Elective Affinities | Part two: Chapter three

Ottilie Painting in the Chapel
Description: "Ottilie Painting in the Chapel." (HB:304)
In Elective Affinities (IAD), Part two: Chapter three (add synopsis)

Part two: Chapter three
It causes us so agreeable a sensation to occupy ourselves with what we can only half do, that no person ought to find fault with the dilettante, when he is spending his time over an art which he can never learn; nor blame the artist if he chooses to pass out over the border of his own art, and amuse himself in some neighboring field. With such complacency of feeling we regard the preparation of the architect for the painting the chapel. The colors were got ready, the measurements taken; the cartoons designed. He had made no attempt at originality, but kept close to his outlines; his only care was to make a proper distribution of the sitting and floating figures, so as tastefully to ornament his space with them.

The scaffoldings were erected. The work went forward; and as soon as anything had been done on which the eye could rest, he could have no objection to Charlotte and Ottilie coming to see how he was getting on.

The life-like faces of the angels, their robes waving against the blue sky-ground, delighted the eye, while their still and holy air calmed and composed the spirit, and produced the most delicate effect.

The ladies ascended the scaffolding to him, and Ottilie had scarcely observed how easily and regularly the work was being done, than the power which had been fostered in her by her early education at once appeared to develop. She took a brush, and with a few words of direction, painted a richly folding robe, with as much delicacy as skill.

Charlotte, who was always glad when Ottilie would occupy or amuse herself with anything, left them both in the chapel, and went to follow the train of her own thoughts, and work her way for herself through her cares and anxieties which she was unable to communicate to a creature.

When ordinary men allow themselves to be worked up by common every-day difficulties into fever-fits of passion, we can give them nothing but a compassionate smile. But we look with a kind of awe on a spirit in which the seed of a great destiny has been sown, which must abide the unfolding of the germ, and neither dare nor can do anything to precipitate either the good or the ill, either the happiness or the misery, which is to arise out of it.

Edward had sent an answer by Charlotte’s messenger, who had come to him in his solitude. It was written with kindness and interest, but it was rather composed and serious than warm and affectionate. He had vanished almost immediately after, and Charlotte could learn no news about him; till at last she accidentally found his name in the newspaper, where he was mentioned with honor among those who had most distinguished themselves in a late important engagement. She now understood the method which he had taken; she perceived that he had escaped from great danger; only she was convinced at the same time that he would seek out greater; and it was all too clear to her that in every sense he would hardly be withheld from any extremity.

She had to bear about this perpetual anxiety in her thoughts, and turn which way she would, there was no light in which she could look at it that would give her comfort.

Ottilie, never dreaming of anything of this, had taken to the work in the chapel with the greatest interest, and she had easily obtained Charlotte’s permission to go on with it regularly. So now all went swiftly forward, and the azure heaven was soon peopled with worthy inhabitants. By continual practice both Ottilie and the architect had gained more freedom with the last figures; they became perceptibly better. The faces, too, which had been all left to the architect to paint, showed by degrees a very singular peculiarity. They began all of them to resemble Ottilie. The neighborhood of the beautiful girl had made so strong an impression on the soul of the young man, who had no variety of faces preconceived in his mind, that by degrees, on the way from the eye to the hand, nothing was lost, and both worked in exact harmony together. Enough; one of the last faces succeeded perfectly; so that it seemed as if Ottilie herself was looking down out of the spaces of the sky.

They had finished with the arching of the ceiling. The walls they proposed to leave plain, and only to cover them over with a bright brown color. The delicate pillars and the quaintly-moulded ornaments were to be distinguished from them by a dark shade. But as in such things one thing ever leads on to another, they determined at least on having festoons of flowers and fruit, which should as it were unite together heaven and earth. Here Ottilie was in her element. The gardens provided the most perfect patterns; and although the wreaths were as rich as they could make them, it was all finished sooner than they had supposed possible.

It was still looking rough and disorderly. The scaffolding poles had been run together, the planks thrown one on the top of the other; the uneven pavement was yet more disfigured by the particolored stains of the paint which had been spilled over it.

The architect begged that the ladies would give him a week to himself, and during that time would not enter the chapel; at the end of it, one fine evening, he came to them, and begged them both to go and see it. He did not wish to accompany them, he said, and at once took his leave.

“Whatever surprise he may have designed for us,” said Charlotte, as soon as he was gone, “I cannot myself just now go down there. You can go by yourself, and tell me all about it. No doubt he has been doing something which we shall like. I will enjoy it first in your description, and afterwards it will be the more charming in the reality.”

