Buddenbrooks Chapter Two

Thomas Buddenbrook did not contemplate the future of little Johann with the weary dejection which was now his settled mood when he thought about his own life and his own end. The family feeling which led him to cherish the past history of his house extended itself even more strongly into its future; and he was influenced, too, by the loving and expectant curiosity concentrated upon his son by his family and his friends and acquaintances, even by the Buddenbrook ladies in Broad Street. He said to himself that, however hopeless and thwarted he himself felt, he was still, wherever his son was concerned, capable of inexhaustible streams of energy, endurance, achievement success—yes, that at this one spot his chilled and artificial life could still be warmed into a genuine and glowing warmth of hopes and fears and affections.

Perhaps, some day, it would be granted to him to look back upon his past from a quiet corner an watch the renascence of the old time, the time of Hanno’s great-grandfather! Was such a hope, after all, entirely vain? He had felt that the music was his enemy; but it had almost begun to look as if it had no such important bearing upon the situation. Granted that the child’s fondness for improvising, without notes, was evidence of a not quite common gift; in the systematic lessons with Herr Pfühl he had not showed by any means extraordinary progress. The preoccupation with music was no doubt due to his mother’s influence; and it was not surprising that during his early years this influence had been preponderant. But the time was close at hand when it would be the father’s turn to influence his son, to draw him over to his side, to neutralize the feminine influence by introducing a masculine one in its place. And the Senator determined not to let any such opportunities pass without improving them.

Hanno was now eleven years old. The preceding Easter, he had, by the skin of his teeth and by dint of two extra examinations in mathematics and geography, been passed into the fourth form—as had likewise his young friend Count Mölln. It had been settled that he should attend the mercantile side of the school—for it went without saying that he would be a merchant and take over the family business. When his father asked him if he felt any inclination toward his future career, he answered yes—a simple, unadorned, embarrassed “yes,” which the Senator tried to make a little more convincing by asking leading questions, but mostly without success.

If the Senator had had two sons, he would assuredly have allowed the second to go through the gymnasium and study. But the firm demanded a successor. And, besides, he was convinced he was doing the boy a kindness in relieving him of the unnecessary Greek. He was of opinion that the mercantile course was the easier to master, and that Hanno would therefore come through with greater credit and less strain if he took it, considering his defects—his slowness of comprehension, his absent, dreaming ways, and his physical delicacy, which often obliged him to be absent from school. If little Johann Buddenbrook were to achieve the position in life to which he was called, they must be mindful before everything else, by care and cherishing on the one hand, by sensible toughening on the other, to strengthen his far from robust constitution.

Hanno had grown sturdier in the past year; but, despite his blue sailor suit, he still looked a little strange in the playground of the school, by contrast with the blond Scandinavian type that predominated there. He now wore his brown hair parted on the side and brushed away from his white forehead. But it still inclined to fall in soft ringlets over the temples; and his eyes were as golden-brown as ever, and as veiled with their brown lashes. His legs, in long black stockings, and his arms, in the loose quilted blue sleeves of his suit, were small and soft like a girl’s, and he had, like his mother, the blue shadows under his eyes. And still, in those eyes, especially when they gave a side glance, as they often did, there was that timid and defensive look; while the mouth closed with the old, woebegone expression which he had had even as a baby, or went slightly crooked when he explored the recesses of his mouth for a defective tooth. And there would come upon his face when he did this a look as if he were cold.

Dr. Langhals had now entirely taken over Dr. Grabow’s practice and had become the Buddenbrook family physician. From him they learned the reason why the child’s skin was so pale and his strength so inadequate. It seemed that Hanno’s organism did not produce red corpuscles in sufficient number. But there was a remedy for this defect: cod-liver oil, which, accordingly, Dr. Langhals prescribed in great quantities: good, thick, greasy, yellow cod-liver oil, to be taken from a porcelain spoon twice a day. The Senator gave the order, and Ida Jungmann, with stern affection, saw it carried out. In the beginning, to be sure, Hanno threw up after each spoonful. His stomach seemed to have a prejudice against the good cod-liver oil. But he got used to it in the end—and if you held your breath and chewed a piece of rye bread immediately after, the nausea was not so severe.

