In a short time my light garment was wet through. It was already rent, and I did not hesitate to tear it entirely off my body. I cast away my slippers, and one covering after another. Nay, at last I found it very agreeable to let such a shower-bath play over me in the warm day. Now, being quite naked, I walked gravely along between these welcome waters, where I thought to enjoy myself for some time. My anger cooled, and I wished for nothing more than a reconciliation with my little adversary. But, in a twinkling, the water stopped; and I stood drenched upon the saturated ground. The presence of the old man, who appeared before me unexpectedly, was by no means welcome. I could have wished, if not to hide, at least to clothe, myself. The shame, the shivering, the effort to cover myself in some degree, made me cut a most piteous figure. The old man employed the moment in venting the severest reproaches against me. "What hinders me," he exclaimed, "from taking one of the green cords, and fitting it, if not to your neck, to your back?" This threat I took in very ill part. "Refrain," I cried, "from such words, even from such thoughts; for otherwise you and your mistresses will be lost."—" Who, then, are you," he asked in defiance, "who dare speak thus?"—"A favorite of the gods," I said, "on whom it depends whether those ladies shall find worthy husbands and pass a happy life, or be left to pine and wither in their magic cell." The old man stepped some paces back. "Who has revealed that to you?" he inquired, with astonishment and concern. "Three apples," I said, "three jewels."—"And what reward do you require?" he exclaimed. "Before all things, the little creature," I replied, "who has brought me into this accursed state." The old man cast himself down before me, without shrinking from the wet and miry soil: then he rose without being wetted, took me kindly by the hand, led me into the hall, clad me again quickly; and I was soon once more decked out and frizzled in my Sunday fashion as before. The porter did not speak another word; but, before he let me pass the entrance, he stopped me, and showed me some objects on the wall over the way, while, at the same time, he pointed backwards to the door. I understood him: he wished to imprint the objects on my mind, that I might the more certainly find the door, which had unexpectedly closed behind me. I now took good notice of what was opposite me. Above a high wall rose the boughs of extremely old nut-trees, and partly covered the cornice at the top. The branches reached down to a stone tablet, the ornamented border of which I could perfectly recognize, though I could not read the inscription. It rested on the top-stone of a niche, in which a finely wrought fountain poured water from cup to cup into a great basin, that formed, as it were, a little pond, and disappeared in the earth. Fountain, inscription, nut-trees, all stood perpendicularly, one above another: I would paint it as I saw it.
Now, it may well be conceived how I passed this evening, and many following days, and how often I repeated to myself this story, which even I could hardly believe. As soon as it was in any degree possible, I went again to the Bad Wall, at least to refresh my remembrance of these signs, and to look at the precious door. But, to my great amazement, I found all changed. Nut-trees, indeed, overtopped the wall; but they did not stand immediately in contact. A tablet also was inserted in the wall, but far to the right of the trees, without ornament, and with a legible inscription. A niche with a fountain was found far to the left, but with no resemblance whatever to that which I had seen; so that I almost believed that the second adventure was, like the first, a dream, for of the door there is not the slightest trace. The only thing that consoles me is the observation, that these three objects seem always to change their places. For, in repeated visits to the spot, I think I have noticed that the nut-trees have moved somewhat nearer together, and that the tablet and the fountain seem likewise to approach each other. Probably, when all is brought together again, the door, too, will once more be visible; and I will do my best to take up the thread of the adventure. Whether I shall be able to tell you what further happens, or whether I shall be expressly forbidden to do so, I cannot say.
This tale, of the truth of which my playfellows vehemently strove to convince themselves, received great applause. Each of them visited alone the place described, without confiding it to me or the others, and discovered the nut-trees, the tablet, and the spring, though always at a distance from each other; as they at last confessed to me afterwards, because it is not easy to conceal a secret at that early age. But here the contest first arose. One asserted that the objects did not stir from the spot, and always maintained the same distance; a second averred that they did move, and that, too, away from each other; a third agreed with the latter as to the first point of their moving, though it seemed to him that the nut-trees, tablet, and fountain rather drew near together; while a fourth had something still more wonderful to announce, which was, that the nut-trees were in the middle, but that the tablet and the fountain were on sides opposite to those which I had stated. With respect to the traces of the little door, they also varied. And thus they furnished me an early instance of the contradictory views men can hold and maintain in regard to matters quite simple and easily cleared up. As I obstinately refused the continuation of my tale, a repetition of the first part was often desired. I took good care not to change the circumstances much; and, by the uniformity of the narrative, I converted the fable into truth in the minds of my hearers.
Yet I was averse to falsehood and dissimulation, and altogether by no means frivolous. Rather, on the contrary, the inward earnestness, with which I had early begun to consider myself and the world, was seen, even in my exterior; and I was frequently called to account, often in a friendly way, and often in raillery, for a certain dignity which I had assumed. For, although good and chosen friends were certainly not wanting to me, we were always a minority against those who found pleasure in assailing us with wanton rudeness, and who indeed often awoke us in no gentle fashion from that legendary and self-complacent dreaming in which we—I by inventing, and my companions by sympathizing- -were too readily absorbed. Thus we learned once more, that, instead of sinking into effeminacy and fantastic delights, there was reason rather for hardening ourselves, in order either to bear or to counteract inevitable evils.
Among the stoical exercises which I cultivated, as earnestly as it was possible for a lad, was even the endurance of bodily pain. Our teachers often treated us very unkindly and unskilfully, with blows and cuffs, against which we hardened ourselves all the more as obstinacy was forbidden under the severest penalties. A great many of the sports of youth depend on a rivalry in such endurances: as, for instance, when they strike each other alternately with two fingers or the whole fist, till the limbs are numbed; or when they bear the penalty of blows incurred in certain games, with more or less firmness; when, in wrestling or scuffling, they do not let themselves be perplexed by the pinches of a half-conquered opponent; or, finally, when they suppress the pain inflicted for the sake of teasing, and even treat with indifference the nips and ticklings with which young persons are so active toward each other. Thus we gain a great advantage, of which others cannot speedily deprive us.
But, as I made a sort of boast of this impassiveness, the importunity of the others was increased; and, since rude barbarity knows no limits, it managed to force me beyond my bounds. Let one case suffice for several. It happened once that the teacher did not come for the usual hour of instruction. As long as we children were all together, we entertained ourselves quite agreeably; but when my adherents, after waiting long enough, had left, and I remained alone with three of my enemies, these took it into their heads to torment me, to shame me, and to drive me away. Having left me an instant in the room, they came back with switches, which they had made by quickly cutting up a broom. I noted their design; and, as I supposed the end of the hour near, I at once resolved not to resist them till the clock struck. They began, therefore, without remorse, to lash my legs and calves in the cruellest fashion. I did not stir, but soon felt that I had miscalculated, and that such pain greatly lengthened the minutes. My wrath grew with my endurance; and, at the first stroke of the hour, I grasped the one who least expected it by the hair behind, hurled him to the earth in an instant, pressing my knee upon his back; the second, a younger and weaker one, who attacked me from behind, I drew by the head under my arm, and almost throttled him with the pressure. The last, and not the weakest, still remained; and my left hand only was left for my defense. But I seized him by the clothes; and, with a dexterous twist on my part and an over-precipitate one on his, I brought him down and struck his face on the ground. They were not wanting in bites, pinches, and kicks; but I had nothing but revenge in my limbs as well as in my heart. With the advantage which I had acquired, I repeatedly knocked their heads together. At last they raised a dreadful shout of murder, and we were soon surrounded by all the inmates of the house. The switches scattered around, and my legs, which I had bared of the stockings, soon bore witness for me. They put off the punishment, and let me leave the house; but I declared, that in future, on the slightest offence, I would scratch out the eyes, tear off the ears, of any one of them, if not throttle him.
Though, as usually happens in childish affairs, this event was soon forgotten, and even laughed at, it was the cause that these joint instructions became fewer, and at last entirely ceased. I was thus again, as formerly, kept more at home; where I found my sister Cornelia, who was only one year younger than myself, a companion always growing more agreeable.
Still, I will not leave this topic without telling some more stories of the many vexations caused me by my playfellows; for this is the instructive part of such moral communications, that a man may learn how it has gone with others, and what he also has to expect from life; and that, whatever comes to pass, he may consider that it happens to him as a man, and not as one specially fortunate or unfortunate. If such knowledge is of little use for avoiding evils, it is very serviceable so far as it qualifies us to understand our condition, and bear or even to overcome it.
Another general remark will not be out of place here, which is, that, as the children of the cultivated classes grow up, a great contradiction appears. I refer to the fact, that they are urged and trained by parents and teachers to deport themselves moderately, intelligently, and even wisely; to give pain to no one from petulance or arrogance; and to suppress all the evil impulses which may be developed in them; but yet, on the other hand, while the young creatures are engaged in this discipline, they have to suffer from others that which in them is reprimanded and punished. In this way the poor things are brought into a sad strait between the natural and civilized states, and, after restraining themselves for a while, break out, according to their characters, into cunning or violence.
