MEPHISTOPHELES returns in order to drive home his advantage before there
is any chance of Faust’s bitter despondency being dispelled. The idea of
a scene which Goethe had once thought of inserting between the preceding
one and this, in which Mephistopheles was to take part as a wandering scholar
in an academic disputation with Faust at an official university function
with the Rector, students and Wagner present, was dropped. It was, indeed,
not only unnecessary to mark the passage of time -- a very short time seemingly
-- but such an event might well have seerved to undermine the despair with
which Faust was left on his awakening. Thus, the initiative which Faust
had possessed in the previous scene now passes to Mephistopheles, Faust
having a confused belief that perhaps after all the dog was a real dog
and Mephistopheles a dream, and that even his moment of superiority was
therefore an illusion. Since it is Mephistopheles’ purpose to keep Faust
at a disadvantage, he begins by exploiting the tradition that the devil
must be thrice asked to enter.
|So gefällst du mir,
he gloats. Only with Faust in such a subservient frame of mind as this can he profitably discuss a pact.
Mephistopheles has chosen his appearance similarly with a view to tempting his victim. The guise of a scholar had served as an introduction. That which he now assumes as he presents himself as a fashionable cavalier, ‘ein edler Junker’, and man of the world is intended to turn Faust’s thoughts to earthly things. (We may note in passing the sociological innuendo that his dress is designed to convey; namely, a bourgeois-puritanical association of aristocracy and evil.) His first suggestion is that Faust should dress likewise. His buoyancy only adds, however, to his victim’s despair. The latter has been too long imprisoned in his academic gown to believe that a new suit will work a change. He is too old to enjoy life, too young to be without desire; doomed to endless renunciation, thwarted by actuality, a prey to nightmares, lacking an outlet for his inward excitement, he finds life a burden and longs for death. His strength is inadequate for the satisfaction of his impulses, and life itself too limited for the fulfilment of the divine urge which he feels within him. Maddeningly reminded by Mephistopheles of his attempted suicide, he is led to speak with hopeless lyricism of death in the hour of glory or of love or, in his case, at the feet of the Earth Spirit which, though annihilating, still remains a haunting memory. The thought, cunningly suggested by Mephistopheles, of an opportunity lost through recollections of earthly joys causes him to curse everything that holds humanity fast to the world: man’s high opinion of his destiny, beauty, fame, possessions, family, money, daring, luxury, wine, love, hope, faith and, above all else, patience. The good things of life are merely lures that keep us enveloped in what is too restricted for the complete unfolding of our divine heritage. Frustrated because of his personal career, Faust elevates his complaint into a belief that life itself is a frustration.
Faust is at this point just as negative in his attitude towards human life as Mephistopheles had shown himself to be in the Prologue in Heaven, and the latter is naturally pleased to find such agreement with his own point of view despite the Lord’s optimistic assurance. Faust’s all-embracing condemnation of life’s values is thus an indispensable preliminary to the pact. It is clear that he will not enter into any contract to seek enjoyment or respite from despair. He will enter into it believing that nothing can give worth to human existence, that all life is an illusion and happiness impossible. He has cursed in advance anything that Mephistopheles can offer. The titanic yearning in his heart finds human life too frail to contain it. Nature in her highest creature has, it appears, omitted to make proper provision for its divine striving.
A chorus of spirits protests at Faust’s curse and urges him to start
afresh. Its commentary is important, for it underlines the decisiveness
of his breach with normal life. He has renounced it, and his only remedy
is to create a new life within himself. Until and unless he does this,
he will be a victim of the gravest of all delusions; namely, that he really
can divorce himself from natural human existence. The spirits point the
moral of the whole poem in their few words, and their intervention is thus
of great symbolical significance. Whether they are angelic or diabolical
spirits is not really material. Heaven on its part cannot tolerate Faust’s
negation, for the life to come can only be gained through this life; nor,
if he is to be beguiled by earthly things, can Hell tolerate it either.
Mephistopheles claims the spirits as his, for he now sees the danger that
a compact will be out of the question unless Faust can be roused to a more
amenable frame of mind. He therefore follows up their appeal by deprecating
his victim’s despondency and offering himself without condition as his
companion, with a view, after a probationary period, to becoming his servant.
