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

How the two young journeymen Frederick and Reinhold became acquainted with each other.

Upon a beautiful, grassy, gently-sloping hill, shaded by lofty trees, lay a fine well-made young journeyman, whose name was Frederick. The sun had already set, and rosy tongues of light were stretching upwards from the furthest verge of the horizon. In the distance the famed imperial town of Nuremberg could be plainly seen, spreading across the valley and boldly lifting up her proud towers against the red glow of the evening, its golden rays gilding their pinnacles. The young journeyman was leaning his arm on his bundle, which lay beside him, and contained his necessaries whilst on the travel, and was gazing with looks full of longing down into the valley. Then he plucked some of the flowers which grew among the grass within reach of him and tossed them into the air towards the glorious sunset; afterwards he sat gazing sadly before him, and the burning tears gathered in his eyes. At length he raised his head, and spreading out his arms as if about to embrace some one dear to him, he sang in a clear and very pleasant voice the following song:—

My eyes now rest once more

On thee, O home, sweet home!

My true and honest heart

Has ne’er forgotten thee.

O rosy glow of evening come,

I fain would naught but roses see.

Ye sweetest buds and flowers of love,

Bend down and touch my heart

With winsome sweet caresses.

O swelling bosom, wilt thou burst?

Yet hold in pain and sweet joy fast.

O golden evening red!

O beauteous ray, be my sweet messenger,

And bear to her my sighs and tears —

My tears and sighs on faithfully to her.

And were I now to die,

And roses then did ask thee — say,

“His heart with love — it pined away.”

Having sung this song, Frederick took a little piece of wax out of his bundle, warmed it in his bosom, and began in a neat and artistic manner to model a beautiful rose with scores of delicate petals. Whilst busy with this work he hummed to himself some of the lines of the song he had just sung, and so deeply absorbed was he in his occupation that he did not observe the handsome youth who had been standing behind him for some time and attentively watching his work.

“Marry, my friend,” began now the youth, “by my troth, that is a dainty piece of work you are making there.” Frederick looked round in alarm; but when he looked into the dark friendly eyes of the young stranger, he felt as if he had known him for a long time. Smiling, he replied, “Oh! my dear sir, how can you notice such trifling? it only serves me for pastime on my journey.” “Well then,” went on the stranger youth, “if you call that delicately formed flower, which is so faithful a reproduction of Nature, trifling, you must be a skilful practised modeller. You have afforded me a pleasant surprise in two ways. First, I was quite touched to the heart by the song you sang so admirably to Martin Häscher’s Zarte Buchstabenweis; and now I cannot but admire your artistic skill in modelling. How much farther do you intend to travel today?” Frederick replied, “Yonder lies the goal of my journey before our eyes. I am going home, to the famed imperial town of Nuremberg. But as the sun has now been set some time, I shall pass the night in the village below there, and then by being up and away in the early morning I can be in Nuremberg at noon.” “Marry,” cried the youth, delighted, “how finely things will fit; we are both going the same way, for I want to go to Nuremberg. I will spend the night with you here in the village, and then we’ll proceed on our way again tomorrow. And now let us talk a little.” The youth, Reinhold by name, threw himself down beside Frederick on the grass, and continued, “If I mistake not, you are a skilful artist-caster, are you not? I infer it from your style of modelling; or perhaps you are a worker in gold and silver?” Frederick cast down his eyes sadly, and said dejectedly, “Marry, my dear sir, you are taking me for something far better and higher than I really am. Well, I will speak candidly; I have learned the trade of a cooper, and am now going to work for a well-known master in Nuremberg. You will no doubt look down upon me with contempt since, instead of being able to mould and cast splendid statues, and such like, all I can do is to hoop casks and tubs.” Reinhold burst out laughing, and cried, “Now that I call droll. I shall look down upon you — eh? because you are a cooper; why man, that’s what I am; I’m nothing but a cooper.” Frederick opened his eyes wide in astonishment; he did not know what to make of it, for Reinhold’s dress was in keeping with anything sooner than a journeyman cooper’s on travel. His doublet of fine black cloth, trimmed with slashed velvet, his dainty ruff, his short broadsword, and baretta with a long drooping feather, seemed rather to point to a prosperous merchant; and yet again there was a strange something about the face and form of the youth which completely negatived the idea of a merchant. Reinhold, noticing Frederick’s doubting glances, undid his travelling-bundle and produced his cooper’s apron and knife-belt, saying, “Look here, my friend, look here. Have you any doubts now as to my being a comrade? I perceive you are astonished at my clothing, but I have just come from Strasburg, where the coopers go about the streets as fine as noblemen. Certainly I did once set my heart upon something else like you, but now to be a cooper is the topmost height of my ambition, and I have staked many a grand hope upon it. Is it not the same with you, comrade? But I could almost believe that a dark cloud-shadow had been hung unawares about the brightness of your youth, so that you are no longer able to look freely and gladly about you. The song which you were just singing was full of pain and of the yearning of love; but there were strains in it that seemed as if they proceeded from my own heart, and I somehow fancy I know all that is locked up within your breast. You may therefore all the more put confidence in me, for shall we not then be good comrades in Nuremberg?” Reinhold threw his arm around Frederick and looked kindly into his eyes. Whereupon Frederick said, “The more I look at you, honest friend, the stronger I feel drawn towards you; I clearly discern within my breast the wonderful voice which faithfully echoes the cry that you are a sympathetic spirit I must tell you all — not that a poor fellow like me has any important secrets to confide to you, but simply because there is room in the heart of the true friend for his friend’s pain, and during the first moments of our new acquaintance even I acknowledge you to be my truest friend.

