The Goose Man

The Goose Man

Jakob Wassermann
Jakob Wassermann

Author: Wassermann, Jakob, 1873-1934
Germany — Fiction
Composers — Fiction
German fiction — Translations into English
The Goose Man


by Jacob Wassermann
Author of
Authorized translation by

GROSSET & DUNLAP ~ Publishers
by arrangement with

The first chapter, “A Mother Seeks Her Son,” and sections I and II of the second chapter, “Foes, Brothers, a Friend, and a Mask,” were translated by Ludwig Lewisohn. The rest of the book has been translated by Allen W. Porterfield. The title, “The Goose Man” (“Das Gänsemännchen”), refers to the famous statue of that name in Nuremberg.


A Mother Seeks Her Son 1
Foes, Brothers, A Friend and a Mask 23
The Nero of To-day 44
Inspector Jordan and His Children 65
Voices from Without and Voices from Within 97
In Memory of a Dream Figure 123
Daniel and Gertrude 153
The Glass Case Breaks 178
Tres Faciunt Collegium 204
Philippina Starts a Fire 239
Eleanore 277
The Room with the Withered Flowers 323
The Promethean Symphony 352
Dorothea 405
The Devil Leaves the House in Flames 435
But Aside, Who Is It? 455




The landscape shows many shades of green; deep forests, mostly coniferous, extend from the valley of the Rednitz to that of the Tauber. Yet the villages lie in the midst of great circles of cultivated land, for the tillage of man is immemorial here. Around the many weirs the grass grows higher, so high often that you can see only the beaks of the droves of geese, and were it not for their cackle you might take these beaks to be strangely mobile flowers.
The little town of Eschenbach lies quite flat on the plain. In it a fragment of the Middle Ages has survived, but no strangers know it, since hours of travel divide it from any railway. Ansbach is the nearest point in the great system of modern traffic; to get there you must use a stage-coach. And that is as true to-day as it was in the days when Gottfried Nothafft, the weaver, lived there.
The town walls are overgrown with moss and ivy; the old drawbridges still cross the moats and take you through the round, ruined gates into the streets. The houses have bay-windows and far-projecting overhangs, and their interlacing beams look like the criss-cross of muscles on an anatomical chart.
Concerning the poet who was once born here and who sang the song of Parsifal, all living memory has faded. Perhaps the fountains whisper of him by night; perhaps sometimes when the moon is up, his shadow hovers about the church or the town-hall. The men and women know nothing of him any more.
The little house of the weaver, withdrawn by a short distance from the street, stood not far from the inn at the sign of the Ox. Three worn steps took you to its door, and six windows looked out upon the quiet square. It is strange to reflect that the spirit of modern industrialism hewed its destructive path even to this forgotten nook of the world.
In 1849, at the time of Gottfried Nothafft’s marriage—his wife, Marian, was one of the two Höllriegel sisters of Nuremberg—he had still been able to earn a tolerable living. So the couple desired a child, but desired it for years in vain. Often, at the end of the day’s work, when Gottfried sat on the bench in front of his house and smoked his pipe, he would say: “How good it would be if we had a son.” Marian would fall silent and lower her eyes.
As time passed, he stopped saying that, because he would not put the woman to shame. But his expression betrayed his desire all the more clearly.


