François Rabelais – Gargantua and Pantagruel, 1532-1564


That day and the two following they neither discovered land nor anything new; for they had formerly sailed that way: but on the fourth they made an island called Medamothy, of a fine and delightful prospect, by reason of the vast number of lighthouses and high marble towers in its circuit, which is not less than that of Canada (sic). Pantagruel, inquiring who governed there, heard that it was King Philophanes, absent at that time upon account of the marriage of his brother Philotheamon with the infanta of the kingdom of Engys.

Hearing this, he went ashore in the harbour, and while every ship’s crew watered, passed his time in viewing divers pictures, pieces of tapestry, animals, fishes, birds, and other exotic and foreign merchandises, which were along the walks of the mole and in the markets of the port. For it was the third day of the great and famous fair of the place, to which the chief merchants of Africa and Asia resorted. Out of these Friar John bought him two rare pictures; in one of which the face of a man that brings in an appeal was drawn to the life; and in the other a servant that wants a master, with every needful particular, action, countenance, look, gait, feature, and deportment, being an original by Master Charles Charmois, principal painter to King Megistus; and he paid for them in the court fashion, with conge and grimace.

Panurge bought a large picture, copied and done from the needle-work formerly wrought by Philomela, showing to her sister Progne how her brother-in-law Tereus had by force handselled her copyhold, and then cut out her tongue that she might not (as women will) tell tales. I vow and swear by the handle of my paper lantern that it was a gallant, a mirific, nay, a most admirable piece. Nor do you think, I pray you, that in it was the picture of a man playing the beast with two backs with a female; this had been too silly and gross: no, no; it was another-guise thing, and much plainer. You may, if you please, see it at Theleme, on the left hand as you go into the high gallery.

Epistemon bought another, wherein were painted to the life the ideas of Plato and the atoms of Epicurus. Rhizotome purchased another, wherein Echo was drawn to the life. Pantagruel caused to be bought, by Gymnast, the life and deeds of Achilles, in seventy-eight pieces of tapestry, four fathom long, and three fathom broad, all of Phrygian silk, embossed with gold and silver; the work beginning at the nuptials of Peleus and Thetis, continuing to the birth of Achilles; his youth, described by Statius Papinius; his warlike achievements, celebrated by Homer; his death and obsequies, written by Ovid and Quintus Calaber; and ending at the appearance of his ghost, and Polyxena’s sacrifice, rehearsed by Euripides.

Francis Rabelais,1483-1553. La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel , Gargantua and Pantagruel, 1532-1564

Book 4. Chapter II. How Pantagruel bought many rarities in the island of Medamothy.

Image: Gargantua, 1547



Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Die Wahlverwandtschaften,1809 Elective Affinities


Goethe Otilia and the child

The Christmas holidays were approaching; and it became at once clear to him that the very thing which he wanted was a representation with real figures of one of those pictures of the scene in the stable a sacred exhibition such as at this holy season good Christians delight to offer to the divine Mother and her Child, of the manner in which she, in her seeming lowliness, was honoured first by the shepherds and afterward by kings.

He had thoroughly brought before himself how such a picture should be contrived. A fair, lovely child was found, and there would be no lack of shepherds and shepherdesses. But without Ottilie the thing could not be done. The young man had exalted her in his design to be the mother of God, and if she refused there was no question but the undertaking must fall to the ground. Ottilie, half embarrassed at the proposal, referred him and his request to Charlotte. The latter gladly gave her permission, and lent her assistance in overcoming and overpersuading Ottilie’s hesitation in assuming so sacred a personality. The Architect worked day and night, that by Christmas Eve everything might be ready.

Day and night, indeed, in the literal sense. At all times he was a man who had but few necessities; and Ottilie’s presence seemed to be to him in the place of all delicacies. When he was working for her, it was as if he required no sleep; when he was busy about her, as if he could do without food. Accordingly by the hour of the evening solemnity, all was completed. He had found the means of collecting some well-toned wind instruments to form an introduction, and produce the desired temper of thought and feeling. But when the curtain rose, Charlotte was taken completely by surprise. The picture which presented itself to her had been repeated so often in the world that one could scarcely have expected any new impression to be produced. But here, the reality as representing the picture had its especial advantages. The whole space was the colour rather of night than of twilight, and there was nothing even of the details of the scene which was obscure. The inimitable idea that all the light should proceed from the child, the artist had contrived to carry out by an ingenious method of illumination which was concealed by the figures in the foreground, who were all in shadow. Bright-looking boys and girls were standing round, their fresh faces sharply lighted from below; and there were angels too, whose own brilliancy grew pale before the divine, whose ethereal bodies showed dim and dense and needing other light in the presence of the body of the divine humanity.

