One day in my practicing days I remembered Mignon and Wilhelm Meister and visited a local bookstore asking English translation of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and Years of Travel. He said he would look for them and then contact me as soon as he had news about them. In a few days, I was requested to visit him, and he said the English edition would be done in a year, and asked for a deposit so that I could get them preferentially.
After my deposit, it took about six months before I obtained a nice set of 6 volumes, first 3 were his apprenticeship, the last 3 were his years of travel. I still keep them carefully. The publishing years were interesting in its serial:
Wilhelm Meister’s Lehrjahre and Wanderjahre
From Volume 1 to Volume 6, they were sequentially published from 1977 to 1982, with each volume taking one full year.
It is very interesting to find the writing years of two novels to be 1795-96 for Wilhelm Meister’s Lehrjahre and 1829 for Wilhelm Meister’s Wanderjahre, thirty-three long years apart.
I believe I took them either late 1982 or early 1983, followed by my diligent reading sessions over the weekends, lying in a hammock hung over large oak tree branches. I believe it was the best time of my life.
This time I decided to reread them leisurely while taking a long time. Next is the beginning of extracts of Wilhelm Meister’s Lehrjahre.
Book II, Chapter IV. Mignon started to be noticed:
Here our friend, Wilhelm, was in a country town where a circus troupe had been staying and trying to draw the town people by marching through the streets. Please read the beginning of the story.
So, with a few lively songs, which she could sing very beautifully, Philina cut short their conversation, and urged them to a quick return homewards, that they might arrive in time for seeing the performance of the rope-dancers in the evening.
On the road back she continued her lavish generosity, in a style of gayety reaching to extravagance; for at last, every coin belonging to herself or her companions being spent, she threw her straw hat from the window to a girl, and her neckerchief to an old woman, who asked her for alms…
The people by degrees dispersed; and the square was again become empty, while Philina and Laertes were disputing about the forms and the skill of Narciss and Landrinette, and rallying each other on the subject at great length. Wilhelm noticed the wonderful child standing on the street near some other children at play: he showed her to Philina, who, in her lively way, immediately called and beckoned to the little one, and, this not succeeding, tripped singing downstairs, and led her up by the hand.
"Here is the enigma," said she, as she brought her to the door. The child stood upon the threshold, as if she meant again to run off; laid her right hand on her breast, the left on her brow, and bowed deeply. "Fear nothing, my little dear," said Wilhelm, rising, and going towards her. She viewed him with a doubting look and came to a few steps nearer.
"What is thy name?" he asked. "They call me Mignon."—"How old art thou?"—"No one has counted."—"Who was thy father?"—"The Great Devil is dead."
"Well! this is singular enough," said Philina. They asked her a few more questions: she gave her answers in a kind of broken German, and with a strangely solemn manner; every time laying her hands on her breast and brow, and bowing deeply.
Wilhelm could not satisfy himself with looking at her. His eyes and his heart were irresistibly attracted by the mysterious condition of this being.
He reckoned her about twelve or thirteen years of age: her body was well-formed, only her limbs gave promise of stronger growth, or else announced a stunted one. Her countenance was not regular, but striking; her brow full of mystery; her nose extremely beautiful; her mouth, although it seemed too closely shut for one of her age, and though she often threw it to a side, had yet an air of frankness, and was very lovely.
Her brownish complexion could scarcely be discerned through the paint. This form stamped itself deeply in Wilhelm's soul: he kept looking at her earnestly and forgot the present scene in the multitude of his reflections. Philina waked him from his half-dream, by holding out the remainder of her sweetmeats to the child, and giving her a sign to go away. She made her little bow as formerly, and darted like lightning through the door…
The next day, in these amusements the time passed on insensibly. It was already late when they returned. The rope-dancers had commenced their operations. A multitude of people had again assembled in the square; and our friends, on alighting, were struck by the appearance of a tumult in the crowd, occasioned by a throng of men rushing towards the door of the inn, which Wilhelm had now turned his face to.
He sprang forward to see what it was; and, pressing through the people, he was struck with horror to observe the master of the rope-dancing company dragging poor Mignon by the hair out of the house, and unmercifully beating her little body with the handle of a whip.
Wilhelm darted on the man like lightning and seized him by the collar. "Quit the child!" he cried, in a furious tone, "or one of us shall never leave this spot!" and, so speaking, he grasped the fellow by the throat with a force which only rage could have lent him.
The showman, on the point of choking, let go of the child and endeavored to defend himself against his new assailant. But some people, who had felt compassion for Mignon, yet had not dared to begin a quarrel for her, now laid hold of the rope-dancer, wrenched his whip away, and threatened him with great fierceness and abuse.
