The Translation by Mary Howitt.
I had a peculiar method of wandering without very much pain along the
stormy path of life. Although, in a physical as well as in a moral
sense, I wandered almost barefoot,-I HOPED, hoped from day to day; in
the morning my hopes rested on evening, in the evening on the morning;
in the autumn; upon the spring, in spring upon the autumn; from this
year to the next, and this amid mere hopes, I had passed through nearly
thirty years of my life, without, of all my privations, painfully
perceiving the want of anything but whole boots. Nevertheless, I
consoled myself easily for this out of doors in the open air but in a
drawing-room it always gave me an uneasy manner to have to turn the
heels, as being the part least torn, to the front. Much more oppressive
was it to me, truly, that I could in the abodes of misery only console
with kind words.
I comforted myself, like a thousand others, by a hopeful glance upon
the rolling wheel of fortune, and with the philosophical remark, "When
the time comes, comes the counsel."
As a poor assistant to a country clergyman with a narrow income and
meagre table, morally becoming mouldy in the company of the scolding
housekeeper, of the willingly fuddled clergyman, of a foolish young
gentleman and the daughters of the house, who, with high shoulders and
turned-in toes, went from morning to night paying visits, I felt a
peculiarly strange emotion of tenderness and joy as one of my
acquaintance informed me by writing, that my uncle, the Merchant P—-in
Stockholm, to me personally unknown, now lay dying, and in a paroxysm
of kindred affection had inquired after his good-for-nothing nephew.
With a flat, meagre little bundle, and a million of rich hopes, the
grateful nephew now allowed himself to be shaken up hill and down hill,
upon an uncommonly uncomfortable and stiff-necked peasant cart, and
arrived, head-over-heels, in the capital.
In the inn where I alighted, I ordered for myself a little—only a very
little breakfast,—a trifle—a bit of bread-and-butter—a few eggs.
The landlord and a fat gentleman walked up and down the saloon and
chatted. "Nay, that I must say," said the fat gentleman, "this Merchant
P—, who died the day before yesterday, he was a fine fellow."
"Yes, yes," thought I; "aha, aha, a fellow, who had heaps of money!
Hear you, my friend" (to the waiter), "could not you get me a bit of
venison, or some other solid dish? Hear you, a cup of bouillon would
not be amiss. Look after it, but quick!"
"Yes," said mine host now, "it is strong! Thirty thousand dollars, and
they banko! Nobody in the whole world could have dreamed of it—thirty
"Thirty thousand!" repeated I, in my exultant soul, "thirty thousand!
Hear you, waiter! Make haste, give me here thirty then—; and give me
here banko—no give me here a glass of wine, I mean;" and from head to
heart there sang in me, amid the trumpet-beat of every pulse in
alternating echoes, "Thirty thousand! Thirty thousand!"
"Yes," continued the fat gentlemen, "and would you believe that in the
mass of debts there are nine hundred dollars for credit and five
thousand dollars for champagne. And now all his creditors stand there
prettily and open their mouths; all the thing in the house are hardly
worth two farthings; and out of the house they find, as the only
"Aha, that is something quite different! Hear you, youth, waiter! Eh,
come you here! take that meat, and the bouillon, and the wine away
again; and hear you, observe well, that I have not eaten a morsel of
all this. How could I, indeed; I, that ever since I opened my eyes this
morning have done nothing else but eat (a horrible untruth!), and it
just now occurs to me that it would therefore be unnecessary to pay
money for such a superfluous feast."
"But you have actually ordered it," replied the waiter, in a state of
"My friend," I replied, and seized myself behind the ear, a place
whence people, who are in embarrassment, are accustomed in some sort of
way to obtain the necessary help—"my friend, it was a mistake for
which I must not be punished; for it was not my fault that a rich heir,
for whom I ordered the breakfast, is all at once become poor,—yes,
poorer than many a poor devil, because he has lost more than the half
of his present means upon the future. If he, under these circumstances,
as you may well imagine, cannot pay for a dear breakfast, yet it does
not prevent my paying for the eggs which I have devoured, and giving
you over and above something handsome for your trouble, as business
compels me to move off from here immediately."
By my excellent logic, and the "something handsome," I removed from my
throat, with a bleeding heart and a watering mouth, that dear
breakfast, and wandered forth into the city, with my little bundle
under my arm, to seek for a cheap room, while I considered where I w as
to get the money for it.
