“Fans of upscale horror, postmodern literature, and literary analysis will find something to like in this unusual, fractured novel, first published in Germany in 1804. It unfolds as a series of spooky episodes, 16 ‘Nightwatches,’ told by a ringmaster and raconteur who refers to himself as a night watchman, a spectral and sometimes melodramatic figure—‘I’ve touched on my madcap deeds; but then the worst of them all is my life itself.’ In baroque, often murky prose, he shares dreams, observations both literal and philosophical, literary analyses, and dark tales reminiscent of Poe and Lovecraft.”– Publishers Weekly
Buy this book: Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The night hour struck; I wrapped myself in my quixotic disguise, took in hand the pike and horn, went out into the gloom, and called out the hour, afer I had protected myself against the evil spirits with a sign of the cross.
It was one of those uncanny nights when light and gloom alternate quickly and strangely. In the sky the clouds, driven by the wind, blew by like eccentric colossal figures, and the moon appeared and vanished in the swift change. Dead silence reigned below in the streets. Only high above in the air did the storm dwell like an invisible spirit.
That was all right by me, and I took pleasure in my lonely reverberating footsteps, for among the many sleepers I seemed to myself like the prince in the fairytale, in the enchanted city where an evil power had transformed every living being into stone, or like a lone survivor afer a universal plague or deluge.
The last comparison made me shudder, and I was cheered to see a single faint lamp still burning high up over the city in a free garret.
I well knew who ruled there so high in the airways. It was an unfortunate poet who was awake only in the night, because his creditors slept then, and the muses alone did not belong among the latter.
I could not refrain from delivering the following harangue to him:
“Oh you who are knocking about up there, I understand you well, for I was once of your kind! But I gave up this occupation for an honorable trade that nourishes its man and that is really in no way devoid of poetry for the person who knows how to discover this in it. I am placed in your pathway as if as a satirical Stentor and here below on earth regularly interrupt, with a reminder of time and transitoriness, your dreams of immortality that you dream up there in the air. We are truly both night watchmen; only it’s too bad that your vigils bring in nothing in these coldly prosaic times, whereas mine always yield something extra. When I was still poetizing in the night like you, I had to go hungry like you and sang to deaf ears; the latter I still do now, to be sure, but people pay me for it. Oh friend poet, he who intends to live nowadays should not make verses. If, however, singing is inborn in you and you absolutely cannot forbear, well then, become a night watchman like me. That is still the only solid post for which you’re paid and where people don’t let you starve. —Good night, brother poet.”
I looked up once more and became aware of his shadow on the wall. He had struck a tragic pose, his one hand in his hair, his other holding the page from which he was apparently reciting to himself his immortality.
I blasted on my horn, called the time to him loudly, and went on my way . . .
Hold! There a sick man is awake—also in dreams like the poet, in true fever dreams.
All along the man was a freethinker, and, like Voltaire he is holding firm in his last hour. Then I see him through the peephole in the shutters. He gazes palely and calmly into empty nothingness, into which he intends to penetrate after an hour, in order to sleep forever the dreamless sleep. The roses of life have fallen from his cheeks but they blossom round about him on the faces of three gracious boys. Childishly innocent, the youngest frets before his pale, motionless visage, because it will no longer smile as it used to. The others stand observing soberly; they cannot yet imagine death in their fresh life.
In contrast, the young wife, with flowing hair and open, fair breast, looks despairing into the black grave and only now and again, as if mechanically, wipes the sweat from the dying man’s cold forehead.
Beside him the priest, glowing with anger, stands with raised crucfix to convert the freethinker. His speech swells mightily as a stream, and he paints the beyond in audacious pictures—not, however, the beautiful aurora of the new day and the budding arbors and angels, but, like a wild hellish Brueghel, the flames and abysses and the whole ghastly underworld of Dante.
In vain! The sick man remains mute and stubborn. With a frightful calm, he sees one leaf afer another falling and feels how the icy crust of death draws closer and closer to his heart.
