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

How the third journeyman came into Master Martin’s house and what followed in consequence.

After the two journeymen had worked for some weeks in Master Martin’s workshop, he perceived that in all that concerned measurement with rule and compass, and calculation, and estimation of measure and size by eyesight, Reinhold could hardly find his match, but it was a different thing when it came to hard work at the bench or with the adze or the mallet. Then Reinhold soon grew tired, and the work did not progress, no matter how great efforts he might make. On the other hand, Frederick planed and hammered away without growing particularly tired. But one thing they had in common with each other, and that was their well-mannered behaviour, marked, principally at Reinhold’s instance, by much natural cheerfulness and good-natured enjoyment. Besides, even when hard at work, they did not spare their throats, especially when pretty Rose was present, but sang many an excellent song, their pleasant voices harmonising well together. And whenever Frederick, glancing shyly across at Rose, seemed to be falling into his melancholy mood, Reinhold at once struck up a satirical song that he composed, beginning, “The cask is not the cither, nor is the cither the cask,” so that old Herr Martin often had to let the croze-adze which he had raised, sink again without striking and hold his big belly as it wabbled from his internal laughter. Above all, the two journeymen, and mainly Reinhold, had completely won their way into Martin’s favour; and it was not difficult to observe that Rose found a good many pretexts for lingering oftener and longer in the workshop than she certainly otherwise would have done.

One day Master Martin entered his open workshop outside the town-gate, where work was carried on all the summer through, with his brow weighted with thought Reinhold and Frederick were in the act of setting up a small cask. Then Master Martin planted himself before them with his arms crossed over his chest and said, “I can’t tell you how pleased I am with you, my good journeymen, but I am just now in a great difficulty. They write me from the Rhine that this will be a more prosperous wine-year than there ever has been before. A learned man says that the comet which has been seen in the heavens will fructify the earth with its wonderful tail, so that the glowing heat which fabricates the precious metals down in the deepest mines will all stream upwards and evaporate into the thirsty vines, till they prosper and thrive and put forth multitudes of grapes, and the liquid fire with which they are filled will be poured out into the grapes. It will be almost three hundred years before such a favourable constellation occurs again. So now we shall all have our hands full of work. And then there’s his Lordship the Bishop of Bamberg has written to me and ordered a large cask. That we can’t get done; and I shall have to look about for another useful journeyman. Now I should not like to take the first fellow I meet off the street amongst us, and yet the matter is very urgent. If you know of a good journeyman anywhere whom you would be willing to work with, you have only to tell me, and I will get him here, even though it should cost me a good sum of money.”

