Lucerne by Lyof N. Tolstoi
Translator: Nathan Haskell Dole
FROM THE RECOLLECTIONS OF PRINCE NEKHLIUDOF.
Yesterday evening I arrived at Lucerne, and put up at the best inn there,
"Lucerne, the chief city of the canton, situated on the shore of the
Vierwaldstätter See," says Murray, "is one of the most romantic places of
Switzerland: here cross three important highways, and it is only an hour's
distance by steamboat to Mount Righi, from which is obtained one of the
most magnificent views in the world."
Whether that be true or no, other Guides say the same thing, and
consequently at Lucerne there are throngs of travellers of all
nationalities, especially the English.
The magnificent five-storied building of the Hotel Schweitzerhof is
situated on the quay, at the very edge of the lake, where in olden times
there used to be the crooked covered wooden bridge with chapels on the
corners and pictures on the roof. Now, thanks to the tremendous inroad of
Englishmen, with their necessities, their tastes, and their money, the old
bridge has been torn down, and in its place has been erected a granite
quay, straight as a stick. On the quay are built the long, quadrangular
five-storied houses; in front of the houses two rows of lindens have been
set out and provided with supports, and between the lindens are the usual
supply of green benches.
This is the promenade; and here back and forth stroll the Englishwomen in
their Swiss straw hats, and the Englishmen in simple and comfortable
attire, and rejoice in that which they have caused to be created. Possibly
these quays and houses and lindens and Englishmen would be excellent in
their way anywhere else, but here they seem discordant amid this strangely
grandiose and at the same time indescribably harmonious and smiling nature.
As soon as I went up to my room, and opened the window facing the lake, the
beauty of the sheet of water, of these mountains, and of this sky, at the
first moment literally dazzled and overwhelmed me. I experienced an inward
unrest, and the necessity of expressing in some manner the feelings that
suddenly filled my soul to overflowing. I felt a desire to embrace,
powerfully to embrace, some one, to tickle him, or to pinch him; in short,
to do to him and to myself something extraordinary.
It was seven o'clock in the evening. The rain had been falling all day, but
now it had cleared off.
The lake, blue as heated sulphur, spread out before my windows smooth and
motionless, like a concave mirror between the variegated green shores; its
surface was dotted with boats, which left behind them vanishing trails.
Farther away it was contracted between two monstrous headlands, and,
darkling, set itself against and disappeared behind a confused pile of
mountains, clouds, and glaciers. In the foreground stretched a panorama of
moist, fresh green shores, with reeds, meadows, gardens, and villas.
Farther away, the dark-green wooded heights, crowned with the ruins of
feudal castles; in the background, the rolling, pale-lilac-colored vista of
mountains, with fantastic peaks built up of crags and dead white mounds of
snow. And every thing was bathed in a fresh, transparent atmosphere of
azure blue, and kindled by the warm rays of the setting sun, bursting forth
through the riven skies.
Not on the lake nor on the mountains nor in the skies was there a single
completed line, a single unmixed color, a single moment of repose;
everywhere motion, irregularity, fantasy, endless conglomeration and
variety of shades and lines; and above all, a calm, a softness, a unity,
and a striving for the beautiful.
And here amid this indefinable, confused, unfettered beauty, before my very
window, stretched in stupid kaleidoscopic confusion the white line of the
quay, the lindens with their supports, and the green seats,—miserable,
tasteless creations of human ingenuity, not subordinated, like the distant
villas and ruins, to the general harmony of the beautiful scene, but on the
contrary brutally contradicting it.... Constantly, though against my will,
my eyes were attracted to that horribly straight line of the quay; and
mentally I should have liked to spurn it, to demolish it like a black spot
disfiguring the nose beneath one's eye.
But the quay with the sauntering Englishmen remained where it was, and I
involuntarily tried to find a point of view where it would be out of my
sight. I succeeded in finding such a view; and till dinner was ready I took
delight, alone by myself, in this incomplete and therefore the more
enjoyable feeling of oppression that one experiences in the solitary
contemplation of natural beauty.
About half-past seven I was called to dinner. Two long tables,
accommodating at least a hundred persons, were spread in the great,
magnificently decorated dining-room on the first floor.... The silent
gathering of the guests lasted three minutes,—the frou-frou of women's
dresses, the soft steps, the softly-spoken words addressed to the courtly
and elegant waiters. And all the places were occupied by ladies and
gentlemen dressed elegantly, even richly, and for the most part in perfect
As is apt to be the case in Switzerland, the majority of the guests were
English, and this gave the ruling characteristics of the common table: that
is, a strict decorum regarded as an obligation, a reserve founded not in
pride but in the absence of any necessity for social relationship, and
finally a uniform sense of satisfaction felt by each in the comfortable and
agreeable gratification of his wants.
On all sides gleamed the whitest laces, the whitest collars, the whitest
teeth,—natural and artificial,—the whitest complexions and hands. But the
faces, many of which were very handsome, bore the expression merely of
individual prosperity, and absolute absence of interest in all that
surrounded them unless it bore directly on their own individual selves; and
the white hands glittering with rings, or protected by mitts, moved only
for the purpose of straightening collars, cutting meat, or filling
wine-glasses; no soul-felt emotion was betrayed in these actions.
Occasionally members of some one family would exchange remarks in subdued
voices, about the excellence of such and such a dish or wine, or about the
beauty of the view from Mount Righi.
Individual tourists, whether men or women, sat alongside of each other in
silence, and did not even seem to see each other. If it happened
occasionally, that, out of this five-score human beings, two spoke to each
other, the topic of their conversation consisted uniformly in the weather,
or the ascent of the Righi.
Knives and forks scarcely rattled on the plates, so perfect was the
observance of propriety; and no one dared to convey pease and vegetables to
the mouth otherwise than on the fork. The waiters, involuntarily subdued by
the universal silence, asked in a whisper what wine you would be pleased to
Such dinners invariably depress me: I dislike them, and before they are
over I become blue.... It always seems to me as if I were in some way to
blame; just as when I was a boy I was set upon a chair in consequence of
some naughtiness, and bidden ironically, "Now rest a little while, my dear
young fellow." And all the time my young blood was pulsing through my
veins, and in the other room I could hear the merry shouts of my brothers.