The night wind whistled through my hair and rattled the decayed shutters like an invisible, approaching spirit of death. I shuddered. The sick man looked about with sudden strength, as if through a miracle he were speedily recovering and felt a new, higher life. This quick, bright flaring up of the already extinguishing flame, certain herald of imminent death, simultaneously casts a brilliant light into the night-piece set up before the dying man and shines, swiftly and for a moment, into the vernal world of faith and poetry. It is the double illumination in the Correggio night and fuses the earthly and heavenly ray into one marvelous splendor.
Firm and resolute, the sick man rejected the higher hope and thereby brought about a great moment. The priest thundered angrily into his soul and, like a desperate man, was now painting with tongues of fire and conjuring up all Tartarus into the final hour of the dying. The latter only smiled and shook his head.
I was in this moment certain of his endurance; for only the finite being cannot think the thought of annihilation, while the immortal spirit does not tremble before it, who—a free being—can freely offer himself to it, as Indian women boldly hurl themselves into the flames and dedicate themselves to annihilation.
A wild madness seemed to grip the priest at this sight, and true to his character, he now spoke—since descriptions appeared too feeble to him—in the person of the devil himself, which suited him perfectly. He expressed himself as a master in this role, genuinely diabolical in the boldest style and far from the weak manner of the modern devil.
It became too much for the sick man. He turned away gloomily and looked at the three spring roses that bloomed around his bed. Then the whole hot love flared up for the last time in his heart, and a light redness rushed over his pale visage like a memory. He had the boys held up for him and he kissed them with effort; then he laid his heavy head on the woman’s agitated breast, uttered a gentle “Oh!” that seemed more bliss than pain, and fell asleep lovingly in the arms of love.
The priest, true to his devil’s role, thundered into his ears—in accordance with the observation that in the case of deceased persons the hearing faculty still remains sensitive a rather long time—and promised him firmly and bindingly that the devil would claim not only his soul but also his body.
With this he burst forth onto the street. I had become confused, in the deception held him truly to be the devil, and set the pike at his breast as he wished to pass by me.“Go to the devil!” he said, snorting. Then I gathered my wits and said, “Pardon, reverend sir. In a kind of possession I held you to be Himself, and for that reason set the pike at your heart, as a ‘God-be-with-us.’ Excuse me for this once!”
He rushed on.
Oh! There in the room the scene had become more lovely. The fair wife held the pale beloved quietly in her arms like a slumberer; in fair ignorance she did not yet suspect death and believed that sleep would strengthen him for new life—a sweet belief, which did not deceive her in the higher sense. The children kneeled earnestly at the bed, and only the youngest endeavored to wake their father, while their mother, beckoning to him silently with her eyes, laid her hand on his curly head.
The scene was too beautiful; I turned away in order not to see the moment in which the illusion vanished.
With muted voice I sang a dirge under the window in order, through gentle tones, to supplant in the still hearing ear the monk’s cry of fire. Music is kindred to the dying; it is the first sweet sound of the distant beyond, and the muse of song is the mystical sister who points the way to heaven. So Jacob Boehme passed away, while listening to the distant music that none but the dying hear.
The hour called me once more to my nocturnal business; the desolate streets lay before me as if shrouded, and only a sheet of lightning now and then flew through them vaporously and swiftly, and far, far in the distance there was intermittent mumbling as of an incomprehensible incantation.
My poet had extinguished his lamp, because heaven was giving light and he considered this latter kind to be at the same time cheaper and more poetic. He gazed up into the flashes on high, reclining in his window, his white nightshirt open at the chest and his black hair shaggy and disordered about his head. I remembered similar super-poetic hours when there is a storm inside, when the mouth would speak in thunder and the hand grasp the lightning bolt instead of the pen to write fiery words with it. Then the spirit flies from pole to pole, believes it is winging over the entire universe, and when at last it arrives at speech—there is only the childish word, and the hand impetuously tears up the paper.
