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OR CEAPTERS ON THE CHEERFUL AND JOYOUS IN LITERATURE AND ART.
MADAME, my very dear reader and friend for, notwithstanding the very doleful and heart-breaking nature of the subject-matter with which this work deals, I am perfectly aware that you are still following me — THOU MADAME, addressed so tenderly as the fair ideal of readers, by Ronsard, Marot, Sterne, and all literary gallants ! — permit me to tell a story, which is not malapropos to the conclusion of that last chapter, in which I proposed that we should all go riding helter-skelter, pell-mell, through the greenwood; if not to the devil together, at least to the Venusberg — the Mons Veneris of German legend — to a brave fairy-land of truth, nobility, gallantry, honor, honesty, and joyous
It is a good plan to illustrate a truth by a story. Æsop did it; Macchiavelli did even more; for in every proposition advanced in the ‘Prince,' he tells two, one drawn from antiquity, the other from his own experience; a plan to be greatly commended to old-fashioned prophets, who draw all deductions for this steam-engine age out of, "Man has been the same in all ages.' Permit me to follow in this connection, for once, a Macchiavellian example :
The story of the Tannhæuser, which I am about to relate, was learned by me many long years ago, from a strange old ballad; and when I afterward wrote the legend out in prose, I knew no more of the subject than what the ballad contained. I did not know that just as it had strangely moved me, thrilling my very heart through long years, to think that any one should have been so daring in defence of Beauty and Joyousness in a Dark Age; just so it had thrilled the German Heine, and with him many others, moving them to spin out the first thread into many a waving veil of poesy ; just as the Chinese bards, out of the simple story of the Mexican Fusang, or magney-tree, spun legions of marvels. I have since learned that there are few deeply-moving and true chords, which have ever been struck, though never so faintly, which have not in some strange manner found their way to the ears, and vibrated to the hearts, of those who ought to hear them.
That Heine was one of those for whom this song was sung, two hundred years before his birth, is manifest enough. What he said on the Tannhäuser subject, before producing his own wild paraphrase — as the musician Wagner has since done an opera — appears in the following words:
'Strangest of all legends, romantically lovely, rings among the German race, the legend of the goddess Venus; how she, when her temples were destroyed, fled into a secret mountain, where she leads the most thrilling, daring life of wild joys, in company with the merriest aërial crew; with lonely wood and water-nymphs, and with many a famed hero, who has suddenly disappeared from the world. Even from afar, as you draw near the mountain, you hear joyous laughter, and the sweet sounds of the cithern, which winds, like an invisible chain, around your heart, and draws you toward the hill. Fortunately, near the entrance, an old knight, called the True Eckhart, stands, like a statue, leaning on his great battle-sword; but his honorable, iron-gray head ever nods forbiddingly, warning you against the dainty dangers which await you in the mountain. Many are deterred betimes; many, however, pay no attention to the bleating voice of the old warner, and blindly dash into the abyss of the accursed air. For a time all goes well. But Man is not always inclined to laughter, he often becomes silent and sad, and thinks back into the past, for the past is the true home of his soul, and he is carried away by home-sickness for the feelings he once felt, though they be feelings of pain. So was it with the Knight Tannhäuser, according to a song which is one of the most remarkable specimens of their language, which has remained in the mouth of the German people.'
I have before me, four different readings of that song, and find it difficult to choose for a translation. In one, the Queen of Love is called Frau Venusinnen, or ‘Dame Venusess,' for the sake of a rhyme; in another she is Italianized into Frene — and if this was her nomme d'amour the Tannhäuser had some color of right in calling her a devil; for what says the proverb ?
« Un Tedesco Italianazato
That is to say, 'An Italianized German is the devil incarnate.' Then there are all sorts of tricks played with Pope Urban; one ballad damns him for damning the knight, and there is a decided difference in the piety of the poets ; one calling our dear and sovereign Lady Venus a fiend, while with another she is the noble MINNE a word which Germans say is more exquisitely beautiful and tender than any other in any language whatever, and they are right. But to the song:
von dem DANHAUSER singen;
For you I now will raise my lay,
And of TANNHÆUSER sing;
Wrought many a wondrous thing.
Great wonders would he see;
Where lovely ladies be.
His sins they caused him sorrow;
I part from you to-morrow.' 'Sir TANNHÆUSER, you're dear to me,
Bear that in mind forever; And you have sworn an oath, you know,
That you will quit me never.'
I swear it as a knight;
God help me in the fight!' 'Sir TANNHÆUSER, what words are these!
Come, pass with us your life; I'll give you of my ladies here,
The fairest for your wife.' * And if I take another wife,
In my own loved one's room; So must I in the glow of hell
Yet never felt their power;
Which smiles at every hour.'
No more I heed its call;
For the honor of ladies all.'
To you no leave I give;
And merrily let us live.'
I cannot live, my life is sick,
And here I cannot stay ; Dear lady, give me leave to go
From your proud charms away.' Now cease this talk, Sir TanxHÆUSER,
You're strangely wild to-day ; Come in the chamber, let us sport
At the secret, sweet love-play!' *Your secret love is loath to me;
It gnaws around my heart,
In soul a devil art.' • TANNHÆUSER ! ab ! what words are these !
Now thou canst not be here; For should you longer linger, Sir,
Those words would cost you dear. Sir TANNHÆUSER, would you have leave,
From gray-beards it must come; But see that you do praise my name,
In lands where'er you roam.' TanguÆUSER wandered from the hill,
In sorrow and distress : "I will toward Rome, the holy town,
And all to the Pope confess. • Now joyfully I'll wend my way,
God guards me still, I'm sure, Unto the Pope, Pope URBAN called,
He shall my soul secure.'
