From Tales of Humour, Anonymous, London: Burns and Oates; New York: Benzigers; undated (c. 1890); pp. 115-148.
Fortunes and Misfortunes of a Saxon Schoolmaster
JUNE sowed on the earth her sweetly scented flowers; a delicious morning had succeeded to a calm and brilliant starlight night; a soft breeze agitated the foliage, while the sun melted away the vaporous veil that hid his joyous countenance.
Master Sebaldus Spurdzer arose, light and agile. He made haste to dress himself; and having put a large straw hat on his head, and a huge book under his arm, he directed his steps towards the banks of the Elbe. A shady path led to the river; and it was this path that Master Sebaldus chose to take. Let us avail ourselves of the short time occupied by this personage in passing over the distance that separates his cottage from the Elbe, to sketch his character.
Sebaldus Spurdzer had seen forty-five full years pass over his head. Such was his simplicity and freedom from anxiety, that it might be said of him that his whole life had been one continued childhood. A stranger to worldly interests, and having never understood the advantages of rank and fortune, his 118 ambition was limited to keeping a village school. True it is that nowhere did children receive elementary instruction of a more solid, rational and varied character; and thus it was that in the village of Lauterbruck labourers might be met with who understood Latin, and gardeners who could quote the Georgics to you as fluently as French peasants quote the Almanack of Matthew Laensberg, their constant and only authority. What Sebaldus did was not prompted by the desire of gain, but from the pure love of knowledge. The belles-lettres were so dear to him! He was so happy when engaged in explaining a page of the classical writers! His world was confined to the circle of children who listened to him with open mouth. When school was over, he plunged with delight into the most arduous researches: you might have seen him for hours together examining bulky and huge volumes. His delight was ineffable when he met with a historic or scientific difficulty, which no one had been able previously to clear up. How he then enjoyed his labour! How he multiplied dissertations and notes! With eye on fire, and his costume quite neglected, with his pen firmly grasped between his teeth, his enthusiasm was beautiful, and the oddness of his attire had a kind of poetry about it. However, would it be believed? Master Sebaldus had no sooner finished his dissertation, whatever it might be, than he put it away in his desk and completely forgot it. It was enough for this learned and careless man to have discussed a subject that pleased him; all else was of little consequence to him. Sebaldus did not seem to suspect that there were printing-presses waiting to obey his orders as well as those of other authors.
But if he was perfectly raised above all questions of glory and fortune, to make amends, there was one who thought of them for him — his wife. This worthy 119 economist had a singular love for the pounds sterling; and the unselfish character of her husband was her frequent theme of complaint. Although her observations made no impression on the schoolmaster’s thick skin, she never failed to repeat them on every occasion in a tone of ill-humour.
“Thus it is,” she was accustomed to say, “that you are not ashamed to live like an idler, with your nose always buried in your books. Instead of enriching yourself, or at any rate improving the condition of your wife and two children, to whom, from some strange fancy, you given the name of Ovid and Cicero, you are contented to stagnate in a miserable village. You, who might have been, a long time ago, a celebrated professor, are no more, and wish to be no more, than an obscure schoolmaster! In fact, you do not deserve to be as learned as you are said to be, since you make a bad use of the talents that heaven has committed to you.”
“My wife,” Sebaldus would reply, with a coolness that increased her anger, “mind your own affairs; mend Ovid’s stockings and Cicero’s shirts; attend, in short, to all your household duties; but, for God’s sake, leave me at peace! I trouble no one, and have no wish to be troubled. You can have no idea of the pleasure my books give me; they are my friends.”
“O yes! a parcel of musty old books,” said Thecla, disdainfully.
Thecla saw at length that it was useless for her to oppose the literary and scientific mania of her husband; but as she was a woman of a determined character, she now only planned how to turn what she termed his “failing” to some good account. Having remarked, that as soon as he had finished any work which he had on hand, he put it away in his 120 desk, and thought no more about it, she took possession of some of his manuscripts, and set out on a journey to Dresden, expressly for the purpose of submitting them to a publisher, who, when she called on him, told her, with a patronising air, to return in a week, when he would have examined them.
The careful dame was punctual to the time appointed, and had the pleasure of receiving a pretty large sum from the bookseller, who told her to bring to him all her husband’s writings; “For,” said the publisher, “he is a mine of knowledge, — a man of genius ignorant of his own value.”
From this time forward it may be easily understood that Thecla no longer opposed the learned lucubrations of Master Sebaldus: she even went very often to the drawer which contained the manuscripts, to see whether there was any new production in it of her husband’s pen.
Since the time that the bright idea struck Madame Spurdzer of turning her husband’s talents to a useful account, an air of greater comfort pervaded their house: new saucepans shone in the kitchen, and the clothes of Cicero and Ovid were of the best stuff and make. Affairs were in this state at the time when our story begins.
Master Sebaldus had walked along at a good pace while we were engaged in communicating these details respecting him, and he had reached his favourite seat — a pretty hillock, covered with moss, and sheltered by a thick and luxuriant hedge.
What was his astonishment when he perceived, in the very place where he fully intended to seat himself, a stranger sitting, and apparently buried in deep thought! Such was the force of custom over our learned friend, that it never occurred to him to sit down in another spot; and he remained standing, looking with a disappointed air at the intruder, who 121 lifted up his head and smiled slily. However, this state of mutual observation could not last long, and the stranger broke silence first.
“Good morning, Mr. Spurdzer,” he said, kindly.
