THE BRIDE OF DREAMS
THE BRIDE OF DREAMS
FREDERIK VAN EEDEN
AUTHORIZED TRANSLATION BY
MELLIE VON AUW
As one approaches my little city from the sea on a summer's day one
sees only the tall round clump of trees on the ramparts and
overtopping it the old bell-tower with its fantastically shaped and
ornamented stories and dome-top of deep cobalt blue. The land to either
side is barely visible and the green foliage flooded with pale
sunshine seems to drift in the sun-mist on the grayish yellow waters.
It is a dreamy little town that once in Holland's prime had a
short-lived illusion of worldly grandeur. Then gaily-rigged vessels
embellished with gilded carvings and flaunting flags entered the little
harbor fishing boats merchant vessels and battleships. The
inhabitants built fine houses with crow-stepped gables and sculptured
fa?ades and collected in them exotic treasures furniture plate and
china. Cannon stood on the ramparts and the citizens were filled with a
sense of their importance and power as people of some authority in the
world. They bore an escutcheon and were proud of it they had their
portraits painted in gorgeous attire they gave the things their terse
and pretty names and they spoke picturesquely and gallantly as befits
people leading a flourishing elemental life.
Now all this is long past. The little city no longer lives a life of
its own but quietly follows in the wake of the great world-ship. In
the harbor a few fishing smacks a market ship a couple of sailing
yachts and the steamboat are still anchored. The fine houses are
curiosities for the strangers and the china the furniture and
paintings may be viewed in the museum for a fee.
There is order and peace and prosperity too; the streets and houses
look clean and well kept. But it is no longer a vigorous personal life;
the color and the bloom have faded the splendor and pageant are gone.
It still lives but as an unimportant part of a greater life. Its charm
lies only in the memory of former days. It is lovely through its dream
life through the unreal phantasy of its past. All that constitutes its
charm - the dark shadowy canals reflecting the light drawbridges the
pretty quaintly-lighted streets with the red brick gables bluish gray
stoops chains and palings the harbor with the little old tar and rope
shops the tall sombre elm trees on the ramparts - it all possesses
only the accidental beauty of the faded. It can no longer like a young
and blooming creature will to be beautiful. It is beautiful
involuntarily no longer as a piece of human life but as a piece of
nature. And its loveliness is pathetic through the afterglow of a brief
blazing up of individual vivid splendor of life.
In this quite sphere where life now flows on but lazily and
reflectively as in a small tributary stream of the great river - I
live an old man for the accomplishment of my last task.
I live obscurely amid the obscure. I do my best to escape notice and
have no notoriety whatsoever not even as an eccentric.
I associate with the doctor and the notary is expected of me and I
also go to the club. It is known that I have an income and besides
earn some money from a small nursery on the outskirts of the town and
by giving Italian lessons.
The rumors regarding my past have all quieted down and people have
grown accustomed to my foreign name - Muralto. They see me regularly
taking the same walk along the sea dike to my nursery and my gray felt
hat and my white coat in summery weather are known as peculiarities of
the town. When you read this reader I shall be buried respectably
and simply with twelve hired mourners and the coach with black plumes
of the second class and a wreath from the burgomaster's wife to whom
I gave lessons; from the notary who occasionally earned something
through me; and from the orphanage because as treasurer I always kept
the accounts in order.
This is as I wish it to be. When you read this my living personality
may no longer stand in your way. My individual being may no longer
engage your attention. I know how this would veil the truth for you.
Never has man accepted new and lucid ideas from a contemporary unless
he were an avowed and venerated prophet that is to say a man
corrupted and lost. I will not let myself be corrupted and give myself
up as lost and yet I know that my thoughts are too great to be
accepted from free conviction without slavishness by my living
fellow-men. Therefore have I peace in this petty world under the heavy
burden of my tremendous life. I did not confer it on myself and I have
no choice. Were I to speak my mind freely and honestly I should be
either locked up or worshipped. I deserve neither one nor the other;
but such is the nature of the people of this age - they cannot reject
without hatred nor accept without slavishness. Thus I live in
self-restraint and peace among the lowly.
