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From The World’s Wit and Humor, Vol. XII, German Wit and Humor; The Review of Reviews Company; New York; 1906; pp. 24-43.


Ephraim Lessing [1729-1781]:

Chevalier Riccaut de la Marlinière


Ric.  (before he enters.)  Est-il permis, Monsieur le Major?

Fran.  Who is that? Any one for us?

(Going to the door.)

Ric.  Parbleu! I am wrong. Mais non — I am not wrong. C’est la chambre ——

Fran.  Without doubt, your Ladyship, this gentleman expects of find Major von Tellheim here still.

Ric.  Oui, dat is it! Le Major de Tellheim. Juste, ma belle enfant, c’est lui que je cherche. Où est-il?

Fran.  He does not lodge here any longer.

Ric.  Comment? Dere is four-and-twenty hour ago he did lodge here, and not lodge here any more? Where lodge he den?

Min.  Sir ——

Ric.  Ah! madame, mademoiselle, pardon!

Min.  Sir, your mistake is quite excusable and your astonishment very natural. Major von Tellheim has had the kindness to give up his apartments to me, as a stranger, who was not able to get any elsewhere.

Ric.  Ah! voilà de ses politesses! C’est un très-galant homme que ce major!

Min.  Where has he gone now? I am ashamed to say that I do not know.


Ric.  Madame not know? C’est dommage! j’en suis fâché.

Min.  I certainly ought to have inquired. Of course his friends will seek him here.

Ric.  I am very great his friend, madame.

Min.  Franziska, do you not know?

Fran.  No, your Ladyship.

Ric.  It is vary nécessaire dat I speak him. I come and bring him a nouvelle, of which he will be vary much at ease.

Min.  I regret it so much the more. But I hope to see him shortly, perhaps. If it is a matter of indifference from whom he hears this good news, I would offer, sir ——

Ric.  I comprehend, Mademoiselle parle français? Mais sans doute, telle que je la vois! La demande était bien impolie; vous me pardonnerez, mademoiselle.

Min.  Sir ——

Ric.  No! You not speak French, madame?

Min.  Sir, in France I would endeavor to do so; but why here? I perceive that you understand me, sir; and I, sir, shall doubtless understand you. Speak as you please.

Ric.  Good! Good! I can also explain me in your langue. Sachez donc, mademoiselle, you must know, madame, dat I come from de table of de ministre, ministre, ministre —  What is le ministre out dere, in de long street, on de broad place?

Min.  I am a perfect stranger here.

Ric.  Si, le ministre of de War Departement. Dere I have eat my dinner. I ordinary dine dere, and de conversation did fall on Major Tellheim; et le ministre m’a dit en confidence — car son Excellence est de mes amis, et il n’y a point de mystères entre nous — son Excellence, I say, has 26 trust to me, dat l’affaire from our major is on de point to end, and to end good. He has made a rapport to de king, and de king has resolved et tout à fait en faveur du major. “Monsieur,” m’a dit son Excellence, “vous comprenez bien, que tout dépend de la manière dont on fait envisager les choses au roi, et vous me connaissez. C’est un très-joli garçon que ce Tellhiem, et ne sais-je pas que vous l’aimez? Les amis de mes amis sont aussi les miens. Il coûte un peu cher au roi ce Tellheim mais est-ce que l’on sert les rois pour rien? Il faut s’entr’aider dans ce monde; et quand il s’agit de pertes, que ce soit le roi que en fasse, et non pas un honnête homme de nous autres. Voilà le principe dont je ne me dépars jamais.” But what say madame to it? N’est ce pas, dat is a fine fellow! Ah! que son Excellence a le cœur bien placé! He assure me au reste, if de major has not reçu already une lettre de la main — a royal letter, dat to-day infailliblement must he receive one.

Min.  Certainly, sir, this news will be most welcome to Major von Tellheim. I should like to be able to name the friend to him who takes such an interest in his welfare.

