A Fellowe and his Wife
FROM THE COUNTESS TO COUNT VON JAROMAR.
MY DEAR FRIEND:
Your letter, so like yourself, has touched me deeply. Never for an instant believe that I can be forgetful of or indifferent to our dear Jaromar and all its associations. But I wonder if you will understand me when I say that, at the moment ---is it mood ? is it some subtle change that comes with change ? --- I am not so much an alien in a foreign land as --- how shall I say it? ---the recipient of a welcome letter coming to me from a strange country. Now that I have written it, my thought or fancy seems crude, banale almost. But perhaps you will understand; I hope so. Yesterday I was modeling my Undine, and I cannot tell you what keen and strange delight the conscious shaping of my ductile material gave me, the mere manipulation of it, even, I am tempted to say. I felt as though a year had passed since I had done anything. Yesterday Friedrich Herwegh called upon me, and I remember one thing that he uttered, with that enigmatic turn which I recognize as characteristic of him. " There is no geography in art, and yet perhaps the south must ever hold herself aloof from the north." "And then?" I rejoined, half laughingly, glancing at him in a surprise by no means feigned. But he only looked at me gravely, then at my little clay model. "Speak to me about your north," he exclaimed suddenly, and with equal abruptness offered me a chair, and made ready to seat himself near. What a strange man he is! He interests me deeply. I like a man to bear the insignia of his race. And yet, strangely enough, I am the more drawn to Herwegh from the fact that he is not unmistakably a German. He might belong to almost any European nation, and be might readily be taken for an American. He has that rapid adaptability which enables him to be of the nation of whatever sympathetic companion he may be with. In appearance he is a dark Scandinavian, as tall and athletic almost as you, my dear Odo, and perhaps of a paler complexion than the true northerner generally is. Thus it is, combined with his rare linguistic fluency, that he is by turns a Prussian or a South German, an Italian or a Spaniard, a Slav or a Briton, a Frenchman or an American. In a word, he is a typical cosmopolitan. I fear I must seem very parochial to him. And yet---but enough of Signor Herwegh; I want to speak to you about myself. How happy I am here! I have often heard people say that Rome is a depressing place to dwell in. It may be so, but to me it is a stimulus as well as a delight. I could be quite content here if I did not know a soul. l smiled when I read those words in your letter about my intention to avoid general society; of course it is my intention to do so. But you men are so funny; if you say that you are not going to gamble, you will not even look at the coins in your pocket. Now, I have less than ever the intention to amble, but I was dull, in a natural reaction after all my traveling and excitement, and when the opportunity suddenly came in my way, I rose to it as suddenly as the salmon to the unexpected and tantalizing fly. People talk of Latin taste, and even these dear ignoant Italians repeat the favorite catchword of Paris ; but. I assure you that I never before saw so many, ill-dressed women. There was one Roman principessa clad in staring blue silk all figured over with virulently scarlet poppies---oh, no, I cannot even recall her without a shudder.
No, I am living so quietly that the Röhrichs smilingly affirm that I shall be known as a second Hilda. Do you know that Transformation was one of the books --- Andersens improvisatore was the other ---that used, in my girlhood, literally to fever me with a longing for Rome and Italy? How strange that it was you who lent me these books : the first in translation, for I did not then know English, and yet, why strange ? Do you puzzle yourself like this sometimes, Odo ? I do, often about you, sometimes ; about myself, frequently. This duality is so bewildering. I to be myself, whom you know, and whom I know ---and then that other I, whom you do not know at all, and whom I only catch glimpses of as in a mirror, or hear whispering for a moment in the twilight.
Hilda? No, I am not a Hilda, though I seem to know her intimately. How delightful it will be, some day in the hot sumrnertide, when we are too idle to read and too light-hearted to dream, to carry on for ourselves the lives of some of those men and women of fiction in whom we have been profoundly interested. Can you tell me Hilda's secret story ? What will you give me if I relate to you a new version of the latter days of Helen of Troy? Would you be interested to learn the inner life of Petrarch's Laura, of Michel Angelo's Vittoria ? Is there another side to the story of Andrea del Sarto and his Lucrezia ? Can you tell me the thoughts of Barbarossa as he grew his red beard, or the dreams of Theodoric the Goth while he looked out upon the south from his villa by the Latin sea ? Would you like to see what Lili ---no, what Charlotte Von Stein chanced to be writing in her sentimental journal on that evening when, after three sleepless nights in consequence of Zimmermann's description of her, Goethe wrote below her portrait "What a glorious poem it would be to see how the world mirrors itself in this soul!" if you will tell me the rare imagings of Georges Sand when Chopin played to her in the gloaming, I will perplex you with the strange thoughts of Emilia Viviani after the English poet left her and wrote his mar-velous Epipsychidion. But we must distinguish; we will not waste our time with commonplace or vulgar personages. We have too many acquaintances of the kind about us always! No, I would give my Diver for a fantastic history of Heine's Sefchen or for the diary of Gaspara Stampa ---that "Saffo di nostro tempo" --- but I would not thank you for all the secrets of Byron's famous lady-love, La Guiccioli. Ah, what a wonderful poem, the Epipsychidion ! I am glad that I know English, if only to read it. In these last days I have heard much of this author, Shelley: that he was a strange man, and died young, His ashes are buried in the beautiful old God's-acre here, close to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. Another beloved young English poet, whose writings I do not know, is buried close by. Some day we must read together the finest things of Shelley, and this poor young Keats.
