Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) The embarrassed magistrate

Heinrich von Kleist
The embarrassed magistrate
(Der verlegene Magistrat)

It recently happened that a soldier in the town of H. abandoned his guard-post without the permission of his officers. According to an ancient law such a crime, which due to the continuous squabbles of the nobility had been of no small importance, must demand the death penalty. Nevertheless, without the law ever having been expressly revoked, it has not been enforced for many hundreds of years, with the result that rather than that the offender should face execution, he is, in accordance with longstanding custom, sentenced to a simple fine, to be paid into the town treasury. The man in question however, who seemed to have no desire to pay the fine, explained, to the mighty consternation of the magistrate, that he, as was his right according to the law, chose to die. The magistrate, who suspected that a misunderstanding had occurred, sent a representative to the man, to make it clear to him how much more advantageous it would be to part with a few gulden than to be fusilladed. But the man insisted that he was tired of life, and that he wanted to die, with the result that nothing was left the magistrate, who did not want to see blood shed, but to strike off the fine that stood against the fellow, and was even glad when this latter declared that, given such changed circumstances, he chose to remain living awhile.