Ric.  Madame, you wish my name? Vous voyez en moi — you see in me, le Chevalier Riccaut de la Marlinière, Seigneur de Prêt-au-Val, de la branche de Prens d’Or. You remain astonished to hear me from so great, great a family, qui est véritablement du sang royal. Il faut le dire: je suis sans doute le cadet le plus aventureux que la maison n’a jamais eu. I serve from my eleven year. Une affair d’honneur make me flee. Den I serve de holy Pope of Rome, den de republic St. Marino, den de Poles, den de States-General, till enfin I am brought here. Ah, mademoiselle, que je voudrais n’avoir jamais vu ce pays-ci! Had one left me in de service of de States-General, should I be now at least 27 colonel. But here always to remain capitaine, and now also a discharged capitaine!

Min.  That is bad luck.

Ric.  Oui, mademoiselle, me voilà réformé, et par là mis sur le pavé!

Min.  I am very sorry for you.

Ric.  Vous êtes bien bonne, mademoiselle. No, merit have no reward here. Réformer a man, like me. A man who also have ruin himself in dis service. I have lost in it so much as twenty thousand livres. What have I now? Tranchons le mot: not one sou have I, et me voilà exactement opposite to notting at all in my pocket.

Min.  I am exceedingly sorry.

Ric.  Vous êtes bien bonne, mademoiselle. But as one say, misfortune never come alone! Qu’un malheur ne vient jamais seul — so it arrive with me. What ressource rests for an honnête homme of my extraction, but cards? Now I always played with luck, so long I not need her. Now I very much need her, je joue avec un guignon, mademoiselle, qui surpasse toute croyance. For fifteen days, not one is passed dat I always am broke. Yesterday I was broke dree times. Je sais bien, qu’il y avait quelque chose de plus que le jeu. Dere was also dere certaines dames. I will not speak more. One must be very galant to les dames. Dey have invite me again to-day, to give me revanche. Mais — vous m’entendez, mademoiselle — one must first have to live, before one can have to play.

Min.  I hope, sir ——

Ric.  Vous êtes bien bonne, mademoiselle.

Min.  (takes FRANZISKA aside.)  Franziska, I really feel for the man. Would he take it ill if I offered him something?


Fran.  He does not look to me like a man who would.

Min.  Very well. Sir, I perceive that — you play, that you keep the bank, doubtless in places where something is to be won. I must also confess that I am very fond of cards — that ——

Ric.  Tant mieux, mademoiselle, tant mieux! Tous les gens d’esprit aiment le jeu à la fureur.

Min.  — that I am very fond of winning; that I like to trust my money to a man who — knows how to play. Are you inclined, sir, to let me join you — to let me have a share in your bank?

Ric.  Comment, mademoiselle, vous voulez être de moitié avec moi? De tout mon cœur!

Min.  At first, only with a trifle.

(Opens her desk and takes out some money.)

Ric.  Ah, mademoiselle, que vous êtes charmante!

Min.  Here is what I won a short time ago — only ten pistoles. I am ashamed, so little ——

Ric.  Donnez toujours, mademoiselle, donnez. (Takes it.)

Min.  Without doubt, your bank, sir, is very considerable.

Ric.  Oh, yes, vary considerable. Ten pistoles! You shall have madame, an interest in my bank for one-tird, pour le tiers. Yes, one-tird part of it shall be — something more. With a beautiful lady one must not be too exac. I rejoice myself to make by dat a liaison avec madame, et de ce moment je recommence à bien augurer de ma fortune.

Min.  But I cannot be present, sir, when you play.

Ric.  For why it nécessaire dat you be present? We otter players are honorable people between us.

Min.  If we are fortunate, sir, you will, of course, bring me my share. If we are unfortunate ——

Ric.  I come to bring recruits, n’est ce pas, madame?


Min.  In time recruits might fail. Manage our money well, sir.

Ric.  What does madame tink me — a simpleton, a stupid devil?

Min.  I beg your pardon.

Ric.  Je suis des bons, mademoiselle. Savez vous ce que cela veut dire? I am of de quite practised ——

Min.  But still, sir ——

Ric.  I know one trick or two ——

Min.  (amazed).  Could you?

Ric.  Je file la carte avec une adresse ——

Min.  Never!

Ric.  Je sais sauter la coupe avec une dextérité ——

Min.  You surely would not, sir ——

Ric.  What not, madame — what not? Donnez-moi a pigeon for to be pluck, and ——

Min.  Play false? Cheat?

