The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries Volume Viii Part 29

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“See what the cow’s doing,” said the master. And when Uli came back with the reply that the calf was not coming just yet, the master said, “I shall remember all my life how our pastor explained serving in our religious teaching, and how he made it so clear that you had to believe him; and many a man has grown happy by doing so. He said that all men got from G.o.d two great funds to put out at interest–namely, powers and time. By good use of these we must win temporal and eternal life. Now, many a man has nothing to exercise his powers on, so as to use his time serviceably and profitably; so he lends his powers and his time to some one who has too much work, but too little time and powers, in return for a definite pay; that is called serving. But it was an unfortunate thing, he said, that most servants regarded this serving as a misfortune and their employers as their enemies or at least their oppressors; that they regarded it as an advantage to do as little as possible for them, to be able to waste as much time as possible in chattering, running, and sleeping; that they became unfaithful, for they withheld in this way from their masters what they had lent and sold to them–time. But as every disloyalty punished itself, so this also caused very direful consequences; for betrayal of the master was betrayal of oneself. Every action tended imperceptibly to form a habit which we could never get rid of. When a maid-servant or a man-servant had for years done as little as possible, worked as slowly as possible, always grumbled at each new task, and either run away, heedless of the outcome, or dawdled over it so that the very gra.s.s grew under their feet, had taken no pains with anything, spoiled as much as possible, never been careful but always indifferent to everything–this soon formed a habit, and after a while it couldn’t be shaken off. Such a habit would be carried along into each employment, and if in time independence came and marriage, then who had to bear these habits–laziness, sloth, insubordination, discontent? The man himself had to bear them and all their consequences, distress and calamity, until death, through death, and before G.o.d’s judgment seat. He told us to look and see how many thousands were a burden to their fellows and an offense to G.o.d, dragging themselves around as repulsive creatures, visible witnesses to the thoughtful, how unfaithfulness punishes itself.”

“But as a man formed a habit by his acts, so also he made a name for himself among others. For this name, for his reputation or esteem among men, every man worked from childhood to the grave; every little act, yes, every single word, contributed to this name. This name opens or closes hearts to us, makes us worthy or unworthy, desired or rejected.

However humble a man, he has his name, and his fellows judge his value to them by it. So every man-servant and maid-servant involuntarily creates a name, and the amount of their wages is determined by it; it opens a way to them or closes it. Then it’s no use for a man to make long speeches and complain about former employers; that won’t give him a good name, for his actions have already given him a bad one. His reputation would be known for miles around, one scarcely knew how. This name was a wonderful thing, and yet people gave much too little thought to it, especially those with whom it was only second in importance to their habits of mind; with these two things they wished to gain a third, a good living in the world, wealth; and a fourth–Heaven and its treasures. What a wretched wight he was, then, who had bad habits and a bad name, and who was losing Heaven and earth!

“And so, the pastor continued, every man who went into service ought to look on it not as slavery, nor the master as his enemy; but as schooling, and the master as a blessing from G.o.d; for what should the poor do–i.e., those who had but time and powers (and that was much after all), if no one would give them work and pay. They should regard their time of service as an opportunity to accustom themselves to work and industry and make a good name for themselves among men. According as they were true to the master they were true to themselves, and as the master profited by them they profited themselves. They should never think that only the master gained advantage from their industry; they gained at least as much from it. Then, even if they came to a bad master, they should by no means plan to punish him by bad behavior; they would only injure themselves thereby, inwardly and outwardly. Now when a servant worked better and better, was increasingly faithful and capable, that was his own possession which n.o.body could take from him, and in addition he had his good name. People would like him and intrust much to him, and the world would be open to him. Let him undertake what he would, he would find good people to help him because his good name was the best security. We should stop and think what servants men commended–the faithful or the unfaithful; and which among them attained property and respect.

“Then the pastor said a third thing, and that touches you especially. He said that men wanted to have pleasure and ought to have it, especially in their youth. Now when a servant hated his service and found work disagreeable, he would desire some special pleasures and so would begin to idle, to run wild, to take part in bad affairs, and finally would take delight in these things and meditate upon them day and night. But if maid or man had seen the light, realized that they might come to something, and had faith in themselves, then they would love their work, would take pleasure in learning something, in doing something well; pleasure in success at something, in the growth of what they had planted, what they had fed. They would never say, ‘What do I care about this? What business is that of mine? I get nothing out of it.’ No, they would take genuine pleasure in doing something unusual, undertaking something hard; thus their powers would best grow, thus they would make the best name for themselves. So they would take delight in their master’s business, in his horses, cows, corn, gra.s.s, as if they were their own. ‘Of that in which a man delights doth he think; where the treasure is, there is the heart also,’ said the pastor. Now if the servant has his mind on his service, if he is filled with the desire to become a thoroughly capable man in the eyes of G.o.d and men, then the devil has little power over him, cannot suggest evil things to him, wicked thoughts for him to think continually, so that he hasn’t his mind on his work but is drawn from one vice to another and is ruined in soul and body. Those were the pastor’s words,” concluded the master; “it seems as if it was today that he spoke them to us, and I have seen a hundred times over that he was right. I thought I’d tell it to you; it just fits your case. And if you’d only think so, you could be one of the finest lads in the world and have just the kind of life you want.”



