Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
The Hunt for the Beautiful
HERE was once a boy named Karl, who lived in a little
village in a valley, far from all the great cities. It was a
simple and quiet village, but very pleasant to see, because
of the many flowers that grew in the people's gardens, and
of the beautiful hills that lay just behind it. In the
middle of the village was an old chapel, and as the boy's
father was the sexton, their little house and garden were
next door. The chapel was a dim, restful place, with
 windows, which had been made hundreds of years before, and
had figures of saints and angels shimmering in them. Very
often, when Karl was tired of both work and play, he would
go in and sit there, and would sometimes fall asleep
looking at the lovely pictures in the windows.
There was a particular reason why he was so much interested
in the pictures, and that was that he wished to be a great
artist. Before he had been old enough to read, he had drawn
pictures wherever he could find a place to put them, and
nothing made him so happy as to have a present of colored
crayons or paints. Then, as he grew older, whatever money he
could save for himself—which was not much, for his father
and mother were poor—he spent in paying for lessons in
drawing and painting from whoever could be found to teach
him in the village.
But as the village was so small, Karl wished very much to go
to see the world, and to study painting with great teachers.
The village people thought that he was already a wonderful
painter, because he could sit down before a flower, or a
house, or even a child's face, and make a copy of it so
good that no one could think how it might be better. They
could not see, therefore, why Karl was not satisfied. But he
always told them that there were better pictures in the
world than either he or they had ever seen, and that if
they could once see them, they would never again be pleased
"Well, in that case," the people answered, "why should we
want to see them? If what you say is true, we should be less
happy than we are now. We are pleased with your pictures,
and you should be pleased with them, too."
"No," said Karl. "I can not be pleased with anything
until it is the very best I can do, and I believe I can do
still better. If I could only see the most beautiful things
in the world, I could paint them, at any rate. I have
painted everything in this place,—the old chapel, and the
hills behind the village, and the flowers in our garden, and
the prettiest children. But all the time I have known that
these are not the most beautiful sights. Somewhere is
the most beautiful sight in the world. I shall never be
happy till I have seen it."
So they could not make him believe that they were right,
and, although he enjoyed his work, he was never pleased
with it when it was done. At last there came a time
when he thought he could go away to see the world. His
brothers were now old enough to be of
 help to his father; and his mother, though she would be very
lonely without him, seemed almost as eager as he was that he
should make his great journey. So one morning he bade them
all good-by, and started down the road that led into the big
So one morning he bade them all good-bye
There was really no one but Karl himself who knew why it was
that he felt so sure he must go away. Something had happened
more than a year before, which he had kept secret but had
never forgotten. One day he had been working hard at a
picture, as he always did in his spare minutes, and had
grown tired and discouraged, because when it was finished it
was not as beautiful as he had hoped. So he had gone into
the little old chapel to rest and comfort himself, as I have
said that he did so often.
There was one window in the chapel that Karl had always
thought especially beautiful. In it was the figure of a
great white angel, whom he always called the Angel of
Beauty, not knowing what her real name might be. He knelt
under the window, where he could look up into the face of
this Angel, and thought how fine it would be if she could
only speak to him, and give him a message, as the angels and
saints had done in earlier times.
"I know what I would say to her," he said to
 himself. "I would ask her: When can I ever
paint the beautiful picture that I am always trying to?"
Then a very wonderful thing happened. Karl had asked this
question aloud, because he was so much in earnest about it,
and knew that no one else was in the chapel to hear him.
Now, as he looked at the face of the angel in the window, he
suddenly saw her lips open; and then, before he realized
what it could mean, she was speaking to him. This was what
"When you have seen the most beautiful sight in the world."
