The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Translated from the German of "Deutsche Liche" (by Mrs. F. Steinthal)
Every childhood has its mysteries and its miracles; but who can describe them, and who can explain them? We have all wandered through that silent world of wonders; we have all at one time opened our eyes in happy bewilderment as the fair realities of life have overwhelmed our souls. We did not then know who we were, nor where we were; the whole world was ours, and we belonged to the whole world. That was as eternal life, without beginning and without end, without sensation and without pain. Our hearts were as light as a summer's sky, fresh as the scent of violets, calm and holy as a Sabbath morn.
It is so beautiful to recall the spring-time of life--to remember the past. Yes; life still offers us a spring day in the hot summer, in the dull autumn, and in the cold winter; and our heart says, "I, also, feel as if it were spring." Such I feel certain that I can remember the first time I noticed the stars. They must have often before seen me; but one evening I felt chilly, although I was lying on my mother's lap, and I shivered either with cold or fear. Something within me made me conscious of my tiny self. Then my mother showed me the shining stars, and I wondered and thought how beautiful my mother had made them. Thereupon I felt warm again, and soon fell asleep.
I also remember how I once lay on the grass, and everything around me waved and bowed, and hummed and buzzed. Then came a swarm of many-footed winged beings, who settled on my forehead and eyes, and said "Good-morning." But they hurt my eyes, and I cried for my mother, and she said, "Poor child, how the midges have stung you!" After that I could not open my eyes for some time, and could no more see the blue sky. But my mother had a bouquet of fresh violets in her hand, and it seemed to me that a dark blue, fresh aromatic scent went through my head; and even to this day, when I see the first violet, I remember this, and feel I must shut my eyes, so that the dark blue sky of that day can again float over my soul.
Yes; and then I recollect how again a new world opened before me that was even more beautiful than the world of stars and the scent of the violets. It was on an Easter morning. My mother woke me early. Our old church stood before my window. It was not beautiful, but it had a high roof and a lofty tower, which was surmounted by a golden cross. The whole edifice looked much older and grayer than the oldest houses. Once I longed to know who lived inside it, and I peeped through the grated iron door. But it was quite empty, and cold and sad--not one living soul in the whole house; and after that I shuddered every time I passed by the door.
On this Easter day it had been raining hard in the early morning, but after this the sun had shone forth with such power that the old church, with its grey slate roof and high windows, and the tower with the golden cross, seemed bathed in radiant light. Suddenly the light that streamed through the windows began to dilate and beam. It was so bright that no eye could bear to graze on it, and as I shut mine the light appeared to enter my soul. And everything seemed to shine and sing and ring out. It was as though a new life had begun, and I had become another being; and when I asked my mother what it meant, she said it was an Easter hymn that was being sung in the church. What a sweet, holy song it was! but I have never been able to recall it. It must have been and old Church hymn, such as often broke down the stern soul of our Luther. I have never heard it since. But sometimes, when I listen to an adagio of Beethoven, or a psalm of Mancello, or a chorus of Handel, even when I have heard a simple song in the Highlands or the Tyrol, I feel as though the lofty church windows were again lighted up; and the organ peals ring again in my soul, and a new world is opened before me, more beautiful than the starry heavens and the scent of violets.
This is all I remember out of my earliest childhood; and amid it all floats the sweet face of my mother, and the kind, earnest eyes of my father; a garden, and a vine-covered arbour, and soft green turf, and an old, well-worn picture-book - this is all I can discern on the first faded leaves of remembrance.
Afterwards everything becomes clearer and more distinct. I recollect many names and faces, not only of mother and father, but of brothers and sisters, and friends and teachers, and a crowd of strangers. Ah, yes, of these strangers how much can I recall!
Not far from our house, and opposite the old church with the golden cross, stood a castle taller even than the church, surmounted my many towers. It also looked very grey and old, but there was no golden cross; only stone eagles sat on the pinnacles, and a great white-and-blue flag waved on the highest tower, just over the great doorway, where the steps went up on both sides, and where two mounted soldiers kept guard. The house had a great many windows, and through them could be seen red silk curtains, with golden tassels. In the courtyard stood the old lime trees, which sheltered the grey stones with their green leaves in the summer, and strewed the grass with their fragrant white blossoms. I often peeped in, and on some evenings, when the limes threw out their sweet scent and the windows were lighted up, I saw many forms waving here and there like shadows; and music echoed from above, and carriages drew up, out of which alighted men and women, who then hastened up the staircase. They all looked so good and beautiful, and the gentlemen had stars on their breasts, and the ladies had fresh flowers in their hair; and the I often would say to myself; "Why do you not go there also?"
One day my father took me by the hand and said: "We will go to the castle. But you mus be very good if the Princess speaks to you, and kiss her hand."