Uli’s answer was cut off by the cow, which proclaimed her pangs more clearly: now there was work to do, and the conversation could not be continued. All went well, and finally there was a handsome calf, coal-black with a white star, such as neither had ever seen; it was decided to raise it. Uli was twice as active and attentive as usual, and the little calf he treated quite gently, almost tenderly, and regarded it with real affection.

When they were done with the cow and she had had her onion soup, the morning was already dawning, and no time was left to continue their conversation.

The ensuing work-days engrossed them with various labors and the master was frequently absent on business in the neighborhood, so that they had no further talk together. But it seemed to be a.s.sumed by both that Uli was to remain, and when the master came home his wife could not praise Uli enough, saying how well he had performed his duty and that she had not had to give him any orders; he had thought of everything himself, and when she had thought of it it had already been done. This naturally pleased the master very much and caused him to speak with increasing kindness to Uli and to show more and more confidence in him. Nothing is more vexatious for a master than to come home in the evening tired or sleepy and find everything at sixes and sevens and his wife full of complaints; to see only half the work done that should have been accomplished, much of it botched and ruined, so that it had better have been let alone; and then into the bargain to hear his wife complain half the night how the servants had been unruly, had given impudent answers, and done just what they pleased, and how she hated to have it so–and if he ever went away again she would run off too. It is terrible for a man who has to go away (and the necessity arises occasionally) if the heavy sighs begin on the homeward road, as soon as he can see his house. What has happened today, he thinks–what shall I see and hear? And so he scarcely wants to go home at all; and whereas he would like to return with love and joy, he has to march with thunder and lightning into his rebellious realm.

In Uli something new had awakened and was filling his whole frame, without his rightly knowing it as yet. As time went on he had to think more and more of the master’s words, and more and more he began to believe that the master was right. It was grateful to him to think that he was not created to remain a poor despised lad, but might yet become a man. He saw that wild ways would not bring him to that, and that the more he persisted in them the more ground he would lose. He was strangely affected by what the master had said about habits, and about the good name that one could get in addition to his pay, and so keep on earning more and more the more faithfully he worked; and how one could not look better to his own interest than by being very faithful in the service of his master.

He found himself less and less ready to deny that it was so. More and more examples kept occurring to him of bad servants who had become unhappy and remained poor, and on the other hand he remembered how he had heard others praised by their old employers, who told how they had had a good man or maid, and how these had done well and were now Well off.

Only one thing he could not understand–how he, Uli, should ever come to money, to wealth; that seemed absolutely impossible to him. His pay was thirty crowns in cash, that is, seventy-five francs; also two shirts and a pair of shoes. Now he still had debts of almost four crowns and had already drawn much pay. Heretofore he had never been able to keep within his income; and now he was to pay debts and save, and that seemed impossible to him, for in the natural course of things he was prepared to see his debts increase each year. Of the thirty crowns he needed at least ten for clothes, and even then he could not dress very elegantly; for stockings, shoes, shirts, of which he had only three good and four poor ones, washing, etc., at least eight crowns would go; a packet of tobacco every week (and he generally used more) made two crowns more; that left ten crowns. Now there were fifty nights, fifty Sunday afternoons, six of which were dance-Sundays at that; n.o.body knew how many market-days; then there was a review, perhaps even a quartering of soldiers, not counting all the chance occasions for a lark, such as weddings, shooting, bowling, the newly fashionable masquerades, and evening parties, the most dangerous of all evil customs. Independence Day, which degenerates into a perfect orgy of debauchery, was not then in vogue. Now if he figured only two pence a week for brandy or wine, that made four crowns again. If he skipped three dance-Sundays, still he needed at least a crown if he was to pay the fiddler, have a girl, and, as was customary, go home full; and often he needed a thirty-fiver for each of the other three Sundays. Now for the market-days, reviews, and other sprees he had only three crowns left. With this, he thought, it was really humanly impossible to get along; two markets and the review alone would use up more than that; so he had nothing at all for the rest. He figured it over and over, tried to cut down on clothes, on other expenses; but it couldn’t be done. He had to be clothed and have washing done; nor could he run barefoot. And so, let him figure as he would, he always came to the sad result that, instead of putting by, he would be falling behind.

