I heard, too, that the new ruler was of excellent family, that he had married the sister of the Emperor Napoleon, and was really a very respectable man, that he wore his beautiful black hair in curls, that he would shortly enter the town, and would certainly please all the ladies. I was so glad that soldiers were to be quartered in our house—my mother was not glad—and I hastened to the market-place.
There everything looked changed; it was as though the world had been new whitewashed. A new coat of arms was placed on the Town Hall, its iron balconies were hung with embroidered velvet drapery, French grenadiers stood as sentinels, the old town councillors had put on new faces and Sunday coats, and looked at each other French fashion, and said, "Bon jour!
Neighbour Peter and Long Conrad nearly broke their necks on this occasion, and that would have been well, for the one afterwards ran away from his parents, enlisted as a soldier, deserted, and was finally shot in Mayence, while the other, having made geographical researches in strange pockets, became a working member of a public tread-mill institute. But having broken the iron bands which bound him to his fatherland, he passed safely beyond sea, and eventually died in London, in consequence of wearing a much too long cravat, one end of which happened to be firmly attached to something, just as a royal official removed a plank from beneath his feet.
Long Conrad told us there was no school to-day on account of the homage. We had to wait a long time till this was over. At last the balcony of the Council House was filled with gay gentlemen, flags and trumpets, and our burgomaster, in his celebrated red coat, delivered an oration, which stretched out like India rubber, or like a night-cap into which one has thrown a stone—only that it was not the stone of wisdom—and I could distinctly understand many of his phrases, for instance, that "we are now to be made happy"—and at the last words the trumpets and drums sounded, and the flags waved, and the people cried Hurrah!
I held fast to the old Prince Elector. And that was necessary, for I began to grow giddy; it seemed to me that the people were standing on their heads while the world whizzed around, and the Prince Elector, with his long wig, nodded and whispered, "Hold fast to me! The next day the world was again all in order, and we had school as before, and things were got by heart as before—the Roman kings, chronology—the nomina in im , the verba irregularia —Greek, Hebrew, geography, German, mental arithmetic—Lord! And much of it was eventually to my advantage.
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For had I not learnt the Roman kings by heart, it would subsequently have been a matter of perfect indifference to me whether Niebuhr had or had not proved that they never really existed. And had I not learnt chronology, how could I ever, in later years, have found out anyone in Berlin, where one house is as like another as drops of water, or as grenadiers, and where it is impossible to find a friend unless you have the number of his house in your head.
Therefore I associated with every friend some historical event which had happened in a year corresponding to the number of his house, so that the one recalled the other, and some curious point in history always occurred to me whenever I met an acquaintance. For instance, when I met my tailor I at once thought of the Battle of Marathon; if I saw the well-dressed banker, Christian Gumpel, I remembered the destruction of Jerusalem; if a Portuguese friend, deeply in debt, of the flight of Mahomet; if the University Judge, a man whose probity is well known, of the death of Haman; and if Wadzeck, I was at once reminded of Cleopatra.
I know men who have nothing in their heads but a few years, yet who know exactly where to look for the right houses, and are, moreover, regular professors.
HEINE'S PROSE WRITINGS.
But oh, the trouble I had at school with dates! I understood subtraction best, and for this I had a very practical rule—"Four from three won't go, I must borrow one"—but I advise everyone, in such a case, to borrow a few extra shillings, for one never knows. But as for the Latin, Madame, you can really have no idea how muddled it is. The Romans would never have found time to conquer the world if they had been obliged first to learn Latin.
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Those happy people knew in their cradles the nouns with an accusative in im. I, on the contrary, had to learn them by heart, in the sweat of my brow, but still it is well that I knew them. Vis , buris , sitis , tussis , cucumis , amussis , cannabis , sinapis —these words, which have attracted so much attention in the world, effected this, because they belonged to a determined class, and yet were exceptions; on that account I value them highly, and the fact that I have them ready at my finger's ends when I perhaps need them in a hurry affords me in many dark hours of life much internal tranquillity and consolation.
But, Madame, the verba irregularia —they are distinguished from the verbis regularibus by the fact that in learning them one gets more whippings—are terribly difficult. In the damp arches of the Franciscan cloister near our school-room there hung a large crucified Christ of grey wood, a dismal image, that even yet at times marches through my dreams and gazes sorrowfully on me with fixed bleeding eyes—before this image I often stood and prayed, "Oh thou poor and equally tormented God, if it be possible for thee, see that I get by heart the irregular verbs!
I will say nothing of Greek; I should irritate myself too much. The monks of the Middle Ages were not so very much in the wrong when they asserted that Greek was an invention of the Devil.
