rummaged about in the books and papers piled thereupon, and eventually pulled out an imposing folio interleaved with blank divider sheets.  This book was nothing less than Theodor’s personal calendar, which Lothar set about sedulously leafing through, until finally, with an expression on his face that seemed to wish to intimate that he had made a most remarkably interesting discovery, he gingerly laid the still-open book down in front of him on the surface of the desk.

And then, the instant Theodor stopped speaking, Lothar exclaimed, “No!  This is absolutely unendurable, absolutely unendurable.  You wish to have nothing to do with the good-natured dreamer our Cyprian has presented to us; you caution us all to steer clear of the gruesome side of nature’s profundities; you don’t want to hear about that side, let alone talk about it—and then you yourself launch into a story that in its cheeky insanity has broken at least my heart in two.  What a winsomely innocuous figure the gentle, contented Serapion seems when juxtaposed with the ghoulishly splenetic Krespel!  You wish to effect a gentle transition from madness to full-blown soundness of mind via the spleen, and yet you promulgate images that are horrifying enough to make anyone who looks directly at them lose every trace of that selfsame soundness of mind!  Cyprian may have been unconscious of his minor embellishments of his tale with material drawn from his own fancy; you, on the other hand, have embellished both knowingly and more egregiously, for I know all too well that whenever music comes into play you instantly fall into a somnambulistic trance and experience all manner of outlandish visions.  In your usual fashion you have contrived to cloak the whole thing in an air of mystery that like everything savoring of the miraculous sweeps everybody irresistibly along no matter how fundamentally corrupt it may be—but there must be goals and limits to all things: no man has a license to discompose the hearts and minds of other people willy-nilly.  That Antonia’s peculiar condition, her empathetic intimacy with Krespel’s antique instrument, is deeply moving, will be readily acknowledged by everyone; but the fact that it moves us only by making our hearts bleed torrents, by putting us into a state of utterly inconsolable misery—this is an abomination, an abomination, I say, and I cannot take back a single one of the admittedly very harsh words I have just uttered.” 

“So then, you’re saying,” said Theodor with a smile, “so then you’re saying, my dear Lothar, that I have deliberately related to you a purely fictitious narrative composed in accordance with the dictates of some artificial template?  Was I not simply inspired to speak of one eccentric, Krespel, by the depiction of another, the madman Serapion?  Did I not speak of a series of incidents that I actually experienced?—and by your own logic, my dear Lothar, if you yourself were ever to experience a comparably improbable series of incidents, you would be compelled to dismiss it as the acme of improbability, notwithstanding your certainty that you had actually experienced it.”

“I cannot,” rejoined Lothar, “absolutely cannot, excuse you merely on the grounds that you were reporting something you believed to be true.  You really should have kept your story about this awful Krespel fellow entirely to yourself—either that or made use of your undeniably formidable skills as a colorist to impart some gayer, more pleasing hues to that dour monochrome baroque engraving of a man.  But we have said much more than enough about this peace of mind-annihilating architect, diplomat, and instrument-maker, whom we hereby intend to consign to everlasting oblivion.  But as for you, my dear Cyprian, I now kneel before you!  Never again will I call you a specter-haunted visionary!  You are living proof of the utterly singular and impenetrable mysteriousness of the faculty of memory.  You woke up today with poor Serapion on the brain; you genuinely couldn’t get the man out of your mind.  I notice that since you told us your story about him you’ve been much more relaxed.  Just take a look at this page in this remarkable calendar; the evidence is as plain as the nose on your face!  Is not today’s date the fourteenth of November?  Was it not on the fourteenth of November that you found your friend the anchorite dead in his hut?  And even if, in contradistinction to Ottmar’s earlier suggestion, you did not bury him with the help of two lions, and even if you did not experience any other wonders of comparable outrageousness, you nevertheless cannot but have been quite deeply affected by the sight of your friend lying there in that gently slumbering pose.  The impression made by this sight was ineffaceable; and it is quite possible that the inner sanctum of your mind, by dint of some mysterious mechanism whose workings even you are unconscious of, has foisted upon your attention the image of your deceased friend, now delineated with a vividness of coloration that it has not enjoyed since that fateful November day.  I beg you, Cyprianus, to do me the favor of appending a few miracle-imbued incidents to Serapion’s death by way of in some measure atoning for the absence of the tidy conclusion to your narrative that we were never vouchsafed.”

“As I stepped out of the hut, still deeply moved and indeed shaken by the sight of the dead man,” said Cyprian, “I happened upon the tame deer, about which I had been thinking earlier; its eyes were pearling with bright tears, and the wild doves were all fluttering around me and assailing my ears with terrified shrieks and threnodial coos.  But as I was climbing down to the village to inform its inhabitants of the anchorite’s death, I encountered those very inhabitants, who were already headed in the opposite direction with a catafalque.  They said that the sound of the bell ringing at such an unusual hour had made it plain to them that the pious gentleman had betaken himself to his deathbed, and that they were certain that by now he was already dead.  Such, my dear Lothar, is all that I can supply you with in the way of fodder for your raillery.”