A day came on which his trade seemed to come to a halt. The weavers in all the land complained that they could not keep their old pace. It was as though a creeping paralysis had come upon them. The market prices suddenly dropped, and the character of the goods was changed.
This took place toward the end of the eighteen hundred and fifties, when the new power looms were being introduced from America. No toil profited anything. The cheap product which the machines could furnish destroyed the sale of the hand-made weaves.
At first Gottfried Nothafft refused to be cast down. Thus the wheel of a machine will run on for a space after the power has been cut off. But gradually his courage failed. His hair turned grey in a single winter, and at the age of forty-five he was a broken man.
And just as poverty appeared threatening at their door, and the soul of Marian began to be stained by hatred, the longing of the couple was fulfilled, and the wife became pregnant in the tenth year of their marriage.
The hatred which she nourished was directed against the power loom. In her dreams she saw the machine as a monster with thighs of steel, which screamed out its malignity and devoured the hearts of men. She was embittered by the injustice of a process which gave to impudence and sloth the product that had once come thoughtfully and naturally from the careful hands of men.
One journeyman after another had to be discharged, and one hand-loom after another to be stored in the attic. On many days Marian would slip up the stairs and crouch for hours beside the looms, which had once been set in motion by a determinable and beneficent exertion and were like corpses now.
Gottfried wandered across country, peddling the stock of goods he had on hand. Once on his return he brought with him a piece of machine-made cloth which a merchant of Nördlingen had given him. “Look, Marian, see what sort of stuff it is,” he said, and handed it to her. But Marian drew her hand away, and shuddered as though she had seen the booty of a murderer.
After the birth of her boy she lost these morbid feelings; Gottfried on the other hand seemed to dwindle from month to month. Though he outlasted the years, there was no cheer left in him and he got no comfort even from his growing boy. When he had sold all his own wares, he took those of others, and dragged himself wearily in summer and winter from village to village.
In spite of the scarcity that prevailed in the house, Marian was convinced that Gottfried had put by money, and certain hints which he threw out confirmed her in this hope. It was one of his peculiar views that it was better to leave his wife in the dark regarding the true state of their fortunes. As their circumstances grew worse, he became wholly silent on this point.


On the square of the grain merchants in Nuremberg, Jason Philip Schimmelweis, the husband of Marian’s sister, had his bookbinder’s shop.
Schimmelweis was a Westphalian. Hatred against the junkers and the priests had driven him to this Protestant city of the South, where from the beginning he had acquired the respect of people through his ready wit and speech. Theresa Höllriegel had lodged in the house in which he opened his shop, and gained her living as a seamstress. He had thought that she had some money, but it had proved to be too little for his ambitious notions. When he discovered that, he treated Theresa as though she had cheated him.
He held his trade in contempt, and was ambitious of greater things. He felt that he was called to be a bookseller; but he had no capital wherewith to realise this plan. So he sat morosely in his subterranean shop, pasted and folded and quarrelled with his lot, and in his hours of leisure read the writings of socialists and freethinkers.

It was the Autumn in which the war against France was raging. On that very morning had come the news of the battle of Sedan. All the church bells were ringing.
To the surprise of Jason Philip, Gottfried Nothafft stepped into his shop. His long, patriarchal beard and tall stature gave something venerable to his appearance, even though his face looked tired and his eyes were dull.
“God bless you, brother,” he said and held out his hand. “The fatherland has better luck than its citizens.”
Schimmelweis, who did not like the visits of kinsmen, returned the salutation with careful coolness. His features did not brighten until he heard that his brother-in-law was stopping at the Red Cock Inn. He asked what errand had brought Gottfried to the city.
“I must have a talk with you,” Nothafft replied.
They entered a room behind the shop and sat down. Jason Philip’s eyes harboured even now a definitely negative answer to any proposal that might cost him money or trouble. But he was to be agreeably disappointed.
“I want to tell you, brother,” Gottfried Nothafft said, “that I have put by three thousand taler during the nineteen years of my married life. And since I have the feeling that I am not long for this world, I have come to ask you to take charge of the money for Marian and the boy. It has been troublesome enough not to touch it in these evil times that have come. Marian knows nothing of it, and I don’t want her to know. She is a weak woman, and women do not understand money nor the worth and dignity it has when it has been earned so bitterly hard. In some hour of difficulty she would begin to use it, and presently it would be gone. But I want to ease Daniel’s entry into life, when his years of training and apprenticeship are over. He is twelve now. In another twelve years he will be, God willing, a man. You can help Marian with the interest, and all I ask of you is to be silent and to act a father’s part toward the boy when I shall be no more.”
Jason Philip Schimmelweis arose. He was moved and wrung Gottfried Nothafft’s hand. “You may rely upon me,” he said, “as you would on the Bank of England.”
“I thought that would be your answer, brother, and that is why I came.”
He put down on the table three thousand taler in bank notes of the realm, and Jason Philip wrote out a receipt. Then he urged him to stay that night at his house. But Gottfried Nothafft said that he must return home to his wife and child, and that a single night in the noisy city had been enough for him.
When they returned to the shop, they found Theresa sitting there. In her lap she held Philippina, her first-born, who was three years old. The child had a large head and homely features. Gottfried hardly stopped to answer his sister-in-law’s questions. Later Theresa asked her husband what Gottfried’s business had been. Jason Philip answered brusquely: “Nothing a woman would understand.”
Three days later Gottfried sent back the receipt. On the back of it he had written: “The paper is of no use; it might even betray my secret. I have your word and your hand. That is enough. With thanks for your friendship and your services, I am your faithful kinsman, Gottfried Nothafft.”


