FROM THE COUNT TO THE COUNTESS VON JAROMAR
A Fellowe and his Wife
You do not like my letter? So much the worse for me. I wish you liked it better than ivoire vert. But what can I do ? The soul of me had to write it. At least, I thought so that night. The moment it was gone, remorse set in. I became suddenly aware that it was not an eminently suave and cheerful communication, and tried to intimate this, with a quasi apology, the following day. Now, upon sober second thought, having let a little "grass grow " since, and succumbing to the soothing and conciliatory influences of three delicious letters from you, which are lying open here before my eyes,--three dainty, vaguely fragrant, charmingly contradictory letters, differing one from another, as if written by three different women, ---I conclude to retract nothing. I hold my ground, and even if I am wrong, I am going to stand fast. It affords me grim satisfaction to realize that my ill-natured prejudices, if such they be, are at any rate stable. You can "build upon" them, which is more than can be said for your Roman phantasmagories; and in our unequal conflict, this is surely well. For whatever comes, one of us must always know where to find the other. Now it is obviously out of the question for me to hope to find you, my brilliant, flitting, erratic, elusive, sweetest Ilchen, never of one mood three consecutive seconds, and as I cannot emulate your bewildering changes of base, I choose to adopt diametrically opposite methods. I will be the rugged landmark which my lovely nomad may seek when she is weary of roaming.
Are you frowning ? Dearest, dearest, do you suppose that I really want to offend you ? Yet, better a thousand times your displeasure than your indifference. Indifference in love is death. For this reason your resentment, your heat and childlike reproaches, have thrown me into higher spirits than I have known since you left. Such is the unregenerate nature of man.
To return to the fateful letter. As to its principles, I repeat, I don't budge an inch. I'm as dogged as Martin Luther. But I deplore the inordinate length of my harangue. It is no doubt a man's duty to make himself odious now and then. Still he can be odious with a semblance of tact and delicacy ; he need not be odious on a colossal scale. Why should he write a letter like unto the stupefying, interminable rush of a waterfall ? But however imperfect the form, I cannot retract the import, nor would you in your secret heart have me. For see, Ilse, with superb, reckless, womanlike inconsequence, you ignore everything that it does not please you to consider. I do not say a woman cannot be logical,---that is a too stupid assumption,--- but she rarely possesses a sense of loical integrity. She is lawless, and at her own sweet will makes her obeisance to reason or flies at his approach. So you ignore your own letter, to which mine was but the direct response. You ignore all things that madden a man. You create the world afresh each morning, and smilingly declare that it is good. You place me in an unparalleled situation, from which St. Anthony, could scarcely have extricated himself with dignity, and are then quite aggrieved when I, an unholy man, roar with exasperation.
Bless her dear little heart! Did one of her wound-up dolls refuse to say "Mamma" and "Papa," when she squeezed it? Never mind. It was only a rough rustic Rügen doll. Make the pretty Roman puppets dance the more for it. It is their métier. Their machinery is well oiled, and they can smirk and open and shut their eyes in a most seductive manner. Oh, Ilse, I too can tell a tale of an If. It is, according to Prosper Mérimée, the story of Roland's horse. He was the most splendid animal in the world, and he could have run faster than the wind if he had not been dead.
Dear sunny Ilse, I am bad today. I am reckoning on your unfathomable sweetness of temper, without which I were a lost soul. Your three iridescent letters are shining here at me. Two of them are as blissful as if human nature had no abysses. In one, your first impulse is to resent, but your second---praise be to the nine gods of Rome!---is to forgive the sinner whose rhetoric was not to your taste. Be comforted, Ilchen, it is never to my own. That words are a means to conceal thoughts is often a beneficent dispensation ; for instance, when one has to talk with Charlotte von Bodenfels; but that the rascals contradict and travesty our best sentiments, invest them with foreign shapes, meanings, and colors, mock and betray them --- this is, intruth, a grievous matter.---For such transgressions, I humbly implore your pardon. Draw a great broad magnanimous line through all the obnoxious phrases (except "attitudinizing at church portals," which I cannot repudiate, for it is founded upon fact, it is architecturally attractive, it pleases me ; besides, I think it rather neat. But notice how inoffensively, and almost deprecatingly, I insinuate this bit of rebellion into a discreet parenthesis where it will scarcely be observed). As for " prancings " and "caracolings," they are abominable words. No terms are harsh enough for them, and nothing could be more just than your indignation. For they do indeed suggest pernicious things ; for instance, the gaudy trappings and stereotyped antics of some old circus nag, and no species of Pegasus whatever, with god-like soarings and poises above a groveling world.
Then forgive, shrive, absolve your Odo. Lay your lovely hands upon my suppliant head, and give me your benediction. But grant me plenary indulgence, too, for the sins which I am surely going to commit every time that you goad me beyond endurance.You have made me glad, wildly glad, and probably you will not suspect why, as you never seem to suspect why some of vour most amiable remarks infuriate me. When your letters come, I usually spend some time in readjusting my impressions, which at first get surprisingly out of focus, I am sure. I am conscious that I must destroy the proportions of uour charming little fleeting sketches. probably make a too matter-of-fact inventory of your friends, pleasures, and occupations. Shall one try to seize the rainbow ? You are happy and well. That ought to satisfy me. I cannot follow your work very clearly. Doubtless that mysterious art-nature, about which we have lost our temperson innumerable occasions, and which is going to provide us with food for excellent discussions down to a green old age, is thrilling and dilating prodigiously, and girding up its loins to do mighty things. But, candidly, if a sublunary being may venture to inquire, you have not actually done much work yet, have you? Only a model of Undine and of that somewhat remote young person, the Viviani. A queer notion that, and not much money in it, permit your friend, the practical country farmer, to add. While holding myself aloof from your pecuniary affairs, as categorically requested, I nevertheless retain a certain benevolent interest in them, and I think there is more bread and butter in Undine --- particularly if you let her mouth contradict her eyes. That is an irresistible fascination, and will vastly increase her market value. Take the disinterested advice of a man who, if destitute of esoteric art---culture has some knowledge of the stock exchange.
Are you vexed ? Then write me another hasty, inconsistent, adorable little letter, and I will love it more than my life, and kiss every tear-stain in it, and feel a great warm glow in my heart, and strength enouh to defy all evil chances, so perverse and jubilant is