HotFreeBooks.com
Autobiography
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Meanwhile, a considerable part of the pictures he had ordered had been delivered. Count Thorane passed his leisure hours in examining them; while in the aforesaid gable-room he had them nailed up, canvas after canvas, large and small, side by side, and, because there was want of space, even one over another, and then taken down and rolled up. The works were constantly inspected anew, the parts that were considered the most successful were repeatedly enjoyed, but there was no want of wishes that this or that had been differently done.

Hence arose a new and very singular operation. As one painter best executed figures, another middle-grounds and distances, a third trees, a fourth flowers, it struck the count that these talents might perhaps be combined in the paintings, and that in this way perfect works might be produced. A beginning was made at once, by having, for instance, some beautiful cattle painted into a finished landscape. But because there was not always adequate room for all, and a few sheep more or less was no great matter to the cattle-painter, the largest landscape proved in the end too narrow. Now also the painter of figures had to introduce the shepherd and some travellers: these deprived each other of air, as we may say; and we marvelled that they were not all stifled, even in the most open country. No one could anticipate what was to come of the matter, and when it was finished it gave no satisfaction. The painters were annoyed. They had gained something by their first orders, but lost by these after-labors; though the count paid for them also very liberally. And, as the parts worked into each other in one picture by several hands produced no good effect after all the trouble, every one at last fancied that his own work had been spoiled and destroyed by that of the others; hence the artists were within a hair's-breadth of falling out, and becoming irreconcilably hostile to each other. These alterations, or rather additions, were made in the before-mentioned studio, where I remained quite alone with the artists; and it amused me to hunt out from the studies, particularly of animals, this or that individual or group, and to propose it for the foreground or the distance, in which respect they many times, either from conviction or kindness, complied with my wishes.

The partners in this affair were therefore greatly discouraged, especially Seekatz, a very hypochondriacal, retired man, who, indeed, by his incomparable humor, was the best of companions among friends, but who, when he worked, desired to work alone, abstracted and perfectly free. This man, after solving difficult problems, and finishing them with the greatest diligence and the warmest love, of which he was always capable, was forced to travel repeatedly from Darmstadt to Frankfort, either to change something in his own pictures, or to touch up those of others, or even to allow, under his superintendence, a third person to convert his pictures into a variegated mess. His peevishness augmented, his resistance became more decided, and a great deal of effort was necessary on our part to guide this "gossip;" for he was one also, according to the count's wishes. I still remember, that when the boxes were standing ready to pack up all the pictures, in the order in which the upholsterer might hang them up at once, at their place of destination, a small but indispensable bit of afterwork was demanded; but Seekatz could not be moved to come over. He had, by way of conclusion, done the best he could, having represented, in paintings to be placed over the doors, the four elements as children and boys, after life, and having expended the greatest care, not only on the figures, but on the accessories. These were delivered and paid for, and he thought he was quit of the business forever; but now he was to come over again, that he might enlarge, by a few touches of his pencil, some figures, the size of which was too small. Another, he thought, could do it just as well; he had already set about some new work; in short, he would not come. The time for sending off the pictures was at hand; they had, moreover, to get dry; every delay was untoward; and the count, in despair, was about to have him fetched in military fashion. We all wished to see the pictures finally gone, and found at last no expedient than for the gossip interpreter to seat himself in a wagon, and fetch over the refractory subject, with his wife and child. He was kindly received by the count, well treated, and at last dismissed with liberal payment.

After the pictures had been sent away, there was great peace in the house. The gable-room in the attic was cleaned, and given up to me; and my father, when he saw the boxes go, could not refrain from wishing to send off the count after them. For much as the tastes of the count coincided with his own, much as he must have rejoiced to see his principle of patronizing living artists so generously followed out by a man richer than himself, much as it may have flattered him that his collection had been the occasion of bringing so considerable a profit to a number of brave artists in a pressing time, he nevertheless felt such a repugnance to the foreigner who had intruded into his house, that he could not think well of any of his doings. One ought to employ painters, but not degrade them to paper-stainers; one ought to be satisfied with what they have done, according to their conviction and ability, even if it does not thoroughly please one, and not be perpetually carping at it. In short, in spite of all the count's own generous endeavors, there could, once for all, be no mutual understanding. My father only visited that room when the count was at table; and I can recall but one instance, when, Seekatz having excelled himself, and the wish to see these pictures having brought the whole house together, my father and the count met, and manifested a common pleasure in these works of art, which they could not take in each other.

Scarcely, therefore, had the house been cleared of the chests and boxes, than the plan for removing the count, which had formerly been begun, but was afterwards interrupted, was resumed. The endeavor was made to gain justice by representations, equity by entreaties, favor by influence; and the quarter-masters were prevailed upon to decide thus: the count was to change his lodgings; and our house, in consideration of the burden borne day and night for several years uninterruptedly, was to be exempt for the future from billetting. But, to furnish a plausible pretext for this, we were to take in lodgers on the first floor, which the count had occupied, and thus render a new quartering, as it were, impossible. The count, who, after the separation from his dear pictures, felt no further peculiar interest in the house, and hoped, moreover, to be soon recalled and placed elsewhere, was pleased to move without opposition to another good residence, and left us in peace and good will. Soon afterwards he quitted the city, and received different appointments in gradation, but, it was rumored, not to his own satisfaction. Meantime, he had the pleasure of seeing the pictures which he had preserved with so much care felicitously arranged in his brother's chateau: he wrote sometimes, sent dimensions, and had different pieces executed by the artists so often named. At last we heard nothing further about him, except after several years we were assured that he had died as governor of one of the French colonies in the West Indies.



FOURTH BOOK.

However much inconvenience the quartering of the French had caused us, we had become so accustomed to it, that we could not fail to miss it; nor could we children fail to feel as if the house were deserted. Moreover, it was not decreed that we should again attain perfect family unity. New lodgers were already bespoken; and after some sweeping and scouring, planing, and rubbing with beeswax, painting and varnishing, the house was completely restored again. The chancery-director Moritz, with his family, very worthy friends of my parents, moved in. He was not a native of Frankfort, but an able jurist and man of business, and managed the legal affairs of many small princes, counts, and lords. I never saw him otherwise than cheerful and pleasant, and diligent with his law-papers. His wife and children, gentle, quiet, and benevolent, did not indeed increase the sociableness of our house; for they kept to themselves: but a stillness, a peace, returned, which we had not enjoyed for a long time. I now again occupied my attic-room, in which the ghosts of the many pictures sometimes hovered before me; while I strove to frighten them away by labor and study.

