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By Marquis de Sade, David Carter
Hesperus Press LimitedCopyright © 2011 David Carter
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Ernestine A Swedish Novella
After visiting Italy, England and Russia few countries in Europe seemed as strange to me as Sweden. But ... if my imagination was fired by a desire to see the famous countries from where, in former times, the likes of Alaric, Attila and Theodoric came - in other words all those heroes who, followed by a vast horde of soldiers, could size up the imperial eagle, which aspired to cover the world with its wings, and make the Romans tremble at the very gates of their capital ... if, on the other hand, my soul burned with desire to fulfil its passion in the homeland of Gustavus Wasa, Christina and Charles XII, all three of them famous in very different ways no doubt, the first of these having distinguished himself by his philosophy, rare and valuable in a sovereign, and by his admirable prudence, which led him to trample religious systems underfoot when they thwarted both the authority of the government to which they should be subject and the happiness of the people, which is the sole purpose of the law; the second, Christina, having distinguished herself by her generosity of spirit, which led her to prefer solitude and literature to the vain pomp of the throne; and the third, Charles XII, having distinguished himself by his heroic virtues, which earned him forever the nickname of Alexander ... What I want to say is that if all these different things inspired me, with how much greater fervour would I not admire that wise, virtuous, sober and magnanimous people that might be described as being exemplary of the North!
It was with this intention that I left Paris on 20th July 1774, and, having passed through Holland, Westphalia and Denmark, arrived in Sweden towards the middle of the following year.
After a stay of three months in Stockholm, the first objects to arouse my curiosity were the famous mines, the descriptions of which I had read so often, and in which I imagined I might encounter some experiences similar to those the Abbé Prévost reports in the first volume of his anecdotes. I was successful in this respect, but how differently things turned out!
I went therefore first of all to Uppsala, situated on the river Fyris, which divides the city in two. For a long time the capital of Sweden, Uppsala is still today the most important city after Stockholm. Having stayed there for three weeks, I went to Falun, ancient birthplace of the Scythians, whose customs and dress the inhabitants of the capital city of Dalarna still preserve. On leaving Falun, I reached the mine at Taberg, one of the largest in Sweden.
These mines, for a long time the state's greatest resource, soon declined into becoming a dependent property of the English, because of debts the owners incurred to that nation, which was always ready to help those it thought it might be able to swallow up one day, after having brought their business affairs into disarray and caused their power to wither by means of usurious loans.
On my arrival at Taberg, my imagination grew active before I went down into the subterranean tunnels, where a few men's pursuit of luxury and meanness is capable of engulfing so many others.
Having recently returned from Italy, I imagined that these quarries must resemble the catacombs of Rome or Naples. I was wrong: I was to find there, at a much greater depth, a less frightening solitude.
At Uppsala I had been provided with a well-educated and knowledgeable man of letters, to act as my guide. Fortunately for me, Falkeneim (that was his name) spoke both German and English: it was difficult to tell which he spoke better. These were the only northern tongues through which I could communicate with him. By means of the first of these languages, which each of us preferred, we were able to converse on all manner of subjects, and it was an easy matter for me to learn from him the anecdote that I shall relate very shortly.
By means of a basket and a rope, a piece of machinery arranged in such a way that the journey can be made without the least danger, we arrived at the bottom of the mine, and we found ourselves at once at a depth of 780 feet from the surface of the earth. It was not without amazement that I saw there streets, houses, churches, inns, all kinds of activity and work, police and judges, everything in fact that the most civilised market town in Europe can offer.
After wandering round all these unusual dwellings we went into a tavern, where Falkeneim obtained from the host all that was necessary for us to refresh ourselves, quite a good beer, some dried fish, and a kind of Swedish bread, very commonly used in the countryside, made with the bark of fir and birch trees, mixed with some straw and a few wild roots and kneaded together with oat flour. Does one need anything more to satisfy real need? The philosopher who travels the world in order to learn must put up with all customs, all religions, all kinds of weather and climate, all beds and all kinds of food, and leave to the voluptuous, indolent man in the capital his prejudices ... his luxury ... that obscene luxury that, as it never contains any real needs, creates artificial ones every day at the expense of fortune and health.
