Spinoza: A novel/Chapter 13

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OLYMPIA sat at the window and looked in the window seat mirror, the so-called "spy," a standing evidence of Dutch love of comfort and sight-seeing. A young man stood by the lady. He was of middle height; his oval face, when seen in profile, might have been called handsome; it had some resemblance to Olympia's, but there was none of the restless fire in his glance that shone from Olympia's eyes. His left hand rested on the gilt handle of his rapier, and with his right he stroked his blonde whiskers. Every now and then he screwed up his eyes and looked out of the corners at every point in his costume. It was all faultless: the white cravat was in its proper position, the black mantle of finest Venetian velvet fell in majestic folds, and the tassel of gold thread hung gracefully on his breast, the quilted satin breeches were tied ornamentally at the knees, the silk stockings, and shoes with gold buckles, all were irreproachable. "Look there," said Olympia, and the well-dressed individual looked at her amiably; "do you see that young man who is coming so thoughtfully down the street?"

The person addressed quickly drew a red morocco case from his pocket, and took a jewelled opera-glass from it.

"Do you mean that one?" he then said. "He is of middle height and brown complexion; is he not a Jew?"

"Whatever he is," replied Olympia, "he comes of an honorable Spanish family. My father respects him highly, and I—I consider him one of my dearest friends. Just because he was born a Jew, whom the whole world is against, he has attained to an unprejudiced conscientiousness of judgment, an unswerving rectitude, which command our regard, and often put us to shame."

"But what do you say to my physiognomical guess?" continued the stranger as he curled his moustache round his first finger, and let his glance wander complacently to the window-glass in which he saw himself reflected. "I too find the Jews very interesting; they are a sort of historical relic, and I have to thank you for my taste for history. I look upon the Jews as a fragment of some Asiatic root which we can study in this strange form."

"Had you much intercourse with Jews in Hamburg?" inquired Olympia.

"You jest," was the reply, "but I know the Jews thoroughly. En détail, there may be many honorable men among them. In my native town there was an old rogue to whom I used to sell my old clothes. I had many a joke with him; he took everything in good part if he could make a good bargain; covetous as he was, I have still seen several instances of his uprightness; but looked at en gros all Jews are pickpockets; a dirty, disgusting lot, who, alas! my father has often said, will soon have all the trade of our town to themselves. Only think! I had a friend staying with me once who actually condescended to a noble passion for a Jewess, so much so, indeed, that he actually thought of uniting himself to his Rachel. I cannot yet understand how a man of honorable family could bear to have a dirty Jew for a brother-in-law smelling of leeks. But the maiden appears to have been educated above her greasy locked compatriots. One morning my friend was in Cuxhaven when they were dragging a corpse out of the water. He recognized it as Rachel. We had to hold him to prevent him from doing himself a mischief. I was right sorry for my friend's trouble. He swore hard and fast that he would never belong to another, but one knows what those vows are. He recovered sooner than we expected, and in a year he was the happy spouse of a town councillor's daughter. When we remind him of his earlier passion he only laughs quietly. Surely Jufrow Olympia either jests or plays with paradoxes when she honors a Jew with the enviable title of her best friend."

During this discourse Olympia had placed herself at the organ and lightly played a prelude. She looked quietly at the stranger, who emphasized his words and beat time with his thumb and finger, which he had passed through a ring.

"You have gained much experience of life," she said at last, "but you forget that you are in Holland, where religions are not divided into dominant and subordinate. I believe Amsterdam is the only town in the world which has carried toleration so far that Christians have been converted to Judaism. You must be acquainted with de Spinoza; believe me, he is a remarkable man. You are not ill-natured; be friendly with him for my sake. But hush! here he comes."

Spinoza entered.

"Here is Herr Kerkering at last," said Olympia, "of whom I have often spoken to you as my pupil of years ago, and who was prevented from returning to us by his father's death."

"You will assuredly approve of my resolution, Herr de Spinoza," interrupted Kerkering, "to return again to Jufrow Olympia, and hear the wisdom of the ancients from her honeyed lips."

"A questionable compliment," replied Olympia; "you say I have yellow lips, and remind me of my age." Kerkering protested. Spinoza helped him out by saying:

"You have probably forgotten, Herr Kerkering, that Jufrow Olympia demands, like the highest Being, that we should make no image of her of things heavenly or earthly."

"O you heretic!" said Olympia, and her flashing eyes seemed indeed capable of an auto-da-fé. "You will surely permit Herr Kerkering," she continued after a pause, "to join our Latin conversations. I cannot call them lessons now."

Spinoza agreed, and while he was speaking Oldenburg entered. He looked Kerkering over, as Olympia introduced him, with a rapid glance.

"I thought I should meet thee here," he said turning to Spinoza, "and so spared myself the journey to thy house."

"Thou?" said Olympia. "Oh, the cordial thou! how lucky men are that they can address their friends so when they please without hesitation. The Romans little knew their good fortune in addressing each other as thou. I am proud that you two are already so intimate, as I was the means of it."

"If two quantities are equal to a third then the three are equal," jested Spinoza.

"And not a fourth also?" inquired Olympia.

"We are here the representatives of four great powers; we will conclude a quadruple alliance. You must represent Moses, Herr von Spinoza; you Calvin, Herr Oldenburg; Herr Kerkering, you must stand up for your Luther, and I—I will represent the Pope; he cannot object, for I am called Olympia Maria Honoria. Herr Kerkering, give the two gentlemen your hands. We have long been allies; we four will represent the circle which includes and reconciles all religious differences."

"I am afraid that is the reverse problem of the squaring of the circle," said Oldenburg as he joined them, and added, "You go even further than Hugo Grotius, who also dreamed of an eternal Peace of the Religions, but forgot the Jews in his projected union."

Olympia took Kerkering's hands and placed them in the hands of the two friends.

"Always extravagant and arbitrary!" said Oldenburg to Spinoza, as they went away. "Women never can resist match-making; if they are married, they try to find similar good fortune for others; if they have one friend, another must be his friend also, even if by force. What has this Kerkering, whom she treats like an automaton, to do with us?"

"You should not be so discontented with such alliances," replied Spinoza; "it is another example for your lord and master, Descartes. Without the perpetual external interference of a higher third element no real existence can be imagined; all would fall to pieces."