By good fortune the infant had fallen asleep in the loveliest attitude, so that nothing disturbed the contemplation when the eye rested on the seeming mother, who with infinite grace had lifted off a veil to reveal her hidden treasure. At this moment the picture seemed to have been caught, and there to have remained fixed. Physically dazzled, mentally surprised, the people round appeared to have just moved to turn away their half-blinded eyes, to be glancing again toward the child with curious delight, and to be showing more wonder and pleasure than awe and reverence although these emotions were not forgotten, and were to be traced upon the features of some of the older spectators.

But Ottilie’s figure, expression, attitude, glance, excelled all which any painter has ever represented. A man who had true knowledge of art, and had seen this spectacle, would have been in fear lest any portion of it should move; he would have doubted whether anything could ever so much please him again. Unluckily, there was no one present who could comprehend the whole of this effect. The Architect alone, who, as a tall, slender shepherd, was looking in from the side over those who were kneeling, enjoyed, although he was not in the best position for seeing, the fullest pleasure. And who can describe the mien of the new-made queen of heaven ? The purest humility, the most exquisite feeling of modesty, at the great honour which had undeservedly been bestowed upon her, with indescribable and immeasurable happiness, was displayed upon her features, expressing as much her own personal emotion as that of the character which she was endeavouring to represent.

Charlotte was delighted with the beautiful figures; but what had most effect on her was the child. Her eyes filled with tears, and her imagination presented to her in the liveliest colours that she might soon hope to have such another darling creature on her own lap.

They had let down the curtain, partly to give the exhibitors some little rest, partly to make an alteration in the exhibition. The artist had proposed to himself to transmute the first scene of night and lowliness into a picture of splendour and glory; and for this purpose had prepared a blaze of light to fall in from every side, which this interval was required to kindle.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832

Die Wahlverwandtschaften,1809  Elective Affinities. Volume II. Chapter XXIV

Image: Ottilia and the Child. Illustration from J W von Goethe, Elective Affinities, 1896

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Die Wahlverwandtschaften,1809 Elective Affinities


tableau vivant 1

The Count, a keen-sighted man, soon saw through the party, their inclinations, dispositions, wishes, and capabilities, and by some means or other contrived to bring Luciana to a new kind of exhibition, which was perfectly suited to her.

“I see here,” he said, “a number of persons with fine figures, who would surely be able to imitate pictorial emotions and postures. Suppose they were to try, if the thing is new to them, to represent some real and well-known picture. An imitation of this kind, if it requires some labour in arrangement, has an inconceivably charming effect.”

Luciana was quick enough in perceiving that here she was on her own ground entirely. Her fine shape, her well-rounded form, the regularity and yet expressiveness of her features, her light-brown braided hair, her long neck she ran them all over in her mind, and calculated on their pictorial effects, and if she had only known that her beauty showed to more advantage when she was still than when she was in motion, because in the last case certain ungracefulnesses continually escaped her, she would have entered even more eagerly than she did into this natural picture-making.

They looked out the engravings of celebrated pictures, and the first which they chose was Van Dyck’s Belisarius. A large, well-proportioned man, somewhat advanced in years, was to represent the seated, blind general. The Architect was to be the affectionate soldier standing sorrowing before him, there really being some resemblance between them. Luciana, half from modesty, had chosen the part of the young woman in the background, counting out some large alms into the palm of his hand, while an old woman beside her is trying to prevent her, and representing that she is giving too much. Another woman, who is in the act of giving him something, was not forgotten. Into this and other pictures they threw themselves with all earnestness. The Count gave the Architect a few hints as to the best style of arrangement, and he at once set up a kind of theatre, all necessary pains being taken for the proper lightingof it. They were already deep in the midst of their preparations before they observed how large an outlay what they were undertaking would require, and that in the country, in the middle of winter, many things which they required it would be difficult to procure; consequently, to prevent a stoppage, Luciana had nearly her whole wardrobe cut in pieces, to supply the various costumes which the original artist had arbitrarily selected.