His other troubles were all consequent upon this lack of red corpuscles, it appeared: secondary phenomena, Dr. Langhals called them, looking at his fingernails. But it was necessary to attack these other enemies ruthlessly. As for the teeth, for these Herr Brecht and his Josephus lived in Mill Street: to take care of them, to fill them; when necessary, to extract them. And for the digestion there was castor-oil, thick, clear castor-oil that slipped down your throat like a lizard, after which you smelled and tasted it for three days, sleeping and waking. Oh, why were all these remedies of such surpassing nastiness? One single time—Hanno had been rather ill, and his heart action had shown unusual irregularity—Dr. Langhals had with some misgiving prescribed a remedy which little Hanno had actually enjoyed, and which had done him a world of good. These were arsenic pills. But however much he asked to have the dose repeated—for he felt almost a yearning for these sweet, soothing little pills—Dr. Langhals never prescribed them again.

Castor-oil and cod-liver oil were excellent things. But Dr. Langhals was quite at one with the Senator in the view that they could not of themselves make a sound and sturdy citizen of little Johann if he did not do his part. There was gymnasium drill once a week in the summer, out on the Castle Field, where the youth of the city were given the opportunity to develop their strength and courage, their skill and presence of mind, under the guidance of Herr Fritsche, the drill-master. But to his father’s annoyance, Hanno showed a distinct distaste for the manly sports—a silent, pronounced, almost haughty opposition. Why was it that he cared so little for playmates of his own class and age, with whom he would have to live, and was for ever sticking about with this little unwashed Kai, who was a good child, of course, but not precisely a proper friend for the future? Somehow or other a boy must know from the beginning how to gain the confidence and respect of his comrades, upon whose good opinion of him he will be dependent for the rest of his life! There were, on the other hand, the two sons of Consul Hagenström, two fine strapping boys, twelve and fourteen years old, strong and full of spirits, who instituted prizefights in the neighbouring woods, were the best gymnasts in the school, swam like otters, smoked cigars, and were ready for any devilry. They were popular, feared, and respected. Their cousins, the two sons of Dr. Moritz Hagenström, the State Attorney, were of a more delicate build, and gentler ways. They distinguished themselves in scholarship, and were model pupils: zealous, industrious, quiet, attentive, devoured by the ambition to bring home a report card marked “Number 1.” They achieved their ambition, and were respected by their stupider and lazier colleagues. But—not to speak of his masters—what must his fellow-pupils think of Hanno, who was not only a very mediocre scholar, but a weakling into the bargain; who tried to get out of everything for which a scrap of courage, strength, skill, and energy were needed? When Senator Buddenbrook passed the little balcony on his way to his dressing-room, he would hear from Hanno’s room, which was the middle one of the three on that floor since he had grown too large to sleep with Ida Jungmann, the notes of the harmonium, or the hushed and mysterious voice of Kai, Count Mölln telling a story.

Kai avoided the drill classes, because he detested the discipline which had to be observed there. “No, Hanno,” he said, “I’m not going. Are you? Deuce take it! Anything that would be any fun is forbidden.” Expressions like “deuce take it” he got from his father. Hanno answered: “If Herr Fritsche ever one single day smelled of anything but beer and sweat, I might consider it. Don’t talk about it, Kai. Go on. Tell that one about the ring you got out of the bog—you didn’t finish it.” “Very good,” said Kai. “But when I nod, then you must play.” And he went on with his story.

