Spinoza: A novel/Chapter 10

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CHAPTER X.

BENEDICTUS SIT.

"A maid in the morn should early rise,
And seek where her beloved one lies;
Beneath the lime trees she sought him,
Nor found her love where she thought him."

SO sang Olympia van den Ende, and drew out the long resounding notes of her small organ in powerful chords as her father entered the room.

"You have quite risen to your paradise of song to-day again," said he, "and are no longer aware of what happens below in our unmusical world. We passed your room an hour ago. I have brought the much spoken of M. de Spinoza here with me at last. Allow me to introduce my daughter; she is accredited minister in my sacred doctrinal office; you must be on good terms with her."

"My father has spoken to me of you whenever he returned from your house," said Olympia, "and I am rejoiced to see my wish fulfilled at last. But though I have heard so much about you, I see now that I had quite a false conception of your personal appearance. Tell me, since you are a philosopher, may I not take that as a proof that all our impressions of persons and things lying out of our immediate sphere of observation are incorrect?" What a first encounter was this, which straightway threw down a problem to be solved, and dubbed him for the first time philosopher!

Baruch lowered his eyes to avoid her scrutiny of his features; he bowed mutely, and knew not what to reply.

"You will find my daughter a half-fledged philosopher, with whom you can dispute as much as you like," said the physician to help Baruch out of the difficulty which he, however, was hardly conscious of.

"Oldenburg has sent me such an exquisite song to-day," said Olympia to her father as she passed him the sheets of music and turned again to Baruch. "Are you musical, Herr von Spinoza?"

"No."

"But you can sing psalms? You must sing me a Hebrew psalm some day, I want to hear how it sounds. Have they still the melodies of King David?"

"We have much older ones; for nearly all our synagogue chants traditionally come from Mount Sinai, though the words were composed much later; the melodies were meanwhile passed on from mouth to mouth."

"That is interesting; it is just as if clothes walked without bodies, or an arsenal fought a battle without soldiers."

"I spoke only of the accepted tradition," answered Baruch.

"Oh, but it is a beautiful legend. It must have been glorious," continued Olympia: "The rolling thunder, and the sounding of the innumerable trumpets was so magnificent an accompaniment, truly furioso, but it must have been so; sing me something from the Sinai Oratorio, if my Christian ears may hear it."

Baruch excused himself on the plea that he did not sing; but Olympia was so imperative that Baruch did not know how to avoid the awkward situation.

"A musical fanatic!" said Van den Ende.

"Wait awhile till Herr von Spinoza offers you the scale of his creed himself; you put people who do not know you in very awkward positions with your queer whims."

Olympia excused herself to Baruch for her vehemence, she was so excited, he must not judge unfavorably of her. After a short stay Baruch went away in unwonted perplexity: he thought Olympia had made fun of him, and not of him alone, so much as of all Judaism. The perception of this disturbed this deserter from his early associations much more now, when he felt himself cut off in thought and action from his associates.

Such was his first meeting with Olympia on the day on which Van den Ende brought him first into his house. He often encountered her afterwards, and exchanged a few words with her; but otherwise troubled himself but little about her. He might have said with Job xxxi. I, "I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?" But now the time was come when he must think upon a maid, and hang with fascinated attention on her every word. The physician had gone on a journey, and had resigned his lessons to his daughter; Baruch too was her pupil.

Like her namesake Olympia Morata of Ferrara, whose Greek and Latin verse, in the last century, had been the wonder of her contemporaries, Olympia van den Ende was quite at home in the world of classics, but inclined more to scientific investigation, so that she might easily have aspired to be crowned with the hood of a doctor of philosophy; but she knew too well that the black velvet cap with its edging of Brussels point lace suited her blonde locks and white skin much better than the pointed red velvet hood of a doctor. Cicero's own daughter Julia did not answer the letters of her eloquent father in more elegant Latin than the daughter of the Amsterdam physician. Her white hands often bore traces of learned ink, for she exercised a rigorous censorship over her pupil's modes of expression, if they would not have been accepted in a Roman citizen; her smooth white brow gathered into folds when a barbarism came under her notice; her clear blue eyes sparkled, and her mouth, which usually had a certain austerity in its lines, smiled pleasantly and gently when she saw that her pupils had made no false quantities in their Latin verses.