Hardly had Master Martin finished speaking when a young man, tall and stalwart, shouted to him in a loud voice, “Hi! you there! is this Master Martin’s workshop?” “Certainly,” replied Master Martin, going towards the young man, “certainly it is; but you needn’t shout so deuced loud and lumber in like that; that’s not the way to find people.” “Ha! ha! ha!” laughed the young fellow, “marry, you are Master Martin himself, for — fat belly — stately double-chin — sparkling eyes, and red nose — yes, that’s just how he was described to me. I bid you good hail, Master Martin.” “Well, and what do you want from Master Martin?” he asked, indignantly. The young fellow replied, “I am a journeyman cooper, and merely wanted to ask if I could find work with you.” Marvelling that just as he was thinking about looking out for a journeyman one should come to him like this, Master Martin drew back a few paces and eyed the young man from head to foot. He, however, met the scrutiny unabashed and with sparkling eyes. Noting his broad chest, stalwart build, and powerful arms, Master Martin thought within himself, it’s just such a lusty fellow as this that I want, and he at once asked him for his trade testimonials.1 “I haven’t them with me just at this present moment,” replied the young man, “but I will get them in a short time; and I give you now my word of honour that I will work well and honestly, and that must suffice you.” Thereupon, without waiting for Master Martin’s reply, the young journeyman stepped into the workshop. He threw down his baretta and bundle, took off his doublet, put on his apron, and said, “Come, Master Martin, tell me at once what I am to begin with.” Master Martin, completely taken aback by the young stranger’s resolute vigour and promptitude, had to think a little; then he said, “Come then, my fine fellow, and show me at once that you are a good cooper; take this croze-adze and finish the groove of that cask lying in the vice yonder.” The stranger performed what he had been bidden with remarkable strength, quickness, and skill; and then he cried, laughing loudly, “Now, Master Martin, have you any doubts now as to my being a good cooper? But,” he continued, going backwards and forwards through the shop, and examining the instruments and tools, and supply of wood, “but though you are well supplied with useful stores and — but what do you call this little thing of a mallet? I suppose it’s for your children to play with; and this little adze here — why it must be for your apprentices when they first begin,” and he swung round his head the huge heavy mallet which Reinhold could not lift and which Frederick had great difficulty in wielding; and then he did the same with the ponderous adze with which Master Martin himself worked. Then he rolled a couple of huge casks on one side as if they had been light balls, and seized one of the large thick beams which had not yet been worked at “Marry, master,” he cried, “marry, this is good sound oak; I wager it will snap like glass.” And thereupon he struck the stave against the grindstone so that it broke clean in half with a loud crack. “Pray be so kind,” said Master Martin, “pray have the kindness, my good fellow, to kick that two-tun cask about or to pull down the whole shop. There, you can take that balk for a mallet, and that you may have an adze to your mind I will have Roland’s sword, which is three yards long, fetched for you from the town-house.” “Ay, do, that’s just the thing,” said the young man, his eyes flashing; but the next minute he cast them down upon the ground and said, lowering his voice, “I only thought, good master, that you wanted right strong journeymen for your heavy work, and now I have, I see, been too forward, too swaggering, in displaying my bodily strength. But do take me on to work, I will faithfully do whatever you shall require of me.” Master Martin scanned the youth’s features, and could not but admit that he had never seen more nobility and at the same time more downright honesty in any man’s face. And yet, as he looked upon the young fellow, there stole into his mind a dim recollection of some man whom he had long esteemed and honoured, but he could not clearly call to mind who it was. For this reason he granted the young man’s request on the spot, only enjoining upon him to produce at the earliest opportunity the needful credible trade attestations.

Meanwhile Reinhold and Frederick had finished setting up their cask and were now busy driving on the first hoops. Whilst doing this they were always in the habit of striking up a song; and on this occasion they began a good song in Adam Puschmann’s Stieglitzweis . Then Conrad (that was the name of the new journeyman) shouted across from the bench where Master Martin had placed him, “By my troth, what squalling do you call that? I could fancy I hear mice squeaking somewhere about the shop. An you mean to sing at all, sing so that it will cheer the heart and make the work go down well. That’s how I sing a bit now and again.” And he began to bellow out a noisy hunting ditty with its hollas! and hoy, boys! and he imitated the yelping of the hounds and the shrill shouts of the hunters in such a clear, keen, stentorian voice that the huge casks rang again and all the workshop echoed. Master Martin held his hands over his ears, and Dame Martha’s (Valentine’s widow) little boys, who were playing in the shop, crept timorously behind the piled-up staves. Just at this moment Rose came in, amazed, nay, frightened at the terrible noise; it could not be called singing anyhow. As soon as Conrad observed her, he at once stopped, and leaving his bench he approached her and greeted her with the most polished grace. Then he said in a gentle voice, whilst an ardent fire gleamed in his bright brown eyes, “Lovely lady, what a sweet rosy light shone into this humble workman’s hut when you came in! Oh! had I but perceived you sooner, I had not outraged your tender ears with my wild hunting ditty.” Then, turning to Master Martin and the other journeymen, he cried, “Oh! do stop your abominable knocking and rattling. As long as this gracious lady honours us with her presence, let mallets and drivers rest. Let us only listen to her sweet voice, and with bowed head hearken to what she may command us, her humble servants.” Reinhold and Frederick looked at each other utterly amazed; but Master Martin burst out laughing and said, “Well, Conrad, it is now plain that you are the most ridiculous donkey who ever put on apron. First you come here and want to break everything to pieces like an uncultivated giant; then you bellow in such a way as to make our ears tingle; and, as a fitting climax to all your foolishness, you take my little daughter Rose for a lady of rank and act like a love-smitten Junker.” Conrad replied, coolly, “Your lovely daughter I know very well, my worthy Master Martin; but I tell you that she is the most peerless lady who treads the earth, and if Heaven grant it she would honour the very noblest of Junkers by permitting him to be her Paladin in faithful knightly love.” Master Martin held his sides, and it was only by giving vent to his laughter in hums and haws that he prevented himself from choking. As soon as he could at all speak, he stammered, “Good, very good, my most excellent youth; you may continue to regard my daughter as a lady of high rank, I shall not hinder you; but, irrespective of that, will you have the goodness to go back to your bench?” Conrad stood as if spell-bound, his eyes cast down upon the ground; and rubbing his forehead, he said in a low voice, “Ay, it is so,” and did as he was bidden. Rose, as she always did in the shop, sat down upon a small cask, which Frederick placed for her, and which Reinhold carefully dusted. At Master Martin’s express desire they again struck up the admirable song in which they had been so rudely interrupted by Conrad’s bluster; but he went on with his work at the bench, quite still, and entirely wrapped up in his own thoughts.