But these pages are the doors of the cap of my suppressed life. Only by
these writings do I keep the peace within and master the tumult.
It is a hard struggle; I am weary from it not from arousing but from
restraining my thoughts. For what I write must be clear and orderly and
concise. Readers nowadays are impatient and easily bored and crave
excitement. And they are dulled too and no longer hear so clearly the
true ring of sincere conviction. Yet I have peace for this will be
read. It will strike the summits and the social system of today is
still built so that everything slowly spreads from the summits and
penetrates to the very lowest layers.
Do you disagree reader? Do you accept nothing on higher authority but
judge everything independently for yourself?
Then it is just you I need. Then you are on the summit and all the
rest of mankind in ranged about or beneath you. All the rest of mankind
accepts and believes on authority - but you do not. Then have I also
written this expressly and solely for you. How lucky that at last it
has fallen into your hands. Allow me to embrace you in thought dear
precious freely-judging and independently-thinking reader. You are
such a treasure to me such a find that for the world I would not let
you go or lose you.
Listen then dear reader with a little patience and some painstaking
on your part. Sweet spoils are not won without exertion! You are
sensible enough not to want to judge without having given faithful
I write this for you because you do not want to act without
understanding; because you are restless and dissatisfied a seeker and
lover of the unknown; because at last you have turned on your way to
look for what so long has gently pushed and driven you; because your
eyes are opened wider and are more intent on the prospect toward which
everything seems to lead.
I write this for you the refractory and rebellious who are tired of
I write this for you who feel that you have reached maturity and no
longer want to be treated as a child not even by fate.
I write this for you the proud and the evil; yes for the wantonly
wicked who despises the meek and the just. I write this also for you
the earnestly good who wants to love his enemy but cannot.
The complaisant and contented the adjusters and compromisers the
advocates and flatters of God those who shun anxiety and stop their
ears against too blatant a truth - they had better read something else;
there are plenty of pleasant and entertaining books for amusement.
And the slaves of reason who tread in a circle around their stake as
far as the cord of their logic reaches they too cannot be my readers.
Only he who has overcome the word who has forsaken the idolatry of the
"true word" - he can read me with profit and understanding.
Listen then: I am an old man proclaiming the glory of a new era. I am
lonely and forsaken but nevertheless I have a share in the great human
world and the life of the gods.
I sit here serenely in my sombre cool old house with its musty odor
of old wood and memories of past generations. I look out upon the
harbor and I hear the continuous murmur of the sea-breeze in the tall
elms on the dike and the screams of the gulls speaking of the vast and
briny life of the sea. And yet in the solitude of this quiet
forgotten life I feel that I am mightier than the mightiest a match
for fate. I rule life; it shall bow to my wishes. I wrestle with the
gods even to the Most High. Sometimes I tremble when a careless
glance with some semblance of deeper import from one of the persons
about me makes me think that a spark of this seething life within me
has been discovered. But no one sees it happily nor knows me!
Had I told you this (is it not so dear reader though you be ever so
wise?) and I came not in a fiery chariot with a halo of glory and in
dazzling raiment but in my citizen's clothes then after all you would
undoubtedly have shrugged your shoulders and taken me for a poor fool.
But now I am a rich sage because I write and hold my peace.
You are still a person dear reader but I have gone a step beyond - I
am dead and no longer a person. Now now while you are reading this. In
this now that is also now for me. I am no person but more than that
and therefore can say to you what from any person would annoy you.
For you there is left only a still small book that meekly submits to
being closed up and laid aside - and then again as patiently as ever
resumes its tranquil message when opened.
My parents were Italian aristocrats and my childhood days in the
paternal home in Milan and our country estate near Como loom up vaguely
before me in pictures half memories half dreams. I cannot clearly
distinguish what is purely memory and what a dream or dream-memory of
these olden days. Memory is like tradition; one does not remember the
first impression but only the memory of it and who knows how much
that was already distorted; and so the picture changes from year to
year like a vaguely-told tale.