Before peace had been made with France, Gottfried lay down to die. He was buried in the little churchyard by the wall, and a cross was set upon his grave.
Jason Philip and Theresa had come to the funeral, and stayed for three days. An examination of her inheritance showed, to Marian’s consternation, that there were not twenty taler in the house, and what she saw ahead of her was a life of wretchedness and want. Jason Philip’s counsel and his plan were a genuine consolation to her, and his declaration that he would stand by her to the best of his ability eased her heart.
It was determined that she was to open a little shop, and Jason advanced her one hundred taler. All the while he had the air of a made man. He held his head high, and his fat little cheeks glowed with health. He was fond of drumming with his fingers on the window pane and of whistling. The tune he whistled was the Marseillaise, but that tune was not known in Eschenbach.
Daniel observed carefully his uncle’s lips, and whistled the tune after him. Jason Philip laughed so that his little belly quivered. Then he remembered that it was a house of mourning, and said: “What a boy!”
But really he did not like the boy. “Our excellent Gottfried does not seem to have trained him carefully,” he remarked once, when Daniel showed some childish recalcitrance. “The boy needs a strong hand.”
Daniel heard these words, and looked scornfully into his uncle’s face.

Sunday afternoon, when the coffee had been served, the Schimmelweis couple was ready to leave. But Daniel was not to be found. The wife of the inn-keeper called out across the road that she had seen him follow the organist to church. Marian ran to the church to fetch him. After a while she returned, and said to Jason Philip, who was waiting: “He’s crouching in the organ loft, and I can’t get him to move.”
“Can’t get him to move?” Jason Philip started up, and his little red cheeks gleamed with rage. “What does that mean? How can you tolerate that?” And he himself proceeded to the church to get the disobedient child.
As he was mounting the organ-loft he met the organist, who laughed and said: “I suppose you’re looking for Daniel? He’s still staring at the organ, as though my bit of playing had bewitched him.”
“I’ll drive the witch-craft out of him,” Jason Philip snarled.
Daniel was crouching on the floor behind the organ, and did not stir at his uncle’s call. He was so absorbed that the expression of his eyes made his uncle wonder whether the boy was really sane. He grasped Daniel’s shoulder, and spoke in a tone of violent command: “Come home with me this minute!”
Daniel looked up, awoke from his dream, and became aware of the indignant hiss of that alien voice. He tore himself away, and declared insolently that he would stay where he was. That enraged Jason Philip utterly, and he tried again to lay hands on the boy in order to drag him down by force. Daniel leapt back, and cried with a quivering voice: “Don’t touch me!”
Perhaps it was the silence of the nave that had an admonishing and terrifying effect on Jason Philip. Perhaps the extraordinary malignity and passion in the little fellow’s face caused him to desist. At all events he turned around and went without another word.
“The stage-coach is waiting. We’ll be late!” his wife called out to him.
He turned a sinister face to Marian. “You’re bringing up a fine product, I must say. You’ll have your own troubles with him.”
Marian’s eyes fell. She was not unprepared for the reproach. She was herself frightened at the boy’s savage obduracy, his self-centred insistence on his imaginings, his hardness and impatience and contempt of all restraint. It seemed to her as though fate had inspired the soul of her child with something of the foolish and torturing hatred which she had nursed during her pregnancy.


