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The Story of Jubal Who Had No "I" by August Strindberg

 

Once upon a time there was a king whose name was John Lackland, and it is not difficult to imagine the reason why.

But another time there lived a great singer who was called “Jubal, who had no I,” and I am now going to tell you the reason.

The name which he had inherited from his father, a soldier, was Peal, and undeniably there was music in the name. But nature had also given him a strong will, which stiffened his back like an iron bar, and that is a splendid gift, quite invaluable in the struggle for an existence. When he was still a baby, only just able to stammer a few words, he would never refer to his own little person as “he,” as other babies do, but from the very first he spoke of himself as “I.” You have no “I,” said his parents. When he grew older, he expressed every little want or desire by “I will.” But then his father said to him, “You have no will,” and “Your will grows in the wood.”

It was very foolish of the soldier, but he knew no better; he had learned to will only what he was ordered to do.

Young Peal thought it strange that he should be supposed to have no will when he had such a very strong one, but he let it pass.

When he had grown into a fine, strong youth, his father said to him one day, “What trade will you learn?”

The boy did not know; he had ceased to will anything, because he was forbidden to do so. It is true, he had a leaning towards music, but he did not dare to say so, for he was convinced that his parents would not allow him to become a musician. Therefore, being an obedient son, he replied, “I don't will anything.”

“Then you shall be a tapster,” said the father.

Whether it was because the father knew a tapster, or because wine had a peculiar attraction for him, is a matter of indifference. It is quite enough to know that young Peal was sent to the wine vaults, and he might have fared a good deal worse.

There was a lovely smell of sealing-wax and French wine in the cellars, and they were large and had vaulted roofs, like churches. When he sat at the casks and tapped the red wine, his heart was filled with gladness, and he sang, in an undertone at first, all sorts of tunes which he had picked up.

His master, to whom wine spelt life, loved song and gaiety, and never dreamed of stopping his singing; it sounded so well in the vaults, and, moreover, it attracted customers, which was a splendid thing from the master's point of view.

One day a commercial traveller dropped in; he had started life as an opera-singer, and when he heard Peal, he was so delighted with him that he invited him to dinner.

They played nine-pins, ate crabs with dill, drank punch, and, above everything, sang songs. Between two songs, and after they had sworn eternal friendship, the commercial traveller said:

“Why don't you go on the stage?”

“I?” answered Peal, “how could I do that?”

“All you have to do is to say 'I will.'“

This was a new doctrine, for since his third year young Peal had not used the words “I” and “will.” He had trained himself to neither wish nor will, and he begged his friend not to lead him into temptation.

But the commercial traveller came again; he came many times, and once he was accompanied by a famous singer; and one evening Peal, after much applause from a professor of singing, took his fate into his own hands.

He said good-bye to his master, and over a glass of wine heartily thanked his friend, the commercial traveller, for having given him self-confidence and will,—“will, that iron bar, which keeps a man's back erect and prevents him from grovelling on all fours.” And he swore a solemn oath never to forget his friend, who had taught him to have faith in himself.

Then he went to say good-bye to his parents.

“I will be a singer,” he said in a loud voice, which echoed through the room.

The father glanced at the horse-whip, and the mother cried; but it was no use.

“Don't lose yourself, my darling boy,” were the mother's last words.

***

Young Peal managed to raise enough money to enable him to go abroad. There he learned singing according to all the rules of the art, and in a few years' time he was a very great singer indeed. He earned much money and travelled with his own impresario.

Peal was prospering now and found no difficulty in saying “I will,” or even “I command.” His “I” grew to gigantic proportions, and he suffered no other “I's” near him. He denied himself nothing, and did not put his light under a bushel. But now, as he was about to return to his own country, his impresario told him that no man could be a great singer and at the same time be called Peal; he advised him to adopt a more elegant name, a foreign name by preference, for that was the fashion.

The great man fought an inward struggle, for it is not a very nice thing to change one's name; it looks as if one were ashamed of one's father and mother, and is apt to create a bad impression.

But hearing that it was the fashion, he let it pass.

He opened his Bible to look for a name, for the Bible is the very best book for the purpose.

And when he came to Jubal, “who was the son of Lamech, and the father of all such as handle the harp and organ,” he considered that he could not do better. The impresario, who was an Englishman, suggested that he should call himself Mr. Jubal, and Peal agreed. Henceforth he was Mr. Jubal.

It was all quite harmless, of course, since it was the fashion, but it was nevertheless a strange thing with the new name Peal had changed his nature. His past was blotted out. Mr. Jubal looked upon himself as an Englishman born and bred, spoke with a foreign accent, grew side-whiskers and wore very high collars; a checked suit grew round him as the bark grows round a tree, apparently without any effort on his part. He carried himself stiffly, and when he met a friend in the street he acknowledged his friendly bow with the flicker of an eyelid. He never turned round if anybody called after him, and he always stood right in the middle of a street car.

He hardly knew himself.

He was now at home again, in his own country, and engaged to sing at the Opera-house. He played kings and prophets, heroes and demons, and he was so good an actor that whenever he rehearsed a part, he instantly became the part he impersonated.

One day he was strolling along the street. He was playing some sort of a demon, but he was also Mr. Jubal. Suddenly he heard a voice calling after him, “Peal!” He did not turn round, for no Englishman would do such a thing, and, moreover, his name was no longer Peal.

But the voice called again, “Peal!” and his friend, the commercial traveller, stood before him, looking at him searchingly, and yet with an expression of shy kindliness.

“Dear old Peal, it is you!” he said.

Mr. Jubal felt that a demon was taking possession of him; he opened his mouth so wide that he showed all his teeth, and bellowed a curt “No!”

Then his friend felt quite convinced that it was he and went away. He was an enlightened man, who knew men, the world and himself inside out, and therefore he was neither sorry nor astonished.

