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

Heinrich Heine (1797–1856)

Marchese di Gumpelino

From “The Baths of Lucca,” in “Travel Pictures”

“YOU have no idea, doctor,” said the Marchese di Gumpelino, “how much money I am obliged to spend, though I manage to do with a single servant, and have a private chaplain only when I am in Rome. I see there comes Hyacinth.”

The little figure which just then emerged from a crease in the hillside would rather have deserved the name of Fire-Lily. It was a capacious scarlet coat sown with gold tresses, on which the sun gleamed, and out of this glaring magnificence sweated a little head that nodded to me familiarly. And, to be sure, when I took a nearer view of the pallid, anxious little face and the clever, twinkling little eyes, I recognized some one whom I would sooner have expected to find on Mount Sinai than on the Apennines, for it was none other than Herr Hirsch, of Hamburg, who was not only known as an honest collector of lottery tickets, but who also possessed unusual skill in the handling of corns and jewels, so that he could not only distinguish the former from the latter, but could operate on the corns and estimate the value of the jewels.

“I hope,” he said, as he approached, “that you still know me, although my name is no longer Hirsch. My name now is Hyacinth, and I am Herr Gumpel’s valet.”

“Hyacinth!” cried the latter in astonishment at his servitor’s indiscretion.

“Never mind, Herr Gumpel, or Herr Gumpelino, or Marchese, or Excellenza. We need not be embarrassed on account of this gentleman; he knows me, has played in my lottery, and, I believe, still owes me a trifling sum. I am indeed glad to see you, doctor. Are you here, too, on the pleasure-hunting business? There is nothing else to be done in this heat, in which one has to climb mountains all day. I am as tired here at night as if I had walked twenty times from the Altona Gate to the Stone Gate at Hamburg, without earning a penny for my trouble.”

“Heavens!” cried the marchese, “keep still! I must get another servant!”

“Why should I keep still?” said Hirsch-Hyacinth. “I am glad to be able to speak good German to some one whom I used to know in Hamburg; for when I think of Hamburg——”

And at the memory of his little stepfatherland the man’s eyes shimmered suspiciously, and sighing, he said:

“What is man, after all? You take a pleasant walk beyond the Altona Gate on the Hamburg Hill, and look at all the sights—the lions, the pigeons, the cockatoos, the monkeys, the people; you ride on the merry-go-round, or buy an electric shock, and you think, how fine it must be in a country two hundred miles from here, where the oranges and lemons grow—in Italy! What is man? Put him at the Altona Gate, and he would like to be in Italy; put him in Italy, and he longs for the Altona Gate! Oh, if I were only there, and could see the clock on St. Michael’s tower with the golden numbers on its dial, that used to gleam at me in such friendly fashion in the afternoon sun that I should often have liked to kiss them! Now I am in Italy, where the oranges and lemons grow, and when I see them grow I wish I were on the Stone Road at Hamburg, where you see whole wagons full of them, and can eat them in comfort, without climbing all these dangerous mountains and suffering all this fiery heat. As sure as I stand here, marchese, if it were not for the sake of honor and culture, I would never have followed you here. But it is not to be denied that honor is done one in your service, and that one gets culture.”

“Hyacinth,” said Gumpelino, pacified by this flattery, “Hyacinth, you are now to go——”

“I know——”

“I tell you that you do not know, Hyacinth!”

“I tell you, Herr Gumpel, that I know. Your Excellency is going to send me to Lady Maxfield. I don’t need orders. I know all your thoughts—even those that you have not thought yet, and perhaps never will think. You won’t easily get another man like me, and I do it all for the sake of honor and culture, for one gets both in your service.” And the little man wiped his nose with a large, snowy handkerchief.

“Hyacinth,” said the marchese, “you are now to go to Lady Julia Maxfield, to my Julia, and give her this tulip. Be careful of it, for it cost five paoli, and say to her——”

“I know——”

“You know nothing! Say, ‘To other flowers is the tulip’——”

“I know. You want to tell her something by means of the flower. Often and often I have written mottoes on my lottery tickets.”

“I tell you, Hyacinth, I don’t want a motto! Take this flower to Lady Maxfield, and say to her:

  • “‘To other flowers is the tulip
  • What to other cheese is strachino;
  • But more than flowers or cheese,
  • Adores thee Gumpelino.’”
  • “May God give me all good gifts, but that is fine!” cried Hyacinth. “Don’t make signs at me, marchese; what you know, I know, and I know what you know.—Good-by, doctor! Don’t worry about that little debt.” He went down the hill murmuring continually, “Gumpelino—strachino; Gumpelino—strachino.”

    “He is a faithful fellow,” said the marchese, “and for that reason I keep him. His deficiency in etiquette is dreadful. Before you that does not matter, of course. You understand. How did you like his livery? It has forty Thaler’s worth more of gold lace on it than the livery of Rothschild’s servants. I take pleasure in seeing the man grow to the height of perfection under my care. Now and then I give him instruction in culture. I often say to him, ‘What is money? Money is round, and rolls away; but culture remains.’ Yes, doctor, if I—which God forbid!—were to lose my money, I would still be a great connoisseur of painting, music, and poetry. You may bind my eyes, and take me to the gallery in Florence, and before every painting I will tell you the painter’s name, or, at least, the school to which he belonged. Music? Stuff cotton in my ears, and I hear every discord. Poetry? I know every actress in Germany, and the poets I know by heart. And as for nature? I traveled two hundred miles, day and night, to see a single mountain in Scotland. But Italy surpasses everything. How do you like this scenery? Look at the trees, the hills, the sky, and the water down there! Is it not as if it were painted? Did you ever see it better done on the stage? One becomes a poet here! Verses float into one’s soul one knows not whence!”

    And the marchese smiled his most rapturous smile of delight upon the laughing, sunlit valley below.