My childhood days fell towards the middle of the nineteenth century. It
was my time of luxury and state. Our home was a palace with a pillared
courtyard wide stairway of stone with statuary and a marble dolphin
spouting water. We had carriages and servants and I wore velvet suits
with wide lace collars and colored silk ties. I remember my father at
the time as a tall dark proud man most fastidiously groomed and
dressed. He had shiny black whiskers and long thick wavy and glossy
hair that fell over his forehead with an artful curl. He wore tight
trousers with gaiters and patent leather shoes that always creaked
softly. He had a calm but very decided manner and impressed me
immensely by his gentle way of giving orders and the confidence with
which he could make himself obeyed. Only my mother resisted him with a
power equally unshakable and equally restrained. As a child I saw this
conflict daily and without appearing to do so or being myself quite
conscious of it gave it much thought.
My mother was a very fair blonde Northern woman whom I heard praised
for her great beauty - a fact a child is unable to determine for
himself about his own mother. I know that she had large gray eyes with
dark rings underneath and that it often seemed as though she had wept.
Her voice her complexion her expression everything vividly suggested
tears to me. And in the silent struggle with my father her resistance
was that of an aggrieved painful sensitive nature: his was cool more
indifferent and gay but none the less firm. I never heard them
quarrel but I saw the politely tempered tension in the dignified
house during the stately meals even as the servants saw it. Yet my
father would sometimes hum a tune from an opera and joke and laugh
boisterously with his friends; but mother always went about silently
and gravely gliding over the thick carpets like a spectre and at her
best showing but a wan smile.
We were wealthy and prominent people and my parents felt that very
strongly. And when I think about it now here in my little provincial
town in Holland where I shine my own boots then after all I feel
compassion for the two - for my cool well-bred father as well as for
my pale languishing distinguished mother. For they considered their
high position just and righteous and complete and did not see in how
much it was wanting. My mother did not see how tasteless the fashion
was - her draped and be-ruffled gown in which she thought herself so
elegant and stately - her own physical beauty and natural grace barely
saving her from becoming an object of absolute ridicule. And my father
did not know how much his traditional power of heredity had already
been undermined by the democratic ideas everywhere astir.
Our luxury too was strangely deficient in many respects. I have
suffered bitter cold in the great chilly palace; at night one might
break one's neck on the dark stone stairway; in some parts an ofttimes
very foul and disgusting stench prevailed; the servants slept in stuffy
hovels; there was a lavatory of which my father was very proud and
which had cost enormous sums of money but where in broad daylight one
had to light a candle in order to wash ones hands.
I feel compassion for my proud father when I think of how he collected
art treasures and bought paintings by distinguished artists of the
time which he would contemplate for hours through a monocle and which
formed the subject of long intricate critical speculations with his
friends - paintings which after all were really only trifling daubs of
no value whatever at the present time.
It was a dream of wholly successful social glory dreamed by my Italian
parents as confidently as that other dream dreamed by the Dutch
merchants of this little seaport town. And this Italian dream I dreamed
with them in perfect soberness. I can still become wholly absorbed in
the illusion. I see the purple velvet with the white plume and the
large diamond on my mother's hat - a small round bonnet on the
thick blonde hair gathered into a net. I stand by her side in the
carriage and feel myself the little prince the little son of the
Contessa - and see the people bowing with profound respect. I breathe
the faint fine perfume of frankincense and lavender exhaling from my
mother's clothes. And I recollect my sensation of calm and pride at the
meals with the heavy pretentious plate the great bouquets of roses
the violet hose of the clergy who were our guests the fragrance of the
And I am touched when I think of the self-delusion of so proud
arbitrary critical and sceptical a man as my father who was
prejudiced so completely by this illusion of his greatness. He would
have looked down scornfully upon the civic pomp of these
seventeenth-century Hollanders and yet that was assuredly finer even
as was the older Italian civilization which my father thought to
surpass while he was really living in a state of sad decline.