Jason Philip Schimmelweis left the dark basement on the square, rented a shop near the bridge by the museum, and set up as a bookseller. Thus his old ambition was realised at last.
He hired a shop-assistant, and Theresa sat all day at the till and learned to keep books.
When she asked her husband what was the source of his capital, he answered that a friend who had great confidence in his ability had advanced him the money at a low rate of interest. He added that he had been pledged not to divulge the name of his friend.
Theresa did not believe him. Her mind was full of dark forebodings. She brooded incessantly and grew to be watchful and suspicious. In secret she tried to ferret out the identity of this nameless friend, but came upon no trace. Now and then she tried to cross-question Jason Philip. On such occasions he would snarl at her malignantly. There was no talk of the return of the money or of the payment of interest on it, nor did the books show an entry of any sort. To rid herself of the anxieties that accompanied her through the years, it would have been necessary for Theresa to believe in helpful fairies. And she did not believe in them.
Nature had given her neither gaiety nor gentleness; under the pressure of this insoluble mystery she became ill-tempered as a wife and moody as a mother.
When there were no customers in the shop she would pick up books quite at random and read in them. Sometimes it was a novel dealing with crime, sometimes a garrulous tract dealing with secret vices. Such things were needed to attract a public that regarded the buying of books as a sinful waste. Without special pleasure, and with a morose sort of thirst for information, she read revelations of court life and the printed betrayals of all kinds of spies, adventurers, and rogues. Quite unconsciously she came to judge the world to which she had no real access according to these books which offered her as truth the issues of sick and pestilential minds.
But as the years went on, and prosperity raised Jason Philip definitely into the merchant class, he abandoned the shadier side of his business. He was a man who knew his age and who unfurled his sails when he was sure of a favourable wind. He entrusted his ship more and more to the ever swelling current of the political parties of the proletariat, and hoped to find his profit where, in a half-hearted way, his convictions lay. He exhibited a rebel’s front to the middle-classes, and held out a hand of unctuous fellowship to the toiler. He knew how to make his way! Many an insignificant shop-keeper had been known to exchange his musty rooms for a villa in the suburbs, to furnish it pretentiously, and to send his sons on trips abroad.
In these days, too, the old imperial city awoke from its romantic slumber. Once the sublime churches, the lovely curves of the bridges, and the quaint gables of the houses had formed an artistic whole. Now they became mere remnants. Castle and walls and mighty towers were ruins of an age of dreams now fortunately past. Iron rails were laid on the streets and rusty chains with strangely shaped lanterns were removed from the opening of narrow streets. Factories and smoke-stacks surrounded the venerable and picturesque city as an iron frame might surround the work of some old master.
“Modern man has got to have light and air,” said Jason Philip Schimmelweis, and clinked the coins in his trousers pocket.


Daniel attended the gymnasium at Ansbach. He was to complete the course of studies that would entitle him to the reduction of his military service to one year and then enter business. This had been agreed upon between Jason Philip and Marian.
The boy’s zeal for study was small. His teachers shook their heads. Their considerable experience of the world had never yet offered them a being so constituted. He listened more eagerly to the lowing of a herd of cows and to the twittering of the sparrows than to the best founded principles of grammatical science. Some of them thought him dull, others malicious. He passed from class to class with difficulty and solely by virtue of a marvellous faculty of guessing. At especially critical moments he was saved through the help and advocacy of the music-master Spindler.
The families who gave the poor student his meals complained of his bad manners. The wife of Judge Hahn forbade him the house on account of his boorish answers. “Beggars must not be choosers,” she had called out after him.
Spindler was a man who asserted quite correctly that he had been meant for better things than wearing himself out in a provincial town. His white locks framed a face ennobled by the melancholy that speaks of lost ideals and illusions.
One summer morning Spindler had risen with the sun and gone for a long walk in the country. When he reached the first barn of the vi

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