We were at the end of our frugal meal when one of the workers in the mine, in jacket and breeches that were all blue, his head covered with a small blond wig of poor quality, came and greeted Falkeneim in Swedish. As my guide replied in German out of politeness towards me, the prisoner (for he was one) immediately conversed in that language. The poor man, seeing that this courtesy was solely for my benefit, and believing that he could recognise what country I was from, paid me a compliment in French, which he reeled off quite correctly, and then enquired of Falkeneim if there was any news in Stockholm. He named several persons at court, talked of the king, and all this with an ease and freedom of manner that made me regard him with greater attention. He asked Falkeneim if he did not think there might one day be some remission for him, at which my guide replied to him in a negative way, grasping his hand in distress. The prisoner immediately went away, with grief in his eyes, and without wanting to accept any of our dishes, however much we entreated him. A moment later he came back and asked Falkeneim if he would not mind taking a letter, which he would write hurriedly. My companion promised him everything he required and the prisoner went out.
As soon as he was outside I said to Falkeneim:
'Who is that man?'
'One of the foremost noblemen in Sweden,' he replied.
'You surprise me.'
'He's really happy to be here. This indulgence on the part of our sovereign could be compared to the generosity of Augustus towards Cinna. That man whom you have just seen is Count Oxtiern, one of the senators most opposed to the king in the revolution of 1772. He has made himself, since everything has calmed down, guilty of unprecedented crimes. As soon as he had been condemned by law, the king, recalling the hatred that the man had shown towards him previously, summoned him and said to him, "Count, my judges pass the death sentence on you. you also banished me, a few years ago. It is this that makes me save your life: I want to make you see that the heart of the one whom you thought was not worthy of the throne, was not however without virtue." Oxtiern falls at the feet of Gustavus and bursts into a torrent of tears. "I wish it were possible to save you completely," said the king, raising him up again, "but the enormity of your actions does not permit it. I send you to the mines: you won't be happy, but at least you will be alive ... Leave us." They brought Oxtiern to this place; you have just seen him. Let us leave,' added Falkeneim, 'it is late. We'll take his letter as we pass him.'
'Oh, sir!' I said then to my guide, 'We should spend a week here. You have aroused my curiosity too much. I will definitely not leave the bowels of the earth until you have informed me what has caused this poor man to be buried down here forever. Though he may be a criminal, his face is interesting. This man can't be forty years old. I'd like to see him set free. He can become honest again.'
'Honest, him ...? Never ... Never.'
'For pity's sake, sir, give me the satisfaction.'
'I agree,' Falkeneim resumed, 'and the delay will also give him time to prepare his dispatches. Let's inform him that he should not hurry at all, and we'll go into that room at the back. It'll be quieter there for us than by the side of the road ... But I am distressed to be telling you about these matters; they will detract from the feeling of pity this villain inspires in you. I'd rather he did not forfeit any of it, and that you should remain in ignorance.'
'Sir,' I said to Falkeneim, 'the faults of a man teach me to know him, and I am travelling only in order to study. The more he has strayed from the barriers set up against him by laws or by Nature, the more interesting is it to study him, and the more he is worthy of being examined by me and of my compassion. Virtue only needs to be worshipped; it follows the path to happiness. it must be so, a thousand arms open to receive its devotees, if they are pursued by adversity. But everybody deserts the guilty man ... one blushes at one's attachment to him or at the tears one sheds for him, there is a fear of contagion, he is banished from everybody's hearts, and one condemns out of pride the man one ought to help out of humanity. So where could there be, sir, a more interesting mortal than he who, from the pinnacle of greatness, has suddenly fallen into an abyss of evil, and who, born to enjoy the favours of fortune, no longer experiences anything but disgrace ... finds nothing about him but the disasters of extreme poverty, and nothing in his heart but the sharp points of remorse or the serpents of despair? Only that man, my dear sir, is worthy of my pity. I will definitely not say as fools do, It's his fault, or as those with cold hearts say, to justify the hardening of their feelings, He is too guilty. Ugh! What does it matter to me what his transgression is, what he has held in contempt, what he has done! He is a man, he must have been weak ... he is a criminal, he is miserable, I pity him ... Speak, Falkeneim, speak, I am burning with desire to hear you.' And my honest friend started his tale with the following words:
'In about the first few years of this century, a gentleman of the Roman Catholic religion and of German nationality was obliged to flee his country for an affair that was far indeed from bringing disgrace upon him; knowing that, although we have abjured the errors of papism, they are nevertheless tolerated in our region, he arrived in Stockholm. Being young and well built, fond of the army, and full of ardour for glory, he pleased Charles XII, and had the honour of accompanying him in several of his expeditions: he was involved in that miserable business in Poltava, followed the king in his retreat from Bender and shared his imprisonment by the Turks, and returned to Sweden with him. In 1718, when the state lost its hero below the walls of Frederikshald, in Norway, Sanders (that is the name of the gentleman I am telling you about) had obtained the rank of colonel, and it was with this status that he retired to Norrkoping, a commercial town, situated fifteen leagues from Stockholm, on the canal that joins Lake Vattern to the Baltic Sea, in the province of Ostergotland. Sanders married, and had a son, who was received by Frederick I and also by Adolf Frederick. He advanced by his own merit, obtaining the same rank as his father, and retired, although still young, in the same way to Norrkoping, his place of birth, where he married, like his father, the daughter of a merchant, who was not very rich. She died twelve years after giving birth to Ernestine, who is the subject of this anecdote. After three years, when Sanders must have been about forty-two, his daughter was then sixteen, and was regarded with good reason as one of the most beautiful creatures that had yet been seen in Sweden: she was tall, worthy of a portrait, with a noble and proud air, the brightest most beautiful black eyes, and very long hair of the same colour, a rare quality in our climate. Nevertheless she had the whitest and most beautiful skin, and she was found to bear some resemblance to the beautiful Countess of Sparre, the illustrious friend of our learned Christina, which was true.