The Schoolmaster felt agitated: how could he be known to a person whom he had never seen before? Possibly this stroller was Satan himself, or Beelzebub, disguised under the mask of an honest citizen. The stranger seemed to be aware of this lurking and very silly idea, for he smiled again, and said, “Be calm, and do not be surprised. What is there astonishing in my having heard your name, and that your person and habits, thoroughly original as they are, should have been described to me? The hundred eyes of Fame, and her brazen trumpet, are not idle fancies. Yes, my dear Mr. Sebaldus, you are very well known to me — who am but an inhabitant of Dresden — and the desire to express to you my lively sympathy is the sole cause of my journey here.”
The learned man stammered out some awkward remarks about the gentleman’s great goodness, &c.
His interlocutor had the kindness to extricate him from his embarrassment by asking — “What book have you got there?”
Sebaldus’s eyes became animated at hearing this question for he was much more at home on the subject of books than on points of mere politeness and civility.
“This book,” he said, “which I now have in my hand, is the masterpiece of historical masterpieces! it is a copy of Tacitus — editio accuratissima. It cost me a good deal of money, but how great is the satisfaction I have derived from it! how intense is my relish for those pages, which are full to overflowing with eloquence! Never were the thoughts of the human mind clothed in a more energetic, concise, and noble language. Oh, my old Roman, with you I am 122 happy: cares and sorrows — the whole universe — all vanishes. You become my contemporary — my friend. I reverence you as possessing a mind of the highest order —”
The stranger now thought that it was quite time to interrupt our learned friend in his enthusiastic fit, lest it should be lengthened out too much, and, —
“Very well: I applaud the warmth of your feelings; at the same time we must not be insensible to the merits of authors now living; our times have produced men of no ordinary merit — yourself, for instance.”
On hearing so abrupt and personal a remark, the Schoolmaster felt so indignant, that he exclaimed, —
“Indeed, Sir; and pray what is your name?”
“Well, Mr. Hanz, if it were not for your grave and respectable appearance, I should be inclined to think that you had come here to make yourself merry at my expense. However that may be, I forgive you. But how could it enter your brain to mention me, a wretched abortion, in the same breath with a giant like Tacitus?”
“Pray, my dear Mr. Sebaldus, do not look on the matter so seriously, and forgive me for having offended you.”
“Why,” replied the Schoolmaster, “you have not offended me, you only frightened me, that was all; and to show you that I am disposed to respond to your friendly advances, may I beg that you will come and take a share in my frugal breakfast?”
“I should be very rude o refuse so honest an invitation.”
“Do you accept it, then?”
“Certainly; with all my heart.”
“Thank you! thank you! my wife will be extremely 123 pleased. I will introduce you to my two sons, who are already distinguished Latinists.”
“Just so: let us be going.”
“Not so fast, Mr. Hanz; it is too soon yet. In the meantime, we can enjoy the charms of this delightful spot; I shall recline on my mossy couch, reading the Life of Julius Agricola, while you, if you please, can amuse yourself with fishing, for which you may have the use of my tackle, which I have got here at hand in the hollow of this tree.”
This naîve proposal excited a Homeric laugh on the part of Hanz.
“I speak quite seriously,” continued Spurdzer, without seeming to be at all disconcerted at the uproarious mirth of his new friend: “fishing is a healthful exercise, presenting the advantage also of not interrupting the course of one’s ideas.”
“Very well,” replied Hanz; — “here goes a proclamation of war against the gudgeons.”
Behold, then, our two companions busily engaged: Hanz, in appearance, with his fishing, and Master Sebaldus in truth and reality with his Tacitus. Hanz had planted his fishing-rod in the sand on the river’s bank, slily casting a glance now and then at his learned acquaintance, who, absorbed in his author, and seeming no longer to belong to this world, exclaimed perpetually — “Superb! admirable! prodigious! Where are the moderns who can write like this? Hanz, my friend, you are a fool!”
In this manner, Spurdzer went on expressing his classical enthusiasm, of which we can only quote a few instances in broken phrases.
Hanz, who was much amused at what he heard and saw, had now his attention recalled to the stream, by a sudden agitation in it; in fact, he had caught a fine carp, and called on Sebaldus to witness his good fortune. Sebaldus begged to draw the fish out of the 124 water, for he said that required to be done carefully. “What a beautiful fish!” he exclaimed. “Thecla will be in raptures with it! But do you take it home, Mr. Hanz, for you deserve the honour of having caught it.”
In this way, the learned pedagogue, with his book under his arm, and the stranger with his fish-basket, made their entrance into the village, and knocked at the door of a school, where about thirty children were giving expression to the loudest and liveliest manifestations of delight. Dame Thecla was the first to show herself; her face, which had once been pretty, was now red and coarse, bearing witness to the bad temper which was her habitual characteristic. The rude manner in which she received her husband and his guest did not belie the expression of her countenance. Nothing but the sight of the carp could have consoled her for the trouble of being obliged to afford hospitality to an unknown individual.
During the whole time of the breakfast, Master Sebaldus ceased not to wound the nerves of his dear spouse by repeating incessantly, “Bring some of your best wine; I think we have some better than this. — Don’t forget the excellent smoked ham hung up in our bed-chamber. — Come, be quick, and show a little more activity.”
