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

How the two young journeymen, Reinhold and Frederick, were taken into Master Martin’s house.

Next morning when Frederick awoke he missed his new-won friend, who had the night before thrown himself down upon the straw pallet at his side; and as his lute and his bundle were likewise missing, Frederick quite concluded that Reinhold, from reasons which were unknown to him, had left him and gone another road. But directly he stepped out of the house Reinhold came to meet him, his bundle on his back and his lute under his arm, and dressed altogether differently from what he had been the day before. He had taken the feather out of his baretta, and laid aside his sword, and had put on a plain burgher’s doublet of an unpretentious colour, instead of the fine one with the velvet trimmings. “Now, brother,” he cried, laughing merrily to his astonished friend, “you will acknowledge me for your true comrade and faithful work-mate now, eh? But let me tell you that for a youth in love you have slept most soundly. Look how high the sun is. Come, let us be going on our way.” Frederick was silent and busied with his own thoughts; he scarcely answered Reinhold’s questions and scarcely heeded his jests. Reinhold, however, was full of exuberant spirits; he ran from side to side, shouted, and waved his baretta in the air. But he too became more and more silent the nearer they approached the town. “I can’t go any farther, I am so full of nervousness and anxiety and sweet sadness; let us rest a little while beneath these trees.” Thus spake Frederick just before they reached the gate; and he threw himself down quite exhausted in the grass. Reinhold sat down beside him, and after a while began, “I daresay you thought me extremely strange yesterday evening, good brother mine. But as you told me about your love, and were so very dejected, then all kinds of foolish nonsense flooded my mind and made me quite confused, and would have made me mad in the end if your good singing and my lute had not driven away the evil spirits. But this morning when the first ray of sunlight awoke me, all my gaiety of heart returned, for all nasty feelings had already left me last evening. I ran out, and whilst wandering among the undergrowth a crowd of fine things came into my mind: how I had found you, and how all my heart felt drawn towards you. There also occurred to me a pretty little story which happened some time ago when I was in Italy; I will tell it to you, since it is a remarkable illustration of what true friendship can do.

“It chanced that a noble prince, a warm patron and friend of the Fine Arts, offered a very large prize for a painting, the subject of which was definitely fixed, and which, though a splendid subject, was one difficult to treat. Two young painters, united by the closest bond of friendship and wont to work together, resolved to compete for the prize. They communicated their designs to each other and had long talks as to how they should overcome the difficulties connected with the subject. The elder, more experienced in drawing and in arrangement and grouping, had soon formed a conception of the picture and sketched it; then he went to the younger, whom he found so discouraged in the very designing that he would have given the scheme up, had not the elder constantly encouraged him, and imparted to him good advice. But when they began to paint, the younger, a master in colour, was able to give his friend many a hint, which he turned to the best account; and eventually it was found that the younger had never designed a better picture, nor the elder coloured one better. The pieces being finished, the two artists fell upon each other’s neck; each was delighted, enraptured, with the other’s work, and each adjudged the prize, which they both deserved, to his friend. But when, eventually, the prize was declared to have fallen to the younger, he cried, ashamed, ‘Oh! how can I have gained the prize? What is my merit in comparison with that of my friend? I should never have produced anything at all good without his advice and valuable assistance.’ Then said the elder, ‘And did not you too stand by me with invaluable counsel? My picture is certainly not bad; but yours has carried off the prize as it deserved. To strive honestly and openly towards the same goal, that is the way of true friends; the wreath which the victor wins confers honour also upon the vanquished. I love you now all the more that you have so bravely striven, and in your victory I also reap fame and honour.’ And the painter was right, was he not, Frederick? Honest contention for the same prize, without any malicious reserve, ought to unite true friends still more and knit their hearts still closer, instead of setting them at variance. Ought there to be any room in noble minds for petty envy or malicious hate?” “Never, certainly not,” replied Frederick. “We are now faithful loving brothers, and shall both in a short time construct our masterpiece in Nuremburg, a good two-tun cask, made without fire; but Heaven forbid that I should feel the least spark of envy if yours, dear brother Reinhold, turned out to be better than mine.” “Ha! ha! ha!” laughed Reinhold heartily, “go on with you and your masterpiece; you’ll soon manage that to the joy of all good coopers. And let me tell you that in all that concerns calculation of size and proportion, and drawing plans of sections of circles, you’ll find I’m your man. And then in choosing your wood you may rely fully upon me. Staves of the holm oak felled in winter, without worm-holes, without either red or white streaks, and without blemish, that’s what we must look for; you may trust my eyes. I will stand by you with all the help I can, in both deed and counsel; and my own masterpiece will be none the worse for it.” “But in the name of all that’s holy,” broke in Frederick here, “why are we chattering about who is to make the best masterpiece? Are we to have any contest about the matter? — the best masterpiece — to gain Rose! What are we thinking about? The very thought makes me giddy.” “Marry, brother,” cried Reinhold, still laughing, “there was no thought at all of Rose. You are a dreamer. Come along, let us go on if we are to get into the town.” Frederick leapt to his feet, and went on his way, his mind in a whirl of confusion.