Force may be warded off by force; but a well-disposed child, inclined to love and sympathy, has little to oppose to scorn and ill-will. Though I managed pretty well to keep off the assaults of my companions, I was by no means equal to them in sarcasm and abuse; because he who merely defends himself in such cases is always a loser. Attacks of this sort consequently, when they went so far as to excite anger, were repelled with physical force, or at least excited strange reflections in me which could not be without results. Among other advantages which my ill- wishers saw with envy, was the pleasure I took in the relations that accrued to the family from my grandfather's position of /Schultheiss/; since, as he was the first of his class, this had no small effect on those belonging to him. Once when, after the holding of the Piper's Court, I appeared to pride myself on having seen my grandfather in the midst of the council, one step higher than the rest, enthroned, as it were, under the portrait of the emperor, one of the boys said to me in derision, that, like the peacock contemplating his feet, I should cast my eyes back to my paternal grandfather, who had been keeper of the Willow Inn, and would never have aspired to thrones and coronets. I replied, that I was in no wise ashamed of that, as it was the glory and honor of our native city that all its citizens might consider each other equal, and every one derive profit and honor from his exertions in his own way. I was sorry only that the good man had been so long dead; for I had often yearned to know him in person, had many times gazed upon his likeness, nay, had visited his tomb, and had at least derived pleasure from the inscription on the simple monument of that past existence to which I was indebted for my own. Another ill- wisher, who was the most malicious of all, took the first aside, and whispered something in his ear; while they still looked at me scornfully. My gall already began to rise, and I challenged them to speak out. "What is more, then, if you will have it," continued the first, "this one thinks you might go looking about a long time before you could find your grandfather." I now threatened them more vehemently if they did not more clearly explain themselves. Thereupon they brought forward an old story, which they pretended to have overheard from their parents, that my father was the son of some eminent man, while that good citizen had shown himself willing to take outwardly the paternal office. They had the impudence to produce all sorts of arguments: as, for example, that our property came exclusively from our grandmother; that the other collateral relations who lived in Friedburg and other places were alike destitute of property; and other reasons of the sort, which could merely derive their weight from malice. I listened to them more composedly than they expected, for they stood ready to fly the very moment that I should make a gesture as if I would seize their hair. But I replied quite calmly, and in substance, "that even this was no great injury to me. Life was such a boon, that one might be quite indifferent as to whom one had to thank for it; since at least it must be derived from God, before whom we all were equals." As they could make nothing of it, they let the matter drop for this time: we went on playing together as before, which among children is an approved mode of reconciliation.
Still, these spiteful words inoculated me with a sort of moral disease, which crept on in secret. It would not have displeased me at all to have been the grandson of any person of consideration, even if it had not been in the most lawful way. My acuteness followed up the scent, my imagination was excited, and my sagacity put in requisition. I began to investigate the allegation, and invented or found for it new grounds of probability. I had heard little said of my grandfather, except that his likeness, together with my grandmother's, had hung in a parlor of the old house; both of which, after the building of the new one, had been kept in an upper chamber. My grandmother must have been a very handsome woman, and of the same age as her husband. I remembered also to have seen in her room the miniature of a handsome gentleman in uniform, with star and order, which after her death, and during the confusion of house-building, had disappeared, with many other small pieces of furniture. These and many other things I put together in my childish head, and exercised that modern poetical talent which contrives to obtain the sympathies of the whole cultivated world by a marvellous combination of the important events of human life.
But as I did not venture to trust such an affair to any one, or even to ask the most remote questions concerning it, I was not wanting in a secret diligence, in order to get, if possible, somewhat nearer to the matter. I had heard it explicitly maintained, that sons often bore a decided resemblance to their fathers or grandfathers. Many of our friends, especially Councillor Schneider, a friend of the family, were connected by business with all the princes and noblemen of the neighborhood, of whom, including both the ruling and the younger branches, not a few had estates on the Rhine and Main, and in the intermediate country, and who at times honored their faithful agents with their portraits.
These, which I had often seen on the walls from my infancy, I now regarded with redoubled attention; seeking whether I could not detect some resemblance to my father or even to myself, which too often happened to lead me to any degree of certainty. For now it was the eyes of this, now the nose of that, which seemed to indicate some relationship. Thus these marks led me delusively backward and forward: and though in the end I was compelled to regard the reproach as a completely empty tale, the impression remained; and I could not from time to time refrain from privately calling up and testing all the noblemen whose images had remained very distinct in my imagination. So true is it that whatever inwardly confirms man in his self-conceit, or flatters his secret vanity, is so highly desirable to him, that he does not ask further, whether in other respects it may turn to his honor or disgrace.
But, instead of mingling here serious and even reproachful reflections, I rather turn my look away from those beautiful times; for who is able to speak worthily of the fulness of childhood? We cannot behold the little creatures which flit about before us otherwise than with delight, nay, with admiration; for they generally promise more than they perform: and it seems that Nature, among the other roguish tricks that she plays us, here also especially designs to make sport of us. The first organs she bestows upon children coming into the world, are adapted to the nearest immediate condition of the creature, which, unassuming and artless, makes use of them in the readiest way for its present purposes. The child, considered in and for himself, with his equals, and in relations suited to his powers, seems so intelligent and rational, and at the same time so easy, cheerful, and clever, that one can hardly wish it further cultivation. If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses; but growth is not merely development: the various organic systems which constitute one man spring one from another, follow each other, change into each other, supplant each other, and even consume each other; so that after a time scarcely a trace is to be found of many aptitudes and manifestations of ability. Even when the talents of the man have on the whole a decided direction, it will be hard for the greatest and most experienced connoisseur to declare them beforehand with confidence; although afterwards it is easy to remark what has pointed to a future.
By no means, therefore, is it my design wholly to comprise the stories of my childhood in these first books; but I will rather afterwards resume and continue many a thread which ran through the early years unnoticed. Here, however, I must remark what an increasing influence the incidents of the war gradually exercised upon our sentiments and mode of life.
The peaceful citizen stands in a wonderful relation to the great events of the world. They already excite and disquiet him from a distance; and, even if they do not touch him, he can scarcely refrain from an opinion and a sympathy. Soon he takes a side, as his character or external circumstances may determine. But when such grand fatalities, such important changes, draw nearer to him, then with many outward inconveniences remains that inward discomfort, which doubles and sharpens the evil, and destroys the good which is still possible. Then he has really to suffer from friends and foes, often more from the former than from the latter; and he knows not how to secure and preserve either his interests or his inclinations.
The year 1757, which still passed in perfectly civic tranquillity, kept us, nevertheless, in great uneasiness of mind. Perhaps no other was more fruitful of events than this. Conquests, achievements, misfortunes, restorations, followed one upon another, swallowed up and seemed to destroy each other; yet the image of Frederick, his name and glory, soon hovered again above all. The enthusiasm of his worshippers grew always stronger and more animated; the hatred of his enemies more bitter; and the diversity of opinion, which separated even families, contributed not a little to isolate citizens, already sundered in many ways and on other grounds. For in a city like Frankfort, where three religions divide the inhabitants into three unequal masses; where only a few men, even of the ruling faith, can attain to political power,—there must be many wealthy and educated persons who are thrown back upon themselves, and, by means of studies and tastes, form for themselves an individual and secluded existence. It will be necessary for us to speak of such men, now and hereafter, if we are to bring before us the peculiarities of a Frankfort citizen of that time.
My father, immediately after his return from his travels, had in his own way formed the design, that, to prepare himself for the service of the city, he would undertake one of the subordinate offices, and discharge its duties without emolument, if it wore conferred upon him without balloting. In the consciousness of his good intentions, and according to his way of thinking and the conception he had of himself, he believed that he deserved such a distinction, which, indeed, was not conformable to law or precedent. Consequently, when his suit was rejected, he fell into ill humor and disgust, vowed that he would never accept of any place, and, in order to render it impossible, procured the title of Imperial Councillor, which the /Schultheiss/ and elder /Schoeffen/ bear as a special honor. He had thus made himself an equal of the highest, and could not begin again at the bottom. The same impulse induced him also to woo the eldest daughter of the /Schultheiss/, so that he was excluded from the council on this side also. He was now of that number of recluses who never form themselves into a society. They are as much isolated in respect to each other as they are in regard to the whole, and the more so as in this seclusion the character becomes more and more uncouth. My father, in his travels and in the world which he had seen, might have formed some conception of a more elegant and liberal mode of life than was, perhaps, common among his fellow-citizens. In this respect, however, he was not entirely without predecessors and associates.
The name of Uffenbach is well known. At that time, there was a Schoeff von Uffenbach, who was generally respected. He had been in Italy; had applied himself particularly to music; sang an agreeable tenor; and, having brought home a fine collection of pieces, concerts and oratorios were performed at his house. Now, as he sang in these himself, and held musicians in great favor, it was not thought altogether suitable to his dignity; and his invited guests, as well as the other people of the country, allowed themselves many a jocose remark on the matter.
I remember, too, a Baron von Hakel, a rich nobleman, who, being married, but childless, occupied a charming house in the Antonius Street, fitted up with all the appurtenances of a dignified position in life. He also possessed good pictures, engravings, antiques, and much else which generally accumulates with collectors and lovers of art. From time to time he asked the more noted personages to dinner, and was beneficent in a careful way of his own; since he clothed the poor in his own house, but kept back their old rags, and gave them a weekly charity, on condition that they should present themselves every time clean and neat in the clothes bestowed on them. I can recall him but indistinctly, as a genial, well-made man; but more clearly his auction, which I attended from beginning to end, and, partly by command of my father, partly from my own impulse, purchased many things that are still to be found in my collections.