Ric.  Comment, mademoiselle? You call dat to cheat? To correct da fortune, l’enchaîner sous ses doigts, être sûr de son fait — dat you call to cheat? To cheat! Oh, what a poor language is your language. What an awkward language!

Min.  Nor, sir, if you think so ——

Ric.  Laissez-moi faire, mademoiselle, and be tranquille! What matter to you how I play? Enough! To-morrow, madame, you see me again or with hundred pistoles, or you see me no more. Votre très-humble, mademoiselle, votre très-humble.

— “Minna von Barnhelm.


The Ape and the Fox

“NAME me an animal, though never so skilful, that I cannot imitate!” So bragged the ape to the fox.

But the fox replied:

“And do thou name me an animal so humble as to think of imitating thee!”

Writers of my country, need I explain myself more fully?

— “Fables.

Zeus and the Horse

“FATHER of beasts and of men” — so spake the horse, approaching the throne of Zeus — “I am said to be one of the most beautiful animals with which thou hast adorned the world; and my self-love leads me to believe it. Nevertheless, might not some things in me still be improved?”

“And what in thee, thinkest thou, admits of improvement? Speak! I am open to instruction,” said the indulgent god with a smile.

“Perhaps,” returned the horse, “I should be fleeter if my legs were taller and thinner. A long swan-neck would not disfigure me. A broader breast would add to my strength. And since thou hast once for all destined me to bear thy favorite, man, the saddle which the well-meaning rider puts upon me might be created a part of me.”

“Good!” replied Zeus; “wait a moment.”

Zeus, with earnest countenance, pronounced the creative word. Then flowed life into the dust; then organized matter combined; and suddenly stood before the throne the ugly camel.


The horse saw, shuddered, and trembled with fear and abhorrence.

“Here,” said Zeus, “are taller and thinner legs; here is a long swan-neck; here is a broader breast; here is the created saddle! Wilt thou, horse, that I should transform thee after this fashion?”

The horse still trembled.

“Go!” continued Zeus. “Be instructed, for this once, without being punished. But to remind thee, with occasional compunction, of thy presumption, do thou, new creation, continued!”

Zeus cast a preserving glance on the camel: “Never shall the horse behold thee without shuddering.”

— “Fables.

The Raven

THE raven remarked that the eagle sat thirty days upon her eggs. “That, undoubtedly,” said she, “is the reason why the young of the eagle are so all-seeing and strong. Good! I will do the same.”

And, since then, the raven actually sits thirty days upon her eggs; but, as yet, she has hatched nothing but miserable ravens.”

— “Fables.

The Decorated Bow

A MAN had an excellent bow of ebony, with which he shot very far and very sure, and which he valued at a great price. But once, after considering it attentively, he said:

“A little too rude still! Your only ornament is your polish. It is a pity! However, that can be remedied,” thought he. 32 “I will go and let a first-rate artist carve something on the bow.”

He went, and that artist carved an entire hunting-scene upon the bow. And what more fitting for a bow than a hunting-scene?

The man was delighted. “You deserve this embellishment, my beloved bow.” So saying, he wished to try it.

He drew the string. The bow broke!

— “Fables.

The Peacocks and the Crow

A VAIN crow adorned herself with the feathers of the richly tinted peacocks which they had shed, and when she thought herself sufficiently tricked out, mixed boldly with these splendid birds of Juno.

She was recognized, and quickly the peacocks fell upon her with sharp bills, to pluck the lying disguise from her.

“Cease now!” she cried at length, “you shall have your own again!”

But the peacocks who had observed some of the crow’s own shining wing-feathers, replied:

“Be still, wretched fool! These, too, cannot be yours!”

And they continued to peck at her.

— “Fables.


YOUNG Stirps as any lord is proud,
Vain, haughty, insolent, and loud;
Games, drinks, and in the full career
Of vice compares with any peer;
33 Seduces daughters wives, and mothers;
Spends his own cash, and that of others;
Pays like a lord — that is to say,
He never condescends to pay,
But bangs his creditor in requital.
And yet this blockhead wears a title.

From the grave where dead Gripeall, the miser, reposes,
What a villainous odor invades our noses!
It can’t be his body alone — in the hole
They have certainly buried the usurer’s soul.

