Perhaps the earliest literary (or written) version of the tale English speakers know as ‘Snow White’ appears in a collection of German folktales that precedes the Grimms’ first publication, in 1812, by about thirty years.
In 1782, Johann Karl August Musäus published his Volksmärchen der Deutschen, an early collection of German folktales which he claimed he had collected from a range of oral sources. Musäus was the professor of Ancient Languages and History at the Wilhelm-Ernst-Gymnasium in Weimar. Only a small handful of the tales he collected (five or six) have been translated into English. Five were translated by William Thomas Beckford in 1791 (Popular tales of the Germans ) and three were included in Thomas Carlyle’s German Romance (1827) . Some of his work entered the English literary field more indirectly: ‘Stumme Liebe’ (Mute/Dumb Love) was included (in a French translation, as ‘L’Amour Muet’) in Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès’ Fantasmagoriana (1812). Eyriès’ collection of French translations of German gothic tales was the book that Mary and Percy Shelley, Byron, Polidori, and Clairemont read on the fateful summer night before they agreed to each compose their own gothic tales, famously resulting in the composition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Polidori’s The Vampyre (which was loosely based on the Musäus tale).
Beckford’s book of translations is prefaced by a charmingly eccentric introduction, which bears the title ‘A dialogue consisting chiefly of soliloquies’, and which is presented as a kind of play script of a dialogue between REVIEWER and PUBLISHER. The whole thing is enchanting, but a snippet will suffice to whet your appetites, I hope:
I just recollect an anecdote which affords me some consolation for the abruptness of your first question, and the harshness of your present stricture. When the most popular relater of popular tales had presented to his princely patron his copious narrative, with its rich embroidery of knights and dames, squires and palfreys, Moors and Christians, witches and enchanters, saints and phantoms, the only compliment he received was ‘Where the deveil, Signor Ludovico, didst thou pick up all this trash?’ Princes are only omnipotent; omniscience they have relinquished to Reviewers: the case is therefore not perfectly in point. But the omen is discouraging.
Richilda is the first of the tales in the collection. An early precursor of the Grimm Brothers ‘Sneewittchen’ (tale #53 of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, known in English as ‘Snow White’). Shojaei Kawan has argued that the Musäus tale is the earliest literary, or written, version of Snow White, and that an earlier, oral version, may have been one of the sources for Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, King of Britain.
Below you’ll find Beckford’s translation, accompanied by images from the Musäus original.
During the time of the Crusades, Gunderich the Priest-ridden, Count of Brabant, led a life of such exemplary piety, that he deserved the title of saint, as well as the Emperor Henry the Limper. The castle where he kept his court had every appearance of a monastery: its peace was never disturbed by the ringing of spurs, neighing of steeds, or clanking of arms; but the litanies of pious monks, and the tinkling of silver bells, sounded incessantly through the echoing halls of the palace. The Count never missed mass; he attended all processions, bearing a consecrated wax-taper in his hand; he also performed pilgrimages to every holy place within three days journey of his residence, where dispensations were retailed. By these means he kep the polish of his conscience so bright and shining, that not a breath of sin could settle upon it. Yet with all this clearness of conscience, contentment did not dwell in his heart, for he lived in childless wedlock, and at the same time possessed immense riches and revenues. He considered the barenness of his wife as a visitation of Heaven, because, in his opinion, she was too much devoted to the pomps and vanities of this wicked world.
The Countess was inwardly chagrined at this pious conceit: devotion was not much her passion; nor did she exactly know how she had deserved the judgment of sterility; neither did fruitfulness appear to her altogether the appropriate reward of female virtue. She however left no stone unturned to conciliate Heaven, by fasting and prayer, lest peradventure the conjecture of her husband should be right: but the penitential course did not answer; the stricter her regimen, the slenderer still grew her waist.
It happened that Albertus Magnus, as he went from Cologne to the council of Lyons, at the command of Gregory the Tenth, passed through Brabant, where he waited on the Count, whose hospitality to the clergy knew no bounds. Gunderich received his guest in a manner suitable to his dignity and birth; for Albertus was of a noble family in Swabia, and had resigned the bishoprick of Regenspurg out of pure affection for the sciences. The Count caused him to read mass, and complimented him on the occasion with an hundred pieces of gold. The Countess would not be behind her husband in liberality; she therefore had also mass read by hum, and produced likewise her hundred pieces of gold. She was no less anxious to make her confession to the reverend Dominican, when she described the family distress on account of her barrenness, and went away from him comforted. He forbade his afflicted daughter all other penance and castigation of the flesh, prescribed her and her husband a more liberal diet, and foretold, in the spirit of prophecy, that she should soon be blessed with fruit of her body. Ere yet he returned from the council the prophecy was fulfilled: Albertus found, on his return from Lyons, a charming little daughter at the Countess’s breast, the very picture of her gracious mother, who was thankful to God and all the saints that her reproach had passed away from her. Father Gunderich would in truth have been better pleased with the arrival of an heir male; but as the little creature was so pretty, and so loving, and smiled upon him so innocently, he took it in his arms, and found great delight in dandling it. As the Count conceived the pious Albertus had brought him this blessing down from heaven, he almost overwhelmed him with benefactions. At this departure he presented him with a finer robe for mass than any his grace the Archbishop of Toledo may happen to have in his ghostly wardrobe. The Countess begged Albertus’s blessing on her daughter, which he bestowed with such earnestness and heart-felt zeal, that the court chronicle of scandal teemed with surmises, such as had a violent tendency to mislead the genealogists concerning the girl’s parentage. Father Gunderich let the gossips say on, and took their prattle all in good part.
Albertus Magnus was a very singular character. Among his contemporaries he maintained an ambiguous reputation. Some held him to be as arrant a saint as any in the whole calendar; others cried out upon him as a sorcerer, and practitioner in the black art: ‘No,’ said a third set, ‘he is neither of these, but a deep philosopher, who has taken Nature by surprize, and forced all her secrets from her.’ He performed indeed wonderful things, whereupon many marvelled exceedingly in the land. When the Emperor Frederick the Second desired to see a sample of his art, he invited him, in December, to a breakfast in the garden of the monastery at Cologne on the Rhine, and there shewed him such a sight, that neither he nor any one else had ever seen the like, before or since. Hyacinths and tulips were in full bloom; some fruit-trees were in blossom; others bore ripe fruit; the nightingales were heard to sing in the bushes beside the chirping grasshoppers; and the swallows twittered chearfully aloft in the air, as they played around the cloister tower. When the Emperor had sufficiently admired this transposition of seasons, the philosopher led him with his train to a double row of vines, where he gave each guest a knife in his hand, to cut off the ripe bunches, strictly forbidding them to use it till he should give the word: then on a sudden he dispelled the illusion, and it appeared that every courtier had his own nose fast between his fingers, ready to chop off; which set Frederick in such a roar of laughter, that he was obliged to hold his imperial belly. If all was fair play here, and above-board, it was, in truth, a stroke beyond Breslaw himself, or Jonas the conjurer.
As soon as the reverend Dominican had bestowed on the infant his spiritual benediction, and was about to take leave, the Countess begged yet a keep-sake for her little daughter, some relick, an agnus dei, an amulet, or a charm for the cholic and heart-ache. Albertus struck his forehead, and said, ‘You do well to put me in mind, noble lady; I had almost forgotten a gift for your daughter: but leave me now alone, and tell me exactly at what hour she was born.’ Albertus then shut himself up for nine days in a solitary chamber, and laboured hard till he had brought to bear a piece of workmanship, which might serve to put little Richilda in mind of him.