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Lord knows what I suffered through it. It went better with Hebrew, for I always had a great predilection for the Jews, although they to this very hour have crucified my good name; but I never could get so far in Hebrew as my watch, which had an intimate intercourse with pawnbrokers, and in consequence acquired many Jewish habits—for instance, it would not go on Saturday—and learned the holy language, and was subsequently occupied with its grammar, for often when sleepless in the night I have to my amazement heard it industriously repeating: katal , katalta , katalki — kittel , kittalta , kittalti — pokat , pokadeti — pikat — pik — pik.
Meanwhile I learned much more German, and that is not such child's play. For we poor Germans, who have already been sufficiently plagued with soldiers quartered on us, military duties, poll-taxes, and a thousand other exactions, must needs, over and above all this, torment each other with accusatives and datives. Something of the matter I also learned from Professor Schramm, a man who had written a book on Eternal Peace, and in whose class my school-fellows fought with especial vigour.
And while thus dashing on in a breath, and thinking of everything, I have unexpectedly found myself back among old school stories, and I avail myself of this opportunity to show you, Madame, that it was not my fault if I learned so little geography, that later in life I could not make my way in the world. For in those days the French had deranged all boundaries, every day countries were recoloured; those which were once blue suddenly became green, many even blood-red; the old established rules were so confused and confounded that no Devil would recognise them.
The products of the country also changed, chickory and beets now grew where only hares and hunters running after them were once to be seen; even the characters of different races changed—the Germans became pliant, the French paid compliments no longer, the English ceased making ducks and drakes of their money, and the Venetians were not subtle enough; there was promotion among princes, old kings obtained new uniforms, new kingdoms were cooked up and sold like hot cakes, many potentates, on the other hand, were chased from house and home, and had to find some new way of earning their bread, while others went at once at a trade, and manufactured, for instance, sealing-wax, or—Madame, this sentence must be brought to an end, or I shall be out of breath—in short, it is impossible in such times to advance far in geography.
I succeeded better in natural history, for there we find fewer changes, and we always have standard engravings of apes, kangaroos, zebras, rhinoceroses, etc. And having many such pictures in my memory, it often happens that at first sight many mortals appear to me like old acquaintances.
I did well in mythology; I took real delight in the mob of gods and goddesses who ruled the world in joyous nakedness.
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I do not believe that there was a schoolboy in ancient Rome who knew the chief articles of his catechism—that is, the loves of Venus—better than I. To tell the truth, it seems to me that if we must learn all the heathen gods by heart, we might as well have kept them from the first, and we have not perhaps made so much out of our New Roman Trinity or even our Jewish monotheism.
Perhaps that mythology was not in reality so immoral as we imagine, and it was, for example, a very decent thought of Homer's to give the much-loved Venus a husband. He was the only one in the whole gymnasium who taught German history. Thus many bitter words came in. Six times came the question:—"Henry, what is the French for 'the faith? It occurs to me at this moment that I still owe the landlord of the Lion, in Bologna, five thalers.
Parbleu , Madame! I have succeeded well in French! I understand not only patois , but even aristocratic nurse-maid French. Not long ago, when in noble society, I understood full one-half of the conversation of two German countesses, each of whom could count at least sixty-four years, and as many ancestors. We must know the spirit of a language, and this is best learned by drumming.
He was a little, nervous figure, with a terrible black moustache, beneath which the red lips turned suddenly outwards, while his fiery eyes glanced around. Monsieur Le Grand knew only a little broken German, only the chief expressions—"Bread," "Kiss," "Honour"—but he could make himself very intelligible with his drum.
He once wanted to explain to me the word l'Allemagne , and he drummed the all too simple primeval melody, which on market days is played to dancing dogs—namely, dum—dum—dum. In the same way he taught me modern history. I did not understand the words, it is true, but as he constantly drummed while speaking, I knew what he meant. At bottom this is the best method. The history of the storming of the Bastille, of the Tuilleries, and the like, we understand first when we know how the drumming was done.
In our school compendiums of history we merely read: "Their excellencies, the Baron and Count, with the most noble spouses of the aforesaid, were beheaded. Their highnesses the Dukes, and Princes, with the most noble spouses of the aforesaid, were beheaded. His Majesty the King, with his most sublime spouse, the Queen, was beheaded. Madame, that is indeed a wonderful march! It thrilled through marrow and bone when I first heard it, and I was glad that I forgot it.
One forgets so much as one grows older, and a young man has now-a-days so much other knowledge to keep in his head—whist, Boston, genealogical tables, parliamentary data, dramaturgy, the liturgy, carving—and yet, notwithstanding all jogging up of my brain, I could not for a long time recall that tremendous tune! But, only think, Madame! Is drumming, now, an inborn talent, or was it early developed in me?