If he was to be believed, he had once, on a warm evening, in a strange, unrecognizable region, slid down a slippery, immeasurable cliff, at the foot of which, by the flickering, livid light from will-o’-the-wisps, he saw a black marsh, from which silvery bubbles mounted with a hollow gurgling sound. One of these bubbles, which kept coming up near the bank, took the form of a ring when it burst; and he had succeeded in seizing it, after long and dangerous efforts—after which it burst no more, but remained in his grasp, a firm and solid ring, which he put on his finger. He rightly ascribed unusual powers to this ring; for by its help he climbed up the slippery cliff and saw, a little way off in the rosy mist, a black castle. It was guarded to the teeth, but he had forced an entrance, always by the help of the ring, and performed miracles of rescue and deliverance. All this Hanno accompanied with sweet chords on his harmonium. Sometimes, if the difficulties were not too great, these stories were acted in the marionette theatre, to musical accompaniment. But Hanno attended the drill class only on his father’s express command—and then Kai went too.

It was the same with the skating in the wintertime, and with the bathing in summer at the wooden bathing establishment of Herr Asmussen, down on the river. “Bathing and swimming—let the boy have bathing and swimming—he must bathe and swim,” Dr. Langhals had said. And the Senator was entirely of the same opinion. But Hanno had a reason for absenting himself from the bathing, as well as from the skating and the drill class. The two sons of Consul Hagenström, who took part in all such exercises with great skill and credit, singled Hanno out at once. And though they lived in his own grandmother’s house, that fact did not prevent them from making his life miserable. They lost no opportunity of tormenting him. At drill they pinched him and derided him. They rolled him in the dirty snow at the ice-rink; and in the water they came up to him with horrid noises. Hanno did not try to escape. It would have been useless anyhow. He stood, with his girlish arms, up to his middle in the turbid water of the pool, which had large patches of duck-weed growing on it, and awaited his tormentors with a scowl—a dark look and twisted lips. They, sure of their prey, came on with long splashing strides. They had muscular arms, these two young Hagenströms, and they clutched him round his body and ducked him—ducked him a good long time, so that he swallowed rather a lot of the dirty water and gasped for breath a long time after. One single time he was a little avenged. One afternoon the two Hagenströms were holding him down under the water, when one of them suddenly gave a shriek of pain and fury and lifted his plump leg, from which drops of blood were oozing. Beside him rose the head of Kai, Count Mölln, who had somehow got hold of the price of admission, swum up invisible in the water, and bitten young Hagenström—bitten with all his teeth into his leg, like a furious little dog. His blue eyes flashed through the red-blond hair that hung down wet all over his face. He paid richly for the deed, did the little Count, and left the swimming-pool much the worse for the encounter. But Consul Hagenström’s son limped perceptibly when he went home.

Nourishing remedies and physical exercise were the basis of the treatment calculated to turn Senator Buddenbrook’s son into a strong and healthy lad. But no less painstakingly did the Senator strive to influence his mind and give him lively impressions of the practical world in which he was to live.

He began gradually to introduce him into the sphere of his future activities. He took him on business expeditions down to the harbour and let him stand by on the quay while he spoke to the dockers in a mixture of Danish and dialect or gave orders to the men who with hollow, long-drawn cries were hauling up the sacks to the granary floor. He took him into dark little warehouse offices to confer with superintendents. All this life of the harbours, ships, sheds, and granaries, where it smelled of butter, fish, sea-water, tar, and greasy iron, had been to Thomas Buddenbrook from childhood up the most fascinating thing on earth. But his son gave no spontaneous expression of his own enchantment with the sight; and so the father was fain to arouse it in him. “What are the names of the boats that ply to Copenhagen? The Naiad, the Halmstadt, the Friederike Överdieck—why, if you know those, my son, at least that’ s something! You’ll soon learn the others. Some of those people over there hauling up the grain have the same name as you—they were named after your grandfather, as you were. And their children are often named after me—or Mamma. We give them little presents every year.—Now this next granary—we don’t stop at it; we go past and don’t talk to the men; it is a rival business.”