When the master found his work perfect, he brought it in private to the Countess, explained to her all the virtues and properties of his performance, taught her exactly how to use it; and desiring her to instruct her daughter, when she was grown up, in the art and manner of employing it, took a friendly leave, mounted his horse, and rode homewards. The Countess, overjoyed at the mystery, took the magic present, and concealed it in the chest of drawers where she kept her pearls and jewels. Gunderich the Priest-ridden, lived yet a few years in his castle, shut up from the world: he founded a number of churches and religious houses, and nevertheless laid by a great part of his revenues for his daughter’s portion, for the see was entailed upon a relation.
As soon as he felt that he drew near his latter end, he put on a monk’s habit and gave up the ghost in this dress, in sure and certain hopes of being free of the masquerade of cowls in the next world. The Countess chose a nunnery for her widow’s residence, and employed herself wholly in the education of her daughter, whom she intended to introduce into the great world herself. But before she could accomplish this design, she was overtaken by death, just as the young lady entered into her fifteenth year, the May of female beauty.
The good mother strove hard against this unseasonable parting from the beautiful Richilda, in whom she had hoped to enjoy life over again: but observing that her hour was come, she firmly submitted to the law of the old covenant, and prepared for her departure. She called her daughter to her bed-side apart, bid her dry up her affectionate tears, and said, ‘I am quitting you, my dear Richilda, at a time when you most want a mother’s countenance and support: but be not afflicted; the loss of a good mother shall be made up to you by a true friend and counsellor, who, if you are wise and prudent, will so guide your footsteps, that you shall never go astray. There, in that chest of drawers, you will find a piece of art, which you shall take into your own possession after I am gone. A learned philosopher, called Albertus Magnus, who bore a great share in the joy occasioned by your birth, contrived it under a certain conjunction of the stars, and gave me in charge to instruct you in the use of it. The piece is a magic mirror, set in a frame of virgin gold. For all else that look upon it, it has the quality of a common mirror, to reflect faithfully the impression it receives; but for you it has received another gift besides, to represent every thing concerning which you enquire in distinct speaking images, as soon as you repeat the words which this tablet will teach you. Beware of consulting it from idle curiosity, or an inconsiderate wish to know the future consequences of your life. Look up to the wonderous mirror as a respectable friend, whom one avoids troubling with frivolous enquiries, and in whom one finds, in the weightiest transactions of life, a true adviser. Therefore be considerate and cautious in using it, and walk in the paths of virtue, so the polished surface will never be dimmed before your eyes by the poisonous breath of vice.’–When the dying mother had ended her swan’s song, she embraced the weeping Richilda, was anointed with the holy oil, quickly ended her last agonies, and departed.
The young lady deeply felt the loss of her tender mother. She buried herself in mourning, and sorrowed away one of the finest years of life within the walls of her cloister, in company with the reverend lady abbes, and the pious sisterhood without ever looking to her mother’s legacy, or using the wonder-working mirror. Time gradually allayed her filial affliction, the fountain of her tears was dried up; and as the heart of the maiden no longer found an employment in the effusion of her grief, the pains and penalties of idleness fell upon her in the lonely cell; she therefore often visited the parlour, and insensibly found pleasure in chatting to the aunts and nephews of the nuns: the latter were so assiduous in attendance upon their devout cousins, that they pressed in shoals to the grate whenever the fair Richilda was in the parlour. There came many a courteous knight, and said flattering things to the unveiled pensionnaire: and in these attentions lay concealed the original germs of vanity, which in this case fell on no unfruitful foil, but struck root and sprouted. Miss Richilda fancied it would be pleasanter without, in the open air, beyond the iron grat: she quitted the nunnery, established her court, took for appearance-sake a matronly companion to chaperon her, and entered with éclat into the great world. The fame of her beauty and high breeding went abroad towards the four quarters of heaven.
Princes and nobles came from distant lands to pay court to her. The Tagus, the Seine, the Po, the Thames, and father Rhine, sent their heroic sons to Brabant to seek favour in the eyes of the fair Richilda. Her palace seemed a fairy castle: strangers met with the best reception, and failed not to return the politeness of the fair possessor with the most delicate flattery. Not a day passed but well-accoutered knights entered the lists, and proclaimed by their kings at arms, at the market and public places, that whoever refused to own the Countess of Brabant for the fairest lady of her time, should repair to the place of tournament, and maintain his denial by force of arms against the Paladins of the beautiful Richilda. In general the challenge remained unaccepted; or, if any one desired to tilt on gala-days, or any knight could be persuaded to accept the challenge, and ascribe the palm of beauty to the lady of his heart, it was only done for shew, and in pleasantry; delicacy would never permit any opponent to tumble the Countess’s champion out of his saddle. They broke their lances, acknowledged their defeat, and yielded the pre-eminence to the youthful Countess, a sacrifice which she ever received with virgin modesty.
Hitherto she had not once thought of consulting the magic mirror: she used it only, like a common glass, to examine whether her maids had set off her head-dress to advantage. She had not as yet allowed herself a single question, either because no critical situation had yet called for the voice of an adviser, or because she was timid, and apprehended lest her demand might be forward and inconsiderate, and the bright surface of the mirror might grow dim. Meantime the voice of flattery continued to nourish her vanity, and at least produced in her heart the desire to know whether what rumour so loudly tinkled every day in her ear was fact; for she possessed, what is uncommon in the great, penetration enough to consider the language of her attendants with proper distrust. To a girl in the bloom of youth, of whatever rank of station, the question concerning her personal charms is always the most important problem that she can wish to have solved. It was then by no means strange that the fair Richilda should desire information on a point so interesting to her curiosity; and of whom could she expect a more certain and definite answer, than from her uncorruptible friend, the mirror? On a little consideration she found the question so just and reasonable, that she had no longer hesitation in making the trial. She shut herself up accordingly one day in her apartment, stepped close to the magic mirror, and pronounced the proper words:
Mirror, let they burnish’d face
Give me instant here to trace
The fairest maid of Brabant’s race. 
Trembling she drew the curtain, peeped in, and to her great satisfaction beheld her own form, such as the mirror had often shewn her unquestioned. She was no highly rejoiced in her soul, her cheeks assumed a livelier tinge, and her eyes sparkled for joy; but her heart became proud and arrogant like the heart of queen Vashti. The commendations of her beauty, which she had before heard with modesty and maiden blushes, she now exacted as a lawful tribute: she looked down with proud contempt on all the daughters of the land; and as often as the conversation turned upon foreign princesses, and any one happened to be praised on account of her beauty, it went to her heart, she pursed up her mouth, and had an attack of the vapours. The courtiers, who were soon apprised of their mistress’s weakness, flattered her in the grossest terms, threw abuse over the whole female world, and left not a jot of honour to any lady, when the question was about beauty. No quarter was allowed even to the illustrious fair of past ages, who have now so long been withered; and every one was obliged in her turn to pass the critical muster. The beautiful Judith was too muscular and square set, at least according to the tradition among painters, who have uniformly given her the robus make of a butcher’s wife, as she is cutting off the shaggy-bearded captain Holofernes’s head. the charming Esther was too revengeful, in causing the ten fine boys of the ex-minister Haman, who had committed no crime, to be hanged. Of Helen, it was said, that she was very well considering her red hair, but in all probability she must have been shockingly freckled. Queen Cleopatra’s small mouth was commended, but the thick negro lips and high Egyptian ears, which professor Blumenbach has lately discovered on the mummies, were unanimously scouted. Queen Thalestris was ordered to stand back, on account of the loss of her right breast, which was cut off according to the fashion of the Amazons. None of the courtiers could relish her wry shape; nor could they imagine any means of concealing it, the stuffed jutting stays, that now hide so many female blemishes, not being yet invented.
