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tion and wish to cheer him. God (said he) will reward the good girl for all her long dutifulness to me! He departed during the inward prayer, which followed these his last words. His wish will be fulfilled in eternity ; but for this world the prayer of the dying man was not heard. - Maria sat and wept by the grave, which now contained her father, her friend, the only bond by which she was linked to life. But while yet the last sound of his death-bell was murmuring away in the air, she was obliged to return with two revenue officers, who demanded entrance into the house, in order to take possession of the papers of the deceased, and from them to discover whether he had always given in his income, and paid the yearly income-tax according to his oath, and in proportion to his property.* After the few documents had been looked through and collated with the registers, the officers found, or pretended to find, sufficient proofs, that the deceased had not paid his tax proportionably, which imposed on them the duty to put all the effects under lock and seal. They therefore desired the maiden to retire to an empty room, till the Ransom Office had decided on the affair. Bred up in suffering, and habituated to immediate compliance, the affrighted and weeping maiden obeyed She hastened to the empty garret, while the revenue officers placed the lock and seal upon the other doors, and finally took away the papers to the Ransom Office. - Not before evening did the poor faint Maria, exhausted with weeping, rouse herself with the intention of going to her bed; but she found the door of her chamber sealed up and that she
* This tax called the Losung or ransom, in Nüremberg, was at first a voluntary contribution: every one gave according to his liking or circumstances. But in the beginning of the 15th century the heavy contributions levied for the service of the Empire forced the magistrates to determine the proportions and make the payment compulsory. Every citizen must yearly take what is called his ransom oath (Losungseid) that the sum paid by him ... has been in the strict determinate proportion to his property. On the death of any citizen, the Ransom Office, or commissioners for this income or property tax, possess the right to examine his books and papers, and to compare his yearly payment as found in their registers with the property he appears to have possessed during that time. If any disproportion is detected, if the yearly declarations of the deceased should have been inaccurate in the least degree, his whole effects are confiscated, and though he should have left wife and child, the state treasury becomes his heir
must pass the night on the floor of the garret. The officers had had the humanity to place at the door the small portion of food that happened to be in the house. Thus passed several days, till the officers returned with an order that Maria Eleonora Schöning should leave the house without delay, the commission court having confiscated the whole property to the city treasury. The father before he was bedridden had never possessed any considerable property; but yet, by his industry, had been able not only to keep himself free from debt, but to lay up a small sum for the evil day. Three years of evil days, three whole years of sickness, had consumed the greatest part of this; yet still enough remained not only to defend his daughter from immediate want, but likewise to maintain her till she could get into some service or employment, and should have recovered her spirits sufficiently to bear up against the hardships of life. With this thought her dying father comforted himself, and this hope too proved vain. A timid girl, whose past life had been made up of sorrow and privation, she went indeed to solicit the commissioners in her own behalf; but these were, as is mostly the case on the continent, advocates—the most hateful class, perhaps, of human Society, hardened by the frequent sight of misery, and seldom superior in moral character to English pettifoggers or Old Bailey Attorneys. She went to them, indeed, but not a word could she say for herself. Her tears and imarticulate sounds—for these her judges had no ears or eyes. Mute and confounded, like an unfledged dove fallen out from its mother's nest, Maria betook herself to her home, and found the house door too now shut upon her. Her whole wealth consisted in the clothes she wore. Shé had no relations to whom she could apply, for those of her mother had disclaimed all acquaintance with her, and her father was a Nether Saxon by birth. She had no acquaintance, for all the friends of old Schöning had forsaken him in the first year of his sickness. She had no play-fellow, for who was likely to have been the companion of a nurse in the room of a sick man 3 Surely, since the creation never was a human being more solitary and forsaken than this innocent poor creature, that now roamed about friendless in a populous city, to the whole of whose inhabitants her filial tenderness, her patient domestic goodness, and all her soft yet difficult virtues, might well have been the model —
But homeless near a thousand homes she stood,
The night came, and Maria knew not where to find a shelter. She tottered to the church-yard of St. James' church in Nüremberg, where the body of her father rested. Upon the yet grassless grave she threw herself down ; and could anguish have prevailed over youth, that night she had been in heaven. The day came, and like a guilty thing, this guiltless, this good being, stole away from the crowd that began to pass through the church-yard, and hastening through the streets to the city-gate, she hid herself behind a garden hedge just beyond it, and there wept away the second day of her desolation. The evening closed in : the pang of hunger made itself felt amid the dull aching of self-wearied anguish, and drove the sufferer back again into the city. Yet what could she gain there 3 She had not the courage to beg, and the very thought of stealing never occurred to her innocent mind. Scarce conscious whither she was going, or why she went, she found herself once more by her father's grave, as the last relic of evening faded away in the horizon. I have sat for some minutes with my pen resting : T can scarce summon the courage to tell, what I scarce know whether I ought to tell. Were I composing a tale of fiction, the reader might justly suspect the purity of my own heart, and most certainly would have abundant right to resent such an incident, as an outrage wantonly offered to his imagination. As I think of the circumstance, it seems more like a distempered dream : but alas ! what is guilt so detestable other than a dream of madness, that worst madness, the madness of the heart 7 I can not but believe, that the dark and restless passions must first have drawn the mind in upon themselves, and, as with the confusion of imperfect sleep, have in some strange manner taken away the sense of reality, in order to render it possible for a human being to perpetrate what it is too certain that human beings have perpetrated. The church-yards in most of the German cities, and too often, I fear, in those of our own country, are not more injurious to health than to mortality. Their former venerable character is no more. The religion of the place has followed its superstitions, and their darkness and loneliness tempt worse spirits to roam in them than
* Wordsworth’s Female Vagrant.—Ed.