Hanz, who noticed everything, took a secret pleasure in seeing Thecla’s chagrin; and the greater it grew at witnessing the rapid disappearance of her provisions, so much the more powerful became his appetite for the good things spread before him. We must not forget to mention that the two little Spurdzers, Ovid and Cicero, who were placed at the right and left hand of the stranger, replied in a very satisfactory manner, as respects their teacher’s feelings of self-esteem, to all the questions that had been put to them. The secrets of syntax were all open to them, 125 and the beauties of prosody intimately known. They were acquainted with none of the monuments of Dresden, but in compensation for this, they had at their fingers’ ends, the obelisks and pyramids of Egyptian Thebes. They knew absolutely nothing of the affairs of present times, but could tell you with marvellous accuracy the number of the soldiers of Xerxes. Spurdzer’s eyes glowed with fatherly pride.
After breakfast, the stranger took leave of his entertainers, and the conjugal storm began.
At the approach of evening, the abode of Master Sebaldus was still unvisited by peace. On his part, he contented himself by opposing to his wife’s violent torrent of words, the stoical example of Socrates bearing up under the reproaches of Xantippe.
Suddenly the noise of a carriage was heard outside, and presently it stopped before the school A man, dressed in black, and wearing a sword, descended from the carriage, and entering the house inquired for Mr. Spurdzer, to whom he gravely handed a large letter, sealed with the arms of his Highness the Elector of Saxony.
“Will you, Sir,” said the Chamberlain, “look at this letter?”
Master Sebaldus cast a glance at it, and had no sooner read the first few lines, than, with a cry of astonishment, he called his wife and children.
“Come here, my children, come! What do you think? His Highness has written to me — his Highness himself! But how could our august sovereign known me?”
“Read the letter more attentively, M. Spurdzer,” said the Chamberlain, “and you will soon see all clearly.”
It was with much trouble, for the Schoolmaster was deeply agitated, that he made out the letter as follows: —
“MY DEAR -SEBALDUS.
“It is long since I became acquainted with your literary and scientific reputation. Your works, which have been received with so much favour, have placed you high in the public estimation.”
“My works! my reputation! Which of us is dreaming, the Prince or myself? My works are contained in my portfolio! My reputation is confined to my being a schoolmaster! Well, let me read on:”
“It was asserted that you united to profound knowledge a modesty and simplicity very uncommon now-a-days, and that you were content to remain a village schoolmaster. I wished to find out the truth for myself, and to make acquaintance with the philosopher of Lanterbruck. This fancy will explain to you the visit that you received this morning.”
“What!” exclaimed Spurdzer and his wife at the same time. “M. Hanz and the Prince are one and the same person!”
“Having been informed of your usual habits, I met you at your favourite place of resort, near the banks of the Elbe; we conversed together, and while at breakfast with you I made you my study.”
“Who would have said that? M. Hanz, a substantial citizen! My wife, were you not deficient in respect to him?”
“No, no; go on: I am anxious to hear the rest.”
“In short, M. Sebaldus, you are a suitable person for directing the education of my sons, Otto and Frederick.”
“I have already made trial of ten tutors; not one of them turned out suitable for so onerous an undertaking, requiring the union of so many noble qualities, various attainments, firmness, suavity, and disinterestedness. A few hours spent in your society, however, sufficed to convince me that I might with 127 perfect confidence appoint you to superintend my children. Come without loss of time. Count Pilnitz will bring you in my carriage. Your apartment at the Castle is quite ready. I shall see afterwards about placing your sons in some college. I now transmit to your wife, for domestic purposes, a suitable sum of money, quite distinct from your own salary.”
“Trust to me, and you will have no occasion to regret it.
It would have been truly curious to study the two-fold effect produced on the countenances of Thecla and Sebaldus by the reading of this letter. Thecla could not believe in the reality of so much happiness; Spurdzer was frightened at it; the former looked only at riches and honours; the latter dreaded the wearisomeness of dependence. However, as the lady’s will was supreme on all occasions, there was reason to believe that Master Sebaldus would be compelled to submit to his good fortune. In contemplating the brilliant position now offered to him, he felt like a prisoner before his judge — silent, fearful, out of countenance. He would have given all his knowledge of Latin to have displeased his Prince, and yet he must needs submit himself to a superior will, which had shown itself in so benevolent a manner.
“What!” said his wife Thecla, sharply, “can you hesitate a moment in accepting so splendid an offer? Consider that the future condition of your children is involved in it.”
“Do you positively and absolutely wish me to go?” inquired Sebaldus, with a mixture of grief and timidity.
“It is not I who wish it; it is your duty which commands you.”128
“Since it is so,” said the Schoolmaster sighing, “I resign myself to it,” and then, turning to Count Pilnitz, he added, —
“Let us set out, Mr. Chamberlain. Oh! allow me; I had forgotten my favourite author; and, besides, I must put up some linen and clothes to take with me.”
“Do not give yourself any trouble about that,” said the Chamberlain. “You will find your apartment amply supplied with all that is necessary, even to excess.”
All further delay being impossible, Sebaldus made no more attempts to resist. He bade good-bye to his wife and children, and then entered the carriage, which drove him rapidly towards Dresden, while the poor man thrust his head out at the window of the coach, to take another look at the village church and his own humble abode.
AT the hour when the schoolmaster arrived at the palace, the shades of evening enveloped Dresden, and showed to brilliant advantage the well-lit-up façade of the royal residence.
Guided by the Chamberlain, Sebaldus passed the sentinels, who presented arms to him, ascended a great stone staircase, and entered a suite of apartments, at the extremity of which the Elector was seated in an apartment of vast dimensions, and surrounded by a number of persons belonging to the Court.
