"The Promenade (der Spaziergang)" (1917) by Robert Walser

(actualisé le ) by Robert Walser

Robert Walser (1878-1956) was a Swiss-German poet and author of novels, short stories and essays who is remembered particularly for his delicate and yet somehow powerful poems [1] and this quite wonderful monologue about his encounters and observations and thoughts during a pleasant stroll on a sunny day in his peaceful and prosperous Switzerland - we are in 1917 and whole generations are being destroyed just across the nearby borders in France, Germany, Austria and Italy, but Switzerland had made the wise decision several hundred years beforehand to remain neutral and never ever to go to war again, so our man can peacefully and nonchalantly proceed on his way and describe what he sees and hears and meets and feels with such charm, humour [2], verve and emotion in this extraordinarily rich text, an under-recognized masterpiece of world literature (19,300 words).

e-books of The Promenade, with the original German-language text in an annex, are available for downloading below. [3]


One sunny morning when I had the urge to go out for a walk, I don’t remember exactly at what time, I put my hat on, left the room where I write and philosophise, went down the stairs and hurried out into the street. I can add that on the stairs I met a woman who looked Spanish or Peruvian or Creole. She was dressed rather majestically in pale, faded clothes. However I cannot dwell for even two seconds on this Brazilian woman or whatever she might be, for I have neither space nor time to waste. Insofar as I can now remember as I am writing this, I was in a rather romantic-adventurous mood as I came out into the bright and gay street that made me very happy indeed. The morning world that stretched before my eyes was so lovely that it I seemed to be seeing it for the first time. Everything that I looked at gave me an agreeable impression of friendliness, well-being and youthfulness. I quickly forgot that I had just been brooding over an empty sheet of paper up there in my room. All sadness, all pain and all gloomy thoughts had disappeared, even though I still sensed a certain atmosphere of seriousness all around me as I went on my way. I was feeling really excited about what I might meet or come across during my promenade. My steps were measured and calm, and as far as I know I gave the impression of being a rather dignified person as I went along on my way. I like to keep my feelings hidden from others, without however being anxious about it, which I would consider to be a big mistake and a considerable stupidity.

I hadn’t even gone twenty or thirty steps along a broad plaza full of people when I encountered Herr Professor Meili, a scholar of the highest order. Herr Professor Meili was walking with unshakeable authority in a serious, solemn and august manner; in his hand he held a solid, scientific walking-stick that inspired fear, awe and respect in me. Herr Professor Meili had a strong, commanding, sharp nobleman’s or hawk’s nose, and the mouth was juridically closed and pinched. The famous academician’s way of walking was like an iron law; world history and the glow of long-ago heroic acts shone from Herr Professor Meili’s hard eyes hidden behind bushy eyebrows. His hat was like an irremovable lord. Secret rulers are the proudest and the most severe. On the whole Herr Professor Meili behaved quite mildly, as if he in no way needed to demonstrate what a sum of might and power he personified, and I found him likeable in spite of all the implacability and harshness, as I could say to myself that those who don’t smile in a sweet and nice way are perfectly honourable and trustworthy. It is well known that there are scoundrels who play at being nice and likeable who have the terrible ability to commit their misdeeds while obligingly and adroitly smiling.

I felt the presence of a bookseller and a bookstore, just as I sensed and noticed a bakery-shop with splendid golden lettering well worth mentioning. First however I must describe a priest or a minister of the faith. A municipal chemist on a bicycle or some sort of wheeled vehicle with a friendly, powerful face passed close by the pedestrian, namely me, as well as a regimental- or headquarter-surgeon. A modest pedestrian cannot remain unnoticed and unrecorded; for I have to mention him, a wealthy antique-dealer and clothes-merchant.
Boys and girls are running around in the sunlight freely and without surveillance. “They are being left to do as they please,” I thought to myself; “age will one day frighten them and bring them under control. Not too soon, dear God.”
A dog is refreshing itself at a fountain. Swallows, it seems to me, are twittering in the blue sky. One or two elegant ladies in strikingly short dresses and surprisingly fine, colourful high heels are politely making themselves as well worthy of notice as anything else. Two summer- or straw hats attract one’s attention. The thing about the men’s straw hats is this: suddenly in fact I notice two hats in the bright, clear air, and under the hats are two of the best sort of men who seem to be saying Good Morning to each other with artful, fine lifts and sweeps of hats. The hats are on this occasion visibly more important than their bearers and owners. But one most politely asks the author to avoid really excessive jests and foppery. One expects him to remain serious, and hopefully that has now been understood once and for all.

Then I was happy to come upon an extremely imposing, richly-endowed bookstore and I felt impelled to pay it a short and rapid visit, so without hesitation I went in with a most well-behaved manner that I quite allowed myself to believe perhaps made me look more like an inspector and a literary critic, a visiting book-collector and a specialist rather than as a welcome, well-liked rich purchaser and good customer. With a polite, particularly prudent tone of voice and with the most understandable forceful phrases I asked about the latest and the best in the realm of good literature.
“May I,” I asked timidly, “be informed of and briefly examine the most high-quality and serious and at the same time it goes without saying also the most-read and readily-acclaimed and best-selling work? You will have earned my greatest thanks if you would have the kindness to show me the book that surely no one knows better than you has found and moreover easily found the greatest acclaim among the reading public as well as among the dreaded but no doubt approving critics. You hardly know how much I am interested in finding out right away which of all these books or works of the pen piled up here for display is the favourite book in question, that I must assume will most likely immediately make me a satisfied and enthusiastic purchaser when I see it. The desire to see the favourite writer of educated society and his admired, fiercely discussed masterwork and, so to speak, to no doubt buy it straightaway, scares me and makes me tremble all over. May I politely ask you to show me this most successful book, to satisfy the urge that that has completely taken hold of me and stop this feeling of unrest inside of me?”
“Very well” said the book-seller.
He shot off out of sight like an arrow to come back again in an instant to the curious purchaser and interested customer with certainly the best-selling and most-read book of truly long-lasting value in his hand. He carried the precious product of the intellect as carefully and solemnly as if he were holding a precious relic. His face was ecstatic; his expression radiated the highest degree of veneration, and with a smile on his lips that only true believers and adepts can permit themselves, he gave me what he had brought in the most winning manner. I looked at the book and asked:
“Can you swear that this is the most significant book of the year?”
“Without a doubt.”
“Can you maintain that this is the book that one just has to read?”
“Is the book also really good?”
“That is a completely superficial and improper question.”
“I thank you very much” I said cold-bloodedly and left the book, that had had absolutely the greatest success because everyone just had to read it, lying rather comfortably where it was, and went quietly away without saying a further word.
“Uneducated and ignorant fellow!” the book-seller called out loudly after me, quite understandably disappointed. I let him carry on however, and went leisurely on my way, going directly, as will be explained right away in detail, into the imposing bank next door.

Where in fact I wanted to obtain reliable information about certain securities. “In passing by to pop into a financial institution,” I thought, or rather said to myself, “to deal with financial matters and ask questions about them that one should only whisper, is nice and especially recommendable.”
“It’s good that you have personally come to see us, and just at the right moment”, the agent serving at the counter said to me in a friendly tone of voice, while he almost roguishly added, with a very pleasant and warm smile however:
“It is, as I have said, good that you have come. We were just about to write to you to inform you about what we can now say to you directly, the unquestionably pleasant information that an association or group of good-hearted and humanitarian ladies who are clearly well-disposed to you has instructed us that the sum of a thousand francs is not to be charged to you, but rather, which no doubt should be more welcome to you at present, is to be credited to you, which we herby confirm and which, if you would be so good, you may right away take note of in your head, or wherever you prefer.
“We suppose that this disclosure is agreeable to you; for you frankly give us the impression that we must, if you will allow us to say, just to be as clear as possible, that you most seriously need to take better care of such a delicate and fine nature. The money is now at your disposition. One can see that a strong sense of joy is spreading this instant over your features. Your eyes are shining; your mouth is in this moment somewhat laughing, more perhaps than it has laughed for a long time, for pressing daily cares of a despicable nature have prevented you doing that, and because you have for a long time been perhaps in a sombre state of mind, because all sorts of sombre and sad thoughts were clouding up your mind.
“Just rub your hands together again in expression of your joy, and be happy that a few noble, amiable benefactresses, moved by the elevated thoughts that it is good to attenuate suffering and to alleviate distress, have thought that a poor and unsuccessful poet (for that os your case, is that not so?) needs be helped. That there are some people who condescend to think of you, and that not everyone indifferently ignores the existence of various disdained poets, we congratulate you.”
“This unexpected sum of money coming from the soft and goodly hands of fairies or ladies,” I said, “I would like to simply leave with you, where it will be best looked after for a while, for you dispose of the necessary fire-proof and thief-proof strong-boxes to guard the treasure against any destruction and any eventual loss. In addition you even pay interest. May I ask you for a receipt? I imagine that I am at liberty, depending on my inclinations and on my needs, to take out a small part of the full sum. I would like to point out that I am frugal. With this donation I have become a solid, purposeful man, that is to say, one who knows how to go about with extreme precaution, and to the amiable lady donators I shall write a thoughtful and elegant letter expressing my thanks, that I shall do right away tomorrow morning so that it will not be put off and forgotten.
“The assumption that I am poor, that you so openly expressed, might however have been based on more astute and more valid observations. It is however sufficient that I myself know what I know, and that I myself am the one best informed about myself. Appearances are often deceptive, sir, and judging someone is best left to the person himself. No one can know a man who has already seen and experienced all sorts of things as well as he himself. Certainly at times I have wandered around in a cloud and been in a thousand and difficult and embarrassing situations, and I have often felt myself sadly abandoned. But I think that it is good to struggle. A man is not proud about having a peaceful and pleasurable existence. Only difficulties courageously overcome and suffering patiently surmounted can make him proud and happy in the depths of his soul. But one doesn’t like to waste words about that. What honourable man was never in his life helpless, and in what human existence have hopes, plans, dreams in the course of time ever remained quite intact? Where is the soul whose longings, bold aspirations, sweet and lofty visions of happiness have been fulfilled without having had to reduce them somewhat?”
A receipt for a thousand Francs was passed over and taken in, whereupon the man with a current-account and a solid amount of money deposited, namely none other than myself, had to say good-bye and take his leave. I left the spacious, lovely financial institution with a gay heart over the treasure that had so magically fallen on me out of the blue sky to go out into the open air to continue my promenade. I would like to and can and will permit myself politely to add (as for the moment nothing original or clever comes to mind) that I have brought a polite, charming invitation from Frau Aebi with me in my pocket. The invitation-card requests me and encourages me most insistently to come to a modest midday meal at precisely half past twelve. I resolved to accept this invitation and to arrive at the residence of the worthy person in question at precisely the indicated hour.

