The Magic Mountain Necessary Purchases

“IS your summer over now?” Hans Castorp ironically asked his cousin, on the third day.

There had come a violent change of scene.

On the visitor’s second full day up here, the most brilliant summer weather prevailed. Above the aspiring lance-shaped tips of the fir-trees the sky gleamed deepest blue, the village down in the valley glared white in the heat, and the air was filled with the sound, half gay, half pensive, of bells, from the cows that roamed the slopes, cropping the short, sun-warmed meadow grass. At early breakfast the ladies appeared in lingerie blouses, some with open-work sleeves, which did not become them all alike. In particular it did not suit Frau Stöhr, the skin of whose arms was too porous; such a fashion was distinctly not for her. The masculine population too had in various ways taken cognizance of the fine weather: they sported mohair coats and linen suits—Joachim Ziemssen had put on white flannel trousers with his blue coat, and thus arrayed looked more military than ever.

As for Settembrini, he had more than once announced his intention of changing.

“Heavens, how hot the sun is!” he said, as he and the cousins strolled down to the village after luncheon. “I see I shall have to put on thinner clothes.” Yet after this explicit expression of his intentions, he continued to appear in his check trousers and pilot coat with the wide lapels. They were probably all his wardrobe could boast. But on the third day it seemed as though nature suffered a sudden reserve;

everything turned topsy-turvy. Hans Castorp could scarcely trust his eyes. It happened when they were lying in their balconies, some twenty minutes after the midday meal. Swiftly the sun hid its face, ugly turf-coloured clouds drew up over the south-western ridge, and a wind from a strange quarter, whose chill pierced to the marrow, as though it came out of some unknown icy region, swept suddenly through the valley; down went the thermometer—a new order obtained.

“Snow,” said Joachim’s voice, behind the glass partition,

“What do you mean, snow?” Hans Castorp asked him. “You don’t mean to say it is going to snow now?”

“Certainly,” answered Joachim. “We know that wind. When it comes, it means sleighing.”

“Rubbish!” Hans Castorp said. “If I remember rightly, it is the beginning of August.”

But Joachim, versed in the signs of the region, knew whereof he spoke. For in a few minutes, accompanied by repeated claps of thunder, a furious snow-storm set in, so heavy that the landscape seemed wrapped in white smoke, and of village and valley scarcely anything could be seen.

It snowed away all the afternoon. The heat was turned on. Joachim availed himself of his fur sack, and was not deterred from the service of the cure; but Hans Castorp took refuge in his room, pushed up a chair to the hot pipes, and remained there, looking with frequent head-shakings at the enormity outside. By next morning the storm had ceased. The thermometer showed a few degrees above freezing, but the snow lay a foot deep, and a completely wintry landscape spread itself before Hans Castorp’s astonished eyes. They had turned off the heat. The temperature of the room was 45°.

“Is your summer over now?” Hans Castorp asked his cousin, in bitter irony.

“You can’t tell,” answered the matter-of-fact Joachim. “We may have fine summer weather yet. Even in September it is very possible. The truth is, the seasons here are not so distinct from each other; they run in together, so to speak, and don’t keep to the calendar. The sun in winter is often so strong that you take off your coat, and perspire as you walk. And in summer—well, you see for yourself! And then the snow, that puts out all one’s calculations. It snows in January, but in May not much less, and, as you observe, it snows in August too. On the whole, one may say there is never a month without snow; you may take that for a rule. In short, there are winter days and summer days, spring and autumn days; but regular seasons we don’t actually have up here.”

“A fine mixed-up state of affairs,” said Hans Castorp. In overcoat and galoshes he went with his cousin down to the village, to buy himself blankets for the out-of-doors cure, since it was plain his plaid would not suffice. For the moment he even weighed the thought of purchasing a fur sack as well, but gave it up, indeed, felt a certain revulsion from the idea.

