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- The Story of My Life, Volume 6. - 3/12 -
At no time had the exuberant joy in mere existence stirred more strongly within me. My whole nature was filled with the longing to utilize and enjoy this brief earthly life which Feuerbach had proved was to end with death.
Better an hour's mad revel, E'en a kiss from a Moenad's lip, Than a year of timid doubting, Daring only to taste and sip,
were the closing lines of a song which I composed at this time.
So my old wantonness unfolded its wings, but it was not to remain always unpunished.
My mother had gone to Holland with Paula just before Advent, and as I could not spend my next vacation at home, she promised to furnish me with means to take a trip through the great German Hanse cities.
In Bremen I was most cordially received in the family of Mohr, a member of my corps, in whose circle I spent some delightful hours, and also an evening never to be forgotten in the famous old Rathskeller.
But I wished to see the harbour of the great commercial city, and the ships which ploughed the ocean to those distant lands for which I had often longed.
Since I had shot my first hare in Komptendorf and brought down my first partridge from the air, the love of sport had never slumbered; I gratified it whenever I could, and intended to take a boat from Bremerhaven and go as near as possible to the sea, where I could shoot the cormorants and the bald-headed eagles which hunters on the seashore class among the most precious booty.
In Bremerhaven an architect whose acquaintance I had made on the way became my cicerone, and showed me all the sights of the small but very quaint port. I had expected to find the bustle on shore greater, but what a throng of ships and boats, masts and smoke-stacks I saw!
My guide showed me the last lighthouse which had been built, and took me on board of a mail steamer which was about to sail to America.
I was deeply interested in all this, but my companion promised to show me things still more remarkable if I would give up my shooting excursion.
Unfortunately, I insisted upon my plan, and the next morning sailed in a pouring rain through a dense mist to the mouth of the Weser and out to sea. But, instead of pleasure and booty, I gained on this expedition nothing but discomfort and drenching, which resulted in a violent cold.
What I witnessed and experienced in my journey back to Cuttingen is scarcely worth mentioning. The only enjoyable hours were spent at the theatre in Hanover, where I saw Niemann in Templar and Jewess, and for the first time witnessed the thoroughly studied yet perfectly natural impersonations of Marie Seebach. I also remember with much pleasure the royal riding-school in charge of General Meyer. Never have I seen the strength of noble chargers controlled and guided with so much firmness, ease, and grace as by the hand of this officer, the best horseman in Germany.
The state of health in which, still with a slight fever recurring every afternoon, I returned to Gottingen was by no means cheering.
Besides, I was obliged at once to undergo the five days' imprisonment to which I had been justly sentenced for reckless shooting across the street.
During the day I read, besides some very trashy novels, several by Jean Paul, with most of which I had become familiar while a school-boy in the first class.
They had given me so much pleasure that I was vexed with the indifference with which some of my friends laid the works of the great humorist aside.
There were rarely any conversations on the more serious scientific subjects among the members of the corps, though it did not lack talented young men, and some of the older ones were industrious.
Nothing, perhaps, lends the life of the corps a greater charm than the affectionate intercourse which unites individuals.
I was always sure of finding sympathizers for everything that touched my feelings.
With regard to the results of my nocturnal labour the case was very different. If any one else had "bored" me at the tavern about his views of Feuerbach and Lotze, I should undoubtedly have stopped him with Goethe's "Ergo bibamus."
There was one person in Gottingen, however, Herbert Pernice, from whom I might expect full sympathy. Though only five years my senior, he was already enrolled among the teachers of the legal faculty. The vigour and keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge were as amazing as his corpulence.
One evening I had met him at the Krone and left the table at which he presided in a very enthusiastic state of mind; for while emptying I know not how many bottles of Rhine wine he directed the conversation apparently unconsciously.
Each of his statements seemed to strike the nail on the head.
The next day, to my great delight, I met him again at Professor Baum's. He had retreated from the ladies, whom he always avoided, and as we were alone in the room I soon succeeded in turning the conversation upon Feuerbach, for I fairly longed to have another person's opinion of him. Besides, I was certain of hearing the philosopher criticised by the conservative antimaterialistic Pernice in an original manner--that is, if he knew him at all. True, I might have spared myself the doubt; for into what domain of humanistic knowledge had not this highly talented man entered!
Feuerbach was thoroughly familiar to him, but he condemned his philosophy with pitiless severity, and opposed with keen wit and sharp dialectics his reasons for denying the immortality of the soul, inveighing especially against the phrase and idea "philosophy of religion" as an absurdity which genuine philosophy ought not to permit because it dealt only with thought, while religion concerned faith, whose seat is not in the head, the sacred fount of all philosophy, but the heart, the warm abode of religion and faith. Then he advised me to read Bacon, study Kant, Plato, and the other ancient philosophers--Lotze, too, if I desired--and when I had them all by heart, take up the lesser lights, and even then be in no hurry to read Feuerbach and his wild theology.
I met and conversed with him again whenever I could, and he availed himself of the confidence he inspired to arouse my enthusiasm for the study of jurisprudence. So I am indebted to Pernice for many benefits. In one respect only my reverence for him entailed a certain peril.
He knew what I was doing, but instead of warning me of the danger which threatened me from toiling at night after such exciting days, he approved my course and described episodes of his own periods of study.
One of the three essays for which he received prizes had been written to compel his father to retract the "stupid fellow" with which he had insulted him. At that time he had sat over his books day and night for weeks, and, thank Heaven, did not suffer from it.
His colossal frame really did seem immovable, and I deemed mine, though much slighter, capable of nearly equal endurance. It required severe exertions to weary me, and my mind possessed the capacity to devote itself to strenuous labour directly after the gayest amusements, and there was no lack of such "pastimes" either in Gottingen or just beyond its limits.
Among the latter was an excursion to Cassel which was associated with an adventure whose singular course impressed it firmly on my memory.
When we arrived, chilled by the railway journey, an acquaintance of the friend who accompanied me ordered rum and water for us, and we laughed and jested with the landlord's pretty daughters, who brought it to us.
As it had been snowing heavily and the sleighing was excellent, we determined to return directly after dinner, and drive as far as Munden. Of course the merry girls would be welcome companions, and we did not find it very difficult to persuade them to go part of the way with us.
So we hired two sleighs to convey us to a village distant about an hour's ride, from which we were to send them back in one, while my friend and I pursued our journey in the other.
After a lively dinner with our friends they joined us.
The snow-storm, which had ceased for several hours, began again, growing more and more violent as we drove on. I never saw such masses of the largest flakes, and just outside the village where the girls were to turn back the horses could barely force their way through the white mass which transformed the whole landscape into a single snowy coverlet.
The clouds seemed inexhaustible, and when the time for departure came the driver declared that it would be impossible to go back to Cassel.
The girls, who, exhilarated by the swift movement through the cold, bracing air, had entered into our merriment, grew more and more anxious. Our well-meant efforts to comfort them were rejected; they were angry with us for placing them in such an unpleasant position.
The lamps were lighted when I thought of taking the landlady into our confidence and asking her to care for the poor frightened children. She was a kind, sensible woman, and though she at first exclaimed over their heedlessness, she addressed them with maternal tenderness and showed them to the room they were to occupy.
They came down again at supper reassured, and we ate the rustic meal together very merrily. One of them wrote a letter to her father, saying that they had been detained by the snow at the house of an acquaintance, and a messenger set off with it at sunrise, but we were told that the road would not be passable before noon.
Yet, gay as our companions were at breakfast, the thought of entertaining them longer seemed irksome, and as the church bells were ringing some one proposed that we should go.
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