“I am now a cooper, and may boast that I understand my work; but all my thoughts have been directed to another and a nobler art since my very childhood. I wished to become a great master in casting statues and in silver-work, like Peter Fischer1 or the Italian Benvenuto Cellini;2 and so I worked with intense ardour along with Herr Johannes Holzschuer,3 the well-known worker in silver in my native town yonder. For although he did not exactly cast statues himself, he was yet able to give me a good introduction to the art. And Herr Tobias Martin, the master-cooper, often came to Herr Holzschuer’s with his daughter, pretty Rose. Without being consciously aware of it, I fell in love with her. I then left home and went to Augsburg in order to learn properly the art of casting, but this first caused my smouldering passion to burst out into flames. I saw and heard nothing but Rose; every exertion and all labour that did not tend to the winning of her grew hateful to me. And so I adopted the only course that would bring me to this goal. For Master Martin will only give his daughter to the cooper who shall make the very best masterpiece in his house, and who of course finds favour in his daughter’s eyes as well. I deserted my own art to learn cooperage. I am now going to Nuremberg to work for Master Martin. But now that my home lies before me and Rose’s image rises up before my eyes, I feel overcome with anxiety and nervousness, and my heart sinks within me. Now I see clearly how foolishly I have acted; for I don’t even know whether Rose loves me or whether she ever will love me.” Reinhold had listened to Frederick’s story with increasing attention. He now rested his head on his arm, and, shading his eyes with his hand, asked in a hollow moody voice, “And has Rose never given you any signs of her love?” “Nay,” replied Frederick, “nay, for when I left Nuremberg she was more a child than a maiden. No doubt she liked me; she smiled upon me most sweetly when I never wearied plucking flowers for her in Herr Holzschuer’s garden and weaving them into wreaths, but ——” “Oh! then all hope is not yet lost,” cried Reinhold suddenly, and so vehemently and in such a disagreeably shrill voice that Frederick was almost terrified. At the same time he leapt to his feet, his sword rattling against his side, and as he stood upright at his full stature the deep shadows of the night fell upon his pale face and distorted his gentle features in a most unpleasant way, so that Frederick cried, perfectly alarmed, “What’s happened to you all at once?” and stepping back, his foot knocked against Reinhold’s bundle. There proceeded from it the jarring of some stringed instrument, and Reinhold cried angrily, “You ill-mannered fellow, don’t break my lute all to pieces.” The instrument was fastened to the bundle; Reinhold unbuckled it and ran his fingers wildly over the strings as if he would break them all. But his playing soon grew soft and melodious. “Come, brother,” said he in the same gentle tone as before, “let us now go down into the village. I’ve got a good means here in my hands to banish the evil spirits who may cross our path, and who might in particular have any dealings with me.” “Why, brother,” replied Frederick, “what evil spirits will be likely to have anything to do with us on the way? But your playing is very, very nice; please go on with it.”

The golden stars were beginning to dot the dark azure sky. The night breezes in low murmurous whispers swept lightly over the fragrant meadows. The brooks babbled louder, and the trees rustled in the distant woods round about Then Frederick and Reinhold went down the slope playing and singing, and the sweet notes of their songs, so full of noble aspirations, swelled up clear and sharp in the air, as if they had been plumed arrows of light. Arrived at their quarters for the night, Reinhold quickly threw aside lute and bundle and strained Frederick to his heart; and Frederick felt on his cheeks the scalding tears which Reinhold shed.

1 Peter Vischer (c. 1455–1529), a native of Nuremberg, one of the most distinguished of German sculptors, was chiefly engaged in making monuments for deceased princes in various parts of Germany and central Europe. The shrine in St. Sebald’s, mentioned above, is generally considered his masterpiece.

2 Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1569) of Florence, goldsmith and worker in metals. Mr. W. M. Rossetti rightly says that his biography, written by himself, forms one of the most “fascinating” of books. It has been translated into English by Thomas Roscoe, and by Goethe into German.

3 Holzschuher was the name of an old and important family in Nuremberg. Fifty-four years before the date of the present story, that is in 1526, a member of the family was burgomaster of his native town, and was painted by Dürer.

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