One day soon after this calculation master and man were hauling stones for a new stove. On the homeward way they stopped at an inn, for they had a long and hilly road. Since the master was not so n.i.g.g.ardly as to order the poorest wine when the servant was with him, and only a halfpence worth of bread for the two, Uli became talkative as they proceeded. “Listen, master,” said Uli, “I have been thinking that the pastor who gave you your instruction wasn’t altogether a fool; but he didn’t know anything about what pay a farmer lad gets and what he needs; I suppose he thought it was about as much as a vicar’s pay. But you ought to know better, and that saving and getting rich are no go. I’ve spent many a day in figuring, till I was like to burst the top of my head off; but I always got the same result: nothing comes of nothing, and zero from zero is zero.”

“Why, how did you figure?” asked the master.

Uli went through the whole account again for him, and when he was done he asked the master mockingly, “Now, what do you say to that? Isn’t it so?”

The master said, “By your account, to be sure; but there’s a very different way of reckoning, my lad. Here now, I’ll figure it up for you my way; I wonder what you’ll say to it.”

“I won’t change much what you put down for clothes. It’s possible that if you want to keep yourself in good condition, and in particular to have shirts that will save washing, and to look as a self-respecting lad likes to look on Sundays and work-days, you’ll need even more at first.

But for tobacco you’ve put down two crowns, and that’s too much. A man that has to go into the stable and on the barn-floor ought not to smoke all day, not till after working hours. You don’t need to smoke to offset your hunger on my place, and if you could get out of the habit altogether it would help you a lot. When a man doesn’t smoke he always increases his wages.

“The other ten crowns that you put down for amus.e.m.e.nts of all kinds I’ll strike out, every one. Yes, open your mouth and look at me like a stork at a new roof. If you want to cure yourself and come to something, you’ve got to make some decent resolution at the outset–a resolution not to squander a single penny of your pay in any way. If you resolve simply to go gallivanting a little less often, to spend a little less than before, that’s just throwing your money to the winds. Once in the tavern, you’re no longer master of yourself; the old companionship, the old habit will carry you along, and you’ll spend two or three weeks’ pay again. Then the after-thirst will come and you’ll have to improve other evenings, and more and more you’ll lose all belief that you could ever help yourself up, you’ll become slacker every day, and you’ll despair of yourself more and more. Besides, it’s not so dreadful as the face you makeup. See how many people never take a gla.s.s the year round, or go into a tavern. It’s not only poor day-laborers, who have all they can do to keep off the parish, but some of them are well-to-do, even rich people, who’ve made it a habit never to spend anything uselessly, and they are not only contented but can much less understand how a reasonable man can enjoy idling than you are willing to understand me when I say a man can live without idling.”

“I walked home once with a little man from the Langental market. He was surprised to find me going home so early; usually he had to go home alone, he said. I answered that I hadn’t had anything more to do, and that I didn’t care to sit in the tavern till evening; that it cost money and time, and a man didn’t know when and how he would finally get home.

He felt the same way, he said. He had begun with nothing and barely got along. For a long time he had supported father and mother alone, but now he had his home and farm paid for and every year two cows to sell, and not one of them under six hundred pounds. But he had never wasted a cent from the very beginning. Only once, he remembered, in Burgdorf he had bought a roll for a halfpenny without needing to–he could have stood it till he got home, and had a cheaper meal there. Well, I told him I couldn’t say as much; many a penny I had wasted. But one could overdo it, too, for a man had to live. ‘Yes, to be sure,’ said he. ‘I live too, and am happy. A farthing saved gives me more satisfaction than another man gets from spending a crown. If I hadn’t begun that way I’d never have come to anything. A poor lad doesn’t know enough to stop at the right time when once he begins; when he’s thrown away one penny it pulls a dozen along after it. But you mustn’t think I’m a miserable miser.

Many a man has gone away empty-handed from the big farm-houses and has got what he needed from me. I didn’t forget who has blessed my work and will soon demand an account from me.’ At this I looked the little man up and down with great respect; n.o.body could have told what was in him from his looks. Before we separated I wanted to buy him a bottle of wine for his good advice. But he refused; he didn’t need anything, and whether he squandered my money or his would come to the same thing on that future account. Since then I’ve never seen him; probably he’s gone to his account by now, and if n.o.body had a worse one than he many a man would be better off.

