Master Martin, the Cooper, and his Journeyman, by E. T. A. Hoffmann

The old Grandmother’s Prophecy.

Master Martin was rather ill at ease because his brave old customer had gone away out of humour in this way, and he said to Paumgartner, who had just emptied his last glass and rose to go too, “For the life of me, I can’t understand what the old gentleman meant by his talk, and why he should have got testy about it at last.” “My good friend Master Martin,” began Paumgartner, “you are a good and honest man; and a man has verily a right to set store by the handiwork he loves and which brings him wealth and honour; but he ought not to show it in boastful pride, that’s against all right Christian feeling. And in our guild-meeting today you did not act altogether right in putting yourself before all the other masters. It may true that you understand more about your craft than all the rest; but that you go and cast it in their teeth can only provoke ill-humour and black looks. And then you must go and do it again this evening! You could not surely be so infatuated as to look for anything else in Spangenberg’s talk beyond a jesting attempt to see to what lengths you would go in your obstinate pride. No wonder the worthy gentleman felt greatly annoyed when you told him you should only see common covetousness in any Junker’s wooing of your daughter. But all would have been well if, when Spangenberg began to speak of his son, you had interposed — if you had said, ‘Marry, my good and honoured sir, if you yourself came along with your son to sue for my daughter — why, i’ faith, that would be far too high an honour for me, and I should then have wavered in my firmest principles.’ Now, if you had spoken to him like that, what else could old Spangenberg have done but forget his former resentment, and smile cheerfully and in good humour as he had done before?” “Ay, scold me,” said Master Martin, “scold me right well, I have well deserved it; but when the old gentleman would keep talking such stupid nonsense I felt as if I were choking, I could not make any other answer.” “And then,” went on Paumgartner, “what a ridiculous resolve to give your daughter to nobody but a cooper! You will commit, you say, your daughter’s destiny to Providence, and yet with human shortsightedness you anticipate the decree of the Almighty in that you obstinately determine beforehand that your son-inlaw is to come from within a certain narrow circle. That will prove the ruin of you and your Rose, if you are not careful Have done, Master Martin, have done with such unchristian childish folly; leave the Almighty, who will put a right choice in your daughter’s honest heart when the right time comes — leave Him to manage it all in his own way.” “O my worthy friend,” said Master Martin, quite crest-fallen, “I now see how wrong I was not to tell you everything at first. You think it is nothing but overrating my handiwork that has brought me to take this unchangeable resolve of wedding Rose to none but a master-cooper; but that is not so; there is another reason, a more wonderful and mysterious reason. I can’t let you go until you have learned all; you shall not bear ill-will against me over-night. Sit down, I earnestly beg you, stay a few minutes longer. See here; there’s still a bottle of that old wine left which the ill-tempered Junker has despised; come, let’s enjoy it together.” Paumgartner was astonished at Master Martin’s earnest, confidential tone, which was in general perfectly foreign to his nature; it seemed as if there was something weighing heavy upon the man’s heart that he wanted to get rid of.

And when Paumgartner had taken his seat and drunk a glass of wine, Master Martin began as follows. “You know, my good and honoured friend, that soon after Rose was born I lost my beloved wife; Rose’s birth was her death. At that time my old grandmother was still living, if you can call it living when one is blind, deaf as a post, scarce able to speak, lame in every limb, and lying in bed day after day and night after night Rose had been christened; and the nurse sat with the child in the room where my old grandmother lay. I was so cut up with grief, and when I looked upon my child, so sad and yet so glad — in fact I was so greatly shaken that I felt utterly unfitted for any kind of work, and stood quite still and wrapped up in my own thoughts beside my old grandmother’s bed; and I counted her happy, since now all her earthly pain was over. And as I gazed upon her face a strange smile began to steal across it, her withered features seemed to be smoothed out, her pale cheeks became flushed with colour. She raised herself up in bed; she stretched out her paralysed arms, as if suddenly animated by some supernatural power — for she had never been able to do so at other times. She called distinctly in a low pleasant voice, ‘Rose, my darling Rose!’ The nurse got up and brought her the child, which she rocked up and down in her arms. But then, my good sir, picture my utter astonishment, nay, my alarm, when the old lady struck up in a clear strong voice a song in the Hohe fröhliche Lobweis 1 of Herr Hans Berchler, mine host of the Holy Ghost in Strasburg, which ran like this —

Maiden tender, with cheeks so red,

Rose, listen to the words I say;

Wouldst guard thyself from fear and ill?

Then put thy trust in God alway;

Let not thy tongue at aught make mock,

Nor foolish longings feed at heart.

A vessel fair to see he’ll bring,

In which the spicy liquid foams,

And bright, bright angels gaily sing.