At an earlier date than this,—so early that I scarcely set eyes upon him,—John Michael von Loen gained considerable repute in the literary world as well as at Frankfort. Not a native of Frankfort, he settled there, and married a sister of my grandmother Textor, whose maiden name was Lindheim. Familiar with the court and political world, and rejoicing in a renewed title of nobility, he had acquired reputation by daring to take part in the various excitements which arose in Church and State. He wrote "The Count of Rivera," a didactic romance, the subject of which is made apparent by the second title, "or, The Honest Man at Court." This work was well received, because it insisted on morality, even in courts, where prudence only is generally at home; and thus his labor brought him applause and respect. A second work, for that very reason, would be accompanied by more danger. He wrote "The Only True Religion," a book designed to advance tolerance, especially between Lutherans and Calvinists. But here he got in a controversy with the theologians: one Dr. Benner of Giessen, in particular, wrote against him. Von Loen rejoined; the contest grew violent and personal, and the unpleasantness which arose from it caused him to accept the office of president at Lingen, which Frederick II. offered him; supposing that he was an enlightened, unprejudiced man, and not averse to the new views that more extensively obtained in France. His former countrymen, whom he had left in some displeasure, averred that he was not contented there, nay, could not be so, as a place like Lingen was not to be compared with Frankfort. My father also doubted whether the president would be happy, and asserted that the good uncle would have done better not to connect himself with the king, as it was generally hazardous to get too near him, extraordinary sovereign as he undoubtedly was; for it had been seen how disgracefully the famous Voltaire had been arrested in Frankfort, at the requisition of the Prussian Resident Freitag, though he had formerly stood so high in favor, and had been regarded as the king's teacher in French poetry. There was, on such occasions, no want of reflections and examples to warn one against courts and princes' service, of which a native Frankforter could scarcely form a conception.
An excellent man, Dr. Orth, I will only mention by name; because here I have not so much to erect a monument to the deserving citizens of Frankfort, but rather refer to them only in as far as their renown or personal character had some influence upon me in my earliest years. Dr. Orth was a wealthy man, and was also of that number who never took part in the government, although perfectly qualified to do so by his knowledge and penetration. The antiquities of Germany, and more especially of Frankfort, have been much indebted to him: he published remarks on the so-called "Reformation of Frankfort," a work in which the statutes of the state are collected. The historical portions of this book I diligently read in my youth.
Von Ochsenstein, the eldest of the three brothers whom I have mentioned above as our neighbors, had not been remarkable during his lifetime, in consequence of his recluse habits, but became the more remarkable after his death, by leaving behind him a direction that common workingmen should carry him to the grave, early in the morning, in perfect silence, and without an attendant or follower. This was done; and the affair caused great excitement in the city, where they were accustomed to the most pompous funerals. All who discharged the customary offices on such occasions rose against the innovation. But the stout patrician found imitators in all classes; and, though such ceremonies were derisively called ox-burials,[Footnote: A pun upon the name of Ochsenstein.— Trans.] they came into fashion, to the advantage of many of the more poorly provided families; while funeral parades were less and less in vogue. I bring forward this circumstance, because it presents one of the earlier symptoms of that tendency to humility and equality, which, in the second half of the last century, was manifested in so many ways, from above downward, and broke out in such unlooked-for effects.
Nor was there any lack of antiquarian amateurs. There were cabinets of pictures, collections of engravings; while the curiosities of our own country especially were zealously sought and hoarded. The older decrees and mandates of the imperial city, of which no collection had been prepared, were carefully searched for in print and manuscript, arranged in the order of time, and preserved with reverence, as a treasure of native laws and customs. The portraits of Frankforters, which existed in great number, were also brought together, and formed a special department of the cabinets.
Such men my father appears generally to have taken as his models. He was wanting in none of the qualities that pertain to an upright and respectable citizen. Thus, after he had built his house, he put his property of every sort into order. An excellent collection of maps by Schenck and other geographers at that time eminent, the aforesaid decrees and mandates, the portraits, a chest of ancient weapons, a case of remarkable Venetian glasses, cups and goblets, natural curiosities, works in ivory, bronzes, and a hundred other things, were separated and displayed; and I did not fail, whenever an auction occurred, to get some commission for the increase of his possessions.
I must still speak of one important family, of which I had heard strange things since my earliest years, and of some of whose members I myself lived to see a great deal that was wonderful,—I mean the Senkenbergs. The father, of whom I have little to say, was an opulent man. He had three sons, who, even in their youth, uniformly distinguished themselves as oddities. Such things are not well received in a limited city, where no one is suffered to render himself conspicuous, either for good or evil. Nicknames and odd stories, long kept in memory, are generally the fruit of such singularity. The father lived at the corner of Hare Street (/Hasengasse/), which took its name from a sign on the house, that represented one hare at least, if not three hares. They consequently called these three brothers only the three Hares, which nickname they could not shake off for a long while. But as great endowments often announce themselves in youth in the form of singularity and awkwardness, so was it also in this case. The eldest of the brothers was the /Reichshofrath/ (Imperial Councillor) von Senkenberg, afterwards so celebrated. The second was admitted into the magistracy, and displayed eminent abilities, which, however, he subsequently abused in a pettifogging and even infamous way, if not to the injury of his native city, certainty to that of his colleagues. The third brother, a physician and man of great integrity, but who practised little, and that only in high families, preserved even in his old age a somewhat whimsical exterior. He was always very neatly dressed, and was never seen in the street otherwise than in shoes and stockings, with a well- powdered, curled wig, and his hat under his arm. He walked on rapidly, but with a singular sort of stagger; so that he was sometimes on one and sometimes on the other side of the way, and formed a complete zigzag as he went. The wags said that he made this irregular step to get out of the way of the departed souls, who might follow him in a straight line, and that he imitated those who are afraid of a crocodile. But all these jests and many merry sayings were transformed at last into respect for him, when he devoted his handsome dwelling-house in Eschenheimer Street, with court, garden, and all other appurtenances, to a medical establishment, where, in addition to a hospital designed exclusively for the citizens of Frankfort, a botanic garden, an anatomical theatre, a chemical laboratory, a considerable library, and a house for the director, were instituted in a way of which no university need have been ashamed.
Another eminent man, whose efficiency in the neighborhood and whose writings, rather than his presence, had a very important influence upon me, was Charles Frederick von Moser, who was perpetually referred to in our district for his activity in business. He also had a character essentially moral, which, as the vices of human nature frequently gave him trouble, inclined him to the so-called pious. Thus, what Von Loen had tried to do in respect to court-life, he would have done for business-life; introducing into it a more conscientious mode of proceeding. The great number of small German courts gave rise to a multitude of princes and servants, the former of whom desired unconditional obedience; while the latter, for the most part, would work or serve only according to their own convictions. Thus arose an endless conflict, and rapid changes and explosions; because the effects of an unrestricted course of proceeding become much sooner noticeable and injurious on a small scale than on a large one. Many families were in debt, and Imperial Commissions of Debts were appointed; others found themselves sooner or later on the same road: while the officers either reaped an unconscionable profit, or conscientiously made themselves disagreeable and odious. Moser wished to act as a statesman and man of business; and here his hereditary talent, cultivated to a profession, gave him a decided advantage: but he at the same time wished to act as a man and a citizen, and surrender as little as possible of his moral dignity. His "Prince and Servant," his "Daniel in the Lions' Den," his "Relics," paint throughout his own condition, in which he felt himself, not indeed tortured, but always cramped. They all indicate impatience in a condition, to the bearings of which one cannot reconcile one's self, yet from which one cannot get free. With this mode of thinking and feeling, he was, indeed, often compelled to seek other employments, which, on account of his great cleverness, were never wanting. I remember him as a pleasing, active, and, at the same time, gentle man.
The name of Klopstock had already produced a great effect upon us, even at a distance. In the outset, people wondered how so excellent a man could be so strangely named; but they soon got accustomed to this, and thought no more of the meaning of the syllables. In my father's library I had hitherto found only the earlier poets, especially those who in his day had gradually appeared and acquired fame. All these had written in rhyme, and my father held rhyme as indispensable in poetical works. Canitz, Hagedorn, Drollinger, Gellert Creuz, Haller, stood in a row, in handsome calf bindings: to these were added Neukirch's "Telemachus," Koppen's "Jerusalem Delivered," and other translations. I had from my childhood diligently perused the whole of these works, and committed portions of them to memory, whence I was often called upon to amuse the company. A vexatious era on the other hand opened upon my father, when, through Klopstock's "Messiah," verses, which seemed to him no verses, became an object of public admiration.[Footnote: The Messiah is written in hexameter verse.—Trans.] He had taken good care not to buy this book; but the friend of the family, Councillor Schneider, smuggled it in, and slipped it into the hands of my mother and her children.
