The puppet-show man


On board a steamer I once met an elderly man, with such a merry face that, if it was really an index of his mind, he must have been the happiest fellow in creation; and indeed he considered himself so, for I heard it from his own mouth. He was a Dane, the owner of a travelling theatre. He had all his company with him in a large box, for he was the proprietor of a puppet-show. His inborn cheerfulness, he said, had been tested by a member of the Polytechnic Institution, and the experiment had made him completely happy. I did not at first understand all this, but afterwards he explained the whole story to me; and here it is:–
"I was giving a representation," he said, "in the hall of the posting-house in the little town of Slagelse; there was a splendid audience, entirely juvenile excepting two respectable matrons. All at once, a person in black, of student-like appearance, entered the room, and sat down; he laughed aloud at the telling points, and applauded quite at the proper time. This was a very unusual spectator for me, and I felt anxious to know who he was. I heard that he was a member of the Polytechnic Institution in Copenhagen, who had been sent out to lecture to the people in the provinces. Punctually at eight o'clock my performance closed, for children must go early to bed, and a manager must also consult the convenience of the public.
At nine o'clock the lecturer commenced his lecture and his experiments, and then I formed a part of his audience. It was wonderful both to hear and to see. The greater part of it was beyond my comprehension, but it led me to think that if we men can acquire so much, we must surely be intended to last longer than the little span which extends only to the time when we are hidden away under the earth. His experiments were quite miracles on a small scale, and yet the explanations flowed as naturally as water from his lips. At the time of Moses and the prophets, such a man would have been placed among the sages of the land; in the middle ages they would have burnt him at the stake.
All night long I could not sleep; and the next evening when I gave another performance and the lecturer was present, I was in one of my best moods.
I once heard of an actor, who, when he had to act the part of a lover, always thought of one particular lady in the audience; he only played for her, and forgot all the rest of the house, and now the Polytechnic lecturer was my she, my only auditor, for whom alone I played.
When the performance was over, and the puppets removed behind the curtain, the Polytechnic lecturer invited me into his room to take a glass of wine. He talked of my comedies, and I of his science, and I believe we were both equally pleased. But I had the best of it, for there was much in what he did that he could not always explain to me. For instance, why a piece of iron which is rubbed on a cylinder, should become magnetic. How does this happen? The magnetic sparks come to it,– but how? It is the same with people in the world; they are rubbed about on this spherical globe till the electric spark comes upon them, and then we have a Napoleon, or a Luther, or some one of the kind.
'The whole world is but a series of miracles,' said the lecturer, 'but we are so accustomed to them that we call them everyday matters.' And he went on explaining things to me till my skull seemed lifted from my brain, and I declared that were I not such an old fellow, I would at once become a member of the Polytechnic Institution, that I might learn to look at the bright side of everything, although I was one of the happiest of men.
'One of the happiest!' said the lecturer, as if the idea pleased him; 'are you really happy?'
'Yes,' I replied; 'for I am welcomed in every town, when I arrive with my company; but I certainly have one wish which sometimes weighs upon my cheerful temper like a mountain of lead. I should like to become the manager of a real theatre, and the director of a real troupe of men and women.'
'I understand,' he said; 'you would like to have life breathed into your puppets, so that they might be living actors, and you their director. And would you then be quite happy?'
I said I believed so. But he did not; and we talked it over in all manner of ways, yet could not agree on the subject. However, the wine was excellent, and we clanked our glasses together as we drank. There must have been magic in it, or I should most certainly become tipsy; but that did not happen, for my mind seemed quite clear; and, indeed, a kind of sunshine filled the room, and beamed from the eyes of the Polytechnic lecturer. It made me think of the old stories when the gods, in their immortal youth, wandered upon this earth, and paid visits to mankind. I said so to him, and he smiled; and I could have sworn that he was one of these ancient deities in disguise, or, at all events, that he belonged to the race of the gods. The result seemed to prove I was right in my suspicions; for it was arranged that my highest wish should be granted, that my puppets were to be gifted with life, and that I was to be the manager of a real company. We drank to my success, and clanked our glasses. Then he packed all my dolls into the box, and fastened it on my back, and I felt as if I were spinning round in a circle, and presently found myself lying on the floor. I remember that quite well. And then the whole company sprang from the box. The spirit had come upon us all; the puppets had become distinguished actors– at least, so they said themselves– and I was their director.
When all was ready for the first representation, the whole company requested permission to speak to me before appearing in public. The dancing lady said the house could not be supported unless she stood on one leg; for she was a great genius, and begged to be treated as such. The lady who acted the part of the queen expected to be treated as a queen off the stage, as well as on it, or else she said she should get out of practice. The man whose duty it was to deliver a letter gave himself as many airs as he who took the part of first lover in the piece; he declared that the inferior parts were as important as the great ones, and deserving equal consideration, as parts of an artistic whole. The hero of the piece would only play in a part containing points likely to bring down the applause of the house. The 'prima donna' would only act when the lights were red, for she declared that a blue light did not suit her complexion. It was like a company of flies in a bottle, and I was in the bottle with them; for I was their director. My breath was taken away, my head whirled, and I was as miserable as a man could be. It was quite a novel, strange set of beings among whom I now found myself. I only wished I had them all in my box again, and that I had never been their director. So I told them roundly that, after all, they were nothing but puppets; and then they killed me. After a while I found myself lying on my bed in my room; but how I got there, or how I got away at all from the Polytechnic professor, he may perhaps know, I don't. The moon shone upon the floor, the box lay open, and the dolls were all scattered about in great confusion; but I was not idle. I jumped off the bed, and into the box they all had to go, some on their heads, some on their feet. Then I shut down the lid, and seated myself upon the box. 'Now you'll have to stay,' said I, 'and I shall be cautious how I wish you flesh and blood again.'
