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

How Master Martin extols his trade above all others.

The Hochheimer sparkled in the beautiful cut drinking-glasses, and loosened the tongues and opened the hearts of the three old gentlemen. Old Spangenberg especially, who, though advanced in years, was yet brimming with freshness and vivacity, had many a jolly prank out of his merry youth to relate, so that Master Martin’s belly wabbled famously, and again and again he had to brush the tears out of his eyes, caused by his loud and hearty laughing. Herr Paumgartner, too, forgot more than was customary with him the dignity of the Councillor, and enjoyed right well the noble liquor and the merry conversation. But when Rose again made her appearance with the neat housekeeper’s basket under her arm, out of which she took a tablecloth as dazzling white as fresh-fallen snow — when she tripped backwards and forwards busy with household matters, laying the cloth, and placing a plentiful supply of appetising dishes on the table — when, with a winning smile she invited the gentlemen not to despise what had been hurriedly prepared, but to turn to and eat — during all this time their conversation and laughter ceased. Neither Paumgartner nor Spangenberg averted their sparkling eyes from the fascinating maiden, whilst Master Martin too, leaning back in his chair, and folding his hands, watched her busy movements with a gratified smile. Rose was withdrawing, but old Spangenberg was on his feet in a moment, quick as a youth; he took the girl by both shoulders and cried, again and again, as the bright tears trickled from his eyes, “Oh you good, you sweet little angel! What a dear darling girl you are!” then he kissed her twice — three times on the forehead, and returned to his seat, apparently in deep thought.

Paumgartner proposed the toast of Rose’s health. “Yes,” began Spangenberg, after she had gone out of the room, “yes, Master Martin, Providence has given you a precious jewel in your daughter, whom you cannot well over-estimate. She will yet bring you to great honour. Who is there, let him be of what rank in life he may, who would not willingly be your son-inlaw?” “There you are,” interposed Paumgartner; “there you see, Master Martin, the noble Herr von Spangenberg is exactly of my opinion. I already see our dear Rose a patrician’s bride with the rich jewellery of pearls1 in her beautiful flaxen hair.” “My dear sirs,” began Martin, quite testily, “why do you, my dear sirs, keep harping upon this matter — a matter to which I have not as yet directed my thoughts? My Rose has only just reached her eighteenth year; it’s not time for such a young thing to be looking out for a lover. How things may turn out afterwards — well, that I leave entirely to the will of the Lord; but this I do at any rate know, that none shall touch my daughter’s hand, be he patrician or who he may, except the cooper who approves himself the cleverest and skilfullest master in his trade — presuming, of course, that my daughter will have him, for never will I constrain my dear child to do anything in the world, least of all to make a marriage that she does not like.” Spangenberg and Paumgartner looked at each other, perfectly astonished at this extraordinary decision of the Master’s.2 At length, after some clearing of his throat, Spangenberg began, “So, then, your daughter is not to wed out of her own station?” “God forbid she should,” rejoined Martin. “But,” continued Spangenberg, “if now a skilled master of a higher trade, say a goldsmith, or even a brave young artist, were to sue for your Rose and succeeded in winning her favour more than all other young journeymen, what then?” “I should say,” replied Master Martin, throwing his head back into his neck, “show me, my excellent young friend, the fine two-tun cask which you have made as your masterpiece; and if he could not do so, I should kindly open the door for him and very politely request him to try his luck elsewhere.” “Ah! but,” went on Spangenberg again, “if the young journeyman should reply, ‘A little structure of that kind I cannot show you, but come with me to the market-place and look at yon beautiful house which is sending up its slender gable into the free open air — that’s my masterpiece.’” “Ah! my good sir, my good sir,” broke in Master Martin impatiently, “why do you give yourself all this trouble to try and make me alter my conviction? Once and for all, my son-inlaw must be of my trade; for my trade I hold to be the finest trade there is in the world. Do you think we’ve nothing to do but to fix the staves into the trestles (hoops), so that the cask may hold together? Marry, it’s a fine thing and an admirable thing that our handiwork requires a previous knowledge of the way in which that noble blessing of Heaven, good wine, must be kept and managed, that it may acquire strength and flavour so as to go through all our veins and warm our blood like the true spirit of life! And then as for the construction of the casks — if we are to turn out a successful piece of work, must we not first draw out our plans with compass and rule? We must be arithmeticians and geometricians of no mean attainments, how else can we adapt the proportion and size of the cask to the measure of its contents? Ay, sir, my heart laughs in my body when we’ve bravely laboured at the staves with jointer and adze and have gotten a brave cask in the vice; and then when my journeymen swing their mallets and down it comes on the drivers clipp! clapp! clipp! clapp! — that’s merry music for you; and there stands your well-made cask. And of a verity I may look a little proudly about me when I take my marking-tool in my hand and mark the sign of my handiwork, that is known and honoured of all respectable wine-masters, on the bottom of the cask. You spoke of house-building, my good sir. Well, a beautiful house is in truth a glorious piece of work, but if I were a house-builder and went past a house I had built, and saw a dirty fellow or good-for-nothing rascal who had got possession of it looking down upon me from the bay-window, I should feel thoroughly ashamed — I should feel, purely out of vexation and annoyance, as if I should like to pull down and destroy my own work. But nothing like that can happen with the structures I build. Within them there comes and lives once for all nothing but the purest spirit on earth — good wine. God prosper my handiwork!”