“No, no,” he said, “we’ll stop at the covers. I’ll have use for them down below, and everybody has covers; there’s nothing strange or exciting about them. But a fur sack is altogether too special—if I buy one, it is as if I were going to settle down here, as if I belonged, understand what I mean? No, for the present we’ll let it go at that; it would absolutely not be worth while to buy a sack for the few weeks I’m up here.”

Joachim agreed, and they acquired two camel’s-hair rugs like his own, in a fine and well-stocked shop in the English quarter. They were in natural colour, long, broad, and delightfully soft, and were to be sent at once to the International Sanatorium Berghof, Room 34: Hans Castorp looked forward to using them that very afternoon. This, of course, was after second breakfast, for otherwise the daily programme left no time sufficient to go down into the Platz. It was raining now, and the snow in the streets had turned to a slush that spattered as they walked. They overtook Settembrini on the road, climbing up to the sanatorium under an umbrella, bare-headed. The Italian looked sallow; his mood was obviously elegiac. In well-chosen, clearly enunciated phrases he complained of the cold and damp from which he suffered so bitterly. If they would only heat the building! But the ruling powers, in their penuriousness, had the fire go out directly it stopped snowing—an idiotic rule, an insult to human intelligence. Hans Castorp objected that presumably a moderate temperature was part of the regimen of the cure; it would certainly not do to coddle the patients. But Settembrini answered with embittered scorn. Oh, of course, the regimen of the cure! Those august and inviolate rules! Hans Castorp was right in referring to them, as he did, with bated breath. Yet it was rather striking (of course only in the pleasantest sense) that the rules most honoured in the observance were precisely those which chimed with the financial interest of the proprietors of the establishment; whereas, on the other hand, to those less favourable they were inclined to shut an eye. The cousins laughed, and Settembrini began to speak of his deceased father, who had been brought to his mind in connexion with the talk about heated rooms.

“My father,” he said slowly, in tones replete with filial piety, “my father was a most delicately organized man, sensitive in body as in soul. How he did love his tiny, warm little study! In winter a temperature of twenty degrees Réaumur must always obtain there, by means of a small red-hot stove. When you entered it from the corridor on a day of cold and damp, or when the cutting tramontana blew, the warmth of it laid itself about you like a shawl, so that for very pleasure your eyes would fill with tears. The little room was stuffed with books and manuscripts, some of them of great value; he stood among them, at his narrow desk, in his blue flannel night-shirt, and devoted himself to the service of letters. He was small and delicately built, a good head shorter than I—imagine!—but with great tufts of grey hair on his temples, and a nose—how long and pointed it was! And what a Romanist, my friends! One of the first of his time, with a rare mastery of our own tongue, and a Latin stylist such as no longer exists—ah, a ‘ uomo letterato’ after Boccaccio’s own heart! From far and wide scholars came to converse with him—one from Haparanda, another from Cracow—they came to our city of Padua, expressly to pay him homage, and he received them with dignified friendliness. He was a poet of distinction too, composing in his leisure tales in the most elegant Tuscan prose—he was a master of the idioma gentile,”

Settembrini said, rolling his native syllables with the utmost relish on his tongue and turning his head from side to side. “He laid out his little garden after Virgil’s own plan—and all that he said was sane and beautiful. But warm, warm he must have it in his little room; otherwise he would tremble with cold, and he could weep with anger if they let him freeze. And now imagine, Engineer, and you, Lieutenant, what I, the son of my father, must suffer in this accursed and barbarous land, where even at summer’s height the body shakes with cold, and the spirit is tortured and debased by the sights it sees.—Oh, it is hard! What types about us! This frantic devil of a Hofrat,

Krokowski”—Settembrini pretended to trip over the name—“Krokowski, the fatherconfessor, who hates me because I’ve too much human dignity to lend myself to his papish practices.—And at my table—what sort of society is that in which I am forced to take my food? At my right sits a brewer from Halle—Magnus by name—with a moustache like a bundle of hay. ‘Don’t talk to me about literature,’ says he. ‘What has it to offer? Anything but beautiful characters? What have I to do with beautiful characters? I am a practical man, and in life I come into contact with precious few.’ That is the idea he has of literature—beautiful characters! Mother of God! His wife sits there opposite him, losing flesh all the time, and sinking further and further into idiocy. It is a filthy shame.”

