Elective Affinities | Part one: Chapter seven

Edward Assisting Ottilie
Description: "Edward Assisting Ottilie" (HB:256).
In Elective Affinities (IAD), Part one: Chapter five (add synopsis)

Part one: Chapter six
It was a natural consequence now that Charlotte was occupied with the captain, that Edward should attach himself more to Ottilie. Independently of this, indeed, for some time past he had begun to feel a silent kind of attraction towards her. Obliging and attentive she was to everyone, but his self-love whispered that towards him she was particularly so. She had observed his little fancies about his food. She knew exactly what things he liked, and the way in which he liked them to be prepared; the quantity of sugar which he liked in his tea; and so on. Moreover, she was particularly careful to prevent draughts, about which he was excessively sensitive, and, indeed, about which, with his wife, who could never have air enough, he was often at variance. So, too, she had come to know about fruit-gardens and flower-gardens; whatever he liked, it was her constant effort to procure for him, and to keep away whatever annoyed him; so that very soon she grew indispensable to him—she became like his guardian angel, and he felt it keenly whenever she was absent. Besides all this, too, she appeared to grow more open and conversible as soon as they were alone together.

Edward, as he advanced in life, had retained something childish about himself, which corresponded singularly well with the youthfulness of Ottilie. They liked talking of early times, when they had first seen each other; and these reminiscences led them up to the first epoch of Edward’s affection for Charlotte. Ottilie declared that she remembered them both as the handsomest pair about the court; and when Edward would question the possibility of this, when she must have been so exceedingly young, she insisted that she recollected one particular incident as clearly as possible. He had come into the room where her aunt was, and she had hid her face in Charlotte’s lap—not from fear, but from a childish surprise. She might have added, because he had made so strong an impression upon her—because she had liked him so much.

While they were occupied in this way, much of the business which the two friends had undertaken together had come to a standstill; so that they found it necessary to inspect how things were going on—to work up a few designs and get letters written. For this purpose, they betook themselves to their office, where they found their old copyist at his desk. They set themselves to their work, and soon gave the old man enough to do, without observing that they were laying many things on his shoulders which at other times they had always done for themselves. At the same time, the first design the captain tried would not answer, and Edward was as unsuccessful with his first letter. They fretted for a while, planning and erasing, till at last Edward, who was getting on the worst, asked what o’clock it was. And then it appeared that the captain had forgotten, for the first time for many years, to wind up his chronometer; and they seemed, if not to feel, at least to have a dim perception, that time was beginning to be indifferent to them.

In the meanwhile, as the gentlemen were thus rather slackening in their energy, the activity of the ladies increased all the more. The every-day life of a family, which is composed of given persons, and is shaped out of necessary circumstances, may easily receive into itself an extraordinary affection, an incipient passion—may receive it into itself as into a vessel; and a long time may elapse before the new ingredient produces a visible effervescence, and runs foaming over the edge.

With our friends, the feelings which were mutually arising had the most agreeable effects. Their dispositions opened out, and a general goodwill arose out of the several individual affections. Every member of the party was happy; and they each shared their happiness with the rest.

Such a temper elevates the spirit, while it enlarges the heart, and everything which, under the influence of it, people do and undertake, has a tendency towards the illimitable. The friends could not remain any more shut up at home; their walks extended themselves farther and farther. Edward would hurry on before with Ottilie, to choose the path or pioneer the way; and the captain and Charlotte would follow quietly on the track of their more hasty precursors, talking on some grave subject, or delighting themselves with some spot they had newly discovered, or some unexpected natural beauty.