I used to try to rebel against this feeling of being choked down, which I
experienced at such dinners, but in vain. All these dead-and-alive faces
have an irresistible ascendency over me, and I myself become also as one
dead. I have no desires, I have no thoughts: I do not even observe.
At first I attempted to enter into conversation with my neighbors; but I
got no response beyond the phrases which had been repeated in that place a
hundred times, a thousand times, with absolutely no variation of
And yet these people were by no means all stupid and feelingless; but
evidently many of them, though they seemed so dead, had got into the habit
of leading self-centred lives, which in reality were far more complicated
and interesting than my own. Why, then, should they deprive themselves of
one of the greatest enjoyments of life,—the enjoyment that comes from the
intercourse of man with man?
How different it used to be in our pension at Paris, where twenty of us,
belonging to as many different nationalities, professions, and
individualities, met together at a common table, and, under the influence
of the Gallic sociability, found the keenest zest!
There, from the very moment that we sat down, from one end of the table to
the other, was general conversation, sandwiched with witticisms and puns,
though often in a broken speech. There every one, without being solicitous
for the proprieties, said whatever came into his head. There we had our own
philosopher, our own disputant, our own bel esprit, our own butt,—all
There, immediately after dinner, we would move the table to one side, and,
without paying too much attention to rhythm, take to dancing the polka on
the dusty carpet, and often keep it up till evening. There, though we were
rather flirtatious, and not over-wise, but perfectly respectable, still we
were human beings.
And the Spanish countess with romantic proclivities, and the Italian
abbate who insisted on declaiming from the Divine Comedy after dinner,
and the American doctor who had the entrée into the Tuileries, and the
young dramatic author with long hair, and the pianist who, according to her
own account, had composed the best polka in existence, and the unhappy
widow who was a beauty, and wore three rings on every finger,—all of us
enjoyed this society, which, though somewhat superficial, was human and
pleasant. And we each carried away from it hearty recollections of each
other, perhaps lighter in some cases, and more serious in others.
But at these English table-d'hôte dinners, as I look at all these laces,
ribbons, jewels, pomaded locks, and silken dresses, I often think how many
living women would be happy, and would make others happy, with these
Strange to think how many friends and lovers—most fortunate friends and
lovers—are sitting here side by side, without, perhaps, knowing it! And
God knows why they never come to this knowledge, and never give each other
this happiness, which they might so easily give, and which they so long
I began to feel blue, as invariably happens after such a dinner; and,
without waiting for dessert, I sallied out in the same frame of mind for a
constitutional through the city. My melancholy frame of mind was not
relieved, but rather confirmed by the narrow, muddy streets without
lanterns, the shuttered shops, the encounters with drunken workmen, and
with women hastening after water, or in bonnets, glancing around them as
they turned the corners.
It was perfectly dark in the streets, when I returned to the hotel without
casting a glance about me, or having an idea in my head. I hoped that sleep
would put an end to my melancholy. I experienced that peculiar spiritual
chill and loneliness and heaviness, which, without any reason, beset those
who are just arrived in any new place.
Looking steadfastly down, I walked along the quay to the Schweitzerhof,
when suddenly my ear was struck by the strains of a peculiar but thoroughly
agreeable and sweet music.
These strains had an immediately enlivening effect upon me. It was as
though a bright, cheerful light had poured into my soul. I felt contented,
gay. My slumbering attention was awakened again to all surrounding objects;
and the beauty of the night and the lake, to which till then I had been
indifferent, suddenly came over me with quickening force like a novelty.
I involuntarily took in at a glance the dark sky with gray clouds flecking
its deep blue, now lighted by the rising moon, the glassy dark-green lake
with its surface reflecting the lighted windows, and far away the snowy
mountains; and I heard the croaking of the frogs over on the Freshenburg
shore, and the dewy fresh call of the quail.
Directly in front of me, in the spot whence the sounds of music had first
come, and which still especially attracted my attention, I saw, amid the
semi-darkness on the street, a throng of people standing in a semi-circle,
and in front of the crowd, at a little distance, a small man in dark
Behind the throng and the man, there stood out harmoniously against the
dark, ragged sky, gray and blue, the black tops of a few Lombardy poplars
in some garden, and, rising majestically on high, the two stern spires that
stand on the towers of the ancient cathedral.
I drew nearer, and the strains became more distinct. At some distance I
could clearly distinguish the full accords of a guitar, sweetly swelling in
the evening air, and several voices, which, while taking turns with each
other, did not sing any definite theme, but gave suggestions of one in
places wherever the melody was most pronounced.
The theme was in somewhat the nature of a mazurka, sweet and graceful. The
voices sounded now near at hand, now far distant; now a bass was heard, now
a tenor, now a falsetto such as the Tyrolese warblers are wont to sing.
It was not a song, but the graceful masterly sketch of a song. I could not
comprehend what it was, but it was beautiful.
Those voluptuous, soft chords of the guitar, that sweet, gentle melody, and
that solitary figure of the man in black, amid the fantastic environment of
the lake, the gleaming moon, and the twin spires of the cathedral rising in
majestic silence, and the black tops of the poplars,—all was strange and
perfectly beautiful, or at least seemed so to me.
All the confused, arbitrary impressions of life suddenly became full of
meaning and beauty. It seemed to me as though a fresh fragrant flower had
sprung up in my soul. In place of the weariness, dulness, and indifference
toward every thing in the world, which I had been feeling the moment
before, I experienced a necessity for love, a fulness of hope, and an
unbounded enjoyment of life.
"What dost thou desire, what dost thou long for?" an inner voice seemed to
say. "Here it is. Thou art surrounded on all sides by beauty and poetry.
Breathe it in, in full, deep draughts, as long as thou hast strength. Enjoy
it to the full extent of thy capacity. 'Tis all thine, all blessed!"