those whose nightly wanderings appalled the believing hearts of our brave forefathers. It was close by the new-made grave of her father that the meek and spotless daughter became the victim to brutal violence, which weeping, and watching, and cold, and hunger had rendered her utterly unable to resist. The monster left her in a trance of stupefaction, and into her right hand, which she had clenched convulsively, he had forced a half-dollar. It was one of the darkest mights of autumn; in the deep and dead silence the only sounds audible were the slow blunt ticking of the church clock, and now and then the sinking down of bones in the nigh charnel house. Maria, when she had in some degree recovered her senses, sate upon the grave near which—not her innocence had been Sacrificed, but—that which, from the frequent admonitions and almost the dying words of her father, she had been accustomed to consider as such. Guiltless, she felt the pangs of guilt, and still continued to grasp the coin which the monster had left in her hand, with an anguish as sore as if it had been indeed the wages of voluntary prostitution. Giddy and faint from want of food, her brain becoming feverish from sleeplessness, 'ond this unexampled concurrence of calamities, this complication and entanglement of misery in misery, she imagined that she heard her father's voice bidding her leave his sight. His last blessings had been conditional, for in his last hours he had told her, that the loss of her innocence would not let him rest quiet in his grave. His last blessings now sounded in her ears like curses, and she fled from the church-yard as if a demon had been chasing her; and hurrying along the streets, through which it is probable her accursed violator had walked with quiet and orderly step* to
* It must surely have been after hearing of or witnessing some similar event or scene of wretchedness, that the most eloquent of our writers (I had almost said of our poets,) Jeremy Taylor, wrote the following paragraph, which at least in Longinus's sense of the word, we may place among the most sublime passages in English literature. “He that is no fool, but can consider wisely, if he be in love with this world, we need not despair but that a witty man might reconcile him with tortures, and make him think charitably of the rack, and be brought to admire the harmony that is made by a herd of evening wolves when they miss their draught of blood in their midnight revels. The groans of a man in a fit of the stone are worse than all these; and the distractions of a troubled conscience are worse than those groans: and yet a careless merry sinner is worse than all that. But if we could from one of the battlements of heaven espy, how many men and women
his place of rest and security, she was seized by the watchmen of the night—a welcome prey, as they receive in Nüremberg a reward from the police chest, for every woman they find in the streets after ten o'clock at night. It was midnight, and she was taken to the next watch-house. - The sitting magistrate, before whom she was carried the next morning, prefaced his first question with the most opprobrious title that ever belonged to the most hardened street-walkers, and which man born of woman should not address, even to these, were it but for his own sake. The frightful name awakened the poor orphan from her dream of guilt, it brought back the consciousness of her innocence, but with it the sense likewise of her wrongs and of her helplessness. The cold hand of death seemed to grasp her, she fainted dead away at his feet, and was not without difficulty recovered. The magistrate was so far softened, and only so far, as to dismiss her for the present ; but with a menace of sending her to the House of Correction if she were brought before him a second time. The idea of her own innocence now became uppermost in her mind; but mingling with the thought of her utter forlornness, and the image of her angry father, and, doubtless still in a state of bewilderment, she formed the resolution of drowning herself in the river Pegnitz—in order (for this was the shape which her fancy had taken) to throw herself at her father's feet, and to justify her innocence to him, in the world of spirits. She hoped, that her father would speak for her to the Saviour, and that she should be forgiven. But as she was passing through the suburb, she was met by a soldier's wife, who during the life-time of her father had been occasionally employed in the house as a chare-woman. This poor woman was startled at the disordered apparel, and more disordered
at this time lie fainting and dying for want of bread, how many young men are hewn down by the sword of war; how many poor orphans are now weeping over the graves of their father, by whose life they were enabled to eat; if we could but hear how many mariners and passengers are at this present in a storm, and shriek out because their keel dashes against a rock,
or bulges under them; how many people there are that weep with want, and are mad with oppression, or are desperate by a too quick sense of a constant infelicity; in all reason we should be glad to be out of the noise and participation of so many evils. This is a place of sorrows and tears, of
great evils and constant calamities: let us remove hence, at least in affections and preparations of mind.” Holy Dying, ch, i. s. 5, with omissions,—Ed.