On this man of business, who read but little, "The Messiah," as soon as it appeared, made a powerful impression. Those pious feelings, so naturally expressed, and yet so beautifully elevated; that pleasant diction, even if considered merely as harmonious prose,—had so won the otherwise dry man of business, that he regarded the first ten cantos, of which alone we are properly speaking, as the finest book of devotion, and once every year in Passion Week, when he managed to escape from business, read it quietly through by himself, and thus refreshed himself for the entire year. In the beginning he thought to communicate his emotions to his old friend; but he was much shocked when forced to perceive an incurable dislike cherished against a book of such valuable substance, merely because of what appeared to him an indifferent external form. It may readily be supposed that their conversation often reverted to this topic; but both parties diverged more and more widely from each other, there were violent scenes: and the compliant man was at last pleased to be silent on his favorite work, that he might not lose, at the same time, a friend of his youth, and a good Sunday meal.
It is the most natural wish of every man to make proselytes; and how much did our friend find himself rewarded in secret, when he discovered in the rest of the family hearts so openly disposed for his saint. The copy which he used only one week during the year was given over to our edification all the remaining time. My mother kept it secret; and we children took possession of it when we could, that in leisure hours, hidden in some nook, we might learn the most striking passages by heart, and particularly might impress the most tender as well as the most violent parts on our memory as quickly as possible.
Porcia's dream we recited in a sort of rivalry, and divided between us the wild dialogue of despair between Satan and Adramelech, who have been cast into the Red Sea. The first part, as the strongest, had been assigned to me; and the second, as a little more pathetic, was undertaken by my sister. The alternate and horrible but well-sounding curses flowed only thus from our mouths, and we seized every opportunity to accost each other with these infernal phrases.
One Saturday evening in winter,—my father always had himself shaved over night, that on Sunday morning he might dress for church at his ease,—we sat on a footstool behind the stove, and muttered our customary imprecations in a tolerably low voice, while the barber was putting on the lather. But now Adramelech had to lay his iron hands on Satan: my sister seized me with violence, and recited, softly enough, but with increasing passion,—
"Give me thine aid, I entreat thee: I'll worship thee if thou demandest, Thee, thou reprobate monster, yes, thee, of all criminals blackest! Aid me. I suffer the tortures of death, everlasting, avenging! Once, in the times gone by, I with furious hatred could hate thee: Now I can hate thee no more! E'en this is the sharpest of tortures."
Thus far all went on tolerably; but loudly, with a dreadful voice, she cried the following words:—
"Oh, how utterly crushed I am now!"
The good surgeon was startled, and emptied the lather-basin into my father's bosom. There was a great uproar; and a severe investigation was held, especially with respect to the mischief which might have been done if the shaving had been actually going forward. In order to relieve ourselves of all suspicions of mischievousness, we pleaded guilty of having acted these Satanic characters; and the misfortune occasioned by the hexameters was so apparent, that they were again condemned and banished.
Thus children and common people are accustomed to transform the great and sublime into a sport, and even a farce; and how indeed could they otherwise abide and endure it?
At that time the general interchange of personal good wishes made the city very lively on New-Year's Day. Those who otherwise did not easily leave home, donned their best clothes, that for a moment they might be friendly and courteous to their friends and patrons. The festivities at my grandfather's house on this day were pleasures particularly desired by us children. At early dawn the grandchildren had already assembled there to hear the drums, oboes, clarinets, trumpets, and cornets played upon by the military, the city musicians, and whoever else might furnish his tones. The New-Year's gifts, sealed and superscribed, were divided by us children among the humbler congratulators; and, as the day advanced, the number of those of higher rank increased. The relations and intimate friends appeared first, then the subordinate officials; even the gentlemen of the council did not fail to pay their respects to the /Schultheiss/, and a select number were entertained in the evening in rooms which were else scarcely opened throughout the year. The tarts, biscuits, marchpane, and sweet wine had the greatest charm for the children; and, besides, the /Schultheiss/ and the two burgomasters annually received from some institutions some article of silver, which was then bestowed upon the grandchildren and godchildren in regular gradation. In fine, this small festival was not wanting in any of those things which usually glorify the greatest.
The New-Year's Day of 1759 approached, as desirable and pleasant to us children as any preceding one, but full of import and foreboding to older persons. To the passage of the French troops people certainly had become accustomed; and they happened often, but they had been most frequent in the last days of the past year. According to the old usage of an imperial town, the warder of the chief tower sounded his trumpet whenever troops approached; and on this New-Year's Day he would not leave off, which was a sign that large bodies were in motion on several sides. They actually marched through the city in greater masses on this day, and the people ran to see them pass by. We had generally been used to see them go through in small parties; but these gradually swelled, and there was neither power nor inclination to stop them. In short, on the 2d of January, after a column had come through Sachsenhausen over the bridge, through the Fahrgasse, as far as the Police Guard-House, it halted, overpowered the small company which escorted it, took possession of the before-mentioned Guard-House, marched down the Zeil, and, after a slight resistance, the main guard were also obliged to yield. In a moment the peaceful streets were turned into a scene of war. The troops remained and bivouacked there until lodgings were provided for them by regular billeting.
This unexpected, and, for many years, unheard-of, burden weighed heavily upon the comfortable citizens; and to none could it be more cumbersome than to my father, who was obliged to take foreign military inhabitants into his scarcely finished house, to open for them his well-furnished reception-rooms, which were generally closed, and to abandon to the caprices of strangers all that he had been used to arrange and keep so carefully. Siding as he did with the Prussians, he was now to find himself besieged in his own chambers by the French: it was, according to his way of thinking, the greatest misfortune that could happen to him. Had it, however, been possible for him to have taken the matter more easily, he might have saved himself and us many sad hours; since he spoke French well, and could deport himself with dignity and grace in the daily intercourse of life. For it was the king's lieutenant who was quartered on us; and he, although a military person, had only to settle civil occurrences, disputes between soldiers and citizens, and questions of debt and quarrels. This was the Count Thorane, a native of Grasse in Provence, not far from Antibes: a tall, thin, stern figure, with a face much disfigured by the small-pox; black, fiery eyes; and a dignified, reserved demeanor. His first entrance was at once favorable for the inmates of the house. They spoke of the different apartments, some of which were to be given up, and others retained by the family; and, when the count heard a picture-room mentioned, he immediately requested permission, although it was already night, at least to give a hasty look at the pictures by candlelight. He took extreme pleasure in these things, behaved in the most obliging manner to my father, who accompanied him; and when he heard that the greater part of the artists were still living, and resided in Frankfurt and its neighborhood, he assured us that he desired nothing more than to know them as soon as possible, and to employ them.
But even this sympathy in respect to art could not change my father's feelings nor bend his character. He permitted what he could not prevent, but kept at a distance in inactivity; and the uncommon state of things around him was intolerable to him, even in the veriest trifle.
Count Thorane behaved himself, meanwhile, in an exemplary manner. He would not even have his maps nailed on the walls, that he might not injure the new hangings. His people were skilful, quiet, and orderly: but in truth, as, during the whole day and a part of the night there was no quiet with him, one complainant quickly following another, arrested persons being brought in and led out, and all officers and adjutants being admitted to his presence,—as, moreover, the count kept an open table every day, it made, in the moderately sized house, arranged only for a family, and with but one open staircase running from top to bottom, a movement and a buzzing like that in a beehive; although every thing was managed with moderation, gravity, and severity.
As mediator between the irritable master of the house—who became daily more of a hypochondriac self-tormentor—and his well-intentioned, but stern and precise, military guest, there was a pleasant interpreter, a handsome, corpulent, lively man, who was a citizen of Frankfort, spoke French well, knew how to adapt himself to every thing, and only made a jest of many little annoyances. Through him my mother had sent to the count a representation of the situation in which she was placed, owing to her husband's state of mind. He had explained the matter so skilfully,—had laid before him the new and scarcely furnished house, the natural reserve of the owner, his occupation in the education of his family, and all that could be said to the same effect,—that the count, who in his capacity took the greatest pride in the utmost justice, integrity, and honorable conduct, resolved here also to behave in an exemplary manner to those upon whom he was quartered, and, indeed, never swerved from this resolution under varying circumstances, during the several years he staid with us.
My mother possessed some knowledge of Italian, a language not altogether unknown to any of the family: she therefore resolved to learn French immediately; for which purpose the interpreter, for whose child she had stood godmother during these stormy times, and who now, therefore, as a gossip,[Footnote: The obsolete word, "gossip," has been revived as an equivalent for the German, "/gevatter/." But it should be observed that this word not only signifies godfather, but that the person whose child has another person for godfather (or godmother) is that person's /gevatter/, or /gevatterin/ (feminine).] felt a redoubled interest in our house, devoted every spare moment to his child's godmother (for he lived directly opposite); and, above all, he taught her those phrases which she would be obliged to use in her personal intercourse with the count. This succeeded admirably. The count was flattered by the pains taken by the mistress of the house at her age: and as he had a cheerful, witty vein in his character, and he liked to exhibit a certain dry gallantry, a most friendly relation arose between them; and the allied godmother and father could obtain from him whatever they wanted.