The counsellor of legation, Moritz, a brother of the chancellor, came from this time often to our house. He was even more a man of the world, had a handsome figure, while his manners were easy and agreeable. He also managed the affairs of different persons of rank, and on occasions of meetings of creditors and imperial commissions frequently came into contact with my father. They had a high opinion of each other, and commonly stood on the side of the creditors; though they were generally obliged to perceive, much to their vexation, that a majority of the agents on such occasions are usually gained over to the side of the debtors.

The counsellor of legation readily communicated his knowledge, was fond of mathematics; and, as these did not occur in his present course of life, he made himself a pleasure by helping me on in this branch of study. I was thus enabled to finish my architectural sketches more accurately than heretofore, and to profit more by the instruction of a drawing-master, who now also occupied us an hour every day.

This good old man was indeed only half an artist. We were obliged to draw and combine strokes, from which eyes and noses, lips and ears, nay, at last, whole faces and heads, were to arise; but of natural or artistic forms there was no thought. We were tormented a long while with this /quid pro quo/ of the human figure; and when the so-called Passions of Le Brun were given us to copy, it was supposed at last that we had made great progress. But even these caricatures did not improve us. Then we went off to landscapes, foliage, and all the things which in ordinary instruction are practised without consistency or method. Finally we dropped into close imitation and neatness of strokes, without troubling ourselves about the merit or taste of the original.

In these endeavors our father led the way in an exemplary manner. He had never drawn; but he was unwilling to remain behind, now that his children pursued this art, and would give, even in his old age, an example how they should proceed in their youth. He therefore copied several heads of Piazetta, from his well-known sheets in small octavo, with an English lead-pencil upon the finest Dutch paper. In these he not only observed the greatest clearness of outline, but most accurately imitated the hatching of the copperplate with a light hand—only too slightly, as in his desire to avoid hardness he brought no keeping into his sketches. Yet they were always soft and accurate. His unrelaxing and untiring assiduity went so far, that he drew the whole considerable collection number by number; while we children jumped from one head to another, and chose only those that pleased us.

About this time the long-debated project, long under consideration, for giving us lessons in music, was carried into effect; and the last impulse to it certainly deserves mention. It was settled that we should learn the harpsichord, but there was always a dispute about the choice of a master. At last I went once accidentally into the room of one of my companions, who was just taking his lesson on the harpsichord, and found the teacher a most charming man: for each finger of the right and left hand he had a nickname, by which he indicated in the merriest way when it was to be used. The black and white keys were likewise symbolically designated, and even the tones appeared under figurative names. Such a motley company worked most pleasantly together. Fingering and time seemed to become perfectly easy and obvious; and, while the scholar was put into the best humor, every thing else succeeded beautifully.

Scarcely had I reached home, than I importuned my parents to set about the matter in good earnest at last, and give us this incomparable man for our master on the harpsichord. They hesitated, and made inquiries: they indeed heard nothing bad of the teacher, but, at the same time, nothing particularly good. Meanwhile, I had informed my sister of all the droll names: we could hardly wait for the lesson, and succeeded in having the man engaged.

The reading of the notes began first; but, as no jokes occurred here, we comforted ourselves with the hope, that when we went to the harpsichord, and the fingers were needed, the jocular method would commence. But neither keys nor fingering seemed to afford opportunity for any comparisons. Dry as the notes were, with their strokes on and between the five lines, the black and white keys were no less so: and not a syllable was heard, either of "thumbling," "pointerling," or "gold finger;" while the countenance of the man remained as imperturbable during his dry teaching as it had been before during his dry jests. My sister reproached me most bitterly for having deceived her, and actually believed that it was all an invention of mine. But I was myself confounded and learned little, though the man at once went regularly enough to work; for I kept always expecting that the former jokes would make their appearance, and so consoled my sister from one day to another. They did not re-appear, however; and I should never have been able to explain the riddle if another accident had not solved it for me.

One of my companions came in during a lesson, and at once all the pipes of the humorous /jet d'eau/ were opened: the "thumblings" and "pointerlings," the "pickers" and "stealers," as he used to call the fingers; the "falings" and "galings," meaning "f" and "g;" the "fielings" and "gielings," meaning "f" and "g" sharp, [Footnote: The names of the sharp notes in German terminate in "is," and hence "f" and "g" sharp are called "fis" and "gis."]—became once more extant, and made the most wonderful manikins. My young friend could not leave off laughing, and was rejoiced that one could learn in such a merry manner. He vowed that he would give his parents no peace until they had given him such an excellent man for a teacher.

And thus the way to two arts was early enough opened to me, according to the principles of a modern theory of education, merely by good luck, and without any conviction that I should be furthered therein by a native talent. My father maintained that everybody ought to learn drawing; for which reason he especially venerated the Emperor Maximilian, by whom this had been expressly commanded. He therefore held me to it more steadily than to music; which, on the other hand, he especially recommended to my sister, and even out of the hours for lessons kept her fast, during a good part of the day, at her harpsichord.

But the more I was in this way made to press on, the more I wished to press forward of myself; and my hours of leisure were employed in all sorts of curious occupations. From my earliest years I felt a love for the investigation of natural things. It is often regarded as an instinct of cruelty that children like at last to break, tear, and devour objects with which for a long time they have played, and which they have handled in various manners. Yet even in this way is manifested the curiosity, the desire of learning how such things hang together, how they look within. I remember, that, when a child, I pulled flowers to pieces to see how the leaves were inserted into the calyx, or even plucked birds to observe how the feathers were inserted into the wings. Children are not to be blamed for this, when even our naturalists believe they get their knowledge oftener by separation and division than by union and combination,—more by killing than by making alive.

