“He then related a regular romance, with a plot and incidents such as only the most imaginative poet could have constructed. The characters and events stood out with such a vivid, plastic relief, that it was impossible—carried away as one was by the magic spell of them—to help believing, as if in a species of dream, that Serapion had actually witnessed them from the hilltop. This romance was succeeded by another, and that by another, by which time the sun stood high above us in the noontide sky. Serapion then rose from his seat, and looking into the distance, said: ‘Yonder comes my brother Hilarion, who, in his overstrictness, always blames me for being too much given to the society of strangers.’
“I understood the hint, and took my leave, asking if I should be allowed to pay him another visit. Serapion answered with a gentle smile, ‘My friend, I thought you would be eager to get away from this wilderness, so little adapted to your mode of life. But if it is
I have no dread of the terror of the deepest solitude. It is only there that a life like this can dawn upon the pious soul.’
“Serapion, who had spoken with genuine priestly unction, raised, in silence, his eyes to Heaven with an expression of blissful gratitude. How could I feel otherwise than awestruck! A madman,, congratulating himself on his condition, looking upon it as a priceless gift from Heaven, and, from the depths of his heart, wishing me a similar fate!
“I was on the point of leaving him, but he began in an altered tone, saying:
“ ‘You would, probably, scarcely suppose that this wild inhospitable desert is often almost too full of the noise and bustle of life to be suitable for my silent meditations. Every day I receive visits from the most remarkable people of the most diverse kinds. Ariosto was here yesterday, and Dante and Petrarch afterwards. And this evening I expect Evagrus, the celebrated father, with whom I shall discuss the
Our old discussion would go on forever. Then there is another point which you ought seriously to consider. You must, I should suppose, perceive that I, who am talking with you, am leading the peaceful and happy life of a man reconciled with God. It is only after having passed through martyrdom that such a life dawns upon the soul. And if it has pleased the Almighty to cast a veil over what happened before my martyrdom, is it not a terrible and diabolical action to try to tear that veil away?’
“With all my wisdom, I stood confounded and silenced in the presence of this insane man! With the very rationality of his irrationality he had beaten me completely out of the field, and I saw the folly of my undertaking in all its fulness. Still more than that, I felt the reproach contained in what he had last said as deeply as I was astounded at the dim remembrance of his previous life which shone through it like some lofty, invulnerable higher spirit.
And such is my fortune also. Every now and then there appear to me emissaries, sent by Satan, who try to persuade me that I am Count P of M, and that I ought to betake myself to the life of Courts, and all sorts of unholiness. Were it not for the efficacy of prayer, I should take these people by the shoulders, turn them out of my little garden, and carefully barricade it against them.
But I need not do so in your case; for you are, most unmistakably, the very feeblest of all the adversaries who have ever come to me, and I can vanquish you with your own weapons—those of ratiocination. It is insanity that is in question be I ween us. But if one of us two is suffering from that sad malady, it is evident that jyoa are so in a much greater degree than I. You maintain that it is a case of Fixed Idea that I believe myself to be Serapion the martyr—and I am quite aware that many persons hold the same opinion, or pretend that they do.
Now, if I am really insane, non
“ ‘That was so,’ said Serapion, turning pale, and his eyes glowing with a somber fire. ‘But Serapion the martyr, had no connection with that monk, who, in the fury of his asceticism, did battle against human nature. I am Serapion the martyr, to whom you allude.’
“ ‘What?’ I cried, with feigned surprise. ‘ You believe that you are that Serapion who suffered such a hideous martyrdom so many hundred years ago?’
“ ‘That,’ said Serapion with much calmness, ‘may appear incredible to you, and I admit that it must sound very wonderful to many who cannot see further than the points of their own noses. However, it is as I tell you. God’s omnipotence permitted me to survive my martyrdom, and to recover from its effects, because it was ordained, in His mysterious providence, that I had still to pass a certain period of my existence, to His praise and glory, here in the Theban desert. There is nothing now to remind me of the tortures which I suff
“Thus equipped, I set out one fine morning in search of my anchorite. “I found him working in his garden with hoe and spade, singing a devotional song. Wild pigeons, for which he had strewed an abundant supply of food, were fluttering and cooing round him, and a young deer was peeping through the leaves on the trellis.
He was evidently living in the closest intimacy with the woodland creatures. Not the faintest trace of insanity was visible in his face; it bore a quiet expression of remarkable serenity and happiness; and all this confirmed what Hr. S n B had told me. When he heard of my projected visit to the anchorite, he advised me to go some fine, bright, pleasant morning, because he said, his mind would be less troubled then and he would be more inclined to talk to a stranger, whereas at evening lie would shun all intercourse with mankind.
“As soon as he saw me he laid down his spade, and came towards me in a kind and friendly manner. I said that, being
He was taken to the lunatic asylum at B, and there the methodical system, based upon profound psychological knowledge, pursued by the medical man then in charge of that institution, succeeded in bringing about a condition of much less excitement, and greater quietness in the form of his malady. Whether this doctor, true to his theory, gave the patient an opportunity of escaping, or whether he himself found the means of doing so, escape he did, and was lost sight of for a considerable time.
“Serapion appeared, ultimately, in the country some eight miles from B, where I had seen him; and the doctor declared that if any true compassion was to be shown him, he should not be again driven into a condition of wild excitement; but that, if he was to be at peace, and, after his fashion, happy, he should be left in these woods in perfect freedom, to do just as he liked; in which case he, the said doctor, would be responsible for the consequences.
Accordingly, the police
“With which he arose and walked down into the ravine.
“I felt as if I must be in a dream. Presently I heard the sound of wheels close by. I made my way through the thickets, and found my space in a forest track, where I saw a countryman going along in a cart. I overtook him, and he shortly brought me to the high road lending to B. As we went along I told him my adventure, and asked if he knew who the extraordinary man in the forest was.
‘Oh, sir,’ he said, ‘that was the worthy man who calls himself Priest Serapion, and who has been living in these woods for some years, In n little hut which he built himself. People say he’s not quite right in his head, but he is a nice, good gentleman, never does any harm, and willies us of the village with pious discourses, giving us all the good advice that he can.’
“I had come across the anchorite some six or eight miles from B so I concluded that something must be known of him there, and this proved
E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776—1822)
Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann was a master of one particular type of short story, which was to a great extent a product of the romantic tendencies of his times. His earliest collection of tales, Fantasy Pieces in the Manner of Callot, are characterized by those qualities of fantasy and mystery with which his name is always associated. The collection under the title of The Serapion Brethren, is set within a “frame narrative of the storytelling club in Berlin, where Hoffmann spent the last six years of his life as judge of a criminal court.” Poe was especially indebted to Hoffmann in the composition of his stories, as were several of the most important Nineteenth Century fiction writers all over Europe.
The present translation, by Alexander Ewing, is reprinted from The Serapion Brethren, Bohn Library, London, by permission of the publishers, G. Bell and Sons.
The Story of Serapion
From The Serapion Brethr