The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Heinerle: The Peasant Artist

by Emil Frommel.
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 141-151

Translated from the German by K. W. Bent. (With permission.)


Chapter IV. The Fair.

Once it happened that when the parents went to the yearly fair in the little town, they took Heinerle with them. That was as great a holiday for him as it is for town children to go into the country. His mother had some crockery to buy, and his father a pair of new boots and an axe, and these required a great deal of bargaining and deliberation; and old Huber took up the boots, and tried them again, at least ten times, to see if they were water-tight; and his wife always saw some pot that pleased her better than another. In the meanwhile, Heinerle, who found this operation tedious, wandered away from his parents, if not, like the twelve-year-old Saviour, into the Temple, at least into the Temple of Art which a picture-seller had set up. Like linen on a clothes-line, the pictures were pinned up close together, and flapped about vigorously in the wind. There one could have all that could be wished for: Bible stories and scenes of slaughter, picture stories and proverbs, painted or unpainted, in gold and silver. In fine, Heinerle could not see enough. The picture-dealer explained them all, and named a whole heap of names of the artists, who painted them all, till Heinerle's eyes swam; and he only held fast one idea--namely, that he would one day become a famous man like them. All hunger was forgotten by him, and whilst other people went away, he remained still standing. "Now, then, buy something," said the picture-dealer to the youngster. But he made a face, as if he would say, "That's all very well; but it costs money."

In the meanwhile, the parents had struck the lowest bargain they could, the sun had already set, and Heinerle was not there. The crowd of people passed backwards and forwards, and the mother was terribly anxious, because there were circus-men and rope-dancers in the market-place, who, as you know, steal children. So both his parents sought for him in the market-place up and down, and asked for their Heinerle amongst the country people, but they had none of them seen him. Meanwhile, he was sitting quietly in the picture-dealer's booth, behind the pictures hanging up, with a great heap before him, the leaves of which he was turning over, thinking it more wonderful with each turn, that any one could do such things. His parents had started on their homeward way, and consoled themselves, as the parents of Jesus of old, with the hope that he might be amongst their neighbours. Yet no one at home had seen him. That gave them a sad night. At first, old Huber had determined to give the boy a good thrashing when he came home; but by degrees he changed his mind, and he would have been heartily glad if he had only been safely at home. But at last he left the matter in the hands of Him who cares for the sparrows who had their nests above his house, and went to sleep, as men can. But, to the mother, sleep did not come so quickly. She could think of nothing but that the circus-men, the foreigners, had stolen the pretty boy, and had broken his limbs, and she should never see him again. "Ah, Heinerle," said she, "you are truly my son of sorrow;" and at last, with much weeping, she fell asleep.

Heinerle had not noticed that the sun had set, and it was not until the dealer slowly took his pictures from the cord and packed them up that it became clear to him that it was evening. And now his misery began. He called his parents, and wept so copiously that the dealer set out, when his shop was shut up, to help him find his parents. But they were already a long way off, and only a few lighted-up refreshment booths and brandy shops were surrounded by people, and in the midst of the market-place, the tin trumpets of the circus resounded. His misery increased, for he could not find his way home through the wood at night. At last the picture-dealer said he should spend the night with him in his shop, and in the morning he would himself take him home. When a good supper appeared upon the table Heinerle put aside some of his grief, and remembered that the night is soon slept away. The dealer, however, wished to drive the boy's sadness away completely, and told him and his customers about the painters, what a separate class they were, not at all like other men. In his time he had been a good deal with them, and had drawn "The Transfiguration" of Raphael, and would have rather belonged to the Italian school; then spoke of the "shading stroke," and the "broad brush" of this painter, and the fine one of that, and how full of effect this or that one was. It was only because money was wanting to him so that he was unable to buy brush, canvas, and oil; he had also had shaky nerves, otherwise he might have become something too. He had the stuff; it was only the tools that were wanting.

So Heinerle heard that there were colours and brushes with which one could paint quite well all that God had created; and how a painter could live grandly and happily every day, and not be obliged to chop wood. "It is a life for the gods, " said the dealer, "as in Olympus." Heinerle did not understand that, for he had learnt differently from the catechism, and said, "Are there more gods than the good God?" "Ah," said the dealer, whose theology was not very exact, "that is only a figure of speech." When Heinerle asked what a figure of speech was, the dealer took a deep pull at his short pipe, blew some clouds out, and said at last: "Well, a figure of speech is just--a figure of speech." In order to be plagued with no more "ideas," he asked Heinerle "whether he had drawn anything yet, that he had such a liking for picture?" "Oh yes," said Heinerle confidently, "a whole drawer full!" Then he told him naively how he hated school because of the arithmetic, and how he often went into the wood with his father and drew flowers; in short, the dealer said at length, with pleasant dignity and raised voice, "Whether you have genius, or whether you have talent (and, mark you, there is a difference), you will be somebody, and I will help towards the making of you. But now go to bed. I shall remain down here a while longer." Heinerle went to the bed assigned to him, which he shared with the dealer, and it was a great event to him that he was not to sleep with his mother, but with such a famous man; and in the night his head was full of these things, and he dreamt of Raphael, of broad and thin brushes, of the life of the gods, and of the trembling nerves.

