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He resumes the part with greater success than ever, even though he is apparently dying of a heart complaint, and has no more desire to live.
The Prince meanwhile, having recognised the real value of this man whom Countess Wildenau had so lightly thrown overboard for his sake, grows perceptibly colder towards this too obliging Magdalena; and she herself, smitten by remorse, hastens to Ammergau, where, present at the Passion Play, she is seen and recognised by her forsaken husband. It is the scene where Christ, bowed down beneath the weight of His cross, falls swooning. But his faint is no simulated one this time; and while the other actors are endeavouring to restore him to life, a pale beautiful woman forces her way on to the stage, and falling on her knees by Joseph Freyer's side, proudly proclaims to the assembled audience that she has a right to be here, for she is his wife!
On hearing these words Freyer reopens his eyes, and consents to live; nay, more, he consents to take back to his heart this weary dove, who, in our opinion, has conducted herself more like a bird of the hawk or vulture species.
This story requires but small comment, for it surely condemns itself to any well-balanced Christian mind? Only a hysterical, half-crazy woman could have acted as does Countess Wildenau; and the story is one which could only have been conceived by a diseased, overwrought, though undoubtedly powerful imagination.
Nor are the faults we have pointed out Madame Hillern's only transgressions against religious and aesthetic feeling, for we cannot speak too strongly of the singular want of tact and good taste in selecting living persons for the actors of her tale. The figures of the novel are all portraits of Ober-Ammergau nativesstrangely distorted, it is true, yet easily recognisable because of their minutely described physical individualities and scarcely altered names. Thus Thomas Redner of the novel stands for Thomas Rendl, Ludwig Gross for Ludwig Lang, Joseph Freyer for Joseph Mayr; and as for Countess Wildenau . . . Half proudly, half bashfully, Madame Hillern has admitted the soft impeachment, acknowledging herself to be identical (platonically, of course) with the heroine of her novel !
Casting aside her proud title and her fortune, and as Madame Freyer, the contented wife of a poor woodcarver, Magdalena finds peace and happiness for ten whole years. Then the Passion-Play year comes round again once more, and for the third and last time Joseph Freyer enacts the Saviour's part. And when at the final representation he is taken down lifeless from the cross, the husband of Magdalena awakens no more. On the third day he is carried to the grave.
She is welcome to do so, and no one has any business to object if she cares to assume the repulsive part of the weary dove; but has she the right, we ask, thus to drag down the Ammergau Passion Play into the mire? to brand with ignominious publicity the reputation of a perfectly blameless individual?
The life-past and present-of Joseph Mayr, whose name as the noble and worthy enacter of the Saviour's part in the Ober-Ammergau Passion Play has acquired a European fame, is a perfectly stainless one. A happy husband
since 1868, and the father of four children, he has never acted the part of Freyer to any Countess Wildenau, and none of his friends, none of the habitués of Ammergau, will be in danger of taking him for the hero of this novel. But the case is widely different with regard to the outer public, and hundreds of people who read the work may jump to a different conclusion. It is for the sake of these, therefore, that we have thought necessary to notice at all this work, which otherwise had far better be consigned to oblivion, despite the undoubted talent and considerable dramatic power with which many parts of it are writ ten. It is curious, though, that such an evidently intelligent and well-educated woman, who has, moreover, resided for many years at Ammergau, should possess so little comprehension of the speech and thoughts of the class she describes. Her peasants are one and all finished gentlemen and ladies: not only do they know mythology, but they quote Heine, and talk quite glibly about materialism and the principle of negation. Equally unnatural and overstrained is Freyer's definition of his part in the Passion Play.
With His form I have taken His cross upon myself. Since then my youth has vanished, and a thread of pain runs through my whole life."
To the real Joseph Mayr this sickly rubbish would be utterly incomprehensible; and we can only advise whosoever is anxious to learn what the Ammergau peasants are really like to avoid Madame Hillern's book, and turn instead to a small volume entitled Der Christus Mayr,' by W. Wyl,1 whose lucid, terse, and racy style contrasts refreshingly with Madame Hillern's bombastic periods and stilted sentimentality. Intimately acquainted with the life of Ober- Ammergau for many years, Herr Wyl has interviewed Madame Hillern, and formed his own conclusions as to the authoress and her work. He tells us, too, that the Ammergau peasants are justly incensed against the lady because of this novel, and that the breach has been still further widened by her abortive attempt last summer to assume the direction of the Passion Play, and revise both text and music.
To all readers who, despite our warning, have been sufficiently imprudent to incur a moral and religious indigestion by perusal of the novel 'Am Kreuz,' we strongly recommend Herr Wyl's little book by way of antidote. It acts like a sharp invigorating tonic after a draught of sweet sickly poison.
1 Der Christus Mayr, Neue Studien aus Ober-Ammergau von W. Wyl. Berlin: Z. Fontane. 1890.
THE BUSSEX RHINE.
THE night before, at Bridgewater
Deep they lay
Of the Bussex Rhine.
Elijah Alford, Praise-God Trump,
John Spiller, Seek-truth Pope,
Of the Bussex Rhine-
All silently our army marched
On the Bussex Rhine.
Lay stoutly on, and praise the Lord,
Yea, verily, the men of blood
But still the sword of Gideon found
By the Bussex Rhine.
Lay stoutly on, and praise the Lord,
Beside the Bussex Rhine.
"Praise God!" cried Trump, shot through the heart, And fell upon his face.
"Praise God!" we cried, and closed again
To fill the vacant place.
"Well hast thou
By the Bussex Rhine!
Another charge-another gap-