If, as I said before, it had been possible to cheer up my father, this altered state of things would have caused little inconvenience. The count practised the severest disinterestedness; he even declined receiving gifts which pertained to his situation; the most trifling thing which could have borne the appearance of bribery, he rejected angrily, and even punished. His people were most strictly forbidden to put the proprietor of the house to the least expense. We children, on the contrary, were bountifully supplied from the dessert. To give an idea of the simplicity of those times, I must take this opportunity to mention that my mother grieved us excessively one day, by throwing away the ices which had been sent us from the table, because she would not believe it possible for the stomach to bear real ice, however it might be sweetened.
Besides these dainties, which we gradually learned to enjoy and to digest with perfect ease, it was very agreeable for us children to be in some measure released from fixed hours of study and strict discipline. My father's ill humor increased: he could not resign himself to the unavoidable. How he tormented himself, my mother, the interpreter, the councillors, and all his friends, only to rid him of the count! In vain they represented to him, that, under existing circumstances, the presence of such a man in the house was an actual benefit, and that the removal of the count would be followed by a constant succession of officers or of privates. None of these arguments had any effect. To him the present seemed so intolerable, that his indignation prevented his conceiving any thing worse that could follow.
In this way his activity, which he had been used chiefly to devote to us, was crippled. The lessons he gave us were no longer required with the former exactness; and we tried to gratify our curiosity for military and other public proceedings as much as possible, not only at home, but also in the streets, which was the more easily done, as the front door, open day and night, was guarded by sentries who paid no attention to the running to and fro of restless children.
The many affairs which were settled before the tribunal of the royal lieutenant had quite a peculiar charm, from his making it a point to accompany his decisions with some witty, ingenious, or lively turn. What he decreed was strictly just, his manner of expressing it whimsical and piquant. He seemed to have taken the Duke of Ossuna as his model. Scarcely a day passed in which the interpreter did not tell some anecdote or other of this kind to amuse us and my mother. This lively man had made a little collection of such Solomonian decisions; but I only remember the general impression, and cannot recall to my mind any particular case.
By degrees we became better acquainted with the strange character of the count. This man clearly understood his own peculiarities; and as there were times in which he was seized with a sort of dejection, hypochondria, or by whatever name we may call the evil demon, he withdrew into his room at such hours, which were often lengthened into days, saw no one but his /valet/, and in urgent cases could not even be prevailed upon to receive any one. But, as soon as the evil spirit had left him, he appeared as before, active, mild, and cheerful. It might be inferred from the talk of his /valet/, Saint Jean, a small, thin man of lively good nature, that in his earlier years he had caused a great misfortune when overcome by this temper; and that, therefore, in so important a position as his, exposed to the eyes of all the world, he had earnestly resolved to avoid similar aberrations.
During the very first days of the count's residence with us, all the Frankfort artists, as Hirt, Schuetz, Trautmann, Nothnagel, and Junker, were called to him. They showed their finished pictures, and the count bought such as were for sale. My pretty, light room in the gable-end of the attic was given up to him, and immediately turned into a cabinet and studio; for he designed to keep all the artists at work for a long time, especially Seekatz of Darmstadt, whose pencil, particularly in simple and natural representations, highly pleased him. He therefore caused to be sent from Grasse, where his elder brother possessed a handsome house, the dimensions of all the rooms and cabinets; then considered, with the artists, the divisions of the walls, and fixed accordingly upon the size of the large oil-pictures, which were not to be set in frames, but to be fastened upon the walls like pieces of tapestry. And now the work went on zealously. Seekatz undertook country scenes, and succeeded extremely well in his old people and children, which were copied directly from nature. His young men did not answer so well,—they were almost all too thin; and his women failed from the opposite cause. For as he had a little, fat, good, but unpleasant-looking, wife, who would let him have no model but herself, he could produce nothing agreeable. He was also obliged to exceed the usual size of his figures. His trees had truth, but the foliage was over minute. He was a pupil of Brinkmann, whose pencil in easel pictures is not contemptible.
Schuetz, the landscape painter, had perhaps the best of the matter. He was thoroughly master of the Rhine country, and of the sunny tone which animates it in the fine season. Nor was he entirely unaccustomed to work on a larger scale, and then he showed no want of execution or keeping. His paintings were of a cheerful cast.
Trautmann /Rembrandtized/ some resurrection miracles out of the New Testament, and alongside of them set fire to villages and mills. One cabinet was entirely allotted to him, as I found from the designs of the rooms. Hirt painted some good oak and beech forests. His cattle were praiseworthy.
Junker, accustomed to the imitation of the most elaborate Dutch, was least able to manage this tapestry-work; but he condescended to ornament many compartments with flowers and fruits for a handsome price.
As I had known all these men from my earliest youth, and had often visited them in their studios, and as the count also liked to have me with him, I was present at the suggestions, consultations, and orders, as well as at the deliveries, of the pictures, and ventured to speak my opinion freely when sketches and designs were handed in. I had already gained among amateurs, particularly at auctions, which I attended diligently, the reputation of being able to tell at once what any historical picture represented, whether taken from biblical or profane history, or from mythology; and, even if I did not always hit upon the meaning of allegorical pictures, there was seldom any one present who understood it better than I. Often had I persuaded the artists to represent this or that subject, and I now joyfully made use of these advantages. I still remember writing a circumstantial essay, in which I described twelve pictures which were to exhibit the history of Joseph: some of them were executed.
After these achievements, which were certainly laudable in a boy, I will mention a little disgrace which happened to me within this circle of artists. I was well acquainted with all the pictures which had from time to time been brought into that room. My youthful curiosity left nothing unseen or unexplored. I once found a little black box behind the stove: I did not fail to investigate what might be concealed in it, and drew back the bolt without long deliberation. The picture contained was certainly of a kind not usually exposed to view; and, although I tried to bolt it again immediately, I was not quick enough. The count entered, and caught me. "Who allowed you to open that box?" he asked, with all his air of a royal lieutenant. I had not much to say for myself, and he immediately pronounced my sentence in a very stern manner: "For eight days," said he, "you shall not enter this room." I made a bow, and walked out. Even this order I obeyed most punctually; so that the good Seekatz, who was then at work in the room, was very much annoyed, for he liked to have me about him: and, out of a little spite, I carried my obedience so far, that I left Seekatz's coffee, which I generally brought him, upon the threshold. He was then obliged to leave his work and fetch it, which he took so ill, that he well nigh began to dislike me.
It now seems necessary to state more circumstantially, and to make intelligible, how, under the circumstances, I made my way with more or less ease through the French language, which, however, I had never learned. Here, too, my natural gift was of service to me; enabling me easily to catch the sound of a language, its movement, accent, tone, and all other outward peculiarities. I knew many words from the Latin; Italian suggested still more; and by listening to servants and soldiers, sentries and visitors, I soon picked up so much, that, if I could not join in conversation, I could at any rate manage single questions and answers. All this, however, was little compared to the profit I derived from the theatre. My grandfather had given me a free ticket, which I used daily, in spite of my father's reluctance, by dint of my mother's support. There I sat in the pit, before a foreign stage, and watched the more narrowly the movement and the expression, both of gesture and speech; as I understood little or nothing of what was said, and therefore could only derive entertainment from the action and the tone of voice. I understood least of comedy; because it was spoken rapidly, and related to the affairs of common life, of the phrases of which I knew nothing. Tragedy was not so often played; and the measured step, the rhythm of the Alexandrines, the generality of the expression, made it more intelligible to me in every way. It was not long before I took up Racine, which I found in my father's library, and declaimed the plays to myself, in the theatrical style and manner, as the organ of my ear, and the organ of speech, so nearly akin to that, had caught it, and this with considerable animation; although I could not yet understand a whole connected speech. I even learned entire passages by rote like a trained talking-bird, which was easier to me, from having previously committed to memory passages from the Bible which are generally unintelligible to a child, and accustomed myself to reciting them in the tone of the Protestant preachers. The versified French comedy was then much in vogue: the pieces of Destouches, Marivaux, and La Chaussee were often produced; and I still remember distinctly many characteristic figures. Of those of Moliere I recollect less. What made the greatest impression upon me was "The Hypermnestra" of Lemiere, which, as a new piece, was brought out with care and often repeated. "The Devin du Village," "Rose et Colas," "Annette et Lubin," made each a very pleasant impression upon me. I can even now recall the youths and maidens decorated with ribbons, and their gestures. It was not long before the wish arose in me to see the interior of the theatre, for which many opportunities were offered me. For as I had not always patience to stay and listen to the entire plays, and often carried on all sorts of games with other children of my age in the corridors, and in the milder season even before the door, a handsome, lively boy joined us, who belonged to the theatre, and whom I had seen in many little parts, though only casually. He came to a better understanding with me than with the rest, as I could turn my French to account with him; and he the more attached himself to me because there was no boy of his age or his nation at the theatre, or anywhere in the neighborhood. We also went together at other times, as well as during the play; and, even while the representations went on, he seldom left me in peace. He was a most delightful little braggart, chattered away charmingly and incessantly, and could tell so much of his adventures, quarrels, and other strange incidents, that he amused me wonderfully; and I learned from him in four weeks more of the language, and of the power of expressing myself in it, than can be imagined: so that no one knew how I had attained the foreign tongue all at once, as if by inspiration.