An armed loadstone, very neatly sewed up in scarlet cloth, was one day destined to experience the effects of this spirit of inquiry. For the secret force of attraction which it exercised, not only on the little iron bar attached to it, but which was of such a kind that it could gain strength and could daily bear a heavier weight,—this mysterious virtue had so excited my admiration, that for a long time I was pleased with merely staring at its operation. But at last I thought I might arrive at some nearer revelation by tearing away the external covering. This was done; but I became no wiser in consequence, as the naked iron taught me nothing further. This also I took off; and I held in my hand the mere stone, with which I never grew weary of making experiments of various kinds on filings and needles,—experiments from which my youthful mind drew no further advantage beyond that of a varied experience. I could not manage to reconstruct the whole arrangement: the parts were scattered, and I lost the wondrous phenomenon at the same time with the apparatus.

Nor was I more fortunate in putting together an electrical machine. A friend of the family, whose youth had fallen in the time when electricity occupied all minds, often told us how, when a child, he had desired to possess such a machine: he got together the principal requisites, and, by the aid of an old spinning-wheel and some medicine bottles, had produced tolerable results. As he readily and frequently repeated the story, and imparted to us some general information on electricity, we children found the thing very plausible, and long tormented ourselves with an old spinning-wheel and some medicine bottles, without producing even the smallest result. We nevertheless adhered to our belief, and were much delighted, when at the time of the fair, among other rarities, magical and legerdemain tricks, an electrical machine performed its marvels, which, like those of magnetism, were at that time already very numerous.

The want of confidence in the public method of instruction was daily increasing. People looked about for private tutors; and, because single families could not afford the expense, several of them united to attain their object. Yet the children seldom agreed; the young man had not sufficient authority; and, after frequently repeated vexations, there were only angry partings. It is not surprising, therefore, that other arrangements were thought of which should be more permanent as well as more advantageous.

The thought of establishing boarding-schools (/Pensionen/) had arisen from the necessity, which every one felt, of having the French language taught and communicated orally. My father had brought up a young person, who had been his footman, valet, secretary, and in short successively all in all. This man, whose name was Pfeil, spoke French well. After he had married, and his patrons had to think of a situation for him, they hit upon the plan of making him establish a boarding- school, which extended gradually into a small academy, in which every thing necessary, and at last even Greek and Latin, were taught. The extensive connections of Frankfort caused young French and English men to be brought to this establishment, that they might learn German and acquire other accomplishments. Pfeil, who was a man in the prime of life, and of the most wonderful energy and activity, superintended the whole very laudably; and as he could never be employed enough, and was obliged to keep music-teachers for his scholars, he set about music on the occasion, and practised the harpsichord with such zeal, that, without having previously touched a note, he very soon played with perfect readiness and spirit. He seemed to have adopted my father's maxim, that nothing can more cheer and excite young people, than when at mature years one declares one's self again a learner; and at an age when new accomplishments are acquired with difficulty, one endeavors, nevertheless, by zeal and perseverance, to excel the younger, who are more favored by nature.

By this love of playing the harpsichord, Pfeil was led to the instruments themselves, and, while he hoped to obtain the best, came into connection with Frederici of Gera, whose instruments were celebrated far and wide. He took a number of them on sale, and had now the joy of seeing, not only one piano, but many, set up in his residence, and of practising and being heard upon them.

The vivacity of this man brought a great rage for music into our house. My father remained on lasting good terms with him up to certain points of dispute. A large piano of Frederici was purchased also for us, which I, adhering to my harpsichord, hardly touched; but which so much increased my sister's troubles, as, to duly honor the new instrument, she had to spend some time longer every day in practice; while my father, as overseer, and Pfeil, as a model and encouraging friend, alternately took their positions at her side.

A singular taste of my father's caused much inconvenience to us children. This was the cultivation of silk, of the advantages of which, if it were more widely extended, he had a high opinion. Some acquaintances at Hanau, where the breeding of the worms was carried on with great care, gave him the immediate impulse. At the proper season, the eggs were sent to him from that place: and, as soon as the mulberry- trees showed sufficient leaves, they had to be stripped; and the scarcely visible creatures were most diligently tended. Tables and stands with boards were set up in a garret-chamber, to afford them more room and sustenance; for they grew rapidly, and, after their last change of skin, were so voracious that it was scarcely possible to get leaves enough to feed them,—nay, they had to be fed day and night, as every thing depends upon there being no deficiency of nourishment when the great and wondrous change is about to take place in them. When the weather was favorable, this business could indeed be regarded as a pleasant amusement; but, if the cold set in so that the mulberry-trees suffered, it was exceedingly troublesome. Still more unpleasant was it when rain fell during the last epoch; for these creatures cannot at all endure moisture, and the wet leaves had to be carefully wiped and dried, which could not always be done quite perfectly: and for this, or perhaps some other reason also, various diseases came among the flock, by which the poor things were swept off in thousands. The state of corruption which ensued produced a smell really pestilential; and, because the dead and diseased had to be taken away and separated from the healthy, the business was indeed extremely wearisome and repulsive, and caused many an unhappy hour to us children.

After we had one year passed the finest weeks of the spring and summer in tending the silk-worms, we were obliged to assist our father in another business, which, though simpler, was no less troublesome. The Roman views, which, bound by black rods at the top and bottom, had hung for many years on the walls of the old house, had become very yellow through the light, dust, and smoke, and not a little unsightly through the flies. If such uncleanliness was not to be tolerated in the new house, yet, on the other hand, these pictures had gained in value to my father, in consequence of his longer absence from the places represented. For at the outset such copies serve only to renew and revive the impressions received shortly before. They seem trifling in comparison, and at the best only a melancholy substitute. But, as the remembrance of the original forms fades more and more, the copies imperceptibly assume their place: they become as dear to us as those once were, and what we at first contemned now gains esteem and affection. Thus it is with all copies, and particularly with portraits. No one is easily satisfied with the counterfeit of an object still present, but how we value every /silhouette/ of one who is absent or departed.

In short, with this feeling of his former extravagance, my father wished that these engravings might be restored as much as possible. It was well known that this could be done by bleaching: and the operation, always critical with large plates, was undertaken under rather unfavorable circumstances; for the large boards, on which the smoked engravings were moistened and exposed to the sun, stood in the gutters before the garret windows, leaning against the roof, and were therefore liable to many accidents. The chief point was, that the paper should never thoroughly dry, but must be kept constantly moist. This was the duty of my sister and myself; and the idleness, which would have been otherwise so desirable, was excessively annoying on account of the tedium and impatience, and the watchfulness which allowed of no distraction. The end, however, was attained; and the bookbinder, who fixed each sheet upon thick paper, did his best to match and repair the margins, which had been here and there torn by our inadvertence. All the sheets together were bound in a volume, and for this time preserved.

