Among my numerous friends in Vienna, there is one who is an author, and
who has always amused me by his childish idealism.
Not by his idealism from an abstract point of view, for in spite of my
Pessimism I am an absurd Idealist, and because I am perfectly well aware
of this, I as a rule never laugh at people's Idealism, but his sort of
Idealism was really too funny.
He was a serious man of great capabilities who only just fell short of
being learned, with a clear, critical intellect; a man without any
illusions about Society, the State, Literature, or anything else, and
especially not about women; but yet he was the craziest Optimist as soon
as he got upon the subject of actresses, theatrical princesses and
heroines; he was one of those men, who, like Hackländer, cannot discover
the Ideal of Virtue anywhere, except in a ballet girl.
My friend was always in love with some actress or other; of course only
Platonically, and from preference with some girl of rising talent, whose
literary knight he constituted himself, until the time came when her
admirers laid something much more substantial than laurel wreaths at her
feet; then he withdrew and sought for fresh talent which would allow
itself to be patronized by him.
He was never without the photograph of his ideal in his breast pocket,
and when he was in a good temper he used to show me one or other of
them, whom I had never seen, with a knowing smile, and once, when we
were sitting in a café in the Prater, he took out a portrait without
saying a word, and laid it on the table before me.
It was the portrait of a beautiful woman, but what struck me in it first
of all was not the almost classic cut of her features, but her white
"If she had not the black hair of a living woman, I should take her for
a statue," I said.
"Certainly," my friend replied; "for a statue of Venus, perhaps for the
Venus of Milo, herself."
"Who is she?"
"A young actress."
"That is a matter of course in your case; what I meant was, what is her
My friend told me, and it was a name which is at present one of the best
known on the German stage, with which a number of terrestrial adventures
are connected, as every Viennese knows, with which those of Venus
herself were only innocent toying, but which I then heard for the first
My idealist described her as a woman of the highest talent, which I
believed, and as an angel of purity, which I did not believe; on that
particular occasion, however, I at any rate did not believe the
A few days later, I was accidentally turning over the leaves of the
portrait album of another intimate friend of mine, who was a thoroughly
careless, somewhat dissolute Viennese, and I came across that strange
female face with the dead eyes again.
"How did you come by the picture of this Venus?" I asked him.
"Well, she certainly is a Venus," he replied, "but one of that cheap
kind who are to be met with in the Graben, which is their ideal
"I give you my word of honor it is so."
I could say nothing more after that. So my intellectual friend's new
ideal, that woman of the highest dramatic talent, that wonderful woman
with the white eyes, was a street Venus!
But my friend was right in one respect. He had not deceived himself with
regard to her wonderful dramatic gifts, and she very soon made a career
for herself; far from being a mute character on a suburban stage, she
rose in two years to be the leading actress at one of the principal
My friend interested himself on her behalf with the manager of it, who
was not blinded by any prejudices. She acted in a rehearsal, and pleased
him; whereupon he sent her to star in the provinces, and my friend
accompanied her, and took care she was well puffed.
She went on the boards as Schiller's Marie Stuart, and achieved the
most brilliant success, and before she had finished her starring tour,
she obtained an engagement at a large theater in a Northern town, where
her appearance was the signal for a triumphant success.
Her reputation, that is, her reputation as a most gifted actress, grew
very high in less than a year, and the manager of the Court theater
invited her to star at the Court theater.
She was received with some suspicion at first, but she soon overcame all
prejudices and doubts; the applause grew more and more vehement at every
act, and at the close of the performance, her future was decided. She
obtained a splendid engagement, and soon afterwards became an actress at
the Court theater.
A well-known author wrote a racy novel, of which she was the heroine;
one of the leading bankers and financiers was at her feet; she was the
most popular personage, and the lioness of the capital; she had splendid
apartments, and all her surroundings were of the most luxurious
character, and she had reached that height in her career at which my
idealistic friend, who had constituted himself her literary knight,
quietly took his leave of her, and went in search of fresh talent.
But the beautiful woman with the dead eyes and the dead heart seemed to
be destined to be the scourge of the Idealists, quite against her will,
for scarcely had one unfolded his wings and flown away from her, than
another fell out of the nest into her net.
A very young student, who was neither handsome, nor of good family, and
certainly not rich or even well off, but who was enthusiastic,
intellectual and impressionable, saw her as Marie Stuart in The Maid
of Orleans, The Lady with the Camelias, and most of the plays of the
best French play writers, for the manager was making experiments with
her, and she was doing the same with her talents.
The poor student was enraptured with the celebrated actress, and at the
same time conceived a passion for the woman, which bordered on madness.