It is quite comprehensible that in this family feud I sided with my
mother and that my sister who was older than I took my father's
part. Also that my father would by no means submit to this and that I
very soon began to notice that I myself was the main subject of the
strife which fact did not tend to increase my modesty. It is strange
how as children we take part in these conflicts apparently wholly
absorbed in our books and games and yet quite aware of the significant
glances the tears and passions hidden before us the conversations
suddenly arrested at our entrance the artificial tone employed toward
us children the peculiar signs of dreary suspense of momentous events
beyond our ken imminent in the family circle and which we know we must
pass without comment. Little as I was I knew full well that the
priests were on my mother's side and that my father fought against a
coalition. But with my mother I felt a sense of warmth gentleness and
tenderness and had already been won over to her side long before I
knew what the contest was about. Her beauty which I heard praised; the
deference I saw her met with; her sanctity which I recognized as a
great power which my father otherwise yielding to nothing or no one
dared only resist with faltering mockery; the sphere of suffering and
tears in which she lived - all this drew my chivalrous heart to her. I
considered my father a great man a giant who dared anything and could
get whatever he pleased - but for this very reason would I defend my
mother against him. I went to church with her faithfully and strictly
followed her admonitions to piety and the frivolous jokes which my
father sometimes made on that score I proudly and heroically met with
But this chivalrous conflict was speedily ended. The tension became
aggravated so that the banquets ceased and my mother did not appear for
days and only summoned me to her side for a few moments when she would
weep passionately and pray with me. Strange gentlemen came for long and
secret conferences; and one bleak winter morning very early a large
coach appeared in which my father and I departed.
Then there began for us two a restless life of wandering that continued
for years. We travelled through northern Africa Asia Minor through
all Europe through America and never did we remain in one place so
long a time that I could grow fond of it or feel myself at home there.
As if by intentional design or driven by a constant unrest my father
would always break up whenever an abode began to feel homelike to me
and I had found some friends in the vicinity and it was wonderful with
what strength of mind he persevered in this irksome arduous and
ofttimes even dangerous life.
We sometimes travelled through half barbarous countries with very
primitive means of conveyance. My father had no permanent servant and
would not suffer any woman to take charge of me. We were together
constantly night and day and he did for me all that a mother could
have done. He helped me to wash and dress and even mended my clothes.
He gave me lessons taught me drawing music various languages
fencing swimming and riding; but although I very much desired to he
never permitted me to attend school anywhere. His attention was never
for a moment diverted from me his care for me knew no weakening and
yet we never became really intimate. I felt that the old conflict was
being carried on under conditions that were much harder for me. He had
parted me from my mother and now that I stood alone would vanquish me.
He surely did not suspect that I would understand it thus and would
consciously carry on the strife. But though I did not reason it out my
intuition clearly apprehended his tactics and I held out more
obstinately than ever with all the stubbornness of a child and the
strength of mind which I had from himself inherited.
On three types of humanity my father was not to be approached. Firstly
the priests the black ones as he called them whom he hated with all
the fierce vehemence of his race; and in spite of me he so
successfully inculcated into me his own aversion that I cannot yet
unexpectedly behold a priestly robe without a sensation of shuddering
as at the sight of a snake. Secondly the bourgeois whom he called
philistines - the humbly living contented narrow-minded timid -
whom he did not hate as much as he despised them with fervid scorn. And
finally women whom he neither hated nor despised but whom he feared
with a scoffing dread.
And now looking back upon my youth from so great a distance now I
understand that it was not only healthy natural tenderness that drove
him to such exaggerated care for me but bitter impassioned feelings
of opposition and revenge born of mortifying and painful experience.
Priests women and philistines had been too mighty or too cunning for
him; now he would at least keep me his successor in the world out of
their hands. That was the one great satisfaction he still sought in
life more from grudge against his enemies than for love of me.