In consequence of the violent coming in contact of hope and reality I
had a little headache. But when I saw upon my ramble a gentleman,
ornamented with ribbons and stars, alight from a magnificent carriage,
who had a pale yellow complexion, a deeply-wrinkled brow, and above his
eyebrows an intelligible trace of ill-humour; when I saw a young count,
with whom I had become acquainted in the University of Upsala, walking
along as if he were about to fall on his nose from age and weariness of
life, I held up my head, inhaled the air, which accidentally
(unfortunately) at this place was filled with the smell of smoked
sausage, and extolled poverty, and a pure heart.
I found at length, in a remote street, a little room, which was more
suited to my gloomy prospects than to the bright hopes which I
cherished two hours before.
I had obtained permission to spend the winter in Stockholm, and had
thought of spending it in quite a different way to what now was to be
expected. But what was to be done? To let the courage sink was the
worst of all; to lay the hands in the lap and look up to heaven, not
much better. "The sun breaks forth when one least expects it," thought
I, as heavy autumn clouds descended upon the city. I determined to use
all the means I could to obtain for myself a decent substance with a
somewhat pleasanter prospect for the future, than was opened to me
under the miserable protection of Pastor G., and, in the meantime, to
earn my daily bread by copying,—a sorrowful expedient in a sorrowful
Thus I passed my days amid fruitless endeavors to find ears which might
not be deaf, amid the heart-wearing occupation of writing out fairly
the empty productions of empty heads, with my dinners becoming more and
more scanty, and with ascending hopes, until that evening against whose
date I afterwards made a cross in my calendar.
My host had just left me with the friendly admonition to pay the first
quarter's rent on the following day, if I did not prefer (the
politeness is French) to march forth again with bag and baggage on a
voyage of discovery through the streets of the city.
It was just eight o'clock, on an indescribably cold November evening,
when I was revived with this affectionate salutation on my return from
a visit to a sick person, for whom I, perhaps—really somewhat
inconsiderately, had emptied my purse.
I snuffed my sleepy, thin candle with my fingers, and glanced around
the little dark chamber, for the further use of which I must soon see
myself compelled to gold-making.
"Diogenes dwelt worse," sighed I, with a submissive mind, as I drew a
lame table from the window where the wind and rain were not contented
to stop outside. At that moment my eye fell upon a brilliantly blazing
fire in a kitchen, which lay, Tantalus-like, directly opposite to my
modest room, where the fireplace was as dark as possible.
"Cooks, men and women, have the happiest lot of all serving mortals!"
thought I, as, with a secret desire to play that fire-tending game, I
contemplated the well-fed dame, amid iron pots and stewpans, standing
there like an empress in the glory of the firelight, and with the
fire-tongs sceptre rummaging about majestically in the glowing realm.
A story higher, I had, through a window, which was concealed by no
envious curtain, the view into a brightly lighted room, where a
numerous family were assembled round a tea-table covered with cups and
I was stiff in my whole body, from cold and damp. How empty it was in
that part which may be called the magazine, I do not say; but, ah, good
Heavens! thought I, if, however, that pretty girl, who over there takes
a cop of tea-nectar and rich splendid rusks to that fat gentleman who,
from satiety, can hardly raise himself from the sofa, would but reach
out her lovely hand a little further, and could—she would with a
thousand kisses—in vain!—ah, the satiated gentleman takes his cup; he
steeps and steeps his rusk with such eternal slowness—it might be
wine. Now the charming girl caresses him. I am curious whether it is
the dear papa himself or the uncle, or, perhaps—Ah, the enviable
mortal! But no, it is quite impossible; he is at least forty years
older than she. See, that indeed must be his wife—an elderly lady, who
sits near him on the sofa, and who offers rusks to the young lady. The
old lady seems very dignified; but to whom does she go now? I cannot
see the person. An ear and a piece of a shoulder are all that peep
forth near the window. I cannot exactly take it amiss that the
respectable person turns his back to me; but that he keeps the young
lady a quarter of an hour standing before him, lets her courtesy and
offer her good things, does thoroughly provoke me. It must be a lady—a
man could not be so unpolite towards this angelic being. But—or—now
she takes the cup; and now, oh, woe! a great man's hand grasps into the
rusk-basket—the savage! and how he helps himself—the churl! I should
like to know whether it is her brother,—he was perhaps hungry, poor
fellow! Now come in, one after the other, two lovely children, who are
like the sister. I wonder now, whether the good man with one ear has
left anything remaining. That most charming of girls, how she caresses
the little ones, and kisses them, and gives to them all the rusks and
the cakes that have escaped the fingers of Monsieur Gobble. Now she has
had herself, the sweet child! of the whole entertainment, no more than
What a movement suddenly takes place in the room! The old gentleman
heaves himself up from the sofa—the person with one ear starts
forward, and in so doing, gives the young lady a blow (the dromedary!)