“What in the name of heaven,” boomed Lothar, now rising from his chair, “do you mean by my ‘raillery’?  Am I not at bottom an honest soul, a plain-dealing individual?  Do I not daydream with the daydreamers and fantasize with the fantasists?  Do I not weep with them that do weep and rejoice with them that rejoice? But do take another look, my dear Cyprianus, at this excellent work brimming over with irrevocable truth, at this splendid personal calendar.  Now it is true that in the entry proper for November 14 you will find only the insufferably snooty surname Levin.  But look at this column of Catholic name days in the margin: in this column, at November 14, Serapion the Martyr is printed in red characters!  Therefore, your Serapion died on the very date bearing the name of the saint he believed himself to be!  Today is Saint Serapion’s Day!  All rise!  I shall now drain this glass in memory of Serapion the anchorite, and I urge all of you, my friends, to do the same!”

“With all our hearts!” cried Cyprian, and the room rang with the clinking of their glasses.

“In short,” Lothar resumed, “now that I have regained my presence of mind, or, rather, now that Theodor has given my hackles a proper raising with his loathsome, abhorrent Councilor Krespel, I no longer bear the slightest trace of a grudge against Cyprian’s Serapion.  Far from it: I actually revere Serapion, for it impossible to conceive of his not being possessed of the mind of a first-rate, or, rather, an authentic poet.  And in support of this assertion I have no wish to fall back, as so many others have done ad nauseam, on that tiresome old notion that the offices of poet and prophet were formerly designated by a single word; nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that we are just as strongly inclined to doubt the empirical existence of poets as we are to doubt the empirical existence of vision-prone prophets proclaiming the wonders of a higher realm!  How, after all, can we account for the fact that so many works of poetry that are by no means ill conceived or executed in purely formal terms prove as feeble in their effect as the washed-out, faded ghost of a painting; that we fail to be entranced by them, that their verbal resplendence only serves to augment the spiritual chill they engender in us?  How else can we account for this if not via the inference that in such poems the poet does not really see the thing about which he is speaking; that he is failing to be enraptured, enthralled, by the actuality, the event, presenting itself to the gaze of his mind’s eye in all its native gusto, terror, joy, and dread, in such a way that the flame-ridden currents of his psyche alone are suffered to stream through in words of fire; in vain is the labor of every poet who strives to make us believe in what he himself does not believe in, because he cannot believe in it, because he has never beheld it.  How can the fictive progeny of a poet who does not truly embody the aforementioned ancient conflation of poet and prophet amount to anything but factitious mannequins laboriously cobbled together out of outlandish materials?

“Your anchorite, my dear Cyprian, was an authentic poet; he had actually beheld the things whereof he prophesied, and because of this his declamations took hold of the hearts and minds of his listeners.  Alas, poor Serapion!  In what did your madness consist if not in some malevolent star’s having deprived you of that duplicity that is the sole true governor of our terrestrial existence?  There are such things as an interior world and the intellectual strength required to gaze directly at that world in all its unlimited splendor and vitality, but our wretched earthly lot is such that this pokey little external world in which are penned up affords us our sole lever for setting in motion the aforementioned intellectual strength.  The interior phenomena arise within the circle with which the external world circumscribes us and which the mind is capable of surmounting only in mysterious forebodings that never assume a distinctly recognizable shape.  But you, my anchorite, acknowledged no external world; you never saw the hidden lever, that force that exerted such a powerful influence on your psyche, and when in your ghastly sagacity you maintained that it was the mind alone that saw, heard, and felt, you were forgetting that the mind, being a prisoner of the body, exercises those perceptual functions only at the pleasure of the external world.   Your life, my dear anchorite, was a perpetual dream that you were undoubtedly only too happy to awake from in the hereafter.  But let this glass be offered up as a libation to your memory all the same.”

“Don’t you think,” asked Ottmar at this point, “that Lothar’s face has undergone a complete change of expression?  Thank goodness, Theodor, for your timely introduction of this tipple that has by now driven every last trace of our friend’s constitutional po-facedness.”

