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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781)

An Academical Lover

From “The Young Scholar”


An.(aside).I cannot leave these people alone in this way.—Herr Valer asks whether you are in your room. Are you still here, Herr Damis?

Da.Just tell me, you ignorant lout, have you made it your special object to-day to annoy me?

Lis.Let him stay there, Herr Damis. He will not keep away, you’ll see.

An.Yes, now I shall stay; now, perhaps, when what I must not hear or see is already over.

Da.What is over?

An.You know very well.

Lis.(whispering).Help me, Anton, to make Juliane as black as we can in your master’s estimation. Will you?

An.Yes, very likely; by way of gratitude, perhaps——

Lis.Hold your tongue, then, at any rate. I am sure, Herr Damis, you will get on ill with Juliane. I feel pity for you beforehand. The whole world does not contain a worse girl——

An.Don’t believe it, Herr Damis; Juliane is a right good girl. You could not get on better with any one in the world. I wish you happiness with her.

Lis.Really? You must be very kindly disposed toward your master, when you want to hang such an intolerable nuisance round his neck.

An.And you must be a good deal more kindly disposed toward your young mistress, when you grudge her so good a husband as Herr Damis will prove.

Lis.A good husband! To be sure, a good husband is all she desires. A man who will permit everything——

An.Ho-ho! Everything? Do you hear, Herr Damis, for what Lisette takes you? On this account you would like to be his wife yourself, I suppose? Everything, eh?

Da.But seriously, Lisette, do you believe your young lady will make a thoroughly bad wife? Has she really many bad qualities?

Lis.Many? She has all that any one can have, not excepting those which contradict one another.

Da.Will you not give me a list of them?

Lis.What shall I begin with? She is silly.

Da.A trifle.

An.And I say, a lie!

Lis.She is quarrelsome.

Da.A trifle.

An.And I say, a lie!

Lis.She is vain.

Da.A trifle.

An.A lie! say I.

Lis.She is not a good housekeeper.

Da.A trifle.

An.A lie!

Lis.She will ruin you by her extravagance, and by parties and suppers.

Da.A trifle.

An.A lie!

Lis.She will hang the anxiety of a host of children on your neck for you.

Da.A trifle.

An.The best wives are the first to do that.

Lis.But children who are not your own.

Da.A trifle.

An.And a trifle, too, that is fashionable!

Lis.A trifle? What do you mean, Herr Damis?

Da.I mean that Juliane cannot be bad enough. Is she silly? I am so much the more sensible. Is she quarrelsome? I am so much the calmer. Is she vain? I am so much the more philosophical. Is she lavish? She will stop when her money is gone. Is she prolific? Then let her see what she can do if she tries to get the better of me. One must immortalize oneself as one can—women through children, men through books.

An.But don’t you see that Lisette must have an object in slandering Juliane in this way?

Da.Oh, of course, I do. She does not grudge me to her, and therefore describes her completely in accordance with my taste. She has no doubt concluded that I will only marry her mistress because she is the most unbearable of girls.

Lis.Only for that? Only for that? I have concluded that? I must have supposed you weak in the head, then. Just consider——

Da.You go too far, Lisette! Do you give me no credit for thinking at all? What I have said is the result of only too severe thought. Yes, it is settled. I mean to increase the number of the apparently unhappy men of learning who have married bad wives. This resolution of mine is not sudden.

An.Well, really! What is there the devil can’t do? Who ever would have dreamed of it? And now it is to become true! It makes me laugh! Lisette wanted to draw him out of the marriage, and only urged him the more to it, and I wanted to urge him into it, and would soon have dissuaded him from it.

Da.One must marry at some time or other. I cannot rely on getting a thoroughly good wife, so I choose a thoroughly bad one. A wife of the ordinary kind, who is neither cold nor warm, neither very good nor very bad, is of no use to a scholar, of no use whatever. Who will concern himself about her after his death? And yet he deserves that his whole house shall be immortal with himself. If I can’t have a wife who will one day find a place in a treatise De bonis eruditorum uxoribus, I will at least have one with whose name an industrious man may enlarge his collection De malis eruditorum uxoribus. Yes, yes—besides, I owe it to my father, as his only son, to exercise the most careful consideration for the maintenance of his name.

Lis.I can hardly get over my astonishment! I used to consider you, Herr Damis, such a great soul——

Da.And not wrongly. In this very matter I consider that I give the strongest proof of it.

Lis.I could almost burst! Yes, yes, the strongest proof that no one is so hard to catch as a young scholar—not so much on account of his insight and shrewdness, as of his folly.

Da.What impertinence! A young scholar! A young scholar!

Lis.I will spare you any rebukes. Valer shall at once have intelligence of all. Your servant.(Exit.)

An.There! you see, she runs off now, as you won’t dance to her piping.

Da.Mulier, non homo! I shall soon accept this paradox as truth. By what does one show that one is a human being—by reason? By what does one show that one has reason? When one knows how to value learning and the learned properly. A woman can never do this, and therefore she has no reason, and therefore is not a human being. Yes, indeed, yes. In this paradox lies more truth than in twenty manuals.

An.What was I saying? Did I not tell you that Herr Valer has been asking for you? Won’t you go and speak to him?

Da.Valer? I will wait for him. The time when he stood high in my esteem is past. He has laid his books aside for some years. He has had the notion put into his head that one must give oneself the last finish by social intercourse and knowledge of the world, to render useful service to the state. What more can I do than pity him? And yet I shall at last have to feel ashamed of him too. I shall have to feel ashamed of having ever held him worthy of my friendship. Oh, how exacting one ought to be in one’s friendships! Yet what has it availed me that I have been so in the highest degree? In vain have I avoided all acquaintance with mediocre persons, in vain have I striven to associate only with genius, only with original minds. Notwithstanding this, Valer deceived me under the mask of such a one. Oh, Valer, Valer!