He will take him out into the world, he says, so that Faust may realize
that he is wrong in his views:
|Die schlechteste Gesellschaft läßt dich fühlen,
Daß du ein Mensch mit Menschen bist.
Doch so ist’s nicht gemeint,
Dich unter das Pack zu stoßen.
Ich bin keiner von den Großen;
Doch willst du, mit mir vereint,
Deine Schritte durchs Leben nehmen,
So will ich mich gem bequemen,
Dein zu sein, auf der Stelle.
Ich bin dein Geselle
Und, mach’ ich dir’s recht,
Bin ich dein Diener, bin dein Knecht!
[[ No company so vile but brings relief,
And marks you for a man among mankind.
By this I don’t suggest
We thrust you in among the common herd.
I’m not the grandest person or the best,
But if you care to take me at my word
And join with me, and make a common quest,
I’m very much at your disposal,
That’s my proposal:
I’ll make a pact with you,
Find what you crave,
And see you through,
Your comrade and your slave. ]]
Mephistopheles evades Faust’s inquiry as to what he is to do in return,
but, on being pressed, offers the traditional compact: that he will serve
Faust on earth and Faust will serve him when (or if) they meet in the hereafter:
|Ich will mich hier zu deinem Dienst verbinden,
Auf deinen Wink nicht rasten und nicht ruhn;
Wenn wir uns drüben wieder finden,
So sollst du mir das gleiche tun.
[[ Then here below in service I’ll abide,
Fulfilling tirelessly your least decree,
If when we meet upon the other side
You undertake to do the same for me. ]]
It is the traditional pact, except that the traditional time-limit of twenty-four years is not mentioned. The time-limit is to be Faust’s earthly life. The Lord had said as much in the Prologue. There was then, however, no mention of a pact between Mephistopheles and Faust. Indeed, the Lord’s promise given to Mephistopheles may make it seem to be unnecessary. On the other hand, Mephistopheles is wise to insist on one, for Faust, improbable though it may seem, might repudiate him.
The proposal does not appeal to Faust. He is not concerned about the
hereafter. It is not that he denies its existence; his belief is merely
that this life should not be lived in terms of the next, about which we
can know nothing. In view of his later career it is important to note Faust’s
unwillingness to sacrifice the substance for the shadow. It is precisely
the frame of mind in which he has found himself since his denunciation
of learning at the beginning. This it is which, while plunging him into
despair when he realizes that he has in fact been sacrificing the substance
to the shadow all along, does not deprive him altogether of his attachment
to life. Mephistopheles, unable to credit his good luck in finding so apparently
pliable a victim, hastily asks for Faust’s agreement:
|In diesem Sinne kannst du’s wagen.
Verbinde dich; du sollst in diesen Tagen
Mit Freuden meine Künste sehn,
Ich gebe dir, was noch kein Mensch gesehn.
[[ Now that’s the very spirit for the venture.
I’m with you straight, we’ll draw up an indenture:
I’ll show you arts and joys, I’ll give you more
Than any mortal eye has seen before. ]]
He fails, however, to take account of Faust’s realism, already obvious
when they first met, concerning the devil and any compact with him, and
also appears to have momentarily forgotten that Faust was serious in cursing
|Was willst du armer Teufel geben?
Ward eines Menschen Geist in seinem hohen Streben
Von deinesgleichen je gefaßt?
[[ And what, poor devil, pray, have you to give?
When was a mortal soul in high endeavour
Grasped by your kind, as your correlative? ]]
asks Faust with supreme scorn, words which for a moment place him, despite their context, on the side of the Lord.
‘Eines Menschen Geist in seinem hohen Streben’ -- that is what Faust has been concerned with all the time. Life itself is too small and frail for it! And yet without it human life would be meaningless. Faust is not concerned except with what life cannot give. ‘I do not want satisfaction, I want dissatisfaction’, he rages. ‘I do not ask you to give me pleasure and contentment, but the reverse. I desire your gifts to be illusions because I cannot believe that the world is other than illusory. I do not seek repose, for repose is something in which I believe so little that if ever it came my way I should wish that day to be my last. I do not seek happiness, for I cannot accept it as an end in life and wish to die if ever I attain it.’ This is what Faust says, in effect, in the next speeches, in lines charged with savage mockery and challenge. Mephistopheles takes him on. Each is sure that he can prove the other wrong. Mephistopheles is ready to provide illusion easily enough, as Faust really knows, but of course, as we remember from the Prologue in Heaven, his real purpose is to break down Faust’s restless striving, which the Lord had commended, and bring him to a bed of ease. This is what Faust defies him to do. Two diametrically opposed outlooks are face to face, the one convinced that satisfaction can be induced, the other that it cannot. In opposing Mephistopheles, Faust now comes clearly though unwittingly to the point of view of the Lord.