Our ex-schoolmaster’s confusion would now have 129 risen to a painful extreme, had he not believed that all that he saw was a dream. He did not regain his senses until he saw the Prince, whose eye, impatiently directed towards the door, awaited the appearance of the future tutor of his sons. A smile of satisfaction on the Prince’s features, as the schoolmaster entered the room, showed how cordially he was welcomed to the palace; but his eye wandered vacantly among the various persons in the circle around him, and he never would have been able to recognise the Prince had not his Highness stepped forward, and holding out his hand cordially welcomed the poor man, at the same time saying, —
“Good evening, my dear Mr. Spurdzer; do you know me again?”
“Do I know you? Mr. Hanz — I beg pardon, your Highness, Monseigneur — ”
“Come, come, compose yourself. I can easily fancy that to pass all at once from your former retired and quiet style of living to that which you are now called upon to adopt, must seem rather strange and unpleasant; but you will soon become reconciled to a court life, and you will seem as if born and educated in it. I will now introduce you to your pupils.”
The Prince made a sign, and immediately two fine youths approached, of the ages of fifteen and twelve years. Their manner was cold, and even somewhat haughty; but they were dressed in a style uniting good taste and simplicity.
“My sons,” said the Elector, “I beg to introduce to you Mr. Spurdzer, a learned and good man, whom I have selected to complete your education. It was my wish that your new tutor should not resemble any other one; that he should possess that integrity and self-denial, together with those domestic virtues which are not now-a-days so seldom met with. It will 130 be your duty to show the same respect to Mr. Spurdzer as to myself; let him be to you as a second father, and by your good conduct make up to him for the loss of the society of his own sons, from whom he has parted in order to devote himself to the cultivation of your minds.”
The two young Princes listened very gravely to this brief speech, during the delivery of which Mr. Sebaldus had evinced much emotion. The elder replied to his father in a respectful tone as follows: —
“My father, your wishes are laws to us; depend upon it that we shall show the greatest deference to the distinguished and modest preceptor whom you have been so kind as to choose.”
Spurdzer, although a total stranger to the rules of etiquette, understood the necessity he was under of expressing his thanks, which he did in the following manner: —
“Sire, permit me to express to you my gratitude, which can only be equalled by my zeal. I hope to prove that your Highness’s confidence has not been misplaced.”
“I accept the presage of its fulfillment,” replied the Prince, who added in a whisper to the chamberlain, “The compliment is very prettily expressed, considering from whom it comes.”
After this official presentation the circle broke up, groups were formed, and a thousand conversations took place, the subject of which may be conjectured. As to Spurdzer, he became the object of so many greetings and polite attentions, that he was at a loss where to hide himself, in order to escape from so much warmth and friendliness.
That evening Mr. Sebaldus was the new star just risen on the horizon of court favour. How delighted our schoolmaster felt when he was at liberty to retire 131 to his own apartment! At the same time, on entering it, his feelings were not unmixed with an alloy of dread and melancholy. The sumptuously furnished rooms were a new world to him; in them were no old familiar aspects and corners; no sympathies with his past life. Where was the leathern arm-chair near the stove, the wooden clock, with its iron weights, alternately ascending and descending? Where, above all, was his long pipe, which it was so delightful for him to fill and smoke in the evenings? Farewell to the simple life which he led by his German fireside. Farewell to the caresses of his two dear boys. He even regretted the rude ways of Thecla his spouse, who after all had her better moments.
As he surveyed with restless curiosity his new abode, he perceived on a round table some volumes richly bound and symmetrically arranged, which attracted his attention as an amateur of books.
We shall not attempt to depict the utter astonishment which he felt at recognising (after looking at the titles and few pages of the books) his own manuscripts. Was this a miracle, or a continuation of the fairy tale commenced in the morning? What! — those papers to which their author attached no importance — how had they been conveyed from the obscure prison of his desk into a printer’s office? What hand had published them to the world? The poor man, frightened at the noise his name had made, asked himself if he, Spurdzer, had not perhaps had some hand in their publication; but all his ransacking of his memory was to no effect. He had no recollection of ever having taken any steps to obtain for his works the dangerous honour of being printed. Up to a certain point, therefore, he was justified in looking upon all that had happened to him as arising from magical arts, and in asking himself, 132 whether the devil had not had a hand in conveying him in to this palace in order to tempt him.
He passed the night in a very agitated state; his dreams were full of visions of horned monsters; his fevered imagination produced images, partly grotesque and partly terrible; nocturnal visits, in which figured the Elector, his sons, Thecla, Ovid, Cicero, courtiers, and simple villagers. In vain the dreamer, exhausted by the load of the night-mare, endeavoured to cry, “Stop, stop!” The visitors continued to whirl round, in a convulsive manner, in circles more and more rapid.
It was in this state of exhaustion, and at the same time of excessive excitement, that morning found him. He hoped to meet with some soothing to his agitated state, by reading a few pages of his favourite author, Tacitus; but he was prevented by being called to an early breakfast, and being told that his Highness the Prince expected to see him; so that he could not read a line, and finished his meal in haste, in order, with all possible speed, to wait on the Elector.
“Good morning, my dear Tutor,” said the Prince. “How have you slept?”
“I frankly confess to your Highness, very badly.”
“Well, I am not surprised at it; the life you lead here is so new to me, that it will cost me some trouble to accustom myself to it; and then new and surprising things are continually occurring to me.”
“How so?” inquired the Prince.
“Why, from a mere village schoolmaster, I find myself changed into a preceptor to two princes; from a humble cottage I am transported to a palace; and, in short, when I begin to look round my new apartment, what do I find? — My unworthy works, superbly printed and richly bound. This is what 133 perplexes me the most of all; for I shall never be persuaded that it was at any time my wish to see my writings published to the world, as they were merely written for my own individual satisfaction. Unless Satan himself has stolen my MSS. from me by night I cannot conceive —”
“Satan, or else your wife,” replied the Elector, laughing.