which makes her knock against the tea-table, whereby the poor lady, who
was just about springing up from the sofa, is pushed down again—the
children hop about and clap their hands—the door flies open—a young
officer enters—the young girl throws herself into his arms. So,
indeed! Aha, now we have it! I put to my shutters so violently that
they cracked, and seated myself on a chair, quite wet through with
rain, and with my knees trembling.
What had I to do at the window? That is what one gets when one is
Eight days ago, this family had removed from the country into the
handsome house opposite to me; and it had never yet occurred to me to
ask who they were, or whence they came. What need was there for me
to-night to make myself acquainted with their domestic concerns in an
illicit manner? How could it interest me? I was in an ill-humor;
perhaps, too, I felt some little heartache. But for all that, true to
my resolution, not to give myself up to anxious thoughts when they
could do no good, I seized the pen with stiff fingers, and, in order to
dissipate my vexation, wished to attempt a description of domestic
happiness, of a happiness which I had never enjoyed. For the rest, I
philosophized whilst I blew upon my stiffened hands. "Am I the first
who, in the hot hour of fancy, has sought for a warmth which the stern
world of reality has denied him? Six dollars for a measure of fir-wood.
Yes, prosit, thou art not likely to get it before December! I write!
"Happy, threefold happy, the family, in whose narrow, contracted circle
no heart bleeds solitarily, or solitarily rejoices! No look, no smile,
remains unanswered; and where the friends say daily, not with words but
with deeds, to each other, 'Thy cares, thy joys, thy happiness, are
"Lovely is the peaceful, the quiet home, which closes itself
protectingly around the weary pilgrim through life—which, around its
friendly blazing hearth, assembles for repose the old man leaning on
his staff, the strong man, the affectionate wife, and happy children,
who, shouting and exulting, hop about in their earthly heaven, and
closing a day spent in the pastimes of innocence, repeat a thanksgiving
prayer with smiling lips, and drop asleep on the bosom of their
parents, whilst the gentle voice of the mother tells them, in whispered
cradle-tones, how around their couch—
"The little angels in a ring,
Stand round about to keep
A watchful guard upon the bed
Where little children sleep."
Here I was obliged to leave off, because I felt something resembling a
drop of rain come forth from my eye, and therefore could not any longer
"How many," thought I, as my reflections, against my will, took a
melancholy turn—"how many are there who must, to their sorrow, do
without this highest happiness of earthly life—domestic happiness!"
For one moment I contemplated myself in the only whole glass which I
had in my room—that OF TRUTH,—and then wrote again with gloomy
feeling:—"Unhappy, indeed, may the forlorn one be called, who, in the
anxious and cool moments of life (which, indeed, come so often), is
pressed to no faithful heart, whose sigh nobody returns, whose quiet
grief nobody alleviates with a 'I understand thee, I suffer with thee!'
"He is cast down, nobody raises him up; he weeps, nobody sees it,
nobody will see it; he goes, nobody follows him; he comes, nobody goes
to meet him; he rests, nobody watches over him. He is lonely. Oh, how
unfortunate he is! Why dies he not? Ah, who would weep for him? How
cold is a grave which no warm tears of love moisten!
"He is lonesome in the winter night; for him the earth has no flowers,
and dark burn the lights of heaven. Why wanders he, the lonesome one;
why waits he; why flies he not, the shadow, to the land of shades? Ah,
he still hopes, he is a mendicant who begs for joy, who yet waits in
the eleventh hour, that a merciful hand may give him an alms.