When the song came to an end Master Martin said, “Heaven has endowed you with a noble gift, my brave lads; you would not believe how highly I value the delectable art of song. Why, once I wanted to be a Meistersinger myself, but I could not manage it, even though I tried all I knew how. All that I gained by my efforts was ridicule and mockery. In ‘Voluntary Singing’2 I either got into false ‘appendages,’ or ‘double notes,’ or a wrong ‘measure,’ or an unsuitable ‘embellishment,’ or started the wrong melody altogether. But you will succeed better, and it shall be said, what the master can’t do, his journeymen can. Next Sunday after the sermon there will be a singing contest by the Meistersinger at the usual time in St. Catherine’s Church. But before the ‘Principal Singing’ there will be a ‘Voluntary,’ in which you may both of you win praise and honour in your beautiful art, for any stranger who can sing at all, may freely take part in this. And, he! Conrad, my journeyman Conrad,” cried Master Martin across to the bench, “would not you also like to get into the singing-desk and treat our good folk to your fine hunting-chorus?” Without looking up, Conrad replied, “Mock not, good master, mock not; everything in its place. Whilst you are being edified by the Meistersinger, I shall enjoy myself in my own way on the Allerwiese.”

And what Master Martin anticipated came to pass. Reinhold got into the singing-desk and sang divers songs to divers tunes, with which all the Meistersingers were well pleased; and although they were of opinion that the singer had not made any mistake, yet they had a slight objection to urge against him — a sort of something foreign about his style, but yet they could not say exactly in what it consisted. Soon afterwards Frederick took his seat in the singing-desk; and doffing his baretta, he stood some seconds looking silently before him; then after sending a glance at the audience which entered lovely Rose’s bosom like a burning arrow, and caused her to fetch a deep sigh, he began such a splendid song in Heinrich Frauenlob’s3 Zarter Ton, that all the masters agreed with one accord there was none amongst them who could surpass the young journeyman.