I banished this poetic devil in me, who in the end had the habit of always laughing sadistically over my weakness, usually through the spellbinding medium of music; now I am accustomed to just blasting shrilly a couple of times on the horn and then everything is soon past.
I can recommend the tone of my night watchman’s horn as a genuine antipoeticum for anyone anywhere who shies away from similar poetic surprises as from a fever. This remedy is cheap and of the greatest importance as well, since people in the present day follow Plato in considering poetry to be a rage, with the sole difference that he derived this rage from heaven and not from the booby hatch. But be that as it may, poetizing nowadays is everywhere still in a critical state, because there are so few deranged people anymore and such a surplus of rational ones is on hand that they can, out of their own means, occupy all specialties, even poetry. A sheer madman like me finds no employment under such circumstances, and therefore I’m merely skirting poetry now; that is, I have become a humorist, for which, as night watchman, I have the greatest leisure . . .
First, no doubt, I should probably demonstrate in advance my vocation as a humorist; only I’m not going to bother with that, because in general people themselves are not now so strict about vocation but to the contrary are content with position alone. For there are even poets without vocation, through mere position—and herewith I withdraw from the market.
A lightning flash was just flaming through the air; three figures were creeping like carnival masks along the churchyard wall. I called to them, but night had already resumed round about, and I saw nothing but a glowing tail and a couple of fiery eyes, and a voice close by murmured to the far thunder, as if in an accompaniment to Don Juan’s, “Do what your job is, night owl; but don’t meddle in ghostly work!”
That was just a litle too much for me, and I threw my pike in the direction from which the voice came; just then there was another flash—the three had dissolved into the air like Macbeth’s witches.
“You don’t recognize me as a spirit!”—I called afer them, still angry, in the hope that they would hear it—“and yet I was a poet, street minstrel, marionette director, and everything of the like ingenious spirit in turn. I would really like to have known your spirits in life, if you indeed really are already out of it! and to have seen whether mine could not have matched them; or have you acquired an addition of spirit afer your death, as we experienced in the case of a number of great men who became famous only afer their deaths and whose writings gained in spirit by long lying, like wine, which with increasing age grows more spirited.” . . .
I had approached to within a few feet of the excommunicated freethinker’s dwelling. From the open door a muted glow projected into the night and often strangely commingled with the storm light. A more perceptible mumbling also crossed from the far mountains, as if the spirit realm were seriously thinking of meddling in the game.
The dead man, according to the usual custom, was on open display in the hallway; a few unblessed candles were burning around him, because the priest of devilish memory had denied the blessing. The deceased smiled over this in his fast sleep or over his own foolish delusion which the beyond had controverted, and his smile shone like a distant reflection of life on the rigid death-set features.
Through a long, scarcely lit hall, one looked into a black-draped niche; there the three boys and their pale mother knelt motionless before an alta—the group of Niobe with her children—immersed in mute anxious prayer in order to snatch the deceased’s body and soul from the devil, to whom they had been assigned by the priest.
Only the brother of the departed, a soldier, kept watch by the coffin with a firm, sure belief in heaven and in his own courage which would dare to tangle with the devil himself. His glance was calm and expectant, and he looked alternately into the rigid face of the dead man and the storm light that often quivered inimically through the dull glow of the candles; his saber lay drawn on the corpse and, its pommel shaped like a cross, resembled both a spiritual and worldly weapon.
Moreover, deathly stillness reigned round about, and besides the distant growling of the storm and the sputering of the candles, one perceived nothing.
So things remained until in single solemn strokes the clock announced midnight;—then suddenly the storm wind drove a thunder cloud across like a nocturnal phantom high above in the sky roads, and soon it had spread its grave cloth over the whole sky. The candles around the coffin were extinguished, the thunder roared down angrily like a tumultuous power and summoned those who were fast asleep, and the cloud spewed out flame upon flame, by which alone the dead man’s rigid pale countenance was harshly and periodically illuminated.