As they were washing and brushing off the dust of travel in the hostelry, Reinhold said to Frederick, “To tell you the truth, I for my part don’t know for what master I shall work; I have no acquaintances here at all; and I thought you would perhaps take me along with you to Master Martin’s, brother? Perhaps I may get taken on by him.” “You remove a heavy load from my heart,” replied Frederick, “for if you will only stay with me, it will be easier for me to conquer my anxiety and nervousness.” And so the two young apprentices trudged sturdily on to the house of the famed cooper, Master Martin.

It happened to be the very Sunday on which Master Martin gave his feast in honour of his election as “Candle-master;” and the two arrived just as they were partaking of the good cheer. So it was that as Reinhold and Frederick entered into Master Martin’s house they heard the ringing of glasses and the confused buzz and rattle of a merry company at a feast. “Oh!” said Frederick quite cast down, “we have, it seems, come at an unseasonable time.” “Nay, I think we have come exactly at the right time,” replied Reinhold, “for Master Martin is sure to be in good humour after a good feast, and well disposed to grant our wishes.” They caused their arrival to be announced to Master Martin, and soon he appeared in the entrance-passage, dressed in holiday garb and with no small amount of colour in his nose and on his cheeks. On catching sight of Frederick he cried, “Holla! Frederick, my good lad, have you come home again? That’s fine! And so you have taken up the best of all trades — cooperage. Herr Holzschuer cuts confounded wry faces when your name is mentioned, and says a great artist is ruined in you, and that you could have cast little images and espaliers as fine as those in St. Sebald’s or on Fugger’s1 house at Augsburg. But that’s all nonsense; you have done quite right to step across the way here. Welcome, lad, welcome with all my heart.” And therewith Herr Martin took him by the shoulders and drew him to his bosom, as was his wont, thoroughly well pleased. This kind reception by Master Martin infused new spirits into Frederick; all his nervousness left him, so that unhesitatingly and without constraint he was able not only to prefer his own request but also warmly to recommend Reinhold. “Well, to tell you the truth,” said Master Martin, “you could not have come at a more fortunate time than just now, for work keeps increasing and I am bankrupt of workmen. You are both heartily welcome. Put your bundles down and come in; our meal is indeed almost finished, but you can come and take your seats at the table, and Rose shall look after you and get you something.” And Master Martin and the two journeymen went into the room. There sat the honest masters, the worthy syndic Jacobus Paumgartner at their head, all with hot red faces. Dessert was being served, and a better brand of wine was sparkling in the glasses. Every master was talking about something different from all his neighbours and in a loud voice, and yet they all thought they understood each other; and now and again some of them burst out in a hearty laugh without exactly knowing why. When, however. Master Martin came back, leading the two young men by the hand, and announced aloud that he brought two journeymen who had come to him well provided with testimonials just at the time he wanted them, then all grew silent, each master scrutinising the smart young fellows with a smile of comfortable satisfaction, whilst Frederick cast his eyes down and twisted his baretta about in his hands. Master Martin directed the youths to places at the very bottom of the table; but these were soon the very best of all, for Rose came and took her seat between the two, and served them attentively both with dainty dishes and with good rich wine. There was Rose, a most winsome picture of grace and loveliness, seated between the two handsome youths, all in midst of the bearded old men — it was a right pleasant sight to see; the mind instantly recalled a bright morning cloud rising solitary above the dim dark horizon, or beautiful spring flowers lifting up their bright heads from amidst the uniform colourless grass. Frederick was