Baruch sat before his instructress with some dissatisfaction in their first lessons, as she demonstrated the finer points of syntax in the periods of the "History of Alexander" by Curtius. Olympia was irritated at the awkward Jew, who answered all her questions as bashfully as possible; she stood up and paced the room thoughtfully. Baruch watched the tall, slender figure with its majestic movements, and instead of following the manoeuvres of Alexander, he studied the features of Olympia, the syntax of whose enthusiastic temper and acuteness of intellect he could as little decipher as the involved periods of Curtius.

The instruction at first was as unsatisfactory in this case as in that of the old Magister Nigritius; for Baruch, since their first meeting, had always approached Olympia with dislike. She soon, however, understood where to find points of agreement between their differently constituted minds, which made their meetings more agreeable to Baruch. He was happy soon to find their conversation of anything rather than Latin. He conversed with Olympia on the ruling laws of history, on the fate of men and nations; she found Baruch's ideas peculiar enough, often strange, for he was accustomed to look at everything from the standpoint of Jewish history, and to judge by comparison or affinity with that. This gave it a more interesting turn for Olympia, for all that Baruch said was so uncommon, and showed such unusual intellectual activity, that Olympia felt absolved from the sin of unconscientiousness in neglecting instruction so little needed. The minds of both penetrated to the remotest zones and periods, and there found each other again, for both felt the same impulse to discover the origin of the world and its designs. Baruch now looked forward eagerly to the lesson hour, and set out on his way thither long before the hour chimed. It often happened that Olympia, looking out of the window, would see him far off, and nod to him kindly.

One day they had been reading in the eighth chapter of the seventh book the well-known conversation of the Scythian envoys with Alexander. Olympia remarked, "It is characteristic that Valerius Maximus relates how Aristarchus had said to the king, 'According to Democritus there are innumerable worlds.' 'Alas!' said the king, 'I unfortunately have not yet conquered one.'"

"In the Talmud there are many extraordinary legends about the 'Macedonian Alexander,' for whom the world was too narrow," replied Baruch.

"Oh, tell me them, do tell them," said Olympia. "I do so like such flowers as these which have sprung from the glowing East."

There was a knock heard, Olympia cried "Enter!" and a stately man with handsome, refined features entered the room. With quiet familiarity he approached Olympia, took her hand, and pressed it to his lips.

"I am rejoiced," he said, "to be permitted to kiss this hand that holds the plectrum and the style of history with equal skill, and has already pointed out to so many the way to Attica's and Latium's glorious fields."

"It would have been a pity if you had not been destined for a diplomatic career," replied Olympia.

"Otherwise I should not have had the pleasure of telling you the news which has been brought today that your favorite, the pious General Oliver Cromwell, is named Lord Protector by the army. Not for nothing has he expelled the Parliament with the oratorical epithet of 'you drunkards!'"

"You always laugh at his oratory; he is no Demosthenes," said Olympia, "but a strong character with deep insight. I am very glad he has risen so high. But how do things go with us? Can you tell me whether there are definite tidings how many men were lost in the last storm?"

"No; but some comedy was even there mingled with the tragedy. I have often told you that my native Lower Saxony had considerable similarity in customs and ideas with your native land; in one thing, however, they are very different, and that is in their treatment of the Jews. In my pious town they never would have suffered one of the children of Abraham to equip a ship and send it to sea in the name of 'the Jew;' is not the Northern Ocean Christian water? So the sea has overwhelmed the Jews first. I heard from my window this morning an old sailor telling his comrades that it all came of associating with Jews."