I saw now that the soldier’s saber was glinting through the night and that he was bravely girding himself for battle.
And that came soon enough—the air cast up bubbles, and the three Macbeth ghosts were suddenly visible again, as if the storm wind had whirled them there by their pates. The lightning illuminated twisted devil’s masks and snaky hair and the whole hellish contrivance.
At that moment the devil caught me by a hair, and as the ghosts were going up the alley I impetuously mixed in with them. They were stunned over the fourth, unbidden party who ran into them as if they were walking on evil pathways.“What, the devil! Can the devil too walk on the paths of goodness!” I cried out, laughing wildly. “Then don’t be confused that I meet you on evil ones. I am of your ilk, brothers, I’ll make common cause with you!” . . .
That really made them disconcerted. The one blurted out,“God be with us!” and crossed himself, which surprised me, and on this account I exclaimed: “Brother devil, don’t fall so crudely out of character; I might otherwise almost despair of you and take you for a saint, at least for ordained. —If, however, I reflect on the mater more maturely, then I must rather congratulate you on finally also having digested the cross and, though by origin a devil incarnate, having developed, at least in appearance, into a saint!”
By my talk they probably finally hit on the fact that I was not one of their kind, and they all three went at me and now spoke in a genuinely clerical tone of excommunication and the like if I should disturb them in their business.
“Don’t worry,” I replied; “up to now I really haven’t believed in the devil, but since I’ve seen you, he’s become transparent to me, and I am certain that you will qualify for his gang. Settle your affairs, for no poor night watchman can tangle with hell and the church.”
And they went that way, into the house. I followed cautiously after.
It was a frightening spectacle. Stroke by stroke, lightning and night alternated. Now it was bright and one saw the three scuffling over the coffin and the flashing of the saber in the iron-nerved warrior’s hand, in between which the dead man gazed as motionless as a mask from his pale rigid face. Then it was deep night again and, far off, a dull shimmer in the recesses of the niche, and with her three children the kneeling mother wrestling in desperate prayer.
Everything occurred quietly and without words; however, now there was a sudden loud crumpling noise as if the devil had gained the upper hand. The lightning flashes became sparser, and it remained night for a longer time. Affer a little while, nonetheless, two emerged quickly at the door, and then I saw through the darkness by the shining of their eyes—that they actually were carrying a dead man off with them.
There I stood at the door cursing at myself; it was quite gloomy in the hall, no soul stirred, and I believed the valiant warrior too had at least had his neck broken.
In this instant a violent thunderbolt flashed, with which the storm cloud completely discharged itself and remained, as it were, like an erected torch, a space of time in the air without extinguishing. Then I saw the soldier, standing again calmly and coldly by the casket, and the corpse was smiling as before—but, oh wonder! Right next to the smiling death’s-head, a devil’s mask was grinning, but the torso was missing to complete the whole, and a purply red stream of blood stained the white winding sheet of the sleeping freethinker . . .
Shuddering, I wrapped myself in my cloak, forgot to blow and sing out the hour, and fled to my hut.
We night watchmen and poets care little indeed about the doings of men in the day; for by this time it belongs among the settled truths that when they act, men are very much creatures of daytime, and one may gain some interest in them at best when they dream.
For this reason, then, I learned only disconnected things about the outcome of that occurrence which I intend to communicate in a similarly disconnected way.
People broke their heads mostly over the head, for it was no usual type but a true devil’s head. Justice, to whom it was presented, dismissed the mater, opining that heads really didn’t fall in its province. It was indeed a bad business, and people even got to quarreling over whether they should proceed criminaliter against the soldier, for commiting manslaughter, or rather have to canonize him because the slain person was the devil. Out of the latter point issued in turn a new ill; indeed for several months absolution was no longer desired, because people now denied the devil’s existence point blank and cited in evidence the head taken into custody. The priests were screaming themselves hoarse from their pulpits and insisted without further ado that a devil could exist even without head, of which they were ready to adduce proofs from their own resources.