This new view of matters so confounded Spurdzer that he was unable to speak.
The Prince continued: —
“Let us talk seriously, my friend. I will not conceal from you the difficulties of your task. Born with very strong passions, especially with a pride which cannot bear control, my sons have not been trained up as carefully as I could wish. Their mother, who would have acted the part of an earthly guardian and guide to them, was taken from them too soon. Occupied with the cares of government, I have left Otto and Frederick in the hands of teachers who were not worthy the confidence which I reposed in them. Courtiers, but almost always wanting in self-respect and dignity, they winked at the freaks of my sons. While some preceptors were too indulgent, others were too severe, which is also a dangerous error. Between a passive indulgence and extreme severity a happy medium should be kept. I hope that your method of treating my sons will display these excellent qualities. During your whole life you have been engaged in the education of youth. You know how to direct, to enlighten, to control them. You are also a father. Your two sons love you, and respect you; and your two new scholars will also do the same. It will be your part to study their character; to oppose their waywardness, without losing your calmness and self-control. I make over my authority over them to you: make 134 a judicious use of it; and be assured that I shall not hesitate to see that justice is done to you on all occasions when any difficulty arises between you and the princes.”
Furnished with these instructions, the new tutor was introduced to his pupils.
“Oho!” said Otto, in a somewhat satirical tone, “here is Mr. Spurdzer; the learned Mr. Spurdzer.”
“All hail to Mr. Spurdzer!” said in his turn the roguish Frederick, looking through the eye-glass at the court-dress, which the schoolmaster wore in rather an awkward manner.
Mr. Spurdzer wished immediately to commence his duties, but met with the resistance which the Elector had stated.
“What a number of tutors!” exclaimed the elder youth; “they are in all haste to cram one without Greek and Latin: they consider us only machines to work at themes and versions. Living dictionaries; walking grammars; they give themselves no trouble about anything, except words. In our opinion, at least, this is not the true education. For a long time past, we have wished to have a tutor who would above all be our friend, who would not work us to death, nor weary the ears of our father with the detail of our slightest actions.”
“I understand you,” replied Mr. Spurdzer, in a quiet manner, blended with a degree of sarcasm; “you wish to have a tutor who should teach nothing, see nothing, say nothing, and be always satisfied with everything.
The two youths looked at each other; they perceived that Mr. Sebaldus, without intending to show much severity towards them, would not stoop to flattery and adulation.”
“Listen to me, Mr. Spurdzer,” Otto added, in a serious tone. “We understand each other perfectly, 135 although our language has been ambiguous. You have been prejudiced against us; you have been told to be firm, and at the same time it has been said that we have been badly educated.”
“Don’t deny it: for our part we shall be quite frank with you. The yoke of perfect regularity, of constant labour, would be to us insupportable. At our age, and in the rank in which we have the good fortune to be born, what we want is not so much to acquire knowledge, as to enjoy ourselves — not so much to have a tutor as a friend.”
The worthy Sebaldus became very melancholy at the anticipation of a struggle; for he felt his duty too deeply not to censure highly the confession of faith just made by Prince Otto in so very explicit a manner. Before the tutor could reply, the fencing-master entered the room, and Spurdzer was compelled to be present at this lesson, although deafened by the stamping of feet and the noise of voices. AA music lesson came next on the trumpet, which little suited Mr. Spurdzer’s organs of hearing: after that, dancing and horsemanship, all performed in his presence.
“Good heavens!” he exclaimed, “what a number of useless exercises! If the rulers of nations could dance as well as Monsieur Vestris, fence like Signor Angelo, play on the Saxe-horn like the Bohemian brothers, or ride as admirably as any Hungarian hussar, what the better would their subjects be for all that? Should the sons of the sovereign of Saxony be educated like mountebanks? Let them learn rather from the classical authors the art of governing nations; let them study the human heart: that is the true path, and away from if they are sure to be misled. I shall speak about it to his Highness.”
Unfortunately for our man of learning, the half of 136 his remarks were expressed aloud. Otto heard them, and replied sharply —
“You blame, then, the course pursued in our studies; in your opinion princes should neither know how to dance, to follow the chase, or sit on horseback. Excellent advice! Let us set to work, then, on Greek and Latin; we are quite ready. The day will have been well employed, I think, when all these tasks are done.”
As if the two brothers had agreed beforehand on the course they were to pursue, they committed no end of blunders in their themes and versions; so that poor Sebaldus, quite stupefied, asked himself whether he had to do with dolts and idiots. The elegant and intellectual countenances of the two princes gave the lie, however, to this supposition.
“Well,” said the Elector to the worthy Spurdzer, on the evening of this very laborious day, “are you satisfied with your pupils?”
“I scarcely know if I ought to confess to your Highness.”
“Speak freely, my friend, I did not conceal from you the turbulent character of my sons.”
“Oh, if that were all! —”
“What, then, is there besides?” asked the Elector, with looks expressing uneasiness.
“Your Highness told me to be frank and open. This, then, is the result of the first examination that I made of them: the Princes Otto and Frederick have the finest capacities for fencing, dancing, and horsemanship; but they are poor Latinists, and know not a single word of Greek.”
“You surprise me greatly: certainly I did not represent them to you as learned youths, but I doubt whether they are as ignorant as you think them.”