The fair Richilda passed at her own court for the role and supreme pattern of woman’s beauty: and as in fact, by the testimony of the mirror, she was the finest girl in Brabant, and moreover possessed great wealth, besides castles and cities, she felt no want of illustrious wooers. She counted more than whilom dame Penelope, and managed just as artfully as queen Elizabeth in later times, to egg them on with the honey of hope. Every wish that in our days arises in the waking dreams of the daughters of Teutonia–to be admired, feasted, worshipped, to appear foremost among their companions, and to shine amid the throng, as the lovely moon among the lesser stars; to have around them an halo of adorers ready to offer up their lives for her sake, as the old custom was, and to go forth, at her command, to seek adventures, or to catch her giants and dwarfs; or, as the modern fashion is, to sigh, to coo, to whine, to gaze in sentimental sorrow at the moon, to rave, to eat poison in a paroxysm of love, to jump down the neck-breaking precipices, to drown, to hang, to cut their throats, or, with more spirit skill, to drive a bullet through their brain;–all these fancies of giddy-headed girls were realized in the café of the Countess Richilda. Her charms had already cost many a youthful knight his life; and a lively feeling of the secret torments of love still lingered between the skin and bone of many an unfortunate prince. The cruel beauty secretly fattened on the victims daily offered to her vanity; and to the soft sensations of mutual love she preferred the tortures of these unhappy sufferers. Hitheto none but the slight and shadowy impressions of a transitory passion had passed over her heart; nor did she know yet to whom it properly belonged; it stood open to every sighing Damon, but for no longer than three days, according to the old rule of hospitality. Whenever a new guest took possession of it, the former occupant was coolly dismissed. The count of Flanders, of Artois, of Brabant, of Hennegau, of Namus, of Gueldres, of Groningen, in short all the seventeen counts of the Netherlands, except the married and the grey-headed, aimed to win the heart of the beautiful Richilda, and desired her to wife.
The prudent governess discovered that her young friend would not long be able to carry on her trade of coquetry: her good name seemed to lose ground daily, and it was to be feared that the rejected suitors would revenge their affront on the coy fair; she therefore laid a well-intended remonstrance before her, and extorted a promise to choose a husband in three days. All the train of wooers rejoiced at this determination, which was made publicly known; every competitor hoped that the lot of love would fall upon him; and they agreed to accept the choice, and to maintain it, whomsoever it should make happy. The rigid duenna had effected nothing by her well-meant urgency, but to procure the beautiful Richilda three sleepless nights; nor was the young lady at the dawn of the third morning a whit further advanced in her choice that the first hour. She had gone over and over again her list of suitors, examined, compared, separated a few from the croud,, chosen, rejected, chosen again, and again rejected, and ten times chosen, and ten times rejected;–and by all this tumbling and tossing, she had gained nothing but a pale colour, and a pair of dim watery eyes.
In affairs of the heart the understanding is always a miserable gossip, as little capable of warning the heart with his chill ratiocination as a fireless grate an apartment. The lady’s heart had no share in his deliberations, and withheld his assent from every motion of the orator in the upper house of the head; therefore she could not abide by any choice. She weighed with great precision the birth, merit, riches, and honours of each adorer; but she was not interested in any of these accomplishments, and her heart was silent: as soon as she brought the beauty of her wooers into account, it gave a faint stroke. Human nature has not veered an hair’s breadth within the five hundred years that have rolled away since the time of the beautiful Richilda. Let a girl of the eighteenth or thirteenth century be courted by a wise, intelligent, virtuous man, in a word by another Socrates–and set in competition with him an handsome man, as Adonis, a Ganymeded, an Endymion, a butterly–and you may lay an hundred to one that she passes coldly by the first, and clings to the last. Just so the beautiful Richilda! There were in her train several well-made men: the difficulty lay in picking out the handsomest. Time had moved rapidly forwards during these internal consultations: the court were collecting for a gala-day; the nobles and knights were coming thick in full dress, expecting their fate with beating hearts. The lady was in great distress; her heart still hesitated to decide, in spite of the urgent representations of the head. Yet a way there must be through the wood: she jumped hastily up from her sopha, and stepping before the mirror thus consulted it:
Mirror, let they burnish’d face
Give me instant here to trace
The fairest youth of Brabant’s race.
Here, therefore, was no question of the best, that is the most virtuous, faithful, and affectionate, but only of the handsomest man. The mirror answered as it was asked. When the silken curtain was drawn up, there appeared in full view on the smooth surface a stately knight, in compleat armour, but without his helmet, fair as young Adonis when he stole away the heart of Venus. His hair flowed down from the crown of his head in bright chesnut locks; his narrow thickset eyebrows rivalled the form of the rain-bow; courage and heroic worth lightened from his eye; his manly brown cheek, tinged with red, glowed with warmth and health; the gently rising upper-lip of his purple mouth seemed to advance for a thrilling kiss; his full calf was big with strength and manly vigour. As soon as the virgin perceived the noble form of the knight, the yet slumbering sensations of love awakened all at once in her soul; she drank deep of joy and rapture from his eyes, and made a solemn vow never to bestow her hand on any other man. She was only much surprised that the form of the handsome knight was unknown and totally new to her. She had never seen him at her court, though there could not easily be found a young cavalier in Brabant who had not frequented it. She therefore carefully observed the colour and bearings of his armour: she stood a whole hour before the mirror, without once taking her eyes off the interesting object it presented; every trait, the whole attitude, and all its peculiarities, were stamped upon her soul.
Meanwhile the antechamber began to buzz: the duenna and damsels grew impatient at their mistress’s delay. She at length unwillingly let fall the curtain of the mirror, opened the door, and running up to her reverend attendant, embraced her affectionately, saying with a smile, ‘I have found him, the man of my heart. Rejoice with me, my dear; the handsomest man in Brabant is mine. My patron, the holy bishop Medardus, has appeared to me this night in a dream, with an husband in his hand appointed for me by Heaven: We have been betrothed to each other in presence of the holy Virgin, and a number of heavenly witnesses.’ This pious lye had been invented off-hand by the beautiful Richilda, for she would not disclose the secret of the magic mirror, and it was not known to any mortal beside herself. The duenna, overjoyed at the determination of her young lady, eagerly enquired who the young prince was, whom Heaven had destined to conduct home so charming a bride. All the maids of the honour pricked up their ears, and guessed some one and some other valiant knight: each imagined she had guessed right, and the name of each supposed happy candidate for matrimony was conveyed in a loud whisper round the circle. But the beautiful Richilda, having mustered her spirits a little together, opened her mouth and said, ‘It is not in my power to tell you the name of my husband, nor do I know where he lives: he is not among the princes and nobles at my court, nor have my eyes every beheld him, but his image is planted in my sould; and when he comes to carry me home, I shall not fail to recognize him.’ The sagacious duenna and the ladies in waiting were surprized at this speech; they supposed it only a stratagem to elude the extorted promise: but she persisted in her declaration to suffer no other husband to be forced upon her, except him whom the pious bishop Medardus had betrothed to her in a dream. By this controversy the knights had been long kept in waiting in the antechamber: they were now admitted to hear the sentence. The fair Richilda arose, delivered an excellent discourse with this apostrophe: ‘Do not suppose, gentlemen, that I address you with words of deceit: I will declare to you the form and bearing of the armour worn by the unknown knight; and perhaps some one here may be able to inform me who and were he is.’
