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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 4 - Chapter 29. An Evening With Dr. Julius Von Karsteg
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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 4 - Chapter 29. An Evening With Dr. Julius Von Karsteg Post by :tessaru Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :1333

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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 4 - Chapter 29. An Evening With Dr. Julius Von Karsteg

BOOK IV CHAPTER XXIX. AN EVENING WITH DR. JULIUS VON KARSTEG

In my perplexity, I thought of the Professor's saying: 'A most fortunate or a most unfortunate young man.' These words began to strike me as having a prophetic depth that I had not fathomed. I felt myself fast becoming bound in every limb, every branch of my soul. Ottilia met me smiling. She moved free as air. She could pursue her studies, and argue and discuss and quote, keep unclouded eyes, and laugh and play, and be her whole living self, unfettered, as if the pressure of my hand implied nothing. Perhaps for that reason I had her pardon. 'My friend, not that!' Her imperishably delicious English rang me awake, and lulled me asleep. Was it not too securely friendly? Or was it not her natural voice to the best beloved, bidding him respect her, that we might meet with the sanction of her trained discretion? The Professor would invite me to his room after the 'sleep well' of the ladies, and I sat with him much like his pipe-bowl, which burned bright a moment at one sturdy puff, but generally gave out smoke in fantastical wreaths. He told me frankly he had a poor idea of my erudition. My fancifulness he commended as something to be turned to use in writing stories. 'Give me time, and I'll do better things,' I groaned. He rarely spoke of the princess; with grave affection always when he did. He was evidently observing me comprehensively. The result was beyond my guessing.

One night he asked me what my scheme of life was.

On the point of improvizing one of an impressive character, I stopped and confessed: 'I have so many that I may say I have none.' Expecting reproof, I begged him not to think the worse of me for that.

'Quite otherwise,' said he. 'I have never cared to read deliberately in the book you open to me, my good young man.'

'The book, Herr Professor?'

'Collect your wits. We will call it Shakespeare's book; or Gothe's, in the minor issues. No, not minor, but a narrower volume. You were about to give me the answer of a hypocrite. Was it not so?'

I admitted it, feeling that it was easily to have been perceived. He was elated.

'Good. Then I apprehend that you wait for the shifting of a tide to carry you on?'

'I try to strengthen my mind.'

'So I hear,' said he dryly.

'Well, as far as your schools of teaching will allow.'

'That is, you read and commit to memory, like other young scholars. Whereunto? Have you no aim? You have, or I am told you are to have, fabulous wealth--a dragon's heap. You are one of the main drainpipes of English gold. What is your object? To spend it?'

'I shall hope to do good with it.'

'To do good! There is hardly a prince or millionaire, in history or alive, who has not in his young days hugged that notion. Pleasure swarms, he has the pick of his market. You English live for pleasure.'

'We are the hardest workers in the world.'

'That you may live for pleasure! Deny it!'

He puffed his tobacco-smoke zealously, and resumed:

'Yes, you work hard for money. You eat and drink, and boast of your exercises: they sharpen your appetites. So goes the round. We strive, we fail; you are our frog-chorus of critics, and you suppose that your brekek-koax affects us. I say we strive and fail, but we strive on, while you remain in a past age, and are proud of it. You reproach us with lack of common sense, as if the belly were its seat. Now I ask you whether you have a scheme of life, that I may know whether you are to be another of those huge human pumpkins called rich men, who cover your country and drain its blood and intellect--those impoverishers of nature! Here we have our princes; but they are rulers, they are responsible, they have their tasks, and if they also run to gourds, the scandal punishes them and their order, all in seasonable time. They stand eminent. Do you mark me? They are not a community, and are not--bad enough! bad enough!--but they are not protected by laws in their right to do nothing for what they receive. That system is an invention of the commercial genius and the English.'

'We have our aristocracy, Herr Professor.'

'Your nobles are nothing but rich men inflated with empty traditions of insufferable, because unwarrantable, pride, and drawing, substance from alliances with the merchant class. Are they your leaders? Do they lead you in Letters? in the Arts? ay, or in Government? No, not, I am informed, not even in military service! and there our titled witlings do manage to hold up their brainless pates. You are all in one mass, struggling in the stream to get out and lie and wallow and belch on the banks. You work so hard that you have all but one aim, and that is fatness and ease!'