In the very earliest days of our acquaintance, he took me with him upon the stage, and led me especially to the /foyers/, where the actors and actresses remained during the intervals of the performance, and dressed and undressed. The place was neither convenient nor agreeable; for they had squeezed the theatre into a concert-room, so that there were no separate chambers for the actors behind the stage. A tolerably large room adjoining, which had formerly served for card-parties, was now mostly used by both sexes in common, who appeared to feel as little ashamed before each other as before us children, if there was not always the strictest propriety in putting on or changing the articles of dress. I had never seen any thing of the kind before; and yet from habit, after repeated visits, I soon found it quite natural.
It was not long before a very peculiar interest of my own arose. Young Derones, for so I will call the boy whose acquaintance I still kept up, was, with the exception of his boasting, a youth of good manners and very courteous demeanor. He made me acquainted with his sister, a girl who was a few years older than we were, and a very pleasant, well-grown girl, of regular form, brown complexion, black hair and eyes: her whole deportment had about it something quiet, even sad. I tried to make myself agreeable to her in every way, but I could not attract her notice. Young girls think themselves much more advanced than younger boys; and, while aspiring to young men, they assume the manner of an aunt towards the boy whose first inclination is turned towards them.— With a younger brother of his, I had no acquaintance.
Sometimes, when their mother had gone to rehearsals, or was out visiting, we met at her house to play and amuse ourselves. I never went there without presenting the fair one with a flower, a fruit, or something else; which she always received very courteously, and thanked me for most politely: but I never saw her sad look brighten, and found no trace of her having given me a further thought. At last I fancied I had discovered her secret. The boy showed me a crayon-drawing of a handsome man, behind his mother's bed, which was hung with elegant silk curtains; remarking at the same time, with a sly look, that this was not papa, but just the same as papa: and as he glorified this man, and told me many things in his circumstantial and ostentatious manner, I thought I had discovered that the daughter might belong to the father, but the other two children to the intimate friend. I thus explained to myself her melancholy look, and loved her for it all the more.
My liking for this girl assisted me in bearing the braggadocio of her brother, who did not always keep within bounds. I had often to endure prolix accounts of his exploits,—how he had already often fought, without wishing to injure the other, all for the mere sake of honor. He had always contrived to disarm his adversary, and had then forgiven him; nay, he was such a good fencer, that he was once very much perplexed by striking the sword of his opponent up into a high tree, so that it was not easy to be got again.
What much facilitated my visits to the theatre was, that my free ticket, coming from the hands of the /Schultheiss/, gave me access to any of the seats, and therefore also to those in the proscenium. This was very deep, after the French style, and was bordered on both sides with seats, which, surrounded by a low rail, ascended in several rows one behind another, so that the first seats were but a little elevated above the stage. The whole was considered a place of special honor, and was generally used only by officers; although the nearness of the actors destroyed, I will not say all illusion, but, in a measure, all enjoyment. I have thus experienced and seen with my own eyes the usage or abuse of which Voltaire so much complains. If, when the house was very full at such time as troops were passing through the town, officers of distinction strove for this place of honor, which was generally occupied already, some rows of benches and chairs were placed in the proscenium on the stage itself, and nothing remained for the heroes and heroines but to reveal their secrets in the very limited space between the uniforms and orders. I have even seen the "Hypermnestra" performed under such circumstances.
The curtain did not fall between the acts: and I must yet mention a strange custom, which I thought quite extraordinary; as its inconsistency with art was to me, as a good German boy, quite unendurable. The theatre was considered the greatest sanctuary, and any disturbance occurring there would have been instantly resented as the highest crime against the majesty of the public. Therefore, in all comedies, two grenadiers stood with their arms grounded, in full view, at the two sides of the back scene, and were witnesses of all that occurred in the bosom of the family. Since, as I said before, the curtain did not fall between the acts, two others, while music struck up, relieved guard, by coming from the wings, directly in front of the first, who retired in the same measured manner. Now, if such a practice was well fitted to destroy all that is called illusion on the stage, it is the more striking, because it was done at a time when, according to Diderot's principles and examples, the most /natural naturalness/ was required upon the stage, and a perfect deception was proposed as the proper aim of theatrical art. Tragedy, however, was absolved from any such military-police regulations; and the heroes of antiquity had the right of guarding themselves: nevertheless, the same grenadiers stood near enough behind the side scenes.
I will also mention that I saw Diderot's "Father of a Family," and "The Philosophers" of Palissot, and still perfectly remember the figure of the philosopher in the latter piece going upon all fours, and biting into a raw head of lettuce.
All this theatrical variety could not, however, keep us children always in the theatre. In fine weather we played in front of it, and in the neighborhood, and committed all manner of absurdities, which, especially on Sundays and festivals, by no means corresponded to our personal appearance; for I and my comrades then appeared dressed as I described myself in the tale, with the hat under the arm, and a little sword, the hilt of which was ornamented with a large silk knot. One day when we had long gone in this way, and Derones had joined us, he took it into his head to affirm that I had insulted him, and must give him satisfaction. I could not, in truth, conceive what was the cause of this; but I accepted his challenge, and was going to draw my sword. However, he assured me, that in such cases it was customary to go to secluded spots, in order to be able to settle the matter more conveniently. We therefore went behind some barns, and placed ourselves in the proper position. The duel took place in a somewhat theatrical style,—the blades clashed, and the thrusts followed close upon each other; but in the heat of the combat he remained with the point of his sword lodged in the knot of my hilt. This was pierced through; and he assured me that he had received the most complete satisfaction, then embraced me, also theatrically: and we went to the next coffee-house to refresh ourselves with a glass of almond-milk after our mental agitation, and to knit more closely the old bond of friendship.
On this occasion I will relate another adventure which also happened to me at the theatre, although at a later time. I was sitting very quietly in the pit with one of my playmates; and we looked with pleasure at a /pas seul/, which was executed with much skill and grace by a pretty boy about our own age,—the son of a French dancing-master, who was passing through the city. After the fashion of dancers, he was dressed in a close vest of red silk, which, ending in a short hoop- petticoat, like a runner's apron, floated above the knee. We had given our meed of applause to this young artist with the whole public, when, I know not how, it occurred to me to make a moral reflection. I said to my companion, "How handsomely this boy was dressed, and how well he looked! who knows in how tattered a jacket he may sleep to-night!" All had already risen, but the crowd prevented our moving. A woman who had sat by me, and who was now standing close beside me, chanced to be the mother of the young artist, and felt much offended by my reflection. Unfortunately, she knew German enough to understand me, and spoke it just as much as was necessary to scold. She abused me violently. Who was I, she would like to know, that had a right to doubt the family and respectability of this young man? At all events, she would be bound he was as good as I; and his talents might probably procure him a fortune, of which I could not even venture to dream. This moral lecture she read me in the crowd, and made those about me wonder what rudeness I had committed. As I could neither excuse myself, nor escape from her, I was really embarrassed, and, when she paused for a moment, said without thinking, "Well! why do you make such a noise about it?—to-day red, to- morrow dead." [Footnote: A German proverb, "Heute roth, Morgen todt."] These words seemed to strike the woman dumb. She stared at me, and moved away from me as soon as it was in any degree possible. I thought no more of my words; only, some time afterwards, they occurred to me, when the boy, instead of continuing to perform, became ill, and that very dangerously. Whether he died, or not, I cannot say.
Such intimations, by an unseasonably or even improperly spoken word, were held in repute, even by the ancients; and it is very remarkable that the forms of belief and of superstition have always remained the same among all people and in all times.
From the first day of the occupation of our city, there was no lack of constant diversion, especially for children and young people. Plays and balls, parades, and marches through the town, attracted our attention in all directions. The last particularly were always increasing, and the soldiers' life seemed to us very merry and agreeable.
The residence of the king's lieutenant at our house procured us the advantage of seeing by degrees all the distinguished persons in the French army, and especially of beholding close at hand the leaders whose names had already been made known to us by reputation. Thus we looked from stairs and landing-places, as if from galleries, very conveniently upon the generals who passed by. More than all the rest do I remember the Prince Soubise as a handsome, courteous gentleman; but most distinctly, the Marechal de Broglio, who was a younger man, not tall, but well built, lively, nimble, and abounding in keen glances, betraying a clever mind.
He repeatedly came to see the king's lieutenant, and it was easily noticed that they were conversing on weighty matters. We had scarcely become accustomed to having strangers quartered upon us in the first three months, when a rumor was obscurely circulated that the allies were on the march, and that Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick was coming to drive the French from the Main. Of these, who could not boast of any special success in war, no high opinion was held; and, after the battle of Rossbach, it was thought they might be dispersed. The greatest confidence was placed in Duke Ferdinand, and all those favorable to Prussia awaited with eagerness their delivery from the yoke hitherto borne. My father was in somewhat better spirits: my mother was apprehensive. She was wise enough to see that a small present evil might easily be exchanged for a great affliction; since it was but too plain that the French would not advance to meet the duke, but would wait an attack in the neighborhood of the city. A defeat of the French, a flight, a defense of the city, if it were only to cover their rear and hold the bridge, a bombardment, a sack,—all these presented themselves to the excited imagination, and gave anxiety to both parties. My mother, who could bear every thing but suspense, imparted her fears to the count through the interpreter. She received the answer usual in such cases: she might be quite easy, for there was nothing to fear; and should keep quiet, and mention the matter to no one.