That we children might not be wanting in every variety of life and learning, a teacher of the English language had to announce himself just at this time, who pledged himself to teach anybody not entirely raw in languages, English in four weeks, and to advance him to such a degree, that, with some diligence, he could help himself farther. His price was moderate, and he was indifferent as to the number of scholars at one lesson. My father instantly determined to make the attempt, and took lessons, together with my sister and myself, of this expeditious master. The hours were faithfully kept; there was no want of repeating our lessons; other exercises were neglected rather than this during the four weeks; and the teacher parted from us, and we from him, with satisfaction. As he remained longer in the town, and found many employers, he came from time to time to look after us and to help us, grateful that we had been among the first who placed confidence in him, and proud to be able to cite us as examples to the others.

My father, in consequence of this, entertained a new anxiety, that English might neatly stand in the series of my other studies in languages. Now, I will confess that it became more and more burdensome for me to take my occasions for study now from this grammar or collection of examples, now from that; now from one author, now from another,—and thus to divert my interest in a subject every hour. It occurred to me, therefore, that I might despatch all at the same time; and I invented a romance of six or seven brothers and sisters, who, separated from each other and scattered over the world, should communicate with each other alternately as to their conditions and feelings. The eldest brother gives an account, in good German, of all the manifold objects and incidents of his journey. The sister, in a ladylike style, with short sentences and nothing but stops, much as "Siegwart" was afterwards written, answers now him, now the other brothers, partly about domestic matters, and partly about affairs of the heart. One brother studies theology, and writes a very formal Latin, to which he often adds a Greek postscript. To another brother, holding the place of mercantile clerk at Hamburg, the English correspondence naturally falls; while a still younger one at Marseilles has the French. For the Italian was found a musician, on his first trip into the world; while the youngest of all, a sort of pert nestling, had applied himself to Jew-German,—the other languages having been cut off from him,—and, by means of his frightful ciphers, brought the rest of them into despair, and my parents into a hearty laugh at the good notion.

To obtain matter for filling up this singular form, I studied the geography of the countries in which my creations resided, and by inventing for those dry localities all sorts of human incidents which had some affinity with the characters and employments of my heroes. Thus my exercise-books became much more voluminous, my father was better satisfied, and I was much sooner made aware of my deficiency in both what I had acquired and possessed of my own.

Now, as such things, once begun, have no end nor limits, so it happened in the present case; for while I strove to attain the odd Jew-German, and to write it as well as I could read it, I soon discovered that I ought to know Hebrew, from which alone the modern corrupted dialect could be derived, and handled with any certainty. I consequently explained the necessity of my learning Hebrew to my father, and earnestly besought his consent; for I had a still higher object. Everywhere I heard it said, that, to understand the Old as well as the New Testament, the original languages were requisite. The latter I could read quite easily; because, that there might be no want of exercise, even on Sundays, the so-called Epistles and Gospels had, after church, to be recited, translated, and in some measure explained. I now purposed doing the same thing with the Old Testament, the peculiarities of which had always especially interested me.

My father, who did not like to do any thing by halves, determined to request the rector of our gymnasium, one Dr. Albrecht, to give me private lessons weekly, until I should have acquired what was most essential in so simple a language; for he hoped, that, if it would not be despatched as soon as English was learned, it could at least be managed in double the time.

Rector Albrecht was one of the most original figures in the world,— short, broad, but not fat, ill-shaped without being deformed; in short, an Aesop in gown and wig. His more than seventy-years-old face was completely twisted into a sarcastic smile; while his eyes always remained large, and, though red, were always brilliant and intelligent. He lived in the old cloister of the barefoot friars, the seat of the gymnasium. Even as a child, I had often visited him in company with my parents, and had, with a kind of trembling delight, glided through the long, dark passages, the chapels transformed into reception-rooms, the place broken up and full of stairs and corners. Without making me uncomfortable, he questioned me familiarly whenever we met, and praised and encouraged me. One day, on the changing of the pupils' places after a public examination, he saw me standing, as a mere spectator, not far from his chair, while he distributed the silver /proemia virtulis et diligentioe/. I was probably gazing very eagerly upon the little bag out of which he drew the medals: he nodded to me, descended a step, and handed me one of the silver pieces. My joy was great; although others thought that this gift, bestowed upon a boy not belonging to the school, was out of all order. But for this the good old man cared but little, having always played the eccentric, and that in a striking manner. He had a very good reputation as a schoolmaster, and understood his business; although age no more allowed him to practise it thoroughly. But almost more than by his own infirmities was he hindered by greater circumstances; and, as I already knew, he was satisfied neither with the consistory, the inspectors, the clergy, nor the teachers. To his natural temperament, which inclined to satire, and the watching for faults and defects, he allowed free play, both in his programmes and his public speeches; and, as Lucian was almost the only writer whom he read and esteemed, he spiced all that he said and wrote with biting ingredients. Fortunately for those with whom he was dissatisfied, he never went directly to work, but only jeered at the defects which he wanted to reprove, with hints, allusions, classic passages, and scripture-texts. His delivery, moreover,—he always read his discourses,—was unpleasant, unintelligible, and, above all, was often interrupted by a cough, but more frequently by a hollow, paunch-convulsing laugh, with which he was wont to announce and accompany the biting passages. This singular man I found to be mild and obliging when I began to take lessons of him. I now went to his house daily at six o'clock in the evening, and always experienced a secret pleasure when the outer door closed behind me, and I had to thread the long, dark cloister-passage. We sat in his library, at a table covered with oil-cloth, a much-read Lucian never quitting his side.

