Title: Eight Tales of Hoffmann.
Author: E.T.A. Hoffmann (translated by J.M. Cohen).
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, fantasy.
Country: Prussia (now Germany).
Publication Date: 1815, 1816, 1817, 1819.
Summary: A collection of 8 short stories. In The Lost Reflection (1815), a man travelling through Florence is mesmerized by a beautiful woman with a darkly sinister companion, and foolishly consents to leave her his reflection when he is forced to flee the violent consequences of his obsession with her. In The Sandman (1816), a young man encounters a professor at his college whom he believes to be a terrifying figure from his childhood, and he's in for an even nastier surprise when he falls for the man's beautiful but strangely otherworldly daughter, Olimpia. The Jesuit Church at Glogau (1817) tells of a painter named Berthold and his heroic deed: the construction, at midnight, of a linear perspective under technically difficult conditions. In The Deserted House (1817), a young man who believes himself to be clairvoyant becomes obsessed with an abandoned, seemingly haunted, house, and becomes convinced there is a beautiful maiden imprisoned there. In Councillor Krespel (1819), the narrator encounters the eccentric but brilliant violin maker and his charge, the young and beautiful Antonia, who is harbouring a tragic and mysterious secret. In The Mines of Falun (1819), a young man is enticed into a mining career by a mysterious old miner, but when he becomes successful and falls in love, the old miner begins to haunt him once more, reminding him of an old promise. A Ghost Story (1819) is a tale of two sisters living in a Gothic mansion haunted by a spirit of the "White Lady," and the weaker, more sensitive sister suddenly being constantly hounded by the ghost, as if in preparation for something. Gambler's Luck (1819) is a tale of a young German baron who is enjoying a streak of beginner's luck at the gambling tables, when he is approached by a stranger who issues a dire warning through the recounting of a tale of Chevalier Menars, and the awful fate gambling had brought upon him.
My rating: 8/10
♥ Often, too, he would hand us picture-books and sit in his elbow-chair stiff and silent, blowing out great smoke clouds till we all swam in a kind of mist. On such evenings Mother was very sad, and on the very stroke of nine she would say: "Now, children, to bed, to bed! The Sandman's coming, I can see that!" And indeed on each of those occasions I actually heard something with a heavy slow step come bumping up the stairs. That must have been the Sandman. Once when that dull stumbling tread was particularly frightening I asked my mother as she hurried us off: "Tell me, Mamma, who is this nasty Sandman who always drives us way from Papa?"
"There is no Sandman, my darling," my mother answered. "When I say the Sandman's coming I only mean that you're sleepy and can't keep your eyes open, as if someone had sprinkled sand on them."
My mother's answer did not calm me, for the thought soon grew in my childish mind that my mother only denied the existence of the Sandman to prevent our being frightened of him. Certainly I always heard him coming up the stairs. Being extremely curious to hear of this Sandman and to know how he was connected with us children, I finally asked the old woman who looked after my youngest sister what sort of man this Sandman was. "Oh, Natty," she answered, "don't you know that? He's a wicked man that comes after children when they won't go to bed and throws handfuls of sand in their eyes, until they tumble bleeding out of their heads. Then he puts their eyes into a sack and takes them to the crescent moon to feed his children, who sit up there in their nest and have crooked beaks like owls, so that they can pick up the eyes of naughty young humans."
♥ If there is a dark power, treacherously laying its toils about our hearts in order to drag us along the path of peril and destruction, which otherwise we should not have trodden—if there is such a power, it must form itself within us and out of ourselves, and so become identical with us. For only so shall we believe in it and give it the chance it requires to complete its secret work. If we have a mind sufficiently firm, sufficiently fortified by the joy of life, to recognise alien and hostile influences for what they are, and peacefully to follow the path marked out for us by our calling and our inclinations, then that strange power will fail in its endeavours to assume a form that shall be a true reflection of ourselves. It is also a fact, Lothaire tells me, that if we have voluntarily surrendered to the dark physical power it may introduce into our thoughts some odd shape flung by the outer world into our path, thus causing us ourselves to evoke the spirit which in our strange delusion we believe to speak to us from outside us. It is the phantom of our own ego, our close relationship with which, combined with its profound effect on our spirits, throws us into hell or raises us to the bliss of heaven.
♥ Only through conversation does the spirit of life express itself. But small townsfolk are like an isolated orchestra, so accustomed by long practice to their own playing and singing that only their own pieces sound right; a foreigner's tone is discordant to their ears, and immediately reduces them to silence.