We are still dealing with the proposition: ‘I will serve you here and you will serve me when (or if) we meet in the hereafter’. Faust objects to it on two scores: that he is indifferent to the next life and that in any case Mephistopheles cannot serve him in this as he would wish to be served. So full is he of the mal du siècle that he believes it cannot be dissipated and erects out of his belief a philosophy of the utter insufficiency of life itself. Upon life’s brow is branded, and doomed for ever to be branded, the mark of dissatisfaction.
It is necessary to look more closely at the stages through which the
altercation passes. Faust’s indifference to the life to come is quickly
described. The idea of serving Mephistopheles there has no meaning, for
who knows whether the life in the hereafter will bear any kind of comparison
with this? This point is quite apart from the ambiguity, which Faust perhaps
detects, in the phrase: ‘Wenn wir uns drüben wieder finden’
(l. 1658). The important thing is that the mention of the next world brings
Faust to a sense of greater attachment to this, despite the curse which
he had uttered:
|Schlägst du erst diese Welt zu Trümmern,
Die andre mag darnach entstehn.
Aus dieser Erde quillen meine Freuden,
Und diese Sonne scheinet meinen Leiden;
Kann ich mich erst von ihnen scheiden,
Dann mag, was will und kann, geschehn.
[[ (The other side weighs little on my mind;)
Lay first this world in ruins, shattered, blind:
That done, the new may rise its place to fill
From springs of earth my joys and pleasures start,
Earth’s sunlight sees the sorrows of my heart;
If these are mine no more when I depart,
(The rest concerns me not: let come what will
This is a theme to which I close my ears, ...) ]]
Faust’s next point is doubt of Mephistopheles’ ability to grant his
desires in this world. He declares that he does not want contentment but
the reverse. He lists the things that are the very opposite of what is
generally desired: food that does not satisfy, money that melts away, games
that are never won, love that is faithless, honour that vanishes, fruit
that rots before it is plucked and trees that do not accord with the seasons’
cycles. There is, none the less, a hollow sound about his words. As Faust
is speaking and demanding illusion, he gradually realizes that illusion
is precisely what Mephistopheles dispenses, and, indeed, the very things
mentioned here are in fact purveyed by him at a later stage: sham wine,
sham gold and phantasms of love and honour. As an argument for rejecting
Mephistopheles’ terms this speech is particularly unconvincing. Mephistopheles
therefore at once declares that he can supply these requirements, adding,
however, completely misunderstanding Faust, that dissatisfaction will not
last for ever and contentment will be longed for in its place:
|Ein solcher Auftrag schreckt mich nicht,
Mit solchen Schätzen kann ich dienen.
Doch, guter Freund, die Zeit kommt auch heran,
Wo wir was Guts in Ruhe schmausen mögen.
[[ A task that gives me little cause to shrink,
I’ll readily oblige you with such treasures.
But now, my friend, the time is ripe, I think,
For relishing in peace some tasty pleasures. ]]
Mephistopheles little knows what a tempest he has roused by these maddening
words, unless it be that it is his intention to bring Faust to such a pitch
of angry denunciation that he will get him, without sensible argument,
to sign his terms. Faust replies:
|Werd’ ich beruhigt je mich auf ein Faulbett
So sei es gleich um mich getan!
Kannst du mich schmeichelnd je belügen,
Daß ich mir selbst gefallen mag,
Kannst du mich mit Genuß betrügen;
Das sei für mich der letzte Tag!
Die Wette biet’ ich!
[[ If I be quieted with a bed of ease,
Then let that moment be the end of me!
