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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDiary Of A Pilgrimage - Tuesday, The 27th
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Diary Of A Pilgrimage - Tuesday, The 27th Post by :tycoon88 Category :Long Stories Author :Jerome K Jerome Date :May 2012 Read :1718

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Diary Of A Pilgrimage - Tuesday, The 27th

A Pleasant Morning.--What can one Say about the Passion Play?--B. Lectures.--Unreliable Description of Ober-Ammergau.--Exaggerated Description of its Weather.--Possibly Untruthful Account of how the Passion Play came to be Played.--A Good Face.--The Cultured Schoolboy and his Ignorant Relations.

I am lying in bed, or, to speak more truthfully, I am sitting up on a green satin, lace-covered pillow, writing these notes. A green satin, lace-covered bed is on the floor beside me. It is about eleven o'clock in the morning. B. is sitting up in his bed a few feet off, smoking a pipe. We have just finished a light repast of--what do you think? you will never guess--coffee and rolls. We intend to put the week straight by stopping in bed all day, at all events until the evening. Two English ladies occupy the bedroom next to ours. They seem to have made up their minds to also stay upstairs all day. We can hear them walking about their room, muttering. They have been doing this for the last three-quarters of an hour. They seem troubled about something.

It is very pleasant here. An overflow performance is being given in the theatre to-day for the benefit of those people who could not gain admittance yesterday, and, through the open windows, we can hear the rhythmic chant of the chorus. Mellowed by the distance, the wailing cadence of the plaintive songs, mingled with the shrill Haydnistic strains of the orchestra, falls with a mournful sweetness on our ears.

We ourselves saw the play yesterday, and we are now discussing it. I am explaining to B. the difficulty I experience in writing an account of it for my diary. I tell him that I really do not know what to say about it.

He smokes for a while in silence, and then, taking the pipe from his lips, he says:

"Does it matter very much what you say about it?"

I find much relief in that thought. It at once lifts from my shoulders the oppressive feeling of responsibility that was weighing me down. After all, what does it matter what I say? What does it matter what any of us says about anything? Nobody takes much notice of it, luckily for everybody. This reflection must be of great comfort to editors and critics. A conscientious man who really felt that his words would carry weight and influence with them would be almost afraid to speak at all. It is the man who knows that it will not make an ounce of difference to anyone what he says, that can grow eloquent and vehement and positive. It will not make any difference to anybody or anything what I say about the Ober-Ammergau Passion Play. So I shall just say what I want to.

But what do I want to say? What can I say that has not been said, and said much better, already? (An author must always pretend to think that every other author writes better than he himself does. He does not really think so, you know, but it looks well to talk as though he did.) What can I say that the reader does not know, or that, not knowing, he cares to know? It is easy enough to talk about nothing, like I have been doing in this diary hitherto. It is when one is confronted with the task of writing about _some_thing, that one wishes one were a respectable well-to-do sweep--a sweep with a comfortable business of his own, and a pony--instead of an author.

B. says:

"Well, why not begin by describing Ober-Ammergau."

I say it has been described so often.

He says:

"So has the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and the Derby Day, but people go on describing them all the same, and apparently find other people to read their descriptions. Say that the little village, clustered round its mosque-domed church, nestles in the centre of a valley, surrounded by great fir-robed hills, which stand, with the cross-crowned Kofel for their chief, like stern, strong sentinels guarding its old-world peace from the din and clamour of the outer world. Describe how the square, whitewashed houses are sheltered beneath great overhanging gables, and are encircled by carved wooden balconies and verandahs, where, in the cool of the evening, peasant wood-carver and peasant farmer sit to smoke the long Bavarian pipe, and chat about the cattle and the Passion Play and village politics; and how, in gaudy colours above the porch, are painted glowing figures of saints and virgins and such-like good folk, which the rains have sadly mutilated, so that a legless angel on one side of the road looks dejectedly across at a headless Madonna on the other, while at an exposed corner some unfortunate saint, more cruelly dealt with by the weather than he ever was even by the heathen, has been deprived of everything that he could call his own, with the exception of half a head and a pair of extra-sized feet.

"Explain how all the houses are numbered according to the date they were built, so that number sixteen comes next to number forty-seven, and there is no number one because it has been pulled down. Tell how unsophisticated visitors, informed that their lodgings are at number fifty-three, go wandering for days and days round fifty-two, under the not unreasonable impression that their house must be next door, though, as a matter of fact, it is half a mile off at the other end of the village, and are discovered one sunny morning, sitting on the doorstep of number eighteen, singing pathetic snatches of nursery rhymes, and trying to plat their toes into door-mats, and are taken up and carried away screaming, to end their lives in the madhouse at Munich.

"Talk about the weather. People who have stayed here for any length of time tell me that it rains at Ober-Ammergau three days out of every four, the reason that it does not rain on the fourth day being that every fourth day is set apart for a deluge. They tell me, also, that while it will be pouring with rain just in the village the sun will be shining brightly all round about, and that the villagers, when the water begins to come in through their roofs, snatch up their children and hurry off to the nearest field, where they sit and wait until the storm is over."

"Do you believe them--the persons that you say tell you these tales?" I ask.

