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A UBIN, THE DANCING-MASTER.
From the German of Jean Paul.
It may be that my young readers will be satisfied with my story after having read it, but they will be twenty year; hence, grateful, if they have profited by it. The court page-dancingmaster, Aubin, had little time, little money, still less memory, and few books: and yet he knew almost every thing by heart, and felt at home on other ground besides the dancing boards. I tried vainly to guess this riddle, and went to him who was himself a riddle. I did not mix among the pupils, but stood among the spectators of his cheerful lessons to the pages, together with a few female pupils in the great Redout-Saloon.
I came a little earlier than the pupils, who were fond of dancing every where, only not there where they had to learn it. Aubin was already at his post, and on seeiug me, put into his pocket a little book about the size of Schlosser's catechism.
“ I am so happy,” said he, as it were in apology of his industry, “ that I have no time and no ennui – I never feel that I am waiting for any thing, for I immediately draw forth a part of my pocket library.” He stole always a few minutes reading between his eight hours of lesson giving, and the time of recreation. How contemptible appears before such a thief of minutes in the best sense, a thief of time in the worst sense ! In the short quarter of an hour that our conversation lasted, he left me in doubt whether independently of the art of dancing, he possessed more peculiarly a knowledge of theology, jurisprudence, astronomy, history, or any other science.
After four o'clock the female pupils interrupted our discourse with theirs—I hope there was only one—at most one more, that had not read Mademoiselle de Genlis's, Veillées du Château, or she would have been more polite, silent, and modest—perhaps she had no longer any mother who could have told her that a young woman should be even more polite and retiring towards any man whom she pays, a dancing, drawing, or language master, than towards the friends of her parents. Aubin must certainly have found it wrong that she staid longer than the rest, and broke into our discourse, and at last put to him a question which is always indiscreet — “Whether his, or her sex
was the best ?" No person of education ever puts a question which is disagreeable to answer. I spared him this trouble by recounting a tale out of the “ Veillées.” We had time, as he was on the watch from five to six for fresh caperers, who today however were sitting in the play-house.
As my tale was ended and the girl gone, he begged me, to my astonishment, to relate it once more; for, said he, he could not remember names_his memory was like an exhausted field, through the miscellaneous reading of unconnected subjects.
To me, this weakness of a memory, which to day had only given me proofs of strength, was certainly incomprehensible. Still it is a fact, that one who takes up every instant another pursuit or occupation disturbs thereby his memory.
Good luck, or rather Don Carlos, for this was the play to day, took away the pupils and gave me the master. piece, said he, is always given on this day, (the 22nd of July,) because the hero of it expired on this anniversary in 1568.” He knew the day of many occurrences, the century of which others were ignorant of.
His weakness of memory became less and less comprehensible. “I must praise nothing, said he, but at most his pocket library.”
He took me home with him for the solution of this enigma.
About thirty volumes, mere compendiums of as many sciences, did he possess. Further, nothing-often are the chambers of the brain empty and the bookshelves full-here it was the reverse.
At last, taking the key of a book-case, he laid open both the case and the mystery, by exposing to view his pocket library.
It was composed of extracts, but shorter than they are usually now made.
To such of my readers who are so fortunate as still to be in those years, the loss, or mis-employment of which, is not to be recalled, I will recount word for word what the dancing-master told me. I will not deprive him of the thanks which some day they will give him. “I often requested, said he, of any one who had just returned a thick volume of travels to the circulating library, to write me out only one sheet of its contents. After four weeks of reading he could not even fill a page with the knowledge derived from the book—this was not only as bad as if he had not read it, but worse. I had scholars who got through more books in the course of the year, than through days, and were not by three hundred and sixty-five lines the richer.”
“ It is impossible to read much, and to remember much at the same time.
What then is to be done ?" Merely extracts. I caught at first out of every book two or three remarkable facts like butterflies, and made them fast through pen and ink in my extract book. I levied recruits from every species of knowledge—three lines--no more, were allowed to each subject. I never borrowed more than one book at a time in order to get through it quicker; to borrow many, is like buying them; either they are not read or only after a long time. Often the whole spirit brought out of a book by my press, consists in a single drop, but at least after the space of even ten years, I have still something from my book to shew, namely, this drop. These extracts I take out of my pocket at all times like scented water, in the street, in the anti-room, in the dancing-room, and refresh myself with these life-drops; were my memory still weaker, then would I read them still oftener.”