If ever flattering lies of yours can please
And soothe my soul to self-sufficiency,
And make me one of pleasure’s devotees,
Then take my soul, for I desire to die:
And that’s a wager! ]]
‘You talk to me about ease and comfort’, he cries. ‘If ever a moment comes when I shall lie upon a bed of ease, let that moment be my last! If ever you give me pleasure in life or lull me with enjoyment, then may I die! You completely misunderstand me.’ Faust is so convinced that ease and happiness are outside the scope of human life that he is prepared to stake his earthly existence as proof. He will not deserve to live if he seeks repose. (Put slightly differently, his words could mean that he is so depressed by a sense of the futility of life that for one moment of unattainable tranquillity, life itself would be worth sacrificing.)
Mephistopheles is not deterred and agrees to Faust’s wager. The latter
is now drawn a step further and goes on to say:
|Werd’ ich zum Augenblicke sagen:
Verweile doch! du bist so schön!
Dann magst du mich in Fesseln schlagen,
Dann will ich gern zugrunde gehn!
Dann mag die Totenglocke schallen,
Dann bist du deines Dienstes frei,
Die Uhr mag stehn, der Zeiger fallen,
Es sei die Zeit für mich vorbei!
[[ If to the fleeting hour I say
"Remain, so fair thou art, remain!"
Then bind me with your fatal chain,
For I will perish in that day. --
’Tis I for whom the bell shall toll,
Then you are free, your service done.
For me the clock shall fail, to ruin run,
And timeless night descend upon my soul. ]]
‘If ever I bid the passing moment: “Tarry, thou art so fair”, then also I shall be ready to die, my knell may toll, your service will be over and time will no longer exist for me.’ Faust is thus prepared for his life to end if either of the two conditions is fulfilled, if he shall lie upon a bed of ease or if he bids the passing moment tarry. His demands for dissatisfaction thus lead, as Goethe said to Sulpiz Boisserée on the 3rd August, 1815, to his imposing a stipulation from which all else follows. The bet amplifies the pact proposed by Mephistopheles. The latter’s service is to terminate if Faust gives up, even for a moment, his belief in dissatisfaction. That belief, Faust declares, is to be as long as his life. He may thus die unsatisfied. But, if satisfied, he is willing to die immediately. That he should go on living until he is satisfied and pronounces the fatal words is, of course, not meant.
In a way, Faust both fears and desires the supreme moment. He knows that when it comes it will contain the ultimate meaning of life. He basically desires it to have a positive content in spite of his curse, but realizes that it will be the end of all his effort too, and life without effort can have no significance, and he will need it no more. The way in which Faust formulates his condition is a direct incentive to the devil to do his worst.
Mephistopheles is confident of the outcome:
|Bedenk’ es wohl, wir werden’s nicht vergessen.
[[ This shall be held in memory, beware! ]]
Faust rejoins that he is well aware of what he is doing:
|Dazu hast du ein volles Recht,
Ich habe mich nicht freventlich vermessen.
Wie ich beharre, bin ich Knecht,
Ob dein, was frag’ ich, oder wessen.
[[ And rightly is my offer thus construed!
What I propose, I do not lightly dare:
While I abide, I live in servitude,
And whether yours or whose, why should I care? ]]
So we pass to the final stage, Mephistopheles’ request for Faust’s signature,
‘just in case’, as he says:
|Nur eins! -- Um Lebens oder Sterbens willen,
Bitt’ ich mir ein paar Zeilen aus.
[[ Only -- since life, or let’s say death’s at stake --
I’ll bring you, please, a couple of lines to sign. ]]
Again Faust’s wrath breaks forth:
|Auch was Geschriebnes forderst du Pedant?
Hast du noch keinen Mann, nicht Manneswort gekannt?
Ist’s nicht genug, daß mein gesprochnes Wort
Auf ewig soll mit meinen Tagen schalten?
[[ So, black and white you want?
You’ve never heard,
Good pedant, that a man may keep his word?
Is’t not enough, a word that I have spoken
Threads all my days, for ever to remind me? ]]
He realises, of course, as the last line says, that his fate in all eternity is involved in what he is doing, but a signature for him is just another f o those delusions which make up human life. A man s word should be sufficient. He signs, as Mephistopheles insists, with a drop of his blood, and thereby formally and finally steps outside the ordinary bounds of mankind.
