Arthur’s Hall was located in the city of Danzig, but it would not have been out of place on Wall Street. It was a bustling place of business where stocks were bought and sold.
Interesting paintings adorned the walls of Arthur’s Hall. For example, the virtues and vices were given concrete representations. Seductive ladies symbolized the latter.
Herr Traugott was gazing intently at a picture of a grave man on horseback. A handsome youth was holding the bridle and leading the horse. Even though he was supposed to be writing an important letter to a businessman in Hamburg, he kept gazing at the picture. By the close of the day, he had made an admirable sketch of the painting on the paper on which he had started to write the business letter.
Suddenly, Traugott heard someone complimenting his sketch. When Traugott wheeled about, he thought that they were the same grave gentleman and handsome youth whom he had been drawing.
After the two strangers disappeared from view, Herr Elias Roos approached him. Traugott and Roos had a special relationship with one another. Traugott had invested 50,000 thalers in the business of Elias Roos. Moreover, he was engaged to Christina, the daughter of Roos. After the marriage, the two men would become business partners.
When Elias learned that he had not sent the business letter, he was upset. Traugott’s negligence had cost them 10,000 thalers.
The gentleman who had complimented Traugott’s sketch saved the day. He was about to send a courier to Hamburg. The courier would take the letter that Roos wished to send, and it would arrive at its destination quickly.
While Elias Roos was writing the letter, the grave gentleman told Traugott that he had real talent. He thought that Traugott should be an artist rather than a businessman. He liked to collect sketches, so he took the paper out of Traugott’s hands and put it into his pocket.
Elias invited the two helpful strangers and Traugott to his home. After Christina served them some soup, they took a walk and conversed. The grave gentleman expressed the opinion that Traugott should devote himself exclusively to art.
Traugott later conversed in private with the younger stranger, whom he thought was the nephew of the older gentleman. He advised Traugott not to devote himself exclusively to painting. The young man thoroughly appreciated art, but he thought that a dilettante who earned a comfortable living was capable of a greater enjoyment of art than someone who made painting his profession and became poor in the process.
Traugott did not agree with these sentiments. His experiences with the painting that he had sketched were electrifying, and he became dissatisfied with his existence. He did not wish to continue working in the office of Elias Roos, where his only goal was to amass an ever increasing heap of money. He wanted to become an artist.
He took out the sketches that he had previously drawn. He liked them better than he did before. He even admired one that he had drawn when he was a kid.
The next morning he looked at his drawings again. This time they did not look so good. He decided that his previous day’s experiences were nothing but momentary excitement. He went back to the office and worked diligently.
As his wedding day approached, Traugott felt miserable. He felt that he was irrevocably bidding farewell to the hopes that he had once cherished.
Another visit by the two strangers altered his mental outlook. They had approached a broker to sell some stock that they owned. Its current price was ridiculously low. Traugott knew that the price of the stocks would soon go up. He offered to buy the stock at its current price and pay them additional money when its price went up. He was planning to give them the extra money out of his own pocket.
The next time that the two strangers came to Arthur’s Hall, Traugott kept his promise. This time he commented on their resemblance to the two figures in the painting that he had sketched.
In reply, the elderly gentleman introduced himself. He was the German painter Godefredus Berklinger, and he claimed that it was he who had painted the pictures on the wall of Arthur’s Hall.
Traugott’s initial reaction was amazement. However, he soon remembered that the wall paintings were more than 200 years old. He concluded that the old man was suffering some kind of delusion.
Berklinger continued to say irrational things. He speculated that a gentleman who had conversed with him while working at the wall paintings might have been King Arthur himself.
The young man interrupted his foolish talk. He said that his father was an artist who had few equals and invited Traugott to come to their home and inspect his paintings.
When Traugott visited Berklinger’s home, the elderly artist was looking at an empty canvas and imagining that it was a painting that he had just completed. After raving for awhile, he fell into a swoon.
The young man apologetically excused his father. Then he conducted Traugott to an adjacent room and showed him the excellent paintings that Berklinger had painted while he was still a productive artist. They were excellent scenes taken from real life.
Just before leaving the room where Berklinger’s art collection was located, the attention of Traugott was attracted by a portrait of a young lady. He immediately fell in love with her and wanted to know where he could find her. The young man tried to avoid answering the question and finally claimed that she was his unhappy sister Felicia, who was gone forever.
When the elderly painter awoke from his swoon, Traugott asked him to instruct him in the art of painting. So Traugott visited the painter’s home every day.
At Arthur’s Hall, Traugott began to work carelessly and finally stayed away from the office altogether on the grounds that he was suffering a lingering illness. The date of the wedding was postponed.
Elias suspected that Traugott’s disaffection might be due to misbehavior on the part of Christina. He had noticed that his bookkeeper always showed a friendly affection for the girl. He investigated but came to no conclusions. The only reason why he did not dismiss Traugott was the fact that the latter had invested 50,000 thalers in the business.
Traugott wanted to develop a friendship with Berklinger’s son, since he looked just like Felicia. However, Berklinger always interrupted when he tried to converse with the young man.
Finally, Traugott learned their deep, dark secret. One day, he had to stay longer than usual at Arthur’s Hall, and he arrived at Berklinger’s home later than usual. No one was in the room where he normally had his art lessons, so he went to the adjoining room. To his surprise, Felicia was there. He responded with obvious delight.
Berklinger called Traugott a miserable wretch and said: “Do you mean to murder me?” He then ejected Traugott from the house.
