Buddenbrooks Chapter One

On a June afternoon, not long after five o’clock, the family were sitting before the “portal” in the garden, where they had drunk coffee. They had pulled the rustic furniture outside, for it was too close in the white-washed garden house, with its tall mirror decorated with painted birds and its varnished folding doors, which were really not folding doors at all and had only painted latches.

The Consul, his wife, Tony, Tom, and Clothilde sat in a half-circle around the table, which was laid with its usual shining service. Christian, sitting a little to one side, conned the second oration of Cicero against Catiline. He looked unhappy. The Consul smoked his cigar and read the Advertiser. His wife had let her embroidery fall into her lap and sat smiling at little Clara; the child, with Ida Jungmann, was looking for violets in the grass-plot. Tony, her head propped on both hands, was deep in Hoffman’s “Serapion Brethren,” while Tom tickled her in the back of the neck with a grass-blade, an attention which she very wisely ignored. And Clothilde, looking thin and old-maidish in her flowered cotton frock, was reading a story called “Blind, Deaf, Dumb, and Still Happy.” As she read, she scraped up the biscuit-crumbs carefully with all five fingers from the cloth and ate them.

A few white clouds stood motionless in the slowly paling sky. The small town garden, with its carefully laid-out paths and beds, looked gay and tidy in the afternoon sun. The scent of the mignonette borders floated up now and then.

“Well, Tom,” said the Consul expansively, and took the cigar out of his mouth, “we are arranging that rye sale I told you about, with van Henkdom and Company.”

“What is he giving?” Tom asked with interest, ceasing to tickle Tony.

“Sixty thaler for a thousand kilo—not bad, eh?”

“That’s very good.” Tom knew this was excellent business.

“Tony, your position is not comme il faut,” remarked the Frau Consul. Whereat Tony, without raising her eyes from her book, took one elbow off the table.

“Never mind,” Tom said. “She can sit how she likes, she will always be Tony Buddenbrook. Tilda and she are certainly the beauties of the family.”

Clothilde was astonished almost to death. “Good gracious, Tom,” she said. It was inconceivable how she could drawl out the syllables. Tony bore the jeer in silence. It was never any use, Tom was more than a match for her. He could always get the last word and have the laugh on his side. Her nostrils dilated a little, and she shrugged her shoulders. But when the Consul’s wife began to talk of the coming dance at the house of Consul Huneus, and let fall something about new patent leather shoes, Tony took the other elbow off the table and displayed a lively interest.

“You keep talking and talking,” complained Christian fretfully, “and I’m having such a hard time. I wish I were a business man.”

“Yes, you’re always wanting something different,” said Tom. Anton came across the garden with a card on his tray. They all looked at him expectantly.

“Grünlich, Agent,” read the Consul. “He is from Hamburg—an agreeable man, and well recommended, the son of a clergyman. I have business dealings with him. There is a piece of business now.—Is it all right, Betsy, if I ask him to come out here?”

A middle-sized man, his head thrust a little forward of his body, carrying his hat and stick in one hand, came across the garden. He was some two-and-thirty years old; he wore a fuzzy greenish-yellow suit with a long-skirted coat, and grey worsted gloves. His face, beneath the sparse light hair, was rosy and smiling; but there was an undeniable wart on one side of his nose. His chin and upper lip were smooth-shaven; he wore long, drooping side-whiskers, in the English fashion, and these adornments were conspicuously golden-yellow in colour. Even at a distance, he began making obsequious gestures with his broad-brimmed grey hat, and as he drew near he took one last very long step, and arrived describing a half-circle with the upper part of his body, by this means bowing to them all at once.

“I am afraid I am disturbing the family circle,” he said in a soft voice, with the utmost delicacy of manner. “You are conversing, you are indulging in literary pursuits—I must really beg your pardon for my intrusion.”

“By no means, my dear Herr Grünlich,” said the Consul. He and his sons got up and shook hands with the stranger. “You are very welcome. I am delighted to see you outside the office and in my family circle. Herr Grünlich, Betsy—a friend of mine and a keen man of business. This is my daughter Antonie, and my niece Clothilde. Thomas you know already, and this is my second son, Christian, in High School.” Herr Grünlich responded to each name with an inclination of the body.