While you, dear well-disposed reader, take the trouble to go carefully forward with the author and inventor of these lines into the bright, friendly morning world, not hurriedly but rather quite comfortably, objectively, smoothly, thoughtfully and calmly, we have both arrived in front of the previously-mentioned bakery-shop with gold inscriptions, where we feel ourselves obliged to remain standing quite horrified, astonished by the distressing way its gross pretentiousness so sadly disfigures the amiable local landscape.
Spontaneously I cried out: “An honourable person has the right to be quite indignant, by God, at the sight of such gilded, barbaric, commercial names that impose on these surroundings selfishness and greed, miserable, brazen brutalisation of the soul. Does a simple, honourable master-baker really need to appear so pompous, with his idiotic gold- and silver-announcements shining in the sun and blazing like a prince or a coquettish, dubious sort of woman? May he bake and knead his bread honourably and with reasonable modesty. In what kind of swindle are we beginning to live or have we already begun to live when the municipality, the neighbourhood and public opinion not only tolerate but unfortunately even openly approve what offends every sense of propriety, every sense of reason and decency, every sense of beauty and proper behaviour, something that puts on airs so affectedly, that gives itself a laughable raggedly appearance that from a hundred meters away and more cries out into the good, honest air: “I am this and that. I have that much money, and I can be as unpleasant as I like with you. I am quite certainly a boor and an idiot and a tasteless fellow with my hateful boasting; but there is no one who can forbid being loutish and idiotic.”
Do golden, brazenly glittering, horribly bright letters have any acceptable, honourable, justifiable connection and any healthy relationship to - - - bread? Not at all! But horrible effrontery and boasting have anywhere, in any corner of the world whatever, at any time of day whatsoever, like a terrible, lamentable flood made more and more progress, bringing rubbish, dirt and idiocy with them, spreading them all over the world, and they also have also taken hold of my honourable baker, to degrade his previous good taste, to undermine his natural sense of propriety. I would give a lot, I would give my left arm or the left leg on the spot if by means of such a sacrifice I could help to show the way to the fine old sense of solidity, the good old frugality, to bring back to the country and the people that sense of honour and modesty that to the regret of everyone is generally considered to have been lost. To the devil with miserable striving to appear as more that what one really is! It is really catastrophic that the menace of war, and death, and misery, and hate and injuries are spreading all over the earth and are replacing everything that used to exist with an execrable mask of evil and hatefulness. To me that a manual worker is simply not a Monsieur and an ordinary woman is not a Madam. But today everything must shine and glitter, must appear to be nice and fine, to be Monsieur and Madam; it’s just horrible. But perhaps with time that might still change again. I hope so.”
I shall moreover right away, adopting an adult manner and behaving authoritatively, have occasion to pull my own ears, as one shall soon see. In which way shall soon be shown. It would not be proper for me to criticise tastelessness in others but only treat myself delicately and as nicely as possible. A critic, who does that is not an authentic one, and writers must not misuse the writing profession. I hope that that phrase is generally found to be pleasing, that it encourages doing good and is warmly approved.

A metal foundry full of workers, in full activity, is creating an awful racket here on the left-hand side of the country road. On this occasion I am sincerely ashamed to be just taking a walk while so many others are working and actively producing things. It is true that I work and create things at a time when all of these workers have finished their work and are resting.
A mechanic on a bicycle, a comrade from the Civil Defence battalion 134/III, calls out to me in passing: “You are out on a walk again on this nice hot working day, it would seem.” I salute him with a laugh and and gladly concede that he is right if he has the impression that I am taking a walk.
“They see that I am going for a walk” I thought quietly to myself, and continued peaceably on, without in the least being bothered by having been found out, which would have been stupid.

In the light-yellow English suit that had been given to me I must confess that I felt like a great lord, a grand seigneur, a marquis promenading about in his park, although it was only partly countryside and partly a modest, plain, poor little suburban area and a country road that I was going on, and in no way the distinguished park that I had been imagining, a thought that I quietly took back, as any comparison to a park was quite out of the question and most inapplicable to the surroundings. Small little factories, larger ones and mechanical workshops are strewn all around over the green fields. A plump, pleasant agricultural area has welcomed in an almost friendly way this busy industrial activity with its battering and hammering that always creates an atmosphere of hard work and fitness. Chestnut trees, cherry trees and plum trees provide the soft, curving road with an air of attractiveness, relaxation and tenderness. A dog is lying right across the road that I have found to be so nice and that I have become fond of. I liked most of the things I saw as I went on, becoming enamoured with them on the spot. Another charming little scene of dogs and children was the following: a large but most amusing, funny kind of dog, a quite inoffensive fellow, was quietly looking at a tiny little boy squatting on the steps of a house who, because of the attention he was getting from the well-meaning albeit somewhat fearful-looking animal, became frightened and burst out crying pitifully with a loud, childish howl. I thought the scene was charming; but I found another child-pageant in this countryside-theatre to be even nicer and more amusing.
Two quite small little children were lying on the rather dusty road as if it were a garden. One child said to the other: “Give me a nice little kiss.” The other gave him what he had asked for. Then he said to her: “All right. Now you can get up.” It is more than likely that without the nice little kiss he wouldn’t have granted that permission.
“This naïve little scene is in perfect harmony with the lovely blue sky that is laughing so divinely down at the gay, light, bright Earth,” I said to myself. “Children are heavenly, for they always seem to be in a kind of heaven. When they become older and grown up that heaven has disappeared and they fall from childhood into dry, calculating adulthood and take on the tiring appearance of grown-ups. For children of poor people the country road in summer is like a playground. Where else should they be, for they are egoistically locked out of the gardens. When automobiles rush along coldly and nastily in the middle of the children’s playground, right into the children’s heaven, little innocent beings are in danger of being crushed. I don’t even want to think about the horrible possibility that a child could really be run over by one of these triumphant fat chariots, because then my anger would burst out in violent expressions that one well knows never achieve anything.”

I always look at people sitting in an automobile raising dust as it rushes by with a hard, angry face, and they don’t merit any better. That makes them think I’m an agent or a policeman in civil, commissioned by the authorities and the administration to survey vehicles passing by and to note down their numbers and to bring them in later. I frown and look steadily at the wheels and at everything except the people inside, whom I look down upon, albeit not in any way personally but rather as a question of principle; for I don’t understand and will never understand how it can be a pleasure to rush by structures and objects and everything our lovely Earth has to offer as if one had become crazy and had to race away to avoid being in a state of utter despair. In fact I like restfulness and everything calm. I like frugality and measure and am deeply averse to all that is agitated and rushed. I need say no more about something that is true. And because of these words vehicles are certainly not about to stop driving around with their nasty air-polluting smell that surely no one particularly likes and admires. It would be unnatural if someone’s nose liked and enjoyed breathing in something that for every normal human nose, even from time to time when one is perhaps favourably inclined, is simply revolting and disgusting. So much for that and no offense meant. And now let us carry on with our promenade. It is certainly heavenly nice and good and truly simple to go about on foot. Assuming that shoes and heels are all in proper order.

Could you please, most honoured masters, patrons and readers, while you are kindly absorbing and making allowances for this perhaps somewhat too solemn and high-thinking style, now have the kindness to allow me to pay proper attention to two particularly important people, personalities or figures, namely firstly or better still in the first place to an no doubt former theatre actress, and secondly to a very young no doubt up-and-coming female singer? I consider both of these people to be most important and that is why I have thought it appropriate to properly announce and present them before they actually appear and are seen, to rapidly provide a sense of the importance and celebrity of both of these delicate creatures so that when they do appear they may be received and considered with all the attentiveness and thorough affection that someone with my modest understanding of such beings must almost necessarily manifest. For it is known that after that at half past twelve the author, as a reward for all the various stresses and strains that he has endured, will be received in the mansion or the residence of Mrs. Aebi to dine, to have a feast and to restore himself. Until then he will however still a have a considerable way to go as well as a good number of lines to write. But one knows well enough that he enjoys walking just as much as writing; the latter however perhaps a touch less than the former.

In front of a pretty, picturesque house I saw a woman sitting on a bench right beside the lovely road, and I had scarcely glanced at her when I felt myself already emboldened to talk to her as in the most artful and engaging manner I said:
“Excuse me if on seeing you the urge comes over me, someone completely unknown to you, to ask the eager and undoubtedly bold question: are you perhaps a previously celebrated actress? You seem in effect absolutely quite like a former spoiled, famous great actress and theatre artist. You are no doubt quite rightly surprised by such a startling, daring, brash declaration and question, but you have such a lovely face, such a pleasant, nice and, I must add, such an interesting appearance, you have such a nice, noble, fine figure, you are looking so grandly and calmly and precisely about you, and at me, and indeed on the whole world, that it has been impossible for me to oblige myself to go past you without daring to say something clever and flattering, which I hope you will not take badly, although I must say that I merit punishment and contempt for my flighty comportment. When I saw you I instinctively had the thought that you must have been an actress, and now it has occurred to me that you are sitting here now on this simple but lovely street in front of the charming little store as if you were its owner. You have perhaps never before been talked to here in such an informal manner by anyone. Your friendly and at the same time charming aspect, your amiable, lovely appearance, your calm, your fine appearance and your noble, alert aspect of repressed age, if you will allow me to say so, have emboldened me to begin a friendly conversation with you on the open street. In addition, the atmosphere of liberty and gaiety of this lovely day has favoured me and has kindled a cheerfulness in me with which I have perhaps gone somewhat too far with the unknown lady before me. You are smiling! Then you are in no way angry about my impromptu speech. It seems to me good and proper, if I may so express myself, that now and then two strangers talk to one another in an open and harmless way, as we inhabitants of this crazy, bizarre planet, that is a mystery to us, do have a mouth and a tongue and the gift of speech, this latter being in already in itself so beautiful and unique. In any case you have certainly, as I was saying, pleased me right away splendidly; thus I must respectfully excuse myself, and must ask you to be convinced that you inspire in me the warmest feelings of respect. Can the obvious fact that I was very happy when I saw you make you be angry with me?”
“On the contrary it makes me glad” the lovely lady said gaily to me; “but regarding your assumption I am obliged to disappoint you. I have never been an actress.”
At this I felt myself moved to say: “Some time ago I had for a while cold, sad, limited relationships here, I felt poorly, I was quite without belief in anything, I lacked assurance and confidence, I had come here without the slightest good prospects, I was alienated and hostile to the world and to myself. Anguish and mistrust had taken hold of me and accompanied my every step. Little by little I then got rid of that low, hateful attitude. I breathed more calmly and more freely again here – and became a nicer, warmer, happier person again. I saw the fears that had filled my soul gradually disappear; the sadness and the desolation in my heart and my hopelessness were progressively transformed into gay joyfulness and to a pleasant, lively attitude that I have recently acquired. I was dead, and now it is as if someone had uplifted and carried me forward. Where I thought I had to go through many bad, harsh and unsettling experiences, I encounter charm and goodness and find everything to be calm, reliable and good.”
“All the better” said the lady, with a friendly manner and tone of voice.
Then the moment seemed to have come to bring this rather courageously-begun conversation to an end and to go on my way, so I saluted the lady – whom I had taken for an actress who now unfortunately was no longer a great and famous actress, which she herself had found it necessary to deny – with, I may be so bold as to say, a distinguished, very meticulous politeness as I bowed to her and went peacefully on my way as if nothing has happened.