In spite of all my willingness, I did not get at the matter without difficulty; for my teacher could not suppress certain sarcastic remarks as to the real truth about Hebrew. I concealed from him my designs upon Jew-German, and spoke of a better understanding of the original text. He smiled at this, and said I should be satisfied if I only learned to read. This vexed me in secret, and I concentrated all my attention when we came to the letters. I found an alphabet something like the Greek, of which the forms were easy, and the names, for the most part, not strange to me. All this I had soon comprehended and retained, and supposed we should now take up reading. That this was done from right to left I was well aware. But now all at once appeared a new army of little characters and signs, of points and strokes of all sorts, which were in fact to represent vowels. At this I wondered the more, as there were manifestly vowels in the larger alphabet; and the others only appeared to be hidden under strange appellations. I was also taught that the Jewish nation, as long as it flourished, actually were satisfied with the former signs, and knew no other way of writing and reading. Most willingly, then, would I have gone on along this ancient and, as it seemed to me, easier path; but my worthy declared rather sternly that we must go by the grammar as it had been approved and composed. Reading without these points and strokes, he said, was a very hard undertaking, and could be accomplished only by the learned and those who were well practised. I must, therefore, make up my mind to learn these little characters; but the matter became to me more and more confused. Now, it seemed, some of the first and larger primitive letters had no value in their places, in order that their little after-born kindred might not stand there in vain. Now they indicated a gentle breathing, now a guttural more or less rough, and now served as mere equivalents. But finally, when one fancied that he had well noted every thing, some of these personages, both great and small, were rendered inoperative; so that the eyes always had very much, and the lips very little, to do.

As that of which I already knew the contents had now to be stuttered in a strange gibberish, in which a certain snuffle and gargle were not a little commended as something unattainable, I in a certain degree deviated from the matter, and diverted myself, in a childish way, with the singular names of these accumulated signs. There were "emperors," "kings," and "dukes," [Footnote: These are the technical names for classes of accents in the Hebrew grammar.—TRANS.] which, as accents governing here and there, gave me not a little entertainment. But even these shallow jests soon lost their charm. Nevertheless I was indemnified, inasmuch as by reading, translating, repeating, and committing to memory, the substance of the book came out more vividly; and it was this, properly, about which I desired to be enlightened. Even before this time, the contradiction between tradition, and the actual and possible, had appeared to me very striking; and I had often put my private tutors to a non-plus with the sun which stood still on Gibeon, and the moon in the vale of Ajalon, to say nothing of other improbabilities and incongruities. Every thing of this kind was now awakened; while, in order to master the Hebrew, I occupied myself exclusively with the Old Testament, and studied it, though no longer in Luther's translation, but in the literal version of Sebastian Schmid, printed under the text, which my father had procured for me. Here, I am sorry to say, our lessons began to be defective in regard to practice in the language. Reading, interpreting, grammar, transcribing, and the repetition of words, seldom lasted a full half-hour; for I immediately began to aim at the sense of the matter, and, though we were still engaged in the first book of Moses, to utter several things suggested to me by the later books. At first the good old man tried to restrain me from such digressions, but at last they seemed to entertain him also. It was impossible for him to suppress his characteristic cough and chuckle: and, although he carefully avoided giving me any information that might have compromised himself, my importunity was not relaxed; nay, as I cared more to set forth my doubts than to learn their solution, I grew constantly more vivacious and bold, seeming justified by his deportment. Yet I could get nothing out of him, except that ever and anon he would exclaim with his peculiar, shaking laugh, "Ah! mad fellow! ah! mad boy!"

Still, my childish vivacity, which scrutinized the Bible on all sides, may have seemed to him tolerably serious and worthy of some assistance. He therefore referred me, after a time, to the large English biblical work which stood in his library, and in which the interpretation of difficult and doubtful passages was attempted in an intelligent and judicious manner. By the great labors of German divines the translation had obtained advantages over the original. The different opinions were cited; and at last a kind of reconciliation was attempted, so that the dignity of the book, the ground of religion, and the human understanding, might in some degree co-exist. Now, as often as towards the end of the lesson I came out with my usual questions and doubts, so often did he point to the repository. I took the volume, he let me read, turned over his Lucian; and, when I made any remarks on the book, his ordinary laugh was the only answer to my sagacity. In the long summer days he let me sit as long as I could read, many times alone; after a time he suffered me to take one volume after another home with me.

Man may turn which way he please, and undertake any thing whatsoever, he will always return to the path which nature has once prescribed for him. Thus it happened also with me in the present case. The trouble I took with the language, with the contents of the Sacred Scriptures themselves, ended at last in producing in my imagination a livelier picture of that beautiful and famous land, its environs and its vicinities, as well as of the people and events by which that little spot of earth was made glorious for thousands of years.

This small space was to see the origin and growth of the human race; thence we were to derive our first and only accounts of primitive history; and such a locality was to lie before our imagination, no less simple and comprehensible than varied, and adapted to the most wonderful migrations and settlements. Here, between four designated rivers, a small, delightful spot was separated from the whole habitable earth, for youthful man. Here he was to unfold his first capacities, and here at the same time was the lot to befall him, which was appointed for all his posterity; namely, that of losing peace by striving after knowledge. Paradise was trifled away; men increased and grew worse; and the Elohim, not yet accustomed to the wickedness of the new race, became impatient, and utterly destroyed it. Only a few were saved from the universal deluge; and scarcely had this dreadful flood ceased, than the well-known ancestral soil lay once more before the grateful eyes of the preserved.

Two rivers out of four, the Euphrates and Tigris, still flowed in their beds. The name of the first remained: the other seemed to be pointed out by its course. Minuter traces of paradise were not to be looked for after so great a revolution. The renewed race of man went forth hence a second time: it found occasion to sustain and employ itself in all sorts of ways, but chiefly to gather around it large herds of tame animals, and to wander with them in every direction.

This mode of life, as well as the increase of the families, soon compelled the people to disperse. They could not at once resolve to let their relatives and friends go forever: they hit upon the thought of building a lofty tower, which should show them the way back from the far distance. But this attempt, like their first endeavor, miscarried. They could not be at the same time happy and wise, numerous and united. The Elohim confounded their minds; the building remained unfinished; the men were dispersed; the world was peopled, but sundered.

But our regards, our interests, continue fixed on these regions. At last the founder of a race again goes forth from hence, and is so fortunate as to stamp a distinct character upon his descendants, and by that means to unite them for all time to come into a great nation, inseparable through all changes of place or destiny.