One day their walk led them down from the gate at the right wing of the castle, in the direction of the hotel, and thence over the bridge towards the ponds, along the sides of which they proceeded as far as it was generally thought possible to follow the water; thickly wooded hills sloping directly up from the edge, and beyond these a wall of steep rocks, making further progress difficult, if not impossible. But Edward, whose hunting experience had made him thoroughly familiar with the spot, pushed forward along an overgrown path with Ottilie, knowing well that the old mill could not be far off, which was somewhere in the middle of the rocks there. The path was so little frequented, that they soon lost it; and for a short time they were wandering among mossy stones and thickets; it was not for long, however: the noise of the water-wheel speedily telling them that the place which they were looking for was close at hand. Stepping forward on a point of rock, they saw the strange old, dark wooden building in the hollow before them, quite shadowed over with precipitous crags and huge trees. They determined directly to climb down amidst the moss and the blocks of stone. Edward led the way; and when he looked back and saw Ottilie following, stepping lightly, without fear or nervousness, from stone to stone, so beautifully balancing herself, he fancied he was looking at some celestial creature floating above him; while if, as she often did, she caught the hand which in some difficult spot he would offer her, or if she supported herself on his shoulder, then he was left in no doubt that it was a very exquisite human creature who touched him. He almost wished that she might slip or stumble, that he might catch her in his arms and press her to his heart. This, however, he would under no circumstances have done, for more than one reason. He was afraid to wound her, and he was afraid to do her some bodily injury.

What the meaning of this could be, we shall immediately learn. When they had got down, and were seated opposite each other at a table under the trees, and when the miller’s wife had gone for milk, and the miller, who had come out to them, was sent to meet Charlotte and the captain, Edward, with a little embarrassment, began to speak:

“I have a request to make, dear Ottilie; you will forgive me for asking it, if you will not grant it. You make no secret (I am sure you need not make any), that you wear a miniature under your dress against your breast. It is the picture of your noble father. You could hardly have known him; but in every sense he deserves a place by your heart. Only, forgive me, the picture is exceedingly large, and the metal frame and the glass, if you take up a child in your arms, if you are carrying anything, if the carriage swings violently, if we are pushing through bushes, or just now, as we were coming down these rocks,—cause me a thousand anxieties for you. Any unforeseen blow, a fall, a touch, may be fatally injurious to you; and I am terrified at the possibility of it. For my sake do this: put away the picture, not out of your affections, not out of your room; let it have the brightest, the holiest place which you can give it; only do not wear upon your breast a thing, the presence of which seems to me, perhaps from an extravagant anxiety, so dangerous.”

Ottilie said nothing, and while he was speaking she kept her eyes fixed straight before her; then, without hesitation and without haste, with a look turned more towards heaven than on Edward, she unclasped the chain, drew out the picture, and pressed it against her forehead, and then reached it over to her friend, with the words:

“Do you keep it for me till we come home; I cannot give you a better proof how deeply I thank you for your affectionate care.”

He did not venture to press the picture to his lips; but he caught her hand and raised it to his eyes. They were, perhaps, two of the most beautiful hands which had ever been clasped together. He felt as if a stone had fallen from his heart, as if a partition-wall had been thrown down between him and Ottilie.

Under the miller’s guidance, Charlotte and the captain came down by an easier path, and now joined them. There was the meeting, and a happy talk, and then they took some refreshments. They would not return by the same way as they came; and Edward struck into a rocky path on the other side of the stream, from which the ponds were again to be seen. They made their way along it, with some effort, and then had to cross a variety of wood and copse—getting glimpses, on the land side, of a number of villages and manor-houses, with their green lawns and fruit-gardens; while very near them, and sweetly situated on a rising ground, a farm lay in the middle of the wood. From a gentle ascent, they had a view, before and behind, which showed them the richness of the country to the greatest advantage; and then, entering a grove of trees, they found themselves, on again emerging from it, on the rock opposite the castle.

They came upon it rather unexpectedly, and were of course delighted. They had made the circuit of a little world; they were standing on the spot where the new building was to be erected, and were looking again at the windows of their own home.