An.Let it be loud enough, if he is to hear it.

Da.I could have burst with rage at his cold compliments. What did he talk with me about? Frivolous trifles. And yet he came from Berlin, and might have been the first to inform me of the most pleasing of all news. Oh, Valer, Valer!

An.Hush! He is coming, really. You see he does not like to be called three times.

Enter VALER.
Va.Pardon me, dearest friend, for disturbing you in your studious tranquillity——

An.(aside).He had better say “idleness” at once.

Da.Disturbing? Do I imagine you would come to disturb me! No, Valer, I know you too well; you come to bring me the most pleasing news, which is worthy of the attention of a scholar who is expecting his reward.—A chair, Anton!—Sit down.

Va.You are mistaken, my dear friend. I come to complain of your father’s fickleness. I come to ask an explanation from you, on which my whole happiness will depend.

Da.Oh, I could see at once, from your manner, that my father’s presence had prevented you from speaking to me more confidentially, and expressing your joy to me, at the honor which the just decision of the Academy——

Va.No, my all too learned friend, let us speak for a moment of something less indifferent.

Da.Something less indifferent? Then is my honor a matter of indifference to you? False friend!

Va.That title will befit you if you keep me any longer from that which, for a tender heart, is all important. Is it true that you wish to marry Juliane, and that your father means to bind this too fond girl by bonds of gratitude to act less freely in her choice? Have I ever made a secret with you of my love for Juliane? Have you not always promised me to assist my love?

Da.You are getting warm, Valer, and forget that the cause is a woman. Put this trifle out of your thoughts. You must have been in Berlin when the Academy adjudged the prize for this year. The subject was “The Monads.” Did you not happen to hear that the motto——

Va.How cruel you are, Damis! Answer me, do!

Da.And you won’t answer me? Think. Has not the prize been assigned to the motto Unum est necessarium? I flatter myself, at least——

Va.I shall soon flatter myself about nothing at all when I see you so evasive. I shall soon have to believe, too, that the report which I took for a joke of Lisette’s is true. You consider Juliane unworthy of you, you hold her to be the shame of her sex, and for this very reason you are going to marry her. What a monstrous idea!


Va.Yes, laugh on, Damis, laugh on. I am a fool for being able to believe such folly of you for a moment. Either you have made fun of Lisette, or she has made fun of me. No; such a resolution could only enter a disordered brain. To hold it in abhorrence one would need only to think reasonably—without thinking nobly—as we know you are in the habit of doing. But, I implore you, solve this dreadful riddle for me!

Da.You will soon succeed, Valer, in drawing my attention to your gossip. So you really desire that I should subordinate my ambition to your silly fancy? My ambition! However, I prefer to believe you are joking. You wish to see if I, too, am unstable in my resolutions.

Va.I joking? Cursed be any joke that enters my mind!

Da.I shall be the better pleased if you will talk seriously. What I say to you is, the paper with the motto Unum est necessarium

Chrys.(with a newspaper in his hand).Well, is it not so, Herr Valer? My son is not to be dissuaded from the marriage. Don’t you see that it is not so much I, as he, who is bent on this marriage?

Da.I! I bent on the marriage?

Chrys.Hist, hist!

Da.What does “Hist, hist!” mean? My honor suffers in this. Might not people think that I cared who knows how much for a wife?

Chrys.Hist, hist!

Va.Oh, pray don’t stand upon ceremony! I see it well enough. You are both against me. What ill-fortune it is which brought me into this house! I meet an agreeable woman, I please her, and yet in the end I must relinquish all my hopes. Damis, if I ever had any right to your friendship——

Da.But isn’t it so, Valer? For one thing one must complain of the Berlin Academy. Just think, in future the subjects for the prize essays will be made known two years previously. Why two years? Wasn’t one enough? Are the Germans so slow? I have been sending in my treatise every year, but, without boasting, I have never worked at it more than a week.

Chrys.But do you know, you good people, what has occurred in the Netherlands? I have the very latest newspaper here. They have come to blows pretty smartly. I really am quite angry with the allies. Haven’t they made a strange business of it again?

An.Now, there they are, all three talking about different things. The one talks of love, another of his treatises, and the third of war. If I, too, am to talk about anything special, it shall be about supper. To fast from midday till six o’clock in the afternoon is no joke.

Va.Unhappy love!

Da.That blundering Academy!

Chrys.Those stupid allies!

An.The fourth voice is still wanting: that dawdling cook!

Lis.Well, Herr Chrysander, I thought you were gone to call the gentlemen to supper, but I see you want to be called yourself. Supper is already on the table.

An.It was high time. Heaven be praised!

Chrys.Quite true, quite true; I had almost forgotten it altogether. The newsman stopped me on the stairs. Come, Herr Valer; we will consider the present state of the country together over a glass of something. Put Juliane out of your head. And you, my son, may chat with your bride. You will have a capital wife; not such a Xantippe as——

Da.Xantippe? How do you mean? Are you, too, still under the popular delusion that Xantippe was a bad wife?

Chrys.Do you mean to consider her a good one, then? You surely are not going to defend Xantippe? Pshaw! That is a childish mistake. I believe the more you scholars learn, the more you forget.

Da.I maintain, however, that you cannot produce a single valid piece of evidence for your view. That is the first thing which makes the whole matter suspicious, and for the rest——

Lis.This everlasting palaver!

Chrys.Lisette is right. My son, contra principia negantem non est disputandum. Come to supper!