From the Euphrates, Abraham, not without divine guidance, wanders towards the west. The desert opposes no invincible barrier to his march. He attains the Jordan, passes over its waters, and spreads himself over the fair southern regions of Palestine. This land was already occupied, and tolerably well inhabited. Mountains, not extremely high, but rocky and barren, were severed by many watered vales favorable to cultivation. Towns, villages, and solitary settlements lay scattered over the plain, and on the slopes of the great valley, the waters of which are collected in Jordan. Thus inhabited, thus tilled, was the land: but the world was still large enough; and the men were not so circumspect, necessitous, and active, as to usurp at once the whole adjacent country. Between their possessions were extended large spaces, in which grazing herds could freely move in every direction. In one of these spaces Abraham resides; his brother Lot is near him: but they cannot long remain in such places. The very condition of a land, the population of which is now increasing, now decreasing, and the productions of which are never kept in equilibrium with the wants, produces unexpectedly a famine; and the stranger suffers alike with the native, whose own support he has rendered difficult by his accidental presence. The two Chaldean brothers move onward to Egypt; and thus is traced out for us the theatre on which, for some thousands of years, the most important events of the world were to be enacted. From the Tigris to the Euphrates, from the Euphrates to the Nile, we see the earth peopled; and this space also is traversed by a well-known, heaven-beloved man, who has already become worthy to us, moving to and fro with his goods and cattle, and, in a short time, abundantly increasing them. The brothers return; but, taught by the distress they have endured, they determine to part. Both, indeed, tarry in Southern Canaan; but while Abraham remains at Hebron, near the wood of Mamre, Lot departs for the valley of Siddim, which, if our imagination is bold enough to give Jordan a subterranean outlet, so that, in place of the present Dead Sea, we should have dry ground, can and must appear like a second Paradise,—a conjecture all the more probable, because the residents about there, notorious for effeminacy and wickedness, lead us to infer that they led an easy and luxurious life. Lot lives among them, but apart.

But Hebron and the wood of Mamre appear to us as the important place where the Lord speaks with Abraham, and promises him all the land as far as his eye can reach in four directions. From these quiet districts, from these shepherd-tribes, who can associate with celestials, entertain them as guests, and hold many conversations with them, we are compelled to turn our glance once more towards the East, and to think of the condition of the surrounding world, which, on the whole, perhaps, may have been like that of Canaan.

Families hold together: they unite, and the mode of life of the tribes is determined by the locality which they have appropriated or appropriate. On the mountains which send down their waters to the Tigris, we find warlike populations, who even thus early foreshadow those world-conquerors and world-rulers, and in a campaign, prodigious for those times, give us a prelude of future achievements. Chedor Laomer, king of Elam, has already a mighty influence over his allies. He reigns a long while; for twelve years before Abraham's arrival in Canaan, he had made all the people tributary to him as far as the Jordan. They revolted at last, and the allies equipped for war. We find them unawares upon a route by which, probably, Abraham also reached Canaan. The people on the left and lower side of the Jordan were subdued. Chedor Laomer directs his march southwards towards the people of the Desert; then, wending north, he smites the Amalekites; and, when he has also overcome the Amorites, he reaches Canaan, falls upon the kings of the valley of Siddim, smites and scatters them, and marches with great spoil up the Jordan, in order to extend his conquests as far as Lebanon.

Among the captives, despoiled, and dragged along with their property, is Lot, who shares the fate of the country in which he lives a guest. Abraham learns this, and here at once we behold the patriarch a warrior and hero. He hurriedly gathers his servants, divides them into troops, attacks and falls upon the luggage of booty, confuses the victors, who could not suspect another enemy in the rear, and brings back his brother and his goods, with a great deal more belonging to the conquered kings. Abraham, by means of this brief contest, acquires, as it were, the whole land. To the inhabitants he appears as a protector, savior, and, by his disinterestedness, a king. Gratefully the kings of the valley receive him; Melchisedek, the king and priest, with blessings.

Now the prophecies of an endless posterity are renewed; nay, they take a wider and wider scope. From the waters of the Euphrates to the river of Egypt all the lands are promised him, but yet there seems a difficulty with respect to his next heirs. He is eighty years of age, and has no son. Sarai, less trusting in the heavenly powers than he, becomes impatient: she desires, after the Oriental fashion, to have a descendant, by means of her maid. But no sooner is Hagar given up to the master of the house, no sooner is there hope of a son, than dissensions arise. The wife treats her own dependant ill enough, and Hagar flies to seek a happier position among other tribes. She returns, not without a higher intimation, and Ishmael is born.

Abraham is now ninety-nine years old, and the promises of a numerous posterity are constantly repeated: so that, in the end, the pair regard them as ridiculous. And yet Sarai becomes at last pregnant, and brings forth a son, to whom the name of Isaac is given.

History, for the most part, rests upon the legitimate propagation of the human race. The most important events of the world require to be traced to the secrets of families, and thus the marriages of the patriarchs give occasion for peculiar considerations. It is as if the Divinity, who loves to guide the destiny of mankind, wished to prefigure here connubial events of every kind. Abraham, so long united by childless marriage to a beautiful woman whom many coveted, finds himself, in his hundredth year, the husband of two women, the father of two sons; and at this moment his domestic peace is broken. Two women, and two sons by different mothers, cannot possibly agree. The party less favored by law, usage, and opinion must yield. Abraham must sacrifice his attachment to Hagar and Ishmael. Both are dismissed; and Hagar is compelled now, against her will, to go upon a road which she once took in voluntary flight, at first, it seems, to the destruction of herself and child; but the angel of the Lord, who had before sent her back, now rescues her again, that Ishmael also may become a great people, and that the most improbable of all promises may be fulfilled beyond its limits.

Two parents in advanced years, and one son of their old age—here, at last, one might expect domestic quiet and earthly happiness. By no means. Heaven is yet preparing the heaviest trial for the patriarch. But of this we cannot speak without premising several considerations.

If a natural universal religion was to arise, and a special revealed one to be developed from it, the countries in which our imagination has hitherto lingered, the mode of life, the race of men, were the fittest for the purpose. At least, we do not find in the whole world any thing equally favorable and encouraging. Even to natural religion, if we assume that it arose earlier in the human mind, there pertains much of delicacy of sentiment; for it rests upon the conviction of an universal providence, which conducts the order of the world as a whole. A particular religion, revealed by Heaven to this or that people, carries with it the belief in a special providence, which the Divine Being vouchsafes to certain favored men, families, races, and people. This faith seems to develop itself with difficulty from man's inward nature. It requires tradition, usage, and the warrant of a primitive time.