Upon this she described his person from head to foot; adding, ‘His harness is yellow, adorned with azure blue: on his shield a black lion stalks over a field strewed with bleeding hearts: the livery of his sword-knot is the colour of the dawn, peach-bloom and orange yellow.’ When she had done, the Count of Brabant, the heir of the land, took up the word, and said, ‘We are not here, my dear cousin, to argue with you; you have free power to act as you think proper: it is enough for us to know that your pleasure is honourably to dismiss us, and no longer to feed us with false hopes–for this you are entitled to our thanks. As to the noble knight seen by you in a dream, and of whom you imagine that he is destined by Heaven to be your wedded husband, I will not conceal from you that I know him well, being, as he is, my vassal; for by your description, and the marks of his armour, and the colour of his liver, he can be no other than Earl Gornbald of Lowen; but he is already married, and so cannot by yours.’ At these words the Countess turned pale, and was ready to sink: she had not conceived that her mirror could play her so false as to exhibit a man whose lawful love she could not enjoy; neither had she the smallest suspicion that the handsomest man in the Brabant could wear any other fetters than her own. Under these circumstances the holy Medardus was severely reflected upon, for thus deceiving his spiritual foster-daughters, and for kindling in their bosom the flames of forbidden love. The Countess however vindicated the honour of her patron saint: she maintained that her vision might have a hidden meaning; it seemed at least to warn her at present against entering into any matrimonial engagement. The suitors therefore withdrew in a body, and then separated various ways; and so the Countess’s court became at once deserted and forlorn.
The hundred tongues of Fame, meantime, spread abroad along all the high roads the strange tidings of the wonderful vision, and at last brought it warm to the ear of Earl Gornbald. This earl was the son of Theobald, surnamed Brother’s Heart, because he bore such affection to his younger brother Botho as to live in uninterrupted harmony with him, and to allow him to partake in all the prerogatives of primogeniture. Both brothers lived together in one castle: their wives loved each other as sisters; and the elder having but one son, and the younger but one daughter, the parents hoped to transmit their friendship to their children, and betrothed them to each other in the cradle. The youthful pair were educated together; and death having early dissolved the original affection of the parents, they framed their wills in such a manner that no other choice was left the children but to marry. They had already lived three years in a state of contented wedlock, and continued the example of their peaceful parents, when Earl Gornbald heard of the wonderful dream of the beautiful Countess. Fame, which magnifies all things, added, that she was so violently enamoured of him as to have vowed to take the veil, because she could not enjoy his affection. Earl Gornbald had hitherto, in the bosom of a peaceful family, and the arms of an amiable wife, tasted only the tranquil joys of domestic happiness; no spark had yet fallen upon the tinder of his passions to inflame them, but on a sudden there sprung up in his heart fierce desires: repose and contentment vanished away; he gave scope to fond wishes, and nourished them secretly with the shameful hope that death would perhaps make a divorce between him and his lady, and restore his freedom. The idea of the beautiful Richilda corrupted the heart of a man before good and virtuous, and made it capable of every crime. Wherever he went or stood, the image of the Countess of Brabant appeared before him: it flattered his pride, to be the only man capable of subduing her scornful heart; his heated imagination painted the possession of her in such glowing colours, that his own wife was thrown entirely into the shade; all love and affection for her were extinguished, and he wished but to be rid of her. She soon observed her lord’s coolness, and redoubled her tenderness towards him: each nod of his was a command to her, but the power of pleasing him had passed away from her for ever. He grew gloomy, morose, and quarrelsome; took every opportunity of absenting himself, roving about his country castles and woods; while the solitary mourner pined and lamented at home so piteously, that a stone would have been melted to compassion.
One day he surprized her as she was indulging an effusion of sorrow: ‘Woman,’ he cried, ‘wherefore art thou always dinning my ears with thy sobbing and whining? What means this hateful screeching owl’s note, which can neither help me nor thyself?’ ‘My dear husband,’ replied the gentle sufferer, ‘leave me my sorrow in peace: I am an afflicted woman, and have good cause to be so, since I have forfeited your love and esteem, without knowing in what I have offended, If ever I have found favour in your sight, tell me, I pray, the cause of your displeasure; so shall I know how to avoid it in future.’ Gornbald was moved by this answer: ‘My good wife,’ said he, taking hold of her hand in confidence, ‘you have offended me in nothing; yet I will not conceal from you what lies heavy on my heart, and what you cannot mend;–our marriage produces scruples that prick my conscience sore; it is, I fear, a crying sin, and shame of blood, from which we cannot be absolved, either in this world or that which is to come–we are married within the forbidden degrees: we are brothers’ children; that is as bad as a marriage between brother and sister; and for it there can neither be absolution nor dispensation. this torments my conscience day and night, and feels like hot burning coals upon my soul.’
In days of yore, while there was yet such a thing as conscience, it was, especially in men of high degree, as delicate, sore, and ticklish, as the membrance called the periosteum, where the slightest scratch occasions violent pain and fever. For though it was very easy to lull conscience asleep and obtund its feeling by the paregoric of the passions, so that you might scrape and chisel it as you had a mind, without its flinching or bleeding more than a dry board–yet it never failed to aware sooner or later, and to occasion heat and twitching and pain under the pericranium. Nor was it ever more irritable than when pressed by a knot of doubt concerning a prohibited degree in marriage. All Christian kings and princes belong, as we well know, to one family; consequently, as they have never been allowed to marry out of the clan, they must needs pair with their cousins and aunts; and as long as the ladies continued young and handsome, the carnal feelings of love lulled every moral feeling into a narcotic slumber. But when my dear cousin began to fade beside her royal bedfellow, or satiety had produced disgust, of some other lady pleased the eye better, the tender conscience of the virtuous husband waked at once, and so pinched and plagued him, that he could neither rest nor sleep till he had bought a letter of divorce from the holy father in Rome: then madam cousin must walk off towards a cloister and yield her place to another, against whom the canon law had no objection. Thus Henry VIII. packed off Catherine of Aragon, his sister-in-law, merely at the instigation of his tender conscience; though he beheaded, with the full concurrence of that same conscience, two of her successors in his bed, under the false pretence of infidelity to his bed. In the same manner history attests, that many other princes and monarchs before him divorced their wives, though no one has since trodden in the pious footsteps of the DEFENDER OF THE FAITH. No wonder then that Earl Gornbald, in conformity to the manners and ideas of his time, felt the corn of his conscience pinch as soon as another amour, more agreeable to his passions, made it tender. His lady might remonstrance as much as ever she pleased: every attempt to quiet her husband’s conscience was labour lost. ‘Ah, my dearest spouse,’ she said, ‘if you have no longer any regard for your unfortunate wife, yet have some compassion on the helpless pledge of your departed love, that now fills my womb: could I but place it in your arms this moment, perhaps you would be moved at its innocence, and give me back your averted heart.’ A stream of bitter tears followed these words; but the husband’s heart of brass felt nothing of the sevenfold sorrow of his wife: he quitted her abruptly, threw himself on his horse, rode to Mecklenburg, to the archbishop; there he bought, with an heavy purse of gold, a letter of divorce, and then cast his loving wife into a nunnery; where she so pined and sorrowed, that her beauty soon faded away. As soon as her hour approached, she brought forth a daughter, which she fondly pressed against her maternal bosom: but the angel of death, who stood near, quickly closed her eyes, so that she did not long enjoy the sight of her lovely babe. Soon afterwards came the Earl, and put the child into the hands of a governess in one of his castles. he left a few maids and dwarfs to attend upon her, and then equipped himself in the most sumptuous manner: for his heart was solely bent upon gaining the beautiful Countess of Brabant.
