“Since we are talking of Mephistophiles,” continued Goethe, “I will show you something which Coudray has brought me from Paris. What do you think of it?”
He laid before me a lithograph, representing the scene where Faust and Mephistophiles, on their way to free Margaret from prison, are rushing by the gallows at night on two horses. Faust rides a black horse, which gallops with all its might, and seems, as well as his rider, afraid of the spectres under the gallows. They ride so fast that Faust can scarcely keep his seat; the current of air has blown off his cap, which, fastened by straps about his neck, flies far behind him. He has turned his fearful inquiring face to Mephistophiles, and is listening to his words. Mephistophiles, on the contrary, sits quiet and undisturbed, like a being of a higher order. He rides no living horse, for he loves not what is living; indeed, he does not need it, for his will moves him with the swiftness he requires. He has a horse merely because he must look as if he were riding, and it has been quite enough for him to find a beast that is a mere bag of bones, from the first field he has come to. It is of a bright colour, and seems to be phosphorescent amid the darkness of night. It is neither bridled nor saddled, but goes without such appendages. The supernatural rider sits easily and negligently, with his face turned towards Faust, in conversation. The opposing element of air does not exist for him; neither he nor his horse feel anything of it. Not a hair of either is stirred.
We expressed much pleasure at this ingenious composition. “I must aver,” said Goethe, “that I myself did not think it out so perfectly. Here is another. What say you to this?”
I saw a representation of the wild drinking scene in Auerbach’s cellar, at the all-important moment when the wine sparkles up into flames, and the brutality of the drinkers is shown in the most varied ways. All is passion and movement; Mephistophiles also maintains his usual composure. The wild cursing and screaming, and the drawn knife of the man who stands next him, are to him nothing. He has seated himself on a corner of the table, dangling his legs. His upraised finger is enough to subdue flame and passion.
The more one looked at this excellent design, the greater seemed the intelligence of the artist, who made no figure like another, but in each one expressed some different part of the action.
“M. Delacroix,” said Goethe, “is a man of great talent, who found in ‘Faust’ his proper aliment. The French censure his wildness, but it suits him well here. He will, I hope, go through all ‘Faust,’ and I anticipate a special pleasure from the witches’ kitchen and the scenes on the Brocken. We can see that he has a good knowledge of life, for which a city like Paris has given him the best opportunity.”
I observed that these designs greatly conduce to the comprehension of a poem.
“Undoubtedly,” said Goethe; “for the more perfect imagination of such an artist constrains us to think the situations as beautiful as he conceived them himself. And if I must confess that M. Delacroix has, in some scenes, surpassed my own notions, how much more will the reader find all in full life, and surpassing his imagination.”