♥ Soon I was in the street and, as I passed the Jesuit church, I was struck by a dazzling light streaming through one window. The small side-door was ajar, and when I walked in I saw a wax taper burning before a tall niche. On drawing nearer I perceived that a pack-thread net had been stretched in front of this niche, and that a dark figure was climbing up and down a ladder, apparently engaged in making a design on the niche wall. It was Berthold, and he was carefully tracing the shadow of the net in black paint. On a tall easel beside the ladder stood the drawing of an altar. I was astonished at the ingenuity of the idea. If you have the slightest acquaintance with the art of painting, you will know immediately what was the purpose of the net whose shadow Berthold was tracing on to the niche. He was going to paint an altar in apparent relief, and in order to get a correct enlargement of the small drawing he had, in the usual way, to put a net both over the sketch and over the surface on which the sketch was to be reproduced. But this surface was not flat; he was going to pint on a semicircular niche. His simple and ingenious contrivance, therefore, was the only possible way of obtaining a correspondence between the straight lines of the sketch and the curved criss-cross ones thrown by the net on the concave surface, and of ensuring accuracy in the architectural proportions which were to be reproduced in perspective. I took good care not to step in front of his taper and so betray my presence by my shadow, but I stood near enough to his side to observe him closely. He seemed to me quite another man. It may have been the effect of the taper, but his face had quite a colour, and his eyes sparkled as if from some inner delight.
♥ "And you," I retorted, "are certainly one of the best architectural painters in existence. But have you ever applied your bold and ready talents to any other sort of painting but this? Excuse my question."
"What do you mean exactly?" asked Berthold.
"Why," I replied, "I mean that you are capable of something better than painting marble columns on church walls. Architectural painting is, after all, an inferior craft; the historical painter and the landscape painter stand infinitely higher. Mind and imagination, when not confined to the narrow limits of geometry, take a free flight. The sole imaginative side of your painting, that perspective of yours that cheats the eye, depends merely on accurate calculation. It is not the product of inspiration, therefore, but merely of mathematical skill." While I was speaking, the painter had laid aside his pencil and propped his head in his hands.
"My unknown friend," he began in a solemn, muffled voice, "you speak profanely when you seek to place the different branches of art in order of merit, like the vassals of some proud king. And it is a still greater profanity that you respect only those perverse creatures who, deaf to the rattle of the fetters that enslave them, and unconscious of the pressures of the mundane, consider themselves free—consider themselves gods indeed, and would rule over light and life. Do you know the fable of Prometheus, who wished to be a creator and stole the fire of heaven to animate his lifeless figures? He succeeded; his forms began to move, and from their eyes shone forth that heavenly fire that burned within them. But for the malefactor who dared to rival the gods there was no redemption; he was condemned to fearful and eternal torment. That heart which had felt the divine, in which desire for the celestial had awakened, was torn by the vulture, the child of vengeance, which now fed upon the vitals of the presumptuous one. He who had attempted to play the god suffered earthly pains for ever."
The painter stood absorbed in his own thoughts.
"But, Berthold," I cried, "how do you relate all this to your art? I do not think that anyone can consider it presumptuous to portray the human form, either in painting or in sculpture."