A year or two ago, I remember, I read something by the former; a long poem which I did not understand aright, and so did not care for. But two nights ago, at the Heideloffs', there was an Englishman, a writer (I did not catch, his name), and Herwegh, who was there also, said something about Shelley's grave, and this led on to his admission that a rich American had commissioned him to make a life-size statue of Shelley. This induced an animated discussion, and, somewhat to my surprise, I found that Herwegh is an enthusiastic admirer of this English poet --- and indeed is a student and lover of all English poets. You will understand, therefore, with what pleasure I promised to avail myself of his generous offer to discuss and read to me on this subject. He talks as well as knows English so thoroughly, that the Heideloffs' English guest evidently took him to be a compatriot. This is a splendid opportunity for me, as you are aware how anxious I am to know intimately the language and literature of this people, whom, in common with yourself, I at once like and dislike, admire and feel unattracted by. I am paradoxical, you see. Herwegh says that a woman utters paradoxes by the grace of God, and a man only from maladroit wit. When he came to see me yesterday, I asked him about the poem Epipsychidion, which he had so enhusiastically praisd. He at once recited it to me. I cannot tell you how deeply I was impressed. Shelley must have been half a woman. I have been in a kind of dream ever since. After we returned from the old Proestant cemetery ---did I tell you that Herwegh kindly drove me thither yesterday to see the graves of Shelley and Keats, and others of all nations at rest there in that beautiful spot? --- I sat for a long time through the late afternoon, dreaming that I was Emilia Viviani. I sat at the open window beside the little balcony outside my room. A rare pink flush lay over Rome. Beyond the Vatican the wind played in the sky with fugitive wisps of vapor; long streaks, invisibly beginning and invisibly vanishing, and only midway fringed like floating seaweed or spraying upward like thin snow before a skater's feet. A little later the flush became amethyst. Suddenly a score or more of white pigeons flew upwards from the fountain in the Piazza di Spagna, and circled round and round before me, the upper wings of this bird-cloud touched with gleams of purple or gold. They rose and sank and rose again. Strange, how such a thing should fascinate one so profoundly ! I watched them entranced. Suddenly they rose, wheeled, and then, like one broad white pinion, swayed in a long slope, out of sight, westward. The beautiful flush over Rome was now almost a wine-dark purple. Though the day was not gone, I could see a star in the heart of the purple, wavering like a white light at a far-off casement. And still I was Emilia Viviani. Do not think me foolish, Odo. I could not stay in my room any more, so I went out, up the Via Sistina, to Santa Trinità dei Monti, to hear the nuns singing Ave Maria. It did me good--every way. There was one of the good sisters who had a voice in which lived the inmost spirit of her life, a lost, thwarted, loving, utterly desolate life, I caught a glimpse of her. She was young and beautiful ---or had been. When I stepped on to the terrace, which commands so superb a view of Rome, I met Herwegh. He, too, must have been in Santa Trinità, and must have seen my nun. He bowed gravely, and passed on, but as he did so be remarked, "Yet, we are told, youth is a continual intoxication."
I don't know how it is that I am often so struck by what Herwegh says. It is not always his words, nor their epigrammatic phrasing: neither is it his manner. I find myself very much in sympathy with him. However, I suppose Ill see little of this illustrissimo scultore henceforth. He is a very busy man, and, I understand, also goes out into society a good deal. I am at once glad and sorry. But, after all, the more isolation I live in, meanwhile, the better for me and my aim in art. By the way, what do you think was the effect on me of yesterday afternoon, and (perhaps) of the nun's singing? I put aside my Undine, and am thinking over an ideal bust in poco of Emilia Viviani. This dead woman, whom I know of only through an English poet's rhapsody, has taken strange hold upon my imagination. For some inscrutable reason---some ridiculous whim, might be truer ---I have conceived a dislike of her, even while she attracts me. But enough ; I shall tire you.