Van dyck Date Obolum Belisario

The appointed evening came, and the exhibition was carried out in the presence of a large assemblage, and to the universal satisfaction. They had some good music to excite expectation, and the performance opened with the Belisarius. The figures were so successful, the colours were so happily distributed, and the lighting managed so skilfully, that they might really have fancied themselves in another world, only that the presence of the real instead of the apparent produced a kind of uncomfortable sensation.

The curtain fell, and was more than once raised again by general desire. A musical interlude kept the assembly amused while preparation was going forward to surprise them with a picture of a higher stamp; it was the well-known design of Poussin, Ahasuerus and Esther.

This time Luciana had done better for herself. As the fainting, sinking queen she had put out all her charms, and for the attendant maidens who were supporting her she had cunningly selected pretty well-shaped figures, not one among whom, however, had the slightest pretension to be compared with herself. From this picture, as from all the rest, Ottilie remained excluded. To sit on the golden throne and represent the Zeus-like monarch, Luciana had picked out the finest and handsomest man of the party, so that this picture was really of inimitable perfection.

Poussin -Esther before Ahasuerus

For a third they had taken the so-called Instruction Paternelle of Gerard Terborch, and who does not know Wille’s admirable engraving of this picture? One foot thrown over the other, sits a noble knightly-looking father; his daughter stands before him, to whose conscience he seems to be addressing himself. She, a fine, striking figure, in a folding drapery of white satin, is only to be seen from behind, but her whole bearing appears to signify that she is collecting herself. That the admonition is not too severe, that she is not being utterly put to shame, is to be gathered from the air and attitude of the father, while the mother seems as if she were trying to conceal some slight embarrassment she is looking into a glass of wine, which she is on the point of drinking.

G Terborch instruction patenelle

Here was an opportunity for Luciana to appear in her highest splendour. Her back hair, the form of her head, neck, and shoulders, were beyond all conception beautiful; and the waist, which in the modern antique of the ordinary dresses of young ladies is hardly visible, showed to the greatest advantage in all its graceful slender elegance in the really old costume. The Architect had contrived to dispose the rich folds of the white satin with the most exquisite nature, and, without any question whatever, this living imitation far exceeded the original picture, and produced universal delight.

The spectators could never be satisfied with demanding a repetition of the performance, and the very natural wish to see the face and front of so lovely a creature, when they had done looking at her from behind, at last became so decided that a merry, impatient young wit cried out aloud the words one is accustomed to write at the bottom of a page, “Please turn over,” which was echoed all round the room.

The performers, however, understood their advantage too well, and had mastered too completely the idea of these works of art to yield to the most general clamour. The daughter remained standing in her shame, without favouring the spectators with the expression of her face. The father continued to sit in his attitude of admonition, and the mother did not lift nose or eyes out of the transparent glass, in which, although she seemed to be drinking, the wine did not diminish.

We need not describe the number of smaller afterpieces; for which had been chosen Flemish public-house scenes and fair and market days.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832

Die Wahlverwandtschaften,1809  Elective Affinities. Volume II. CHAPTER XXIII

Images: Tableau vivant. Het Nederlands Gezantschap. On the sixtieth anniversary of the Universiteit van Groningen. Groningen, Nederland, 1914. Het Leven, Spaarnestad Photo.

Anthony Van Dyck, 1599-1641 (attributed to painting by). Print by Gerard-Jean-Baptiste Scotin (II), b. 1698. Belisarius Receiving Alms (Date Obolum Belisario). 
Department of Prints & Drawings, V&A London.

Nicholas Poussin, 1594-1695. Esther before Ahasuerus. Oil on Canvas, 155 x 119 cm. Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

Gerard Terborch, 1617-1681. Instruction Paternelle, (Parental Admonition), 1654-55. Oil on canvas, 70 x 60 cm. Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Charles Robert Maturin – Melmoth the Wanderer, 1820


Chapter I

John took the key from his uncle’s hand; the dying man pressed it as he did so, and John, interpreting this as a mark of kindness, returned the pressure. He was undeceived by the whisper that followed,–’John, my lad, don’t drink any of that wine while you are there.’ ‘Good God!’ said John, indignantly throwing the key on the bed; then, recollecting that the miserable being before him was no object of resentment, he gave the promise required, and entered the closet, which no foot but that of old Melmoth had entered for nearly sixty years. He had some difficulty in finding out the wine, and indeed staid long enough to justify his uncle’s suspicions,–but his mind was agitated, and his hand unsteady. He could not but remark his uncle’s extraordinary look, that had the ghastliness of fear superadded to that of death, as he gave him permission to enter his closet. He could not but see the looks of horror which the women exchanged as he approached it. And, finally, when he was in it, his memory was malicious enough to suggest some faint traces of a story, too horrible for imagination, connected with it. He remembered in one moment most distinctly, that no one but his uncle had ever been known to enter it for many years.