Early in the morning the picture-dealer went with his protégé, before the fair re-opened, to the wood, and enjoyed bringing the child back to his parents, and telling them what a treasure they had. The father had already taken a short cut back to the little town, and they had missed him. But the mother was at home. Her heart beat loud when she saw the little fellow coming, but she immediately thought that the man with him was a tight-rope dancer, who had brought the child just to say good-bye, and that she would never see him again. But when Heinerle sprang so joyfully towards her, and told her about the good man from whose plate he had eaten, and in whose bed he had slept, and what a celebrated man he was, then she was light-hearted, and brought the best that was in her house, and the dealer found the butter and honey, together with the little jar of wine, excellent.

In the meanwhile Heinerle had pulled out his drawer, and now emptied out his works of art in a row. "Not bad; not at all bad; a good deal of feeling; rather imperfect; not quite carried out; a good effect," and so on; whilst Frau Huber held her hands under her apron, and anxiously looked at Heinerle. "Talent, if no genius--a great difference between them!--may become something, if properly trained." The upshot of the interview was that, on the last day of the fair, his parents were to come again with Heinerle in order to look a little more into the matter. In the meanwhile he packed up together some of Heinerle's drawings to send to some of his "connexion"--a word Frau Huber did not quite trust, "for one did not know what sort of a town that might be."


Chapter I. The Visit to the Godfather.

Even into the best-guarded house, a little breath of chill air can find its way, if it only penetrates through the keyhole; and so into the most peaceful household a blast of wind penetrates many a time, gradually chilling the folks inside, and changing their countenances like Laban, whose face to-day was not the same as it was yesterday or the day before that. With some, the hour speedily arrives, only a few weeks after the wedding, when they are just settled in the new house, and the spoons and knives are still bright, and the table-linen still so glossy that it slips off the table. Thus it is midnight with one and noon with the other, like two weathercocks on two church towers, whose feathers are gone, so that they fail to indicate the direction of the wind, and each one thinks he is right. Then eyes are opened wide, and say wonderingly, "I should not have thought that of you"; for the little packet which one has been taught with one's alphabet to call "sin" has slipped in unobserved amongst the household goods. With some it begins later, when they have eaten some bushels of salt together; but whenever it comes, it is always a test to show on what foundation the house stands. For it was not in the bright clear sunshine, but when the rain fell, and the floods came, and the wind blew and beat upon the house, that it showed whether it was built upon the sand or upon the rock.

To this rule the house of Florian Huber was no exception. Since the picture-dealer had been in the house and had tasted their hospitality, peace had retired. Yet it did not lie in the fact that he had eaten there, nor that he had done so with a relish. But his pictures remained as firmly in Heinerle's head as if they had been fixed there with a clinch, as they were in the dealer's shop, and the mother dreamed of nothing else but that her Heinerle would some day become a celebrated painter. Only old Huber regarded it differently. He had already heard of painters, and had also seen some of them, and those he had seen had great flappy hats, it is true, but thin, unsubstantial coats withal, and boots which at every step gaped like the jaw of a dog-fish. And therefore he could not put any confidence in Art, and thought wood-cutting was a much more solid handicraft, and at any rate a wood-cutter can wear a Sunday coat. Besides, those sort of people talked too much, and that was no recommendation to him. Those he had seen were quite masters of the brush, but the brush which they carried had either a long staff like the sacristan with his alms-bag, or it was a foot long, with great broad bristles, and was described in the painters' handbook as "house-painter," which word people had translated into high German as "painter."