'Pardon me, Herr Professor,' I interposed, 'I see your drift. Still I think we are the only people on earth who have shown mankind a representation of freedom. And as to our aristocracy, I must, with due deference to you, maintain that it is widely respected.'

I could not conceive why he went on worrying me in this manner with his jealous outburst of Continental bile.

'Widely!' he repeated. 'It is widely respected; and you respect it: and why do you respect it?'

'We have illustrious names in our aristocracy.'

'We beat you in illustrious names and in the age of the lines, my good young man.'

'But not in a race of nobles who have stood for the country's liberties.'

'So long as it imperilled their own! Any longer?'

'Well, they have known how to yield. They have helped to build our Constitution.'

'Reverence their ancestors, then! The worse for such descendants. But you have touched the exact stamp of the English mind:--it is, to accept whatsoever is bequeathed it, without inquiry whether there is any change in the matter. Nobles in very fact you would not let them be if they could. Nobles in name, with a remote recommendation to posterity--that suits you!'

He sat himself up to stuff a fresh bowl of tobacco, while he pursued: 'Yes, yes: you worship your aristocracy. It is notorious. You have a sort of sagacity. I am not prepared to contest the statement that you have a political instinct. Here it is chiefly social. You worship your so-called aristocracy perforce in order to preserve an ideal of contrast to the vulgarity of the nation.'

This was downright insolence.

It was intolerable. I jumped on my feet. 'The weapons I would use in reply to such remarks I cannot address to you, Herr Professor. Therefore, excuse me.'

He sent out quick spirts of smoke rolling into big volumes. 'Nay, my good young Englishman, but on the other hand you have not answered me. And hear me: yes, you have shown us a representation of freedom. True. But you are content with it in a world that moves by computation some considerable sum upwards of sixty thousand miles an hour.'

'Not on a fresh journey--a recurring course!' said I.

'Good!' he applauded, and I was flattered.

'I grant you the physical illustration,' the Professor continued, and with a warm gaze on me, I thought. 'The mind journeys somewhat in that way, and we in our old Germany hold that the mind advances notwithstanding. Astronomers condescending to earthly philosophy may admit that advance in the physical universe is computable, though not perceptible. Some--whither we tend, shell and spirit. You English, fighting your little battles of domestic policy, and sneering at us for flying at higher game, you unimpressionable English, who won't believe in the existence of aims that don't drop on the ground before your eyes, and squat and stare at you, you assert that man's labour is completed when the poor are kept from crying out. Now my question is, have you a scheme of life consonant with the spirit of modern philosophy--with the views of intelligent, moral, humane human beings of this period? Or are you one of your robust English brotherhood worthy of a Caligula in his prime, lions in gymnastics--for a time; sheep always in the dominions of mind; and all of one pattern, all in a rut! Favour me with an outline of your ideas. Pour them out pell-mell, intelligibly or not, no matter. I undertake to catch you somewhere. I mean to know you, hark you, rather with your assistance than without it.'

We were deep in the night. I had not a single idea ready for delivery. I could have told him, that wishing was a good thing, excess of tobacco a bad, moderation in speech one of the outward evidences of wisdom; but Ottilia's master in the Humanities exacted civility from me.

'Indeed,' I said, 'I have few thoughts to communicate at present, Herr Professor. My German will fail me as soon as I quit common ground. I love my country, and I do not reckon it as perfect. We are swillers, possibly gluttons; we have a large prosperous middle class; many good men are to be found in it.'

His discharges of smoke grew stifling. My advocacy was certainly of a miserable sort.

'Yes, Herr Professor, on my way when a boy to this very place I met a thorough good man.'

Here I related the tale of my encounter with Captain Welsh.

Dr. Julius nodded rapidly for continuations. Further! further!

He refused to dig at the mine within me, and seemed to expect it to unbosom its riches by explosion.

'Well, Herr Professor, we have conquered India, and hold it as no other people could.'

'Vide the articles in the last file of English newspapers!' said he.

'Suppose we boast of it.'

'Can you?' he simulated wonderment.

'Why, surely it's something!'

'Something for non-commissioned officers to boast of; not for statesmen. However, say that you are fit to govern Asiatics. Go on.'