I drew nearer. The little man was, as it seemed, a travelling Tyrolese. He
stood before the windows of the hotel, one leg a little advanced, his head
thrown back; and, as he thrummed on the guitar, he sang his graceful song
in all those different voices.
I immediately felt an affection for this man, and a gratefulness for the
change which he had brought about in me.
The singer, so far as I was able to judge, was dressed in an old black
coat. He had short black hair, and he wore a civilian's hat that was no
longer new. There was nothing artistic in his attire, but his clever and
youthfully gay motions and pose, together with his diminutive stature,
formed a pleasing and at the same time pathetic spectacle.
On the steps, in the windows, and on the balconies of the brilliantly
lighted hotel, stood ladies handsomely decorated and attired, gentlemen
with polished collars, porters and lackeys in gold-embroidered liveries; in
the street, in the semi-circle of the crowd, and farther along on the
sidewalk, among the lindens, were gathered groups of well-dressed waiters,
cooks in white caps and aprons, and young girls wandering about with arms
about each other's waists.
All, it seemed, were under the influence of the same feeling that I myself
experienced. All stood in silence around the singer, and listened
attentively. Silence reigned, except in the pauses of the song, when there
came from far away across the waters the regular click of a hammer, and
from the Freshenburg shore rang in fascinating monotone the voices of the
frogs, interrupted by the mellow, monotonous call of the quail.
The little man in the darkness, in the midst of the street, poured out his
heart like a nightingale, in couplet after couplet, song after song. Though
I had come close to him, his singing continued to give me greater and
His voice, which was not of great power, was extremely pleasant and tender;
the taste and feeling for rhythm which he displayed in the control of it
were extraordinary, and proved that he had great natural gifts.
After he sung each couplet, he invariably repeated the theme in variation,
and it was evident that all his graceful variations came to him at the
Among the crowd, and above on the Schweitzerhof, and near by on the
boulevard, were heard frequent murmurs of approval, though generally the
most respectful silence reigned.
The balconies and the windows kept filling more and more with handsomely
dressed men and women leaning on their elbows, and picturesquely
illuminated by the lights in the house.
Promenaders came to a halt, and in the darkness on the quay stood men and
women in little groups. Near me, at some distance from the common crowd,
stood an aristocratic cook and lackey, smoking their cigars. The cook was
forcibly impressed by the music, and at every high falsetto note
enthusiastically nodded his head to the lackey, and nudged him with his
elbow with an expression of astonishment that seemed to say, "How he sings!
The lackey, whose careless smile betrayed the depth of feeling that he
experienced, replied to the cook's nudges by shrugging his shoulders, as if
to show that it was hard enough for him to be made enthusiastic, and that
he had heard much better music.
In one of the pauses of his song, while the minstrel was clearing his
throat, I asked the lackey who he was, and if he often came there.
"Twice this summer he has been here," replied the lackey. "He is from
Aargau; he goes round begging."
"Well, do many like him come round here?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," replied the lackey, not comprehending the full force of what I
asked; but, immediately after, recollecting himself, he added, "Oh, no.
This one is the only one I ever heard here. No one else."
At this moment the little man had finished his first song, briskly twanged
his guitar, and said something in his German patois, which I could not
understand, but which brought forth a hearty round of laughter from the
"What was that he said?" I asked.
"He says that his throat is dried up, he would like some wine," replied the
lackey who was standing near me.
"What? is he rather fond of the glass?"
"Yes, all that sort of people are," replied the lackey, smiling and
pointing at the minstrel.
The minstrel took off his cap, and swinging his guitar went toward the
hotel. Raising his head, he addressed the ladies and gentlemen standing by
the windows and on the balconies, saying in a half-Italian, half-German
accent, and with the same intonation that jugglers use in speaking to their
"Messieurs et mesdames, si vous croyez que je gagne quelque chose, vous
vous trompez: je ne suis qu'un pauvre tiaple."
He stood in silence a moment, but as no one gave him any thing, he once
more took up his guitar and said,—
"À présent, messieurs et mesdames, je vous chanterai l'air du Righi."
His hotel audience made no response, but stood in expectation of the coming
song. Below on the street a laugh went round, probably in part because he
had expressed himself so strangely, and in part because no one had given
him any thing.
I gave him a few centimes, which he deftly changed from one hand to the
other, and bestowed them in his vest-pocket; and then, replacing his cap,
began once more to sing the graceful, sweet Tyrolese melody which he had
called l'air du Righi.
This song, which formed the last on his programme, was even better than the
preceding, and from all sides in the wondering throng were heard sounds of
He finished. Again he swung his guitar, took off his cap, held it out in
front of him, went two or three steps nearer to the windows, and again
repeated his stock phrase,—
"Messieurs et mesdames, si vous croyez que je gagne quelque chose," which
he evidently considered to be very shrewd and witty; but in his voice and
motions I perceived a certain irresolution and childish timidity which were
especially touching in a person of such diminutive stature.
The elegant public, still picturesquely grouped in the lighted windows and
on the balconies, were shining in their rich attire; a few conversed in
soberly discreet tones, apparently about their singer who was standing
there below them with outstretched hand; others gazed down with attentive
curiosity on the little black figure; on one balcony could be heard the
merry, ringing laughter of some young girl.
In the surrounding crowd the talk and laughter grew constantly louder and
The singer for the third time repeated his phrase, but in a still weaker
voice, and did not even end the sentence; and again he stretched his hand
with his cap, but instantly drew it back. Again not one of those
brilliantly dressed scores of people standing to listen to him threw him a
The crowd laughed heartlessly.
The little singer, so it seemed to me, shrunk more into himself, took his
guitar into his other hand, lifted his cap, and said,—
"Messieurs et mesdames, je vous remercie, et je vous souhais une bonne
nuit." Then he put on his hat.
The crowd cackled with laughter and satisfaction. The handsome ladies and
gentlemen, calmly exchanging remarks, withdrew gradually from the
balconies. On the boulevard the promenading began once more. The street,
which had been still during the singing, assumed its wonted liveliness; a
few men, however, stood at some distance, and, without approaching the
singer, looked at him and laughed.