Beautiful is it, therefore, that the Israelitish tradition represents the very first men who confide in this particular providence as heroes of faith, following all the commands of that high Being on whom they acknowledge themselves dependent, just as blindly as, undisturbed by doubts, they are unwearied in awaiting the later fulfilments of his promises.

As a particular revealed religion rests upon the idea that one man may be more favored by Heaven than another, so it also arises pre-eminently from the separation of classes. The first men appeared closely allied, but their employments soon divided them. The hunter was the freest of all: from him was developed the warrior and the ruler. Those who tilled the field bound themselves to the soil, erected dwellings and barns to preserve what they had gained, and could estimate themselves pretty highly, because their condition promised durability and security. The herdsman in his position seemed to have acquired the most unbounded condition and unlimited property. The increase of herds proceeded without end, and the space which was to support them widened itself on all sides. These three classes seemed from the very first to have regarded each other with dislike and contempt; and as the herdsman was an abomination to the townsman, so did he in turn separate from the other. The hunters vanish from our sight among the hills, and reappear only as conquerors.

The patriarchs belonged to the shepherd class. Their manner of life upon the ocean of deserts and pastures gave breadth and freedom to their minds; the vault of heaven, under which they dwelt, with all its nightly stars, elevated their feelings; and they, more than the active, skilful huntsman, or the secure, careful, householding husbandman, had need of the immovable faith that a God walked beside them, visited them, cared for them, guided and saved them.

We are compelled to make another reflection in passing to the rest of the history. Humane, beautiful, and cheering as the religion of the patriarchs appears, yet traits of savageness and cruelty run through it, out of which man may emerge, or into which he may again be sunk.

That hatred should seek to appease itself by the blood, by the death, of the conquered enemy, is natural; that men concluded a peace upon the battle-field among the ranks of the slain may easily be conceived; that they should in like manner think to give validity to a contract by slain animals, follows from the preceding. The notion also that slain creatures could attract, propitiate, and gain over the gods, whom they always looked upon as partisans, either opponents or allies, is likewise not at all surprising. But if we confine our attention to the sacrifices, and consider the way in which they were offered in that primitive time, we find a singular, and, to our notions, altogether repugnant, custom, probably derived from the usages of war; viz., that the sacrificed animals of every kind, and whatever number was devoted, had to be hewn in two halves, and laid out on two sides: so that in the space between them were those who wished to make a covenant with the Deity.

Another dreadful feature wonderfully and portentously pervades that fair world; namely, that whatever had been consecrated or vowed must die. This also was probably a usage of war transferred to peace. The inhabitants of a city which forcibly defends itself are threatened with such a vow: it is taken by storm or otherwise. Nothing is left alive; men never: and often women, children, and even cattle, share a similar fate. Such sacrifices are rashly and superstitiously and with more or less distinctness promised to the gods; and those whom the votary would willingly spare, even his nearest of kin, his own children, may thus bleed, the expiatory victims of such a delusion.

In the mild and truly patriarchal character of Abraham, such a savage kind of worship could not arise; but the Godhead, [Footnote: It should be observed, that in this biblical narrative, when we have used the expressions, "Deity," "Godhead," or "Divinity," Goethe generally has "die Goetter," or "the Gods."—TRANS.] which often, to tempt us, seems to put forth those qualities which man is inclined to assign to it, imposes a monstrous task upon him. He must offer up his son as a pledge of the new covenant, and, if he follows the usage, not only kill and burn him, but cut him in two, and await between the smoking entrails a new promise from the benignant Deity. Abraham, blindly and without lingering, prepares to execute the command: to Heaven the will is sufficient. Abraham's trials are now at an end, for they could not be carried farther. But Sarai dies, and this gives Abraham an opportunity for taking typical possession of the land of Canaan. He requires a grave, and this is the first time he looks out for a possession in this earth. He had before this probably sought out a twofold cave by the grove of Mamre. This he purchases, with the adjacent field; and the legal form which he observes on the occasion shows how important this possession is to him. Indeed, it was more so, perhaps, than he himself supposed: for there he, his sons and his grandsons, were to rest; and by this means the proximate title to the whole land, as well as the everlasting desire of his posterity to gather themselves there, was most properly grounded.

From this time forth the manifold incidents of the family life become varied. Abraham still keeps strictly apart from the inhabitants; and though Ishmael, the son of an Egyptian woman, has married a daughter of that land, Isaac is obliged to wed a kinswoman of equal birth with himself.

Abraham despatches his servant to Mesopotamia, to the relatives whom he had left behind there. The prudent Eleazer arrives unknown, and, in order to take home the right bride, tries the readiness to serve of the girls at the well. He asks to be permitted to drink; and Rebecca, unasked, waters his camels also. He gives her presents, he demands her in marriage, and his suit is not rejected. He conducts her to the home of his lord, and she is wedded to Isaac. In this case, too, issue has to be long expected. Rebecca is not blessed until after some years of probation; and the same discord, which, in Abraham's double marriage, arose through two mothers, here proceeds from one. Two boys of opposite characters wrestle already in their mother's womb. They come to light, the elder lively and vigorous, the younger gentle and prudent. The former becomes the father's, the latter the mother's, favorite. The strife for precedence, which begins even at birth, is ever going on. Esau is quiet and indifferent as to the birthright which fate has given him: Jacob never forgets that his brother forced him back. Watching every opportunity of gaining the desirable privilege, he buys the birthright of his brother, and defrauds him of their father's blessing. Esau is indignant, and vows his brother's death: Jacob flees to seek his fortune in the land of his forefathers.

Now, for the first time, in so noble a family appears a member who has no scruple in attaining by prudence and cunning the advantages which nature and circumstances have denied him. It has often enough been remarked and expressed, that the Sacred Scriptures by no means intend to set up any of the patriarchs and other divinely favored men as models of virtue. They, too, are persons of the most different characters, with many defects and failings. But there is one leading trait, in which none of these men after God's own heart can be wanting: that is, unshaken faith that God has them and their families in his special keeping.

General, natural religion, properly speaking, requires no faith; for the persuasion that a great producing, regulating, and conducting Being conceals himself, as it were, behind Nature, to make himself comprehensible to us—such a conviction forces itself upon every one. Nay, if we for a moment let drop this thread, which conducts us through life, it may be immediately and everywhere resumed. But it is different with a special religion, which announces to us that this Great Being distinctly and pre-eminently interests himself for one individual, one family, one people, one country. This religion is founded on faith, which must be immovable if it would not be instantly destroyed. Every doubt of such a religion is fatal to it. One may return to conviction, but not to faith. Hence the endless probation, the delay in the fulfilment of so often repeated promises, by which the capacity for faith in those ancestors is set in the clearest light.