"One only little blossom of earth will he gather, bear it upon his
heart, in order henceforth not so lonesomely, not so entirely lonesome,
to wander down to rest."
It was my own condition which I described. I deplored myself.
Early deprived of my parents, without brothers and sisters, friends,
and relations, I stood in the world yet so solitary and forlorn, that
but for an inward confidence in heaven, and a naturally happy temper, I
should often enough have wished to leave this contemptuous world; till
now, however, I had almost constantly hoped from the future, and this
more from an instinctive feeling that this might be the best, than to
subdue by philosophy every too vivid wish for an agreeable present
time, because it was altogether so opposed to possibility. For some
time, however, alas! it had been otherwise with me; I felt, and
especially this evening, more than ever an inexpressible desire to have
somebody to love,—to have some one about me who would cleave to
me—who would be a friend to me;—in short, to have (for me the highest
felicity on earth) a wife—a beloved, devoted wife! Oh, she would
comfort me, she would cheer me! her affection, even in the poorest hut,
would make of me a king. That the love-fire of my heart would not
insure the faithful being at my side from being frozen was soon made
clearly sensible to me by an involuntary shudder. More dejected than
ever, I rose up and walked a few times about my room (that is to say,
two steps right forward, and then turn back again). The sense of my
condition followed me like the shadow on the wall, and for the first
time in my life I felt myself cast down, and threw a gloomy look on my
dark future. I had no patron, therefore could not reckon upon promotion
for a long time; consequently, also, not upon my own bread—on a
friend—a wife, I mean.
"But what in all the world," said I yet once more seriously to myself,
"what helps beating one's brains?" Yet once more I tried to get rid of
all anxious thoughts. "If, however, a Christian soul could only come to
me this evening! Let it be whoever it would—friend or foe—it would be
better than this solitude. Yes, even if an inhabitant of the world of
spirits opened the door, he would be welcome to me! What was that?
Three blows on the door! I will not, however, believe it—again three!"
I went and opened; there was nobody there; only the wind went howling
up and down the stairs. I hastily shut the door again, thrust my hands
into my pockets, and went up and down for a while, humming aloud. Some
moments afterwards I fancied I heard a sigh—I was silent, and
listened,—again there was very evidently a sigh—and yet once again,
so deep and so mournful, that I exclaimed with secret terror, "Who is
there?" No answer.
For a moment I stood still, and considered what this really could mean,
when a horrible noise, as if cats were sent with yells lumbering down
the whole flight of stairs, and ended with a mighty blow against my
door, put an end to my indecision. I took up the candle, and a stick,
and went out. At the moment when I opened the door my light was blown
out. A gigantic white figure glimmered opposite to me, and I felt
myself suddenly embraced by two strong arms. I cried for help, and
struggled so actively to get loose that both myself and my adversary
fell to the ground, but so that I lay uppermost. Like an arrow I sprang
again upright, and was about to fetch a light, when I stumbled over
something—Heaven knows what it was (I firmly believe that somebody
held me fast by the feet), by which I fell a second time, struck my
head on the corner of the table, and lost my consciousness, whilst a
suspicions noise, which had great resemblance to laughter, rang in my
When I again opened my eyes, they met a dazzling blaze of light. I
closed them again, and listened to a confused noise around me—opened
them again a very little, and endeavoured to distinguish the objects
which surrounded me, which appeared to me so enigmatical and strange
that I almost feared my mind had vanished. I lay upon a sofa, and—no,
I really did not deceive myself,—that charming girl, who on this
evening had so incessantly floated before my thoughts, stood actually
beside me, and with a heavenly expression of sympathy bathed my head
with vinegar. A young man whose countenance seemed known to me held my
hand between his. I perceived also the fat gentleman, another thin one,
the lady, the children, and in distant twilight I saw the shimmer of
the paradise of the tea-table; in short, I found myself by an
incomprehensible whim of fate amidst the family which an hour before I
had contemplated with such lively sympathy.
When I again had returned to full consciousness, the young man embraced
me several times with military vehemence.
"Do you then no longer know me?" cried he indignantly, as he saw me
petrified body and soul. "Have you then forgotten August D—, whose
life a short time since you saved at the peril of your own? whom you so
handsomely fished up, with danger to yourself, from having for ever to
remain in the uninteresting company of fishes? See here, my father, my
mother, my sister, Wilhelmina!"
