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. 786-793

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


Chapter I. "I go to try my fortune, marching along!"

In the hostelry by the Ponte Molle before Rome, there was merriment. Calcedonio, the host, looked with pleasure over the row of guests who sat on the old walls under the arbour of gourd trees. Outside stood the carriages and the large carts of the peasants; while his white Ovieto and the sparkling wine of the country disappeared rapidly. He called each one of his guests who appeared to him fairly respectable, "Excellenza," and rubbed his hands as he estimated in his mind the large receipts he expected. For this was St. Antonio's Feast, the patron saint of all cattle, especially horses and mules. Far off from the mountains, shepherds and horse-owners had come, to have their cattle blessed in front of the church. The horses' manes were partly frizzed up into curls, others were drawn through silk ribands; white horses were painted over with red and blue colours, while other horses wore round their necks a picture of St. Antonio. The consecration was already over, when the animals one after another had defiled past the church, from the upper steps of which three priests had sprinkled them with holy water.

Here and there a few men galloped about on stubborn asses; in order to test the blessing by riding races with one another. Most of the peasants, however, wrapped up for the most part in goatskins, stood or lay under the wineshop, warming themselves at the fire in the large chimney-place. Here and there some were playing the well-known game with the fingers, "the Mora," in which each must say how many fingers to other is going to thrust out, and must make up the number by thrusting out so many of his own. The people looked into each other's eyes as if they would pierce through them, and shouted out at any hit in such a way that one would have thought they had some important business on hand, yet it was only a game. Others sang to a mandolin a monotonous ritornello, and others stared vacantly into the glow of the fire in the chimney.

In the garden, the Signori sat with cloaks flung round their shoulders; for the most part painters who had come out here to study horses, men, and costumes. For such a festival and mingling of life affords painters quite as much delight as when an Amsterdam merchant goes to the Exchange, or when a sportsman stands by a lair of deer, and sees a troop of stags driven towards him, or, as when a bailiff sees a pile of processes placed before him. The pint bottles encased in straw stood on the marble table, and the "Gobbi" (the roots of an Italian vegetable) were dipped in vinegar, oil, and pepper, and then eaten, while everything was steeped in the same bowl, and at the same time deep matters were discussed. The Italians from a distance stood by inquisitively and listened to the conversation, of which they understood nothing, laughing too when the set of artists broke into loud laughter over an incorrect opinion. At one table sat a couple of the noisiest together, in German coats, with buttons in a row, and velvet caps, with long hair combed back, and fine distinct features. They must have had something very particular to talk about, for they sprang up alternately and struck upon the marble table with their fists, which evidently hurt themselves more than the table.

"You may say what you like, but this is a question of principle," cried one of the youngsters.

"'The Transfiguration' of Raphael is and remains a misrepresented story, for--"

"Excuse me, Signor, if I interrupt your charming discourse," said the landlord; and all who were quite tired of the dispute looked up and listened; "but there is a Signor outside who also is of your calling, and answered me when I did not know whether I should put him in the cellar or bring him to you: 'Io sono pittere!'--in German, 'I am a painter.'"

"Let him come, if he is good for anything," cried the painters, and soon the landlord came out to the grotto with Heinerle.

"There you have him! He must indeed be a German, with his blue eyes and his large bones," said the host, laughing. Heinerle was confused, and did not know which way to look. His knapsack and his thorn-stick constrained him considerably in this company, and he would have given much to have been out of it again.

"Evidently a mother's boy, but a big one, who will burn his fingers here," exclaimed one of the merriest.

"Sit down, countryman, for you have your certificate of baptism written in your face to show that you are a German and a Christian," said one, reaching his hand to him.

Heinerle grasped it vigorously, so that the painter shouted and said, "By Jove! that was a German handshake! Fellow, one might think that you were Götz von Berlichingen with the iron hand."

"I beg your pardon," said Heinerle, "I am Huber, of Lindelbronn, in the Black Forest, at your service."

Then all at the table laughed together, and each wanted to have a German handshake for once.

"That was well done, countryman Huber," exclaimed one of them again, "the way you stopped the mouth of the Romancer. You must beware of him."

And Heinerle only stared in embarrassment, for he did not know what they were talking about, and said therefore:

"The gentleman only made a joke, and I don't take it amiss."