Of the head itself one could in fact not quite make heads or tails. The physiognomy was of iron; but a clasp that was located on the side almost led to the supposition that the devil had hidden yet another head under the first, which he perhaps saved only for special feast days. Worse was that the key to the clasp, and therefore also to this second face, was missing. Who knows what kind of frightening remarks about devil physiognomies could otherwise have been made, since, in contrast, the first was only an everyday face that the devil wears in any woodcut.
In this general confusion, and with the uncertainty whether one had a genuine devil’s head before oneself, it was decided that the head would be sent to Dr. Gall in Vienna, so that he might hunt out the unmistakable satanic protuberances on it; but then the church suddenly meddled in the game and declared that it was to be regarded as the first and last instance for such determinations. It had the skull handed over to itself, and soon thereupon, the way it was told, this had disappeared, and several of the ecclesiastical gentlemen claimed to have seen the devil himself in the night hours as he carried off with him the head he was missing.
Therewith the whole mater remained as good as unexplained, all the more so since the sole person who in any case could yet have shed some light, that same priest who had pronounced the anathema over the freethinker, had suffered sudden death by an apoplexy. So at least said rumor and cloistered gentlemen; for no profane person had seen the corpse itself, since, on account of the warm season, it had had to be interred quickly.
The story kept revolving in my head during my nightwatch, for up to now I had believed in only a poetic devil, in no way whatsoever in the real. As regards the poetic, it is certainly a great shame that people now neglect him so extremely and, instead of an absolute evil principle, prefer the virtuous scoundrels in the manner of Iffand and Kotzebue, in which the devil appears humanized and man satanized. In a vacillating era people are shy of anything absolute and autonomous; for this very reason, then, we no longer care to tolerate either genuine fun or genuine earnest, either genuine virtue or genuine malice. The character of the times is patched and pieced together like a fool’s coat, and worst of all, the fool buttoned in it would like to appear serious . . .
As I was engaging in these observations, I had posted myself in a niche before stony Crispin who wore just such a gray cloak as I. Suddenly a feminine form and a masculine form moved there right before me and almost leaned on me, because they held me to be the blind and deaf-mute one of stone.
The man was quite absorbed in rhetorical bombast and spoke in one breath of love and troth; the womanly figure, in contrast, credulously doubted and managed a lot of artificial handwringing. Now the man impudently made an appeal to me and swore he stood unchanging and inflexible as the statue. Then the satyr awoke in me, and when he laid his hand on my cloak as it were in protestation, I shook myself a litle maliciously, over which both were astonished; but the paramour took things very lightly and thought the block under the statue had sunk, whereby it had lost some of its equilibrium.
He now forswore his soul in the guise of ten characters from the newest dramas and tragedies one afer another, should he ever be faithless; in the end, he even spoke in the manner of Don Giovanni, which he had attended that evening, and closed with the signficant words: “This stone shall appear as a fearful guest at our nightly meal if my intentions are not honorable.”
I took note of this, and listened further as she described the house to him and the secret lever on the door by which he could open it, and at the same time fixed the midnight hour for the banquet.
I was at the place a half-hour early, found the house, the door, along with the secret lever, and slipped sofly up several back staircases to a room in which there was dim light. The light fell through two glass doors; I neared one and glimpsed a creature in its nightgown at a worktable, about whom at the start I remained in doubt as to whether it was a human being or a mechanical figure, so very much was everything human in iterased, with only the expression of work remaining. The creature wrote while buried in piles of documents, like a Laplander interred alive. It struck me as if it wanted to sample living and lodging under the earth already, in advance, for everything passionate and sympathetic was extinguished on its cold wooden forehead and the marionette sat lifelessly erect in its document coffin full of bookworms. Now the invisible wire was pulled and the fingers clicked, grasped the pen, and signed three papers in a row; I peered more acutely—they were death warrants. On the table lay the Code of Justinian and the criminal code, as it were, the personified soul of the marionette.