What does Faust sign? The document is all-important in Mephistopheles’ eyes and is produced by him at the end (l. 1 1613). It is more than once referred to by him in the course of the action (ll. 1866, 6577, 1 1830). Is it the wager that is now set out in contractual form? If so, do the words ‘bitt’ ich mir ein paar Zeilen aus’ (l. 1715) mean that Faust does the drafting? If so, when? The scene gives no obvious opportunity for this to be done, and it is an impossible assumption to make that it was executed at a later time, for Faust’s words ‘Nur keine Furcht, daß ich dies Bündnis breche!’ (l. 1741) seem to imply that he has just signed. Or is the document something that Mephistopheles has brought with him already drawn up? If so, it must embody the traditional terms previously stated (ll. 16561659), for Mephistopheles could hardly be expected to have foreseen Faust’s bet. In any case, the bet turns out to be a gloss, adding a note about the possible length of Mephistopheles’ service. It is thus a condition which may affect the time of the implementation of the contract to which Faust subscribes his name.
Faust defies Mephistopheles, not because of religious faith which he
no longer possesses, but in spite of having rejected religion. He signs,
it seems, almost casually, and regards enjoyment as a chance to gain that
widening of his existence which he had so long desired. Science and magic
had failed. The Earth Spirit had repulsed him. He now falls back, with
the devil’s aid, on sensuality:
|Laß in den Tiefen der Sinnlichkeit
Uns glühende Leidenschaften stillen!
In undurchdrungnen Zauberhüllen
Sei jedes Wunder gleich bereit!
Stürzen wir uns in das Rauschen der Zeit,
Ins Rollen der Begebenheit!
Da mag denn Schmerz und Genuß
Gelingen und Verdruß
Miteinander wechseln wie es kann;
Nur rastlos betätigt sich der Mann.
[[ Then let us quench the pain of passion’s burning
In the soft depth of sensual delight.
Now let your muffled mysteries emerge,
Breed magic wonders naked to our glance,
Now plunge we headlong in time’s racing surge,
Swung on the sliding wave of circumstance.
Bring now the fruits of pain or pleasure forth,
Sweet triumph’s lure, or disappointment’s wrath,
A man’s dynamic needs this restless urge. ]]
He does so regarding it not as a vehicle of pleasure but as a means
of experiencing all that humanity as a whole can experience. His despair
has not departed. As the scene closes, Mephistopheles himself agrees with
Faust’s basic assumption concerning the limitations of human life, though
he deprecates the attempt that Faust desires to make to transcend them.
Faust has no intention of being passive. To do so could, indeed,
be a way of preventing his ever being satisfied by Mephistopheles. On the
contrary, his participation in the compact will be active:
|Das Streben meiner ganzen Kraft
Ist grade das, was ich verspreche.
[[ Since all my strength is in the thing I swear,
And its pursuit shall be my only care. ]]
Sensuality is thus to be the gateway to all that humanity can feel and know. Mephistopheles’ spirits who sang Faust to sleep and caused him to dream did their work well in arousing that part of him which the four faculties had hitherto overshadowed.
Faust’s demands are too titanic to be pleasurable. As Mephistopheles
|Euch is kein Maß und Ziel gesetzt.
[[ Wealth shall be yours, beyond all fear or favour,
Be pleased to take your pleasures on the wing, ... ]]
This objection is wise from the speaker’s point of view. He fears a
Faust who will drive him too hard. Faust’s reply is contained in the famous
|Du hörest ja, von Freud’ ist nicht die Rede.
Dem Taumel weih’ ich mich, dem schmerzlichsten Genuß
Verliebtem Haß, erquickendem Verdruß
Mein Busen, der vom Wissensdrang geheilt ist,
Soll keinen Schmerzen künftig sich verschließen,
Und was der ganzen Menschheit zugeteilt ist,
Will ich in meinem innern Selbst genießen,
Mit meinem Geist das Höchst’ und Tiefste greifen,
Ihr Wohl und Weh auf meinen Busen häufen,
Und so mein eigen Selbst zu ihrem Selbst erweitern
Und, wie sie selbst, am End’ auch ich zerscheitern.
[[ Have you not heard? - I do not ask for joy.