That was all. Karl asked more questions, and begged the
angel to tell him how he could find the most beautiful
sight, but she never spoke to him again, though sometimes
afterward, when he would go to the little chapel to rest
after a hard day's work, he would think that he saw her lips
breaking into a kindly smile, as she looked down upon him
in the dim light. He never told any one, not even his father
and mother, of the words that she had spoken to him, but he
never ceased to think of them; and this was why he was so
eager to set out on his journey, as we have seen that he did
It would take a very long time to tell about all of Karl's
travels, during the months that followed his
 going away from home. On the whole, though he saw many
fine sights and made new friends, it was a wearisome
journey. He did not have money enough to travel in comfort,
and sometimes he would find that he had spent everything he
had, and would be obliged to stop somewhere for a few weeks
until he could earn enough to take him farther. Sometimes
he would walk many miles, from one city to another, and
arrive there with his feet so sore and his back so tired and
aching, that it seemed to him he wanted only one thing—his
little bed in his little room in the old home.
But all this would not have mattered, if only he could have
found the thing for which he had set out. It always seemed
to be just a little distance ahead of him. At first he
thought that he would be most likely to find it in the
galleries where the paintings and statues of all the
greatest artists were collected. So he visited these in the
different cities, and once or twice he found a painting or
a statue so wonderfully beautiful that he exclaimed:
"Surely this is the most beautiful thing in the world!"
But always some one said to him: "No; wait till you have
seen such-and-such a picture in such-and-such a gallery.
That is without doubt more beautiful than this." So
 go on hopefully to the other gallery, but always with the
same uncertainty as to whether he had found what he was
After many weeks spent in this way, Karl decided that it was
not in pictures or statues, but in beautiful scenes of
nature, that he was most likely to find what he sought. For
whenever he saw a lovely picture of a lake, or a mountain,
or a valley, it would occur to him that if the picture were
so beautiful, the landscape itself must be still more so.
So, as the summer was now coming on, he visited the
loveliest countries that he could hear of, where the
mountains were covered with snow the year round, but the
valleys between were filled with wonderful flowers, and
brooks went singing down the slopes and emptied themselves
into lakes as blue as the sky. He had never dreamed of
anything so beautiful as some of these places, yet the same
thing happened that had happened before. Whenever he would
say to another traveler that he thought this must be the
most beautiful sight in the world, the traveler would say:
"No. I have seen one still better; you will find it in
the Valley of So-and-so." So Karl would take up his journey
again, always with new hope.
Meantime he did not get good news from home.
 His mother wrote him that his father was dead, and this made
him very sad. Then she wrote that it had been a hard winter
in their neighborhood, so that his brothers had found it
difficult to earn as much as usual, and they had had to sell
some of their land to buy fuel to keep them warm. But she
did not ask Karl to come home, for she was as anxious as he
was that he should become a great artist, and was sure that
he would succeed if he only had good luck on his journey.
So she told him to go on, and not to be troubled about the
things that were happening at home, for she would not have
written of them at all if it had not been to explain why she
could not send him any money.
So Karl continued his journey a little farther, and tried to
keep a good heart. At last he felt more certain than ever
before that he was going to find the object of his search,
for a number of travelers had told him that he ought to go
to see a certain castle on a certain mountain, in a certain
distant country, where the view was undoubtedly the most
beautiful in the world. So many people told him this, that
Karl felt now that all he had to do was to get money enough
to take him to that country, when his journey would be
ended; but this was hard to do.
 So he stopped in the city where he was, and found regular
work to do, copying little pictures for a man who sold them;
and all the money he earned, he saved for the expense of his
One day, when he thought that he had almost enough, he
received a letter. It was from the village where his home
was, but not from his mother. A neighbor wrote to him,
telling him that his mother was too sick to write for
herself, and that his brothers were sick, too; for there was
a fever in their valley, and half the people in the village
had caught it. The neighbor said that he did not think
Karl's mother would die, if she had good care, and that he
was doing all he could for her and for the brothers, but
there was no money with which to buy good food or medicines
for them, and their near friends were almost as poor as
they. So he had decided to write, although Karl's mother
would not agree to it, asking him to come home.
It was pretty hard to receive a letter like this, when he
was almost ready to finish the journey that had been so long
and hard. Karl thought about it for a long time; but
of course he decided that there was but one thing to do—he
must go home where his mother needed him. He was now not so
 away, and the money that he had saved for the longer journey
would be enough to buy a good many comforts for the sick
ones. So he bade good-by to the man who had employed him,
and took the quickest way he could find toward home.