A modest question: Is it perhaps possible for a dainty fashion boutique surrounded by green trees to arouse much interest or even some genuine approval?
I do believe that it is, and therefore dare to make the rather distinguished declaration that in going along on a promenade on the loveliest of all roads a rather silly, youthful and boisterous cry of joy shot out from a throat that it seemed impossible to have been my own. What had I seen and discovered that was new, unheard-of and beautiful? Well, quite simply said, a most lovely fashion shop and salon de mode. Paris and Petersburg, Bucharest and Milan, London and Berlin, everything that is elegant, attractive and worthy of a capital was right there in front of me, rose up before me, fascinating and subjugating. But the capitals and world-cities lack the soft, green vegetation, the sheen and beneficial effect of friendly meadows and of so many lovely, delicate leaves and, not least of all, the sweet scent of flowers, and that I had here.
“All that”, I thought to myself quietly while standing quite still, “I’ll decidedly soon put in a play, or in a kind of fantasy that I’ll call ’The Promenade’. In no way shall I be able to leave out this ladies’ hat-boutique. A more elevated, artistic charm would then certainly be lacking from the play, and I would like to avoid that at any cost.” The feathers, ribbons, artificial fruit and flowers on the pleasant, amusing hats were almost as attractive and heart-warming for me as nature itself, that with its natural green, with its natural colourations framed and delicately enclosed the artificial colours and fashion forms of fantasy, so that the boutique looks like a lovely painting. I am here counting on, as they say, the maximum of understanding on the part of the reader, whom I sincerely fear. That miserable, cowardly confession is quite understandable. All bold authors have experienced it.
Oh my God! What do I see right under some leaves but a charming, cute, attractive butcher shop with rosy cuts of pork, beef and veal. The butcher is busy inside where there are also some customers. This butcher’s store is just as worthy of admiration as the hat-store. Thirdly there is a grocery store with a mellow name. I think I’ll come back to the cafés later, that will be quite soon enough. One can doubtless not start going to the cafés too late in the day, as the results, of which everyone is unfortunately only too aware on their own account, certainly demonstrate. Even the most virtuous person cannot deny that he has never quite mastered certain vices. Happily however one is quite – human, and as such is easy to excuse. One quite simply pleads the weakness of the organism.

Here I must again reorient myself. It seems to me that I can change direction and regroup as successfully as any Field Marshall who takes into account all circumstances and integrates all contingencies and setbacks in such a way that, if I may be allowed to say so, he comes to a brilliant conclusion. A serious person reads about such things daily in the newspaper, where he encounters expressions like: “a break-through on the flank”. I have become convinced recently that the art of war and the conduct of military operations are almost as difficult and require almost as much patience as the art of writing and vice-versa. Writers also, like generals, often require long preparations before they can go on the offensive and dare to deliver combat, or in other words launch a powerful opus or book onto the market-place that will be challenged and subjected to powerful counter-attacks. Books attract reviews and these are sometimes so grim that the book dies and the author is driven to despair!
One should not be disconcerted when I say that I am writing all these hopefully elegant lines with a pen like a supreme-court judge’s. Hence the literary directness, the acuity and the sharpness that can be detected here and there, that no one can be astonished by any longer.
But when will I ever finally come to the well-earned feast at my Mrs. Aebi’s? I am afraid that it will still take some time, as there are considerable obstacles to be taken care of beforehand. My appetite will be with me for a good while to come.

While I am going along like a better sort of rogue, a finer kind of tramp and loafer or wastrel and vagabond, passing by all kinds of fully-planted and well-stocked gardens with nice, appetising vegetables, passing by flowers and the fragrance of flowers, by fruit trees and beanstalks and poles laden with beans, by high-rising cereals like barley, oats and wheat, by a lumberyard full of wood and sawdust, by luscious grass and alongside a gracefully rippling stretch of water, river or stream, by all kinds of people such as friendly market-women going nicely on their way with their produce, by the headquarters of an association decorated with gay, cheerful flags as well as with many other good and useful things, by a particularly beautiful and adorable little fairyland apple-tree and by God knows what else, like for example a strawberry bush in bloom or better still by ripe red strawberries, while I was continually occupied with all sorts of more or less nice and pleasant thoughts, because during a promenade many ideas, inspirations and sudden insights spontaneously arise and are invented that need to be carefully developed, a person, an enormous man, a monster came along towards me who practically darkened the bright road, a broad, tall, strange fellow whom I unfortunately knew all too well, an extremely unusual soul, namely the giant Tomzack.

I would have expected to meet him in any other place and on any other street than here on this charming little country road. His sad, frightful appearance, his tragic, monstrous person filled me with repugnance and took away all my nice, lovely and cheerful thoughts, all my gaiety and joyfulness. Tomzack! Is it not true, dear reader, that the name itself sounds full of awful and melancholy things? “Why are you following me, why do you feel it necessary to meet me here in the middle of my way, you unhappy fellow?” I called out to him; but Tomzack did not reply. He looked at me grossly, that is to say he looked from on high down to me; for he towered far over me in height and in width. I felt like a dwarf or a poor, weak little child in front of him. With the greatest ease the giant could have walked or stomped all over me. Oh, I knew who he was. For him there was no rest. He went around everywhere without pause. He slept in no soft bed and he could not live in any normal, comfortable home. He found shelter everywhere and nowhere. He had no home and belonged nowhere. He had no fatherland and no happiness; he was quite without love and had to live without any friends. He participated in nothing, and in addition no one took any interest in him and his problems. The past, the present and the future were to him an empty desert, and life was too inconsequent, too small, too narrow for him. It had no meaning for him and he himself meant nothing to anyone else. In his great eyes there was a gleam of otherworldly and underworldly grief. An infinite pain emanated from his flabby, weary movements. He was not dead and not living, not old and not young. He seemed to me to be a hundred thousand years old and that he would live for ever, and for ever not be alive. He was dying at every instant and nevertheless unable to die. There would be no grave with flowers for him. I avoided him and murmured to myself: “Be well, and let me go well on thy way, friend Tomzack.”

Without paying any more attention to the phantom, to that unfortunate colossus and super-man, which to be truthful I did not have the slightest inclination to do, I continued on my way and overcame the sad impression that the strange man or rather the giant had made upon me, walking peacefully with the soft, warm air blowing over me and soon reached a fir-tree forest through which a similarly charming, enticing little road wound its way, which I gladly followed. The road and the ground around it were like a carpet, and here inside the forest it was calm like in the soul of a happy person, like in the interior of a temple, like in a palace and in an enchanted fairy-tale castle that one dreams of, like in Sleeping Beauty’s castle where everything has been sleeping and silent for hundreds of long years. I penetrated deeper and I am perhaps being too flowery when I say that I felt like a prince with golden hair whose body was covered in shining armour. It was so solemn in that wood that beautiful and stately fancies quite naturally sprang up in a sensitive person on a promenade there. How I was happy in the sweet stillness and calm of the forest!
From time to time a few feeble noises penetrated from afar into the pleasant isolation and charming duskiness, perhaps a banging, a whistling or otherwise a sound whose distant echo only heightened the silence that dominated here, that I gladly breathed in deeply and whose beneficial effect I positively drank in and ingurgitated. Now and then in all that silence and stillness a bird hidden in the charming, quite sacred depths of the forest burst out in hearty song. So I stood still and listened, and suddenly an inexpressible sense of empathy with the world came over me, linked with a feeling of thankfulness coming powerfully from the bottom of my soul. The fir trees were standing upright like columns, and nothing at all moved in the vast, delicate forest that seemed to resonate and echo with all kinds of inaudible sounds. Prehistoric sounds came to my ears from I know not where.
“Well then, if necessary, I’ll go willingly too to my end. A remembrance will still be with me there in my grave, and thankfulness will animate me in my death; a Thanksgiving for the pleasure, for the joy, for the enchantment; a Thanksgiving for the life and joyfulness for the joy.”
Light rustling could be heard from the tops of the fir trees. “Loving and kissing must be heavenly here”, I said to myself. Just walking on the nice forest floor was a pleasure, and the peacefulness kindled prayers in a sensitive soul. “To be dead here and to lie unobtrusively buried in the cool forest earth must be sweet. Ah, if only in death one could feel death and enjoy it! Perhaps that is the case. To have a calm little grave in the woods would be nice. Perhaps I would hear the singing of the birds and the rustling of the wind in the trees above me. I would like that very much.” Rays of sunshine shone splendidly in columns down between the trunks of the oak trees in the forest, that seemed like a pleasant green grave to me. Soon I came out into the clear and back into life again.

Then an inn appeared, and certainly a very fine, charming, cozy one, an inn near the edge of the forest that I had just come out of, an inn with a delightful garden full of refreshing shade. The garden stretched over an extensive, cute little hill beside which lay or rose up an elegant lookout or round tower, where one could stand and enjoy the splendid view for a good while. A glass of beer or wine there would certainly also be nice; but the person who was taking a walk here thought quite rightly that he was not there for such an extenuating exercise. The tiring hill lay in the bluish distance surrounded by a bright white haze. He has to honesty admit to himself that his thirst is neither critical nor all-consuming, for until now he has only covered relatively short distances at a time. It is more a question here of an easy, relaxed outing than of an excursion and a hike, and more of a nice promenade than a heavy exercise and forced-march, and therefore he rightly as well as reasonably renounces a session in the establishment of pleasure and refreshment and takes his leave. All serious people who read this will certainly fully approve his excellent decision and his good resolution.