“In that case they have shown unwillingness,” replied Spurdzer.137
“That we must look into. However, as I told you, you may rely on my support.”
This prospect was but a poor satisfaction to our preceptor.
As for the princes, having been well reprimanded by their father, they conceived a hatred for the worthy Sebaldus, and resolved to play him all sorts of tricks. They immediately set to work, therefore, at this petty warfare of annoyance; and, unfortunately for their victim, their imaginations were singularly fertile in devising mischief. Sometimes, when seated in the carriage with their tutor, they lowered the windows so as to create a great current of air; and as soon as he began to complain of such imprudence, and to fear catching cold or rheumatism, they paid no more attention to him than if he had been talking Sanscrit. Sometimes, in their walks, the youths proceeded at such a rapid pace as to leave Sebaldus wearied behind them, and bawling himself hoarse in the vain attempt to moderate their rapidity. The good man had reason, also, to think himself very fortunate if he escaped being upset by some stool, slily placed so as to trip him up; or if the salt-cellar was not emptied in his soup. One night he was awoke by groans, and a frightful clanking of chains, and saw, by the pale light of his night-lamp, a phantom, clothed in long white garments. The poor man’s terror may be easily imagined. Motionless — speechless — his tongue rooted to the roof of his mouth — he lay with his eyes fixed on the apparition, which made many strange and threatening gestures.
“Master Spurdzer!” said the phantom, in a sepulchral tone, “quit this apartment, which you have profaned by your presence! Here, in this very place where you have lain, formerly reposed the brave knight Siegfrid de Walkenstern: — I am that knight! Here I was assassinated by my revolted vassals, and 138 since that crime no one but yourself has ventured to inhabit the Knight’s Chamber. Should you then another night sleep in this bed — death will be your portion, and by my hand.”
After this terrible threat the spectre vanished, without Sebaldus knowing by what means it had disappeared. Next night the schoolmaster was awoke by the same infernal noise which had surprised him so much before. Beginning to be tired, however, of such strange pranks, of which the smallest annoyance was that they prevented him from sleeping, he took the advice in confidence of an old military man, Captain Fritztroffen, commander of the guard at the palace, who said, with true soldierlike bluntness —
“Were I in our place, my dear Sir, I do not think these ghosts would trouble me long. However, if you like for your security to take this double-barreled pistol with you when you go to bed, you will easily be able to dispose of your unwelcome visitor. Ghosts don’t like the smell of gunpowder.”
Provided with this weapon, Sebaldus slept soundly. As on former nights, the noise of chains awoke him, and at once he perceived the ghost brandishing a sword. Sebaldus seized his pistol: — “Be off!” he said; “for if you don’t you shall receive two bullets in your ghostship.”
The phantom made a step backwards; but as if ashamed of this symptom of his weakness, it stepped up to Sebaldus, who pressing the lock with his finger fired off the pistol, which made an alarming report. A sigh was heard to follow; the ghost leaned against an elbow-chair, and then slowly moved away. While Sebaldus continued sitting up, unable to explain what had taken place, he heard a violent knocking at his door, and a voice crying out loudly, —139
“Open, open! in the name of his Highness!”
Spurdzer rose up, threw on hastily his night-gown, and opened the door of his bed-room. Several persons belonging to the palace now entered the apartment, among whom was the Count de Pilnitz, the chamberlain.
“What is the matter?” said the Count; — “have you been attacked? — was it you that fired? Speak! be quick!”
“Yes, Count; yes, I have been attacked; I fired, but gave due warning previously.”
“What do I see?” exclaimed the Count: “there is blood on this chair! and here is a sword on the floor; the affair is more serious than I supposed.”
After a little reflection, the Count added in a whisper to Captain Fritztroffen, “I comprehend the mystery: our brave tutor is not acquainted with a certain private door; come, Captain, come, and let us ascertain whether a frightful accident has not taken place.”
On the morrow, when Spurdzer went as usual to his royal pupils, to breakfast with them previously to commencing his instructions, he was astonished to see only Frederick.”
“Where is Prince Otto?” he asked, with instinctive uneasiness.
“My brother is slightly indisposed,” replied Frederick, with some hesitation.
“Wounded, perhaps,” added the schoolmaster, in an absent mood. The young Prince blushed extremely, and held down his head.
The poor man now understood the mystery of the preceding night, and was overwhelmed with the profoundest grief.
“What have I done to them!” he exclaimed, in tones of anguish; and his eyes filled with tears. “I, the most inoffensive of men! I never dreamed 140 of setting my foot within a palace. It was my sovereign who came to seek me; and when, thinking myself unworthy of so much honour, I endeavoured with all possible zeal to justify the confidence of that excellent Prince, his sons have conspired to ruin me. They have ridiculed and tormented me, without any regard to my age, or to the respect due to their father: nothing has stopped them. O heavens, what cruel trials I have been destined to suffer!”
Although naturally volatile, Frederick was touched, and said, —
“Don’t be disheartened, dear Preceptor, let the past be forgotten, I beg of you. You must make allowance for, and forgive the petulance of youth, and of our disposition. My brother has only been slightly wounded in the hand, and will be quite well in a few days.”
“I feel,” said Spurdzer, ‘that this adventure will increase the dislike entertained for me by Prince Otto.”
“Not at all,” replied Frederick: “the fault was all on our side; we wish to be on more friendly terms with you; so compose yourself, and come to breakfast.”