So, for the first time, a misunderstanding sprang up between Huber and his Crecenz about the Art question, and for the first time since they were married the sun set without their yielding to each other, or wishing each other good-night. And yet it's such a fitting thing to say "Good-night." One does not know what may happen in the night, or what may be whispered in one's ear in the darkness, especially when one takes anger to bed with one. It is no wonder, therefore, that people so often get out of bed the wrong side in the morning, and do not know why everything is wrong, and why the coffee is not to their taste, although the cook maintains that it came direct from Java, and had been slowly heaped up, and not a drachm more chicory than usual put in it. So it was with Huber and his wife this night. Neither of them could sleep, and neither knew what ailed them, and yet it would have been no witchery to find the little chink at which the draught of wind entered. But next day, when Frau Huber turned her face towards the east, and would have prayed as she did every morning, it was not right with her, and she did not feel the confidence that a dear child does in praying to its good Father, and so for the first time she was thoroughly sad at heart. It was a good sign that it should trouble her. For prayer is always the test how one stands towards God and man--when it is a prayer, mark you, and no babble. By it one can soon tell if all is not quite in order within. Frau Huber noticed this, and soon divined that the matter originated with her, and not with Huber, nor with the picture-dealer, nor with the annual fair. So when Huber woke up she wished him good-morning in a friendly way, gave him her hand, and said: "Huber, I have been angry long enough, and if you have also had enough, it will be doubly pleasing to me. I should have given in to you, for you are the man and I am the woman, and the man came into the world before the woman, as my blessed mother has often said." Huber was more than contented, and it was evident that a weight had been lifted from his heart. "Yes," he said, we will consider again about Heinerle. If you approve, we will go together to his godfather, who shall give us his opinion. He has seen more than you or I, and has had more experience in such matters."

On the following Sunday afternoon both dressed themselves to go across the mountain to the godfather. Heinerle was in his Sunday best: the fur-trimmed green velvet cap with the gold tassel, the stiff shirt-collar of solid linen sticking up all round the black jacket with the tucked-up sleeves, the turned-up trousers, both thoughtfully made with a view to growing, and the great red waistcoat, with the bright buttons, which came below his hips, to which must be added that his hair was cropped all round; this served to give Heinerle, in spite of his youth, a grandfatherly appearance. This was according to his own views, for since he had been to the picture-dealer's, and had slept in his bed, he had begun to look upon himself as one of the elders. Yet it is wonderful that even in the present day there comes a time when young people wish to be old, and the boy's collar will not set properly, nor the girl's laced boots; when they talk as if they were old and had lived as long as Methuselah, the son of Enoch, and have arrived at the wisdom of Solomon, saying: "There is nothing new under the sun." And, again, when they have grown old they must not hear a word of it, and are ashamed of their age as they were once of their youth, and dress themselves like young people out of doors, who ask after the latest fashion, and not after the newest price, and talk in such a green and youthful way that the grey hair on their heads nearly turns red.

Behind Heinerle walked Huber and his wife, who to-day was wearing her garnet chain of six rows, which descended to her from her mother, and her heirloom silver cross. The road lay through the wood in which Huber worked, and he pointed out to his wife the finest trunks and the young saplings which he had helped to plant; and she listened to him, but her thoughts were not with him: in spirit she was yonder at the godfather's, and she was wondering how things would turn out there. At last they arrived at the open, where the view stretched far and wide into the clearer part of the wood towards the mountain peaks.

Heinerle had gone on ahead and sat under the crucifix, but he thought less of the Saviour who was hanging there than how beautiful it would be up there to look out upon the mountain peaks, and that the crucifix was standing exactly in the right place, in the midst of the red heath and the waving reeds, and the some day he would paint it all--how father and mother and he sat under the crucifix and looked up at the mountains, while down below in the valley the bells were ringing. Frau Huber looked for a long time at her Heinerle; old Huber, too, had his thoughts about him, which he would not speak aloud; he only said they had better continue their journey. Once more their way lay through the wood, descending until they came to a well-cultivated garden, full of tall rose-trees and mallow; while against the house stood bee-hives, ranged one above another in two stories, overhung by the low-spreading thatched roof. That was the godfather's house.

It stood all by itself where the wood sloped down to the valley. The garden, which rose in terraces, was reclaimed from the wood; here one noticed a copper beech-tree, there a tree-stump which the owner had left sticking up in the earth. Before the house itself there was a large pond, as smooth as a mirror in the middle, bordered by tall reeds and broad-leaved flowers, and surrounded by the wood; this pond served the owner for the feeding of his little waterworks. The house, with its carved balcony, was reflected in the pond. On the second storey, on the balcony, stood flower-pots containing carnations in all colours, rosemary and great marigolds. All these flowers stood out in cheerful contrast to the dark brown, smoke-blackened wooden front of the house. Above the thatch appeared a belfry with a little bell in it, so that one might fancy this was some little church or chapel. The Hubers had but just reached the house when the great watch-dog barked, whose vocation it was to turn the wheel in dry seasons, and whose limbs were equal to the task. The white curtain was drawn back, the little round window enclosed in a leaden frame-work was opened, and the Herr Godfather looked out and called his kindred to come up to him. Heinerle's heart beat when he heard his godfather's voice, which sounded so deep and full; and this voice was to pronounce sentence whether he was to be a woodcutter or an artist. That is why he was so anxious.