I felt quite light, my cheerfulness had returned, and I was the happiest of mortals. The Polytechnic professor had fully cured me. I was as happy as a king, and went to sleep on the box. Next morning– correctly speaking, it was noon, for I slept remarkably late that day– I found myself still sitting there, in happy consciousness that my former wish had been a foolish one. I inquired for the Polytechnic professor; but he had disappeared like the Greek and Roman gods; from that time I have been the happiest man in the world. I am a happy director; for none of my company ever grumble, nor the public either, for I always make them merry. I can arrange my pieces just as I please. I choose out of every comedy what I like best, and no one is offended. Plays that are neglected now-a-days by the great public were ran after thirty years ago, and listened to till the tears ran down the cheeks of the audience. These are the pieces I bring forward. I place them before the little ones, who cry over them as papa and mamma used to cry thirty years ago. But I make them shorter, for the youngsters don't like long speeches; and if they have anything mournful, they like it to be over quickly."
Der var på dampskibet en gammelagtig mand, med et så fornøjet ansigt, at, løj det ikke, da måtte han være det lykkeligste menneske på jorden. Det var han også, sagde han; jeg hørte det af hans egen mund; han var dansk, var min landsmand og rejsende teaterdirektør. Hele personalet havde han med, det lå i en stor kasse; han var marionetspiller. Hans medfødte gode humør, sagde han, var blevet lutret af en polyteknisk kandidat, og ved det eksperiment var han blevet fuldkommen lykkelig. Jeg forstod ham ikke straks, men så satte han hele historien klart ud for mig, og her er den.
Det var i Slagelse, sagde han, jeg gav en forestilling på postgården, og havde brillant hus og brillant publikum, aldeles ukonfirmeret, på et par gamle madammer nær. Så kommer der en sortklædt person af studenterudseende, han sætter sig, og ler aldeles på de rigtige steder, klapper aldeles rigtigt, det var en usædvanlig tilskuer! jeg måtte vide, hvem det var, og jeg hører, at det er en kandidat fra den polytekniske læreanstalt, sendt ud for at belære folk i provinserne. Klokken otte var min forestilling ude, børn skal jo tidlig i seng, og man må tænke på publikums bekvemmelighed. Klokken ni begyndte kandidaten sine forelæsninger og eksperimenter, og nu var jeg hans tilhører. Det var mærkeligt at høre og se på. Det meste gik over mit hoved og ind i præstens, som man siger, men det måtte jeg tænke: Kan vi mennesker udfinde sligt, så må vi også kunne holde længere ud end til vi puttes i jorden. Det var bare små mirakler, han gjorde, og dog alt sammen fod i hose, lige ud af naturen. I Moses' og profeternes tid måtte sådan en polyteknisk kandidat være blevet en af landets vise, og i middelalderen ville han være blevet brændt. Jeg sov ikke hele natten, og da jeg næste aften gav en forestilling og kandidaten var der igen, så kom jeg ordentlig i humør. Jeg har hørt af en skuespiller, at han i elskerroller kun tænkte på en eneste af tilskuerne, for hende spillede han og glemte hele det øvrige hus; den polytekniske kandidat han var min "hende," min eneste tilskuer, som jeg spillede for. Da forestillingen var ude, blev alle marionetter kaldt frem, og jeg blev af den polytekniske kandidat budt ind til ham på et glas vin; han talte om min komedie og jeg talte om hans videnskab, og jeg tror, vi havde lige stor fornøjelse af begge dele, men jeg beholdt dog ordet, for der var så meget i hans, som han ikke selv kunne gøre rede for, som nu den ting, at et stykke jern, som falder igennem en spiral, bliver magnetisk, ja hvad er det: Ånden kommer over det, men hvor kommer den fra; det er ligesom med denne verdens mennesker, tænker jeg, Vorherre lader dem dumpe gennem tidens spiral, og ånden kommer over dem, og så står der en Napoleon, en Luther, eller lignende person. "Hele verden er en række af underværker," sagde kandidaten, "men vi er så vante til dem, at vi kalder dem hverdagsting." Og han talte og han forklarede, det var til sidst ligesom han løftede hjerneskallen på mig, og jeg tilstod ærligt, at var jeg ikke allerede en gammel karl, så ville jeg straks gå i den polytekniske anstalt og lære at se verden efter i sømmene, og det uagtet jeg var et af de lykkeligste mennesker. "Et af de lykkeligste!" sagde han, og det var ligesom han smagte på det. "Er De lykkelig?" spurgte han; "ja," sagde jeg, "lykkelig er jeg, og velkommen er jeg i alle byer, hvor