“Alas, alas!” thought Spurdzer to himself, “these fine promises will vanish like smoke. It was with truth that Phædrus wrote, —
‘Contra potentes nemo est munitus satis.’ ” *
Sebaldus’s grief of mind increased daily. Nothing had any effect — neither the ease of a soft and luxurious life, nor the unalterable friendship of the Elector. In the midst of the great lords and their valets, our hero found himself in a complete state of isolation. No one sympathized with him — no one bestowed upon 141 him those sweet names that the husband and the father loves to hear from the lips of his wife and his children. What Spurdzer wanted were two blessings that cannot be replaced — liberty and home!
Spurdzer was like a drowning man, who being on the point of sinking, lays hold on the water by which he is surrounded, but which yields no support to the death-grasp of his hand. In like manner, the tutor had looked around him for an element of happiness, a friend, a source of amusement, but in vain. His pupils had no regard for him; and the lessons which he imparted to them, as they were given with indifference, they were received with weariness. Such a position was intolerable; and while many envied Spurdzer’s lot, he himself only meditated how to escape from his prison-house. The enterprise was not easy; and two months, two long months, passed without the proper moment presenting itself.
AT length came the celebration of the sovereign’s birth-day. At the first sound of the cannon, joy was diffused throughout all the city; flags with devices were suspended from the windows, and garlands of lowers were hung above the doors of the houses. Crowds of people in their best attire filled the streets, where nothing was heard but national songs and acclamations. At the approach of night, all the public monuments were illuminated, and the royal park was opened to the multitude, which poured in 142 and soon filled all its space. At nine o’clock at night magnificent fire-works were let off in the vicinity of a large lake, and eclipsed the stars with their fiery jets. The pleasures of the people were followed by those of the Court, and scarcely was the last rocket extinguished when a grand ball commenced at the palace.
Sebaldus waited for this moment with the impatience of a schoolboy who is looking forward to the holidays. Under the pretext of a head-ache, he shut himself up in his room. He then took from a clothes-press the simple attire which he wore when he first came to the palace. With what delight he put off his fine embroidered suit. He felt as if chains had fallen from his limbs — as if a heavy weight had been removed from his breast.
“I am at length myself!” he exclaimed, walking about with free and ample strides. “I have become a freeman, and now resume my dignity as man! Long live liberty!” So excited was the worthy man by the hope of a speedy escape, that he scarcely knew what he was about.
The hour of ten struck on the palace clock: Sebaldus listened with palpitating breast.
“Now, or never!” he exclaimed.
Laying down on the table a letter of apology addressed to the Elector, written some time before, he extinguished the lights, and going out with cautious footsteps, he descended a staircase belonging to the servants, and reached the park, where mixing with the crowd it was easy for him to make his escape. He soon passed through Dresden, the gates of which, for this night only in the year, were left open, and did not breathe freely until he inhaled the fresh air of the country.
His journey was long, and was performed without lingering a moment. The feeling which prompted 143 him was of too intense a nature to allow of his experiencing any fatigue. It is truly on such occasions that the body becomes the willing slave of the mind. When the spire of Lanterbruck, was first seen by him ascending above the horizon, he uttered a cry of delight, and tears flowed from his eyes. “Dear village church, dear as life, and as memory! I left all that I possessed here, and am now about to find it again, God be praised! May He support my strength, for the weight of this emotion is overpowering; the sight of this church has given me pleasure beyond expression.”
The good Spurdzer leaned against a tree, and took breath. His eager glance sought to penetrate distance, to discover some other well-known objects. A few minutes afterwards our pilgrim knocked at the door of his house, conning over in his mind the following impromptu lines: —
“Paternal mansion, where my childhood grew,
Enchanting landscape, friend to science too;
Dear witnesses of joys of other days,
Again on all your cherish’d scenes I gaze!”
“What! is it you, Sebaldus?” exclaimed Mistress Thecla. “No, it is impossible; my eyes deceive me.”
“Yes, Thecla, it is your poor husband, who returns to quit you no more; your husband, who has soon become tired of his honours, for they had to be paid for by sacrificing independence. Willingly, gladly, do I say to you, in the words of the French song, —
“Ouvrez-moi la porte,
Pour l’amour de Dieu.”
During this short space of time, Mrs. Spurdzer’s countenance had successively assumed all the colours of the rainbow — white, yellow, red, &c.; and while Sebaldus was speaking, she could scarcely refrain from expressing, with all the force of her clenched fists, the violence of her indignation. At length, 144 however, she found breath sufficient to tell her mind, in the following words: —
“How dare you assign such reasons for your return? What! when your sovereign condescended to fetch you from your school; when he overwhelmed you with acts of kindness; is this all the return you can make him? You would not behave so to a private individual, and yet you treat a prince of such a generous character in this careless and disgraceful manner! I could well-nigh wish that a fever had shut you up in your bed when your brain was hatching this precious plan of flight.”
Master Sebaldus, who was no stranger to such domestic storms, maintained a heroic composure amidst this torrent of reproach. When he saw a favourable moment for saying a word, his wife being now nearly exhausted and breathless, he replied, —
“Gently, Thecla, gently; your warmth is leading you too far. When did you ever see the quail seeking to lead the eagle? You may think the comparison a lofty one, but it is still true that the wife ought to respect the wishes of her husband. I appeal to your own common sense: how are you able to judge of the troubles I have met with in such numbers since I was shut up in my gilded prison? Yes, our sovereign is the best of men; but his sons have restless, quarrelsome, haughty tempers, totally opposite to my own disposition; and life in a palace is a continual struggle. It was certainly to courtiers that Job addressed himself when he said, Vita hominis militia est.” †
While Sebaldus thus spoke, reflection, the great moderator of anger, came to Thecla’s assistance, and helped to change her temper. Submitting therefore to the law of necessity, Mrs. Spurdzer permitted her husband to enter his house, and provided him with 145 a village breakfast, which seemed to him of an exquisite relish. At every moment he burst out into praises of the first-rate quality of the bacon, and the delicious taste of the sour crout. His wife could not express her astonishment enough, to see his enormous appetite. Why, you eat,” she said, “as if you had not tasted food for a month.”