While Fell was reposing himself on the hay,
A reptile conceal’d bit his leg as he lay;
But all venom himself, of the wound he made light,
And got well, while the scorpion died of the bite.

So vain your grimace, and so croaking your speech,
     One scarcely can tell if you’re laughing or crying;
Were you fix’d on one’s funeral sermon to preach,
     The bare apprehension would keep me from dying.

How plain your little darling says “Mama,”
But still she calls you “Doctor,” not “Papa.”
One thing is clear: your conscientious rib
Has not yet taught the pretty dear to fib.

So slowly you walk, and so quickly you eat,
You should march with your mouth, and devour with your


Quoth gallant Fritz, “I ran away
To fight again another day.”
The meaning of his speech is plain,
He only fled to fly again.

“How strange, a deaf wife to prefer!
“True but she’s also dumb, good sir.”

An Academical Lover


An.  (aside).  I cannot leave these people alone in this way. — Herr Valer asks whether you are in your room. Are you still here, Herr Damis?

Da.  Just tell me, you ignorant lout, have you made it your special object to-day to annoy me?

Lis.  Let him stay there, Herr Damis. He will not keep away, you’ll see.

An.  Yes, now I shall stay; now, perhaps, when what I must not hear or see is already over.

Da.  What is over?

An.  You know very well.

Lis.  (whispering).  Help me, Anton, to make Juliane as black as we can in your master’s estimation. Will you?

An.  Yes, very likely; by way of gratitude, perhaps ——

Lis.  Hold your tongue, then, at any rate. I am sure, Herr Damis, you will get on ill with Juliane. I feel pity for you beforehand. The whole world does not contain a worse girl ——


An.  don’t believe it, Herr Damis; Juliane is a right good girl. You could not get on better with any one in the world. I wish you happiness with her.

Lis.  Really? You must be very kindly disposed toward your master, when you want to hang such an intolerable nuisance round his neck.

An.  And you must be a good deal more kindly disposed toward your young mistress, when you grudge her so good a husband as Herr Damis will prove.

Lis.  A good husband! To be sure, a good husband is all she desire. A man who will permit everything ——

An.  Ho-ho! Everything? Do you hear, Herr Damis, for what Lisette takes you? On this account you would like to be his wife yourself, I suppose? Everything, eh?

Da.  But seriously, Lisette, do you believe your young lady will make a thoroughly bad wife? Has she really many bad qualities?

Lis.  Many? She has all that any one can have, not excepting those which contradict one another.

Da.  Will you not give me a list of them?

Lis.  What shall I begin with? She is silly.

Da.  A trifle.

An.  And I say, a lie!

Lis.  She is quarrelsome.

Da.  A trifle.

An.  And I say, a lie!

Lis.  She is vain.

Da.  A trifle.

An.  A lie! say I.

Lis.  She is not a good housekeeper.

Da.  A trifle.

An.  A lie!


Lis.  She will ruin you by her extravagance, and by parties and suppers.

Da.  A trifle.

An.  A lie!

Lis.  She will hang the anxiety of a host of children on your neck for you.

Da.  A trifle.

An.  The best wives are the first to do that.

Lis.  But children who are not your own.

Da.  A trifle.

An.  And a trifle, too, that is fashionable!

Lis.  A trifle? What do you mean, Herr Damis?

Da.  I mean that Juliane cannot be bad enough. Is she silly? I am so much the more sensible. Is she quarrelsome? I am so much the calmer. Is she vain? I am so much the more philosophical. Is she lavish? She will stop when her money is gone. Is she prolific? Then let her see what she can do if she tries to get the better of me. One must immortalize oneself as one can — woman through children, men through books.

An.  But don’t you see that Lisette must have an object in slandering Juliane in his way?

Da.  Oh, of course I do. She does not grudge me to her, and therefore describes her completely in accordance with my taste. She has no doubt concluded that I will only marry her mistress because she is the most unbearable of girls.

Lis.  Only for that? Only for that? I have concluded that? I must have supposed you weak in the head, then. Just consider ——

Da.  You go too far, Lisette! Do you give me no credit for thinking at all? What I have said is the result of only too severe thought. Yes, it is settled. I mean to increase 37 the number of the apparently unhappy men of learning who have married bad wives. This resolution of mine is not sudden.