jeg kommer med mit selskab. Der er jo rigtignok et ønske, der imellem kommer over mig som en nissebuk, en mare, der rider mit gode humør, det er: at blive teaterdirektør for en levende trup, et rigtigt menneskeselskab." - "De ønsker deres marionetter levendegjorte, De ønsker, at de skal blive til virkelige skuespillere," sagde han, "og De selv være direktøren, da ville De være fuldkommen lykkelig, tror De?" Han troede det nu ikke, men jeg troede det, og vi talte frem og vi talte tilbage, og så var vi lige nær i vor mening, men med glassene stødte vi sammen, og vinen var meget god, men der var troldtøj i den, for ellers bliver hele historien, at jeg fik en rus. Det var det ikke, jeg var klarøjet. Der var som solskin i stuen, det skinnede ud af ansigtet på den polytekniske kandidat, og jeg måtte tænke på de gamle guder i evig ungdom, da de gik om i verden; og det sagde jeg til ham, og så smilede han, og jeg turde have bandet på, at han var en forklædt gud eller en af familien, - og han var det - mit højeste ønske skulle opfyldes, marionetterne blive levende, og jeg direktør for mennesker. Vi drak på det; han pakkede alle mine dukker i trækassen, bandt mig den på ryggen, og så lod han mig dumpe gennem en spiral; jeg hører endnu, hvor jeg dumpede, jeg lå på gulvet, det er vist og sandt, og hele selskabet sprang ud af kassen, ånden var kommen over dem alle sammen, alle marionetterne var blevet udmærkede kunstnere, det sagde de selv, og jeg var direktør; alt var i stand til første forestilling; hele selskabet ville tale med mig, og publikum med. Danserinden sagde, at når hun ikke stod på ét ben, så faldt huset, hun var mester for det hele og ville behandles således. Dukken, der spillede kejserinde, ville uden for scenen også behandles som kejserinde, for ellers kom hun ud af øvelsen; han som brugtes til at komme ind med et brev, gjorde sig lige så vigtig som første elsker, thi de små var som de store af lige vigtighed i et kunstnerisk helt, sagde han. Så forlangte helten, at hele hans rolle skulle kun være udgangsreplikker, for dem klappede man af; primadonna ville kun spille i rødt lys, for det klædte hende - hun ville ikke være i blåt. Det var ligesom fluer i en flaske, og jeg var midt i flasken, jeg var direktør. Vejret gik fra mig, hovedet gik fra mig, jeg var så elendig, som et menneske kan blive, det var en ny menneskeslægt jeg var kommen imellem, jeg ønskede, at jeg havde dem alle sammen i kassen igen, og at jeg aldrig var blevet direktør. Jeg sagde dem rent ud, at de i grunden dog alle var marionetter, og så slog de mig ihjel. Jeg lå på sengen i mit kammer, hvorledes jeg var kommet der fra den polytekniske kandidat, må han vide, jeg ved det ikke. Månen skinnede ind på gulvet, hvor dukkekassen lå væltet og alle dukkerne smidt om, små og store, hele kommersen; men jeg var ikke sen, ud af sengen fór jeg, og i kassen kom de alle sammen, nogle på hovedet og nogle på benene; jeg smækkede låget til og satte mig selv ovenpå kassen; det var til at male, kan De se det, jeg kan se det. "Nu skal I blive der," sagde jeg, "og aldrig ønsker jeg mere at I har kød og blod!" - Jeg var så let i humøret, jeg var det lykkeligste menneske; den polytekniske kandidat havde lutret mig; jeg sad i bar lyksalighed og faldt i søvn på kassen, og om morgnen - det var egentlig om middagen, men jeg sov forunderlig længe den morgen, - så sad jeg der endnu, lykkelig, idet jeg havde lært, at mit fordums eneste ønske havde været dumt; jeg spurgte efter den polytekniske kandidat, men han var borte, ligesom de græske og romerske guder. Og fra den tid har jeg været det lykkeligste menneske. Jeg er en lykkelig direktør, mit personale ræsonnerer ikke, publikum ikke heller, det fornøjer sig af hjertensgrund; frit kan jeg selv lave alle mine stykker sammen. Jeg tager af alle komedier det bedste, jeg vil, og ingen ærgrer sig derover. Stykker, som nu er foragtede på de store teatre, men som publikum for tredve år siden løb efter og tvinede over, dem tager jeg nu til mig, nu giver jeg dem til de små, og de små de tviner ligesom fader og moder tvinede; jeg giver "Johanna Montfaucon" og "Dyveke," men i forkortning, for de små holder ikke af langt kærlighedsvrøvl, de vil: ulykkeligt, men hurtigt. Nu har jeg berejst Danmark på retten og på vrangen, kender alle mennesker og kendes igen; nu er jeg gået til Sverige, og gør jeg her lykke og fortjener gode penge, så bliver jeg skandinav, ellers ikke, det siger jeg Dem, som er min landsmand.
Og jeg, som landsmand, fortæller det naturligvis straks igen, blot for at fortælle.