He arrived in high spirits at the court of Richilda, and threw himself, intoxicated with joy, at her feet. As soon as she saw the glorious man after whom her heart had so long sighed, she felt unspeakable gladness, and from that self-same hour vowed love and constancy to the knight. Her palace changed to an Ida or a Paphos, for the goddess Venus seemed to have transferred her residence thither. In the sweet delirium of enjoyment, amid a succession of the most exquisite pastimes and entertainments, days and years glided away from the happy pair like a pleasant morning dream: and Gornbald and Richilda often vowed to each other, that no greater happiness than they experienced could be enjoyed in the courts of heaven. No wish remained but for the continuance of their mutual bliss, thus unruffled, for ages after ages. But, alas! the fond pair had too little philosophy to be aware that an incessant indulgence in pleasure is the very bane of pleasure, and that this spice of life, taken in too large doses, loses by degrees all relish and flavour. The irritability of the organs of sense, the keen feelings of the joys of life, grown imperceptibly blunt: all enjoyments assume an uniform appearance, and the most studied attempts to vary them cannot hide their insipid sameness. Dame Richilda, in virtue of her wavering disposition, was the first to perceive these inconveniences: she became morose, haughty, cold, and at length grew jealous. Neither did her lord and master any longer feel his former raptures: a kind of spleen weighed heavy on his soul; the glance of love was dimmed in his eyes: that conscience, with which he had heretofore hypocritically sported, began now to remonstrate in a furious manner. Scruples for having murdered his first wife arose; he often named her with regret, and sincere praise: And the proverb says, that is a sign of ill blood in a second marriage, when the virtues of the dear departed wife are too often brought forward. Disputes with dame Richilda often came on the carpet; and he sometimes told her to her face, that she was the author of all his calamities.
‘We can no longer live together,’ said he, as they were carrying on one of their matrimonial debates; ‘my conscience presses me to expiate my sins. I must needs set out on a pilgrimage for Jerusalem, and visit the holy sepulchre, to try whether I can there retrieve repose of heart.’–No sooner said than done. Richilda made but a faint opposition to the proposal. Earl Gornbald prepared for his departure, made his well, took a cold leave, and set forward on his pilgrimage. Before a year had passed, news was brought to Brabant that the Earl had died in Syria of the plague, without the consolation of having expiated his sins at the holy sepulchre. The Countess received these tidings with great composure of mind; she nevertheless observed strictly all the rules of decorum: she wept, mourned, half smothered herself in crape, and caused a sumptuous monument to be erected to her departed lord of beloved memory, on which weeping genii, with torches extinguished, and urns full of tears, appeared in throngs. A sly observer of mankind has however long since remarked, that young widows are like green wood, which burns at one end, while the water oozes out by drops at the other. The heart of the Countess Richilda could not long remain without employment; and mourning so heightened her charms, that multitudes crouded to behold the lovely widow. Many knights of adventure repaired to her court to try their fortune in fishing for the rich prize: she found plenty of adorers, and the court parasites were soon brought into wind again on the subject of her beauty. All this bustle of flattery gave great satisfaction to the vain woman: bus as she would fain be certain that the finger of time, in the course of fifteen years, had not rubbed out any of her charms, she consulted her faithful adviser, the magic mirror. But what was her horror and dismay, when, upon drawing up the silken curtain, a strange form appeared before her eyes, beautiful as one of the Graces, full of softness and innocence, the most lovely of female angels!–but of herself the image had not one trait. The beautiful widow fell into a paroxysm of rage at this unexpected answer; and the mirror was very near paying dear for its indiscretion;–neither ought you to blame the lady too harshly, supposing she had taken severe vengeance; for when a woman has no other talent except her beauty, she can never be so deeply mortified, as when the unflattering friend on the toilette announces the irrecoverable loss of that which constituted the sole value of her existence.
Dame Richilda, inconsolable on account of her new discovery, conceived a mortal hatred against the innocent beauty, whom she found in possession of the prerogative she had arrogated to herself. She impressed the lovely features deep on her memory, and enquired with great diligence after the possessor of them. The discovery cost but little trouble: she soon found by the description that her step-daughter Blanca had carried off from her the palm of beauty. Satan immediately insinuated into her hear the idea of destroying this fair blossom, which might have adorned the garden of Eden itself. With this purpose the cruel woman sent for Sambul, the court physician: After giving him a preserved pomegranate apple, and counting fifty pieces of gold into his hand, she said, ‘Prepare this apple for me in such a way, that one half shall be perfectly harmless, while the other is so impregnated with poison, that whosoever eats of it may die in a few moments.’ The Jew stroked his beard, and with great complacency stowed the gold in his purse, promising to do as the bad woman had commanded him. He took a sharp needle, bored three holes in the pomegranate apple, and poured a strong liquor into them. As soon as the Countess had got the prepared apple into her possession, she mounted her steed, and with few attendants trotted to the remote castle where the virgin, her daughter Blanca, resided. On her way she sent off a messenger before, to say that the Countess Richilda was on the road to visit the young lady, and to weep with her over the loss of her father.
This message set the whole castle into an uproar: the corpulent duenna waddled about the house, up stairs and down, set all the brooms in motion, had the floors scrubbed, the cobwebs destroyed, the dining-room set in order, and the kitchen heated as hot as an oven: she pushed and scolded the lazy maids; bawled out her orders with fierce impatience, like the captain of a privateer when he snuffs a rich merchant-man afar off; but Blanca modestly dressed herself in the colour of innocence, and when she heard the horses trotting up to the gates, flew out to meet her mother, and received her with great respect and affection. At the very first sight the Countess found the original seven times more beautiful than the copy in the mirror, and withal so prudent, so sensible, and so accomplished! All this weighed heavy on her heart: but the snake concealed her poison deep in her bosom, made a shew of friendship, complained of the hard-hearted papa, for depriving her, during his life-time, of the charming society of her daughter; and promised from this time forth to treat her with true maternal affection. The dwarfs soon set the tables, and served up a sumptuous dinner. At the desert the housekeeper sent in the finest fruit from the castle garden; nevertheless Richilda found it insipid, and ordered her servants to bring her a pomegranate apple, a fruit with which, as she said, she was accustomed to close every meal. The servant presented it on a silver salver; she divided it with great grace, and offered half to the beautiful Blanca, in token of her affection. As soon as the pomegranate apple was eaten, the mother set out with her attendants, and rode homewards. Not long after her departure, a pain came across the heart of the young lady, her rosy cheeks grew pale, every limb of her delicate frame quivered, her nerves twitched and started, her fair eyes became dim, and closed in the endless sleep of death.
Alas! what sorrow and heart-breaking rent the walls of the castle, upon the death of the beautiful Blanca, who had been plucked in her fairest bloom by an audacious hand, like a rose with its hundred leaves, merely because she was the ornament of the garden! The decent duenna rained showers of tears, like a swolen sponge, when all its moisture is pressed out by a violent squeeze. The joiner dwarfs made a coffin of deal, with silver plates and handles; and, that they might not be at once deprived of the sight of their beloved mistress, they fixed a glass window in the top; the maids prepared a shroud of the finest Brabant linen, dressed the corpse in it, placed the crown of virginity, a chaste garland of myrtles, on the head, and with funereal pomp carried the bier into the chapel, where the father sacristan took charge of the soul, and sounded the mournful muffled bell from morning till the late hour of midnight.