I pressed his hand; and now the parents embraced me. With a stout blow
of the fist upon the table, August's father exclaimed, "And because you
have saved my son's life, and because you are such a downright honest
and good fellow, and have suffered hunger yourself—that you might give
others to eat—you shall really have the parsonage at H—. Yes, you
shall become clergyman, I say!—I have jus patronatum, you understand!"
For a good while I was not at all in a condition to comprehend, to
think, or to speak; and before all had been cleared up by a thousand
explanations, I could understand nothing clearly excepting that
Wilhelmina was not—that Wilhelmina was August's sister.
He had returned this evening from a journey of service, during which,
in the preceding summer, chance had given to me the good fortune to
rescue him from a danger, into which youthful heat and excess of spirit
had thrown him. I had not seen him again since this occurrence;
earlier, I had made a passing acquaintance with him, had drunk
brotherhood with him at the university, and after that had forgotten my
He had now related this occurrence to his family, with the easily
kindled-up enthusiasm of youth, together with what he knew of me
beside, and what he did not know. The father, who had a living in his
gift, and who (as I afterwards found) had made from his window some
compassionate remarks upon my meagre dinner-table, determined, assailed
by the prayers of his son, to raise me from the lap of poverty to the
summit of good fortune. August would in his rapture announce to me my
good luck instantly, and in order, at the same time, to gratify his
passion for merry jokes, made himself known upon my stairs in a way
which occasioned me a severe, although not dangerous, contusion on the
temples, and the unexpected removal across the street, out of the
deepest darkness into the brightest light. The good youth besought a
thousand times forgiveness for his thoughtlessness; a thousand times I
assured him that it was not worth the trouble to speak of such a
trifling blow. And, in fact, the living was a balsam which would have
made a greater wound than this imperceptible also.
Astonished, and somewhat embarrassed, I now perceived that the ear and
the shoulder, whose possessor had seized so horribly upon the contents
of the rusk basket, and over whom I had poured out my gall belonged to
nobody else than to August's father, and my patron. The fat gentleman
who sat upon the sofa was Wilhelmina's uncle.
The kindness and gayety of my new friends made me soon feel at home and
happy. The old people treated me like a child of the house, the young
ones as a brother, and the two little ones seemed to anticipate a
gingerbread-friend in me.
After I had received two cups of tea from Wilhelmina's pretty hand, to
which I almost feared taking, in my abstraction of mind, more rusks
than my excellent patron, I rose up to take my leave. They insisted
absolutely upon my passing the night there; but I abode by my
determination of spending the first happy night in my old habitation,
amid thanksgiving to the lofty Ruler of my fate.
They all embraced me afresh; and I now also embraced all rightly, from
the bottom of my heart, Wilhelmina also, although not without having
gracious permission first. "I might as well have left that alone,"
thought I afterwards, "if it is to be the first and last time!" August
accompanied me back.
My host stood in my room amid the overturned chairs and tables, with a
countenance which alternated between rain and sunshine; on one side his
mouth drew itself with a reluctant smile up to his ear, on the other it
crept for vexation down to his double chin; the eyes followed the same
direction, and the whole had a look of a combat, till the tone in which
August indicated to him that he should leave us alone, changed all into
the most friendly, grinning mien, and the proprietor of the same
vanished from the door with the most submissive bows.
August was in despair about my table, my chair, my bed, and so on. It
was with difficulty that I withheld him from cudgelling the host who
would take money for such a hole. I was obliged to satisfy him with the
most holy assurances, that on the following day I would remove without
delay. "But tell him," prayed August, "before you pay him, that he is a
villain, a usurer, a cheat, a—or if you like, I will—"
"No, no; heaven defend us!" interrupted I, "be quiet, and let me only
After my young friend had left me, I passed several happy hours in
thinking on the change in my fate, and inwardly thanking God for it. My
thoughts then rambled to the parsonage; and heaven knows what fat oxen
and cows, what pleasure grounds, with flowers, fruits, and vegetables,
I saw in spirit surrounding my new paradise, where my Eve walked by my
side, and supported on my arm; and especially what an innumerable crowd
of happy and edified people I saw streaming from the church when I had
preached. I baptized, I confirmed, I comforted my beloved community in
the zeal and warmth of my heart—and forgot only the funerals.