“That’s a fine eulogy,” said Spangenberg, “and honestly and well meant. It does you honour to think so highly of your craft; but — do not get impatient if I keep harping upon the same string — now if a patrician really came and sued for your daughter? When a thing is brought right home to a man it often looks very different from what he thought it would.” “Why, i’ faith,” cried Master Martin somewhat vehemently, “why, what else could I do but make a polite bow and say, ‘My dear sir, if you were a brave cooper, but as it is’"—— “Stop a bit,” broke in Spangenberg again; “but if now some fine day a handsome Junker on a gallant horse, with a brilliant retinue dressed in magnificent silks and satins, were to pull up before your door and ask you for Rose to wife?” “Marry, by my faith,” cried Master Martin still more vehemently than before, “why, marry, I should run down as fast as I could and lock and bolt the door, and I should shout ‘Ride on farther! Ride on farther! my worshipful Herr Junker; roses like mine don’t blossom for you. My wine-cellar and my money-bags would, I dare say, suit you passing well — and you would take the girl in with the bargain; but ride on! ride on farther.’” Old Spangenberg rose to his feet, his face hot and red all over; then, leaning both hands on the table, he stood looking on the floor before him. “Well,” he began after a pause, “and now the last question, Master Martin. If the Junker before your door were my own son, if I myself stopped at your door, would you shut it then, should you believe then that we were only come for your wine-cellar and your money-bags?” “Not at all, not at all, my good and honoured sir,” replied Master Martin. “I would gladly throw open my door, and everything in my house should be at your and your son’s service; but as for my Rose, I should say to you, ‘If it had only pleased Providence to make your gallant son a brave cooper, there would be no more welcome son-inlaw on earth than he; but now’—— But, my dear good sir, why do you tease and worry me with such curious questions? See you, our merry talk has come abruptly to an end, and look! our glasses are all standing full. Let’s put all sons-inlaw and Rose’s marriage aside; here, I pledge you to the health of your son, who is, I hear, a handsome young knight.” Master Martin seized his glass; Paumgartner followed his example, saying, “A truce to all captious conversation, and here’s a health to your gallant son.” Spangenberg touched glasses with them, and said with a forced smile, “Of course you know I was only speaking in jest; for nothing but wild head-strong passion could ever lead my son, who may choose him a wife from amongst the noblest families in the land, so far to disregard his rank and birth as to sue for your daughter. But methinks you might have answered me in a somewhat more friendly way.” “Well, but, my good sir,” replied Master Martin, “even in jest I could only speak as I should act if the wonderful things you are pleased to imagine were really to happen. But you must let me have my pride; for you cannot but allow that I am the skilfullest cooper far and near, that I understand the management of wine, that I observe strictly and truly the admirable wine-regulations of our departed Emperor Maximilian3 (may he rest in peace!), that as beseems a pious man I abhor all godlessness, that I never burn more than one small half-ounce of pure sulphur4 in one of my two-tun casks, which is necessary to preserve it — the which, my good and honoured sirs, you will have abundantly remarked from the flavour of my wine.” Spangenberg resumed his seat, and tried to put on a cheerful countenance, whilst Paumgartner introduced other topics of conversation. But, as it so often happens, when once the strings of an instrument have got out of tune, they are always getting more or less warped, so that the player in vain tries to entice from them again the full-toned chords which they gave at first, thus it was with the three old gentlemen; no remark, no word, found a sympathetic response. Spangenberg called for his grooms, and left Master Martin’s house quite in an ill-humour after he had entered it in gay good spirits.

1 A string of pearls worn on the wedding-day was a prerogative of a patrician bride.

2 In the Middle Ages, in Nuremberg, and in most other industrial towns also, the artisans and others who formed guilds (each respective trade or calling having generally its guild) were divided into three grades, masters, journeymen, and apprentices. Admission from one of these grades into the one next above it was subject to various more or less restrictive conditions. A man could only become a “master” and regularly set up in business for himself after having gone through the various stages of training in conformity with the rules or prescriptions of his guild, after having constructed his masterpiece to the satisfaction of a specially appointed commission, and after fulfilling certain requirements as to age, citizenship, and in some cases possession of a certain amount of property. It was usual for journeymen to spend a certain time in travelling going from one centre of their trade to another.

3 From another passage (Der Feind, chap. i) it appears that the reference is to a series of regulations dealing with the wine industry, of date August 24, 1498, in the reign of Maximilian I.

4 Sulphur is burnt inside the cask (care being taken that it does not touch it) in order to keep it sweet and pure, as well as to impart both flavour and colour to the wine.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55