Meantime Donna Richilda arrived well-pleased at her place of residence. The first thing she did was to repeat her question to the mirror: when she had drawn up the curtain with fear and trembling, she beheld, with heartfelt satisfaction and a face of triumph, her own image reinstated, but large spots of rust had settled on the burnished surface, and deformed it, as the pits and seams of the small-pox a virgin’s countenance. ‘Where is the harm of that?’–thought the Countess to herself–‘better they should be on the mirror than my face: it may still serve for a looking-glass and renders me secure of my prerogative.’ We commonly first learn to value a good thing properly, when we are on the eve of losing it. The beautiful Richilda had often suffered years to pass away without questioning the mirror; now she did no omit a single day. She repeatedly enjoyed the pleasure of offering a sacrifice to the idol of her own beauty; but one day, as she drew the curtain for this very purpose, there appeared again–O wonder upon wonders!–before her eyes; the form and features of the beautiful Blanca. At this sight a fainting fit came fast upon the envious woman; but she took out her smelling-bottle just in time, and the qualm passed off by the help of the harthorn. She mustered all her strength, to look whether her fancy had deceived her, but was soon satisfied that there was no illusion in the café.
She immediately set to hatch a new scheme of villainy. Sambul, the court physician, was summoned, and thus addressed by the Countess, in a tone of great anger: ‘Thou shameless deceiver! thou perverse Jew! dost thou hold me so cheap as to dare tomock me? Did I not desire thee so to prepare a pomegranate apple, that to eat it should be instant death? and hast thou not charged it with balsam of life? For this they traitor’s beard and Jew’s ears shall assuredly pay.’ Sambul the physician, much terrified at this address from his mistress, thus answered and said: ‘Ah, woe is me! what evil has befallen me? for I know not how I have incurred your displeasure, gracious lady: what you ordered I have punctually performed; if my art has failed, I myself am innocent of the cause.’ The lady seemed to be somewhat pleased by this answer, and proceeded: ‘For this time thy crime shall be forgiven thee, under condition that thou prepares me an odoriferous soap, which shall infallibly perform what the pomegranate apple has failed to do.’ The physician promised his utmost, and she again counted out to him fifty pieces of gold, and dismissed him. In a few days he brought the Countess a deadly composition. She immediately furnished out her nurse, a craft woman, with a box of pedlar’s wares, fine yarn, thread, needles, scented pomatum, smelling-bottles, and marbled soap-balls with red and blue veins, and bade her go to her daughter Blanca forthwith, and try to pass the poisoned soap into her hands, for which she promised her a great reward. The venal creature repaired t the young lady, who, unsuspicious of fraud, suffered herself to be persuaded to buy the soap, which, as the woman said, would preserve the beauty of the skin to extreme old age. She ventured to make a trial of it without the knowledge of her duenna. Meantime the base step-mother assiduously consulted the rusty mirror, and conjectured, from its condition, that her plan must have succeeded, for the spots had spread over the whole surface, just as if it had been corroded by aqua fortis; and only an indistinct shadow, which could not be referred to any person, appeared upon the dull face. The loss of the mirror went to her heart; but she did not think it too dear a purchase for the reputation of being the first beauty in the country.
The empty woman enjoyed for a time this imaginary satisfaction, till a stranger knight arrived at her court, who, during his journey, had stopped at the Countess Blanca’s castle, where he had found her, not in the burying vault, but at her toilette, and was so charmed by her beauty as to choose her for the lady of his heart. Desirous to amuse the Countess of Brabant, and to shew himself off in the lists, and never imagining that the mother could be jealous of her daughter, he threw his iron glove down upon the table at a feast when he was warm with wine, adding, ‘Whoever refuses to acknowledge Blanca of Lowen for the handsomest lady in Brabant, let him take up the glove, in token that he will break a ferious lance to-morrow for the honour of a knight.’ The whole court was highly scandalized at this inaccuracy of the Gascon: each styled him secretly Sir Blockhead and Knight Gander. Richilda turned pale, on hearing Blanca was come to life again: the challenge was a mortal wound to her heart; yet she forced a gracious smile, and approved the defiance, in hopes that the knights of her court would all eagerly snatch at the glove. But no one advancing, for the stranger had an hardy look was firm built and had large raw bones, she drew a dismal face, and all present could perceive her secret vexation. This melted her faithful seneschal so that he took up the iron glove: but at the morrow’s tilt the Gascon, after an hard match, obtained the victory, and received his knightly recompence from the hands of Richilda, who was on the point of dying with chagrin.
She first discharged her rage on the physician Sambul: he was thrown into a tower, and put in chains. Without further hearing, the merciless woman had his reverend beard plucked out hair by hair, and both his hears clipped close to his head. After the violence of her first storm was over, and the step-mother had considered that her daughter Blanca would nevertheless triumph over her, unless she should succeed in cutting her off by fraud–for her father’s will had deprived her of all power over his daughter–she wrote to the young lady in as tender a strain, and testified as much maternal joy for her recovery, as if every letter had been dictated by the heart. This letter she gave to her confidante the nurse, ordering her to carry it to the imprisoned doctor, with a billet, wherein these words were written: ‘Enclose in this letter death and perdition for the person that first opens it. As thou valuest thy life, beware of deceiving me a third time.’ Sambul the Jew hesitated what he should do, and for a while fingered the chain with a thoughtful air, as if he was repeating his Jewish Pater Nosters link by link. At last the love of life, though in a gloomy dungeon, with an head clipped of ears, and a chin without a beard, seemed to outweigh all other considerations, and he promised to obey. The Countess sent off the letter by a well-mounted post, who made many grimaces at his arrival, as if to intimate that the letter contained wonderful tidings, but he would not tell whence he came. The young lady, eager to learn the contents, hastily broke the seal, read a few lines, fell lifeless backwards upon the sopha, closed her azure eyes, and gave up the ghost. The bloody step-mother afterwards heard no more of her daughter; and though she often dispatched messengers to enquire, they constantly brought word back that the young lady never more awaked out of her deadly sleep.
Thus had beautiful Blanca been thrice destroyed, and thrice buried, in consequence of the snares of this odious woman. After the dwarfs of her court had the first time laid her in her long home, and the prayers and masses for her soul were appointed, they kept constant watch along with the maids beside the vault, and often peeped through the window in the coffin, in order to enjoy the sight of their beloved mistress, till corruption should destroy her form: but to their astonishment they perceived that in a few days the pale cheeks were tinged with gentle red, the withered lips began to glow again, and soon afterwards the young lady opened her eyes. As soon as the attendants perceived this, they joyfully removed the coffin-lid; the beautiful Blanca arose, and silently wondered at seeing herself in a burying vault, and her attendants in deep mourning. She hastily quitted the dreary mansion, and like Eurydice tottered with trembling knees from the realm of shadows the reviving light of day.
Doctor Sambul was in fact a pious Isrealite, in whom was no guile, except when a sort of predilection for the noble metals a little stretched the folds of his narrow conscience. The pomegranate apple given him by the Countess brought to his mind Eve’s unfortunate apple in Paradise, as also the golden apple from the garden of Herperides, which introduced contention between three goddesses, and proved the ruin of a noble metropolis.–‘This,’ thinks he to himself, ‘is surely mischief enough to be done in the world by a brace of apples; the third shall not increase the guilt of the apple tribe.’ Instead therefore of the poison, which he was bid to conceal in it, he only impregnated one half with a narcotic essence, that benumbed the senses without destroying life. In the same manner he proceeded the second time with the ball of soap, only increasing the quantity of opium; so that as the lady did not awake so soon as at first, the dwarfs conceived she was stone dead. They therefore carried her to the grave, and carefully watched over her, till she revived, to the great joy of her household.