Hans Castorp and Joachim were in silent agreement about this talk of Settembrini’s: they found it querulous and seditious in tone, if also highly entertaining and “plastic” in its verbal pungency and animus. Hans Castorp laughed good-humouredly over the

“bundle of hay,” likewise over the “beautiful characters”—or, rather, the drolly despairing way Settembrini spoke of them.

Then he said: “Good Lord, yes, the society is always mixed in a place like this, I suppose. One’s not allowed to choose one’s table-mates—that would lead to goodness knows what! At our table there is a woman of the same sort, a Frau Stöhr—I think you know her? Ghastly ignorant, I must say—sometimes when she rattles on, one doesn’t know where to look. But she complains a lot about her temperature, and how relaxed she feels, and I’m afraid she is by no means a light case. That seems so strange to me: diseased and stupid both—I don’t exactly know how to express it, but it gives me a most peculiar feeling, when somebody is so stupid, and then ill into the bargain. It must be the most melancholy thing in life. One doesn’t know what to make of it; one wants to feel a proper respect for illness, of course—after all there is a certain dignity about it, if you like. But when such asininity comes on top of it—

‘cosmic’ for ‘cosmetic,’ and other howlers like that—one doesn’t know whether to laugh or to weep. It is a regular dilemma for the human feelings—I find it more deplorable than I can say. What I mean is, it’s not consistent, it doesn’t hang together; I can’t get used to the idea. One always has the idea of a stupid man as perfectly healthy and ordinary, and of illness as making one refined and clever and unusual. At least as a rule—or I don’t know, perhaps I am saying more than I could stand for,” he finished. “It was only because we happened to speak of it”—He stopped in confusion. Joachim too looked rather uncomfortable, and Settembrini lifted his eyebrows and said not a word, with an air of waiting politely for the end of his speech. He was, in fact, holding off until Hans Castorp should break down entirely before he answered. But now he said: “Sapristi, Engineer! You are displaying a most unexpected gift of philosophy! By your own theory, you must be yourself more ailing than you look, you are so obviously possessed of esprit. But, if you will permit me to say so, I can hardly subscribe to your deductions; I must deny them; my position is one of absolute dissent. I am, as you see, rather intolerant than otherwise in things of the intellect; I would rather be reproached as a pedant than suffer to pass unchallenged a point of view which seemed to me so untenable as this of yours.”

“But, Herr Settembrini, I—”

“Permit me. I know what you would say: that the views you represent are not, of necessity, your own; that you have only chanced upon that one of all the possible ones there are, as it were, in the air, and you try it on, without personal responsibility. It befits your time of life, thus to avoid the settled convictions of the mature man, and to make experiments with a variety of points of view. Placet experiri,” he quoted, giving the Italian pronunciation to the c. “That is a good saying. But what troubles me is that your experiment should lead you in just this direction. I doubt if it is a question of sheer chance. I fear the presence of a general tendency, which threatens to crystallize into a trait of character, unless one makes head against it. I feel it my duty, therefore, to correct you. You said that the sight of dullness and disease going hand in hand must be the most melancholy in life. I grant you, I grant you that. I too prefer an intelligent ailing person to a consumptive idiot. But I take issue where you regard the combination of disease with dullness as a sort of aesthetic inconsistency, an error in taste on the part of nature, a ‘dilemma for the human feelings,’ as you were pleased to express yourself. When you professed to regard disease as something so refined, so—

what did you call it?—possessing a ‘certain dignity’—that it doesn’t ‘go with’

stupidity. That was the expression you used. Well, I say no! Disease has nothing refined about it, nothing dignified. Such a conception is in itself pathological, or at least tends in that direction. Perhaps I may best arouse your mistrust of it if I tell you how ancient and ugly this conception is. It comes down to us from a past seething with superstition, in which the idea of humanity had degenerated and deteriorated into sheer caricature; a past full of fears, in which well-being and harmony were regarded as suspect and emanating from the devil, whereas infirmity was equivalent to a free pass to heaven. Reason and enlightenment have banished the darkest of these shadows that tenanted the soul of man—not entirely, for even yet the conflict is in progress. But this conflict, my dear sirs, means work, earthly labour, labour for the earth, for the honour and the interests of mankind; and by that conflict daily steeled anew, the powers of reason and enlightenment will in the end set humanity wholly free and lead it in the path of progress and civilization toward an even brighter, milder, and purer light.”