I heard the little man muttering something between his teeth as he turned
away; and I saw him, apparently growing more and more diminutive, hurry
toward the city with brisk steps. The promenaders who had been looking at
him followed him at some distance, still making merry at his expense. My
mind was in a whirl; I could not comprehend what it all meant; and still
standing in the same place, I gazed abstractedly into the darkness after
the little man, who was fast disappearing, as he went with ever-increasing
swiftness with long strides into the city, followed by the merry-making
I was overmastered by a feeling of pain, of bitterness, and above all, of
shame for the little man, for the crowd, for myself, as though it were I
who had asked for money and received none; as though it were I who had been
turned to ridicule.
Without looking any longer, feeling my heart oppressed, I also hurried with
long strides toward the entrance of the Schweitzerhof. I could not explain
the feeling that overmastered me; only there was something like a stone,
from which I could not free myself, weighing down my soul and oppressing
At the ample, well-lighted entrance, I met the porter, who politely made
way for me. An English family was also at the door. A portly, handsome, and
tall gentleman, with black side-whiskers, in a black hat, and with a plaid
on one arm, while in his hand he carried a costly cane, came out slowly and
full of importance. Leaning on his arm was a lady, who wore a raw silk
dress and bonnet with bright ribbons and the most costly laces. Together
with them was a pretty, fresh-looking young lady, in a graceful Swiss hat
with a feather à la mousquetaire; from under it escaped long light-yellow
curls softly encircling her fair face. In front of them skipped a buxom
girl of ten, with round white knees which showed from under her thin
embroideries. "Magnificent night!" the lady was saying in a sweet, happy
voice, as I passed them.
"Oh, yes," growled the Englishman lazily; and it was evident that he found
it so enjoyable to be alive in the world, that it was too much trouble even
And it seemed as though all of them alike found it so comfortable and easy,
so light and free, to be alive in the world, their faces and motions
expressed such perfect indifference to the lives of every one else, and
such absolute confidence that it was to them that the porter made way and
bowed so profoundly, and that when they returned they would find clean,
comfortable beds and rooms, and that all this was bound to be, and was
their indefeasible right, that I involuntarily contrasted them with the
wandering minstrel who weary, perhaps hungry, full of shame, was retreating
before the laughing crowd. And then suddenly I comprehended what it was
that oppressed my heart with such a load of heaviness, and I felt an
indescribable anger against these people.
Twice I walked up and down past the Englishman, and each time, without
turning out for him, my elbow punched him, which gave me a feeling of
indescribable satisfaction; and then, darting down the steps, I hastened
through the darkness in the direction toward the city taken by the little
Overtaking the three men who had been walking together, I asked them where
the singer was; they laughed, and pointed straight ahead. There he was,
walking alone with brisk steps; no one was with him; all the time, as it
seemed to me, he was indulging in bitter monologue.
I caught up with him, and proposed to him to go somewhere with me and drink
a bottle of wine. He kept on with his rapid walk, and scarcely deigned to
look at me; but when he perceived what I was saying, he halted.
"Well, I would not refuse, if you would be so kind," said he; "here is a
little café, we can go in there. It's not fashionable," he added, pointing
to a drinking-saloon that was still open.
His expression "not fashionable" involuntarily suggested the idea of not
going to an unfashionable café, but to go to the Schweitzerhof, where those
who had been listening to him were. Notwithstanding the fact that several
times he showed a sort of timid disquietude at the idea of going to the
Schweitzerhof, declaring that it was too fine for him there, still I
insisted in carrying out my purpose; and he, putting the best face on the
matter, gayly swinging his guitar, went back with me across the quay.
A few loiterers who had happened along as I was talking with the minstrel,
and had stopped to hear what I had to say, now, after arguing among
themselves, followed us to the very entrance of the hotel, evidently
expecting from the Tyrolese some further demonstration.
I ordered a bottle of wine of a waiter whom I met in the hall. The waiter
smiled and looked at us, and went by without answering. The head waiter, to
whom I addressed myself with the same order, listened to me solemnly, and,
measuring the minstrel's modest little figure from head to foot, sternly
ordered the waiter to take us to the room at the left.
The room at the left was a bar-room for simple people. In the corner of
this room a hunch-backed maid was washing dishes. The whole furniture
consisted of bare wooden tables and benches.
The waiter who came to serve us looked at us with a supercilious smile,
thrust his hands in his pockets, and exchanged some remarks with the
humpbacked dish-washer. He evidently tried to give us to understand that he
felt himself immeasurably higher than the minstrel, both in dignity and
social position, so that he considered it not only an indignity, but even
an actual joke, that he was called upon to serve us.
"Do you wish vin ordinaire?" he asked with a knowing look, winking toward
my companion, and switching his napkin from one hand to the other.
"Champagne, and your very best," said I, endeavoring to assume my
haughtiest and most imposing appearance.
But neither my champagne, nor my endeavor to look haughty and imposing, had
the least effect on the servant: he smiled incredulously, loitered a moment
or two gazing at us, took time enough to glance at his gold watch, and with
leisurely steps, as though going out for a walk, left the room.
Soon he returned with the wine, bringing two other waiters with him. These
two sat down near the dish-washer, and gazed at us with amused attention
and a bland smile, just as parents gaze at their children when they are
gently playing. Only the dish-washer, it seemed to me, did not look at us
scornfully but sympathetically.
Though it was trying and awkward to lunch with the minstrel, and to play
the entertainer, under the fire of all these waiters' eyes, I tried to do
my duty with as little constraint as possible. In the lighted room I could
see him better. He was a small but symmetrically built and muscular man,
though almost a dwarf in stature; he had bristly black hair, teary big
black eyes, bushy eyebrows, and a thoroughly pleasant, attractively shaped
mouth. He had little side-whiskers, his hair was short, his attire was very
simple and mean. He was not over-clean, was ragged and sunburnt, and in
general had the look of a laboring-man. He was far more like a poor
tradesman than an artist.