Before he quitted it, he held up the dim light, and looked around him with a mixture of terror and curiosity. There was a great deal of decayed and useless lumber, such as might be supposed to be heaped up to rot in a miser’s closet; but John’s eyes were in a moment, and as if by magic, rivetted on a portrait that hung on the wall, and appeared, even to his untaught eye, far superior to the tribe of family pictures that are left to moulder on the walls of a family mansion. It represented a man of middle age. There was nothing remarkable in the costume, or in the countenance, but the eyes, John felt, were such as one feels they wish they had never seen, and feels they can never forget. Had he been acquainted with the poetry of Southey, he might have often exclaimed in his after-life,

‘Only the eyes had life,

They gleamed with demon light.’–THALABA.

From an impulse equally resistless and painful, he approached the portrait, held the candle towards it, and could distinguish the words on the border of the painting, – Jno. Melmoth, anno 1646. John was neither timid by nature, or nervous by constitution, or superstitious from habit, yet he continued to gaze in stupid horror on this singular picture, till, aroused by his uncle’s cough, he hurried into his room. The old man swallowed the wine. He appeared a little revived; it was long since he had tasted such a cordial,–his heart appeared to expand to a momentary confidence. ‘John, what did you see in that room?’ ‘Nothing, Sir.’ ‘That’s a lie; every one wants to cheat or to rob me.’ ‘Sir, I don’t want to do either.’ ‘Well, what did you see that you–you took notice of?’ ‘Only a picture, Sir.’ ‘A picture, Sir! – the original is still alive.’ John, though under the impression of his recent feelings, could not but look incredulous. ‘John,’ whispered his uncle; – ‘John, they say I am dying of this and that; and one says it is for want of nourishment, and one says it is for want of medicine,–but, John,’ and his face looked hideously ghastly, ‘I am dying of a fright. That man,’ and he extended his meagre arm toward the closet, as if he was pointing to a living being; ‘that man, I have good reason to know, is alive still.’ ‘How is that possible, Sir?’ said John involuntarily, ‘the date on the picture is 1646.’ ‘You have seen it, – you have noticed it,’ said his uncle. ‘Well,’–he rocked and nodded on his bolster for a moment, then, grasping John’s hand with an unutterable look, he exclaimed, ‘You will see him again, he is alive.’ Then, sinking back on his bolster, he fell into a kind of sleep or stupor, his eyes still open, and fixed on John.

The house was now perfectly silent, and John had time and space for reflection. More thoughts came crowding on him than he wished to welcome, but they would not be repulsed. He thought of his uncle’s habits and character, turned the matter over and over again in his mind, and he said to himself, ‘The last man on earth to be superstitious. He never thought of any thing but the price of stocks, and the rate of exchange, and my college expenses, that hung heavier at his heart than all; and such a man to die of a fright, – a ridiculous fright, that a man living 150 years ago is alive still, and yet–he is dying.’ John paused, for facts will confute the most stubborn logician. ‘With all his hardness of mind, and of heart, he is dying of a fright. I heard it in the kitchen, I have heard it from himself, – he could not be deceived. If I had ever heard he was nervous, or fanciful, or superstitious, but a character so contrary to all these impressions; – a man that, as poor Butler says, in his Remains, of the Antiquarian, would have ‘sold Christ over again for the numerical piece of silver which Judas got for him,’–such a man to die of fear! Yet he is dying,’ said John, glancing his fearful eye on the contracted nostril, the glazed eye, the dropping jaw, the whole horrible apparatus of the facies Hippocratica displayed, and soon to cease its display.