Berthold gave a bitter and scornful laugh. "No! Child's play can't be presumption! And it's all child's play the way they do it, these people who comfortably dip their brushes in colour pots and dab a canvas out of a real desire—as they say—to portray the human form. It is very much as it was with the actors in Hamlet: some drudge of nature attempts to portray a man, and doesn't bring it off. They are no presumptuous sinners, they are poor harmless fools. But, my goodness, if one aims at the highest, not at the sensual like Titian, no, at the highest in divine nature, at the Promethean spark in man, one is perched on a high cliff, a narrow ledge, and the abyss yawns below. The bold flyer soars above it, but a devilish illusion shows him that thing below, in the depths, that he hoped to find above the stars." The painter uttered a deep sigh, passed his hand over his forehead, and then gazed upwards. "But why am I talking all this crazy nonsense to you, comrade, down there, and leaving off my painting? Look up here, that is what I call good and faithful drawing. The laws of art are noble things. All the lines converge to a determined point, for a determined, clearly thought-out purpose. Only what can be measured is truly human; anything beyond that is of evil. The superhuman must be God or Devil. But can they not both be shut out by human mathematics? Is it not conceivable that God has expressly created us to manage, for his own good purposes, all that can be expressed by measured and perceptible rules, in a word the purely commensurable, just as we, in our turn, build saw-mills and spinning machines as mechanical producers for our needs? Professor Walther lately maintained that certain beasts were merely created to be eaten by others, and so contributed the end to our profit. Thus, for example, he said, cats have an instinctive propensity for eating mice, so that these creatures may not nibble the sugar laid out for our breakfasts. And the Professor is right in the end. Animals, and we too, are well-ordered machines intended to work up certain materials for the table of the unknown king. But quickly, comrade, hand me up my pots. I prepared all the colours yesterday by the blessed light of the sun, so that the candlelight should not deceive me. They all stand numbered in that corner. Hand me up Number One, young man. Grey in grey. How dry and weary life would be if the Lord of Heaven had not placed so many bright playthings in our hands! If a man's sensible, he doesn't try, like a curious child, to break the box that makes the music when he turns the handle. It's just natural, he'll say, that it should sound inside, for I'm turning the handle. Because I've drawn this entablature correctly from the point of vision, I know that it will give the spectator the illusion of relief. Hand me up Number Two, young man! Now I'm going to paint it in colours toned according to rule so that it still appears to stand six foot away. How is it that objects grow smaller as they recede? That one stupid question from a Chinaman could confound Professor Eytelwein himself; but he could help himself out by the musical box, and say he had often turned the handle and always experienced the same result. Violet Number One, young man! Another ruler, and a thick well-washed brush! Ah, what is all our striving and struggling after higher things but the helpless, unconscious bungling of an infant, who hurts the nurse that feeds and cares for him. Violet Number Two, quick, young man! The ideal is a wicked, lying dream produced by a ferment in the blood. Away with the pots, young man! I'm coming down. The Devil tricks us with puppets, to which he has glued angels' wings."
♥ If only I could be with you, my son," Birkner wrote back, "to cheer you in your depression. But believe me, your very doubts speak for you, and for your artist's calling. A man with unwavering trust in his own powers, who thinks that he is always advancing, is a blind fool and a self-deceiver; for he lacks the proper spur to endeavour, which lies only in the consciousness of one's own deficiencies. Persevere, and you will soon gain strength; and then, no longer fettered by the advice of your friends, who are perhaps unable to appreciate you, you will quietly pursue the path that your true self, your real nature, has designed for you. You will then be ale to decide for yourself whether to remain a landscape painter or become a painter of historical pictures, and no longer think of contradictions and rivalries between different branches of the same tree."
♥ "You have fallen into a great error, young man," said the Maltese. "I tell you once ore that a great deal might be made out of you. For your works show evidence of a restless striving after higher things. But you will never attain your aim, since the road you have embarked on does not lead to it. Take good note of what I say to you. Perhaps I may succeed in kindling that flame in your soul which you, in your blindness, are endeavouring to smother, till it blazes up and gives you light. Then you will be able to recognise the real spirit that lives within you. Do you suppose that I am so stupid as to rate landscape lower than historical painting, and that I do not recognise the common aim towards which painters of both classes should strive? Apprehension of nature in the deepest sense, apprehension of at higher faculty that kindles all beings to a higher life—that is the sacred purpose of all art. Can the mere adequate copying of nature ever lead to this? How poor, how stiff and forced, is the appearance of a manuscript copied from one in some foreign language which the copyist does not understand; for he is unable to convey the sense of the letters he so laboriously imitates. Your master's landscapes are, in just that way, correct copies of originals written in a foreign language. The initiated hear rte voice of nature speaking to them from tree, bush and flower, from mountain and water, and tellingg of the unfathomable mystery in wondrous language which takes the form of immortal intimations in his breast. Then, like the divine spirit, the fire itself descends on him, and he is able to translate these intimations visibly into his works. Have you not yourself, young man, felt strangely moved when looking at the landscapes of the old masters? You have certainly never thought that the leaves of the lime trees, the pines and the plane trees might be truer to nature, that the background might be mistier or the waters clearer. For the spirit that emanates from the whole raised you up into a higher realm, the reflection of which you seemed to behold. Study Nature, therefore, even in her mechanical aspects, sedulously and carefully, so that you may attain skill in representation, but do not mistake this skill for art itself. If you have penetrated into the deepest meaning of Nature, her images will rise up within your very heart in all their glory and splendour."