Blanca’s guardian angel perceived the danger which threatened the life of his foster-daughter, when the fear of death made the physician actually resolve to commit the crime required of him. He therefore slipt unseen into the dungeon, and entered into a violent conflict with the Jew’s soul, in which, after an hard wrestling match, he proved victorious, and extorted from the vanquished spirit the resolution to sacrifice the neck of the Jew’s body to his conscientiousness, with as much firmness as he had done his beard and both his ears. By virtue of his chemical skill, the Israelite reduced the quintessence of the benumbing liquor into a volatile salt, which should be immediately dissolved and absorbed by the open air, with this he besmeared the letter to the beautiful Blanca: As she read it, the whole atmosphere around her acquired a stupefying quality, so that she all the while inhaled the exalted spirit of opium with her breath. The effect was so violent, that the apparent death of the body remained longer than ever; and the impatient duenna, in total despair of the resurrection of her young lady, performed her exequies a third time.
While the household was busy in this mournful office, the funeral bell tolling all the while, a young pilgrim came up to the mourners: he went into the chapel, kneeled down before the altar, and performed his devotions. His name was Godfrey of Ardenne; he was of Teutebald the Bloodthirsty, against whom holy mother church had thundered an anathema and spurned him from her bosom: he died under the curse, and was therefore well singed in the flames of purgatory. Feeling far more warm than comfortable in his birth, he earnestly solicited the angel at the gate to let him out a little to breathe some fresh air, and to inform his friends what torments he was suffering. The petition was readily granted, on his promise to return at an appointed hour: for in those days the police of the world below was very lax; the souls of the departed roamed in shoals about this upper world, paid nocturnal visits to the relations whom they had left behind, and were at perfect liberty to chat with them during pleasure. Now-a-days they are kept close penned up, and are not suffered to go rambling abroad, to the terror and molestation of the living. Teutebald made the best possible use of his furlough; he appeared three successive nights to his virtuous widow, waked her out of a comfortable nap by touching the back of her hand with the tip of his red-hot finger, and said, ‘My dear wife, have pity upon your poor departed husband, who is enduring the pains of the antechamber of hell: reconcile me to the holy church, and release my miserable soul, so shall mercy be shewn to you hereafter.’ The widow took these words to heart, gave her son an account of the vision, presented him with jewels and precious stones; and the dutiful youth took the pilgrim’s staff in his hand, walked barefoot to Rome, and obtained a dispensation for his father, under condition that he should hear mass at every church on his way home. he took a wide ciruit, in order to visit the greater number of holy places, and so he passed through Brabant.
When the pious pilgrim had discharged his vow, and dropped a charitable donation into the poor’s box, he asked the brother sacristan why the chapel was hung in black, and what all this apparatus of sorrow signified. The sacristan explained to him every thing at length that had happened to the beautiful Blanca, through the wicked snares of her step-mother. Thereupon Godfrey marvelled greatly, and said, ‘If it be permitted to see the lady’s corpse, lead me forthwith to the vault. With God’s leave, I may perhaps recall her to life, if her soul be yet in her body. I have a relic from the hands of the holy father,–it is a splinter from Elisha’s staff,–which destroys sorcery, and repels every invasion of the right of nature.’ The sacristan instantly brought him to the watchful dwarfs, and they rejoiced exceedingly at the words of the pilgrim: they conducted him into the vault, and Godfrey was charmed at the sight of the beautiful alabaster statue through the glass window in the coffin. The lid being taken off, he ordered all the mourners but the dwarfs to withdraw; pulled out his relic, and laid it on the heart of the then clay-cold damsel. In a few moments the breath of life returned into the pale and wan body. The virgin wondered much at seeing the youthful stranger before her; and the overjoyed dwarfs took the wonder-working man for an angel of heaven. Godfrey declared to the awakened Blanca who he was, and the reason of his pilgrimage: she in turn related her misfortunes, and the persecutions of her relentless step-mother. ‘You will never,’ said Godfrey, ‘escape the fangs of the venomous spider, unless you follow my counsel:–Remain yet awhile in this vault that it may not be spread abroad that you are alive. I will compleat my pilgrimage, and return forthwith, carry you to my mother at Ardenne, and, if God permit, take vengeance on your murderess.’ The counsel was well-pleasing to the beautiful Blanca: the noble pilgrim took his leave, and said in feigned words to the household that crowded round him as he came forth, ‘The corpse of your mistress will never grow warm again: the fountain of life is dried up–gone is gone, and dead is dead!’–The faithful dwarfs, who were in the secret, kept close their lips: they provided their lady with meat and drink in private, kept watch as before over the grave, and waited anxiously for the return of the pilgrim.
Godfrey made haste to Ardenne, embraced his mother, and feeling tired by his journey, went early to bed, and quickly and lightly fell asleep, with his head full of the beautiful Blanca. His father appeared to him in a dream, and said, with a chearful countenance, that he was released out of purgatory, and announced success in the undertaking he meditated. Early in the morning Godfrey equipped himself as a knight, called his squires to him, begged his mother’s blessing, and set off. He speedily performed his journey; and hearing the funeral bell tolling in the castle of the beautiful Blanca at the hour of midnight, he alighted, threw his pilgrim’s garment over his armour, and performed his devotions in the chapel. The dwarfs on the look-out no sooner beheld the pilgrim kneeling before the altar, than they ran down into the vault to bear the glad tidings to their lady. She cast off her shroud, and when mass was over, and the sacristan and priest had hurried out of the chill church to their warm beds, the charming maid ascended from the habitation of the dead, with joyous heart-beating, as the blessed will arise out of the dark mansion of the grave at the last trump. But when the virtuous maiden found herself in the arms of a young man, fear and terror fell upon her; and she said, with a bashful and blushing countenance, ‘Take heed what you do, young man; question your heart whether it be upright, or a deceiver: if you abuse the confidence I repose in your, Heave, be assured, will pursue you with its vengeance.’ The knight modestly replied, ‘ I call the holy Virgin to witness the purity of my intentions; and may the curse of God overtake me, if one evil thought dwell in my soul!’ Thereupon Blanca mounted behind him in confidence, and Godfrey conducted her to Ardenne to his mother, who received her with the utmost tenderness, and watched over her as carefully as though she had been her own daughter. The soft sympathetic feelings of love soon awaked between the hearts of the youthful knight and the beautiful Blanca: the affectionate mother and the whole court concurred in wishing to see the mutual affection of the noble pair sealed, as soon as possible, by the holy sacrament of marriage. But Godfrey remembered that he had promised his mistress vengeance: he therefore left his residence amid the wedding preparations, and repaired to Brabant to the Countess Richilda, who was still busied about her second choice; but being no longer able to obtain the advice of the mirror, had never come to a resolution.
As soon as Godfrey of Ardenne arrived at court, his fine person drew upon him the Countess’s eyes, and she preferred him to all the nobles. He styled himself the Knight of the Tomb, and this was all she had to object to him: she wished him a more agreeable title; for life had still so many charms for her, that the thought of the grave always threw her into a fit of shuddering. She, however, contrived to interpret the appellation of the knight of Ardenne as referring to the holy sepulchre: she supposed him to have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; and so, without any further enquiry, let him pass for Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. After she had held a council with her heart concerning the budding passion, she found Sir Godfrey to predominate over all and singular the errantry that came and went; and so she set about to entangle him in the deceitful meshes of coquettry. She was well skilled in the art of renovating the charms of youth: what was withered she laboured to conceal, and she buried what was departed in a delicate shroud of the finest Brussels lace. Meantime she did not fail to make the most alluring advances towards her Endymion. She tried to spur him on by every kind of stratagem. She now put on the stately robe, richer than Dame Juno is accustomed to wear on gala-days on the lofty mount Olympus; she now tripped light as one of the Graces, in a seducing dishabille; sometimes she contrived a tête-à-tête beside a fountain in the pleasure garden, where marble Naiads dashed, from their urns, a silver stream into the capacious bason; sometimes it was a confidential promenade, arm in arm, beneath the light of the friendly moon, poured through an arch of melancholy yew that over-spread the walk; and sometimes she would try, in the shady bower, to move by her lute the tenderest strings in the heart of the listening knight to a kindred vibration.