“I must repeat,” he said, “that I have no desire to intrude. I came on business. If the Herr Consul would be so good as to take a walk with me round the gardens—” The Consul’s wife answered: “It will give us pleasure to have you sit down with us for a little before you begin to talk business with my husband. Do sit down.”

“A thousand thanks,” said Herr Grünlich, apparently quite flattered. He sat down on the edge of the chair which Tom brought, laid his hat and stick on his knees, and settled himself, running his hand over his long beard with a little hemming and hawing, as if to say, “Well, now we’ve got past the introduction—what next?”

The Frau Consul began the conversation. “You live in Hamburg?” she asked, inclining her head and letting her work fall into her lap.

“Yes, Frau Consul,” responded Herr Grünlich with a fresh bow. “At least, my house is in Hamburg, but I am on the road a good deal. My business is very flourishing—ahem—if I may be permitted to say so.”

The Frau Consul lifted her eyebrows and made respectful motions with her mouth, as if she were saying “Ah—indeed?”

“Ceaseless activity is a condition of my being,” added he, half turning to the Consul. He coughed again as he noticed that Fräulein Antonie’s glance rested upon him. She gave him, in fact, the cold, calculating stare with which a maiden measures a strange young man—a stare which seems always on the point of passing over into actual contempt.

“We have relatives in Hamburg,” said she, in order to be saying something.

“The Duchamps,” explained the Consul. “The family of my late Mother.”

“Oh, yes,” Herr Grünlich hastened to say. “I have the honour of a slight acquaintance with the family. They are very fine people, in mind and heart. Ahem! This would be a better world if there were more families like them in it. They have religion, benevolence, and genuine piety; in short, they are my ideal of the true Christlike spirit. And in them it is united to a rare degree with a brilliant cosmopolitanism, an elegance, an aristocratic bearing, which I find most attractive, Frau Consul.”

Tony thought: “How can he know my Father and Mother so well? He is saying exactly what they like best to hear.” The Consul responded approvingly, “The combination is one that is becoming in everybody.” And the Frau Consul could not resist stretching out her hand to their guest with her sweeping gesture, palm upward, while the bracelets gave a little jingle. “You speak as though you read my inmost thoughts, dear Herr Grünlich,” she said.

Upon which, Herr Grünlich made another deep bow, settled himself again, stroked his beard, and coughed as if to say: “Well, let us get on.”

The Frau Consul mentioned the disastrous fire which had swept Hamburg in May of the year 1842. “Yes, indeed,” said Herr Grünlich, “truly a fearful misfortune. A distressing visitation. The loss amounted to one hundred and thirty-five millions, at a rough estimate. I am grateful to Providence that I came off without any loss whatever. The fire raged chiefly in the parishes of St. Peter and St. Nicholas.—What a charming garden!” he interrupted himself, taking the cigar which the Consul offered. “It is so large for a town garden, and the beds of colour are magnificent. I confess my weakness for flowers, and for nature in general. Those climbing roses over there trim up the garden uncommonly well.” He went on, praising the refinement of the location, praising the town itself, praising the Consul’s cigar. He had a pleasant word for each member of the circle.

“May I venture to inquire what you are reading, Fräulein Antonie?” he said smiling.

Tony drew her brows together sharply at this, for some reason, and answered without looking at him, “Hoffmann’s ‘Serapion Brethren.’”

“Really! He is a wonderful writer, is he not? Ah, pardon me—I forgot the name of your younger son, Frau Consul?”


“A beautiful name. If I may so express myself”—here he turned again to the Consul—“I like best the names which show that the bearer is a Christian. The name of Johann, I know, is hereditary in your family—a name which always recalls the beloved disciple. My own name—if I may be permitted to mention it,” he continued, Waxing eloquent, “is that of most of my forefathers—Bendix. It can only be regarded as a shortened form of Benedict. And you, Herr Buddenbrook, are reading—? ah, Cicero. The works of this great Roman orator make pretty difficult reading, eh? ‘Quousque tandem—Catilina’ … ahem. Oh, I have not forgotten quite all my Latin.”