But he soon found himself at ease amongst the artists, and confidingly related to them how he had come from the Black Forest, and they all listened to him. But such a stranger was nothing new to the people. For a while they had their joke by way of pastime, and soon spoke no more of or with him. The sun set glowing, and out of the light mist, already touched with the silver glance of the moon, the mighty dome of St. Peter's was shown up, and Heinerle thought it was time to go into the "little town." But now the artists began to be right merry. The country-folk had already ridden off some time ago on their horses, after they had received their benediction, and in the shop--a great limestone grotto, with wonderful pointed stalactites--it was quiet. All the company who had been sitting outside withdrew into the shop. The lamps lit up the roof of the grotto with a flickering light, and made it look alive all over. The talk was lively, and the old gentleman, who had been eating at a separate table before, joined in. The punch-bowl steamed, and the talk became more heated, and to Heinerle it became more and more sultry. He was so tired with the long distance which he had travelled already that day, that he could hardly keep his eyes open, and yet he was ashamed to go to sleep. Then one of the older ones, called upon by the others, seized a guitar, struck a few chords upon it, and related, half singing, half speaking, the story of his life, how he played as a boy in his dear German home on the banks of the Moselle, pictured his parents' house, and his mother loving and true, so that all were silent, and tears stood in many eyes; and then he suddenly changed into a wild laugh, as if he was ashamed that his heart had been soft, and sang of the wild life into which he had fallen, and then suddenly of the deep sorrow that had broken his heart, so that all were silent again, and looked at him in astonishment; and then he concluded by singing in what respect he was held, and in what a lordly palace he dwelt, and how kings and dukes came to look at him and his work, and yet he wished for nothing else, and would willingly forget honour and palace, if he again, as in his childhood, could sit by the Moselle and look at the little fish, and could fly his kite over the mountains, or climb up the old castles and look down into the deep, deep valley. The old fellow struck a few lingering chords, and then all was silent.

But Heinerle was the quietest of all. Weariness had left him, and it was as if some one had turned his heart round in his body, and carried him home on the wings of the wind, into the wood at Lindelbronn, and to the pond in front of his godfather's house; and then the thought of the old white-haired gentleman who failed to be made happy by all the honours he received, made him feel very regretful, and Heinerle hardly knew himself, how he became inspired with boldness to reach forth his hand for the guitar, and to strike a few rapid chords, and, with his flexible, ringing voice, to sing the favourite hymn of the godfather, beginning:

       "Up yonder, up yonder
       At the Heavenly gate."

For awhile there was silence, till one suddenly called out: "Fellow, you are mad! You are fit to go into a Franciscan cloister to sing masses there, but we can't stand that stuff here. Here, where the gods have lived in all the woods and grottoes, and everything breathes of their sweet magic, we need no spirit of mourning."

Heinerle cast down his eyes; it was as if he heard the picture-dealer speaking again; then he took courage and said; "I am sorry, gentlemen, if my song has not pleased you, I only thought it might fit in with the discourse of the old gentleman."

Then a discussion began; some suggested breaking up the party, others were for remaining. Some took Heinerle's part, and defended his song as a "Volkslied," and knew of many fine things to say about such songs. The old gentleman from the Moselle, however, came nearer to Heinerle, and quietly pressing his hand, drew him aside, and said, "Countryman, your song was good, I must have it. Here is my card, come to me; my dwelling stands over there in the city." Heinerle gazed into the old man's eyes, and thanked him. Outside, in front of the hostelry, the horses were put to in the carriages, for now they must go home. It was long past midnight, and the country lay bathed in the most splendid moonlight. The sky was not black, but a deep blue; and the stars twinkled in all kinds of colours quite different to their twinkling in Germany. It was pleasant to Heinerle to leave the grotto, and to come out into the fresh air. He determined to remain the night in the hostelry, and early in the morning at daybreak to betake himself to the Eternal City. When one of the artists asked him to come with him for the night he declined, thanking him, for he was apprehensive lest something awkward might escape him again, and so he allowed the artists to mount their carriages, after inviting him to meet them at the Café Greco, in the Via Condotti, where he would find them any day. For some time he looked after them, and heard the little bells ringing on the horses; then he shut the window and betook himself to rest. And yet rest was not very near. He threw himself on the couch and felt very lonely. The artists in the grotto, the old white-haired gentleman and his unhappiness, and at the same time the godfather with his combed-back hair and the quiet peace in his face, all passed in confusion through his mind. For that Heinerle was of old a master in calling up such visions we know already.

Chapter II. Rome

In the morning early he asked the host for his reckoning, but he replied he might go on with his journey, the old white-haired gentleman had paid everything for him. The host advised him to take a roundabout way, and not to enter by the gate on the high road, but to go over Monte Mario, where he would have a better view of the Eternal City. He sent a little boy with him, who had to go to Rome to make some purchases, that he might show him the way. So he mounted up and saw the City of the Seven Hills lying before him. The boy knelt down when he saw St. Peter's, crossed himself, and murmured a prayer. But Heinerle propped himself up with both hands on his thorn-stick and gazed at the sea of houses and churches before him. And he felt his heart expand and contract at the same time.