“So this is my opinion: every single farthing of your pay that you spend for such useless things is ill spent. Stay at home, and you’ll save not merely ten crowns, but a lot besides. All the servants complain how many shoes and clothes they need, when they have to be out in wind and weather; but do you know how most of their clothes are spoiled? By running around at night in all kinds of weather, through thick and thin, and with all that goes on then. If you wear your clothes twenty-four hours, you evidently use ’em up more than if it was only fourteen. You don’t go calling in wooden shoes, and do you burst out more shoe-nails by day, or by night when you can’t see the stones, the holes, or the ditches? And tell me, how do your Sunday clothes look after you’ve stumbled around in them drunk, pulled each other about, and rolled in the mud? How many a Sunday jacket has been torn to pieces, the trousers ruined, the hat lost!

“Many a man would surely need less for his clothes if he stayed at home; I say nothing about the girls. And think, Uli, if you need ten crowns now for such useless habits, in ten years you’ll need twenty and in twenty forty, if you have them; for a habit like that doesn’t stand still it grows. And doesn’t that lead straight as a string to your old ways?

“Finally, Uli, you get not only thirty crowns, but also many a penny in the way of tips when a cow or a horse is sold, and the like. Use those when you must have an outing and can’t give up the tavern. Out of that money you can drink a gla.s.s or two at a review, if you like, or put it by against your going into garrison; there’ll be plenty for that. You’ve drawn a lot of your pay; but if you’ll believe me and follow my advice you can get out of debt this year; and next year you can start laying by. And if you believe me, I don’t say that I can pay you only thirty crowns. When a servant attends to his business and doesn’t have his mind set simply on foolishness; when I can intrust something to him and things go the same whether I’m with him or not, so that I don’t have to come home every time in anxiety lest something has gone wrong–then I won’t haggle over a crown or two. Think of that, Uli: the better the habits, the better the name, the better the pay.”

At these words Uli’s mouth opened and his nose lifted, and at last he said that that would be fine, but it probably would never happen; he didn’t think he could stand it.

“Well, try it a month and see how it goes; and don’t think about gadding, drinking, and the tavern, and you can do it all right.”



[Uli’s fellow-servants, on his master’s farm and on the neighboring ones, attempt to drag him back into his old ways, chiefly with ridicule and mockery. At times his resolution fails him, but he masters himself again. Then a bad-hearted neighbor, who hates Uli’s master, tries to lure him away from his new faith. He praises Uli to the skies, tells him he is not properly appreciated, and poisons his mind against his master.

Uli grows more and more puffed-up, and is about ready to be caught in the neighbor’s snare; for the latter merely wishes to use him for his own selfish ends.]



[A Neighboring village, Brandywine, is to play a championship game of _hurnuss_ (a kind of ball game played in spring and autumn in the canton of Bern), with Uli’s village, Potato Hollow. There is deep enmity between the two places, and the contest is likely to be bitter. The losing team must give the winners a full dinner, with plenty of wine.

Uli’s master urges him to refuse the invitation to play on the team; but the malicious neighbor talks him over. Though the Potato Hollowers use all their skill and cunning, even to cheating the umpire, they lose the game by one point; they must set up the dinner, which ends in a free fight. A victory in this comforts Potato Hollow somewhat. But two of the Brandywiners claim damages, and the local players are afraid of severe judgment if it comes to trial, it being not the first offense. They agree to a plan, devised by the malicious neighbor, to let the entire penalty fall on Uli’s head, so that they can go scot-free. Uli is to confess himself the guilty party, and in return for this service the others, all wealthy farmers’ sons, will reimburse him for all expenses and give him a handsome bonus besides. Uli’s master overhears his neighbor talking to Uli, decides to interfere, and points out to him the noose into which he is running his head. He advises Uli to demand a written promise, signed by all, that they will do what has been agreed upon. Uli brings home the written promise and shows it to his master; it turns out to be nothing but a certificate that Uli is the guilty party.

Uli is in consternation; but the master promises to help him out if he will abide by his word in the future. Accordingly, Johannes meets the scheming neighbor and advises him to have the other players settle up and leave Uli in peace, or else Uli may have occasion to show the paper to the governor. Uli hears nothing more about the affair.]



[The author points out the disastrous consequences of giving the servants on a farm only unheated rooms to live in, and no access to the warm house; on Sundays they seek warmth in the public-houses or elsewhere, and terrible immorality results. Uli feels the need of a warm room to sit in, and the master invites him into the house. The maids are at first much put out, and the mistress too; but the master upholds Uli, and gradually the new custom wins favor and results in a betterment of all the servants.]



[Uli becomes quite settled in steady habits, and soon has a nice little sum of money in hand. But others get wind of it, and they borrow various sums of him, promising to pay back at a certain time with interest. Soon Uli’s money is all gone, but he exults in the thought of his interest.

When the time for payment comes the debtors make excuses; and as time goes on and no money is forthcoming, Uli becomes anxious. At length the master notices his distress, finds out the trouble, and helps him to recover most of what he had lent, admonishing him hereafter to put his savings in the bank.]