Baruch had risen when the stranger entered, he had put his book under his arm, and would have taken leave of Olympia; twice he would have bowed, but as the stranger stood between she did not see him; he advanced again, but again the stranger interposed between him and Olympia.

"I must explain," continued the stranger, "why I have come at so unusual an hour. You are going to the Rederykers Kamer[1] this evening, of course. I wanted to remind you to go to the Botanical Garden first; you will see what you have probably never seen before, a palm-tree in bloom; the flowers are so large that ten families of elves could easily live therein."

Here was another pause, and Baruch at last succeeded in bowing to Olympia and stammering out a few words.

"You must not go yet, Herr von Spinoza," she said; "you must first tell me the legend, and when I go to see the lilies of the south I can tell them something from their native land."

"The sailor's legends may be the truer, I therefore prefer to go," said Baruch with a glance at the stranger.

"Ah!" said he rising, "my old friend Casper Barläus was right, he had had much intercourse with Jews, and was at first prejudiced in their favor, thinking them all witty; but he often complained of one of their failings, their sensitiveness; the most innocent look, the most harmless jest, was mistaken for mockery. I can assure you, that it was not my object to offend you in the least, and Jufrow Olympia can bear witness to my most unchristian partiality for the Jews."

"Yes," she said, "and it was all my fault for not introducing you; Herr von Spinoza you know now; and this is Herr Oldenburg, a member off the Bremen Embassy. Now pray tell me the legend, or else I shall think myself the cause of a misunderstanding that I should greatly regret." Baruch tried to protest.

"I will give him a lesson," said Oldenburg. "Remember always that Jufrow Olympia prays daily 'May my will be done in Heaven as on earth,' so begin to narrate; you must do it in the end."

Baruch then related the well-known legend of how Alexander advanced to the gates of Eden with his army. Oldenburg then told, out of the old poems of the priest Lamprecht and Ulrich von Eschenbach, the glorious legends in which the poetical German spirit had celebrated the great deeds of Alexander. And in interchange of opinions on the great hero of old times, whose life, though he had found no Homer, the poetical legends of all nations, both Eastern and Western, had colored in brightest hues, the three passed a pleasant hour. The stranger and Olympia stared in astonishment at Baruch when he declared with quiet decision that fear was the original and sustaining cause of superstition. He quoted Alexander as a striking proof of this, for whenever circumstances were unfavorable, or misfortunes occurred, he called in sacrifices and superstitious observances to his aid. While Baruch sought the corroborating passages in Curtius, from Book iv. Chap. 10, and Book V. Chap. 4, etc., his two listeners recognized an extraordinary mind that would shed new meanings on the past.

From that time Oldenburg came oftener, when he knew that Baruch was with Olympia, and she was glad to see the two young men become daily more friendly. She took a certain pride in being the link between two such dissimilar characters, and she understood how to bring to light continual affinities between the travelled experience and extensive reading of Oldenburg, and the deep penetrative spirit of Baruch. Besides the accomplishments of a finished man of the world Oldenburg possessed another quality, seldom noticed, but which, though unnoticed, is an important element in a first impression—this is a full-toned, well-modulated voice. All that Oldenburg said received through this harmonious quality a fulness and roundness which immediately and involuntarily attracted favor. Baruch and Oldenburg were friends without a word passing between them on the subject.

"You will soon have finished your Latin course," said Olympia to Baruch one day; "how would it be if you gave me a course of Hebrew lessons?"

"I recommend to you then the Polyglot of the Father in the Church, Origen," said Oldenburg laughing, "then you may jump from one language to another, as it may please your restless mind. Apply to me, and I will get you appointed to the chair of Casaubon or Scaliger. I can see how the studiosi would troop to the college, if the learned Olympia van den Ende were to explain the Song of Solomon in the language of the original."

"Remember," interrupted Baruch, "it is the sacred language that you wish to learn."

"Are you a saint then?" retorted she. "You must have a Hebrew name; what are you called?"

"Baruch."