Being now reduced to the weapons of his mouth, he began bullying and cursing horribly. The lazy, worthless urchin, he said, would not do her duty; refused to perform the egg-dance, which he had promised to the public; he would beat her to death, and no one should hinder him.
He tried to get loose, and seek the child, who had crept away among the crowd. Wilhelm held him back, and said sternly, "You shall neither see nor touch her, till you have explained before a magistrate where you stole her. I will pursue you to every extremity. You shall not escape me."
These words, which Wilhelm uttered in heat, without thought or purpose, out of some vague feeling, or, if you will, out of inspiration, soon brought the raging showman to composure.
"What have I to do with the useless brat?" cried he. "Pay me what her clothes cost, and make of her what you please. We shall settle it to-night." And, being liberated, he made haste to resume his interrupted operations, and to calm the irritation of the public by some striking displays of his craft.
As soon as all was still again, Wilhelm commenced a search for Mignon, whom, however, he could nowhere find. Some said they had seen her on the street, others on the roofs of the adjoining houses; but, after seeking unsuccessfully in all quarters, he was forced to content himself, and wait to see if she would not again turn up of herself…
Our friend next proceeded to his bargain with the showman for Mignon. Thirty crowns was the price set upon her; and for this sum, the black-bearded, hot Italian entirely surrendered all his claims: but of her history or parentage he would discover nothing, only that she had fallen into his hands at the death of his brother, who, by reason of his admirable skill, had usually been named the "Great Devil."
Next morning was chiefly spent in searching for the child. It was in vain that they rummaged every hole and corner of the house and neighborhood: the child had vanished, and Wilhelm was afraid she might have leaped into some pool of water or destroyed herself in some other way.
Philina's charms could not divert his inquietude. He passed a dreary, thoughtful day. Nor at evening could the utmost efforts of the tumblers and dancers, exerting all their powers to gratify the public, divert the current of his thoughts, or clear away the clouds from his mind…
Book II Chapter V. Mignon reappeared.
Next morning, the rope-dancers, not without much parade and bustle, having gone away, Mignon immediately appeared and came into the parlor as Wilhelm and Laertes were busy fencings. "Where hast thou been hid?" said Wilhelm, in a friendly tone. "Thou hast has given us a great deal of anxiety." The child looked at him, and answered nothing.
"Thou art ours now," cried Laertes: "we have bought thee."—"For how much?" inquired the child quite coolly. "For a hundred ducats," said the other: "pay them again, and thou art free."—"Is that very much?" she asked. "Oh, yes! thou must now be a good child."—"I will try," she said.
From that moment she observed strictly what services the waiter had to do for both her friends; and, after next day, she would not anymore let him enter the room. She persisted in doing everything herself, and accordingly went through her duties, slowly, indeed, and sometimes awkwardly, yet completely, and with the greatest care.
She was frequently observed going to a basin of water and washing her face with such diligence and violence, that she almost wore the skin from her cheeks; till Laertes, by dint of questions and reproofs, learned that she was striving, by all means, to get the paint from her skin, and that, in her zealous endeavors towards this object, she had mistaken the redness produced by rubbing for the most obdurate dye. They set her right on this point, and she ceased her efforts; after which, having come again to her natural state, she exhibited a fine brown complexion, beautiful, though sparingly intermingled with red…
Book II Chapter VI
In the meantime, Mignon's form, and manner of existence were growing more attractive to him every day. In her whole system of proceedings, there was something very singular. She never walked up or down the stairs, but jumped. She would spring along by the railing, and before you were aware would be sitting quietly above upon the landing.
Wilhelm had observed, also, that she had a different sort of salutation for each individual. For himself, it had of late been with her arms crossed upon her breast. Often for the whole day, she was mute. At times she answered various questions more freely, yet always strangely: so that you could not determine whether it was caused by shrewd sense or ignorance of the language; for she spoke in broken German interlaced with French and Italian.
In Wilhelm's service, she was indefatigable, and up before the sun. On the other hand, she vanished early in the evening, went to sleep in a little room upon the bare floor, and could not by any means be induced to take a bed or even a paillasse. He often found her washing herself. Her clothes, too, were kept scrupulously clean; though nearly all about her was quilted two or three plies thick. Wilhelm was moreover told that she went every morning early to hear mass. He followed her on one occasion, and saw her kneeling down with a rosary in a corner of the church, and praying devoutly. She did not observe him; and he returned home, forming many a conjecture about this appearance, yet unable to arrive at any probable conclusion…
Book II Chapter VIII: Mignon’s Egg Dance
Mignon had been waiting for him: she lighted him upstairs. On setting down the light, she begged he would allow her, that evening, to compliment him with a piece of her art. He would rather have declined this, particularly as he knew not what it was; but he had not the heart to refuse anything this kind creature wished.