so very happy and so very delighted that his breath almost failed him for joy; and only now and again did he venture to steal a glance at her who filled his heart so fully. His eyes were fixedly bent upon his plate; how could he possibly dream of eating the least morsel? Reinhold, on the other hand, could not turn his sparkling, radiant eyes away from the lovely maiden. He began to talk about his long journeys in such a wonderful way that Rose had never heard anything like it. She seemed to see everything of which he spoke rise up vividly before her in manifold ever-changing forms. She was all eyes and ears; and when Reinhold, carried away by the fire of his own words, grasped her hand and pressed it to his heart, she didn’t know where she was. “But bless me,” broke off Reinhold all at once, “why, Frederick, you are quite silent and still. Have you lost your tongue? Come, let us drink to the weal of the lovely maiden who has so hospitably entertained us.” With a trembling hand Frederick seized the huge drinking-glass that Reinhold had filled to the brim and now insisted on his draining to the last drop. “Now here’s long life to our excellent master,” cried Reinhold, again filling the glasses and again compelling Frederick to empty his. Then the fiery juices of the wine permeated his veins and stirred up his stagnant blood until it coursed as it were triumphantly through his every limb. “Oh! I feel so indescribably happy,” he whispered, the burning blushes mounting into his cheeks. “Oh! I have never felt so happy in all my life before.” Rose, who undoubtedly gave another interpretation to his words, smiled upon him with incomparable gentleness. Then, quit of all his embarrassing shyness, Frederick said, “Dear Rose, I suppose you no longer remember me, do you?” “But, dear Frederick,” replied Rose, casting down her eyes, “how could I possibly forget you in so short a time? When you were at Herr Holzschuer’s — true, I was only a mere child then, yet you did not disdain to play with me, and always had something nice and pretty to talk about. And that dear little basket made of fine silver wire that you gave me at Christmas-time, I’ve got it still, and I take care of it and keep it as a precious memento.” Frederick was intoxicated with delight and tears glittered in his eyes. He tried to speak, but there only burst from his breast, like a deep sigh, the words, “O Rose — dear, dear Rose.” “I have always really from my heart longed to see you again,” went on Rose; “but that you would become a cooper, that I never for a moment dreamed. Oh! when I call to mind the beautiful things that you made whilst you were with Master Holzschuer — oh! it really is a pity that you have not stuck to your art.” “O Rose,” said Frederick, “it is only for your sake that I have become unfaithful to it.” No sooner had he uttered these words than he could have sunk into the earth for shame and confusion. He had most thoughtlessly let the confession slip over his lips. Rose, as if divining all, turned her face away from him; whilst he in vain struggled for words.

Then Herr Paumgartner struck the table a bang with his knife, and announced to the company that Herr Vollrad, a worthy Meistersinger,2 would favour them with a song. Herr Vollrad at once rose to his feet, cleared his throat, and sang such an excellent song in the Güldne Tonweis 3 of Herr Vogelgesang that everybody’s heart leapt with joy, and even Frederick recovered himself from his awkward embarrassment again. After Herr Vollrad had sung several other excellent songs to several other excellent tunes, such as the Süsser Ton, the Krummzinkenweis, the Geblümte Paradiesweis, the Frisch Pomeranzenweis, &c., he called upon any one else at the table who understood anything of the sweet and delectable art of the Meistersinger also to honour them with a song. Then Reinhold rose to his feet and said that if he might be allowed to accompany himself on his lute in the Italian fashion he would give them a song, keeping, however, strictly to the German tune. As nobody had any objection he fetched his instrument, and, after a little tuneful prelude, began the following song:—

Where is the little fount

Where sparkles the spicy wine?