Only in his ever humid and brilliant eyes, and in his firm mouth, was there
any sign of originality or genius. By his face it might be conjectured that
his age was between twenty-five and forty; in reality, he was
Here is what he related to me, with good-natured readiness and evident
sincerity, of his life. He was a native of Aargau. In early childhood he
had lost father and mother; other relatives he had none. He had never owned
any property. He had been apprenticed to a carpenter; but twenty-two years
previously one of his hands had been attacked by caries, which had
prevented him from ever working again.
From childhood he had been fond of singing, and he began to be a singer.
Occasionally strangers had given him money. With this he had learned his
profession, bought his guitar, and now for eighteen years he had been
wandering about through Switzerland and Italy, singing before hotels. His
whole luggage consisted of his guitar, and a little purse in which, at the
present time, there was only half a franc. That would have to suffice for
supper and lodgings this night.
Every year now for eighteen years he had made the round of the best and
most popular resorts of Switzerland,—Zurich, Lucerne, Interlaken,
Chamounix, etc.; by the way of the St. Bernard he would go down into Italy,
and return over the St. Gothard, or through Savoy. Just at present it was
rather hard for him to walk, as he had caught a cold, causing him to suffer
from some trouble in his legs,—he called it rheumatism,—which grew more
severe from year to year; and, moreover, his voice and eyes had grown
weaker. Nevertheless, he was on his way to Interlaken, Aix-les-Bains, and
thence over the Little St. Bernard to Italy, which he was very fond of. It
was evident that on the whole he was well content with his life.
When I asked him why he returned home, if he had any relatives there, or a
house and land, his mouth parted in a gay smile, and he replied, "Oui, le
sucre est bon, il est doux pour les enfants!" and he winked at the
I did not catch his meaning, but the group of servants burst out laughing.
"No, I have nothing of the sort, but still I should always want to go
back," he explained to me. "I go home because there is always a something
that draws one to one's native place." And once more he repeated with a
shrewd, self-satisfied smile, his phrase, "Oui, le sucre est bon," and
then laughed good-naturedly.
The servants were very much amused, and laughed heartily; only the
hunch-backed dish-washer looked earnestly from her big kindly eyes at the
little man, and picked up his cap for him, when, as we talked, he once
knocked it off the bench. I have noticed that wandering minstrels,
acrobats, even jugglers, delight in calling themselves artists, and several
times I hinted to my comrade that he was an artist; but he did not at all
accept this designation, but with perfect simplicity looked upon his work
as a means of existence.
When I asked him if he had not himself written the songs which he sang, he
showed great surprise at such a strange question, and replied that the
words of whatever he sang were all of old Tyrolese origin.
"But how about that song of the Righi? I think that cannot be very
ancient," I suggested.
"Oh, that was composed about fifteen years ago. There was a German in
Basel; he was a clever man; it was he who composed it. A splendid song. You
see he composed it especially for travellers." And he began to repeat the
words of the Righi song, which he liked so well, translating them into
French as he went along.
"If you wish to go to Righi,
You will not need shoes to Wegis,
(For you go that far by steamboat),
But from Wegis take a stout staff,
Also take upon your arm a maiden;
Drink a glass of wine on starting,
Only do not drink too freely,
For if you desire to drink here,
You must earn the right to, first."
"Oh! a splendid song!" he exclaimed, as he finished.
The servants, evidently, also found the song much to their mind, because
they came up closer to us.
"Yes, but who was it composed the music?" I asked.
"Oh, no one at all; you know you must have something new when you are going
to sing for strangers."
When the ice was brought, and I had given my comrade a glass of champagne,
he seemed somewhat ill at ease, and, glancing at the servants, he turned
and twisted on the bench.
We touched our glasses to the health of all artists; he drank half a glass,
then he seemed to be collecting his ideas, and knit his brows in deep
"It is long since I have tasted such wine, je ne vous dis que ça. In
Italy the vino d'Asti is excellent, but this is still better. Ah! Italy;
it is splendid to be there!" he added.
"Yes, there they know how to appreciate music and artists," said I, trying
to bring him round to the evening's mischance before the Schweitzerhof.
"No," he replied. "There, as far as music is concerned, I cannot give
anybody satisfaction. The Italians are themselves musicians,—none like
them in the world; but I know only Tyrolese songs. They are something of a
novelty to them, though."
"Well, you find rather more generous gentlemen there, don't you?" I went on
to say, anxious to make him share in my resentment against the guests of
the Schweitzerhof. "There it would not be possible to find a big hotel
frequented by rich people, where, out of a hundred listening to an artist's
singing, not one would give him any thing."
My question utterly failed of the effect that I expected. It did not enter
his head to be indignant with them: on the contrary, he saw in my remark an
implied slur upon his talent which had failed of its reward, and he
hastened to set himself right before me. "It is not every time that you get
any thing," he remarked; "sometimes one isn't in good voice, or you are
tired; now to-day I have been walking ten hours, and singing almost all the
time. That is hard. And these important aristocrats do not always care to
listen to Tyrolese songs."
"But still, how can they help giving?" I insisted.
He did not comprehend my remark.
"That's nothing," he said; "but here the principal thing is, on est tres
serré pour la police, that's what's the trouble. Here, according to these
republican laws, you are not allowed to sing; but in Italy you can go
wherever you please, no one says a word. Here, if they want to let you,
they let you; but if they don't want to, then they can throw you into
"What? That's incredible!"
"Yes, it is true. If you have been warned once, and are found singing
again, they may put you in jail. I was kept there three months once," he
said, smiling as though that were one of his pleasantest recollections.
"Oh! that is terrible!" I exclaimed. "What was the reason?"
"That was in consequence of one of the new republican laws," he went on to
explain, growing animated. "They cannot comprehend here that a poor fellow
must earn his living somehow. If I were not a cripple, I would work. But
what harm do I do to any one in the world by my singing? What does it mean?
The rich can live as they wish, un pauvre tiaple like myself can't live
at all. What kind of laws are these republican ones? If that is the way
they run, then we don't want a republic: isn't that so, my dear sir? We
don't want a republic, but we want—we simply want—we want"—he hesitated
a little,—"we want natural laws."
I filled up his glass. "You are not drinking," I said.
He took the glass in his hand, and bowed to me.