Did I not just a little while ago take the opportunity to present a young soprano? She now comes in sight. Precisely at a window on the ground floor.
I had just finished my detour through the forest and had come back upon the main road when I heard - - -
But wait! Let there be a small pause. Writers who understand their profession do that as calmly as possible. They lay down the pen from time to time. Continuous writing is as tiring as digging up the ground.
What I heard coming out of the ground-floor window was a morning songfest-concert of the loveliest and freshest folksongs and operatic airs that rang in my surprised ears at no cost whatsoever. A young woman, almost still a school-girl but already trim and fully-grown, was standing there in a bright dress at the simple suburban window, and this young woman was singing most delightfully out into the blue sky. Most pleasantly impressed and enchanted by this unexpected singing, I remained standing at the side of the road to avoid disturbing the singer and to not deprive myself of the pleasure of hearing her. The song that the young girl was warbling seemed to be of a cheerful and joyous kind; the tones rang like the embodiment of young, innocent love and the joy of life itself; they flew like angelic forms with snow-white, joyful wings up into the sky from where they came back again seeming to expire with a smile. It was comparable to dying from grief, a death caused perhaps by an excess of delicate joy, by an excess of happiness in love and life, by the impossibility of living because of a too rich and too lovely conception of life, so that in a way the delicate ideas brimming over with love and happiness that invaded existence with exuberance seemed to stumble and collapsed upon themselves.
As the young woman brought the song that was as simple as it was rich and charming to an end with a melting Mozartian or shepherdess air, I went over to greet her, asked her for permission to be allowed to congratulate her for her lovely voice, and complimented her for the exceptionally soulful recital. The youthful soprano, who looked like a doe or a kind of antelope in the form of a young woman, looked astonished and questioningly at me with lovely brown eyes. She had a very fine, delicate face and smiled amiably and engagingly at me.
“You have”, I said to her, “if you know how to take care of and carefully train your lovely, young, rich voice – which depends as much on your own understanding as on that of others – a brilliant future and a great career in front of you; for you seem to me, frankly and honestly, to be the very incarnation of a future great opera singer! You are an obviously clever person, you are soft and supple, and you have, if I am not completely mistaken, a quite determined boldness of character. You have an ardour and an evident nobility of the heart, that I heard just now in the song that you have so beautifully and really well sung. You have talent, and more: you undoubtedly have genius! And I do not say that in any way emptily and untruthfully. On the contrary it is my duty to ask you to most carefully take proper care of your noble gift, to protect it from deformation, disfigurement and premature, thoughtless misuse. For the moment I can only sincerely say that you sing absolutely beautifully and that that is something very serious; for it will mean much; it will signify above all that one should encourage you to studiously sing a little more every day. Do exercises and sing with measure and discernment. You yourself are quite certainly unaware of the extent and the scope of the treasure that you possess. In your singing there is already a high degree of naturalness, an abundant sum of naïvely vibrant substance and life, and a plenitude of poetry and humanity. One feels obliged to tell you and to assure you that you are destined to become an authentic soprano in every sense, because one believes that you are a person who really has a profound urge to sing and who only seems to really live and enjoy life when you begin to sing; all your passions lead you to the art of singing, all that is humanly and personally important, all that comes from the soul, all understanding of the highest things, everything leads to an ideal objective. In a lovely song there is always a quite condensed and compressed experience, sensation and feeling, an explosive summing-up of a constricted life and an agitated soul, and with such a gift for song a woman, if she makes good use of her circumstances and of the opportunities that chance presents her with, succeeds like a star in the heaven of lyrical art in touching many hearts, in achieving great wealth, in inciting a public to stormy and ardent applause, and in gaining the sincere love and admiration of kings and queens.”
The young woman listened seriously and with an astonished air to what I said, which was more for my own pleasure than to be understood and appreciated by her, as she lacked the necessary maturity.

In the distance I can already see a railroad-crossing that I shall have to pass over; but for the moment I am not yet there; for it must absolutely be known that I still have still two or three important errands to take care of and some necessary arrangements to make. An account as complete and precise as possible of these affairs will be given or recorded.
One will graciously allow me to mention that on my way I have to stop over at an elegant men’s clothing-store or tailor’s-workshop because of a new suit that I have to try on and eventually have adjusted. Secondly, I have to go to the town hall or administrative centre to take care of important taxes, and thirdly I have to take a memorable letter to the post office and mail it there. One can see how much I have to do and how such an apparently idle and relaxed promenade is practically fully occupied with business affairs, and one will therefore be so kind as to forgive hesitations, accept delays and tolerate long-drawn-out debates with business and administrative personnel, even perhaps considering them as welcome additional subjects of entertainment. I humbly beg pardon in advance for any resulting lengths, widths and perimeters. Has an author from the provinces and from the capital ever been more reserved and polite with his readers? I think not, and so with the calmest conscience I continue my story and my chatting to announce the following:

In the name of everything holy, it is now high time to run over to Mrs. Aebi’s to dine or for the midday meal. It has just struck half past twelve. Luckily the lady lives close by. I only need to slip as smoothly as an eel through the entrance-way into the house and go in there as if into a refuge for the hungry and the unfortunate down-and-out. Mrs. Aebi welcomes me most amiably. My punctuality was a masterpiece. One knows how rare masterpieces are. Mrs. Aebi smiled as she saw me arrive, she is always elegant. She offered me her nice little hand in a hearty, winning way that enchanted me so to speak, and led me right away into the dining room where she asked me to take my place at the table, which I naturally did with the greatest pleasure and quite unselfconsciously.
Without being ridiculous in any way I began harmlessly and aimlessly to eat and to serve myself unconstrainedly, without the slightest idea of what was waiting for me. So I served myself copiously and started eating courageously. That courage did not require much effort. With some astonishment I noticed then that Frau Aebi was looking at me almost piously. This was in a certain measure surprising. Clearly she was moved by seeing me serving myself and eating. I was surprised by this strange attitude, on which however I put no special importance. As I wanted to chat and provide entertainment, Mrs. Aebi turned towards me saying she would do without that entertainment with the greatest pleasure. That bizarre declaration surprised me, and I began to feel anguished and fearful. Secretly I began to be frightened of Mrs. Aebi. Just as I wanted to stop cutting up the food and stuffing it in, as I clearly felt full up, she said to me in an almost tender manner, her voice penetrated with a slightly trembling, motherly reproach: “You are hardly eating anything. Wait a moment, I shall cut a really juicy big morsel for you.” A shudder ran through me, and I emboldened myself to politely and delicately object that I had mainly come here to engage in conversation, whereby Mrs. Aebi said with a charming smile that she considered that to be in no way necessary. “It is just impossible for me to eat any more,” I said intensely in a low voice. I was quite near to choking and was already sweating in anguish. Mrs. Aebi said “I just cannot admit that you already want to stop cutting and ingurgitating, and will never believe that you really are full up. You are quite certainly not telling the truth when you say that you are already on the point of choking. I am obliged to believe that that is just politeness. I renounce any form of clever chatting, as I have already said, with pleasure.You have surely come here mainly to demonstrate and proclaim that you have an appetite and are a heavy eater. I cannot under any circumstances change that opinion of mine. I must quite cordially ask you to submit to the inevitable; for I can assure you that there is no other way for you to get up from the table than to completely eat up and take in all that I have cut for you and that I shall yet cut for you. I am afraid that you are hopelessly lost; for you must know that a hostess serves her guests what is to be taken up and taken in as long as necessary until they have reached their limit. A pitiful, lamentable fate awaits you; but you must courageously bear up. We must all one day make a great sacrifice. Be obedient and eat. Obedience is just so sweet. What harm is done, when you admit that? You will certainly still annihilate this most delicate, tender and sizeable morsel here, I just know it. Courage, my best friend! We must all be audacious. What good are we if we are always only driven by our own wishes? Pull all your forces together and drive yourself to achieve the utmost, to support the worst and to endure the harshest difficulties. You don’t know how it gladdens my heart to see you eat until you lose your senses. You cannot imagine how I would be pained if you gave up, but it is true that you won’t; isn’t it true that you will bite and attack, even if if you are already full up to the neck?”
“Horrible woman, what are you daring me to do?” I cried, as I suddenly jumped up from the table and pretended to rush away. However Mrs. Aebi held me back, laughed loudly and heartily and gave me to understand that she had taken the liberty of having fun with me and that I would be so good as to not take it badly. “I only wanted to give you an example of how some hostesses bestow their good will upon their guests.”
So I naturally had to laugh, and I must admit that I was amused by Mrs. Aebi’s mischief. She wanted to retain me in her company for the whole afternoon and was almost a bit upset when I said that it was unfortunately impossible for me to stay any longer in her company, as I had certain important things to take care of that could not be put off. It was exceedingly flattering for me to hear Mrs. Aebi vividly regret that I had to and wanted to rush off so quickly. She asked me if it was really urgently necessary to tear myself away and to disappear, whereupon I gave her my most sacred assurance that only the utmost urgencies could have the power to make me leave so quickly such a pleasant spot and such a charming, adorable person; with which words I took my leave.

It is now a question of overcoming, of taming, of overturning and of shaking up a tenacious, stubborn tailor or clothing-merchant utterly convinced of the infallibility of his unquestionable expertise in every respect, of his worth and of his professional capabilities. To overcome the stubbornness of a master-tailor must be considered as one of the most difficult and tiring missions that boldness and daring decisiveness can decide to undertake. Faced with tailors and their opinions a certain constant, powerful fear comes over me; I am not in any way ashamed of this sad confession; for fear is in this case evident and understandable. I was in fact going to be confronted with one of the worst kind, if not perhaps even the very worst and the most terrible, and armed myself for this highly dangerous offensive war with weapons like courage, defiance, anger, indignation, contempt or even deadly contempt, with which undoubtedly excellent weapons I hoped to be able to successfully and victoriously counter the biting irony and the mockery hidden behind a hypocritical ingenuity.
It did not turn out that way: but I shall remain silent about that for the moment as I first have to deliver a letter. I have in fact just decided to first go to the post office, then to the tailor’s and only afterwards to go to pay my state taxes. The post office, an attractive building, was right before my nose; I went gaily in and asked the available post-office clerk for a stamp that I glued to my letter. As I was prudently letting it slide down in the post-box, I mentally reviewed what I had written. As I still well remember, the contents ran as follows:

“Very honourable Sir!
The present communication should convey to you the assurance that the sender is a firm adversary of yours. I know that respect is not to be expected from you and from those like you, for you and those like you have an exaggerated opinion of themselves that prevents them from acquiring insight and consideration. I know with certainty that you are one of those people who have an inflated idea of themselves because they are inconsiderate and impolite, they think they are powerful because they are protected, and they think they are wise because they have come across the little word “wise”. People like you, faced with poverty and defencelessness, dare to be hard, rude, coarse and brutal. People like you have the extraordinary cleverness to think that it is necessary on all occasions to be on top, to be preponderant everywhere and to be triumphant at all times. People like you do not realize that that is idiotic, that that can be neither possible nor desirable. People like you are pretentious and are always ready to be zealously brutal. People like you are only courageous when they can carefully avoid any display of real courage, because they know that each act of real courage risks some damage, and they are courageous in that they always pretend to be good and loveable with exceptional energy and exceptional zeal. People like you respect neither age nor merit, and most definitely not work. People like you respect money, and their veneration of money prevents them from having respect for anything else. Whoever really works and actively gets things done is in the eyes of people like you a complete ass. I am not mistaken, for my little finger tells me that I am right. I dare say to your face that you abuse your position because you know perfectly well how many circumstances and awkward conditions there would have to be for you to be reprimanded; but the good graces that you benefit from and your favourable circumstances are nevertheless contested in the highest degree; for you no doubt realize on what shaky ground you stand. You deceive those who trust you, you do not keep your word, you denigrate without reason the value and the reputation of those you deal with, you shamelessly exploit where you pretend to do good, you betray services and defame those who do amiable things for you, you are extremely fickle and unreliable and demonstrate qualities that one would easily forgive in a young girl but not in a grown man. Excuse me for taking the liberty of considering you to be very weak, and allow me to assure you sincerely that I find it advisable to stay well away from you in the future and of the minimum of the absolutely required degree of respect from a person who had the distinction and the frankly modest pleasure of having known you.”

