If it really were this the age needed, the theater might perhaps need a new play in which it was made a subject of laughter that a person died of love — or would it not rather be salutary for this age if such a thing were to happen among us, if the age were to witness such an occurrence, in order that for once it might acquire courage to believe in the power of spirit, courage to quench cravenly the better impulses in oneself and to quench invidiously the better impulses in others … by laughter? Does the age really need a ridiculous exhibition by a religious enthusiast in order to get something to laugh at, or does it not need rather that such an enthusiastic figure should remind it of that which has been forgotten? If one would like to have a story written on a similar theme but more touching for the fact that the passion of repentance was not awakened, one might use to this effect a tale which is narrated in the book of Tobit. The young Tobias wanted to marry Sarah the daughter of Raguel and Edna. But a sad fatality hung over this young girl. She had been given to seven husbands, all of whom had perished in the bride-chamber. With a view to my plan this feature is a blemish in the narrative, for almost irresistably a comic effect is produced by the thought of seven fruitless attempts to get married notwithstanding she was very near to it just as near as a student who seven times failed to get his diploma. In the book of Tobit the accent falls on a different spot, therefore the high figure is significant and in a certain sense is contributary to the tragic effect, for it enhances the courage of Tobias, which was the more notable because he was the only son of his parents (6:14) and because the deterrent was so striking. So this feature must be left out.
Sarah is a maiden who has never been in love, who treasures still a young maiden’s bliss, her enormous first mortgage upon life, her Vollmachtbrief zum Glücke, the privilege of loving a man with her whole heart. And yet she is the most unhappy maiden, for she knows that the evil demon who loves her will kill the bridegroom the night of the wedding. I have read of many a sorrow, but I doubt if there is anywhere to be found so deep a sorrow as that which we discover in the life of this girl. However, if the misfortune comes from without, there is some consolation to be found after all. Although existence did not bring one that which might have made one happy, there is still consolation in the thought that one would have been able to receive it. But the unfathomable sorrow which time can never divert, which time can never heal! To be aware that it was of no avail though existence were to do everything it could! A Greek writer conceals so infinitely much by his simple naïveté when he says: Πάντως γὰρ οὐδεὶς ἔρωτα ἔφυγεν ἢ φεύξεται͵ μέχρις ἂν κάλλος ᾖ καὶ ὀφθαλμοὶ βλέπωσιν (cf. Longi Pastoralia [“At any rate, no one has ever escaped or will escape love, until beauty continues to exist and eyes continue to see” -translated by Elpenor]). There has been many a girl who became unhappy in love, but after all she became so, Sarah was so before she became so. It is hard not to find the man to whom one can surrender oneself devotedly, but It is unspeakably hard not to be able to surrender oneself. A young girl surrenders herself, and then they say, “Now she is no longer free”; but Sarah was never free, and yet she had never surrendered herself. It is hard if a girl surrendered herself and then was cheated, but Sarah was cheated before she surrendered herself. What a world of sorrow is implied in what follows, when finally Tobias wishes to marry Sarah! What wedding ceremonies! What preparations! No maiden has ever been so cheated as Sarah, for she was cheated out of the most sacred thing of all, the absolute wealth which even the poorest girl possesses, cheated out of the secure, boundless, unrestrained, unbridled devotion of surrender — for first there had to be a fumigation by laying the heart of the fish and its liver upon glowing coals. And think of how the mother had to take leave of her daughter, who as it were was herself cheated out of all and in continuity with this must cheat the mother out of her most beautiful possession. Just read the narrative. “Edna prepared the chamber and brought Sarah thither and wept and received the tears of her daughter. And she said unto her, Be of good comfort, my child, the Lord of heaven and earth give thee joy for this thy sorrow! Be of good courage, my daughter.” And then the moment of the nuptials! Let one read it if one can for tears. “But after they were both shut in together Tobias rose up from the bed and said, Sister, arise, and let us pray that the Lord may have mercy upon us” (8:4).
In case a poet were to read this narrative, in case he were to make use of it, I wager a hundred to one that he would lay all the emphasis upon the young Tobias. His heroic courage in being willing to risk his life in such evident danger — which the narrative recalls once again, for the morning after the nuptials Raguel says to Edna, “Send one of the maid-servants and let her see whether he be alive; but if not, that we may bury him and no man know of it” (8:12) — this heroic courage would be the poet’s theme. I take the liberty of proposing another. Tobias acted bravely, stoutheartedly and chivalrously, but any man who has not the courage for this is a molly-coddle who does not know what love is, or what it is to be a man, or what is worth living for; he had not even comprehended the little mystery, that it is better to give than to receive, and has no inkling of the great one, that it is far more difficult to receive than to give — that is, if one has had courage to do without and in the hour of need did not become cowardly. No, it is Sarah that is the heroine.