The godfather was not a man like other men. He was, it is true, the youngest brother of Frau Huber's mother, and his birthplace and family were known; and yet he was a stranger in the district and an enigma to almost every one. There are people whose baptismal and birth registers have been duly entered with all other such documents, and yet, for all that, are not known. He was a tall man, thin and lean in figure, and might have been about sixty years old. Long white hair, parted in the middle and smoothed back from his face, fell down on his shoulders, and gave to his deeply-furrowed weather-beaten countenance an almost ghostly appearance. His large clear blue eyes had a peculiar glance, and a power that compelled one always to look into them again, as into the blue heaven. And yet in his eyes there lay something of joy and sorrow together, and withal he could give such a keen glance as if he would read the very ground of your heart, like the eye of the Sphynx, which people in heathen days used to say could penetrate to the very bottom of the sea. A long black coat lined with red, which was fastened with clasps, the buff leather breeches, white stockings which reached to his knee, and shoes with buckles, completed his attire. If he was at work he would tie his hair together with a broad silk band, and then the godfather looked yet more remarkable. Over his life there lay a thick veil. As a boy he had been apprenticed to a watchmaker, but after that he had gone off with some foreign soldiers, and not till he was a grey-haired man had he returned home. The house in which he lived he had bought at a low price, for it had stood empty and forsaken for many years, since the inhabitants had all died in an epidemic.

The people in the village below, which was about half a league farther on, only saw him come there on Saturday evenings when he came to the shop and made his purchases, and on Sundays in church, which he never failed to attend, even in the worst weather. To those who watched him sitting in church so devoutly, and heard him singing so heartily out of the silver-mounted hymn-book with the massive clasps, and repeating the text in an undertone when he had looked it out, the appearance of the man was edifying. He was friendly to every one, and especially fond of children, for whom he brought hand wind-mills and all kinds of toys, when they collected together under the vines on Sunday afternoons, and could repeat to him a text by rote. And yet they were shy with him, and feared him more than they confided in him. That came from their parents, though. These had discussed the old man before their children, and had whispered all kinds of things about him, to which the children had listened with open mouths, as they always do when their elders are talking about something that does not concern them; as busy in snapping up things as little dogs when crumbs fall from their masters' tables.

There were, indeed, divers charges laid to the Godfather's account. To begin with, his long tight coat and his long hair tied together. That was not the custom in the whole district, and from the dress people commonly first take offence, and yet that is only the binding and not the book itself. Secondly, because he went so regularly to church. That also was not customary in the village, for the former parson had often said that going to church would not make one blessed, and this, the people had noticed themselves and stayed away, and for the most part only appeared there on the great festivals, like many officials in the present day on the king's birthday, who, one can see, do not know whether one goes into church backwards or forwards, and whose singing is as feeble as a nine hours light. For the third reason, because now and then quiet strangers wandered over from beyond the mountain, put up at his house, and then had singing and praying. That also was not the custom there, but the respectable villager went behind his shed on Sundays, and away to the skittle-ground. Fourthly, he knew all sorts of remedies, procured from plants and minerals, for every ailment which the doctor could not cure, and gave them gratis to the people, and concocted poultices and plaisters at his own hearth. And that also the people did not do there, for each thought only of himself, and gave nothing to others. Fifthly, he allowed no one to look at his machinery, or to enter his upper room, and yet the shavings burnt there for a long time, even up to midnight. Sixthly, he told no one where he had been all those years of absence, and only gave the short answer, "Abroad." And that also they did not do there, but they talked about everything that they knew, and if one of them went abroad, he said a great deal more about it than he knew.

But neither Huber nor his wife, who were well aware of such talk, troubled themselves about it, but loved him because they knew him, and they knew him because they loved him; for the gentle reader will often have had the experience that if one does not love a person, neither does one know that person, and so it comes to pass that people do not understand each other. He was godfather to all their children, and had undertaken it seriously. After the baptism he had not said to the mother of the little child something like: "How quiet it has kept!" or "How good it has been!" as townsfolk say nowadays when they have nothing else to say, or are ashamed to say what is better; nor had he finished off with a silver spoon or a few pence at every fair or new year; but he had especially blessed each little child, and written a godfather's letter to it with all the promises and warnings which God's Word gives to a little child. On it was laid the christening gift, not of copper nor silver, but of good old gold, as a remembrance of the godfather, which might be a help some day if hard times came. In his Bible, next to his family pedigree, the names of his godchildren were entered, with the date of their birth and baptism and every year he visited his distant godchildren in order to see whether they were thriving in soul and body, and to inquire into their school reports. Then he took them on his lap and embraced them, and would talk with them as if he himself were also a child; and yet he spoke of high and noble things, which made the eyes sparkle and the little heart beat. And when he laid both his hands on the little head, looked towards heaven and uttered a blessing, then the godfather looked so bright and happy that the children were always glad when the blessing came.

(To be continued.)

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023