Now I almost regretted having given the letter to this bandit, as he almost seemed to be in hindsight, to the Post Office for delivery; for I had challenged in such an ideal way no less than a most prominent person of influence to a state of bitter warfare and the breaking-off of diplomatic, or rather business relations. Nevertheless I let the letter go its way, while I consoled myself by thinking that the fellow or rather the respectable Herr might perhaps not read the missive at all, because already on reading and savouring the second or third word he would likely have had enough and would presumably without losing much time or energy throw the flaming outburst into the waste-paper basket that houses and swallows up everything unwelcome. “Also, such things are generally normally forgotten after half a year or a quarter-year”, I thought and philosophised, and walked courageously on towards the tailor’s.

That person was happily sitting with the calmest conscience in the world in his lovely fashion-shop or workshop, that was quite encumbered and cluttered up with tissues and pieces of cloth. A bird in a bird-house or cage was making a lot of noise, to fully complete the idyllic scene, and an impish apprentice was busily occupied with his scissors. On seeing me, Master-Tailor Dünn politely got up from his seat, where he had been zealously wielding his sewing-needle, to properly greet the newcomer.
“You are coming on account of the suit that my firm will soon be completely finishing for you, a suit that will no doubt fit you faultlessly” he said, while giving me an almost too-familiar handshake that I nevertheless did not shirk from shaking vigorously.
“I am coming”, I replied, “to try it on undaunted and in an optimistic frame of mind, albeit not without some degree of fear.”
Herr Dünn said that he held all my fears to be superfluous and that he guaranteed the fit and cut, and while he was saying that he led me into the next room, that he left right away. His repeated guarantees and assurances did not really please me. The tryout was quickly done and the corresponding deep inner disappointment was quickly aroused. While struggling to suppress an overwhelming flood of vexation, I cried out loudly and powerfully to Herr Dünn, to whom I launched with the greatest possible calm and the most distinguished tone of dissatisfaction the devastating exclamation: “I was sure of it!”
“My most beloved dear sir, do not excite yourself unnecessarily!”
With great difficulty I exclaimed: “There is more than enough reason here to become excited and inconsolable. Keep for yourself your most inappropriate attempt to placate me, and be so good as to stop trying to calm me down; for what you have done in trying to produce a blameless suit is to the highest degree unsettling. All my secret fears, subtle or not subtle, have proven to be well founded, and my worst forebodings have been confirmed. How can you dare to guarantee that the cut and the fit are blameless, and how is it possible that you have the courage to assure me that you are a master in your profession when with only a flimsy honourability and the slightest degree of sincerity and attentiveness without further ado you have to admit that I have had the most extreme bad luck and that thanks to your worthy and excellent firm I have been provided with a blameless suit that is totally botched?”
“I completely refuse to accept the term ’botched’.”
“I shall try to control myself, Herr Dünn.”
“I thank you and am very pleased by such a fine statement.”
“You will allow me to insist that you undertake major modifications to this suit, that the recent careful fitting has shown to have a quantity of errors, insufficiencies and infirmities.”
“That is possible.”
“The dissatisfaction, the annoyance and the sadness that I feel force me to say that you have made me angry.”
“I assure you that I am sorry about that.”
“Your promptness to say that that saddens you makes me furious and puts me in the worst possible frame of mind, and doesn’t alter in the slightest the fact that the suit, to which I refuse to grant even the slightest degree of approval, is defective, and I energetically refuse to accept it as there can be no question of approval and agreement. For the vest I feel clearly that it makes me look like a hunch-backed and thereby hateful person, a situation that I can under no circumstances agree to. I feel myself much more incited to protest against such an awful outfitting and decoration of my person. The arms suffer from a preoccupyingly excessive length, and the waistcoat is so excessively in evidence that it creates the disagreeable impression that its wearer has a big stomach. The trousers or the leggings are quite simply awful. Their design and pattern fill me with a sincere feeling of horror. Where these quite miserable, stupid and laughable trousers should have a certain width they are tight to a degree, and where they should be narrow they are more than wide. Your product, Herr Dünn, is all things considered lacking in any notion of fantasy, and your work betrays a lack of intelligence. This suit has something pitiful, something insignificant, something stupid, something dowdy, something laughable and something anguishing about it. The person who made it surely cannot be counted among those who are gifted. It is regrettable that it demonstrates such a total absence of talent.”
Herr Dünn had the effrontery to say to me:
“I do not understand your indignation and shall never be able to understand it. The numerous severe criticisms that you believe you have to make are for me incomprehensible and will very likely remain incomprehensible to me. The suit fits you well. No one can make me think otherwise. My conviction that it puts you uncommonly to your advantage I declare to be unshakeable. You will after a short period of time get used to certain particularities and qualities. Senior civil servants order their most estimable requirements from me, and similarly Their Honours the Senior Magistrates graciously provide me with their custom. This certainly striking proof of my professional ability is sufficient for you. I do not have to take into consideration exorbitant expectations and conceptions, and Tailor-Master Dünn does not in any way accept such demands. People better situated than you and more distinguished gentlemen than you are satisfied in every way with my ability and efficacy. These examples should disarm you.”
Thus I was forced to realize that it would be impossible to obtain anything at all, and had to say to myself that my perhaps too fiery and vehement attack had resulted in a most painful and shameful defeat; so I withdrew my troops from the unhappy field of battle, broke off and fled shamefacedly away. Thus ended the bold adventure with the tailor.

Without looking at anything else whatsoever, I hurried over to the town hall to pay my taxes; but here I must correct a gross error. It was in fact, as it now belatedly comes to mind, not a matter of payment but just of a first interview with the President of the most respectable Tax Board and of submitting or transmitting an energetic declaration. One must not take this error badly and should listen benevolently to what I have to say about it here. In the same way as the staunch and unshakeable Master-Tailor Dünn promised and guaranteed blamelessness, I promise and guarantee exactness and completeness as well as brevity and terseness in the matter of clarification of the pending tax matter.
Without further ado I plunge into the charming affair in question: “Allow me to say to you,” I said freely and openly to the tax officer or the senior civil servant, who turned his august ear towards me in order to follow my declaration with appropriate attentiveness, “that I as a poor writer and pen-pusher or homme de lettres benefit from a very questionable revenue. There can naturally be no trace whatsoever of any amount of savings to be seen or to be found. I say that to my greatest regret, but without despairing or lamenting the fact. I get along, as the saying goes. I have no luxuries; that you will grant after one glance at me. The food that I eat can be described as sufficient and sparing. You have been so good as to believe that I am lord and master of many diverse sources of income; I am however obliged to politely but firmly oppose this belief and any such suppositions and to state the simple, naked truth, and this applies in all cases, that I am completely bereft of any wealth and on the contrary am in a complete state of poverty, that you will have the goodness to note. On Sundays I hardly dare venture out on the streets, for I have no Sunday clothes. With my meager and sparing way of life I resemble a field-mouse. A sparrow has more prospects of becoming prosperous than a present-day writer and tax-payer. I have written books that unfortunately have not pleased the public, and the results have been heart-breaking. I do not for an instant doubt that you see that and that as a result you understand my financial situation. I do not have a position in society and a social standing; that is as clear as day. Nowhere does there seem to be a sense of obligation to a person like me. A real interest for fine literature is rarely present anywhere, and the shameless critic, who everyone thinks is obliged to promote and care for our work, creates further heavy damage and like a tight shoe prevents the attainment of any slightly satisfying situation. Certainly there are good benefactors and friendly benefactresses who from time to time support me in the noblest way, but a gift is not an income and help is not wealth. For all these explicit and certainly most convincing reasons, my most honoured Herr, I would like to request that you to abandon that tax increase that you have communicated to me, and I must ask you, if not implore you, to evaluate my solvability as being as low as ever possible.”
The Herr Director or Herr Tax Official said: “But one always sees you going for a walk!”
“To go for a walk,” I answered, “I must do in any event, to stimulate myself and to maintain a correct relationship with the active world, without which I couldn’t write half a letter of the alphabet any more and no longer be able to produce the slightest poem in verse or work of prose. Without going for a walk I would be dead, and my profession, that I love passionately, would be eliminated from my life. Without walking around collecting facts I could no longer write articles or the slightest essay any more, not to speak of composing a story of reasonable length. Without going for a walk I wouldn’t be able to observe anything and would be quite unable to make any analyses. Such a clever and alert person as yourself should and will understand that instantly. On a good long promenade a thousand practical, useful thoughts occur to me. Shut up at home I would become miserable and withered up. Going on a promenade is for me not only healthy and enjoyable but also most useful and beneficial. A promenade stimulates me professionally and at the same time is fun and amuses me; it enlivens me and consoles me and pleases me; it is a pleasure for me and at the same time has qualities that encourage me to further creativity and spur me on, while it offers me numerous specific things both small and big as material that I can later work on actively and zealously at home. A promenade is always full of significant events worth seeing and worth being moved by. Nice promenades, no matter how short, are mostly swarming with images and living poetry, with enchantments and the beauties of nature. Nature and the countryside open up with grace and charm before the eyes and the senses of the attentive person on a walk, who really must not go about with eyes downcast but rather with open and untroubled eyes if he wants the fine feelings and the elevated, noble thoughts of the promenade to be awakened in him. Think of how a writer and poet would be impoverished and fail miserably if the glorious motherly, fatherly, child-like Nature does not constantly refresh him with the wellspring of goodness and beauty. Think of it, how for a poet the lesson and the sacred golden instruction that he absorbs out there in playful liberty is always of the highest importance for him. Without promenades and the exposure to nature that they provide, without these investigations that are as enjoyable as they are enriching, I feel quite lost and really am. One who goes for a walk must most attentively and lovingly study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a mountain, a leaf or also even a poor little scrap of discarded paper on which perhaps a charming little schoolchild has written his first awkward letters of the alphabet. The highest and the lowest, the most serious and the gayest things are to him equally nice and interesting and worthwhile. He must not on any account go about with an attitude of sensitive pride and susceptibility. He should unselfishly and without egotism look at everything and look everywhere; he must be able to go around constantly observing and remarking things, and should pay little attention to his own complaints, needs, wants and deprivations, and ignore them like a valiant soldier ready for action and willing to make sacrifices.
Sometimes he goes for a walk with only half a mind and only half paying attention, and that is worth nothing. He must every time be capable of feeling pity, empathy and enthusiasm, and hopefully that is the case. He must rise up to the highest degree of enthusiasm and be capable of stooping down and paying attention to the lowest and smallest detail of everyday life, and presumably he can do so. Authentic, truly sincere openness and the ability to be absorbed in things, and keen interest in all sorts of events and objects really make him happy, the way doing one’s duty makes a serious person feel happy and enriched inside. Wit, dedication and loyalty are bestowed upon him and lift him high above the unimposing characteristic of someone taking a walk, who only too often has the aspect and the bad reputation of a vagabond and a useless hanger-on. His diverse studies enrich and enliven him, appease and ennoble him and form, no matter how improbable it may sound, an expertise that no one would suspect of the apparently light-hearted promenader. Do you know that I am stubbornly and tenaciously at work mentally and am often active in the best sense when I outwardly seem to be thoughtlessly and idly lost in the blue or the green, giving the worst impression of a laggard, dreamy and lazy wastrel and frivolous idler without any responsibilities?
In secret and on his own the person on a walk goes about with the very best, finest thoughts of a promenader, so that in the middle of his studious, attentive excursion he has to come to a stop, stand still and listen attentively, for he is quite assailed and overcome by bizarre impressions and enchanting spiritual powers, and feels that he is suddenly going to sink down into the earth or that a pit opens up before his bedazzled and confused eyes, the eyes of a poet and a thinker. His head bows down and his ordinarily active arms and legs seem to be frozen. Countryside and people, sounds and colours, faces and forms, clouds and sunshine whirl about him like spectres, and he asks himself: “Where am I?” Earth and heaven flow away and collapse together all at once in a blazing, glittering, all-enveloping vague cloud formation; chaos takes over and order fades away. All shaken up, he laboriously tries to stay fully conscious; when he succeeds he can quite reliably continue with his outing. Do you consider it really and truly impossible that on any ordinary promenade I should meet travellers, have the honour of seeing professors, of meeting booksellers and bank officials, of talking to pleasant young sopranos and former theatre actresses, of having lunch with intellectual ladies, of strolling through woods, of delivering dangerous letters and engaging in wild combat with sneaky, ironical master-tailors? All of that can happen and I believe has in fact really happened. The person on a walk constantly sees something remarkable, thought-provoking and unusual, and he would be foolish not to pay attention to these intellectual phenomena or even wanted to reject them; but that he does not do: he much prefers to welcome all unusual, bizarre events, and is friendly and brotherly with them, for he finds them charming, he turns them into objects with form and substance, gives them shape and soul as they in turn educate and enrich his soul. In a word, I earn my daily bread through thinking, digging, boring, excavating, feeling, writing, investigating, researching and promenading as intensely as anyone else. While I might seem to be perfectly carefree, I am in the highest degree serious and conscientious, and when I appear to be nothing other than delicate and effusive I am really a solid specialist!
I hope that all of these these in-depth explanations have convinced you of my honourable aspirations and have fully satisfied you.”
The civil servant said: “Good! and he added: “With regards to your request for your state taxes to be established as low as possible, that will be reviewed and a negative or positive decision will soon be communicated to you. You are thanked for having amiably presented us with a truthful report and for your enthusiastic and honest declaration. You may leave and continue on your promenade.”