The Maltese was silent. But as Berthold stood, deeply moved, with bowed head, and incapable of uttering a word, the stranger left him with the words: "I have not come to make you doubt your calling, but I know there is a higher spirit slumbering within you. I have invoked it in forceful language so that it may awake, and freely stir its wings. Farewell."
~~The Jesuit Church at Glocau.
♥ "That remarkable sixth sense of yours is liable surely to detect in just anything—be it a person, an act or a circumstance—that peculiar quality for which we can find no precedent in our ordinary life, and forthwith to proclaim it a marvel. For what is our ordinary life? A mere turning in a narrow circle against whose circumference we are always running our noses. And yet in the regular jog-trot of our lives we are for ever attempting to cut capers."
♥ "You must know from Eberhard's Dictionary of Synonyms that all manifestations of perception or desire for which no logical reason can be assigned are described as strange; but anything presumed to be impossible, or incomprehensible, something which appears to exceed the known powers of nature or, as I put it, to go contrary to her usual course is described as marvellous. By this you will understand that in relation to my alleged gift of second sight you have been confusing the marvellous with the strange. Bit it is true that the seemingly strange is really the product of the marvellous, and that often we fail to see the marvellous stem from which strange branches with their leaves and flowers spring. In the adventure that I shall describe to you, these two, the strange and the marvellous, are mingled in what seems to me a quite horrifying way."
♥ "'That would take us,' broke in another with a laugh, 'by no great step to belief in bewitchings, and magic charms and mirrors, and other fantastic, superstitious nonsense from an age of ignorance that is out of date now.'
"'Oh, no, my incredulous friend,"' interrupted the medical student. 'No times can become out of date, and still less has there ever been an age of ignorance, unless you admit as ignorant every age in which men have ventured to think. It is odd to try and argue something away that is established by evidence strong enough to pass in law. Indeed when I consider that there is not, so far as I can see, a single bright lamp burning to greet our dim eyes in the dark and secret realm that is the real home of our souls, there is one thing alone of which I feel certain, that nature has endowed us with the instincts and habits of moles. We seek in our blindness to go on working down dark tracks. But just as the blind man on earth recognises the wood that will give him shelter by the whispering sound of the trees, and the brook which will quench his thirst by the murmuring of the water, by which clues he reaches the goal of his desires, so from the beating of unknown wings and the ghostly breath of beings that brush against us, we dimly realise that our pilgrimage is leading us to the fountain of life, towards which we raise our eyes.'
"Unable to contain myself any longer, I turned to the student and said: 'You admit then the influence of a strange psychic principle which we are powerless to disobey?'
"'Not to go too far,' he replied, 'I consider that influence not only possible, but to be of the same nature as other manifestations of the psychic principle, upon which magnetic theory throws light.'
"'Then it might be possible for us to be harmed by hostile and demonic powers?' I asked.
"'Foul jugglery by fallen angels,' answered the medical student with a smile. 'No, we won't succumb to them. But please don't take my theories for anything but theories. And let me add that I don't believe in the unconditional mastery of one spiritual principle over another. I prefer to suppose that either some dependence, or some weakness of the fundamental will, or some reciprocal relationship, must exist to permit of such mastery!'"
~~The Deserted House.
♥ But at that moment Krespel pushed her away, and seized me by the shoulders, crying in his shrill tenor voice: "My dear boy, my dear boy, my dear boy!"
Then, taking me by the hand and making me the most courteous of bows, he continued in his gentle singsong, "No doubt, my much to be respected friend, my dear Student, no doubt it would be a breach of courtesy and good manners if I were loudly and plainly to express my wish that the devil from hell should softly take you by the neck with his red-hot claws, and in this way, as one might say, make short work of you. But, forgetting that for a moment, my dear young friend, you must admit that it is getting quite dark, and as there are no lamps burning today, if I did not pitch you out now, you might run some risk of damaging your precious legs. So go safely home and think most kindly of your true friend Krespel, if by any chance you don't—do you understand me?—if by any chance you don't find him at home in future."
Whereupon he embraced me and, grasping me firmly, slowly turned with me towards the door so that I could not get another look at Antonia.
♥ I had not the slightest hesitation in supposing that Krespel had gone mad, but the Professor was of the contrary opinion.