I was about six years old, and was as delighted as it is only possible for six years to be. I had had so many fancies about the shadows that I had seen in the evening through the lighted window, and I had always heard so much of the goodness of the Prince and Princess--how they were so gracious, and looked after the poor and sick, and that they were chosen by God to protect the good people and punish the evil-doers. So I had often pictures to myself how everything must go on in the palace, and the Prince and Princess seemed to me to be old acquaintances whom I knew as well as I knew my nutcracker and my tin soldiers. My heart beat violently as I ascended the great steps with my father; and while he was telling me that I must always call the Princess "Your Highness," and the Prince "Serene Highness," the folding-doors were opened, and I saw standing before me a tall figure with bright penetrating eyes. She seemed to advance towards me and stretch out her hand. A beautiful expression was in her face, but that I had long known. And a smile seemed to play upon her features. I could not help myself. And while my father stood at the door and (I knew not why) made a deep bow, my heart jumped into my throat, and I ran to the beautiful lady, and threw my arms round he neck, and kissed her as though she were my mother. The lovely tall lady seemed to like it, and laughed and stroked my hair. But my father took me by the hand, drew me away, and said I had been very naughty, and he would never bring me there again. My head seemed to be spinning round, and my blood flew into my cheeks, for I felt my father was unjust, and I looked at the Princess's face to see if she would defend me, but an expression of gravity rested on it. Then I glanced at the ladies and gentlemen who were in the room, thinking they would take my part, but when I looked I saw they were all laughing. Then tears started into my eyes, and I ran out of the door, and down the steps past the lime0trees, and home, and threw myself into my mother's arms, weeping and sobbing.
"What is the matter?" she asked.
"Oh, mother!" I cried. "I came to the Princess, and she is such a good and beautiful lady--just like you, my dear mother--that I could not help throwing my arms round her neck and kissing her."
"Oh," said my mother, "you should not have done so, because they are strangers and great people."
"What are strangers?" I asked. "May I not love everybody who looks at me with love?"
"You may love them, my child," replied my mother, "but you must not show it."
"If it is not wrong for me to love strangers, why may I not show it?"
"Well, you are right," she said. "But you must always do what your father tells you, and when you are older you will understand why you may not fall on the neck of every beautiful lady who looks at you with friendly eyes."
That was a very sad day. My father came home, and said I had been very disobedient. In the evening my mother put me to bed, and I said my prayers, but could not sleep for wondering who the strangers could be whom I must not love.
Clouds in a child's sky soon disperse after a short warm shower of tears. So I soon went again to the castle, and the Princess gave me her hand, and I kissed it; and then she brought me to her children--the young Prince and Princesses - and we played together as if we had known one another for many years. Those were happy days, when after school hours--for I already went to school--I went to the palace to play. We had everything he heart could long for. Toys, that my mother had shown me in the shop-windows and had told me that poor people could live for a week on the money they cost, were to be found in the castle; and if I asked the Princess, I was allowed to take them home to show to my mother, or even to keep them altogether. Wonderful picture-books, which I had seen with my father at the booksellers', which were only written for good children--these I could see at the palace, and spend many hours poring over their leaves. All that belonged to the Princes belonged also to me--at least so I believed, for I not only took away what I wanted for myself, But I often gave the playthings away to other children; in short, I was a young Communist in the full sense of the word.
Once, I remember, the Princess had a golden snake, which clung round her arm as though it were alive. This she gave me to play with. As I was going home I met a woman who looked at it, and begged me to give it to her, saying that if she could only keep it she could release her husband from prison. I did not hesitate a moment, but ran off, leaving it in her possession. The next day there was a great commotion, and the poor woman was brought to the palace, and cried, because the people said she had stolen the serpent from me. I was very angry, and told them with earnest zeal that I had given her the bracelet, and did not want it back again. I do not remember what happened to her, but from that day I always showed the Princess what I took home with me.
It was long before my ideas of meum and taum were fully developed, and for a long time they melted into one another, just as for many years I could not distinguish between red and blue. The last time, I remember, that my friends laughed at me about this was when my mother gave me some money to buy apples with. She gave me a penny; but the apples cost only one halfpenny, and when the woman took the penny, she said sadly that she had sold nothing that day before, and could give me no change, so she begged me to buy a pennyworth. Then I remembered that I had a halfpenny in my pocket, and delighted that I had solved the problem, I gave it to the woman saying, "Now you can give me a halfpenny." But she understood me so little that she returned the penny to me and kept the halfpenny.