From forth its golden depths

Its golden sparkles mount

And dance ‘fore the gladdened eye.

This beautiful little fount

Wherein the golden wine

Sparkles — who made it,

With thoughtful skill and fine,

With such high art and industry,

That praise deserve so well?

This little fount so gay,

Wrought with high art and fine,

Was fashioned by one

Who ne’er an artist was —

But a brave young cooper he,

His veins with rich wine glowing,

His heart with true love singing,

And ever lovingly —

For that’s young cooper’s way

In all the things he does.

This song pleased them all down to the ground, but none more so than Master Martin, whose eyes sparkled with pleasure and delight. Without heeding Vollrad, who had almost too much to say about Hans Müller’s Stumpfe Schossweis, which the youth had caught excellently well — Master Martin, without heeding him, rose from his seat, and, lifting his passglas 4 above his head, called aloud, “Come here, honest cooper and Meistersinger, come here and drain this glass with me, your Master Martin.” Reinhold had to do as he was bidden. Returning to his place, he whispered into Frederick’s ear, who was looking very pensive, “Now, you must sing — sing the song you sang last night.” “Are you mad?” asked Frederick, quite angry. But Reinhold turned to the company and said in a loud voice, “My honoured gentlemen and masters, my dear brother Frederick here can sing far finer songs, and has a much pleasanter voice than I have, but his throat has got full of dust from his travels, and he will treat you to some of his songs another time, and then to the most admirable tunes.” And they all began to shower down their praises upon Frederick, as if he had already sung. Indeed, in the end, more than one of the masters was of opinion that his voice was really more agreeable than journeyman Reinhold’s, and Herr Vollrad also, after he had drunk another glass, was convinced that Frederick could use the beautiful German tunes far better than Reinhold, for the latter had too much of the Italian style about him. And Master Martin, throwing his head back into his neck, and giving his round belly a hearty slap, cried, “Those are my journeymen, my journeymen, I tell you — mine, master-cooper Tobias Martin’s of Nuremberg.” And all the other masters nodded their heads in assent, and, sipping the last drops out of the bottom of their tall glasses, said, “Yes, yes. Your brave, honest journeymen, Master Martin — that they are.” At length it was time to retire to rest Master Martin led Reinhold and Frederick each into a bright cheerful room in his own house.

1 The family of Fugger, which rose from the position of poor weavers to be the richest merchant princes in Augsburg, decorated their house with frescoes externally, like so many other old German families.

2 During the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries there existed in many German towns (Nuremberg, Frankfort, Strasburg, Ulm, Mayence, &c.) associations or guild-like corporations of burghers, the object of which was the cultivation of song in the same systematic way that the mechanical arts were practised. They framed strict and well-defined codes of rules (Tablatures ) by means of which they tested a singer’s capabilities. As the chief aims which they set before themselves were the invention of new tunes or melodies, and also songs (words), it resulted that they fell into the inevitable vice of cold formalism, and banished the true spirit of poetry by their many arbitrary rules about rhyme, measure, and melody, and the dry business-like manner in which they worked. The guild or company generally consisted of five distinct grades, the ultimate one being that of master, entrance into which was only permitted to the man who had invented a new melody or tune, and had sung it in public without offending against any of the laws of the Tablature . The subjects, which, as the singers were honest burghers, could not be taken from topics in which chivalric life took any interest, were mostly restricted to fables, legendary lore, and consisted very largely of Biblical narratives and passages.

3 These words are the names of various “tunes,” and signified in each case a particular metre, rhyme, melody, &c, so that each was a brief definition of a number of individual items, so to speak. These Meistersinger technical terms (or slang?) are therefore not translatable, nor could they be made intelligible by paraphrase, even if the requisite information for each instance were at hand.

4 A glass divided by means of marks placed at intervals from top to bottom. It was usual for one who was invited to drink to drink out of the challenger’s glass down to the mark next below the top of the liquid.

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