"Bahruch!" exclaimed Olympia, shaking with laughter. "Bahruch! ugh! it makes me quite ill and frightened, it is so like a conjuration. The name would sound lugubrious in music; I should accompany it with F minor; listen!" She went to the organ, and sang " Bahruhcn !*' over and over again, accompanying it with the dreary note. "For Heaven's sake, give up the name, or something bad will happen to you," she continued. "I had a dear friend whose beloved was named Balthasar Prompronius, who was very unfortunate. 'Dear Balthasar!' no, that will not do, that cannot be said expressively, it will not come out of your mouth, and cracks your ear; my friend was very unhappy, for she was always obliged to say 'dear,' alone, and at last meant some one else by it. The bad taste of the name had a great deal to do with her misfortunes, it is my firm belief."

"You are not such an infidel as you represent yourself," said Baruch.

"Bahruch!" chanted Olympia again, and put forth the full power of her deepest notes to lay the most melancholy stress on the name. "Baruch! no, that will not do; for your future wife's sake, take care that she does not meet the fate of my poor Matilda; follow my advice and take another name. Has this cry of woe a meaning?"

"Oh, yes! it means 'blessed.'"

"Bravo! Glorious!" cried Olympia, and clapped her hands. "Benedictus! that is a glorious name. If you were a pope you would be the XIV.; seventy-five years after your death you would be canonized, and people would make pilgrimages to the wonder-working tomb of St. Benedict. 'Dear Benedict,' listen how soft and tender that sounds; but Bahruch, brrr! Give me your hand, and promise me henceforth to be called Benedictus. You are a learned man, so you must have a Latin name. You will be very celebrated some day, and then I shall have handed down a name to posterity. You must leave some occasion for wit to your adversaries. I can see how an anathema against you would begin: 'Benedictus est Spinoza, quem recti us maledictum dixeris'[2] The Romans turned the town Malevent in Lower Italy into Benevent, and the wise Magister, who christened you so wittily, was after all only guilty of a plagiarism; but I can imagine how he would stroke his chin, the black cap on his learned head pushed back, simpering with satisfaction that he had branded you in a word. And alas! the merit will never be recognized; I am the originator of this sublime jest; but for me you would have been called Baruch forever; a name that Aristophanes himself might laugh at, but could never make a jest of."

Olympia thus talked on, all opposition and, interruption from Baruch being fruitless.

"If you will not follow my advice with free will," continued Olympia, "I will call you nothing from this minute but Rabbi Bahruhch; yes, I will buy a parrot, and teach him to repeat the words 'Rabbi Bahruhch' till he speaks them fluently; then I will hang him in the window, and when you come near the house he will call out to you, 'Rabbi Bahruhch! Rabbi Bahruhch!' I can see how the people will stop before the house to see what the individual can look like who is called by a name that sounds like a raven's croak. For the last time, will you follow my advice?"

"Did I not tell you the first day we met," said Oldenburg, "that Jufrow Olympia was the incarnation of self-will? Obey without dispute. You surely will not bring down strange torments on yourself?"

Baruch consented, and gave Olympia his hand, which she pressed warmly.

"Sit down," she said; "and you, Herr Oldenburg, come here, you shall be witness of the baptism." She then laid her hands on Baruch's head, and said, "In the name of Aristotle, Bacon, and Descartes I give thee the name Benedictus; that the name may become great, and last forever and ever, and that, whenever thou writest that name, thou mayest think of her from whom the word arose. Benedicite! In saecula saeculorum, Amen!" The concluding words she sang to a church chant.

"Have I done it right?" she asked as she raised her hands, and as if involuntarily stroked Benedict's cheek with the right.

"So well," said Oldenburg, "that if you should find my name Henry, or Hendrik as it is called in this country, unmusical, I would let you give me another without fear of being accused of blasphemy. I should so like to know how it feels to be under your blessing hands."

Olympia blushed, but passed her hand over her face to hide her confusion.

  1. A sort of theatre.
  2. Blessed is Spinoza named, who should rather be called cursed.