After a little while, she again came in. She carried below her arm a little carpet, which she then spread out upon the floor. Wilhelm said she might proceed. She thereupon brought four candles and placed one upon each corner of the carpet. A little basket of eggs, which she next carried in, made her purpose clearer. Carefully measuring her steps, she then walked to and fro on the carpet, spreading out the eggs in certain figures and positions; which done, she called in a man that was waiting in the house and could play on the violin.
He retired with his instrument into a corner: she tied a band about her eyes, gave a signal; and, like a piece of wheel-work set a-going, she began moving the same instant as the music, accompanying her beats and the notes of the tune with the strokes of a pair of castanets.
Lightly, nimbly, quickly, and with hair's-breadth accuracy, she carried on the dance. She skipped so sharply and surely along between the eggs, and trod so closely down beside them, that you would have thought every instant she must trample one of them in pieces, or kick the rest away in her rapid turns. By no means! She touched no one of them, though winding herself through their mazes with all kinds of steps, wide and narrow, nay, even with leaps, and at last half-kneeling.
Constant as the movement of a clock, she ran her course; and the strange music, at each repetition of the tune, gave a new impulse to the dance, recommencing and again rushing off as at first. Wilhelm was quite led away by this singular spectacle; he forgot his cares; he followed every movement of the dear little creature, and felt surprised to see how finely her character unfolded itself as she proceeded in the dance.
Rigid, sharp, cold, vehement, and in soft postures, stately rather than attractive,—such was the light in which it showed her. At this moment he experienced at once all the emotions he had ever felt for Mignon. He longed to incorporate this forsaken being with his own heart, to take her in his arms, and with a father's love to awaken in her the joy of existence.
The dance being ended, she rolled the eggs together softly with her foot into a little heap, left none behind, harmed none; then placed herself beside it, taking the bandage from her eyes, and concluding her performance with a little bow.
Wilhelm thanked her for having executed, so prettily and unexpectedly, a dance he had long wished to see. He patted her; was sorry she had tired herself so much. He promised her a new suit of clothes; to which she vehemently replied, "Thy color!" This, too, he promised her, though not well knowing what she meant by it. She then lifted up the eggs, took the carpet under her arm, asked if he wanted anything further, and skipped out of the room.
The musician, being questioned, said that for some time she had taken much trouble in often singing over the tune of this dance, the well-known fandango, to him, and training him till he could play it accurately. For his labor she had likewise offered him some money; which, however, he would not accept…
Book II Chapter XII: Mignon started to write continuously. Who could possibly ever have taught her? I say there was no one!
He went up to his room, and found Mignon busy writing. For some time the creature had been laboring with great diligence in writing everything she knew by heart, giving always to her master and friend the papers to correct. She was indefatigable, and of good comprehension; but still, her letters were irregular and her lines crooked.
Here, too, the body seemed to contradict the mind. In his usual moods, Wilhelm took no small pleasure in the child's attention; but, at the present moment, he regarded little what she showed him,—a piece of neglect which she felt the more acutely, as on this occasion she conceived her work had been accomplished with peculiar success…
Book II Chapter XIV: 주인이시여, 당신이 불행하면 이 미뇽은 어찌되나요?
She stood before him and noticed his disquietude. "Master!" she cried, "if thou art unhappy, what will become of Mignon?"—"Dear little creature," said he, taking her hands, "thou, too, art part of my anxieties. I must go hence." She looked at his eyes, glistening with restrained tears, and knelt down with vehemence before him. He kept her hands: she laid her head upon his knees, and remained quite still. He played with her hair, patted her, and spoke kindly to her. She continued motionless for a considerable time. At last he felt a sort of palpitating movement in her, which began very softly, and then by degrees, with increasing violence, diffused itself over all her frame.
"What ails thee, Mignon?" cried he: "What ails thee?" She raised her little head, looked at him, and all at once laid her hand upon her heart, with the countenance of one repressing the utterance of pain. He raised her up, and she fell upon his breast: he pressed her towards him, and kissed her. She replied not by any pressure of the hand, by any motion whatever. She held firmly against her heart, and all at once gave a cry, which was accompanied by spasmodic movements of the body. She started up, and immediately fell down before him, as if broken in every joint. It was an excruciating moment. "My child!" cried he, raising her up, and clasping her fast, "my child, what ails thee?"