An.  Well, really! What is there the devil can’t do? Who ever would have dreamed of it? And not it is to become true! It makes me laugh! Lisette wanted to draw him out of the marriage, and only urged him the more to it, and I wanted to urge him into it, and would soon have dissuaded him from it.

Da.  One must marry at some time or other. I cannot rely on getting a thoroughly good wife, so I choose a thoroughly bad one. A wife of the ordinary kind, who is neither cold nor warm, neither very good nor very bad, is of no use to a scholar, of no use whatever. Who will concern himself about her after his death? And yet he deserves that his whole house shall be immortal with himself. If I can’t have a wife who will one day find a place in a treatise De bonis eruditorum uxoribus, I will at least have one with whose name an industrious man may enlarge his collection De malis eruditorum uxoribus. Yes, yes — besides, I owe it to my father, as his only son, to exercise the most careful consideration for the maintenance of his name.

Lis.  I can hardly get over my astonishment! I used to consider you Herr Damis, such a great soul ——

Da.  And not wrongly. In this very matter I consider that I give the strongest proof of it.

Lis.  I could almost burst! Yes, yes, the strongest proof that no one is so hard to catch as a young scholar — not so much on account of his insight and shrewdness, as of his folly.

Da.  What impertinence! A young scholar! A young scholar!


Lis.  I will spare you any rebukes, Valer shall at once have intelligence of all. Your servant.


An.  There! you see, she runs off now, as you won’t dance to her piping.

Da.  Mulier, non homo! I shall soon accept this paradox as truth. By what does one show that one is a human being — by reason? By what does one show that one has reason? When one knows how to value learning and the learned properly. A woman can never do this, and therefore she has no reason, and therefore is not a human bring. Yes, indeed, yes. In this paradox lies more truth than in twenty manuals.

An.  What was I saying? Did I not tell you that Herr Valer has been asking for you? Won’t you go and speak to him?

Da.  Valer? I will wait for him. The time when he stood high in my esteem is past. He has laid his books aside for some years. He has had the notion put into his head that one must give oneself the last finish by social intercourse and knowledge of the world, to render useful service to the state. What more can I do than pity him? And yet I shall at last have to feel ashamed of him too. I shall have to feel ashamed of having ever held him worthy of my friendship. Oh, how exacting one ought to be in one’s friendships! Yet what has it availed me that I have been so in the highest degree? In vain have I avoided all acquaintance with mediocre persons, in vain have I striven to associate only with genius, only with original minds. Notwithstanding this, Valer deceived me under the mask of such a one. Oh, Valer, Valer!

An.  Let it be loud enough, if he is to hear it.

Da.  I could have burst with rage at his cold compliments. 39 What did he talk with me about? Frivolous trifles. And yet he came from Berlin, and might have been the first to inform me of the most pleasing of all news. Oh, Valer, Valer!

An.  Hush! He is coming, really. You see he does not like to be called three times.

Enter VALER.

Va.  Pardon me, dearest friend, for disturbing you in your studious tranquillity ——

An.  (aside).  He had better say “idleness” at once.

Da.  Disturbing? Do I imagine you would come to disturb me? No, Valer, I know you too well; you come to bring me the most pleasing news, which is worthy of the attention of a scholar who is expecting his reward — A chair, Anton! — Sit down.

Va.  You are mistaken, my dear friend. I come to complain of your father’s fickleness. I come to ask an explanation from you, on which my whole happiness will depend.

Da.  Oh, I could see at once, from your manner, that my fathers presence had prevented you from speaking to me more confidentially and expressing your joy to me, at the honor which the just decision of the Academy ——

Va.  No, my all too learned friend, let us speak for a moment of something less indifferent.

Da.  Something less indifferent? Then is my honor a matter of indifference to you? False friend!

Va.  That title will befit you if you keep me any longer from that which, for a tender heart, is all important. Is it true that you wish to marry Juliane, and that your father means to bind this too fond girl by bonds of gratitude 40 to act less freely in her choice? Have I ever made a secret with you of my love for Juliane? Have you not always promised me to assist my love?