"Personally I do not," he replies. "I think people exaggerate to me because I look young and innocent, but no doubt there is a ground-work of truth in their statements. I have myself left Ober-Ammergau under a steady drenching rain, and found a cloudless sky the other side of the Kofel.

"Then," he continues, "you can comment upon the hardihood of the Bavarian peasant. How he or she walks about bare-headed and bare-footed through the fiercest showers, and seems to find the rain only pleasantly cooling. How, during the performance of the Passion Play, they act and sing and stand about upon the uncovered stage without taking the slightest notice of the downpour of water that is soaking their robes and running from their streaming hair, to make great pools upon the boards; and how the audience, in the cheaper, unroofed portion of the theatre, sit with equal stoicism, watching them, no one ever dreaming even of putting up an umbrella--or, if he does dream of doing so, experiencing a very rude awakening from the sticks of those behind."

B. stops to relight his pipe at this point, and I hear the two ladies in the next room fidgeting about and muttering worse than ever. It seems to me they are listening at the door (our room and theirs are connected by a door); I do wish that they would either get into bed again or else go downstairs. They worry me.

"And what shall I say after I have said all that?" I ask B. when at last he has started his pipe again.

"Oh! well, after that," he replies, "you can give the history of the Passion Play; how it came to be played."

"Oh, but so many people have done that already," I say again.

"So much the better for you," is his reply. Having previously heard precisely the same story from half a dozen other sources, the public will be tempted to believe you when you repeat the account. Tell them that during the thirty year's war a terrible plague (as if half a dozen different armies, marching up and down their country, fighting each other about the Lord only knows what, and living on them while doing it, was not plague enough) swept over Bavaria, devastating each town and hamlet. Of all the highland villages, Ober-Ammergau by means of a strictly enforced quarantine alone kept, for a while, the black foe at bay. No soul was allowed to leave the village; no living thing to enter it.

"But one dark night Caspar Schuchler, an inhabitant of Ober-Ammergau, who had been working in the plague-stricken neighbouring village of Eschenlohe, creeping low on his belly, passed the drowsy sentinels, and gained his home, and saw what for many a day he had been hungering for--a sight of his wife and bairns. It was a selfish act to do, and he and his fellow-villagers paid dearly for it. Three days after he had entered his house he and all his family lay dead, and the plague was raging through the valley, and nothing seemed able to stay its course.

"When human means fail, we feel it is only fair to give Heaven a chance. The good people who dwelt by the side of the Ammer vowed that, if the plague left them, they would, every ten years, perform a Passion Play. The celestial powers seem to have at once closed with this offer. The plague disappeared as if by magic, and every recurring tenth year since, the Ober-Ammergauites have kept their promise and played their Passion Play. They act it to this day as a pious observance. Before each performance all the characters gather together on the stage around their pastor, and, kneeling, pray for a blessing upon the work then about to commence. The profits that are made, after paying the performers a wage that just compensates them for their loss of time--wood-carver Maier, who plays the Christ, only receives about fifty pounds for the whole of the thirty or so performances given during the season, to say nothing of the winter's rehearsals--is put aside, part for the temporal benefit of the community, and the rest for the benefit of the Church. From burgomaster down to shepherd lad, from the Mary and the Jesus down to the meanest super, all work for the love of their religion, not for money. Each one feels that he is helping forward the cause of Christianity."

"And I could also speak," I add, "of grand old Daisenberger, the gentle, simple old priest, 'the father of the valley,' who now lies in silence among his children that he loved so well. It was he, you know, that shaped the rude burlesque of a coarser age into the impressive reverential drama that we saw yesterday. That is a portrait of him over the bed. What a plain, homely, good face it is! How pleasant, how helpful it is to come across a good face now and then! I do not mean a sainted face, suggestive of stained glass and marble tombs, but a rugged human face that has had the grit, and rain, and sunshine of life rubbed into it, and that has gained its expression, not by looking up with longing at the stars, but by looking down with eyes full of laughter and love at the human things around it."

"Yes," assented B. "You can put in that if you like. There is no harm in it. And then you can go on to speak of the play itself, and give your impressions concerning it. Never mind their being silly. They will be all the better for that. Silly remarks are generally more interesting than sensible ones."

"But what is the use of saying anything about it at all?" I urge. "The merest school-boy must know all about the Ober-Ammergau Passion Play by this time."

"What has that to do with you?" answers B. "You are not writing for cultured school-boys. You are writing for mere simple men and women. They will be glad of a little information on the subject, and then when the schoolboy comes home for his holiday they will be able, so far as this topic, at all events, is concerned, to converse with him on his own level and not appear stupid.

"Come," he says, kindly, trying to lead me on, "what did you think about it?"

"Well," I reply, after musing for a while, "I think that a play of eighteen acts and some forty scenes, which commences at eight o'clock in the morning, and continues, with an interval of an hour and a half for dinner, until six o'clock in the evening, is too long. I think the piece wants cutting. About a third of it is impressive and moving, and what the earnest student of the drama at home is for ever demanding that a play should be--namely, elevating; but I consider that the other two-thirds are tiresome."

"Quite so," answers B. "But then we must remember that the performance is not intended as an entertainment, but as a religious service. To criticise any part of it as uninteresting, is like saying that half the Bible might very well have been omitted, and that the whole story could have been told in a third of the space."

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