I take the way of turmoil’s bitterest gain,
Of love-sick hate, of quickening bought with pain.
My heart, from learning’s tyranny set free,
Shall no more shun distress, but take its toll
Of all the hazards of humanity,
And nourish mortal sadness in my soul.
I’ll sound the heights and depths that men can know,
Their very souls shall be with mine entwined,
I’ll load my bosom with their weal and woe,
And share with them the shipwreck of mankind. ]]
Happiness is not the motive or purpose in Faust’s life. He has cursed all earthly joys. Pain, suffering, distress, as necessary aspects of human existence, all are to be experienced as well. The doctrine is a dangerous one, to be sure. To seek suffering could mean -- and does mean -- to engender suffering, as Gretchen for one realizes, and it can scarcely be defended on the grounds that it extends Faust’s personality, as he here claims. Faust’s intention in regard to the compact is to make use of Mephistopheles’ services to secure that intensification of life that he had so far missed, in the belief that nothing can ever satisfy him, and that what Mephistopheles presents in the hope of destroying him will in any case be illusory in view of the basic emptiness of human life. The illogicality of widening experience by means of illusion in a life whose values are deemed illusory escapes him. The invalid doctrine which Faust puts forward is thus not of universal application, and because he is ultimately saved, his is not the only road to salvation. It is, indeed, the longest and hardest road that could be found, and it is trodden by Faust because learning, which should have taught him wisdom, has caused him to reject the faith which would have helped him. There is a symbolical meaning in the fact that the compact is signed in the University.
Mephistopheles rightly mocks at Faust’s extravagant desires. They are impossible, for human life is limited and fragile. Only a god or the imagination of a poet can grasp what Faust requires, and Faust indeed elevates himself to the level of a god in making his unbounded demands. It is useless for man to seek to compass the whole of universal life; that is why Faust has found knowledge unsatisfactory and will find Mephistopheles’ gifts similarly unsatisfactory. He can only merge with the universe if he ceases to have an individual life (as Werther discovered). Mephistopheles, of course, desires to make Faust behave as though he were exclusively of this world, but Faust, conscious that he possesses two souls in his breast, cannot possibly accept this point of view. Mephistopheles accordingly realizes that unless he can break down Faust’s obstinacy, his quest will turn out to be hopeless. Faust’s titanism, wrong-headed and the cause of his pessimism though it be, is none the less Mephistopheles’ greatest enemy. If it is broken, Faust’s raison d’être disappears and he falls victim to the devil; if it remains, Faust persists in his confusion and is ineligible for salvation. The problem, then, is how it is to be purified and transformed.
After Mephistopheles’ suggestion that they should go out into the world,
the arrival of a new undergraduate puts an end to a discussion which is
threatening to get neither speaker any further, and Faust, unable in his
emotional state to interview his visitor, leaves Mephistopheles to take
his place. Acutely characterizing Faust, the latter crudely announces his
plan of campaign after Faust has left the stage:
|Verachte nur Vernunft und Wissenschaft,
Des Menschen allerhöchste Kraft,
Laß nur in Blend- und Zauberwerken
Dich von dem Lügengeist bestärken,
So hab’ ich dich schon unbedingt --
Ihm hat das Schicksal einen Geist gegeben,
Der ungebändigt immer vorwärts dringt,
Und dessen übereiltes Streben
Der Erde Freuden überspringt.
Den schlepp’ ich durch das wilde Leben,
Durch flache Unbedeutenheit,
Er soll mir zappeln, starren, kleben,
Und seiner Unersättlichkeit
Soll Speis’ und Trank vor gier’gen Lippen schweben;
Er wird Erquickung sich umsonst erflehn,
Und hätt’ er sich auch nicht dem Teufel übergeben,
Er müßte doch zugrunde gehn!
[[ So, knowledge and fair reason you’ll despise,
The highest powers by which poor mortals rise.
The Prince of Lies it is that edifies you,
With all the Rash of magic he supplies you.
Now is he mine, without a saving clause,
For fate has put a spirit in his breast
That drives him madly on without a pause,
And whose precipitate and rash behest
O’erleaps the joys of earth and natural laws.
Him will I lead a pretty dance
Through ways of savage life bedraggled,
Through stifling acts of insignificance.