Many troops passed through the city: we learned that they halted at Bergen. The coming and going, the riding and running, constantly increased; and our house was in an uproar day and night. At this time I often saw Marshal de Broglio, always cheerful, always the same in look and manner; and I was afterwards pleased to find a man, whose form had made such a good and lasting impression upon me, so honorably mentioned in history.
Thus, after an unquiet Passion Week, the Good Friday of 1759 arrived. A profound stillness announced the approaching storm. We children were forbidden to quit the house: my father had no quiet, and went out. The battle began: I ascended to the garret, where indeed I was prevented seeing the country round, but could very well hear the thunder of cannon and the general discharge of musketry. After some hours we saw the first symptoms of the battle in a line of wagons, in which the wounded, with various sad mutilations and gestures, were slowly drawn by us, to be taken to the convent of St. Mary, now transformed into a hospital. The compassion of the citizens was instantly moved. Beer, wine, bread, and money were distributed to those who were yet able to take them. But when, some time after, wounded and captive Germans were seen in the train, the pity knew no limits; and it seemed as if everybody would strip himself of every movable that he possessed to assist his suffering countrymen.
The prisoners, however, were an evidence of a battle unfavorable to the allies. My father, whose party feelings made him quite certain that these would come off victorious, had the violent temerity to go forth to meet the expected victors, without thinking that the beaten party must pass over him in their flight. He first repaired to his garden before the Friedberg gate, where he found every thing lonely and quiet; then ventured to the Bornheim heath, where he soon descried various stragglers of the army, who were scattered, and amused themselves by shooting at the boundary-stones, so that the rebounding lead whizzed round the head of the inquisitive wanderer. He therefore considered it more prudent to go back, and learned on inquiry what the report of the firing might have before informed him, that all stood well for the French, and that there was no thought of retreating. Reaching home in an ill humor, the sight of his wounded and captured countrymen brought him altogether out of his usual self-command. He also caused various donations to be given to the passers-by; but only the Germans were to have them, which was not always possible, as fate had packed together both friend and foe.
My mother and we children, who had already relied on the count's word, and had therefore passed a tolerably quiet day, were highly rejoiced; and my mother doubly consoled the next day, when, having consulted the oracle of her treasure-box, by the prick of a needle, she received a very comfortable answer, both for present and future. We wished our father similar faith and feelings; we flattered him as much as we could; we entreated him to take some food, from which he had abstained all day; but he repulsed our caresses and every enjoyment, and betook himself to his chamber. Our joy, however, was not interrupted; the affair was decided: the king's lieutenant, who, against his habit, had been on horseback that day, at last returned home, where his presence was more necessary than ever. We sprang to meet him, kissed his hands, and testified our delight. This seemed much to please him. "Well," said he more kindly than usual, "I am glad also for your sakes, my dear children." He immediately ordered that sweetmeats, sweet wine, and the best of every thing should be given us, and went to his room, already surrounded by a crowd of the urging, demanding, supplicating.
We had now a fine collation, pitied our poor father who would not partake of it, and pressed our mother to call him in; but she, more prudent than we, well knew how distasteful such gifts would be to him. In the mean time she had prepared some supper, and would readily have sent a portion up to his room; but he never tolerated such an irregularity, even in the most extreme cases: and, after the sweet things were removed, we endeavored to persuade him to come down into the ordinary dining-room. At last he allowed himself to be persuaded unwillingly, and we had no notion of the mischief which we were preparing for him and ourselves. The stair-case ran through the whole house, along all the ante-rooms. My father, in coming down, had to go directly past the count's apartment. This ante-room was so full of people, that the count, to get through much at once, resolved to come out; and this happened unfortunately at the moment when my father descended. The count met him cheerfully, greeted him, and remarked, "You will congratulate yourselves and us that this dangerous affair is so happily terminated."—"By no means!" replied my father in a rage: "would that it had driven you to the Devil, even if I had gone with you!" The count restrained himself for a moment, and then broke out with wrath, "You shall pay for this," cried he: "you shall find that you have not thus insulted the good cause and myself for nothing!"
My father, meanwhile, came down very calmly, seated himself near us, seemed more cheerful than before, and began to eat. We were glad of this, unconscious of the dangerous method in which he had rolled the stone from his heart. Soon afterwards my mother was called out, and we had great pleasure in chattering to our father about the sweet things the count had given us. Our mother did not return. At last the interpreter came in. At a hint from him we were sent to bed: it was already late, and we willingly obeyed. After a night quietly slept through, we heard of the violent commotion which had shaken the house the previous evening. The king's lieutenant had instantly ordered my father to be led to the guard-house. The subalterns well knew that he was never to be contradicted, yet they had often earned thanks by delaying the execution of his orders. The interpreter, whose presence of mind never forsook him, contrived to excite this disposition in them very strongly. The tumult, moreover, was so great, that a delay brought with it its own concealment and excuse. He had called out my mother, and put the adjutant, as it were, into her hands, that, by prayers and representations, she might gain a brief postponement of the matter. He himself hurried up to the count, who with great self-command had immediately retired into the inner room, and would rather allow the most urgent affair to stand still, than wreak on an innocent person the ill humor once excited in him, and give a decision derogatory to his dignity.
The address of the interpreter to the count, the train of the whole conversation, were often enough repeated to us by the fat interpreter, who prided himself not a little on the fortunate result, so that I can still describe it from recollection.
The interpreter had ventured to open the cabinet and enter, an act which was severely prohibited. "What do you want?" shouted the count angrily. "Out with you!—no one but St. Jean has a right to enter here."
"Well, suppose I am St. Jean for a moment," answered the interpreter.
"It would need a powerful imagination for that! Two of him would not make one such as you. Retire!"
"Count, you have received a great gift from heaven; and to that I appeal."
"You think to flatter me! Do not fancy you will succeed."
"You have the great gift, count, of listening to the opinions of others, even in moments of passion—in moments of rage."
"Well, well! the question now is just about opinions, to which I have listened too long. I know but too well that we are not liked here, and that these citizens look askance at us."
"Very many. What! These towns will be imperial towns, will they? They saw their emperor elected and crowned: and when, being unjustly attacked, he is in danger of losing his dominions and surrendering to an usurper; when he fortunately finds faithful allies who pour out their blood and treasure in his behalf,—they will not put up with the slight burden that falls to their share towards humbling the enemy."
"But you have long known these sentiments, and have endured them like a wise man: they are, besides, held only by a minority. A few, dazzled by the splendid qualities of the enemy, whom you yourself prize as an extraordinary man,—a few only, as you are aware."
"Yes, indeed! I have known and suffered it too long! otherwise this man would not have presumed to utter such insults to my face, and at the most critical moment. Let them be as many as they please, they shall be punished in the person of this their audacious representative, and perceive what they have to expect."
"Only delay, count."
"In certain things one cannot act too promptly."
"Only a little delay, count."
"Neighbor, you think to mislead me into a false step: you shall not succeed."
"I would neither lead you into a false step nor restrain you from one: your resolution is just,—it becomes the Frenchman and the king's lieutenant; but consider that you are also Count Thorane."
"He has no right to interfere here."
"But the gallant man has a right to be heard."
"What would he say, then?"
"'King's lieutenant,' he would begin, 'you have so long had patience with so many gloomy, untoward, bungling men, if they were not really too bad. This man has certainly been too bad: but control yourself, king's lieutenant; and every one will praise and extol you on that account.'"
"You know I can often endure your jests, but do not abuse my good will. These men—are they, then, completely blinded? Suppose we had lost the battle: what would have been their fate at this moment? We fight up to the gates, we shut up the city, we halt, we defend ourselves to cover our retreat over the bridge. Think you the enemy would have stood with his hands before him? He throws grenades, and what he has at hand; and they catch where they can. This house-holder—what would he have? Here, in these rooms, a bomb might now have burst, and another have followed it;—in these rooms, the cursed China-paper of which I have spared, incommoding myself by not nailing up my maps! They ought to have spent the whole day on their knees."
"How many would have done that!"
"They ought to have prayed for a blessing on us, and to have gone out to meet the generals and officers with tokens of honor and joy, and the wearied soldiers with refreshments. Instead of this, the poison of party-spirit destroys the fairest and happiest moments of my life, won by so many cares and efforts."
"It is party-spirit, but you will only increase it by the punishment of this man. Those who think with him will proclaim you a tyrant and a barbarian; they will consider him a martyr, who has suffered for the good cause; and even those of the other opinion, who are now his opponents, will see in him only their fellow-citizen, will pity him, and, while they confess your justice, will yet feel that you have proceeded too severely."
"I have listened to you too much already,—now, away with you!"