Now, at a time when I went almost daily to the young princes at the palace to lean French with them, another form rises to my memory: it was the daughter of the Prince, the Countess Maria. Her mother had died shortly after her birth, and the Prince had afterwards married again. I do not recollect when I first saw her. She rises slowly and faintly out of the twilight of memory--at first like a shadow of the air, which by degrees takes form and draws nearer and nearer to me, and finally stands before my soul like the moon, which suddenly, on a stormy night, throws back the cloudy veil from her face. She was always ill and suffering and silent, and I never saw her but stretched on her couch, on which two bearers brought her into the room, and, when she was tired, carried her out again. There she lay, in her full white drapery, her hands generally clasped and her face so white, and yet so sweet and beautiful, that I often stood before her gazing at her, and would ask myself if she also belonged to the "strangers." She would often lay her hand on my head, and then it seemed to me as if something ran through my limbs, and I could not rise and could not speak, but only look into her deep, unfathomable eyes. She seldom spoke to us; but her eyes followed our games, and even if we romped and made too much noise she did not complain, but would clasp her forehead with both hands, and shut her eyes as if she were asleep. But some days she would say she felt better, and then she would sit upright on her couch, and there was a flush like the early dawn on her cheek, and she would talk and tell us wonderful tales. I do not know how old she would be. She was like a child, because she was so helpless; and yet she was so serious and so quiet that she could not then have been one.
When people talked of her, they spoke involuntarily soft and low. They called her "the angel," and I never heard anything said of her but what was good and lovable. Often when I saw her lying so helpless and silent, and thought that she would never walk in her whole life, and that she could neither work nor give pleasure, and that she must be always carried about until she was laid on her last couch, I have asked myself why was she sent into this world, when she might have rested so peacefully in the angels' arms, and they could have carried her through the air on their soft wings, as I had seen in many a sacred picture. And then I felt as if I must share her suffering, that I might lighten her burden. I could not say this to her, for I hardly understood it myself; but I felt as if I must throw my arms round her neck, but dare not, for fear of giving her pain. I often prayed fro my inmost heart that she might be released from her sufferings.
One warm spring day she was carried into our play-room. She looked very pale, but her eyes were deeper and brighter than ever, and she sat up on her couch and called us to her.
"To-day is my birthday," she said, "and early this morning I was confirmed. Now it is possible," she continued, looking smilingly at her father, "that God may soon call me to Himself, though I would gladly stay longer with you. But I wish that when I do leave you, you will not quite forget me; and so I have bought q ring for each of you, which you must wear on your fore-finger, and as you grow bigger move it on to the next, till it only fits your little finger, and then you must wear it all your lives."
With these words she took five rings, which she wore on her fingers, and drew them off one after the other, and looked so sad and yet full of love, that I had to shut my eyes to keep the tears from falling. She gave the first ring to her eldest brother, and kissed him, and then the second and the third to the two Princesses, and the fourth she gave to the youngest Prince, and kissed each of them. As she gave them the rings I stood by, looking intently at her white hand, and I saw that she had one more ring left on her finger, but she leant back and seemed exhausted. Then my eye caught hers, and, as a child's eyes speak aloud, she must have heard what was passing in my mind. I had much rather not have had the last ring, for I felt I was a stranger, who did not belong to her, and that she could not love me as she did her brothers and sisters. But I had a keen pain in my heart, as though a vein had burst, or a nerve had been cut, and I knew not where to look to hide my distress.
Soon, she drew herself up again, and laid her hand on my head, and looked me so straight in the eyes, that I felt I had no thoughts she could not discover. She drew the last ring slowly from her finger, and gave it to me, saying: "I had wished to take this with me when I go away from you; but it is better that you wear it, and remember me when I am no more with you. Read the words which are engraved on this ring: 'As God wills.' You have a wild yet gentle heart; may it be softened my life, not hardened." Then she kissed me, like her brothers, and gave me the ring.
I cannot describe what was passing within me. I was already a boy. And the gentle beauty of the suffering angel had not been without a charm for my young heart. I loved her as a boy can love--and boys can love with a fervour, truth, and purity which few possess in youth and manhood. But I had believed she belonged to the strangers to whom I might not say I loved them. I scarcely heard the solemn words she spoke to me; I only felt that her soul was as near to mine as two human souls could be. All bitterness was expunged from my heart, I felt no longer alone, or alien--divided from her by a chasm; I was beside her, with her, and absorbed in her.
Then I thought it was a sacrifice on her part to give me the last ring, and that she had wished to take it with her to the grave. And a feeling rose up in my soul, that overpowered every other, and I said with a trembling voice: "You must keep the ring if you want to give it to me. What is thine is mine."
She looked at me for a moment, surprised and thoughtful. Then she took the ring and placed it on her finger, and kissed me again on my forehead, saying softly: "You do not know what you say; but learn to understand yourself, and you will be happy, and make many others happy also."
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