He’ll find the bargain over which he haggled
Shall leave him dumb-struck, writhing, sticking fast;
Before his lips shall float a rich repast,
To mock insatiable appetite;
In vain he’ll cry for comfort in his plight;
Whether or not he owns the devil’s might,
His doom of ruin is secured at last. ]]
He will make use of Faust’s titanism as a means of overthrowing it, rather as a wrestler makes use of his opponent’s weight, by giving him what he knows will fail to satisfy in the expectation that Faust will renounce all his efforts in sheer disappointment and disgust.
Faust’s final act at the University and his first as the crony of Mephistopheles is to hand over to him an intending pupil for advice. He had, of course, long been aware that he had led his students by the nose, but what he now does is thoroughly criminal. His irresponsibility is not diminished by the thought that the devil proves to be entirely at home at the University and, at least outwardly, quite indistinguishable in dress, in behaviour and no doubt in speech, from a real member of the faculty. When Mephistopheles drops his mask and speaks openly as himself and not as a professor -- about medicine -- the satire is heightened because we notice little or no difference in his cynical attitude towards learning. The corollary follows that traditional scholarship in its methods and approach bears the mark of hypocrisy and evil. Mephistopheles merely continues the corrupting influence of the University which it has already disastrously exercised upon Faust and no doubt others. Whether a man’s mind is poisoned immediately by Mephistopheles or in the long run by the academic machine makes no difference. The sinister effect of Mephistopheles’ words arises not from the fact that they are lies; they are mostly half-truths and thus more dangerous than downright falsehoods.
The undergraduate, on his part, symbolizes what Faust once was before
he came into contact with study at a high level. He genuinely seeks guidance
and is full of expectations of the great seat of learning. He finds, to
his distress, an atmosphere that repels him, a narrow cell, an air of gloom
and mustiness -- the atmosphere in which Faust has spent all his life --
and a professor who is evasive, cynical, confusing, overbearing, sensual
and obliging by turns. He has left home to learn about the world and desires
to know everything. Mistakenly, as we are aware from Faust’s career, he
thinks the University can supply what he needs. His questions give Mephistopheles
a chance to review the work of the four faculties: Philosophy, with Logic,
which constrains the mind like an instrument of torture, crushing all spiritual
strength, leading to Metaphysics, which deals in high-sounding names for
what the brain finds too profound to grasp; Law, which is concerned with
precedents and archaisms rather than natural right; Theology, in which
words are everything and heterodoxy a constant peril; Medicine, in which
science counts for nothing and which gives openings for dubious sensuality
-- all are satirized in turn as the connclusion is reached that theory is
worthless and life alone of value:
|Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie,
Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.
[[ All theory, my friend, is grey,
But green is life’s glad golden tree. ]]
The student’s lofty interest in knowing is broken down as his animal
nature is aroused. Mephistopheles then inscribes in the youth’s album the
words: ‘Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum’. They are not accidentally
chosen. Knowledge removes man from oneness with the state of nature which,
once lost, he seeks in vain to recover, and, by giving him a sense of good
and evil, is the cause of conflict. The more knowledge flourishes, the
greater the scope for Mephistopheles:
|Folg’ nur dem alten Spruch und meiner Muhme, der Schlange,
Dir wird gewiß einmal bei deiner Gottähnlichkeit bange!
[[ Follow the adage of my cousin Snake.
From dreams of god-like knowledge you will wake
To fear, in which your very soul shall quake. ]]
Faust re-enters, dressed for the journey. The two companions set off,
first into the small and then into the great world, Faust hesitant because
of his age, inexperience and lack of self-assurance:
|Allein bei meinem langen Bart
Fehlt mir die leichte Lebensart.
Es wird mir der Versuch nicht glücken;
Ich wußte nie, mich in die Welt zu schicken,
Vor andern fühl’ ich mich so klein;
Ich werde stets verlegen sein.
[[ Bearded and grey, I fear I lack
The sprightliness I need for the attack;
I have the gravest doubts of my success,
Deficient as I am in fine address.
In front of other folk I often quail,
And through embarrassment am bound to fail. ]]
Mephistopheles’ mantle and a puff of hydrogen carry them off. Faust enters life on the wings of diabolical magic and deceit.
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