Supplementary Appendix 303.2

Mignon’s obsequies in the Hall of the Past
in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. [*]

In the evening, the Abbé invited them to the funeral of Mignon. The company assembled in the Hall of the Past, and found it illuminated and decorated in the most magnificent manner. The walls were completely covered with azure tapestry, so that the friezes and cornices alone were visible. Four large wax lights were burning in the four candelabra which stood in the corners, and four smaller ones were placed near the sarcophagus, in the middle of the apartment. Near the latter, stood four boys attired in azure and silver, holding in their hands broad fans of ostrich feathers, which they waved above a figure that rested upon the sarcophagus.

The company took their seats, and two invisible choruses commenced in a low, soft recitative, to ask: [1] “Whom do you bring to our silent company?” The four children responded with sweet voices: “A weary companion we bring to you, let her rest among you, till the song of her heavenly sisters shall again awaken her.”

Chorus. Thou first of youth within our circle, we welcome thee! We welcome thee with sadness. Let no youth, no maiden follow thee! Let age alone, consenting and composed, approach the silent hall, and may this dear, dear child, repose in the solemn company.

Boys. Alas! how unwillingly we have brought thee hither! Alas! thou shalt remain here! Let us also remain, let us weep, let us weep over thy bier!

Chorus. Behold the powerful wings! behold the pure white robe! How shines the golden band upon her head! See how beautiful is her dignified repose!

Boys. Alas! her wings raise her not! in the light pastime her robe flutters no more. When we crowned her head with roses, she looked upon us with kind and friendly eyes.

Chorus. Look forward with the eyes of the spirit! Let imagination awake, which bears Life — the fairest and the highest — to a habitation beyond the stars!

Boys. But alas! we shall seek her here in vain! In the garden she wanders no more, nor culls the flowers of the meadow. Let us weep: we leave her here. Let us weep and remain with her!

Chorus. Children, return to life. Let the pure air which plays above the rushing water, dry your tears! Fly the night! Day and happiness and continuance are the lot of the living.

Boys. Rise, we return again to life. Let the day yield us labour and pleasure, till the evening brings us repose, and nightly sleep refreshes us.

Chorus. Children! Hasten into life! In the pure robe of beauty, may Love meet you with heavenly countenance and the garland of immortality!

The children were already at a distance, the Abbé rose from his seat and retired behind the bier. “It was the wish,” he said, “of the man who prepared this silent abode, that each new tenant should be welcomed with solemnity. After him, the builder of this dwelling, the founder of this establishment, we have brought hither a young stranger, and thus this small space has already received two very different victims of the stern, arbitrary and inexorable Goddess of Death.

We enter into life in conformity with appointed laws. Our days are numbered which are to ripen us for the enjoyment of the Light, but for the duration of life there is no law. The weakest thread of life will extend to an unexpected length, and the strongest is suddenly cut by the scissors of Fate, who seems to take delight in contradictions.

Of the child whom we inter here, we have but little to say. It is a mystery to us, whence she came, her parents we know not, and we can only guess at the number of her years. Her deep and impenetrable heart scarcely allowed us to conjecture its emotions, and nothing therein was plain and evident, save her affection for the man, who had rescued her from the hands of a barbarian.

This tender attachment, this lively gratitude, seemed to be the flame which consumed the oil of her life. The skill of the physician could not prolong her fair existence, the most anxious friendship could not detain her departing spirit, it employed its whole resources to preserve her body and snatch it from decay. A preserving balsam has been infused into her veins, and has coloured her too early faded cheeks with the rosy hue of life. Come near, my friends, and behold this miracle of art and affection!”

He raised the veil: the child was reposing in the most graceful posture, and lay in its angel attire, as if asleep. — They all drew near, and admired the wonderful appearance of life. Wilhelm alone retained his seat, he could not overcome his feelings. He dared not think upon what he felt; and every thought filled him with anguish.


The address had been delivered in the French language, on account of the Marquis. The latter advanced with the others, and surveyed the body with attention. The Abbé continued. “This affectionate heart, which has always been so closed against mankind, has ever turned towards God with a holy confidence. Humility, and even a love of self-abasement, seemed to be her natural disposition.

She was zealously attached to the Catholic religion, in which she had been born and educated. She frequently expressed her wish to be interred in holy ground, and in conformity with the customs of the Church; we have consecrated this marble-coffin, and the little earth which is contained within the pillow, on which her head reposes. With what ardour did she, in the last moments, kiss the image of the Crucified, which is beautifully figured on her tender arm, with many hundred punctures!” Whilst he said this, he uncovered her right arm, and a Crucifix, ornamented with a multitude of letters and signs, appeared in blue colours upon her fair white skin.

The Marquis looked at it with eager astonishment. “O God! my poor child!” he exclaimed as he rose, and extended his hands towards heaven. “Poor child! unhappy niece! Do I find thee once more? What painful joy do I experience to see thee again, after our long despair, to recover thy dear body, which we believed had become a prey to the monsters of the deep — to find thee again, dead it is true, but undecayed. I attend thy funeral obsequies which are so nobly celebrated, and are made splendid by the persons who accompany them to thy last resting-place. — And when I am able to express my thanks,” he said with faltering voice, “I will evince my gratitude to you.”

His tears prevented him from speaking further. The Abbé pressed a spring, whereupon the body sank slowly into the marble coffin.

Four youths dressed in the same manner as the boys had been, now advanced from behind the tapestry, and having placed the heavy, but beautiful ornamented cover upon the coffin, they commenced the following hymn —

The Youths. Securely is the treasure now preserved — the beautiful image of the Past! Here in the marble it rests free from decay, and it lives also in your hearts with active life. Go back, go back into life; and take holy Earnestness along with you, for holy Earnestness alone makes life eternity.

The invisible Chorus took part in the last strophe, but none of the company heard the consoling words: each was too busy with his own emotions, and with the late wonderful discovery. The Abbé and Natalia led the Marquis forth, whilst Theresa and Lothario conducted Wilhelm from the scene; and before the echoes of the hymn had completely died away, the pain, the reflections, the thoughts and curiosity which they had experienced, returned in full force, and held complete possession of their minds.


[*] Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. A Novel from the German of Goethe, trans. R. Dillon Boylan (London 1867), 537–40. Illustration: Goethe’s Works, ed. Hjalmar Jhorth Boyesen (Philadelphia 1885), vol. 4, plate following p. 364. Back.

[1] From this point to the end of the choral section, see Robert Schumann, Requiem für Mignon aus Goethes Wilhelm Meister, op. 98b (1849), and Anton Rubinstein, Die Gedichte und das Requiem für Mignon aus Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meister’s Lehrjahre” in Musik gesetzt, op. 91 (Leipzig 1879). Back.

Translation © 2015 Doug Stott