“Now, now,” remonstrated Lothar: “you mustn’t attribute my sunnier humor entirely to the enrapturing contents of this vase, for you know full well that when I start out in as wretched a state as I did today my mood is bound to improve soon enough without my so much as touching a glass of wine.  Nevertheless, it is true that I have by now begun to feel once again at ease and at home in the company of you lot.  That peculiarly jittery state I initially found myself in has confessedly vanished; and as I have already not only forgiven our Cyprian for inflicting his delirious pal Serapion on me, but actually taken quite a shine to that mad monk, perhaps I may even come to do the same vis-à-vis Theodor and his horrible chum Krespel.  But I still have quite a number of other things to discuss with you lot!  It seems to me, and let it now be agreed, that each of us believes that each of the others is a person of considerable merit, as Theodor so nicely put it a short while ago, and that each of us believes it worthwhile to renew his old association with the others.  But the hustle and bustle of the big city, the great distance between our abodes, the heterogeneity of our occupations, will inevitably drive us apart from one another.  Let us agree here and now on a day, place, and time at which we intend to get together each and every week from now on.  But let us do even more than that!  I cannot but be right in assuming that just as in the old days each and every one of us is now burdened with a headful of poetic opuscules that he plans to divulge to the general public at some point or other.  On the score of these works, let us be mindful of the example of Serapion the anchorite!  Let each of us be quite certain that he has actually seen the object of his discovery before he ventures to advertise its existence.  At the very least let each of us henceforth sincerely strive to acquire a genuine purchase on the image that has welled up in his fancy; to apprehend it in all its manifold shapes, colors, lights, and shadows; and then and only then, once he has become truly enraptured by it, to introduce his depiction of it to the inhabitants of the external world.  Thus will our association perforce be founded on pillars of adamant and prove a genuine tonic to each and every one of us.  Let Serapion the anchorite be our patron saint; let him make us subjects of his prophetic gift; let us follow the Serapionian rule as stalwart Serapionian brethren!”

“Isn’t our Lothar,” said Cyprian, “isn’t our Lothar truly the oddest of all odd fellows in the world?  Initially he was the only one of us to oppose Ottmar’s eminently reasonable proposal that we should get together on a certain day each week; in brazenly indecorous terms he raged and ranted and inveighed against the very notion of clubs and fraternal organizations, and now he is not only declaring such gatherings to be needful and salutary, but even going so far as to prescribe a club mission and a monastic rule to us! 

“If I initially balked at imposing the merest hint of ceremony or even of determinateness on our meetings,” countered Lothar, “it was only because I was in a rotten mood, and this mood has passed.  After all, is it even remotely conceivable that such poetic souls and soulful poets as us should ever succumb to any form of philistinism?  To be sure, we all have leanings in that direction, but at least we are striving towards the highest rung of sublimity; in any case, a small dash of philistinism every now and then is not an entirely bad thing.  But let us pass over in silence all questions that might impart to our association the air of   invidiousness—which the Devil himself will doubtless take an opportunity to smuggle into these meetings soon enough—and deliberate about the Serapionian Principle!  What do you lot think that principle consists in?”

Theodor, Ottmar, and Cyprian were unanimous in their conviction that their gatherings would have spontaneously taken on a literary tenor even in the absence of any sort of compact; and they willingly acceded to living as best they could in conformity with what Lothar had quite aptly termed the Serapionion Rule, a rule which, as Theodor quite aptly observed, could consist in nothing but the forswearing of all future exertion in the service of shoddy, ill-conceived pseudo-literary undertakings.

With unalloyed gaiety, they clinked their glasses together and embraced one another in their new capacity as stalwart Serapionian brethren.

“The midnight hour,” Ottmar now said, “is still a long way off yet, and it really would be nice if one of us were to give a sincere try at serving up some properly light-hearted fare by way of chasing into the background all the gloom—nay, the horror—that has so untowardly descended upon us.  And it so happens that Theodor still has a certain debt to discharge, namely, that of effecting his promised transition to soundness of mind.”

“If none of you have any objections,” said Theodor, “I shall now share with you a brief tale that I committed to paper not long ago, a tale the germ of which was suggested to me by a painting.  What I mean is that the moment I saw this painting it assumed in my mind a distinct significance that it assuredly did not have and never could have had for the artist who had painted it, for this significance was begotten by the painting’s uncannily faithful evocation of certain experiences from an earlier period in my own life.”

“I hope,” said Lothar, “that no madmen figure in what you are about to read us, for I have had more than my fill of crazies for one day; I hope, too, that your tale would pass muster in the eyes of our patron saint.”

“I can guarantee the absence of madmen,” replied Theodor, “but as to whether my tale meets your other desideratum, I must submit this question to the determination of my fellow Serapionian brethren, whom I nevertheless beg in advance not to judge my opuscule too harshly, for the painting from which it was derived is fundamentally light, airy, and jocular in spirit, and it harbors no loftier ambition than that of affording the reader or listener a few moments of harmless amusement.”  

The friends were only too happy to indulge Theodor’s request for leniency, given that the newly instituted Serapionian prohibition on literary hackwork applied only to future undertakings.

Theodor produced his manuscript and began reading as follows:


Translation  Copyright ©2014 by Douglas Robertson