It was still early, and only a few cupolas had caught the morning beams. Peasants in high-wheeled carts, drawn by grayish-white oxen with large horns projecting far apart, travelled the same way; near by a lazy team of buffaloes, with their wicked eyes and twisted-back horns; there a drover on horseback, with a pointed hat and fluttering ribbons, and a long goad in his hand, who drove his little team of oxen to the slaughter; between them mendicant friars with their little boxes, on which the crucifix was painted, which they proffered to be kissed in order to receive a coin for it--all these passed by each other in a gay medley before the eyes of Heinerle, sunk as he was in contemplation. The boy wanted to go on, that he might be at the first mass at St. Peter's, and so they both stepped out more quickly. They arrived at St. Peter's: the row of great pillars which surround the Plaza, the fountain in the midst pouring down its jets of water from a great height, the Pope's guards, in their trunk-hose, carrying bright halberds, who leant lazily against the pillars, all that he would willingly have looked at; but the boy went on, and soon they stood in St. Peter's. Heiner had rubbed his feet clean, and would have left his knapsack and stick outside before the door; but the little Italian said to him, he should take them in with him, lest some one else should steal them, for "in the most sacred city," he said laughing, "there are many thieves."

The boy gave him no time to look round, but drew him into one of the many side-chapels, where mass was being read. All knelt, only Heinerle stood. He heard singing, such as he had never heard before, and did not see where the music came from; but the voices were so pure and clear, and he knew not how it happened: he had thrown off his knapsack and knelt upon it, and laid down his thorn-stick by his side, and--what he had not done for a long time--he prayed his old morning hymn, with which the bullfinch used to wake him: "Awake my heart and sing." The richly adorned and gilded chapel was filled with incense, the priest placed his offering on the altar, and it seemed to him that it fitted in exactly when he came to the verse:

       "Thou wilt have a sacrifice,
       Here I bring my gifts:
       My incense and my offerings,
       Are my prayer and hymns."

Then he stood up, the little Italian hurried him out of the church, though Heiner would fain have looked about him to right and left, and on all sides, and brought him through the broad streets in haste to a little hostelry. There dwelt relations of the landlord from outside the gates at the Ponte Molle. The hostess said he could remain there until he had found another room and a studio. Heinerle unpacked his things and shook out his artist's coat, and his velvet cap. He was in Rome now, and he felt just like a pilgrim who lays aside his hat with the scallop shell, his gourd flask and staff, because his feet stand within the gates of Jerusalem. It is true he had not arrived in Rome in as short a time as it takes to relate on paper. For at that time the journey to Italy was a different thing to the present way of travelling, and almost as great a venture as when Hannibal or one of our Emperors crossed over. It was not only thought that golden oranges bloomed there in the dark grove, but that behind each bush a robber with cocked gun or pistol lurked who sprang out and greeted one with, "Your money or your life."

He had travelled through Switzerland, and there had always announced himself belonging to the watchmakers' trade at the inns, and had learnt what he could. Then he crossed the St. Gothard, and saw the land of Italy lying before him, and thought as he sat above it, "This is, indeed, different to the view from the crucifix." Indeed, Heinerle himself was changed. In Florence his money ran short, and he took again to watchmaking, in order to maintain himself, and as he understood his trade well, he gained a good deal of money. In his free hours and on Sundays, however, he saw the treasures of Art, and his heart beat when for the first time he saw in the Pitti Palace a picture of the great artist Raphael; then he realized that he was only Heiner of Lindelbronn, and his heart sank lower within him at each picture that he looked at. "You won't get your daily bread here," he said softly to himself. "That is Art; the godfather should see that for once."

He saw the painters who sat before the pictures, and copied them diligently, but often shook his head over them, and said: "You don't make it like Raphael, do what you will."

Every time he came out of the palace he determined not to go in there again; because he only vexed himself over the great painters. But he was like a moth in the night, which resolves, after finding its wings singed by flying through a candle, to fly thither no more, but is always attracted to it again, until it ends by burning up its wings. So he was unhappy, and he would have liked to have turned back, only he was ashamed to have been in Italy and not to have reached Rome and seen the Pope. So when he had earned a nice little sum of money which he was able to change into gold and to sew up in the pocket of his knapsack, he continued his journey, and came to Siena and Ovieto, and saw the splendid pictures and cathedrals, and the beautiful country, and his heart became lighter. And so we find him at the last station before Rome, where he met the artists.

(To be continued.)

Proofread by LNL, Oct. 2023