“I disagree with my late Father on this point,” the Consul said. “I have always objected to the perpetual occupation of young heads with Greek and Latin. When there are so many other important subjects, necessary as a preparation for the practical affairs of life—”

“You take the words out of my mouth,” Herr Grünlich hastened to say. “It is hard reading, and not by any means always unexceptionable—I forgot to mention that point. Everything else aside, I can recall passages that were positively offensive—”

There came a pause, and Tony thought “Now it’s my turn.” Herr Grünlich had turned his gaze upon her. And, sure enough: he suddenly started in his chair, made a spasmodic but always highly elegant gesture toward the Frau Consul and whispered ardently, “Pray look, Frau Consul, I beg of you.—Fräulein, I implore you,” he interrupted himself aloud, just as if Tony could not hear the rest of what he said, “to keep in that same position for just a moment. Do you see,” he began whispering again, “how the sunshine is playing in your daughter’s hair? Never,” he said solemnly, as if transported, speaking to nobody in particular, “have I seen more beautiful hair.” It was as if he were addressing his remarks to God or to his own soul.

The Consul’s wife smiled, well pleased. The Consul said, “Don’t be putting notions into the girl’s head.” And again Tony drew her brows together without speaking. After a short pause, Herr Grünlich got up.

“But I won’t disturb you any longer now—no, Frau Consul, I refuse to disturb you any longer,” he repeated. “I only came on business, but I could not resist—indeed, who could resist you? Now duty calls. May I ask the Consul—”

“I hope I do not need to assure you that it would give us pleasure if you would let us put you up while you are here,” said the Frau Consul. Herr Grünlich appeared for the moment struck dumb with gratitude. “From my soul I am grateful, Frau Consul,” he said, and his look was indeed eloquent with emotion. “But I must not abuse your kindness. I have a couple of rooms at the City of Hamburg—”

“A couple of rooms,” thought the Frau Consul—which was just what Herr Grünlich meant her to think.

“And, in any case,” he said, as she offered her hand cordially, “I hope we have not seen each other for the last time.” He kissed her hand, waited a moment for Antonie to extend hers—which she did not do—described another half-circle with his upper torso, made a long step backward and another bow, threw back his head and put his hat on with a flourish, then walked away in company with the Consul.

“A pleasant man,” the Father said later, when he came back and took his place again.

“I think he’s silly,” Tony permitted herself to remark with some emphasis.

“Tony! Heavens and earth, what an idea!” said the Consul’s wife, displeased. “Such a Christian young man!”

“So well brought up, and so cosmopolitan,” went on the Consul. “You don’t know what you are talking about.” He and his wife had a way of taking each other’s side like this, out of sheer politeness. It made them the more likely to agree.

Christian wrinkled up his long nose and said, “He was so important. ‘You are conversing’—when we weren’t at all. And the roses over there ‘trim things up uncommonly.’ He acted some of the time as if he were talking to himself. ‘I am disturbing you’—‘I beg pardon’—‘I have never seen more beautiful hair.’” Christian mocked Herr Grünlich so cleverly that they all had to laugh, even the Consul.

“Yes, he gave himself too many airs,” Tony went on. “He talked the whole time about himself—his business is good, and he is fond of nature, and he likes such-and-such names, and his name is Bendix—what is all that to us, I’d like to know? Everything he said was just to spread himself.” Her voice was growing louder all the time with vexation. “He said all the very things you like to hear, Mamma and Papa, and he said them just to make a fine impression on you both.”

“That is no reproach, Tony,” the Consul said sternly. “Everybody puts his best foot foremost before strangers. We all take care to say what will be pleasant to hear. That is a commonplace.”

“I think he is a good man,” Clothilde pronounced with drawling serenity—she was the only person in the circle about whom Herr Grünlich had not troubled himself at all. Thomas refrained from giving an opinion.

“Enough,” concluded the Consul. “He is a capable, cultured, and energetic Christian man, and you, Tony, should try to bridle your tongue—a great girl of eighteen or nineteen years old, like you! And after he was so polite and gallant to you, too. We are all weak creatures; and you, let me say, are one of the last to have a right to throw stones. Tom, we’ll get to work.”

Pert little Tony muttered to herself “A golden goat’s beard!” and scowled as before.