But Mr. Jubal thought he was; he heard a voice within him saying, “Before the cock crow thou shalt deny me thrice,” and he did what St. Peter had done, he went away and wept bitterly. That is to say, he wept in imagination, but the demon in his heart laughed.

Henceforth he was always laughing; he laughed at good and evil, sorrow and disgrace, at everything and everybody.

His father and mother knew, from the papers, who Mr. Jubal really was, but they never went to the Opera-house, for they fancied it had something to do with hoops and horses, and they objected to seeing their son in such surroundings.

Mr. Jubal was now the greatest living singer; he had lost a lot of his “I,” but he still had his will.

Then his day came. There was a little ballet-dancer who could bewitch men, and she bewitched Jubal. She bewitched him to such an extent that he asked her whether he might be hers. (He meant, of course, whether she would be his, but the other is a more polite way of expressing it.)

“You shall be mine,” said the sorceress, if I may take you.”

“You may do anything you like,” replied Jubal.

The girl took him at his word and they married. First of all he taught her to sing and play, and then he gave her everything she asked for. But since was a sorceress, she always wanted the things which he most objected to giving to her, and so, gradually, she wrested his will from him and made him her slave.

One fine day Mrs. Jubal had become a great singer, so great that when the audience called “Jubal!” it was not Mr. but Mrs. Jubal who took the call.

Jubal, of course, longed to regain his former position, but he scorned to do it at his wife's expense.

The world began to forget him.

The brilliant circle of friends who had surrounded Mr. Jubal in his bachelor chambers now surrounded his wife, for it was she who was “Jubal.”

Nobody wanted to talk to him or drink with him, and when he attempted to join in the conversation, nobody listened to his remarks; it was just as if he were not present, and his wife was treated as if she were an unmarried woman.

Then Mr. Jubal grew very lonely, and in his loneliness he began to frequent the cafes.

One evening he was at a restaurant, trying to find somebody to talk to, and ready to talk to anybody willing to listen to him. All at once he caught sight of his old friend the commercial traveller, sitting at a table by himself, evidently very bored. “Thank goodness,” he thought, “here's somebody to spend an hour with—it's old Lundberg.”

He went to Mr. Lundberg's table and said “good evening.” But no sooner had he done so than his friend's face changed in so extraordinary a manner that Jubal wondered whether he had made a mistake.

“Aren't you Lundberg?” he asked.

“Yes!”

“Don't you know me? I'm Jubal!”

“No!”

“Don't you know your old friend Peal?”

“Peal died a long time ago.”

Then Jubal understood that he was, from a certain point of view, dead, and he went away.

On the following day he left the stage for ever and opened a school for singing, with the title of a professor.

Then he went to foreign countries, and remained abroad for many years.

Sadness, for he mourned for himself as for a dead friend, and sorrow were fast making an old man of him. But he was glad that it should be so, for, he thought, if I'm old, it won't last much longer. But as he did not age quite as fast as he would have liked, he bought himself a wig with long white curls. He felt better after that, for it disguised him completely, so completely that he did not know himself.

With long strides, his hands crossed on his back, he walked up and down the pavements, lost in a brown study; he seemed to be looking for some one, or expecting some one. If his eyes met the glance of other eyes, he did not respond to the question in them; if anybody tried to make his acquaintance, he would never talk of anything but things and objects. And he never said “I” or “I find,” but always “it seems.” He had lost himself, as he did one day just as he was going to shave. He was sitting before his looking-glass, his chin covered with a lather of soap; he raised the hand which held the razor and looked into the glass; then he beheld the room behind his back, but he could not see his face, and all at once he realised how matters stood. Now he was filled with a passionate yearning to find himself again. He had given the best part of himself to his wife, for she had his will, and so he decided to go and see her.

When he was back in his native country and walked through the streets in his white wig, not a soul recognised him. But a musician who had been in Italy, meeting him in town one day, said in a loud voice, “There goes a maestro!”

Immediately Jubal imagined that he was a great composer. He bought some music paper and started to write a score; that is to say, he wrote a number of long and short notes on the lines, some for the violins, of course, others for the wood-wind, and the remainder for the brass instruments. He sent his work to the Conservatoire. But nobody could play the music, because it was not music, but only notes.

A little later on he was met by an artist who had been in Paris. “There goes a model!” said the artist. Jubal heard it, and at once believed that he was a model, for he believed everything that was said of him, because he did not know who or what he was.

Presently he remembered his wife, and he resolved to go and see her. He did go, but she had married again, and she and her second husband, who was a baron, had gone abroad.

At last he grew tired of his quest, and, like all tired men, he felt a great yearning for his mother. He knew that she was a widow and lived in a cottage in the mountains, so one day he went to see her.

“Don't you know me?” he asked.

“What is your name?” asked the mother.

“My name is your son's name. Don't you know it?”

“My son's name was Peal, but yours is Jubal, and I don't know Jubal.”

“You disown me?”

“As you disowned yourself and your mother.”

“Why did you rob me of my will when I was a little child?”

“You gave your will to a woman.”

“I had to, because it was the only way of winning her. But why did you tell me I had no will?”

“Well, your father told you that, my boy, and he knew no better; you must forgive him, for he is dead now. Children, you see, are not supposed to have a will of their own, but grown-up people are.”

“How well you explain it all, mother! Children are not supposed to have a will, but grown-up people are.”

“Now, listen to me, Gustav,” said his mother, “Gustav Peal . ...”

These were his two real names, and when he heard them from her lips, he became himself again. All the parts he had played—kings and demons, the maestro and the model—cut and ran, and he was but the son of his mother.

He put his head on her knees and said, “Now, let me die here, for at last I am at home.”

 
 
 

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