My dear Odo, this is already a long letter, and yet I have taken almost no notice of the strange episode you narrate in yours. Do not, please, think me unfeeling or indifferent. Believe me, I have thought often and much of what you wrote, and of all concerned, of the poor drowned people, and of those who wait afar off hoping for their return, of those whom you have succored, and of poor Captain Albrecht, for whom I am sorrowful indeed and, above all, of your brave dear self. Little did I think that my poor little letter was to be so sore beset. I hope this next northward swallow will be a more fortunate as well as a more welcome harbinger. Are you susceptible to those subtle influences which, in absence, are like spirits that wind an invisible veil around our memories, and swathe in some "fibre of oblivion " certain keys in the instrument of our life, and even missuade us by illusory lights and shadows which we un-wittingly take to be our own thoughts, fancies, impulses? Or, I wonder, are men and women really different au fond? I heard that foreigner at the Heideloffs', the other night, say that Newton had discovered the law of gravitation, that Darwin had demonstrated the secret of evolution, that Leeuwenhock had determined the pulse of an insect and the constitution of a germ, and that very soon we would be as familiar with the life of Mars as with the origin of coal; but where was the man who had really explored the inmost recesses of a woman's heart, or observed the hidden sources of those fugitive motives which differentiate her from the male of her species ? We all laughed, but no one answered. After a little, Herwegh made the only trite remark I have ever heard him utter : "We have all heard much about the laying bare of the secret of 'Darkest Africa,' but a greater than a whole army of explorers will be the 'Stanley of Woman-hood."' It was somewhat commonplace after the other, but it made us smile again, and lifted us into a blither current of conversation. Still, I am puzzled. I wonder if you could help me, Odo. A great many things have been passing through my mind recently. For one thing, I am disquieted on a certain point concerning which I promised you to be silent. But I must ask you to absolve me. I think you will guess what I mean. Oh, Odo, I do wish to support myself, to be myself, to feel that I, a woman, am not a mere appendage. Do not mistake me, I pray you. I am not fretting at being so deeply indebted to you. I would fain hope myself free of the pettiness of conceiving your generous love as a bondage, however kindly veiled. It is not that I, Ilse Jaromar, wish to be free of monetary indebt-edness to you, my husband ; but that I, Ilse Ilsenstein, feel that I can be neither the artist I aspire to 'become nor the woman I would fain be, if, voluntarily or involuntarily, I follow in the footsteps of another. My friend, is it not better so? Perhaps we do, deep down, regard life from a different standpoint. It may be. I do not even venture to say that I regret it, if so it be. Regrets are useless in the face of facts. One thinks of the nonagenarian sage who spent the seventy mature years of his life in regretting the inevitableness of his death, and died at last with only a single emotion left -- regret that he had regretted. Honestly, my friend, I am in great perplexity. I have pondered my affairs closely. You know that my aunt, Hedwig, von Eulenburg, left me a legacy of a few thousand marks, to be paid to me on my wedding. Now, I have deducted all the marriage expenses in which I, personally, was involved, and those incurred here in Rome and en route. I find that, allowing for my indebtedness to the Röhrichs and for living and working expenses, I shall still have, at the beginning of the new year, which is already drawing in upon us, no less a sum than an amount well on the right side of five thousand marks. Now, I would rather expend this little capital in the way that seems to me most to my own good; and to this end I ask your help. I should add that I can hardly fail to make at least a living with my chisel. Herwegh assures me that in this respect the way is clear before me. Now, Odo, will you let me repay the money you have so generously advanced ? Nay, dear friend, I must not word my wish so, in justice to myself as well as to you: I must repay it. If you cannot, or will not, meet me, then at least will you take this money that I enclose, and put it at Frau Albrccht's disposal ? It will help her to live over a bitter time. And you, sposo mio, will understand me in this ? I am not cutting myself off from you, Odo ; but as a woman, as well as an artist, I wish to stand alone for a time. To a proud woman ---and I need not tell you that I am proud --- this occasional isolation is as necessary as solitude to the student. I cannot explain more just now. But do you so far understand? Will you respect my wish? Bah ! how foolish of me; there is a caller, and here I am with flushed face and tremulous pulse.
It was only Friedrich Herwegh. I must hurriedly finish this letter. He and the Heideloffs are going this evening to the German Ambassador's --- " an informal coffee," Herwegh calls it --- and I am going with them. Only a few friends are to be there ; no "dress-ing" I am glad to say. What do you think my wicked sculptor said ? He had jocularly asked me if I were writing a romance. "Yes," I replied, " I have been writing about a woman's inner life." He smiled. I did not like it. I added, "And I was writing about a woman's power of holding her true self inviolate." "At Waterloo," he said, with quiet sarcasm, "General Cambronne remarked, 'The French Guard dies, but does not surrender.' Now, wherein women differ from the French Guard is, that they surrender but do not die." I stared haughtily, and plainly showed my resentment, but, with a mocking smile, he bowed and was gone.
Well, lebewohl, my dear friend, I shall post this tonight, but I shall write soon again.
Hurriedly but affectionately yours,
P.S. That poor little Margot. I am so sorry for her. I hope you will soon be able to send her back to her people ; for her own sake she ought not to be kept long among foreigners, however kind. Poor child! Tell me, is she dark or fair ? and how old is she ? and ---but I must go. Addio!