Elective Affinities | Part two: Chapter two

The Architect Exhibiting his Portfolio
Description: "The Architect Exhibiting his Portfolio." (HB:301)
In Elective Affinities (IAD), Part two: Chapter two (add synopsis)

Part two: Chapter two
Under the stimulus of this accident, and of the conversations which arose out of it, they went the following day to look over the burying-place, for the ornamenting of which and relieving it in some degree of its somber look, the architect made many a happy proposal. His interest too had to extend itself to the church as well; a building which had caught his attention from the moment of his arrival.

It had been standing for many centuries, built in old German style, the proportions good, the decorating elaborate and excellent; and one might easily gather that the architect of the neighboring monastery had left the stamp of his art and of his love on this smaller building also; it worked on the beholder with a solemnity and a sweetness, although the change in its internal arrangements for the Protestant service, had taken from it something of its repose and majesty.

The architect found no great difficulty in prevailing on Charlotte to give him a considerable sum of money to restore it externally and internally, in the original spirit, and thus, as he thought, to bring it into harmony with the resurrection-field which lay in front of it. He had himself much practical skill, and a few laborers, who were still busy at the lodge, might easily be kept together, until this pious work too should be completed.

The building itself, therefore, with all its environs, and whatever was attached to it, was now carefully and thoroughly examined; and then showed itself, to the greatest surprise and delight of the architect, a little side chapel, which nobody had thought of, beautifully and delicately proportioned, and displaying still greater care and pains in its decoration. It contained at the same time many remnants, carved and painted, of the implements used in the old services, when the different festivals were distinguished by a variety of pictures and ceremonies, and each was celebrated in its own peculiar style.

It was impossible for him not at once to take this chapel into his plan; and he determined to bestow especial pains on the restoring of this little spot, as a memorial of old times, and of their taste. He saw exactly how he would like to have the vacant surfaces of the walls ornamented, and delighted himself with the prospect, of exercising his talent for painting upon them; but of this, at first, he made a secret to the rest of the party.

Before doing anything else, he fulfilled his promise of showing the ladies the various imitations of, and designs from, old monuments, vases and other such things which he had made; and when they came to speak of the simple barrow-sepulchers of the northern nations, he brought a collection of weapons and implements which had been found in them. He had got them exceedingly nicely and conveniently arranged in drawers and compartments, laid on boards cut to fit them, and covered over with cloth; so that these solemn old things, in the way he treated them, had a smart dressy appearance, and it was like looking into the box of a trinket merchant.

Having once begun to show his curiosities, and finding them prove serviceable to entertain our friends in their loneliness, every evening he would produce one or other of his treasures. They were most of them of German origin—pieces of metal, old coins, seals and such like. All these things directed the imagination back upon old times; and when at last they came to amuse themselves with the first specimens of printing, woodcuts, and the earliest copper-plate engraving, and when the church, in the same spirit, was growing out, every day, more and more in form and color like the past, they had almost to ask themselves whether they really were living in a modern time, whether it were not a dream, that manners, customs, modes of life, and convictions were all really so changed.

After such preparation, a great portfolio, which at last he produced, had the best possible effect. It contained indeed principally only outlines and figures, but as these had been traced upon original pictures, they retained perfectly their ancient character, and most captivating indeed this character was to the spectators. All the figures breathed only the purest feeling; every one, if not noble, at any rate was good; cheerful composure, ready recognition of One above us, to whom all reverence is due; silent devotion, in love and tranquil expectation, was expressed on every face, on every gesture. The old bald-headed man, the curly-pated boy, the light-hearted youth, the earnest man, the glorified saint, the angel hovering in the air, all seemed happy in an innocent, satisfied, pious expectation. The commonest object had a trait of celestial life; and every nature seemed adapted to the service of God, and to be, in some way or other, employed upon it.

Towards such a region most of them gazed as towards a vanished golden age, or on some lost paradise; only perhaps Ottilie had a chance of finding herself among beings of her own nature. Who could offer any opposition when the architect asked to be allowed to paint the spaces between the arches and the walls of the chapel in the style of these old pictures, and thereby leave his own distinct memorial at a place where life had gone so pleasantly with him?

He spoke of it with some sadness, for he could see, in the state in which things were, that his sojourn in such delightful society could not last forever; indeed, that perhaps it would now soon be ended.

For the rest, these days were not rich in incidents; yet full of occasion for serious entertainment. We therefore take the opportunity of communicating something of the remarks which Ottilie noted down among her manuscripts, to which we cannot find a fitter transition than through a simile which suggested itself to us on contemplating her exquisite pages. There is, we are told, a curious contrivance in the service of the English marine. The ropes in use in the royal navy, from the largest to the smallest, are so twisted that a red thread runs through them from end to end, which cannot be extracted without undoing the whole; and by which the smallest pieces may be recognized as belonging to the crown.

Just so is there drawn through Ottilie’s diary, a thread of attachment and affection which connects it all together, and characterizes the whole. And thus these remarks, these observations, these extracted sentences, and whatever else it may contain, were, to the writer, of peculiar meaning. Even the few separate pieces which we select and transcribe will sufficiently explain our meaning.
Ottilie quote (P2C2)


“To rest hereafter at the side of those whom we love is the most delightful thought which man can have when once he looks out beyond the boundary of life. What a sweet expression is that—‘He was gathered to his fathers!’ ”

“Of the various memorials and tokens which bring nearer to us the distant and the separated—none is so satisfactory as a picture. To sit and talk to a beloved picture, even though it be unlike, has a charm in it, like the charm which there sometimes is in quarrelling with a friend. We feel, in a strange sweet way, that we are divided and yet cannot separate.”

“We entertain ourselves often with a present person as with a picture. He need not speak to us, he need not look at us, or take any notice of us; we look at him, we feel the relation in which we stand to him; such relation can even grow without his doing anything towards it, without his having any feeling of it: he is to us exactly as a picture.”

“One is never satisfied with a portrait of a person that one knows. I have always felt for the portrait-painter on this account. One so seldom requires of people what is impossible, and of them we do really require what is impossible; they must gather up into their picture the relation of everybody to its subject, all their likings and all dislikings; they must not only paint a man as they see him, but as everyone else sees him. It does not surprise me if such artists become by degrees stunted, indifferent, and of but one idea; and indeed it would not matter what came of it, if it were not that in consequence we have to go without the pictures of so many persons near and dear to us.”

“It is too true, the architect’s collection of weapons and old implements, which were found with the bodies of their owners, covered in with great hills of earth and rock, proves to us how useless is man’s so great anxiety to preserve his personality after he is dead; and so inconsistent people are! the architect confesses to have himself opened these barrows of his forefathers, and yet goes on occupying himself with memorials for posterity.”

“But after all why should we take it so much to heart? Is all that we do, done for eternity? Do we not put on our dress in the morning, to throw it off again at night? Do we not go abroad to return home again? And why should we not wish to rest by the side of our friends, though it were but for a century?”

“When we see the many grave-stones which have fallen in, which have been defaced by the footsteps of the congregation, which lie buried under the ruins of the churches, that have themselves crumbled together over them, we may fancy the life after death to be as a second life, into which a man enters in the figure, or the picture, or the inscription, and lives longer there than when he was really alive. But this figure also, this second existence, dies out too, sooner or later. Time will not allow himself to be cheated of his rights with the monuments of men or with themselves.

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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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