I once sat at Berlin in the lecture-room of the Privy Councillor Schmaltz, a man who had saved the state by his book on the "Red and Black Coat Danger. But to return to the mutton aforesaid. I listened to international law in the lecture-room of the Herr Privy Councillor Schmaltz, and it was a sleepy summer afternoon, and I sat on the bench and heard less and less—my head had gone to sleep—when all at once I was wakened by the noise of my own feet, which had stayed awake, and had probably observed that the exact opposite of international law and constitutional tendencies was being preached, and my feet which, with the little eyes of their corns, had seen more of how things go in the world than the Privy Councillor with his Juno-eyes—these poor dumb feet, incapable of expressing their immeasurable meaning by words, strove to make themselves intelligible by drumming, and they drummed so loudly, that I thereby nearly came to grief.
Cursed, unreflecting feet! How could I, the scholar of Le Grand, hear the Emperor cursed? The Emperor! When I think of the great Emperor, my thoughts again grow summer-green and golden; a long avenue of lindens rises blooming around, on the leafy twigs sit singing nightingales, the water-fall rustles, flowers are growing from full round beds, dreamily nodding their fair heads—I was once wondrously intimate with them; the rouged tulips, proud as beggars, condescendingly greeted me, the nervous sick lilies nodded with melancholy tenderness, the drunken red roses laughed at me from afar, the night-violets sighed—with the myrtles and laurels I was not then acquainted, for they did not entice with a shining bloom, but the mignonette, with whom I now stand so badly, was very intimate.
I saw the passage over the Simplon—the Emperor in advance and his brave grenadiers climbing on behind him, while the scream of frightened birds of prey sounded around, and avalanches thundered in the distance—I saw the Emperor with flag in hand on the bridge of Lodi—I saw the Emperor in his grey cloak at Marengo—I saw the Emperor mounted in the battle of the Pyramids—naught around save powder-smoke and Mamelukes—I saw the Emperor in the battle of Austerlitz—ha!
Monsieur Le Grand drummed so that the drums of my ears nearly burst. But what were my feelings when I saw with my own highly-graced eyes himself?
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As I pressed through the gaping crowd, thinking of the doughty deeds and battles which Monsieur Le Grand had drummed to me, my heart beat the "general march"—yet at the same time I thought of the police regulation, that no one should dare ride through the avenue under penalty of a fine of five thalers. And the Emperor with his retinue rode directly down the avenue.
The trembling trees bowed towards him as he advanced, the sunbeams quivered, frightened, yet curious, through the green leaves, and in the blue heaven above there swam visibly a golden star. The Emperor wore his invisible-green uniform and the little world-renowned hat.
He rode a white steed, which stepped with such calm pride, so confidently, so nobly—had I then been Crown Prince of Prussia I would have envied that steed. Carelessly, almost lazily, sat the Emperor, holding his rein with one hand, and with the other good-naturedly patting the horse's neck. It was a sunny, marble hand, a mighty hand—one of those two hands which bound fast the many-headed monster of anarchy, and ordered the war of races—and it good-naturedly patted the horse's neck.
Even the face had that hue which we find in the marble of Greek and Roman busts; the traits were as nobly cut as in the antique, and on that face was written, "Thou shalt have no Gods before me. And those lips smiled and the eye smiled too. It was an eye clear as Heaven; it could read the hearts of men, it saw at a glance all the things of this world, while we others see them only one by one and by their coloured shadows.
The brow was not so clear, the phantoms of future battles were nestling there; there was a quiver which swept over that brow, and those were the creative thoughts, the great seven-mile-boot thoughts, wherewith the spirit of the Emperor strode invisibly over the world—and I believe that every one of those thoughts would have given to a German author full material wherewith to write, all the days of his life.
The Emperor rode quietly straight through the avenue. No policeman opposed him; proudly, on snorting horses and laden with gold and jewels, rode his retinue; the drums were beating, the trumpets were sounding; close to me the wild Aloysius was muttering his general's name; not far away the drunken Gumpertz was grumbling, and the people shouted with a thousand voices, "Long live the Emperor!
The Emperor is dead. On a waste island in the Atlantic ocean is his lonely grave, and he for whom the world was too narrow lies quietly under a little hillock, where five weeping willows hang their green heads, and a little brook, murmuring sorrowfully, ripples by. There is no inscription on his tomb; but Clio, with a just pen, has written thereon, invisible words, which will resound, like spirit-tones, through thousands of years.
But the sea has not water enough to wash away the shame with which the death of that Mighty One has covered thee. Not thy windy Sir Hudson—no, thou thyself wert the Sicilian bravo with whom perjured kings bargained, that they might revenge on the man of the people that which the people had once inflicted on one of themselves.
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