The singing-school came to an end towards evening, and Master Martin, in order to finish off the day’s enjoyment in proper style, betook himself in high good-humour to the Allerwiese along with Rose. The two journeymen, Reinhold and Frederick, were permitted to accompany them; Rose was walking between them. Frederick, radiant with delight at the masters’ praise, and intoxicated with happiness, ventured to breathe many a daring word in Rose’s ear which she, however, casting down her eyes in maidenly coyness, pretended not to hear. Rather she turned to Reinhold, who, according to his wont, was running on with all sorts of merry nonsense; nor did he hesitate to place his arm in Rose’s. Whilst even at a considerable distance from the Allerwiese they could hear noisy shouts and cries. Arrived at the place where the young men were amusing themselves in all kinds of games, partly chivalric, they heard the crowd shout time after time, “Won again! won again! He’s the strongest again! Nobody can compete with him.” Master Martin, on working his way through the crowd, perceived that it was nobody else but his journeyman Conrad who was reaping all this praise and exciting the people to all this applause. He had beaten everybody in racing and boxing and throwing the spear. As Martin came up, Conrad was shouting out and inquiring if there was anybody who would have a merry bout with him with blunt swords. This challenge several stout young patricians, well accustomed to this species of pastime, stepped forward and accepted. But it was not long before Conrad had again, without much trouble or exertion, overcome all his opponents; and the applause at his skill and strength seemed as if it would never end.

The sun had set; the last glow of evening died away, and twilight began to creep on apace. Master Martin, with Rose and the two journeymen, had thrown themselves down beside a babbling spring of water. Reinhold was telling of the wonders of distant Italy, but Frederick, quiet and happy, had his eyes fixed on pretty Rose’s face. Then Conrad drew near with slow hesitating steps, as if rather undecided in his own mind whether he should join them or not Master Martin called to him, “Come along, Conrad, come along, come along; you have borne yourself bravely on the meadow; that’s what I like in my journeymen, and it’s what becomes them. Don’t be shy, lad; come and join us, you have my permission.” Conrad cast a withering glance at his master, who however met it with a condescending nod; then the young journeyman said moodily, “I am not the least bit shy of you, and I have not asked your permission whether I may lie down here or not — in fact, I have not come to you at all. All my opponents I have stretched in the sand in the merry knightly sports, and all I now wanted was to ask this lovely lady whether she would not honour me with the beautiful flowers she wears in her bosom, as the prize of the chivalric contest.” Therewith he dropped upon one knee in front of Rose, and looked her straight and honestly in the face with his clear brown eyes, and he begged, “O give me those beautiful flowers, sweet Rose, as the prize of victory; you cannot refuse me that.” Rose at once took the flowers from her bosom and gave them to him, laughing and saying, “Ay, I know well that a brave knight like you deserves a token of honour from a lady; and so here, you may have my withered flowers.” Conrad kissed the flowers that were given him, and then fastened them in his baretta; but Master Martin, rising to his feet, cried, “There’s another of your silly tricks — come, let us be going home; it is getting dark.” Herr Martin strode on first; Conrad with modest courtly grace took Rose’s arm; whilst Reinhold and Frederick followed them considerably out of humour. People who met them, stopped and turned round to look after them, saying, “Marry, look now, look; that’s the rich cooper Thomas Martin, with his pretty little daughter and his stout journeymen. A fine set of people I call them.”

1 These would consist of the certificate of his admission into the ranks of the journeymen of the guild, of the certificates of proper dismissal signed by the various masters for whom he had worked whilst on travel, together with testimonials of good conduct from the same masters.

2 On these great singing days, generally on Sundays in the churches, and on special occasions in the town-house, the “performances” consisted of three parts. 1. First came a “Voluntary Solo–Singing,” in which anybody, even a stranger, might participate, no contest being entered into, and no rewards given. 2. This was followed by a song by all the masters in chorus, 3. Then came the “Principal Singing,” the chief “event” of the day — the actual singing contest. Four judges were appointed to examine those who successively presented themselves, being guided by the strict laws and regulations of the Tablatures . Those who violated these laws, that is, who made mistakes, had to leave the singing-desk; the successful ones were, however, crowned with wreaths, and had earned the right to act themselves as judges on future occasions.

3 Heinrich von Meissen, called Frauenlob (died 1318), after having lived at various courts in both the north and the south of Germany, settled at Mayence and gathered together (1311) a school or society of burgher singers.

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