Ottilie, who knew well that in many cases Charlotte took care to avoid everything which could produce emotion, and particularly disliked to be surprised, set off down the walk by herself, and looked round involuntarily for the architect, who however was nowhere to be seen, and must have concealed himself somewhere. She walked into the church, which she found open. This had been finished before; it had been cleaned up, and service had been performed in it. She went on to the chapel door; its heavy mass, all overlaid with iron, yielded easily to her touch, and she found an unexpected sight in a familiar spot.

A solemn beautiful light streamed in through the one tall window. It was filled with stained glass, gracefully put together. The entire chapel had thus received a strange tone, and a peculiar genius was thrown over it. The beauty of the vaulted ceiling and the walls was set off by the elegance of the pavement, which was composed of peculiarly shaped tiles, fastened together with gypsum, and forming exquisite patterns as they lay. This and the colored glass for the windows the architect had prepared without their knowledge, and a short time was sufficient to have it put in its place.

Seats had been provided as well. Among the relics of the old church some finely carved chancel chairs had been discovered, which now were standing about at convenient places along the walls.
Ottilie Lingering in the Chapel
Description: "Ottilie Lingering in the Chapel." (HB:306)

The parts which she knew so well now meeting her as an unfamiliar whole, delighted Ottilie. She stood still, walked up and down, looked and looked again; at last she seated herself in one of the chairs, and it seemed, as she gazed up and down, as if she was, and yet was not—as if she felt and did not feel—as if all this would vanish from before her, and she would vanish from herself; and it was only when the sun left the window, on which before it had been shining full, that she awoke to possession of herself, and hastened back to the castle.
She did not hide from herself the strange epoch at which this surprise had occurred to her. It was the evening of Edward’s birthday. Very differently she had hoped to keep it. How was not everything to be dressed out for this festival? and now all the splendor of the autumn flowers remained ungathered. Those sunflowers still turned their faces to the sky; those asters still looked out with quiet, modest eye; and whatever of them all had been wound into wreaths had served as patterns for the decorating a spot which, if it was not to remain a mere artist’s fancy, was only adapted as a general mausoleum.

And then she had to remember the impetuous eagerness with which Edward had kept her birthday-feast. She thought of the newly-erected lodge, under the roof of which they had promised themselves so much enjoyment. The fireworks flashed and hissed again before her eyes and ears; the more lonely she was, the more keenly her imagination brought it all before her. But she felt herself only the more alone. She no longer leaned upon his arm, and she had no hope ever any more to rest herself upon it.


“I have been struck with an observation of the young architect.

“In the case of the creative artist, as in that of the artisan, it is clear that man is least permitted to appropriate to himself what is most entirely his own. His works forsake him as the birds forsake the nest in which they were hatched.

“The fate of the architect is the strangest of all in this way. How often he expends his whole soul, his whole heart and passion, to produce buildings into which he himself may never enter. The halls of kings owe their magnificence to him; but he has no enjoyment of them in their splendor. In the temple he draws a partition line between himself and the Holy of Holies; he may never more set his foot upon the steps which he has laid down for the heart-thrilling ceremonial; as the goldsmith may only adore from far off the monstrance whose enamel and whose jewels he has himself set together. The builder surrenders to the rich man, with the key of his palace, all pleasure and all right there, and never shares with him in the enjoyment of it. And must not art in this way, step by step, draw off from the artist, when the work, like a child who is provided for, has no more to fall back upon its father? And what a power there must be in art itself, for its own self-advancing, when it has been obliged to shape itself almost solely out of what was open to all, only out of what was the property of everyone, and therefore also of the artist!”

“There is a conception among old nations which is awful, and may almost seem terrible. They pictured their forefathers to themselves sitting round on thrones, in enormous caverns, in silent converse; when a new-comer entered, if he were worthy enough, they rose up, and inclined their heads to welcome him. Yesterday, as I was sitting in the chapel, and other carved chairs stood round like that in which I was, the thought of this came over me with a soft, pleasant feeling. Why cannot you stay sitting here? I said to myself; stay here sitting meditating with yourself long, long, long, till at last your friends come, and you rise up to them, and with a gentle inclination direct them to their places. The colored window panes convert the day into a solemn twilight; and someone should set up for us an ever-burning lamp, that the night might not be utter darkness.”

“We may imagine ourselves in what situation we please, we always conceive ourselves as seeing. I believe men only dream that they may not cease to see. Someday, perhaps, the inner light will come out from within us, and we shall not any more require another.

“The year dies away, the wind sweeps over the stubble, and there is nothing left to stir under its touch. But the red berries on yonder tall tree seem as if they would still remind us of brighter things; and the stroke of the thrasher’s flail awakes the thought how much of nourishment and life lies buried in the sickled ear.”

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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.

Quotes | Cited
The following are quotes cited from this chapter:

“Someday perhaps the inner light will shine forth from us and then we shall need no other light.”
— Goethe (1809), Elective Affinities (P2C3) (Ѻ)

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