Da.  You are getting warm, Valer, and forget that the cause is a woman. Put this trifle out of your thoughts. You must have been in Berlin when the Academy adjudged the prize for this year. The subject was “The Monads.” Did you not happen to hear that the motto ——

Va.  How cruel you are, Damis! Answer me, do!

Da.  And you won’t answer me? Think. Has not the prize been assigned to the motto Unum est necessarium? I flatter myself at least ——

Va.  I shall soon flatter myself about nothing at all when I see you so evasive. I shall soon have to believe, too, that the report which I took for a joke of Lisette’s is true. You consider Juliane unworthy of you, you hold her to be the shame of her sex, and for this very reason you are going to marry her. What a monstrous idea!

Da.  Ha-ha-ha!

Va.  Yes, laugh on, Damis, laugh on. I am a fool for being able to believe such folly of you for a moment. Either you have made fun of Lisete, or she has made fun of me. No; such a resolution could only enter a disordered brain. To hold it in abhorrence one would need only to think reasonably — without thinking nobly — as we know you are in the habit of doing. But, I implore you, solve this dreadful riddle for me!

Da.  You will soon succeed, Valer, in drawing my attention to your gossip. So you really desire that I should subordinate my ambition to your silly fancy? My ambition! However, I prefer to believe you are joking. You wish to see if I, too, am unstable in my resolutions.


Va.  I joking? Cursed be any joke that enters my mind!

Da.  I shall be the better pleased if you will talk seriously. What I say to you is, the paper with the motto Unum est necessarium ——


Chrys.  (with a newspaper in his hand).  Well, is it not so, Herr Valer? My son is not to be dissuaded from the marriage. Don’t you see that it is not so much I, as he, who is bent on this marriage?

Da.  I! I bent on the marriage?

Chrys.  Hist, hist!

Da.  What does “Hist, hist!” mean? My honor suffers in this. Might not peple think that I cared who knows how much for a wife?

Chrys.  Hist, hist!

Va.  Oh, pray don’t stand upon ceremony! I see it well enough. You are both against me. What ill-fortune it is which brought me into this house! I meet an agreeable woman, I please her, and yet in the end I must relinquish all my hopes. Damis, if I ever had any right to your friendship ——

Da.  But isn’t it so, Valer? For one thing one must complain of the Berlin Academy. Just think, in future the subjects for the prize essays will be made known two years previously. Why two years? Wasn’t one enough? Are the Germans so slow? I have been sending in my treatise every year, but, without boasting, I have never worked at it more than a week.

Chrys.  But do you know, good people, what has occurred in the Netherlands/ I have the very latest newspaper here. They have come to blows pretty smartly. I really 42 am quite angry with the allies. Haven’t they made a strange business of it again?

An.  Now, there they are, all three talking about different things. The one talks of love, another of his treatises, and the third of war. If I, too, am to talk about anything special, it shall be about supper. To fast from midday till six o’clock in the afternoon is no joke.

Va.  Unhappy love!

Da.  That blundering Academy!

Chrys.  Those stupid allies!

An.  The fourth voice is still wanting: that dawdling cook!


Lis.  Well Herr Chrysander, I thought you were gone to call the gentlemen to supper, but I see you want to be called yourself. Supper is already on the table.

An.  It was high time. Heaven be praised!

Chrys.  Quite true, quite true; I had almost forgotten it altogether. The newsman stopped me on the stairs. Come, Herr Valer; we will consider the present state of the country together over a glass of something. Put Juliane out of your head. And you, my son, may chat with your bride. You will have a capital wife; not such a Xantippe as ——

Da.  Xantippe? How do you mean? Are you, too, still under the popular delusion that Xantippe was a bad wife?

Chrys.  Do you mean to consider her a good one, then? You surely are not going to defend Xantippe! Pshaw! That is a childish mistake. I believe the more you scholars learn, the more you forget.

Da.  I maintain, however, that you cannot produce a single valid piece of evidence for your view. That is the first 43 thing which makes the whole matter suspicious, and for the rest ——

Lis.  This everlasting palaver!

Chrys.  Lisette is right. My son, contra principia negantem non est disputandum. Come to supper!

— “The Young Scholar.


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