As I had been dismissed with good grace, I happily hurried away and was soon out in the open air. The enthusiasm of being at liberty took hold of me and moved me deeply. I finally come now, after so many courageously undertaken adventures and after having more or less victoriously overcome so many difficult obstacles, to the long-announced and previously-mentioned railway-crossing, where I stayed standing for a while and had to patiently wait until the train had the good grace to laboriously finish passing over the crossing. All kinds of people of both sexes of all ages and conditions were standing there and waiting like me at the barrier. The gatekeeper, a corpulent, pleasant woman, stood as still as a statue intensely examining all of us who were standing around waiting. The train passing by was full of soldiers who were all looking out of the windows, and these dedicated soldiers devoted to the service of their dearly beloved homeland, this whole group of soldiers on the move on the one hand, and the useless civilian population on the other hand greeted and waved patriotically and friendly to each other, gestures that spread a warm atmosphere throughout the crowd. When the crossing was opened again I went forward with all the others peacefully and calmly, and now my surroundings seemed to have become a thousand times nicer than before.

The promenade seemed to want to become ever lovelier, richer and more extensive. The railway-crossing here seemed to be its high point or something like its centre, from where it would gradually decrease. I already sensed the beginning of a soft slope towards the evening. Something like golden, wistful blissfulness and sweet, melancholic enchantment was present like a quiet, higher spirit. “It is heavenly beautiful here”, I said to myself. The delicate landscape with its lovely, modest meadows, gardens and houses lay there like a charming, tearful goodbye melody. Light, ancient complaints and songs of good, poor people rose up on all sides. Spirits with charming shapes and robes rose up and faded away, and the nice, pleasant country road radiated beams of celestial blue and white and gold. Calm and enchantment wafted like images of angels falling down from heaven over the little golden houses tinted with rose of poor people that the sunshine tenderly embraced and framed. Love and poverty and silver-golden wafts passed by and swept along hand in hand. It seemed to me as if someone was calling me lovingly by name or was kissing and consoling me. God Almighty, our gracious Lord, was going along the road to glorify it and make it heavenly beautiful. Images of all kinds and illusions made me imagine that Jesus Christ had arisen and was now wandering among the people and through this adorable region. Houses, gardens and people were transformed into tones, all objects appeared to have been blessed with a soul and to have been changed into something delicate. Sweet silver veils and soulful mists swam everywhere and settled on everything. The soul of the world had opened up, and all suffering, all human disappointments, everything evil, everything painful seemed to have faded away never to come back again. Previous promenades came to mind; but the wonderful image of the modest present towered over everything else. The future paled and the past melted away. I myself glowed and blossomed out in a glowing, blossoming instant. Grandeur and Goodness approached from near and far splendidly and luminously, bringing happiness and a sense of richness, and in that lovely region I could dream of nothing else. All other fantasies disappeared altogether and dissolved into insignificance. I had the whole rich Earth right before me and I looked attentively only at the smallest and most modest things. The sky seemed to rise up and then sink down with graceful movements. I had become something interior and walked about as if in an interior; everything exterior was like a dream; what had until now been understandable became incomprehensible. From the outer surface I penetrated into the fabled depths, that in an instant I recognised as goodness itself. What we understand and love also understands and loves us. I was no longer myself, I was another and just because of that I was again myself. In this soft light of love I perceived, or thought I did, that perhaps the innermost person is the only one that really exists. The thought came to me: “Where could we poor humans want to be, if truly there were no true Earth? Where should I be, if I shouldn’t be here? Here I have everything, and elsewhere I would have nothing.”

What I saw then was just as small and poor as it was large and significant, just as modest as it was charming, just as near as it was nice and just as loveable as it was warm. At the sight of two houses, that stood beside one another in the clear sunlight like living, pleasant neighbours, I felt very happy. One joyous feeling followed another, and in the soft, confiding air there floated a sense of contentment so that everything trembled with discrete pleasure. One of the two fine little houses was an inn called “At the Bear’s”; the bear was splendidly portrayed on the inn’s sign in a most amusing way. Chestnut trees shadowed the graceful, good-natured house that was surely inhabited by amiable, nice, friendly people; it didn’t look like the usual haughty kind of building but rather seemed like the very essence of trust and truthfulness. Everywhere that the eye could see was thick with splendid gardens overhung with heavy green masses of lovely leaves. The second building or little house, lovely and low, was like a nice picture in a children’s book, standing there so charming and unusual. The area round about the little house seemed perfectly fine and pretty. I fell head over heels in love with the picturesque little house and would have gladly gone in and settled there to live and feel wonderful for ever in that magical little dwelling, that treasure; however the nicest houses are unfortunately mostly already occupied, and it always turns out poorly for someone who is looking for a dwelling suitable for his discerning tastes, because what is empty and available is often awful and makes one feel horrible. The beautiful little house was surely inhabited by a little woman living alone or by a grandmother: that was the aura and the perfume that emanated from it. If I may be allowed to say so, I further declare that wall paintings or grand frescos that were extremely gay and well-done abounded on the wall of the little house, depicting a Swiss alpine scene with a house typical of the highlands region above Bern. The paintings were not really in any way excellent as such. To say that would be brash. Nevertheless they seemed to me to be splendid. Crude and simple as they were, they enchanted me; I like just that kind of silly and awkward paintings, as they evoke for me first of all zealousness and hard work, and secondly they bring to mind Holland. For is not all music, even the poorest, beautiful for one who loves the very essence and existence of music? Is not just about every single person, even the most awful and unpleasant, amiable for someone who likes people? A painted landscape in the middle of the real landscape is capricious and intriguing. No one can contest that. The fact that a little old woman really did live in the little house is moreover something that I do not firmly proclaim and that I certainly cannot assume. I only wonder now that I dared to utter the word “fact”, when everything here is or at least should be so soft and full of human qualities such as sensitivity and the feelings of a mother’s heart. Incidentally, the little house was painted bluish-grey and had bright golden-green window-shutters that seemed to be smiling, and all around in an enchanted garden wafted the scent of the loveliest flowers. A rosebush full of the most beautiful roses bowed and curved with enchanting grace over a little summer-house.

In case I was not sick but rather healthy and in good spirits, which I hoped to be the case and which I did not want to doubt, as I continued comfortably on I came upon a countryside hairdresser’s shop, with which business and its owner I had nothing to do, it seemed to me, as it was my opinion that it was not yet urgently necessary to let my hair be cut, even though that would perhaps have been rather nice and quite amusing. Further along I passed by a shoe factory that reminded me of the brilliant but unlucky poet Lenz, who learned shoemaking during the period of his spiritual and mental breakdown. Did I not also look at a schoolhouse on passing by and into an amiable schoolroom, where the severe schoolmistress was busy examining and giving orders? On this occasion may I indicate how much the promenader would have liked then and there to be a child and a disobedient, mischievous schoolboy again, to be able to go back to school and be on the receiving end of a well-deserved series of strokes for his naughtiness and his misdeeds.
Since we are talking about punishments, may it be mentioned in passing that we are of the belief that a farmer deserves to be well and truly beaten if he doesn’t hesitate to cut down the precious jewel of the countryside and the most beautiful object of his own property, namely his lofty, ancient chestnut tree for shoddy, awful, idiotic monetary reasons. I had just passed by a picturesque farm house with a lofty, majestically mighty chestnut tree, and that’s what aroused in me those thoughts of punishment and commerce. “This tall, majestical tree”, I cried out loud, “that so wonderfully protects and embellishes this house, that enrobes it with such an intense and joyous aura of homeliness and of one’s native country, this tree, I say, is a divinity and a blessing, and a thousand strokes of the whip should be dealt to the callous and nefarious owner who dares to do away with all of these golden, divinely-green, enchanting leaves so that he can indulge his greed for gold, the lowest and most common kind of greed there is on earth. Such a half-wit should be expelled from the community. To Siberia or Tierra del Fuego with such a desecrator and destroyer of beauty! Praise be to farmers who have a heart and are sensitive to things delicate and good.”