'I would endeavour to equalize ranks at home, encourage the growth of ideas...'

'Supporting a non-celibate clergy, and an intermingled aristocracy? Your endeavours, my good young man, will lessen like those of the man who employed a spade to uproot a rock. It wants blasting. Your married clergy and merchandized aristocracy are coils: they are the ivy about your social tree: you would resemble Laocoon in the throes, if one could imagine you anything of a heroic figure. Forward.'

In desperation I exclaimed, 'It 's useless! I have not thought at all. I have been barely educated. I only know that I do desire with all my heart to know more, to be of some service.'

'Now we are at the bottom, then!' said he.

But I cried, 'Stay; let me beg you to tell me what you meant by calling me a most fortunate, or a most unfortunate young man.'

He chuckled over his pipe-stem, 'Aha!'

'How am I one or the other?'

'By the weight of what you carry in your head.'

'How by the weight?'

He shot a keen look at me. 'The case, I suspect, is singular, and does not often happen to a youth. You are fortunate if you have a solid and adventurous mind: most unfortunate if you are a mere sensational whipster. There 's an explanation that covers the whole. I am as much in the dark as you are. I do not say which of us two has the convex eye.'

Protesting that I was unable to read riddles, though the heat of the one in hand made my frame glow, I entreated to have explicit words. He might be in Ottilia's confidence, probing me--why not? Any question he chose to put to me, I said, I was ready to answer.

'But it's the questioner who unmasks,' said he.

'Are we masked, Herr Professor? I was not aware of it.'

'Look within, and avoid lying.'

He stood up. 'My nights,' he remarked, 'are not commonly wasted in this manner. We Germans use the night for work.'

After a struggle to fling myself on his mercy and win his aid or counsel, I took his hand respectfully, and holding it, said, 'I am unable to speak out. I would if it involved myself alone.'

'Yes, yes, I comprehend; your country breeds honourable men, chivalrous youngsters,' he replied. 'It 's not enough--not enough. I want to see a mental force, energy of brain. If you had that, you might look as high as you liked for the match for it, with my consent. Do you hear? What I won't have is, flat robbery! Mark me, Germany or England, it 's one to me if I see vital powers in the field running to a grand career. It 's a fine field over there. As well there as here, then! But better here than there if it 's to be a wasp's life. Do you understand me?'

I replied, 'I think I do, if I may dare to'; and catching breath: 'Herr Professor, dear friend, forgive my boldness; grant me time to try me; don't judge of me at once; take me for your pupil--am I presumptuous in asking it?--make of me what you will, what you can; examine me; you may find there's more in me than I or anybody may know. I have thoughts and aims, feeble at present--Good God! I see nothing for me but a choice of the two--"most unfortunate" seems likeliest. You read at a glance that I had no other choice. Rather the extremes!--I would rather grasp the limits of life and be swung to the pits below, be the most unfortunate of human beings, than never to have aimed at a star. You laugh at me? An Englishman must be horribly in earnest to talk as I do now. But it is a star!' (The image of Ottilia sprang fountain-like into blue night heavens before my eyes memorably.) 'She,' was my next word. I swallowed it, and with a burning face, petitioned for help in my studies.

To such sight as I had at that instant he appeared laughing outrageously. It was a composed smile 'Right,' he said; 'you shall have help in a settled course. Certain Professors, friends of mine, at your University, will see you through it. Aim your head at a star--your head!--and even if you miss it you don't fall. It's that light dancer, that gambler, the heart in you, my good young man, which aims itself at inaccessible heights, and has the fall--somewhat icy to reflect on! Give that organ full play and you may make sure of a handful of dust. Do you hear? It's a mind that wins a mind. That is why I warn you of being most unfortunate if you are a sensational whipster. Good-night Shut my door fast that I may not have the trouble to rise.'

I left him with the warm lamplight falling on his forehead, and books piled and sloped, shut and open; an enviable picture to one in my condition. The peacefulness it indicated made scholarship seem beautiful, attainable, I hoped. I had the sense to tell myself that it would give me unrotting grain, though it should fail of being a practicable road to my bright star; and when I spurned at consolations for failure, I could still delight to think that she shone over these harvests and the reapers.

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