They went down to the summer-house, and sat all four in it for the first time together; nothing was more natural than that with one voice it should be proposed to have the way they had been that day, and which, as it was, had taken them much time and trouble, properly laid out and graveled, so that people might loiter along it at their leisure. They each said what they thought; and they reckoned up that the circuit, over which they had taken many hours, might be traveled easily with a good road all the way round to the castle, in a single one.

Already a plan was being suggested for making the distance shorter, and adding a fresh beauty to the landscape, by throwing a bridge across the stream, below the mill, where it ran into the lake; when Charlotte brought their inventive imagination somewhat to a stand-still, by putting them in mind of the expense which such an undertaking would involve.

“There are ways of meeting that too,” replied Edward; “we have only to dispose of that farm in the forest which is so pleasantly situated, and which brings in so little in the way of rent: the sum which will be set free will more than cover what we shall require, and thus, having gained an invaluable walk, we shall receive the interest of well-expended capital in substantial enjoyment—instead of, as now, in the summing up at the end of the year, vexing and fretting ourselves over the pitiful little income which is returned for it.”

Even Charlotte, with all her prudence, had little to urge against this. There had been, indeed, a previous intention of selling the farm. The captain was ready immediately with a plan for breaking up the ground into small portions among the peasantry of the forest. Edward, however, had a simpler and shorter way of managing it. His present steward had already proposed to take it off his hands—he was to pay for it by installments—and so, gradually, as the money came in, they would get their work forward from point to point.
So reasonable and prudent a scheme was sure of universal approbation, and already, in prospect, they began to see their new walk winding along its way, and to imagine the many beautiful views and charming spots which they hoped to discover in its neighborhood.

To bring it all before themselves with greater fullness of detail, in the evening they produced the new chart. With the help of this they went over again the way that they had come, and found various places where the walk might take a rather different direction with advantage. Their other scheme was now once more talked through, and connected with the fresh design. The site for the new house in the park, opposite the castle, was a second time examined into and approved, and fixed upon for the termination of the intended circuit.

Ottilie had said nothing all this time. At length Edward pushed the chart, which had hitherto been lying before Charlotte, across to her, begging her to give her opinion; she still hesitated for a moment. Edward in his gentlest way again pressed her to let them know what she thought—nothing had as yet been settled—it was all as yet in embryo.

“I would have the house built here,” she said, as she pointed with her finger to the highest point of the slope on the hill. “It is true you cannot see the castle from thence, for it is hidden by the wood; but for that very reason you find yourselves in another quite new world; you lose village and houses and all at the same time. The view of the ponds with the mill, and the hills and mountains in the distance, is singularly beautiful—I have often observed it when I have been there.” “She is right,” Edward cried; “how could we have overlooked it. This is what you mean, Ottilie, is it not?” He took a lead pencil, and drew a great black rectangular figure on the summit of the hill.

It went through the captain’s soul to see his carefully and clearly-drawn chart disfigured in such a way. He collected himself, however, after a slight expression of his disapproval, and went into the idea. “Ottilie is right,” he said; “we are ready enough to walk any distance to drink tea or eat fish, because they would not have tasted as well at home—we require change of scene and change of objects. Your ancestors showed their judgment in the spot which they chose for the castle; for it is sheltered from the wind, with the conveniences of life close at hand. A place, on the contrary, which is more for pleasure parties than for a regular residence, may be very well yonder there, and in the fair time of year the most agreeable hours may be spent there.”

The more they talked it over, the more conclusive was their judgment in favor of Ottilie; and Edward could not conceal his triumph that the thought had been hers. He was as proud as if he had hit upon it himself.

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Elective Affinities (elements)


See also
Goethe’s affinity table | Used to make Elective Affinities.
Goethe timeline | Historical overview of the construction of Elective Affinities.
Goethe’s human chemistry | Goethe's version of human chemistry.
Goethean philosophy | Goethe's philosophy.
Goethe-Helmholtz equation | Connection between Elective Affinities and chemical thermodynamics.

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