Although it had been a little hard to change his plans, when
Karl was once on his way home it was surprising how happy he
felt about it. He did not know how much he had missed his
mother and his brothers and the old place, until his face
was turned toward them again. So instead of feeling sad
about going in that direction, he could hardly wait to come
in sight of the little village; and when he had really
arrived in it, he could not wait to get a sight of his
mother, but ran down the street as fast as his feet would
carry him, until he reached the door of their little house.
Sure enough! there was his mother at the door to meet him;
for she was recovering from the fever, and through the
window had seen him running down the street.
Then Karl told her about his journey, and why he had come
home; that he had not yet found the most beautiful sight in
the world, but that he now felt more willing to wait for it.
"For," said he, "I have seen many beautiful things, and I
can make pictures of
 them. Some day I may be able to finish the journey.
But I am so happy to be at home again
and to see you, that I do
not feel now as if I cared about anything else."
Then his mother took him by the hand, and they walked
together out into the little garden, where everything was
gay with the late summer flowers. "Why, dear me!" said
Karl, "I never knew that we had such a beautiful little
garden! Have you changed it any since I have been away?"
"No," said his mother, "but it grows a little better every
year, even when left to itself."
"It is certainly the prettiest garden I ever saw," said
Karl. "And look at that view of the hills behind the
village! How beautiful it is with the afternoon lights and
shadows lying on it! Why, mother, was that view of the hills
always there just in the same way?"
"I think it must have been," said his mother, smiling at
him. "You always thought it was a pretty sight, Karl."
"Yes," said Karl, "but nothing half so beautiful as this.
And you too, mother, you have grown lovelier than you ever
were before, in spite of your having been sick and poor.
If I were a great artist, I
 should paint your portrait and make my fortune by it."
His mother smiled again, not believing what he said, but being
pleased that he should think so.
"Mother," said Karl again, "I will paint your picture,
sitting here in the garden, with the flowers blossoming
about you, and the view of the hills behind you. If I can
only make it seem as beautiful to others as it does to me,
it will be the best picture I have ever made."
So the next morning Karl made his mother sit in the garden,
and then brought his paints and went to work. He was
afraid that everything would not look so beautiful as it had
the night before, when he had first come home, but it did.
He worked faster and more joyfully than he had ever worked
before, hoping that he would be able to put into the picture
the wonderful new beauty that he saw all around him.
At sunset the picture was almost finished, and Karl sat
alone in front of it, for his mother had gone into the house
to get supper. He was feeling a little tired and
discouraged, as he nearly always did after a long day's
work. Perhaps, he thought, it would be impossible for him to
make other people see what he was seeing, and the picture
would be nothing, after all, but a pleasure to his mother
 "As soon as it gets too dark to work on it any longer," he
said, "I shall go into the chapel to see my Angel of
Beauty. I am sure she will comfort me, as she always used to
Just then he thought he heard some one beside him, and when
he looked up quickly, there stood the white Angel herself at
his side, just as he had seen her so often in the chapel
window! Karl was so surprised that he could not think of
anything to say, but sat looking up at her with big,
"I have been here helping you all day," she said, "but I
thought it would comfort you more if you could see me." Then
she touched his hand lightly with her hand, and Karl went to
work again with his brush, which now seemed to do its work
with a wonderful skill that he had never noticed in it
before. "Ah," he said happily, "that was the color I
wanted all the time! And that is the light on the hills that
I saw last evening and thought so beautiful!"
Then, resting from his work a minute, he turned his face
again toward the Angel, and said to her:
"Will this really be the picture that I have wanted to paint
for so long?"
"Yes," said the Angel, "it will; for at last you have found
the most beautiful sight in the world."
 "And it was here all the time?" said Karl.
"What is here does not make the picture," said the Angel,
"but what you see." Then she faded away as quietly as she had
come, and Karl saw that his picture was finished.
This was the picture that made all the world know that Karl
was a great artist; but how it came to be painted has
never been told before.