“Lord bless us,” thought Hans Castorp, in shamefaced consternation. “What a homily! How, I wonder, did I call all that down on my head? I must say, I find it rather prosy. And why does he talk so much about work all the time? It is his constant theme; not a very pertinent one up here, one would think.” Aloud he said: “How beautifully you do talk, Herr Settembrini! What you say is very well worth hearing—

and could not be more—more plastically expressed, I should think.”

“Backsliding,” continued Settembrini, as he lifted his umbrella away above the head of a passer-by, “spiritual backsliding in the direction of that dark and tortured age, that, believe me, Engineer, is disease—a disease already sufficiently studied, to which various names have been given: one from the terminology of aesthetics and psychology, another from the domain of politics—all of them academic terms which are not to the point, and which I will spare you. But as in the spiritual life everything is interrelated, one thing growing out of another, and since one may not reach out one’s little finger to the Devil, lest he take the whole hand, and therewith the whole man; since, on the other side, a sound principle can produce only sound results, no matter which end one begins at—so disease, far from being something too refined, too worthy of reverence, to be associated with dullness, is, in itself, a degradation of mankind, a degradation painful and offensive to conceive. It may, in the individual case, be treated with consideration; but to pay it homage is—mark my words—an aberration, and the beginning of intellectual confusion. This woman you have mentioned to me—you will pardon me if I do not trouble to recall her name—ah, thank you, Frau Stöhr—it is not, it seems to me, the case of this ridiculous woman which places the human feelings in the dilemma to which you refer. She is ill, and she is limited; her case is hopeless, and the matter is simple. There is nothing left but to pity and shrug one’s shoulders. The dilemma, my dear sir, the tragedy, begins where nature has been cruel enough to split the personality, to shatter its harmony by imprisoning a noble and ardent spirit within a body not fit for the stresses of life. Have you heard of Leopardi, Engineer, or you, Lieutenant? An unhappy poet of my own land, a crippled, ailing man, born with a great soul, which his sufferings were constantly humiliating and dragging down into the depths of irony—its lamentations rend the heart to hear.”

And Settembrini began to recite in Italian, letting the beautiful syllables melt upon his tongue, as he closed his eyes and swayed his head from side to side, heedless that his hearers understood not a syllable. Obviously it was all done for the sake of impressing his companions with his memory and his pronunciation.

“But you don’t understand; you hear the words, yet without grasping their tragic import. My dear sirs, can you comprehend what it means when I tell you that it was the love of woman which the crippled Leopardi was condemned to renounce; that this it principally was which rendered him incapable of avoiding the embitterment of his soul? Fame and virtue were shadows to him, nature an evil power—and so she is, stupid and evil both, I agree with him there—he even despaired, horrible to say, he even despaired of science and progress! Here, Engineer, is the true tragedy. Here you have your ‘dilemma for the human feelings,’ here, and not in the case of that wretched woman, with whose name I really cannot burden my memory. Do not, for heaven’s sake, speak to me of the ennobling effects of physical suffering! A soul without a body is as inhuman and horrible as a body without a soul—though the latter is the rule and the former the exception. It is the body, as a rule, which flourishes exceedingly, which draws everything to itself, which usurps the predominant place and lives repulsively emancipated from the soul. A human being who is first of all an invalid is all body; therein lies his inhumanity and his debasement. In most cases he is little better than a carcass—”

“Funny,” Joachim said, bending forward to look at his cousin, on Herr

Settembrini’s farther side. “You were saying something quite like that just lately.”