Besides there were inconsistencies in his character that I am now quite
able to explain but which as a child seemed very queer and shocking
to me. He posed as a free-thinker and took pleasure in ridiculing my
ingenuous piety. He called God a great joker who made sport of men and
amused himself at their expense. "But he won't fool me" he would say
"and I promise you that I'll tell him so straight to his face if I get
the chance of speaking to him hereafter." Only of natural science and
nature did he speak with respect. Nature according to him was always
beautiful and good where man did not spoil her. He called natural
science our only security in life weapon and shield against priestly
lies and religious hypocrisy.
And yet my father frequently went to church also taking me with him.
Wherever he went he never failed to visit the temples regardless of the
faith they confessed. He was very musical and he would pretend to go
chiefly for the sacred music. But in the Catholic churches I also saw
him crossing himself with the holy water and even kneeling for hours in
prayer before an image of the Blessed Virgin wreathed with flowers and
illumined by candles.
This was incomprehensible to me having as yet no knowledge of the
illogical workings of an artistically poetic and musical temperament.
But I drew my own conclusions and it was not surprising that I
considered the devout father the true one and the unbeliever perverted
through evil influence. Thus despite her absence mother's influence
prevailed. My memory had stripped her image of all that was trivial
commonplace and unlovely and little by little with her suffering
her tears her beauty her tenderness she began to shine for me in
pure angelic holiness the subject of my faithful and ardent devotion.
I shall not dwell on my long and arduous wanderings with my father.
Indeed I do not remember much about them. I must have seen many
strange and beautiful sights but they meant little to me. When the
soul is young it does not take root in surroundings too vast and does
not absorb the beautiful. I have a clearer recollection of certain
picture books of little cosy corners in the rooms we inhabited of a
small pewter can which I had found on the road and from which I would
never be parted - not even when I went to bed than of the countries or
cities we traversed.
True I must have absorbed some of the wonderful things about me for
they undoubtedly furnished me with the material of which my dreams
about which I shall tell you further on were woven. But as a boy I
took no pleasure whatever in travelling. I longed for my mother and
for our country house where I could play with my little sister under
the airy open galleries in the rose garden or build dams in the brook.
Only the journeying by rail a novelty at that time interested me the
first few times and above all the trip across the ocean to America
when Philadelphia and Chicago were only small places and crossing the
ocean by steamboat was still considered a perilous and risky
Only of certain moments with lasting significance have I retained a
sharper recollection. Thus I remember a miserable day somewhere in Asia
Minor. We had both been ill from tainted food my father and I and had
lain helpless in a most wretched tavern. Meanwhile thieves had stolen
all our belongings and when we wanted to journey on we could get no
horses for the inhabitants feared the thieves and their vengeance
should we accuse them. Amidst a troop of dirty eagerly debating
Syrians in a scorching hot street I stood at my father's side peering
into his wan face sallow and drawn from the illness with glistening
streaks of perspiration and an expression of deadly fatigue and
He had a pistol in each hand and repeated a few words of command over
and over again while from the brown gleaming heads about us came in
sometimes angry sometimes mournful sometimes mocking tones loud but
to me unintelligible replies. I saw the fierce self-interested
indifferent faces with the wild eyes and I realized how narrow was
the boundary separating our life from death.
Still the scorching wild beast odor of the place comes back to me and I
hear the sound of a monotonous tune with fiddling and beating of drums
in the distance and the papery rustling of the palm leaves above our
heads. This disagreeable condition must have continued a long while. At
that time all mankind the whole world seemed hostile and desolate to
I knew indeed that my father would conquer. He did not want to die
and I had a childlike faith in his tremendous will-power. And so it
actually turned out and I was neither surprised nor glad. The irksome
life of wandering continued and I had a bitter feeling that it was my
father who shut me out from the world and made it hostile to me.
We did after all finally procure a guide that day and made a long march
on foot along scorching sandy roads weak and tired as we were guided
only by a half-witted boy humming and chewing wisps of straw. Then I
began to realize what suffering means. My father did not speak nor
would he endure any complaints from me. I bore up against it bravely
as bravely as I could but I began to ponder much at that time. "How