“As to that,” Spurdzer replied, “since I left home my appetite left me; freedom, the best sauce to food, was wanting. I would not accept the Prince’s finest dinners for this dish now before me, which I think the best in the world, but which no doubt every courtier would disdain to touch.”
To all these philosophical reflections, very estimable no doubt, and also extremely disinterested, Mrs. Spurdzer gave no other reply than by shaking her head. Had she been in her husband’s pace, however, she would certainly have continued at the palace; and she thought very lightly of the country sour crout.
“Where are our sons?” inquired Sebaldus.
“Where is your memory, I may rather ask?” replied Thecla; “have you forgotten that his Highness was so extremely kind as to send them to the University of Leipzig?”
“True, true; forgive me, Thecla, my vexations have so worried me as to make me lose my recollection.”
“Very well,” she replied; “but since you have mentioned your sons, are you not afraid lest they should be sent back to you?”
“In that case I shall finish their education myself.”
“But you do not reflect, unfortunate man that you are, how angry the Elector no doubt is with you at this very moment. Perhaps he has even given orders for your arrest.”
“You make me shudder,” said the schoolmaster, 146 in a voice of true German indifference. “Well, then, I shall take speedy advantage of the present time to pay a little visit to my dear poetical retreat.” In an hour’s time I shall return. Do you in the meanwhile open the class-room for the scholars, and tell every one that I am ready to receive my former pupils. This walk to the fountain of the Muses will revive me.”
So saying, Sebaldus put on his straw-hat, placed his Tacitus under his arm as before, having carefully brought his copy of the historian with him from the palace, and walked slowly towards the banks of the Elbe, enjoying the breeze, the sunshine, the verdure, and all the well-known and beloved prospects. Just when he had nearly reached the little turf-clad mound on which he was accustomed to sit, and read, and meditate, repeating aloud the well-known adage — Felices nimium, sua si bona norint‡ — he trembled and shook, and uttered a loud cry, for a man had seated himself on the hillock, and that man, who turned round his head, was — Hanz!
Spurdzer was petrified with astonishment. The figure of Medusa, or the approach of a boa constrictor could not have filled him with greater horror, which rose to such a pitch that his precious book escaped from his hold and fell on the ground. Sebaldus, throwing himself on his knees, seized the book and said, with a voice half choked with emotion, “Will you ever forgive me, gracious Sovereign?” “I have come here expressly for that purpose,” replied the Prince, in a tone evincing the most exquisite goodness. “You have formed a wrong opinion of me, my dear Sebaldus, in thinking that I should look upon your flight as a crime. The reasons assigned by you in your letter would have softened 147 the hardest heart. Take back your liberty, which is so dear to you. The atmosphere of a court does not agree with a man of your disposition.”
“Will you, then condescend to permit me?”
“Certainly, I will permit you to follow your former peaceful career. But I will continue to protect you, and your sons shall pursue their studies as usual. It is time to think of their future prospects; I will see to that. Why do you weep?”
“My tears arise from a sense of your goodness. I am unworthy of such favours.”
“And ought I not to repair, as far as possible, the unthinking conduct of the pupils that I thrust upon you? Otto and Frederick are about setting off on their travels in France. I trust that by this means the too great vivacity and forwardness of their characters will be corrected. Adieu, my dear Sir; peruse at your ease your favourite authors, take your walks in peace, and be assured that I shall be happy to contribute to your happiness.”
“O my Prince! my gratitude will cease only with my life,” Sebaldus exclaimed, throwing himself at his Highness’s feet.
On Sebaldus looking up, he saw that the Elector had proceeded on his way some distance; and when he was now out of sight, Spurdzer hastily returned home to tell everything to his wife, whose mind was now set at ease respecting her husband’s freak.
That very day Sebaldus triumphantly ascended his professional chair, amidst the acclamations of his scholars, who hastened to return to his school, and he said to them: —
“My children, if my memory is correct, we were at that passage in Quintus Curtius, where the historian is relating the battle of Arbela.”
“Yes, yes, that was the place!” they all shouted out in chorus.148
“It is surprising,” said one of them, “that you should recollect this lesson so well.”
“O William,” replied Master Sebaldus; “know that we always remember the things we love. Thus, listen to me attentively, my friends: —
“Alexander, ut supra dictum est, inhibito suorum cursu, ad Lycum amnem pervenerat, ubi ingens multitudo . . .” §
* Against the powerful no one is sufficiently secured.
† The life of man is a warfare.
‡ Too happy, if they but knew their happiness.
§ Alexander, as was related before, having stopped the march of his troops, reached the river Lycus, where a great multitude . . . .
This was first published by Burns and Oates in The Adventures of a Schoolmaster and other Tales, in 1858, and reprinted in this collection. I cannot find any other version of the story in another language. However, it seems that it was plagiarized whole-hog, six years after it was first published in England, in 1858, by The American Educational Monthly for the School and the Family, Volume I, New York: Schermerhorn, Bancroft, & Co. It was published in serial form, beginning with No. 1, January, 1864, and ending with the March issue. Nice example of academic honesty, eh?