“Should you like to come, Hanno?” he said another time. “There is a ship of our line being launched to-day, and I shall christen it. Do you want to go?” And Hanno signified that he wanted to go. He went with his father, listened to his speech, and saw him break a bottle of champagne on the prow of the ship; saw how she glided down the ways, which had been smeared with green soap, and into the water.

On certain days of the year, as New Year’s and Palm Sunday, when there were confirmations, Senator Buddenbrook drove out on a round of visits to particular houses in which he had social relations. His wife did not like these visits, and excused herself on the ground of headache and nervousness, so Hanno would be asked to go along in her place; and here, too, he signified his desire to go. He climbed into the carriage beside his father, and sat silent by his side in the reception-rooms, watching his easy, tactful, assured, and carefully graduated manner toward their hosts. He heard District Commander Colonel Herr von Rinnlingen tell his father how greatly he appreciated the honour of his visit, and saw how his father, in reply, put on an air of amiable depreciation and laid his arm an instant across the Colonel’s shoulders. In another place the same remark was made, and he received it with quiet seriousness, and in a third with an ironically exaggerated compliment in return. All this with a floridity of speech and gesture which he obviously liked to produce for the admiration of his son, and from which he promised himself the most edifying results.

But the little boy saw more than he should have seen; the shy, gold-brown, blue-shadowy eyes observed too well. He saw not only the unerring charm which his father exercised upon everybody: he saw as well, with strange and anguished penetration, how cruelly hard it was upon him. He saw how his father, paler and more silent after each visit, would lean back in his corner of the carriage with closed eyes and reddened eyelids; he realized with a sort of horror that on the threshold of the next house a mask would glide over his face, a galvanized activity take hold of the weary frame. Thus the visits, the social intercourse with one’s kind, instead of giving little Johann, quite simply, the idea that one has practical interests in common with one’s fellow men, which one looks after oneself, expecting others to do the same, appeared to him like an end in themselves; instead of straightforward and single-minded participation in the common business, he saw his father perform an artificial and complicated part, by dint of a fearful effort and an exaggerated, consuming virtuosity. And when he thought that some day he should be expected to perform the same part, under the gaze of the whole community, Hanno shut his eyes and shivered with rebellion and disgust.

Ah, that was not the effect Thomas Buddenbrook looked for from the influence of his own personality upon his son’s! What he had hoped to do was to stimulate self-confidence in the boy, and a sense of the practical side of life. This was what he had in mind—and nothing else.

“You seem to enjoy good living, my boy,” said he, when Hanno asked for a second portion of the sweet or a half-cup of coffee after dinner. “Well, then, you must become a merchant and earn a lot of money. Should you like to do that?” Little Johann said he would.

Sometimes when the family were invited to dinner, Aunt Antonie or Uncle Christian would begin to tease Aunt Clothilde and imitate her meek, drawling accents. Then little Johann, stimulated by the heavy red wine which they gave him, would ape his elders and make some remarks to Aunt Clothilde in the same vein. And then how Thomas Buddenbrook would laugh! He would give a loud, hearty, jovial roar, like a man put in high spirits by some unexpected piece of good luck, and join in on his son’s side against poor Aunt Clothilde, though for his own part he had long since given up these witticisms at the expense of his poor relative. It was so easy, so safe, to tease poor, limited, modest, lean and hungry Clothilde, that, harmless though it was, he felt it rather beneath him. But he wished he did not, for it was the same story over again: too many considerations, too many scruples. Why must he be for ever opposing these scruples against the hard, practical affairs of life? Why could he never learn that it was possible to grasp a situation, to see around it, as it were, and still to turn it to one’s own advantage without any feeling of shame? For precisely this, he said to himself, is the essence of a capacity for practical life!

And thus, how happy, how delighted, how hopeful he felt whenever he saw even the least small sign in little Johann of a capacity for practical life!