I could find no fault here; but the cold, righteous man appeared to me like a mechanical death machine that prostrates blindly; his worktable like the place of judgment on which in a minute he had with three strokes of the pen carried out three death sentences. By heaven, if I had had the choice between the two, I would rather be the living sinner than this dead righteous one.
It gripped me still more when I saw his well-struck counterfeit embossed in wax siting motionlessly opposite him, as if one lifeless copy were not sufficient and a double were needed in order to show the dead oddity from two different angles.
Now the lady from earlier stepped in, and the marionette took off its cap and laid it at its side, anxiously expectant. “Not yet gone to sleep?” she said. “What a wild kind of life you are leading! Always exerting your fantasy!” —“Fantasy?” he asked, puzzled. “What do you mean by that? I so seldom understand the new terminology with which you talk now.” —“Because you have no interest in anything higher; not even for the tragic!” —“Tragic? Ay, of course!” he answered complacently; “look here, I’m having three delinquents executed!” —“Oh woe, what sentiments!” —“How’s that? I thought this might give you a litle pleasure, because in the books you read, so many lose their lives. And therefore to surprise you, I have set the executions for your birthday!” —“My God! My nerves!” —“Oh woe, you get this atack so ofen now that I start feeling anxious in advance every time!” —“Oh well, unfortunately there is nothing you can do about it. Just go, I pray, and lie down to sleep!”
The conversation was at an end and he went, drying the sweat from his forehead. I decided in this instant, devilishly enough, to deliver his wife over to him, if possible this very night, under criminal jurisdiction, so that she would be under his power.
And it was not at all long until my Mars crept to his Venus. Since I limped by nature and didn’t have the best appearance, as Vulcan I really lacked little more than the golden net. Nonetheless, in the absence of this, I determined to apply a few golden truths and moral axioms. At the start things went quite tolerably; my fellow was sinning merely against poetry through a too-material tendency in his depictions; he painted a heaven full of nymphs and teasing love gods on the baldachin under which he thought to rest. The way there he strewed with trick roses, which he cast in numbers from himself in ornate figures of speech, and the thorns, which now and again were about to wound his feet, he avoided with light, frivolous turns.
When the sinner had now, however, so translated himself into a poetic element and, according to the spirit of the newest theories, had completely dismissed morality, when the green silk drape rolled down in front of the glass door and the whole place began to resemble a play behind curtains, I instantly applied my antipoeticum and blasted shrilly on the night watchman’s horn, then swung myself up onto an empty pedestal that was intended for the statue of Justice (who was till now still being worked on) and stood quietly and motionlessly.
The fearsome tone had shocked the two from poetry and the husband from sleep, and all three suddenly hurried at the same time out of two separate doors.
“The guest of stone”? the paramour cried, shuddering, when he spied me. “Ah, my Justice!” the husband, “has she finally been finished; how unexpectedly you have surprised me with this, darling!” —“Pure error,” I said; “Justice is still lying over at the sculptor’s and I have only placed myself on the pedestal provisionally so that it won’t be totally empty on especially important occasions. To be sure, I will ever remain but an expedient, for Justice is as cold as marble and has no heart in its stony breast; I, however, am a poor rogue full of sentimental tenderness and even now and then am somewhat in a poetic mood; nonetheless, in usual cases for this house I may still be good enough and, when necessary, play a stone guest. Such guests have this in their favor, that they don’t join in the eating and also don’t warm themselves when that could cause hurt; in contrast, the others easily catch fire and impudently make it hot for the master of the house, for which I have the immediate example.” —“Ay ay, my God, what’s this then?” stammered the husband.