“ The chief thing is that I make extracts out of my extracts, and draw out the spirit once more; for instance, at one time I read through the article dancing-at another, all about flowers, and make a memorandum in two words, of these, in a smaller compass, and so draw out my cask into bottles.”
Only in this manner can my weak memory carry and preserve a heavy load of numbers. I divide them into three hundred and sixty-five little loads."
Here he gave me his almanack. To each month was appended a half sheet, upon which stood marked against each day, whether it was the birth day or that of the death of a noted man; or the anniversary of a remarkable event; or of a Greek, Jewish, or Romish festival; or of the time that either some species of beetles, or some migratory birds, take to the earth, or to distant lands for their winter quarters.
Every morning he looked at the history of that day's date, and at the end of a twelvemonth he had more than twice three hundred and sixty-five numbers in his head.
Here I pressed the man whose heart burned towards any species of knowledge to my own, and owned that since my fourteenth year
I had followed in nearly the same road; and you, dear young folks, do so, that you may also be embraced from the same cause; do not forget Aubin, who had no time, no money, and yet so much information! Forget him, and you will not retain out of the library of an university, so much as is contained in one of its widely apart written catalogues—this inundation of book leaves but a wasted flat — again sweeps
over your memory, and after this ebbing and flowing, there does not remain in your mind a single well watered plant, but only a sandy waste.
Neither can you repeat — for you must then read over again the old volume, and rehearse the remembered and forgotten together, whilst at the same time you are getting through a new book, and at last you would want almost a renewal of your life for the repetition of your readings; in short, forget what you please, only, not my tale. Even those among you who, startled, lament that they are already too old, these, I take by the hand, and say to them comfortingly, only follow Aubin and me; the greater the reason to take the shortest way, since you enter late the path of knowledge.
Exactly on the same grounds that he and I continue in the evening of life to extract, must you now begin. Should I still live ten years hence, I will on this day remember this paper, and looking about me in every part of the world, say, surely, there lives in this circuit more than one man who rejoices at having learnt ten years ago, how the dancing-master, Aubin, acted.
Our hero is a very common-place one. You may meet him in every one of life's highways. There is nothing to mark him from the crowd, save, perhaps, a quiet and unimpassioned manner, a listlessness of bearing, or, it may be an irresolution of character, which is only observed to be despised.
And yet, below this cold and careless exterior, there is an inward bias, so strong, so all-controlling, that it is the cause of the very manner, whose passiveness thus surprises us.
With thousands of others, he is bowed down beneath the influence of a single, resistless impulse, an overpowering and everpresent idea. We know not if we shall be understood, but it must have fallen to many beside ourselves to see one, in whom youth, and health, and hope, with their hundred onward incentives, have all been drowned beneath some strange, but all-powerful spell, which has held mind and heart, thought and feeling alike in subjection.
Owen Clare was one of these. His whole life had been swallowed up in one idea; he had dedicated his whole being to the worship of Music. And, singularly enough, nature, which had given him the faculty of appreciation in its keenest and widest sense, had denied him the power she accords the musician. He was made to be a listener, not a sharer in nature's harmonies.
Not that he repined at the want of a power which would have deprived him of much of his gratification and robbed his delight of the devotion which made him regard the sweet sounds of earth, as joys set apart for veneration rather than espousal.
We are afraid Owen would scarcely have passed, even as an enthusiast, the ordeal of a scientific artist. He would as readily listen to the black bird's song, as to the triumph of the “ prima donna," and gave ear to the storm-winds of heaven with all the thrilling ecstasy with which the grandest oratorio could impress him. Nay, we have seen him, in one of our busiest thoroughfares, rapt in the music of some untutored Italian boy, as if every note had come from the hand of a Beethoven. Yes! even with a ballad-singer, when the poor creature, whose voice was cracked out of all compass, had only feeling and heart to throw into her song, his eyes have filled with tears at the truth-telling of that ghost of a melody.
No wonder then, with such a mania, he gave up all for its gratification.
Some men feel their way in the world and are always living in