“Was I?” said Hans Castorp. “Yes, it may be something of the kind went through my head.”

Settembrini was silent a few paces. Then he said: “So much the better. So much the better if that is true. I am far from claiming to expound an original philosophy—such is not my office. If our engineer here has been making observations in harmony with my own, that only confirms my surmise that he is an intellectual amateur and up to the present, as is the wont of gifted youth, still experimenting with various points of view. The young man with parts is no unwritten page, he is rather one upon which all the writing has already been done, in sympathetic ink, the good and the bad together; it is the schoolmaster’s task to bring out the good, to obliterate for ever the bad, by the methods of his profession.—You have been making purchases?” he asked, in a lighter tone.

“No,” Hans Castorp said. “That is, nothing but—”

“We ordered a pair of blankets for my cousin,” Joachim answered unconcernedly.

“For the afternoon cure—it’s got so beastly cold; and I am supposed to do as the Romans do, up here,” Hans Castorp said, laughing and looking at the ground.

“Ah ha! Blankets—the cure,” Settembrini said. “Yes, yes. In fact: placet experiri,”

he repeated, with his Italian pronunciation, and took his leave, for their conversation had brought them to the door of the sanatorium, where they greeted the lame concierge in his lodge. Settembrini turned off into one of the sitting-rooms, to read the newspapers before luncheon. He evidently meant to cut the second rest period.

“Bless us and keep us!” Hans Castorp said to Joachim, as they stood in the lift.

“What a pedagogue it is! He said himself that he had the ‘pedagogic itch.’ One has to watch out with him, not to say more than one means, or he is down on you at once with all his doctrines. But after all, it is worth listening to, he talks so well; the words come jumping out of his mouth so round and appetizing—when I listen to him, I keep seeing a picture of fresh hot rolls in my mind’s eye.”

Joachim laughed. “Better not tell him that. He’d be very put out I’m sure, to hear the sort of image his words call up in your mind.”

“Think so? I’m not so sure. I get the impression that it is not simply and solely for the sake of edifying us that he talks; perhaps that’s only a secondary motive. The important one, I feel sure, is the talk itself, the way he makes his words roll out, so resilient, just like a lot of rubber balls! He is very pleased when you notice the effect. I suppose Magnus, the brewer, was rather stupid, after all, with his ‘beautiful characters’; but I do think Settembrini might have said what the point really is in literature. I did not like to ask, for fear of putting my foot in it; I am not just clear about it, and this is the first time I have ever known a literary man. But if it isn’t the beautiful characters, then obviously it must be the beautiful words, and that is the impression I get from being in Settembrini’s society. What a vocabulary! and he uses the word virtue just like that, without the slightest embarrassment. What do you make of that? I’ve never taken the word in my mouth as long as I’ve lived; in school, when the book said ‘ virtus,’ we always just said ‘valour’ or something like that. It certainly gave me a queer feeling in my inside, to hear him. And it makes me nervous to hear him scolding, about the cold, and Behrens, and Frau Magnus because she is losing weight, and about pretty well everything. He is a born objector, I saw that at once, down on the existing order; and that always gives me the impression that the person is spoilt—I can’t help it.”

“You say that,” Joachim answered consideringly, “and yet he has a kind of pride about him that makes an altogether different impression: as of a man who has great respect for himself, or for humanity in general; and I like that about him; it has something good, in my eyes.”

“You are right, there,” Hans Castorp answered. “He’s even austere; he makes one feel rather uncomfortable, as if you were—well, shall I say as if you were being taken to task? That’s not such a bad way to describe it. Can you believe it, I had the feeling he was not at all pleased at my buying the blankets? He had something against it, and he kept dwelling on it.”

“Oh, no,” Joachim said after reflecting, in some surprise. “How could he have? I shouldn’t think so.” And then, thermometer in mouth, with sack and pack, he went to lie down, while Hans Castorp began at once to wash and change for dinner—which was rather less than an hour away.