And then in reverent mood

Hearken to the truest love,

Oh! hearken to the sweet love-words.

The vessel fair with golden grace —

Lo! him who brings it in the house

Thou wilt reward with sweet embrace;

And an thy lover be but true,

Thou need’st nor wait thy father’s kiss.

The vessel fair will always bring

All wealth and joy and peace and bliss;

So, virgin fair, with the bright, bright eyes,

Let aye thy little ear be ope

To all true words. And henceforth live,

And with God’s richest blessing thrive.

“And after she had sung this song through, she laid the child gently and carefully down upon the coverlet; and, placing her trembling withered hand upon her forehead, she muttered something to herself, to us, however, unintelligible; but the rapt countenance of the old lady showed in every feature that she was praying. Then her head sank back upon the pillows, and just as the nurse took up the child my old grandmother took a deep breath; she was dead.” “That is a wonderful story,” said Paumgartner when Master Martin ceased speaking; “but I don’t exactly see what is the connection between your old grandmother’s prophetic song and your obstinate resolve to give Rose to none but a master-cooper.” “What!” replied Master Martin, “why, what can be plainer than that the old lady, especially inspired by the Lord at the last moments of her life, announced in a prophetic voice what must happen if Rose is to be happy? The lover who is to bring wealth and joy and peace and bliss into the house with his vessel fair, who is that but a lusty cooper who has made his vessel fair, his masterpiece with me? In what other vessel does the spicy liquid foam, if not in the wine-cask? And when the wine works, it bubbles and even murmurs and splashes; that’s the lovely angels chasing each other backwards and forwards in the wine and singing their gay songs. Ay, ay, I tell you, my old grandmother meant none other lover than a master-cooper; and it shall be so, it shall be so.” “But, my good Master Martin,” said Paumgartner, “you are interpreting the words of your old grandmother just in your own way. Your interpretation is far from satisfactory to my mind; and I repeat that you ought to leave all simply to the ordering of Providence and your daughter’s heart, in which I dare be bound the right choice lies hidden away somewhere.” “And I repeat,” interrupted Martin impatiently, “that my son-inlaw shall be — I am resolved — shall be none other than a skilful cooper.” Paumgartner almost got angry at Master Martin’s stubbornness; he controlled himself, however, and, rising from his seat, said, “It’s getting late, Master Martin, let us now have done with our drinking and talking, for neither methinks will do us any more good.”

When they came out into the entrance-hall, there stood a young woman with five little boys, the eldest scarce eight years old apparently, and the youngest scarce six months. She was weeping and sobbing bitterly. Rose hastened to meet the two old gentlemen and said, “Oh father, father! Valentine is dead; there is his wife and the children.” “What! Valentine dead?” cried Master Martin, greatly startled. “Oh! that accident! that accident! Just fancy,” he continued, turning to Paumgartner, “just fancy, my good sir, Valentine was the cleverest journeyman I had on the premises; and he was industrious, and a good honest man as well. Some time ago he wounded himself dangerously with the adze in building a large cask; the wound got worse and worse; he was seized with a violent fever, and now he has had to die of it in the prime of life.” Thereupon Master Martin approached the poor disconsolate woman, who, bathed in tears, was lamenting that she had nothing but misery and starvation staring her in the face. “What!” said Master Martin, “what do you think of me then? Your husband got his dangerous wound whilst working for me, and do you think I am going to let you perish of want? No, you all belong to my house from now onwards. To-morrow, or whenever you like, we’ll bury your poor husband, and then do you and your boys go to my farm outside the Ladies Gate,2 where my fine open workshop is, and where I work every day with my journeymen. You can install yourself as housekeeper there to look after things for me, and your fine boys I will educate as if they were my own sons. And, I tell you what, I’ll take your old father as well into my house. He was a sturdy journeyman cooper once upon a time whilst he still had muscle in his arms. And now — if he can no longer wield the mallet, or the beetle or the beak iron, or work at the bench, he yet can do something with croze-adze, or can hollow out staves for me with the draw-knife. At any rate he shall come along with you and be taken into my house.” If Master Martin had not caught hold of the woman, she would have fallen on the floor at his feet in a dead swoon, she was so affected by grief and emotion. The eldest of the boys clung to his doublet, whilst the two youngest, whom Rose had taken in her arms, stretched out their tiny hands towards him, as if they had understood it all. Old Paumgartner said, smiling and with bright tears standing in his eyes, “Master Martin, one can’t bear you any ill-will;” and he betook himself to his own home.

1 See note 2, p. 15. The German Meistersinger always sang without any accompaniment of musical instruments.

2 This is one of the principal round towers, erected 1558–1568, in the town walls; it is situated on the south-east.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38