"I know what you wish," he said, blinking his eyes at me, and threatening
me with his finger. "You wish to make me drunk, so as to see what you can
get out of me; but no, you sha'n't have that gratification."
"Why should I make you drunk?" I inquired. "All I wished was to give you a
He seemed really sorry that he had offended me by interpreting my
insistence so harshly. He grew confused, stood up, and touched my elbow.
"No, no," said he, looking at me with a beseeching expression in his moist
eyes. "I was only joking."
And immediately after he made use of some horribly uncultivated slang
expression, intended to signify that I was, nevertheless, a fine young man.
"Je ne vous dis que ça," he said in conclusion. In this fashion the
minstrel and I continued to drink and converse; and the waiters continued
unceremoniously to stare at us, and, as it seemed, to make ridicule of us.
In spite of the interest which our conversation aroused in me, I could not
avoid taking notice of their behavior; and I confess I began to grow more
and more angry.
One of the waiters arose, came up to the little man, and, regarding the top
of his head, began to smile. I was already full of wrath against the
inmates of the hotel, and had not yet had a chance to pour it out on any
one; and now I confess I was in the highest degree irritated by this
audience of waiters.
The porter, not removing his hat, came into the room, and sat down near me,
leaning his elbows on the table. This last circumstance, which was so
insulting to my dignity or my vainglory, completely enraged me, and gave an
outlet for all the wrath which all the evening long had been boiling within
me. I asked myself why he had so humbly bowed when he had met me before,
and now, because I was sitting with the travelling minstrel, he came and
took his place near me so rudely? I was entirely overmastered by that
boiling, angry indignation which I enjoy in myself, which I sometimes
endeavor to stimulate when it comes over me, because it has an exhilarating
effect upon me, and gives me, if only for a short time, a certain
extraordinary flexibility, energy, and strength in all my physical and
I leaped to my feet.
"Whom are you laughing at?" I screamed at the waiter; and I felt my face
turn pale, and my lips involuntarily set together.
"I am not laughing," replied the waiter, moving away from me.
"Yes, you are: you are laughing at this gentleman. And what right have you
to come, and to take a seat here, when there are guests? Don't you dare to
The porter, muttering something, got up, and turned to the door.
"What right have you to make sport of this gentleman, and to sit down by
him, when he is a guest, and you are a waiter? Why didn't you laugh at me
this evening at dinner, and come and sit down beside me? Because he is
meanly dressed, and sings in the streets? Is that the reason? and because I
have better clothes? He is poor, but he is a thousand times better than you
are; that I am sure of, because he has never insulted any one, but you have
"I didn't mean any thing," replied my enemy the waiter. "Perhaps I
disturbed him by sitting down."
The waiter did not understand me, and my German was wasted on him. The rude
porter was about to take the waiter's part; but I fell upon him so
impetuously that the porter pretended not to understand me, and waved his
The hunch-backed dish-washer, either because she perceived my wrathful
state, and feared a scandal, or possibly because she shared my views, took
my part, and, trying to force her way between me and the porter, told him
to hold his tongue, saying that I was right, but at the same time urging me
to calm myself.
"Der Herr hat Recht; Sie haben Recht," she said over and over again. The
minstrel's face presented a most pitiable, terrified expression; and
evidently he did not understand why I was angry, and what I wanted: and he
urged me to let him go away as soon as possible.
But the eloquence of wrath burned within me more and more. I understood it
all,—the throng that had made merry at his expense, and his auditors who
had not given him any thing; and not for all the world would I have held my
I believe, that, if the waiters and the porter had not been so submissive,
I should have taken delight in having a brush with them, or striking the
defenceless English lady on the head with a stick. If at that moment I had
been at Sevastópol, I should have taken delight in devoting myself to
slaughtering and killing in the English trench.
"And why did you take this gentleman and me into this room, and not into
the other? What?" I thundered at the porter, seizing him by the arm so that
he could not escape from me. "What right had you to judge by his appearance
that this gentleman must be served in this room, and not in that? Have not
all guests who pay, equal rights in hotels? Not only in a republic, but in
all the world! Your scurvy republic!... Equality, indeed! You would not
dare to take an Englishman into this room, not even those Englishmen who
have heard this gentleman free of cost; that is, who have stolen from him,
each one of them, the few centimes which ought to have been given to him.
How did you dare to take us to this room?"
"That room is closed," said the porter.
"No," I cried, "that isn't true; it isn't closed."
"Then you know best."
"I know,—I know that you are lying."
The porter turned his back on me.
"Eh! What is to be said?" he muttered.
"What is to be said?" I cried. "You conduct us instanter into that room!"
In spite of the dish-washer's warning, and the entreaties of the minstrel,
who would have preferred to go home, I insisted on seeing the head waiter,
and went with my guest into the big dining-room. The head waiter, hearing
my angry voice, and seeing my menacing face, avoided a quarrel, and, with
contemptuous servility, said that I might go wherever I pleased. I could
not prove to the porter that he had lied, because he had hastened out of
sight before I went into the hall.
The dining-room was, in fact, open and lighted; and at one of the tables
sat an Englishman and a lady, eating their supper. Although we were shown
to a special table, I took the dirty minstrel to the very one where the
Englishman was, and bade the waiter bring to us there the unfinished
The two guests at first looked with surprised, then with angry, eyes at the
little man, who, more dead than alive, was sitting near me. They talked
together in a low tone; then the lady pushed back her plate, her silk dress
rustled, and both of them left the room. Through the glass doors I saw the
Englishman saying something in an angry voice to the waiter, and pointing
with his hand in our direction. The waiter put his head through the door,
and looked at us. I waited with pleasurable anticipation for some one to
come and order us out, for then I could have found a full outlet for all my
indignation. But fortunately, though at the time I felt injured, we were
left in peace. The minstrel, who before had fought shy of the wine, now
eagerly drank all that was left in the bottle, so that he might make his
escape as quickly as possible.