I'll wail my sins to you;
Shall come again to view.
By Venus, a ladie;
If God I yet may see.'
From a dry and sapless tree;
Shall thy sins forgiven be.'
•And should I live but one year more Be welcome now, my dearest lord, Upon this earth, I fain
Thou hero true returned !' Would every shrift and penance bear
'Twas on the third day after this, To win God's grace again.'
The rod began to green ; Then slowly from the town he drew, And messengers sought in every land, In pain and misery ;
Where the TANNHÄUSER had been. “Maria, mother, virgin pure!
But he was in the mount again,
And in the mount he'll stay;
Till GoD shall judge him for his sins, Forever, without end;
Upon the Judgment Day.
Hence shall no Pope, no Cardinal,
E'er shake man's hope of heaven; • All welcome, thou TANNHÆUSER good,
For all by penitence and prayer,
His sins shall be forgiven. So endeth ye Balade of ye Tannhäuser! Bear in mind the extraordinary apparition in the midst of the Catholic Middle Age of such a startling song;
understand fully now, what few understood then, the intense worship of beauty, the daring devotion to freedom which it covers like an allegory - and Heine's comment on it will not seem too highly pitched:
* I remember that, as I first read this song in the Mons Veneris, of Kornmann, I was startled with the contrast of its language with the pedantic, Latinized, unrefreshing style of the seventeenth century, in which the book was composed. It was as though I had suddenly discovered in the dark shaft of a mine a great vein of gold, and the proudly simple, primævally strong words flashed so brightly on me, that my heart was well-nigh bewildered with the sudden gleam. I soon felt that out of this song there spake to me a wellknown joyful voice; I caught in it the notes of those be-heresied nightingales, who during the passion-age of Mediæval times, must hide themselves with silent beaks, and only now and then, where they would be least suspected, perhaps behind a cloister-grating, let fly a few fluttering notes of joy. Knowest thou the letters of Heloise to Abelard ? Next to the high song of the great king, (I mean of King Solomon,) I know of no more burning song of tenderness than the dialogue between Dame Venus and the Tannhæuser. This song is like a battle of love, and there flows in it the reddest heart's blood.'
How the song struck me, in the days when the romance of the Middle Age had not yet lost its charm, yet while a deep sense of the goodness of beauty, and the perfect loveliness of freedom, and of daring thought, were opening every day new windows on my mind, may appear from the following story. Every soul, once in a life, writes out his version of the Tannhäuser; every body must feel some time at heart that man, even in this life, has a right to Frecdom and Joyousness.
Als ich mîner hân getân.'— DER TANHUSER, A.D. 1240. It was a pleasant summer night, in the middle of the thirteenth century, when Sir Tannhäuser, the world-renowned minstrel and traveller, was slowly
walking with his friend Klingsor, through the streets of Venice. The Tannhæuser, as he is termed in lay and legend, was a model of manly beauty, though his pale features wore an expression of melancholy and reverie ; but the dark eyes of Klingsor, the Hungarian, glowed with an unearthly mystery, which well became one who was thought to have gained the gift of song, by the power of sorcery.
‘Klingsor,' said the Tannhäuser at length abruptly, 'I have known thee for many a year, and though I have marked in thee a thousand times marvels which go beyond nature and belief, yet have I never spoken one word thereof. The world calls thee a wizard, but thou hast been my true friend, and a friend deserves truth in return, an he were --'
* The devil himself,' said Klingsor, concluding the sentence, in a deep and strangely musical voice. "Well ?'
"Men say,' replied his friend, that when the great contest of Minnesingers was held on the Wartburg, thou didst come, not on a steed, as other knights are wont to do, but on an enormous black hound, and that he had borne thee since morn a thousand leagues.'
* The poor fools might have counted their lives away,' replied Klingsor carelessly, “and would still have been far from the distance. But, my friend, what carest thou for that?'
“They who company with those not of earth,' replied the Tannhæuser seriously, 'sooner or later obtain glimpses themselves into unknown mysteries. Klingsor,' he suddenly cried with emotion, 'never until this hour did to me that the strange dream which has worn away my life was aught but a delusion. But I nou begin to believe that it lies deeper than I wotted, and that there spreads beneath it some mysterious reality. Man of magic, canst thou read the riddle?'
'Let me hear it first,' replied the master quietly. "I have passed hours with the Grecian Edipus, in the land of shadows, solving enigmas, and I trow that thine is no harder than his!'
! Many years ago,' replied the Tannhæuser, 'when young and careless, I was passing for the first time through the streets of this very city, whither I had come from my paternal home in the Salzburgian mountains. That was long before I knew thee
* But not before I knew thee,' interrupted the master. “But proceed.'
'I paused before yonder palace,' said Tannhäuser, pointing to a stately, antique edifice, which arose on the opposite side of the canal, by which they were walking, and my attention was attracted by a bridal train gathered before the door. Suddenly there appeared, fluttering by yon window, two white doves. Unless my eyes deceived me, a strange halo of golden light shone around them, and they winged their.way into the house. As I gazed, there came to the window two ladies of exquisite beauty, attired as brides. Even at the distance where I stood, I was sure one of them distinguished me, and smiled. Observing me in the crowd, an attendant priest said to me, to my great astonishment, “Here, Sir, is your place,' and stationed me in the bridal procession, by the very lady whom I had noticed.'