PEARL

MICHAEL KOHLHAAS Part Four

The following morning Luther dispatched a missive to the elector of Saxony. He started off by bitterly castigating the prince’s close advisers, the knights Hinz and Kunz von Tronka, chamberlain and cupbearer, who, as was common knowledge, had suppressed Kohlhaas’ suit. He then laid it out for the sovereign, with his characteristic candour, that, things being as vexatious as they were, there was nothing left to do but accept the proposal of the horse dealer and, in light of what had occurred, to grant him amnesty so that he can renew his lawsuit. Public opinion, Luther remarked, had turned highly dangerously in this man’s favour, so much so that even in Wittenberg, which he had burned down to ashes three times, there were voices raised in his favour. If his offer was turned down, Kohlhaas would most certainly bring it to the public’s attention in the most hateful terms, such that the people could easily be misled to the degree that the authority of the state would no longer be able to touch him with any further measures. Luther concluded that in this extraordinary case one had to disregard the impropriety of entering into negotiations with a citizen who had taken up arms; that, in fact, his treatment had in a certain sense cast him out of the social contract. In short, in order to get out of the bind, he should be considered more as an invading foreign power – which is how, as an alien subject, he might, in a way, substantiate his status – than as a rebel in revolt against the throne.

The elector received this letter in the presence of Prince Christiern von Meissen, generalissimo of the empire, uncle of the Prince Frederick von Meissen who had been defeated at Mühlberg and was still laid low from his wounds. Also present in the castle were the grand chancellor of the tribunal, Count Wrede; Count Kallheim, president of the state chancery; and the two knights Hinz and Kunz von Tronka, the former cupbearer, the latter chamberlain, and both boyhood friends and confidants of the sovereign. The chamberlain, Kunz, who in his capacity of privy councillor, saw to the sovereign’s private correspondence and had the authority to use his name and seal, was the first to speak. He began by going into great length to avow that he would never have presumed to suppress, by his own arbitrary injunction, the suit which the horse dealer had submitted to the tribunal against the squire, his cousin, had he not, misled by false information, misrepresented it as an entirely unfounded and worthless piece of truculence. He then moved on to the current state of affairs. He remarked that neither divine nor human laws gave the horse dealer authority to wreak such monstrous acts of personal vengeance as he had permitted himself for this regrettable blunder. The chamberlain went on to describe the disgrace that would fall upon his accursed head if there should be negotiations with the rampaging villain as if he were a legitimate warring power. The dishonour that would rebound on the sacred person of the elector seemed so unbearable to him that, swayed in the fervour of his oratory, he would rather suffer the utmost consequences and see the raging rebel’s decree carried out and the squire, his cousin, led away to Kohlhaasenbrück to fatten the black horses, rather than have the proposition made by Dr. Luther accepted.

We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--This debt we pay to

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