He, however, expressed his gratitude with deep feeling, as it seemed to me,
for his entertainment. His teary eyes grew still more humid and brilliant,
and he made use of a most strange and complicated phrase of gratitude. But
still very pleasant to me was the sentence in which he said that if
everybody treated artists as I had been doing, it would be very good, and
ended by wishing me all manner of happiness. We went out into the hall
together. There stood the servants, and my enemy the porter apparently
airing his grievances against me before them. All of them, I thought,
looked at me as though I were a man who had lost his wits. I treated the
little man exactly like an equal, before all that audience of servants; and
then, with all the respect that I was able to express in my behavior, I
took off my hat, and pressed his hand with its dry and hardened fingers.
The servants made believe not pay the slightest attention to me. One of
them only indulged in a sarcastic laugh.
As soon as the minstrel had bowed himself out, and disappeared in the
darkness, I went up-stairs to my room, intending to sleep off all these
impressions and the foolish childish anger which had come upon me so
unexpectedly. But finding that I was too much excited to sleep, I once more
went down into the street with the intention of walking until I should have
recovered my equanimity, and, I must confess, with the secret hope that I
might accidentally come across the porter or the waiter or the Englishman,
and show them all their rudeness, and, most of all, their unfairness. But
beyond the porter, who when he saw me turned his back, I met no one; and I
began to promenade in absolute solitude along the quay.
"This is an example of the strange fate of poetry," said I to myself,
having grown a little calmer. "All love it, all are in search of it; it is
the only thing in life that men love and seek, and yet no one recognizes
its power, no one prizes this best treasure of the world, and those who
give it to men are not rewarded. Ask any one you please, ask all these
guests of the Schweitzerhof, what is the most precious treasure in the
world, and all, or ninety-nine out of a hundred, putting on a sardonic
expression, will say that the best thing in the world is money.
"'Maybe, though, this does not please you, or coincide with your elevated
ideas,' it will be urged, 'but what is to be done if human life is so
constituted that money alone is capable of giving a man happiness? I cannot
force my mind not to see the world as it is,' it will be added, 'that is,
to see the truth.'
"Pitiable is your intellect, pitiable the happiness which you desire! And
you yourselves, unhappy creatures, not knowing what you desire, ... why
have you all left your fatherland, your relatives, your money-making trades
and occupations, and come to this little Swiss city of Lucerne? Why did you
all this evening gather on the balconies, and in respectful silence listen
to the little beggar's song? And if he had been willing to sing longer, you
would have been silent and listened longer. What! could money, even
millions of it, have driven you all from your country, and brought you all
together in this little nook of Lucerne? Could money have gathered you all
on the balconies to stand for half an hour silent and motionless? No! One
thing compels you to do it, and will forever have a stronger influence than
all the other impulses of life: the longing for poetry which you know,
which you do not realize, but feel, always will feel so long as you have
any human sensibilities. The word 'poetry' is a mockery to you; you make
use of it as a sort of ridiculous reproach; you regard the love for poetry
as something meet for children and silly girls, and you make sport of them
for it. For yourselves you must have something more definite.
"But children look upon life in a healthy way: they recognize and love what
man ought to love, and what gives happiness. But life has so deceived and
perverted you, that you ridicule the only thing that you really love, and
you seek for what you hate and for what gives you unhappiness.
"You are so perverted that you did not perceive what obligations you were
under to the poor Tyrolese who rendered you a pure delight; but at the same
time you feel yourselves needlessly obliged to bow before some lord, which
gives you neither pleasure nor profit, but rather causes you to sacrifice
your comfort and convenience. What absurdity! what incomprehensible lack of
"But it was not this that made the most powerful impression upon me this
evening. This blindness to all that gives happiness, this unconsciousness
of poetic enjoyment, I can almost comprehend, or at least I have become
wonted to it, since I have almost everywhere met with it in the course of
my life; the harsh, unconscious churlishness of the crowd was no novelty to
me: whatever those who argue in favor of popular sentiment may say, the
throng is a conglomeration of very possibly good people, but of people who
touch each other only on their coarse animal sides, and express only the
weakness and harshness of human nature. But how was it that you, children
of a humane people, you Christians, you simple people, repaid with coldness
and ridicule the poor beggar who gave you a pure enjoyment? But no, in
your country there are asylums for beggars. There are no beggars, there can
be none; and there can be no feelings of sympathy, since that would be a
confession that beggary existed.
"But he labored, he gave you enjoyment, he besought you to give him
something of your superfluity in payment for his labor of which you took
advantage. But you looked upon him with a cool smile as upon one of the
curiosities in your lofty brilliant palaces; and though there were a
hundred of you, favored with happiness and wealth, not one man or one woman
among you gave him a sou. Abashed he went away from you, and the
thoughtless throng, laughing, followed and ridiculed not you, but him,
because you were cold, harsh, and dishonorable; because you robbed him in
receiving the entertainment which he gave you: for this they jeered him.
"'On the 19th of July, 1857, before the Schweitzerhof Hotel, in which were
lodging very opulent people, a wandering beggar minstrel sang for half an
hour his songs, and played his guitar. About a hundred people listened to
him. The minstrel thrice asked you all to give him something. No one person
gave him a thing, and many made sport of him.'
"This is not an invention, but an actual fact, as those who desire can find
out for themselves by consulting the papers for the list of those who were
at the Schweitzerhof on the 19th of July.
"This is an event which the historians of our time ought to describe in
letters of inextinguishable flame. This event is more significant and more
serious, and fraught with far deeper meaning, than the facts that are
printed in newspapers and histories. That the English have killed several
thousand Chinese because the Chinese would not sell them any thing for
money while their land is overflowing with ringing coins; that the French
have killed several thousand Kabyles because the wheat grows well in
Africa, and because constant war is essential for the drill of an army;
that the Turkish ambassador in Naples must not be a Jew; and that the
Emperor Napoleon walks about in Plombières, and gives his people the
express assurance that he rules only in direct accordance with the will of
the people,—all these are words which darken or reveal something long
known. But the episode that took place in Lucerne on the 19th of July seems
to me something entirely novel and strange, and it is connected not with
the everlastingly ugly side of human nature, but with a well-known epoch in
the development of society. This fact is not for the history of human
activities, but for the history of progress and civilization.