I have perhaps gone too far about the tree, the greed, the farmer, the exile to Siberia and the beating that the farmer deserves for cutting down the tree, and must admit that I have let myself get into a fit of anger. Friends of beautiful trees will however understand my feelings of anger and will agree with my so vividly expressed regrets. For my part, I willingly take back the thousand whiplashes. I even renounce the term “half-wit”. I disapprove of the bad word and ask the reader for forgiveness. As I have already repeatedly had to excuse myself, I have acquired a certain ease in begging pardon. I also shouldn’t have said “callous and nefarious owner”. These mental excitements should be avoided. That is clear. The pain caused by the cutting down of a lovely, lofty ancient tree will still be there but I shall just have an angry expression on my face if no one prevents me from doing so. “To be expelled from the community” was spoken inconsiderately, and as far as the lust for gold that I called common is concerned, I suppose that I too in one way or another have heavily faulted, have been lacking, and have sinned, and that I have not always remained distant from and ignorant of certain miserable acts and low deeds. With these phrases I have been denigrating others in a way that has rarely ever been exceeded; but I maintain that this policy is a necessity. Decency obliges us to behave as severely with ourselves as we would with others, and that we judge others just as mildly and considerately as ourselves, which as is well known we do instinctively. Is it not just charming, how I am here severely correcting mistakes and smoothing out transgressions? While I am making confessions I am showing myself to be peaceful, and while I am rounding out corners and smoothing things out I am a finer, more mellow mediator, I am displaying a sense of good manners and I am being diplomatic. Although I have been blaming myself, I nevertheless hope that my good faith will be recognised.
If now anyone still says that I am an inconsiderate person, a despot and a dictator who goes blindly around then I say, I mean I dare to hope, that I am right to maintain that the person who says that is sadly mistaken. There has perhaps never yet been an author who constantly thinks of his readers as tenderly and delicately as me.

Very good, and now I can properly present palaces or noble mansions, and as follows: I can literally lay down a trump hand, for with a partly-deteriorated nobleman’s residence and mansion, with an proud knight’s residence and manor grey with age and surrounded by a park that now comes into view one can impress, create a sensation, awaken jealousy, arouse wonderment and reap honours. Many poor but worthy writers have lived to their heart’s content and with great pleasure in such a castle or fortress with a courtyard and a driveway for majestic carriages decorated with noble coats of arms. Many poor but pleasure-loving artists dream of staying for a while in delightful, old-fashioned country houses. Many educated but perhaps beggarly-poor young town women think with melancholy enchantment and with idealistic enthusiasm of ponds, grottos, high-ceilinged rooms and palanquins and of being served by zealous servants and noble-minded knights.
On the wall of the manor that I was looking at the year 1709 could be seen and read, which naturally interested me to the highest degree. I looked with real delight, like a researcher in antiquity and nature, at the dream-like, ancient, unusual garden where I discovered and observed right away in a pool with charming, splashing fountains a strange meter-long fish, in fact a solitary catfish. I also saw and discovered and gazed with romantic delight at a garden-pavilion in the Moorish or Arabian style, lovely and painted abundantly in heavenly blue and mysterious starry-silver and gold and brown and noble, intense black colours. I assumed and detected with the most elevated, finest kind of intuition that the pavilion must have been created and erected approximately in the year 1858, an identification, supposition and deduction that will perhaps be justified one day in a decisive treatise on the subject or by a conference with a quite proud air and a confident, self-assured manner in the town hall before a numerous, approving public. The lecture would likely be talked about in the press, which understandably would be most satisfying for me, for they often don’t say anything at all about all kinds of things.

While I was studying the Arabic or Persian garden pavilion, I thought: “How nice it must be here at night, when everything is enclosed in an almost opaque darkness, when everything is quiet, dark and still, the fir trees rise softly out of the dimness, midnight takes hold of the lonely wanderer, and then a lamp, spreading out its sweet golden rays, is brought into the pavilion by a lovely, richly bejewelled noble lady who then, endowed with an original taste and a singular impulse of the soul begins to play songs on the piano which which in this case our garden pavilion is naturally equipped, whereby she, if one may be allowed to dream, sings with an enchantingly lovely, pure voice. How one would listen attentively, how one would dream there, how one would be made happy by the night-music.”
But it wasn’t midnight and neither was it in any way the noble Middle-Ages nor a year of the fifteenth or sixteenth century, but rather daytime and a workday, and a group of people in a most impolite and unknightly, rude and impertinent automobile that then passed by me quite shook me out of my learned and romantic considerations and in an instant tore me away from all my poetic thoughts of castles and dreams of the past, so that I instinctively cried out: “It is certainly extremely boorish to be prevented from making the finest studies and plunging into the most refined depths here. I could be outraged, but I shall instead be meek and manfully suffer and put up with it. It’s nice to think about past beauties and gracefulness, it’s nice to think about the noble, faded image of bygone loveliness; but that is no reason to turn one’s back on the world about one and the people that inhabit it, and one should not believe that one is right to grumble about people and institutions because they don’t take into account one’s attitude towards history and the ideas of the past.”

“A thunderstorm”, I thought in passing further along, “would be nice here. Hopefully this is a good moment for one.” I directed the following facetious speech to a good, respectable, coal-black hound that was lying in the road: “It really doesn’t occur in the slightest to you, an apparently quite uneducated and uncultivated fellow, to get up and greet me with your pitch-black paw, although you can see by my gait and by my whole appearance that I am someone who for seven full years has been out in the world and lived in capital cities, and that during this time has practically not ceased for a moment, not to mention an hour or a month or a week, to be friendly and associate exclusively with the most distinguished people? What school did you ever go to, you rough fellow? What? And you don’t give the slightest answer to my questions? You lie there resting, you calmly look at me, you do not change your expression in the slightest and you stay there without moving like a statue? Shame on you!”
In fact however I liked the dog, who looked splendid there, uncommonly fine in his good-natured attentiveness and calm, relaxed, fun-loving attitude, and as he was looking at me in such a cheerful way I talked to him and as he didn’t understand a single word I had to force myself to scold him, which however, as one will have sees from the joking manner, couldn’t in any case be taken badly.

On seeing a very well-dressed and fine, extremely proud man passing by stiffly in an unsteady manner I had the melancholy thought: “And neglected, poor, badly-dressed little children? Is it possible that such a well-dressed, grandly done-up, splendidly outfitted and dandified, polished, spruced-up man wearing rings and jewellery does not for an instant think of poor young creatures who often enough go about in rags, pitifully bedraggled and showing a sad lack of care and cleanliness? Is the peacock not embarrassed in the slightest? Is the grown-up Herr who goes about so splendidly not at all touched by the sight of the dirty, spotty little ones? It seems to me that no adult should be happy to go about all dressed up as long as there are still children who are deprived of such finery.”
But one could just as well say that no one should go to a concert or a theatre performance or enjoy any such entertainment as long as jails and penal institutions with miserable prisoners still exist anywhere in the world. That is obviously going too far. And if someone wants to wait happily and contentedly until there are no unhappy poor people any more in the world, then he would have to wait until the bleak, unimaginable end of all time and the icy, desolate end of the world, and by then his inclination and his very life would have long gone by.

An unkempt, worn-down, demoralised, unsteady working-woman who passed rapidly by although visibly tired and weakened as she apparently still had many things to take care of, made me think for a moment of well-dressed, spoiled little girls or young women who often do not know or seem to know in what way they could pass the day in delicate, distinguished activities or distractions, and who perhaps are never really tired, who think all day long or all week long about what they could wear to enhance the lustre of their appearance and who have heaps of time for long considerations about how they could enclose their sweet, delicious figures in ever more exaggerated, awful kinds of clothes.
But I myself am mostly someone who likes and admires such adorable, extremely well-cared-for, beautiful, tender forms of young maidens looking like rays of moonshine. A charming little beauty could order me to do what she wanted and I would blindly obey. Oh how beauty is beautiful and charm is charming!

I return to the subject of architecture and the art of construction, to take into account a little bit or a speck of art and literature. But first a remark: to decorate noble, worthy mansions, historical sites and buildings with flowery ornamentations is an indication of really bad taste. Whoever does that or lets it happen sins against the ideals of worth and beauty and does damage to our fond memories of our forefathers who were as courageous as they were noble. In addition one never puts wreathes and flowery decorations on the architecture of Bern. Flowers are certainly in themselves lovely; but they are nevertheless not there to prettify and obliterate the noble force and strong beauty of stone images. In general the fondness for flowers can degenerate into a foolish flower-addiction. Important people such as magistrates who do this should, if I am right, issue authoritative decrees to themselves and thereafter properly behave themselves.
With regards to two lovely and interesting little buildings that caught my attention forcefully and impressed me to an unusual degree, I may say that just as I was continuing on my way I came upon a charming, unusual chapel that I straight away called a Brentano Chapel, as I saw that with its golden aura enveloped in fantasy it had its origins in the quite brilliant and at the same time somewhat dark period of the Romantics. Brentano’s great wild, stormy, sombre novel “Godwin” came to mind. High, slender arched windows gave the extremely original, unusual building a delicate, amiable appearance and endowed it with a magical aura, the magic of the inner and the thoughtful life. Dramatic, intense descriptions of landscapes by the author in question came to mind, in particular of German oak-tree forests. Soon afterwards I was standing before the villa called “Terrasse”, that made me think both of the artist Karl Stauffer-Bern, who lived and resided here for a time, and of certain very distinguished noble buildings on the Tiergarten Street in Berlin, that are attractive and well worth seeing because of the forceful, haughty and strictly-classical style that they express. Stauffer’s villa and the Brentano chapel symbolised two forceful and very different worlds for me, each being in their own particular way charming, entertaining and significant. Here the measured, bold elegance, there the high-spirited, profound dream; here something fine and lovely and there something fine and lovely, but very different in essence and form, in spite of their being almost of the same period. Now the evening began to progressively encroach on my promenade, whose quiet end, it seemed to me, could not be far off.