“That the dumb begin to speak, do you mean? That flows from the frivolity of the age. One should never speak of the devil. Our young worldly gentlemen, however, go beyond that and misuse the like against weak souls in order to show themselves from the heroic angle. I have now taken my man at his word there, although I actually don’t belong here but stand outside in the marketplace in my gray cloak as St. Crispin of Stone.”
“God, what is one to think of this” he continued, alarmed. “It’s not at all according to regulations, and an unheard-of case!”
“For the learned jurist certainly! This same Crispin was a cobbler but, out of an unusual piety and a real surplus of virtue, devoted himself to thievery and stole leather in order to make shoes for the poor with it. What can be decided there, just speak! I see no other way out than to hang him first and canonize him afterward. One would have to proceed on similar grounds, for example, against adulterers who, merely to maintain peace in the house, offend against the laws; the animus here is obviously praiseworthy; and in general, this is really the crux of the mater. How many a woman would not torment her husband to death if such a house friend did not turn up and turn into a scoundrel out of pure morality! Here I am really getting to my theme, and we can now in God’s name open the book of criminal jurisdiction. —But I see that the suspects are already lying unconscious; so we must have a recess in the trial!”
“Suspects” the husband asked mechanically. “I don’t see any; that woman there is my beter half!” . . .
“All right then, in the first place let’s stay with her. Beter half! Quite right! That means the cross or the torment in marriage—and truly that marriage is already exemplary when this cross amounts to only a half. If you now, as the second half, are the marriage blessing, then your marriage is really heaven on earth.”
“Marriage blessing” he said with a deep sigh.
“No sentimental marginal gloss, dear friend; let’s rather cast our glance here upon the second suspect who is lying unconscious, likewise out of terror over the stone guest. If we could by right derive mitigating grounds for people from moral principles, then I would like to be his defender and at least try to avert for him the punishment of beheading that the Lex Carolina imposes on him— especially because in the case of such maleftactors beheading can be applied only in effigy, since for them, speaking seriously, there can be no talk of a head!” . . .
“That Karolin should all at once have become so horrible!” he said quite confused. “Just a short time ago, she was shuddering when I spoke of execution!” . . .
“I don’t blame you,” I answered, “for confusing the one Karolina with the other; for your living Karolina, as marriage cross and torture, is easily to be confounded with the penal one, which likewise doesn’t deal with a bed of roses. Indeed, I might almost assert, such a matrimonial one is much worse yet than the imperial, since in the latter at least there is no talk in a single instance of lifelong torment.” . . .
“But my god, it can’t go on this way, though!” he said suddenly, as if coming to himself. “One no longer really knows whether one’s waking or dreaming; indeed, I would like to pinch myself just to see whether I was waking or sleeping, if I didn’t want to swear to the fact of actually having heard the night watchman beforehand!” . . .
“Ay, my God” I exclaimed. “Now I awake; you have called me by my name, and it is my further good fortune that I don’t find myself too high just now, for example, on a roof or in a poetic ecstasy, so as to break my neck in falling down. Thus, however, I luckily am not standing higher than Justice should stand here, and so I remain human still and among men. You stare at me and don’t know what to make of it; but I’ll solve the matter for you at once. I am night watchman here and at the same time sleepwalker, apparently because both functions can be comprehended in one person. Whenever I now perform my office as night watchman, I ofTen get the desire to betake myself as sleepwalker to sharp points, such as roof peaks or other critical places, in this fashion; and so apparently I have even gotten onto the pedestal of Themis here. It’s a desperate humor that may yet cost me my neck; nonetheless, it often happens that I have thereby in my own way safeguarded the good inhabitants of this city against thefts just because I am in the habit of crawling into every corner, and precisely those thieves are the most harmless who only go about outside exercising their handiwork on shops with crowbars. This point, I believe, excuses me; and I herewith wish you well!”
I withdrew and left behind in astonishment the husband and the other two who also had come round again now. How they may still have conversed aferward with one another, I don’t know.
Copyright notice: Excerpted from The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura, translated by Gerald Gillespie, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2015 by University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)