"Why is it that this inhuman fact, impossible in any country,—Germany,
France, or Italy,—is quite possible here where civilization, freedom, and
equality are carried to the highest degree of development, where there are
gathered together the most civilized travellers from the most civilized
nations? Why is it that these cultivated human beings, generally capable of
every honorable human action, had no hearty, human feeling for one good
deed? Why is it that these people who in their palaces, their meetings, and
their societies, labor warmly for the condition of the celibate Chinese in
India, about the spread of Christianity and culture in Africa, about the
formation of societies for attaining all perfection,—why is it that they
should not find in their souls the simple, primitive feeling of human
sympathy? Has such a feeling entirely disappeared, and has its place been
taken by vainglory, ambition, and cupidity, governing these men in their
palaces, meetings, and societies? Has the spreading of that reasonable,
egotistical association of people, which we call civilization, destroyed
and rendered nugatory the desire for instinctive and loving association?
And is this that boasted equality for which so much innocent blood has been
shed, and so many crimes have been perpetrated? Is it possible that
nations, like children, can be made happy by the mere sound of the word
"Equality before the law? Does the whole life of a people revolve within
the sphere of law? Only the thousandth part of it is subject to the law:
the rest lies outside of it, in the sphere of the customs and intuitions of
"But in society the lackey is better dressed than the minstrel, and insults
him with impunity. I am better dressed than the lackey, and insult him with
impunity. The porter considers me higher, but the minstrel lower, than
himself; when I made the minstrel my companion, he felt that he was on an
equality with us both, and behaved rudely. I was impudent to the porter,
and the porter acknowledged that he was inferior to me. The waiter was
impudent to the minstrel, and the minstrel accepted the fact that he was
inferior to the waiter.
"And is that government free, even though men seriously call it free, where
a single citizen can be thrown into prison because, without harming any
one, without interfering with any one, he does the only thing that he can
to prevent himself from dying of starvation?
"A wretched, pitiable creature is man with his craving for positive
solutions, thrown into this everlastingly tossing, limitless ocean of
good and evil, of combinations and contradictions. For centuries men
have been struggling and laboring to put the good on one side, the evil
on the other. Centuries will pass, and no matter how much the unprejudiced
mind may strive to decide where the balance lies between the good and the
evil, the scales will refuse to tip the beam, and there will always be
equal quantities of the good and the evil on each scale.
"If only man would learn to form judgments, and not to indulge in rash and
arbitrary thoughts, and not to make reply to questions that are propounded
merely to remain forever unanswered! If only he would learn that every
thought is both a lie and a truth!—a lie from the one-sidedness and
inability of man to recognize all truth; and true because it expresses one
side of mortal endeavor. There are divisions in this everlastingly
tumultuous, endless, endlessly confused chaos of the good and the evil.
They have drawn imaginary lines over this ocean, and they contend that the
ocean is really thus divided.
"But are there not millions of other possible subdivisions from absolutely
different standpoints, in other planes? Certainly these novel subdivisions
will be made in centuries to come, just as millions of different ones have
been made in centuries past.
"Civilization is good, barbarism is evil; freedom, good; slavery,
evil. Now, this imaginary knowledge annihilates the instinctive,
beatific, primitive craving for the good that is in human nature. And who
will explain to me what is freedom, what is despotism, what is
civilization, what is barbarism?
"Where are the boundaries that separate them? And whose soul possesses so
absolute a standard of good and evil as to measure these fleeting,
complicated facts? Whose wit is so great as to comprehend and weigh all the
facts in the irretrievable past? And who can find any circumstance in which
there is no union of good and evil? And because I know that I see more
of one than of the other, is it not because my standpoint is wrong? And who
has the ability to separate himself so absolutely from life, even for a
moment, as to look upon it from above?
"One, only one infallible Guide we have,—the universal Spirit which
penetrates all collectively and as units, which has endowed each of us with
the craving for the right; the Spirit which impels the tree to grow toward
the sun, which stimulates the flower in autumn-tide to scatter its seed,
and which obliges each one of us unconsciously to draw closer together. And
this one unerring, inspiring voice rings out louder than the noisy, hasty
development of culture.
"Who is the greater man, and who the greater barbarian,—that lord, who,
seeing the minstrel's well-worn clothes, angrily left the table, who gave
him not the millionth part of his possessions in payment of his labor, and
now lazily sitting in his brilliant, comfortable room, calmly opines about
the events that are happening in China, and justifies the massacres that
have been done there; or the little minstrel, who, risking imprisonment,
with a franc in his pocket, and doing no harm to any one, has been going
about for a score of years, up hill and down dale, rejoicing men's hearts
with his songs, though they have jeered at him, and almost cast him out of
the pale of humanity; and who, in weariness and cold and shame, has gone
off to sleep, no one knows where, on his filthy straw?"
At this moment, from the city, through the dead silence of the night, far,
far away, I caught the sound of the little man's guitar and his voice.
"No," something involuntarily said to me, "you have no right to commiserate
the little man, or to blame the lord for his well-being. Who can weigh the
inner happiness which is found in the soul of each of these men? There he
stands somewhere in the muddy road, and gazes at the brilliant moonlit sky,
and gayly sings amid the smiling, fragrant night; in his soul there is no
reproach, no anger, no regret. And who knows what is transpiring now in the
hearts of all these men within those opulent, brilliant rooms? Who knows if
they all have as much unencumbered, sweet delight in life, and as much
satisfaction with the world, as dwells in the soul of that little man?
"Endless are the mercy and wisdom of Him who has permitted and formed all
these contradictions. Only to thee, miserable little worm of the dust,
audaciously, lawlessly attempting to fathom His laws, His designs,—only to
thee do they seem like contradictions.
"Full of love He looks down from His bright, immeasurable height, and
rejoices in the endless harmony in which you all move in endless contradictions.
In thy pride thou hast thought thyself able to separate thyself from the laws of
the universe. No, thou also, with thy petty, ridiculous anger against the
waiters,—thou also hast disturbed the harmonious craving for the eternal and the