A few everyday events and incidents are perhaps quite in place here, more or less in order of appearance: a stately piano factory beside other factories and establishments, an avenue lined with poplars along a blackish river, men, women, children; electric streetcars, their screeching and their conductor or captain steering, a herd of charmingly checkered and spotted pale cows, farm women on wagons and the associated sounds of wheels rumbling and whips cracking, really heavily-loaded, highly-piled vans, beer wagons and beer casks, workers streaming out of their factories on their way home; the overwhelming impression of this mass of people and objects and the curious thoughts that they evoked in me; wagons loaded with goods coming from the railway station, a whole traveling and wandering circus with elephants, horses, dogs, zebras, giraffes, ferocious lions imprisoned in their cages, Senegalese, Indians, tigers, monkeys and crocodiles creeping about, rope dancers and polar bears and all the necessary accoutrements for the attendants, the servants, and the artists’ equipment and personnel, furthermore: boys armed with wooden weapons acting out the European War, fully capturing its spirit of all-out fury; a little rogue singing “A Hundred Thousand Frogs”, of which he is mightily proud; furthermore: logs and lumberjacks with carts full of wood; two or three splendid hogs, that quite understandably conjure up voracious images of a splendid, sweet-smelling cooked roast of pork in the active fantasies of the onlookers; a farm house with a saying over the front door; two bohemian women from Galicia, Slavs, Wends, or even gypsies in red boots and with pitch-black eyes and hair, whose strange appearance might make one think of the pastoral novel “The Gypsy Countess”, that took place in Hungary but was somewhat contrived, or of “Preziosa”, that was of Spanish origin, although one doesn’t need to take that literally. Further on, shops: shops for stationery, meat, clocks, shoes, hats, iron goods, tissues, colonial wares, spices, beauty products, sewing goods, bakery products and pastries. And everywhere a lovely evening sun on all these things. Further on there was a lot of noise and commotion, schools and schoolteachers, the latter with authority and dignity written on their faces, the countryside and air and a number of paintings.

Further on, not to be overlooked or forgotten: inscriptions and slogans like: “Persil” or “Maggi’s unparalleled soup rolls” or “Continental rubber heels are everlasting” or “Property for sale” or “The best milk chocolate” or I really know not what else. If one wanted to count how many there really were one would never come to an end. Reasonable people realise that and take it into account.
One sign or advertisement particularly caught my eye: “Boarding-house or fine men’s-residence recommends to the elegant or at least the better kind of gentlemen its excellent cuisine, about which we can say with a clear conscience that it will satisfy the most spoiled palate and charm the most lively appetite. As far as too-hungry stomachs are concerned however, we prefer not to take them into consideration. The fine cuisine that we practice corresponds to a higher level of education, wherefore we would like to indicate that we prefer to see only properly educated people feasting at our table. We do not in the slightest want to meet fellows who drink up their weekly and monthly salaries and are then unable to promptly pay their accounts; we would much rather have to do with honoured guests with delicate habits and pleasant manners. Charming, elegant girls serve appetising dishes in our establishment at our splendidly-decorated tables covered with flowers of all kinds. We make that clear so that our prospective boarders can understand how necessary it is to behave nicely and to conduct themselves properly and decently as soon as he sets foot in our estimable, respectable boarding-house. We most decidedly want to have nothing to do with wastrels and ruffians, with boasters and show-offs. Those who have reason to believe that they belong to these categories will have the goodness to stay far away from our first-class establishment and spare us their disagreeable presence. On the other hand, a nice, delicate, polite, well-behaved, fine, outgoing, friendly, gay, but not excessively friendly and gay, rather gentle, capable of paying for everything, solid, who pays punctually will correspondingly be most welcome for us in fact, and he shall be well served and treated in the most polite and nicest way; that we sincerely promise and think that that will always be our pleasure. Such a nice, charming man will find at our table such sought-after delicacies that he would only find elsewhere with the greatest difficulties, for real gastronomic masterpieces come out of our exquisite kitchen, as anyone who visits our distinguished gentlemen’s establishment for can verify for himself, which we invite and encourage one to do at any time. The dishes that we place on the table surpass to some extent in quality as well as in quantity the ordinary conception, and no lively fantasy or imagination, be it ever so active, is able to even approximately imagine the delicate and mouth-watering morsels that we are used to placing one after the other in front of the happy, astonished faces of our gentlemen-diners.
But we only take into consideration the better sort of gentlemen as we have already repeatedly stressed, and one will be so good as to allow us, to avoid errors and overcome doubts, to briefly proclaim our views on this matter. In our eyes only someone who is proud of his distinction and superiority and who on every occasion behaves better than ordinary people is a better kind of gentleman. People who are no more than ordinary are absolutely not suitable. A better kind of gentleman is to our way of thinking only one who is somewhat vain and imagines silly things and above all is capable of thinking that his nose is better than any other good and reasonable man’s nose. The attitude of a better kind of gentleman clearly expresses this special requirement, and here is where we draw the line. Someone who is only good, proper and respectable and has no other important advantage can stay away; for he does not seem to us to be of the finer and better sort. For the selection of only the finest and most genuine, best kind of gentlemen we have the highest standards. We take into account right away his way of walking, his tone of voice, his manner of conversation, his face, his movements and particularly his clothes, his hat, his walking stick, the flower in his buttonhole that either exists or not, to determine whether or not a man can be counted as belonging to the better sort of gentlemen. The perspicuity of our vision borders on the magical and we dare to maintain that we have in this matter a certain genius. Thus one is now informed of our way of judging people, and if someone comes to us whom we can see from far off is not for us and is unsuitable for our boarding-house, we say to him: “We regret, and we are really very sorry.”

Two or three readers will perhaps in fact have some doubts about this advertisement, saying to themselves that one cannot really believe all that. Perhaps there has been some repetition here or there. I would however like to confess that I look upon nature and the ways of people as a series of both lovely and charming repetitions, and I would also like to confess that I even consider this phenomenon to be beautiful and a blessing. There are certainly in some places excessively-stimulated, spoiled, sensation-hungry people always ready to snap up and devour novelties, people who are perpetually hungry for the slightest pleasure of any sort whatever. In any case the poet does not write for such people, just as the musician does not compose for them and the painter does not paint for them. All in all it seems to me that the constant urge for pleasure and sensations from ever newer things is an impulse towards smallness, a lack of an inner life, an incompatibility with nature and a mediocre or inadequate outlook on the world. Small children are like that; one continually has to show them something new and different, with which they are only barely satisfied. The serious author does not feel himself obliged to accumulate subjects, to be an agile servant for restive greed, and as a result he is not afraid of a few simple repetitions, although naturally he constantly strives to avoid too many similarities.

It was now evening, and I came upon at a nice, quiet road or side-path that ran under trees out to the lake, and here my promenade ended. In a grove of elm trees on the water’s edge a class of schoolboys and schoolgirls was gathered, and the minister or teacher was giving an evening nature-lesson and lecture. As I was slowly going on further, thoughts of one or two people came to mind. Perhaps because of a certain overall tiredness I thought of a lovely young woman, and then that as I was so alone in the wide world that that could not be quite appropriate. Self-reproach came at me from all sides and I had to struggle severely. Certain bad memories took hold of me. Self-incriminations suddenly made my heart heavy. All the while I was looking for flowers and gathered them up both in the woods in the meadows. It began to rain lightly and softly, whereby the countryside became even more delicate and still. It seemed to me as if it was crying, and as I was gathering flowers I listened to the soft tears that flowed down from the leaves. Warm, light summer rain, how sweet you are!
“Why am I gathering flowers here?” I asked myself, and looked thoughtfully down at the ground, and the delicate rain increased my thoughtfulness that developed into sorrow. Past failings came to mind, a broken word, hate, defiance, falseness, deceitfulness, nastiness and many other painful, awful deeds. Unbridled passion, wild desires, and how I had done harm to some people, how I had committed injustices. My past life opened up before me like a theatre-stage full of dramatic scenes, and I was instinctively astonished by my so many weaknesses, by all the unfriendly and heartless acts that I had let myself commit. Then the second figure came to mind and I suddenly saw again the old, tired, poor abandoned man whom I had seen lying on the ground in a wood a few days before, so pitiful, pale and abject, so woebegone and wan that I was deeply shocked by the sad and heart-rending vision. In my mind I looked at that tired man, and that made me weak all over. I felt the need to stretch out somewhere and as a friendly, cozy place was available on the river bank nearby, being quite exhausted I made myself comfortable on the soft ground under the stalwart branches of a tree. As I was gazing at the earth, the air and the sky, the troubling, inescapable thought came that I was a poor prisoner between heaven and earth, that everyone in the same way had been pitifully imprisoned, that for everyone there was only the one dark way ahead, namely into the pit, down into the earth, that there was no other way into the other world than the one into the grave. “Thus everything, all this life so rich, these gay, suggestive colours, this charm, this joy and pleasure of being alive, all these ideas of mankind, family, friends and loved ones, this clear, delicate air full of divinely beautiful images, the houses of one’s father and mother and lovely, gentle streets, the sun on high, the moon and the hearts and eyes of men, just everything must necessarily one day pass away and die.”
I thought of that a long while and quietly asked for forgiveness from the people whom I may have perhaps caused to suffer. I lay there a long time thinking unclear thoughts until the young woman came to mind again, she who was so lovely and blooming with the freshness of youth, who had such sweet, good, pure eyes. I vividly remembered how charming her lovely, youthful mouth was, how pretty her cheeks were, and how her whole appearance enchanted me with its melodious softness, how I had asked her something a little while ago, how she had lowered her lovely eyes in doubt and disbelief, and then how she had said “no” when I asked her if she believed in my sincere love, dedication, devotion and tenderness. Circumstances obliged her to travel and she went away. Perhaps I could still have been able to convince her in time that I meant well for her, that her dear person was important to me and that for many good reasons it was important to me to make her happy and thereby myself too; but I did not trouble myself further and she went away.
What are these flowers for then? “Am I collecting flowers to put them on my unhappiness?” I asked myself, and the bouquet fell from my hands.

I got up to go home; for it was already late, and everything was dark.


One is taken by an unknown hand,
what is the use of brooding,
because that was the way it was?
Unhappiness, too frail, that passed away
too quickly to be named;
Love, that one day was no longer here,
nor there, never again, and I ask myself
if it resembled a note of music
that in developing, while one was playing it,
gradually disappeared, until the heart,
that had remembered it as all the days came and went by,
forgot it. Memories become worn out.
Finally, it is as if nothing had happened.
No one had done anything to it, and it only came to pass
that it grew and withered with the passing of time.
Man wird von einer Hand, die man nicht kennt,
genommen, was nützt da das Schmollen,
wo es dich einmal so hat kommen sollen?
Verglommen Unglück, das zu zart ist,
als dass ein Name es schnell nennt,
Liebe, die eines Tages nicht mehr hier war,
nicht dort, nirgends mehr, und ich fragte mich,
ob sie mit einem Tone Ähnlichkeiten habe,
der mit dem Werden, dem ihn Spielen
sich mehr und mehr verliere, bis das Herz ihn
vergesse, das sich da an ihn in allen
hergekommenen und hingegangenen Tagen noch
erinnert hat. Erinnerung verbraucht sich.
Zuletzt ist es, als wäre nichts geschehen.
Niemand hat ihn was angetan, und nur an sich
geschah es, wuchs es und zerfloss es mit der Zeit.

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[1see one of Robert Walser’s most representative poems, “One Is Taken By An Unknown Hand”, above.

[2humour often veering to hilarity - Robert Walser is the P. G. Wodehouse of German-language literature!

[3This translation has been done specially for this site.