"Hear only this. Remember, this is the most unheard-of thing that could befall this man, this family. You have had no reason to be edified by the good will of the master of the house; but the mistress has anticipated all your wishes, and the children have regarded you as their uncle. With this single blow, you will forever destroy the peace and happiness of this dwelling. Indeed, I may say, that a bomb falling into the house would not have occasioned greater desolation. I have so often admired your self-command, count: give me this time opportunity to adore you. A warrior is worthy of honor, who considers himself a guest in the house of an enemy; but here there is no enemy, only a mistaking man. Control yourself, and you will acquire an everlasting fame."
"That would be odd," replied the count, with a smile.
"Merely natural," continued the interpreter: "I have not sent the wife and children to your feet, because I know you detest such scenes; but I will depict to you this wife and these children, how they will thank you. I will depict them to you conversing all their lives of the battle of Bergen, and of your magnanimity on this day, relating it to their children, and children's children, and inspiring even strangers with their own interest for you: an act of this kind can never perish."
"But you do not hit my weak side yet, interpreter. About posthumous fame I am not in the habit of thinking; that is for others, not for me: but to do right at the moment, not to neglect my duty, not to prejudice my honor,—that is my care. We have already had too many words; now go—and receive the thanks of the thankless, whom I spare."
The interpreter, surprised and moved by this unexpectedly favorable issue, could not restrain his tears, and would have kissed the count's hands. The count motioned him off, and said severely and seriously, "You know I cannot bear such things." And with these words he went into the ante-room to attend to his pressing affairs, and hear the claims of so many expectant persons. So the matter was disposed of; and the next morning we celebrated, with the remnants of the yesterday's sweetmeats, the passing over of an evil through the threatenings of which we had happily slept.
Whether the interpreter really spoke so wisely, or merely so painted the scene to himself, as one is apt to do after a good and fortunate action, I will not decide; at least he never varied it in repeating it. Indeed, this day seemed to him both the most anxious and the most glorious in his life.
One little incident will show how the count in general rejected all false parade, never assumed a title which did not belong to him, and how witty he was in his more cheerful moods.
A man of the higher class, who was one of the abstruse, solitary Frankforters, thought he must complain of the quartering of the soldiers upon him. He came in person; and the interpreter proffered him his services, but the other supposed that he did not need them. He came before the count with a most becoming bow, and said, "Your Excellency!" The count returned the bow, as well as the "excellency." Struck by this mark of honor, and not supposing but that the title was too humble, he stooped lower, and said, "Monseigneur."—"Sir," said the count very seriously, "we will not go farther, or else we may easily bring it to Majesty." The other gentleman was extremely confused, and had not a word to utter. The interpreter, standing at some distance, and apprised of the whole affair, was wicked enough not to move; but the count, with much cheerfulness, continued, "Well, now, for instance, sir, what is your name?"—"Spangenberg," replied the other. "And mine," said the count, "is Thorane. Spangenberg, what is your business with Thorane? Now, then, let us sit down: the affair shall at once be settled."
And thus the affair was indeed settled at once, to the great satisfaction of the person I have here named Spangenberg; and the same evening, in our family circle, the story was not only told by the waggish interpreter, but was given with all the circumstances and gestures.
After these confusions, disquietudes, and grievances, the former security and thoughtlessness soon returned, in which the young particularly live from day to day, if it be in any degree possible. My passion for the French theatre grew with every performance. I did not miss an evening; though on every occasion, when, after the play, I sat down with the family to supper,—often putting up with the remains,—I had to endure my father's constant reproaches, that theatres were useless, and would lead to nothing. In these cases I adduced all and every argument which is at hand for the apologists of the stage when they fall into a difficulty like mine. Vice in prosperity, and virtue in misfortune, are in the end set right by poetical justice. Those beautiful examples of misdeeds punished, "Miss Sarah Sampson," and "The Merchant of London," were very energetically cited on my part: but, on the other hand, I often came off worst when the "Fouberies de Scapin," and others of the sort, were in the bill; and I was forced to bear reproaches for the delight felt by the public in the deceits of intriguing servants, and the successful follies of prodigal young men. Neither party was convinced; but my father was very soon reconciled to the theatre when he saw that I advanced with incredible rapidity in the French language.
Men are so constituted that everybody would rather undertake himself what he sees done by others, whether he has aptitude for it or not. I had soon exhausted the whole range of the French stage; several plays were performed for the third and fourth times; all had passed before my eyes and mind, from the stateliest tragedy to the most frivolous afterpiece; and, as when a child I had presumed to imitate Terence, I did not fail now as a boy, on a much more inciting occasion, to copy the French forms to the best of my ability and want of ability. There were then performed some half-mythological, half-allegorical pieces in the taste of Piron: they partook somewhat of the nature of parody, and were much liked. These representations particularly attracted me: the little gold wings of a lively Mercury, the thunderbolt of a disguised Jupiter, an amorous Danae, or by whatever name a fair one visited by the gods might be called, if indeed it were not a shepherdess or huntress to whom they descended. And as elements of this kind, from "Ovid's Metamorphoses," or the "Pantheon Mythicum" of Pomey, were humming in swarms about my head, I had soon put together in my imagination a little piece of the kind, of which I can only say that the scene was rural, and that there was no lack in it of king's daughters, princes, or gods. Mercury, especially, made so vivid an impression on me, that I could almost be sworn that I had seen him with my own eyes.
I presented my friend Derones with a very neat copy, made by myself; which he accepted with quite a special grace, and with a truly patronizing air, glanced hastily over the manuscript, pointed out a few grammatical blunders, found some speeches too long, and at last promised to examine and judge the work more attentively when he had the requisite leisure. To my modest question, whether the piece could by any chance be performed, he assured me that it was not altogether impossible. In the theatre, he said, a great deal went by favor; and he would support me with all his heart: only the affair must be kept private; for he had himself once on a time surprised the directors with a piece of his own, and it would certainly have been acted if it had not been too soon detected that he was the author. I promised him all possible silence, and already saw in my mind's eye the name of my piece posted up in large letters on the corners of the streets and squares.
Light-minded as my friend generally was, the opportunity of playing the master was but too desirable. He read the piece through with attention, and, while he sat down with me to make some trivial alterations, turned the whole thing, in the course of the conversation, completely topsy- turvy, so that not one stone remained on another. He struck out, added, took away one character, substituted another,—in short, went on with the maddest wantonness in the world, so that my hair stood on end. My previous persuasion that he must surely understand the matter, allowed him to have his way; for he had often laid before me so much about the Three Unities of Aristotle, the regularity of the French drama, the probability, the harmony of the verse, and all that belongs to these, that I was forced to regard him, not merely as informed, but thoroughly grounded. He abused the English and scorned the Germans; in short, he laid before me the whole dramaturgic litany which I have so often in my life been compelled to hear.
Like the boy in the fable, I carried my mangled offspring home, and strove in vain to bring it to life. As, however, I would not quite abandon it, I caused a fair copy of my first manuscript, after a few alterations, to be made by our clerk, which I presented to my father, and thus gained so much, that, for a long time, he let me eat my supper in quiet after the play was over.
This unsuccessful attempt had made me reflective; and I resolved now to learn, at the very sources, these theories, these laws, to which every one appealed, but which had become suspicious to me chiefly through the impoliteness of my arrogant master. This was not indeed difficult, but laborious. I immediately read Corneille's "Treatise on the Three Unities," and learned from that how people would have it, but why they desired it so was by no means clear to me; and, what was worst of all, I fell at once into still greater confusion when I made myself acquainted with the disputes on the "Cid," and read the prefaces in which Corneille and Racine are obliged to defend themselves against the critics and public. Here at least I plainly saw that no man knew what he wanted; that a piece like the "Cid," which had produced the noblest effect, was to be condemned at the command of an all-powerful cardinal; that Racine, the idol of the French living in my day, who had now also become my idol (for I had got intimately acquainted with him when Schoeff Von Olenschlager made us children act "Britannicus," in which the part of Nero fell to me),—that Racine, I say, even in his own day, was not able to get on with the amateurs nor critics. Through all this I became more perplexed than ever; and after having pestered myself a long time with this talking backwards and forwards, and theoretical quackery of the previous century, threw them to the dogs, and was the more resolute in casting all the rubbish away, the more I thought I observed that the authors themselves who had produced excellent things, when they began to speak about them, when they set forth the grounds of their treatment, when they desired to defend, justify, or excuse themselves, were not always able to hit the proper mark. I hastened back again, therefore, to the living present, attended the theatre far more zealously, read more scrupulously and connectedly, so that I had perseverance enough this time to work through the whole of Racine and Moliere and a great part of Corneille.
The king's lieutenant still lived at our house. He in no respect had changed his deportment, especially towards us; but it was observable, and the interpreter made it still more evident to us, that he no longer discharged his duties with the same cheerfulness and zeal as at the outset, though always with the same rectitude and fidelity. His character and habits, which showed the Spaniard rather than the Frenchman; his caprices, which were not without their influence on his business; his unbending will under all circumstances; his susceptibility as to whatever had reference to his person or reputation,—all this together might perhaps sometimes bring him into conflict with his superiors. Add to this, that he had been wounded in a duel, which had arisen in the theatre, and it was deemed wrong that the king's lieutenant, himself chief of police, should have committed a punishable offence. As I have said, all this may have contributed to make him live more retired, and here and there perhaps to act with less energy.