"There are men," he said, "whom Nature or some peculiar destiny has robbed of that outer covering beneath which we others conceal the madness within us. They are like insects with thin integuments, whose visible play of muscles seems a deformity, though in reality it is the perfectly normal thing. What in us remains as thought, in Krespel's case is translated into action. By his mad gesticulations and wild, gymnastic jumps he expresses the bitter scorn that so often racks the spirit imprisoned within the limitations of earthly stir and strife. They are a sort of lightning conductor. What rises from the earth he returns to the earth, but the divine he is able to keep. And so all is well in his inner consciousness, I believe, notwithstanding his apparent madness as it springs to the eye. Antonia's sudden death may indeed weight heavily upon him, but I bet you that he'll be jogging along at his ass's trot just as usual tomorrow."
It was almost exactly as the Professor had prophesied.
♥ "Young man, you may consider me foolish, you may consider me insane. I forgive you. For we are both confined in the same madhouse, and you only object to my thinking of myself as God the Father because you consider yourself to be God the Son. But how can you presume to pry into another person's life, and pick up its secret threads? It was utterly unknown to you, and so it had to remain."
♥ The Councillor stood like a stone statue before her. Then, as if waking from a dream, he seized the Signora in his giant grasp and threw he out of the window of her own country house.
..He learnt tat the Signora had fallen that day as lightly as a bird on to the grass, and that the consequences of her fall had been purely mental. As a result of Krespel's heroic act she had seemed to be transformed. There was no longer a trace of her former wilfulness or capriciousness nor of her old tormenting habits; and the maestro who had written the music for the next Carnival had been the happiest man under the sun, for the Signora was willing to sing his arias without the thousand alterations to which he would otherwise have had to consent. On the whole there was every reason, Krespel's friend considered, for carefully concealing the manner in which Angela had been cured. Otherwise prima donnas would be flying through windows every day.
♥ "..Old people die, there's no help for that. And, as you say yourself, it was a poor life of cares your mother left behind her."
"Oh," said Elis, "nobody believes in my grief. Everyone thinks I'm simple, and calls me a damned fool. That is what's driving me to despair. I shan't go to sea again. I'm sick of life. Once my heart would leap up when the ship scudded over the waters, with her sails spread like great, glorious wings, and when the waves splashed and played like happy music, and the wind sang in the creaking rigging. Then I could sing out joyfully enough on deck with my mates; and in the still, dark midnights when it was my watch I could think about my homecoming, and picture my mother's gladness at having her Elis back safe once more. I could rejoice in the Hoensning all right when I had poured my ducats into my mother's lap, and given her the fine handkerchiefs and many another rare thing that I had brought her back from foreign parts. Then her eyes would light up with pleasure, the she would clap her hands, unable to contain her delight, then she would go tripping to fetch her Elis the best beer that she had kept for him, and I would sit in the evenings with the old lady and tell her of the strange people I had met with, of the manners and customs and all the marvellous sights I had seen on my long voyage. She would take great delight in that, and she would tell me afterwards of my father's wonderful cruises into the far North, and serve me up many a strange seaman's tale that I had heard a hundred times already, but which I could never hear enough. Oh, who will give me that happiness back again? No, I'll never go to sea again. What could I do among my shipmates, who would only mock me? And how could I find any heart for my work? It would seem just a weary toiling for no purpose."
~~The Mines of Falun.
♥ That the Baron's whole conduct completely refuted this accusation of meanness was not taken into account. People are always eager to attach a doubtful "but" to the reputation of any man of parts, and will find this "but" anywhere, even if only in their own imagination. So everyone was extremely satisfied with this interpretation of Siegfried's hatred and gambling.
♥ "Goodness me," exclaimed the stranger, "a duel between the two of us would be a most one-sided affair. I am sure that you agree with me, and do not consider a duel a mere childish performance, nor think that a drop or two of blood, perhaps from a scratched finger, can wash a stained honour clean. There are many causes that make it impossible for two men to go on existing together on this earth.
Although one of them may be in the Caucasus and the other on the Tiber there is no separation between them so long as the thought of the hated one's existence persists. In such cases a duel is necessary to decide which of them is to make way on the earth for the other. But between us, as I have just said, a duel would be a one-sided affair, for my life is in no way as valuable as yours. If I were to slay you I should destroy a whole world of the fairest hopes. But if I fell, you would have put an end to a miserable existence tortured by the most bitter and painful memories. The chief point is, however, that I do not consider myself insulted. You told me to go and I went."