Every poor clergyman who has received a living, every mortal,
especially to whom unexpectedly a long-cherished wish has been
accomplished, will easily picture to himself my state.
Later in the night it sunk at last like a veil before my eyes, and my
thoughts fell by degrees into a bewilderment which exhibited on every
hand strange images. I preached with a loud voice in my church, and the
congregation slept. After the service, the people came out of the
church like oxen and cows, and bellowed against me when I would have
admonished them. I wished to embrace my wife, but could not separate
her from a great turnip, which increased every moment, and at last grew
over both our heads. I endeavored to climb up a ladder to heaven, whose
stars beckoned kindly and brightly to me; but potatoes, grass, vetches,
and peas, entangled my feet unmercifully, and hindered every step. At
last I saw myself in the midst of my possessions walking upon my head,
and whilst in my sleepy soul I greatly wondered how this was possible,
I slept soundly in the remembrance of my dream. Yet then, however, I
must unconsciously have continued the chain of my pastoral thoughts,
for I woke in the morning with the sound of my own voice loudly
That the occurrences of the former evening were actual truth, and no
dream, I could only convince myself with difficulty, till August paid
me a visit, and invited me to dine with his parents.
The living, Wilhelmina, the dinner, the new chain of hopes for the
future which beamed from the bright sun of the present, all surprised
me anew with a joy, which one can feel very well, but never can
Out of the depths of a thankful heart, I saluted the new life which
opened to me, with the firm determination that, let happen what might,
yet always TO DO THE RIGHT, AND TO HOPE FOR THE BEST.
Two years after this, I sat on an autumn evening in my beloved
parsonage by the fire. Near to me sat my dear little wife, my sweet,
Wilhelmina, and spun. I was just about to read to her a sermon which I
intended to preach on the next Sunday, and from which I promised myself
much edification, as well for her as for the assembled congregation.
Whilst I was turning over the leaves, a loose paper fell out. It was
the paper upon which, on that evening two years before, in a very
different situation, I had written down my cheerful and my sad
thoughts. I showed it to my wife. She read, smiled with a tear in her
eye, and with a roguish countenance which, as I fancy, is particular to
her, took the pen and wrote on the other side of the paper:
"The author can now, thank God, strike out a description which would
stand in perfect contrast to that which he once, in a dark hour,
sketched of an unfortunate person, as he himself was then.
"Now he is no more lonesome, no more deserted. His quiet sighs are
answered, his secret griefs shared, by a wife tenderly devoted to him.
He goes, her heart follows him; he comes back, she meets him with
smiles; his tears flow not unobserved, they are dried by her hand, and
his smiles beam again in hers; for him she gathers flowers, to wreathe
around his brow, to strew in his path. He has his own fireside, friends
devoted to him, and, counts as his relations all those who have none of
their own. He loves, he is beloved; he can make people feel happy, he
is himself happy."
Truly had my Wilhelmina described the present; and, animated by
feelings which are gay and delicious as the beams of the spring sun, I
will now, as hitherto, let my little troop of light hopes bound out
into the future.
I hope, too, that my sermon for the next Sunday may not be without
benefit to my hearers; and even if the obdurate should sleep, I hope
that neither this nor any other of the greater or the less
unpleasantnesses which can happen to me may go to my heart and disturb
my rest. I know my Wilhelmina, and believe also that I know myself
sufficiently, to hope with certainty that I may always make her happy.
The sweet angel has given me hope that we may soon be able to add a
little creature to our little happy family, I hope, in the future, to
be yet multiplied. For my children I have all kinds of hopes in
petto. If I have a son, I hope that he will be my successor; if I have
a daughter, then—if August would wait—but I fancy that he is just
about to be married.
I hope in time to find a publisher for my sermons. I hope to live yet a
hundred years with my wife.
We—that is to say, my Wilhelmina and I—hope, during this time, to be
able to dry a great many tears, and to shed as few ourselves as our
lot, as children of the earth, may permit.
We hope not to survive each other.
Lastly, we hope always to be able to hope; and when the hour comes that
the hopes of the green earth vanish before the clear light of eternal
certainty, then we hope that the All-good Father may pass a mild
sentence upon His greatful and, in humility, hoping children.