'Sanders' young daughter had not reached her present age without her heart having already made a choice, but having often heard people tell her mother how cruel it was for a young woman who adores her husband, to be separated from him all the time by state duties to which he is chained, sometimes in one town and sometimes in another, Ernestine, with the approval of her father, had made up her mind in favour of young Herman, of the same religion as she, and who, having decided on a career in business, was being trained for this profession in the financial establishment of the honourable Mr Scholtz, the most famous merchant in Norrkoping, and one ofthe richest in Sweden.
'Herman was from a family of the same class, but he had lost his parents at a very young age, and his father, as he was dying, had recommended him to Scholtz, his former partner. He was living therefore in Scholtz's house, and having earned his confidence by his good sense and diligence, he was, although no more than twenty-two years old, in charge ofthe finances and books of the firm, when the director died without children. Young Herman found himself henceforth dependent on the widow, an arrogant, imperious woman, who, despite all the advice of her husband in relation to Herman, appeared to be quite determined to rid herself of this young man, if he did not meet very promptly the expectations she had of him. Herman, completely made for Ernestine, and, to say the least, as handsome a man as she was a beautiful woman, adoring her as much as he was cherished by her, was capable no doubt of inspiring love in Widow Scholtz, a forty- year-old woman, and still very youthful. But having given his heart to another, nothing was easier than not responding at all to the indications of interest from the woman who was the proprietor, and, although he suspected the love that she felt for him, wisely pretending not to be aware of it at all.
'However, this passion alarmed Ernestine Sanders. She knew Madame Scholtz to be a bold, enterprising woman, of a jealous and quick-tempered nature, and such a rival worried her greatly. Moreover she was very far from being as good a match for Herman as Madame Scholtz, with nothing from Colonel Sanders' side, though, to tell the truth, there was something on her mother's side. But could that compare with the considerable fortune with which Madame Scholtz could provide her young treasurer?
'Sanders approved of his daughter's choice. Having no other child but her he adored her, and knowing that Herman had some wealth, and was intelligent and well-behaved, and that, furthermore, he had won the heart of Ernestine, he was far from providing any obstacle to such a suitable arrangement. But fate does not always favour what is good. It seems to take pleasure in disrupting Man's wisest plans, in order that he may derive from this inconsequence lessons intended to teach him never to rely on anything in a world in which instability and chaos are the most certain laws.
'"Herman," the widow Scholtz said one day to the young lover of Ernestine, "you are now sufficiently trained in business to make a commitment. The funds that your parents left you have, due to the care taken by my husband and myself, flourished more than is needed to make you comfortably off. Buy a house, my friend; I will be retiring soon. We shall settle our accounts at the first opportunity."
'"At your service, Madame," said Herman, "you are familiar with my integrity, and my disinterestedness. I feel as easy in my mind about the funds that you have of mine as you can feel about those of yours that I control."
'"But, Herman, don't you have any plan then to settle down?"
'"I am still young, Madame."
'"You are just at the stage when you are most likely to suit a sensible woman. I am sure that there is one who will most certainly make you happy."
'"I want to have a more considerable fortune before coming to that point."
'"A woman would help you to do that."
Excerpted from Virtue by Marquis de Sade, David Carter. Copyright © 2011 David Carter. Excerpted by permission of Hesperus Press Limited.
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