One time Godfrey, during a sentimental interview, hastily clasped her knees in a seeming transport: ‘Cease,’ said he, ‘cease, cruel fair, to rend my heart by your powerful spells, and excite slumbering desires that bewilder my brain: hopeless love is more bitter far than death.’ Richilda raised him, with a gentle smile, in her snowy arms, and replied, with soft persuasive accent. ‘Why so despairing, poor hopeless youth: are you too inexperienced to feel the sympathies of love that flow towards you, wave after wave, from my bosom? Receive then the confession from my mouth, since the language of the heart is unintelligible to you. What hinders us to unite the fortunes of our lives?’ ‘Alas!’ said Godfrey, sighing and pressing Richilda’s velvet hand to his lips, ‘your kindness transports me: but you know not the vow by which I am bound, to receive no wife but from my mother’s hand, and not even to quit this affectionate parent till I have performed the last filial duties, and closed her dying eyes. Can you not resolve, dear mistress of my heart, to leave your court, and follow me to Ardenne, and make me the happiest of mankind?’–The Countess took little time to consider; she consented to all her inamorato desired. She did not indeed much relish the proposal of quitting Brabant, and least of all the mother-in-law, whom she considered as a burthensome appendage;–but love overcomes all things.
The bridal procession was got ready in great haste; the persons to attend her were appointed, and Sambul the physician, beardless and without ears as he was, paraded among the train. The sly Richilda had taken off his fetters, and graciously restored him to the rank of a favourite, for she hoped by his help, in good time, to make out a passport for the worthy old lady to heaven, and then to return with her husband to Brabant. The venerable matron received her son and supposed daughter with courtly etiquette. She seemed highly to approve the choice of the Knight of the Tomb, and every means to hasten the nuptials were put in practice. The happy day arrived, and dame Richilda, habited like the queen of the fairies, moved into the saloon where the ceremony was to be performed, ardently wishing that hours had wings. Meantime a page entered, and whispered something into the bridegroom’s ear with a suspicious air. Godfrey clapped his hands together in seeming horror, and said aloud, ‘Hapless youth! who shall open the dance with thee on they nuptial day, now a bloodthirsty hand has murdered they bride?’ He then turned to the Countess, and said, ‘Know, beautiful Richilda, that I had given a dower to twelve virgins, who were to advance to the wedding altar along with us; and the fairest among them has been murdered, our of jealousy, by an unnatural mother: say what punishment this shocking crime demands?’ Richilda, chagrined at an accident that seemed to delay her wishes, or at least to cast a gloom over the auspicious day, said with displeasure, ‘Oh, frightful deed! the cruel mother deserve, in the place of her she has murdered, to open the bridal dance with the unhappy youth in red-hot iron shoes. This would be balm for the wounds of his hear; for revenge, like love, is sweet.’ ‘Amen! a righteous sentence,’ returned Godfrey, ‘so be it!’–The whole court applauded the Countess’s just judgment; and the witlings presumed to declare, one and all, that the queen who went to Solomon for a cargo of wisdom, could not have pronounced a better decree.
In a moment the lofty folding-doors of the neighbouring apartment, where the altar was erected, flew open; there appeared the female angel, the beautiful Blanca, attired in wedding robes; as she leaned upon one of the twelve virgins, she looked at the terrible step-mother, but cast down her eyes immediately. Richilda’s blood stopped in her veins;–she sank to the ground, as it struck her sense–and the she lay, motionless and stiff. But the smelling-bottles of the ladies of the court quickly poured such a shower of spirit of lavender over her, that her vital spirits collected themselves again, sore against her will. Then the Knight of the Tomb addressed a sermon to her, of which every word cut her to the soul; after which he led the beautiful Blanca to the alter, where the bishop, in his lawn sleeves, joined the charming pair, together with the twelve apportioned virgins and their lovers.
The ceremony being ended, the whole bridal train moved into the ball-room. The blacksmith dwarfs had in the mean time forged, with great speed and dexterity, a pair of shoes of burnished steel: they now carried them to the hearth, shovelled up the coals, and heated the shining slippers to a bright cherry red. Then Gunzelin, the stout Gascon knight, came forward to open the ball with the viper; and, though she earnestly declined the honour, neither prayers nor struggles were of the least avail. He took her up in his sinewy arms, the dwarfs fitted on the gloweing shoes, and Gunzelin skimmed her so rapidly along the floor, that the boards hissed as he moved on, and her delicate feet were so well singed as never afterwards to be troubled with corns; meantime the musicians blew so loud a blast with their horns, that all her wailing and weeping was drowned by the boisterous tune. After many a cut and caper, the nimble knight turned his partner, who had never danced so warm a hornpipe before, clear out of the room down stairs, into a dark dungeon, where the sinner had time and leisure enough to repent of her sins. Sambul the physician quickly boiled a precious salve, which cured the blisters, and eased her pain.
Godfrey of Ardenne and the beautiful Blanca lived as happy as Adam and Eve in Paradise; they amply rewarded Sambul the physician, who, contrary to the practice of his colleagues, refused to kill where he safely might. Moreover, his integrity was recorded in heaven for a blessing. His race flourishes still, after an hundred generations: one of his posterity, the Jew Samuel Sambul, stands exalted, like a cedar of the house of Israel, in the presence of his Majesty the Emperor of Morocco; and in the character of prime minister he lives to this day, in happiness and honour, bating a few bastinadoes on the soles of his feet.
 Beckford’s translation includes the tales: ‘Richilda; or, the Progress from Vanity to Vice’, ‘The Chronicles of the Three Sisters’, ‘The Stealing of the Veil; or, the Tale a la Mongolfier’, ‘Elfin Freaks; or, the Seven Legends of Number-Nip’ and ‘The Nymph of the Fountain’.
 Carlyle’s translation includes the tales: ‘Dumb Love’, ‘Libussa’, and ‘Melechsala’.
 In the Musäus, this rhyme is given as: Spiegel blink, Spiegel blank, / Goldner Spiegel an der Wand, / Zeig mir an die schönste Dirn in Brabant. This is one of the rare moments when Beckford’s translation is quite loose. I would translate this rhyme as something more like: Flashing mirror, blank mirror, / Golden mirror on the wall, / Show me the most beautiful maid in Brabant.
[…] ‘Richilde’ by Johann Karl August Musäus, or maybe his ‘Der geraubte Schleier’ (The Stolen Veil – link is to the tale in German. I’m working on a translation!), which is said to be one of the sources of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake. Both tales were first published in German (1782-1786) in his Volksmärchen der Deutschen. Like the Grimms, he was a collector rather than a writer (like Andersen), but took even more liberties with the works he collected than the infamous brothers. His works are, to an extent, much more like contemporary literary fairy tales in the way that they borrow, mix, and hybridise sources into new works. […]
[…] Historia. In an earlier post I shared a translation of another of the tales from this collection, ‘Richilde’, an early Snow White […]
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You're welcome! I hope you enjoyed it! I hope to find time to share some more pre-Grimm tales over the next few months--let me know if there's a particular tale you're seeking.
[…] Richilde by Johann Karl August Musaus (Translated by William Thomas Beckford) […]