The palpitations continued, spreading from the heart over all the lax and powerless limbs: she was merely hanging in his arms. All at once she again became quite stiff, like one enduring the sharpest corporeal agony; and soon with a new vehemence all her frame once more became alive; and she threw herself about his neck, like a bent spring that is closing; while in her soul, as it were, a strong rent took place, and at the same moment a stream of tears flowed from her shut eyes into his bosom. He held her fast. She wept, and no tongue can express the force of these tears. Her long hair had loosened, and was hanging down before her: it seemed as if her whole being was melting incessantly into a brook of tears. Her rigid limbs were again become relaxed; her inmost soul was pouring itself forth; in the wild confusion of the moment, Wilhelm was afraid she would dissolve in his arms, and leave nothing there for him to grasp. He held her faster and faster.
"My child!" cried he, "my child! thou art indeed mine, if that word can comfort thee. Thou art mine! I will keep thee, I will never forsake thee!" Her tears continued flowing. At last, she raised herself: a faint gladness shone upon her face. "My father!" cried she, "thou wilt not forsake me? Wilt be my father? I am thy child!" Softly, at this moment, the harp began to sound before the door: the old man brought his most affecting songs as an evening offering to our friend, who, holding his child ever faster in his arms, enjoyed the purest and indescribable felicity…
Book III Chapter I. Kennst du das Land…
"Dost know the land where citrons, lemons, grow,
Gold oranges 'neath dusky foliage glow,
From azure sky are blowing breezes soft,
The myrtles still, the laurel stands aloft?
'Tis there! 'tis there!
I would with thee, O my beloved one, go!
Dost know the house, its roofs do columns bear,
The hall with splendor bright, the chambers glare?
Therein stand marble forms, and look at me:
What is't, poor child, that they have done to thee?
Dost know that house? '
Tis there! 'tis there! I would with thee, O my protector, go!
Dost know the mount, whose path with clouds is fraught,
Where by the mule through mist the way is sought,
Where dwell in caves the dragon's ancient brood,
Where falls the rock, and over it the flood,—
Dost know that mount?
'Tis there! 'tis there! Does lead our road: O father, let us go!"…
The next morning, on looking for Mignon about the house, Wilhelm did not find her but was informed that she had gone out early with Melina, who had risen betimes to receive the wardrobe and other apparatus of his theatre.
After the space of some hours, Wilhelm heard the sound of music before his door. At first, he thought it was the harper come again to visit him, but he soon distinguished the tones of a cithern, and the voice which began to sing was Mignon's. Wilhelm opened the door: the child came in and sang him the song we have just given above.
The music and general expression of it pleased our friend extremely, though he could not understand all the words. He made her once more repeat the stanzas, and explain them: he wrote them down, and translated them into his native language. But the originality of its turns he could imitate only from afar: its childlike innocence of expression vanished from it in the process of reducing its broken phraseology to uniformity and combining its disjointed parts. The charm of the tune, moreover, was entirely incomparable.
She began every verse in a stately and solemn manner as if she wished to draw attention towards something wonderful as if she had something weighty to communicate. In the third line, her tones became deeper and gloomier; the words, "Dost know?" were uttered with a show of mystery and eager circumspectness; in "' Tis there! 'tis there!" lay an irresistible longing; and her "Let us go!" she modified at each repetition, so that now it appeared to entreat and implore, now to impel and persuade.
On finishing her song for the second time, she stood silent for a moment, looked keenly at Wilhelm, and asked him, "Know'st thou the land?"—"It must mean Italy," said Wilhelm: "where didst thou get the little song?"—"Italy!" said Mignon, with an earnest air. "If thou go to Italy, take me along with thee; for I am too cold here."—"Hast thou been there already, little dear?" said Wilhelm. But the child was silent, and nothing more could be got out of her.
Melina entered now: he looked at the cithern,—was glad that she had rigged it up again so prettily. The instrument had been among Melina's stage-gear: Mignon had begged it of him in the morning, and then gone to the old harper. On this occasion, she had shown a talent she was not before suspected of possessing…
These are the authoritative translation of the original work, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I hope the readers may enjoy reading these parts of the great work. I tried to present Mignon’s life from the time of her rescue by Wilhelm followed by her custody by him. She did everything possible to serve Wilhelm, her master, as best as she can. At first, he was her father figure, followed by her love to him as beloved and as a protector.
I am going to stop here for readers to take rest. Next section Mignon becomes ill, and she was getting worse. Finally she had her last breath in Wilhelm’s arms. How devastating was his grief!
Please read the next story. Thank you for reading.
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