He saved up penny by penny, he nearly starved himself, only in order
that he might be able to pay for a seat in the gallery whenever she
acted, and be able to devour her with his eyes. He always got a seat in
the front row, for he was always outside three hours before the doors
opened, so as to be one of the first to gain his Olympus, the seat of
the theatrical enthusiasts; he grew pale, and his heart beat violently
when she appeared; he laughed when she laughed, shed tears when she
wept, applauded her, as if he had been paid to do it by the highest
favors that a woman can bestow, and yet she did not know him, and was
ignorant of his very existence.
The regular frequenters of the Court theater noticed him at last, and
spoke about his infatuation for her, until at last she heard about him,
but still did not know him, and although he could not send her any
costly jewelry, and not even a bouquet, yet at last he succeeded in
attracting her attention.
When she had been acting and the theater had been empty for a long time,
and she left it, wrapped in valuable furs and got into the carriage of
her banker, which was waiting for her at the stage door, he always stood
there, often up to his ankles in snow, or in the pouring rain.
At first she did not notice him, but when her maid said something to her
in a whisper on one occasion, she looked round in surprise, and he got a
look from those large eyes, which were not dead then, but dark and
bright; a look which recompensed him for all his sufferings and filled
him with proud hopes, which constantly gained more power over the young
Idealist, who was usually so modest.
At last there was a thorough, silent understanding between the
theatrical princess and the dumb adorer. When she put her foot on the
carriage step, she looked round at him, and every time he stood there,
devouring her with his eyes; she saw it and got contentedly into her
carriage, but she did not see how he ran after the carriage, and how he
reached her house, panting for breath, when she did, nor how he lay down
outside after the door had closed behind her.
One stormy summer night, when the wind was howling in the chimneys, and
the rain was beating against the windows and on the pavement, the poor
student was again lying on the stone steps outside her house, when the
front door was opened very cautiously and quietly; for it was not the
banker who was leaving the house, but a wealthy young officer whom the
girl was letting out; he kissed the pretty little Cerebus as he put a
gold coin into her hand, and then accidentally trod on the Idealist, who
was lying outside.
They all three simultaneously uttered a cry; the girl blew out the
candle, the officer instinctively half drew his sword, and the student
Ever since that night, the poor, crazy fellow went about with a dagger,
which he concealed in his belt, and it was his constant companion to the
theater, and the stage door, when the actress's carriage used to wait
for her, and to her house, where he nightly kept his painful watch.
His first idea was to kill his fortunate rival, then himself, then the
theatrical princess, but at last, he lay down again outside her door, or
stood on the pavement and watched the shadows, that flitted hither and
thither on her window, turned by the magic spell of the lovely actress.
And then, the most incredible thing happened, something which he could
never have hoped for, and which he scarcely believed when it did occur.
One evening, when she had been playing a very important part, she kept
the carriage waiting much longer than usual; but at last she appeared,
and got into it; she did not shut the door, however, but beckoned to the
young Idealist to follow her.
He was almost delirious with joy, just as a moment before he had been
almost mad from despair, and obeyed her immediately, and during the
drive he lay at her feet and covered her hands with kisses. She allowed
it quietly and even merrily, and when the carriage stopped at her door,
she let him lift her out of the carriage, and went upstairs leaning on
There, the lady's maid showed him into a luxuriously furnished
drawing-room, while the actress changed her dress.
Presently she appeared in her dressing gown, sat down carelessly in an
easy chair, and asked him to sit down beside her.
"You take a great interest in me?" she said.
"You are my ideal!" the student cried enthusiastically.
The theatrical princess smiled, and said:
"Well, I will at any rate be an honest ideal; I will not deceive you,
and you shall not be able to say that I have misused your youthful
enthusiasm. I will give myself to you...."
"Oh! Heavens!" the poor Idealist exclaimed, throwing himself at her
"Wait a moment! Wait a moment!" she said with a smile. "I have not
finished yet. I can only love a man who is in a position to provide me
with all those luxuries which an actress, or, if you like, which I
cannot do without. As far as I know, you are poor, but I will belong to
you, only for to-night, however, and in return you must promise me not
to rave about me, or to follow me, from to-night. Will you do this?"
The wretched Idealist was kneeling before her; he was having a terrible
"Will you promise me to do this?" she said again.
"Yes," he said, almost groaning.
The next morning a man, who had buried his Ideal, tottered downstairs.
He was pale enough; almost as pale as a corpse; but in spite of this, he
is still alive, and if he has any Ideal at all at present, it is
certainly not a theatrical princess.
 The street where most of the best shops are to be found,
and much frequented by venial beauties.—TRANSLATOR.