Old Melmoth at this moment seemed to be in a deep stupor; his eyes lost that little expression they had before, and his hands, that had convulsively been catching at the blankets, let go their short and quivering grasp, and lay extended on the bed like the claws of some bird that had died of hunger, – so meagre, so yellow, so spread. John, unaccustomed to the sight of death, believed this to be only a sign that he was going to sleep; and, urged by an impulse for which he did not attempt to account to himself, caught up the miserable light, and once more ventured into the forbidden room, – the blue chamber of the dwelling. The motion roused the dying man; – he sat bolt upright in his bed. This John could not see, for he was now in the closet; but he heard the groan, or rather the choaked and guggling rattle of the throat, that announces the horrible conflict between muscular and mental convulsion. He started, turned away; but, as he turned away, he thought he saw the eyes of the portrait, on which his own was fixed, move, and hurried back to his uncle’s bedside.

Old Melmoth died in the course of that night, and died as he had lived, in a kind of avaricious delirium. John could not have imagined a scene so horrible as his last hours presented. He cursed and blasphemed about three half-pence, missing, as he said, some weeks before, in an account of change with his groom, about hay to a starving horse that he kept. Then he grasped John’s hand, and asked him to give him the sacrament. ‘If I send to the clergyman, he will charge me something for it, which I cannot pay, – I cannot. They say I am rich, – look at this blanket; – but I would not mind that, if I could save my soul.’ And, raving, he added, ‘Indeed, Doctor, I am a very poor man. I never troubled a clergyman before, and all I want is, that you will grant me two trifling requests, very little matters in your way, – save my soul, and (whispering) make interest to get me a parish coffin, – I have not enough left to bury me. I always told every one I was poor, but the more I told them so, the less they believed me.’

John, greatly shocked, retired from the bed-side, and sat down in a distant corner of the room. The women were again in the room, which was very dark. Melmoth was silent from exhaustion, and there was a death-like pause for some time. At this moment John saw the door open, and a figure appear at it, who looked round the room, and then quietly and deliberately retired, but not before John had discovered in his face the living original of the portrait. His first impulse was to utter an exclamation of terror, but his breath felt stopped. He was then rising to pursue the figure, but a moment’s reflection checked him. What could be more absurd, than to be alarmed or amazed at a resemblance between a living man and the portrait of a dead one! The likeness was doubtless strong enough to strike him even in that darkened room, but it was doubtless only a likeness; and though it might be imposing enough to terrify an old man of gloomy and retired habits, and with a broken constitution, John resolved it should not produce the same effect on him.

But while he was applauding himself for this resolution, the door opened, and the figure appeared at it, beckoning and nodding to him, with a familiarity somewhat terrifying. John now started up, determined to pursue it; but the pursuit was stopped by the weak but shrill cries of his uncle, who was struggling at once with the agonies of death and his housekeeper. The poor woman, anxious for her master’s reputation and her own, was trying to put on him a clean shirt and nightcap, and Melmoth, who had just sensation enough to perceive they were taking something from him, continued exclaiming feebly, ‘They are robbing me, – robbing me in my last moments,–robbing a dying man. John, won’t you assist me,–I shall die a beggar; they are taking my last shirt,–I shall die a beggar.’ – And the miser died.

Chapter II

As the attorney who read the will concluded, he added, ‘There are some words here, at the corner of the parchment, which do not appear to be part of the will, as they are neither in the form of a codicil, nor is the signature of the testator affixed to them; but, to the best of my belief, they are in the hand-writing of the deceased.’ As he spoke he shewed the lines to Melmoth, who immediately recognized his uncle’s hand, (that perpendicular and penurious hand, that seems determined to make the most of the very paper, thriftily abridging every word, and leaving scarce an atom of margin), and read, not without some emotion, the following words: ‘I enjoin my nephew and heir, John Melmoth, to remove, destroy, or cause to be destroyed, the portrait inscribed J. Melmoth, 1646, hanging in my closet. I also enjoin him to search for a manuscript, which I think he will find in the third and lowest left-hand drawer of the mahogany chest standing under that portrait , –it is among some papers of no value, such as manuscript sermons, and pamphlets on the improvement of Ireland, and such stuff; he will distinguish it by its being tied round with a black tape, and the paper being very mouldy and discoloured. He may read it if he will; – I think he had better not. At all events, I adjure him, if there be any power in the adjuration of a dying man, to burn it.’

Charles Robert  Maturin, 1782-1824.   Melmoth the Wanderer, 1820

Image: Francisco de Goya, Study for: El sueno de la razon produce monstrous, Los Caprichos, 1799 / The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 1799. Los Caprichos