Filled with uncontrollable passion, Traugott returned to Berklinger’s home early the next morning. However, its residents had left. No one knew where they had gone.
In despair, Traugott rushed home. He was living in a room in the residence of Elias, so Elias heard him as he bewailed the departure of his beloved.
Elias jumped to the conclusion that Christina had jilted him. While Elias was raging at the presumed infidelity of his daughter, Christina came and calmly asked him what was wrong. After a moment of perplexity, Elias told his daughter to go to her betrothed and comfort him.
Because of his disappointment, he resolved to return to the office and to marry Christina. A new date was set for the wedding.
On the day before the wedding, he was not looking forward with eager anticipation to the happy event. While harboring such negative thoughts, something happened that made him break his marriage promise, discontinue his work at Arthur’s Hall, and leave the city of Danzig.
He happened to see the broker to whom Berklinger had been trying to sell his stock. In the ensuing conversation, the broker informed Traugott that Berklinger was living with his daughter at Sorrento. He explained that the young man who always accompanied him was actually a girl. Since it had been prophesied that Berklinger would die a terrible death if his daughter ever got married, he always pretended that she was a boy to keep suitors away.
A passionate frenzy seized the mind of Traugott. He broke his engagement in an insulting manner and told Elias that he would never enter his office again. Then he traveled to Italy.
Before going to Sorrento, he associated himself with a colony of German painters in Rome. As he enjoyed himself amid such kindred spirits, his ardor for Felicia faded somewhat, but she remained the constant inspiration for his paintings. His female figures regularly bore her features.
After he had been in Rome for several months, an elderly painter named Matuszewski claimed that he had seen the girl whose features Traugott was continually painting. He had seen her in the city of Rome.
Traugott was delighted. He told his friends what had brought him to Italy. They all promised to help him find the girl. Matuszewski eventually succeeded. He informed Traugott that she was the daughter of a poor old painter, so Traugott was convinced that the girl was indeed Felicia.
Matuszewski first brought Traugott to a church, the wall of which the girl’s father was painting. From a distance, Traugott thought that the painter looked like Berklinger.
Without talking to the father, Matuszewski took Traugott to the painter’s home. When Traugott saw her on the balcony, he thought she was Felicia and alarmed the girl with his passionate cries. On closer inspection, Traugott realized that he was mistaken. She looked just like Felicia, but it was not she.
While Matuszewski soothed the spirit of the frightened girl, Traugott noticed her features and found them interesting. Her name was Dorina.
After regaining her composer, Dorina suggested that they wait for her father to return. He would like to meet some German painters. When he arrived, Traugott realized that he bore no resemblance to Berklinger.
Dorina obviously liked Traugott, and he returned her affection. He spent a lot of time with the elderly painter and his daughter. He even transferred his studio to an apartment next to theirs.
Traugott entertained contradictory thoughts. To him, Felicia seemed to be an inspiring ideal. He had trouble picturing her as his wife. In contrast, he longed to enjoy domestic life with Dorina as his wife. However, he thought that he would be unfaithful to his first love if he married Dorina.
Dorina’s father did not conceal the fact that he expected Traugott to marry his daughter. In fact, he would not have allowed Traugott to associate so freely with her if he had not considered the marriage a settle thing.
As time passed and Traugott took no steps to effect a betrothal with Dorina, her father became more and more uncomfortable. Finally, he issued an ultimatum. He told Traugott either to marry Dorina or leave.
Though it grieved him to leave Dorina, he traveled southward to Sorrento to look for Felicia. He searched diligently, but he found no trace of Berklinger or his daughter. Finally, he gave up and devoted himself to his art in the city of Naples. His personal interest in Felicia dimmed, but she continued to be his ideal when painting.
After a while, he had to return to Danzig. Elias had died. His bookkeeper, who had married Christina, took over the business. Since Traugott had invested 50,000 thalers in the business, he had to settle accounts with the new owner.
After concluding his business with Christina’s husband, Traugott conversed with the broker who had informed him that Berklinger had gone to Sorrento. He learned that he had misunderstood what the broker had told him. Berklinger had not gone to Sorrento in Italy. He had moved to the villa of Herr Aloysius Brandstetter, their town councillor. Aloysius was accustomed to call his villa Sorrento.
The broker also informed Traugott that Felicia was married. When Brandstetter’s son returned from England, he fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. When she agreed, her father, who happened to overhear the conversation, fell down dead. An artery had burst, and he looked hideous.
After this, Felicia could not endure the sight of Brandstetter. She eventually married Mathesius, the criminal counselor of Marienwerder; so her title was Kriminalräthin Mathesius.
Deeply saddened by the news, Traugott rushed out of Arthur’s Hall. He refused to believe that Kriminalräthin Mathesius was really Felicia. Felicia was the ideal that inspired his art. As such, he would always have her. He refused to have anything to do with Kriminalräthin Mathesius, a title that was utterly inconsistent with his ideal.
As he was expressing these thoughts, Christina’s husband approached him and handed him a letter. It was from Matuszewski, his elderly friend in Rome. He told Traugott that Dorina longed to see him again. Firmly believing that Traugott would not be untrue to her, she was expecting him to return every hour.
Traugott informed Christina’s husband that he was planning to return to Rome on the following day, since his bride was waiting for him.
Since I do not have access to Hoffmann’s original German, this translation is based on a version presented online by the University of Adelaide.
University of Adelaide: Arthur Hall
Arthur’s Hall eBook