It is in this faith also that Jacob begins his expedition; and if, by his craft and deceit, he has not gained our affections, he wins them by his lasting and inviolable love for Rachel, whom he himself wooes on the instant, as Eleazar had courted Rebecca for his father. In him the promise of a countless people was first to be fully unfolded: he was to see many sons around him, but through them and their mothers was to endure manifold sorrows of heart.

Seven years he serves for his beloved, without impatience and without wavering. His father-in-law, crafty like himself, and disposed, like him, to consider legitimate this means to an end, deceives him, and so repays him for what he has done to his brother. Jacob finds in his arms a wife whom he does not love. Laban, indeed, endeavors to appease him, by giving him his beloved also after a short time, and this but on the condition of seven years of further service. Vexation arises out of vexation. The wife he does not love is fruitful: the beloved one bears no children. The latter, like Sarai, desires to become a mother through her handmaiden: the former grudges her even this advantage. She also presents her husband with a maid, but the good patriarch is now the most troubled man in the world. He has four women, children by three, and none from her he loves. Finally she also is favored; and Joseph comes into the world, the late fruit of the most passionate attachment. Jacob's fourteen years of service are over; but Laban is unwilling to part with him, his chief and most trusty servant. They enter into a new compact, and portion the flocks between them. Laban retains the white ones, as most numerous: Jacob has to put up with the spotted ones, as the mere refuse. But he is able here, too, to secure his own advantage: and as by a paltry mess (/of pottage/) he had procured the birthright, and, by a disguise, his father's blessing, he manages by art and sympathy to appropriate to himself the best and largest part of the herds; and on this side also he becomes the truly worthy progenitor of the people of Israel, and a model for his descendants. Laban and his household remark the result, if not the stratagem. Vexation ensues: Jacob flees with his family and goods, and partly by fortune, partly by cunning, escapes the pursuit of Laban. Rachel is now about to present him another son, but dies in the travail; Benjamin, the child of sorrow, survives her; but the aged father is to experience a still greater sorrow from the apparent loss of his son Joseph.

Perhaps some one may ask why I have so circumstantially narrated histories so universally known, and so often repeated and explained. Let the inquirer be satisfied with the answer, that I could in no other way exhibit how, with my life full of diversion, and with my desultory education, I concentrated my mind and feelings in quiet action on one point; that I was able in no other way to depict the peace that prevailed about me, even when all without was so wild and strange. When an ever busy imagination, of which that tale may bear witness, led me hither and thither; when the medley of fable and history, mythology and religion, threatened to bewilder me,—I liked to take refuge in those Oriental regions, to plunge into the first books of Moses, and to find myself there, amid the scattered shepherd-tribes, at the same time in the greatest solitude and the greatest society.

These family scenes, before they were to lose themselves in a history of the Jewish nation, show us now, in conclusion, a form by which the hopes and fancies of the young in particular are agreeably excited,—Joseph, the child of the most passionate wedded love. He seems to us tranquil and clear, and predicts to himself the advantages which are to elevate him above his family. Cast into misfortune by his brothers, he remains steadfast and upright in slavery, resists the most dangerous temptations, rescues himself by prophecy, and is elevated according to his deserts to high honors. He shows himself first serviceable and useful to a great kingdom, then to his own kindred. He is like his ancestor Abraham in repose and greatness, his grandfather Isaac in silence and devotedness. The talent for traffic, inherited from his father, he exercises on a large scale. It is no longer flocks which are gained for himself from a father-in-law, but nations, with all their possessions, which he knows how to purchase for a king. Extremely graceful is this natural story, only it appears too short; and one feels called upon to paint it in detail.

Such a filling-up of biblical characters and events given only in outline, was no longer strange to the Germans. The personages of both the Old and New Testaments had received through Klopstock a tender and affectionate nature, highly pleasing to the boy, as well as to many of his contemporaries. Of Bodmer's efforts in this line, little or nothing came to him; but "Daniel in the Lion's Den," by Moser, made a great impression on the young heart. In that work, a right-minded man of business, and courtier, arrives at high honors through manifold tribulations; and the piety for which they threatened to destroy him became, early and late, his sword and buckler. It had long seemed to me desirable to work out the history of Joseph; but I could not get on with the form, particularly as I was conversant with no kind of versification which would have been adapted to such a work. But now I found a treatment of it in prose very suitable, and I applied all my strength to its execution. I now endeavored to discriminate and paint the characters, and, by the interpolation of incidents and episodes, to make the old simple history a new and independent work. I did not consider, what, indeed, youth cannot consider, that subject-matter was necessary to such a design, and that this could only arise by the perceptions of experience. Suffice it to say, that I represented to myself all the incidents down to the minutest details, and narrated them accurately to myself in their succession.

What greatly lightened this labor was a circumstance which threatened to render this work, and my authorship in general, exceedingly voluminous. A well-gifted young man, who, however, had become imbecile from over- exertion and conceit, resided as a ward in my father's house, lived quietly with the family, and, if allowed to go on in his usual way, was contented and agreeable. He had, with great care, written out notes of his academical course, and acquired a rapid, legible hand. He liked to employ himself in writing better than in any thing else, and was pleased when something was given him to copy; but still more when he was dictated to, because he then felt carried back to his happy academical years. To my father, who was not expeditious in writing, and whose German letters were small and tremulous, nothing could be more desirable; and he was consequently accustomed, in the conduct of his own and other business, to dictate for some hours a day to this young man. I found it no less convenient, during the intervals, to see all that passed through my head fixed upon paper by the hand of another; and my natural gift of feeling and imitation grew with the facility of catching up and preserving.

As yet, I had not undertaken any work so large as that biblical prose- epic. The times were tolerably quiet, and nothing recalled my imagination from Palestine and Egypt. Thus my manuscripts swelled more and more every day, as the poem, which I recited to myself, as it were, in the air, stretched along the paper; and only a few pages from time to time needed to be re-written.

When the work was done,—for, to my own astonishment, it really came to an end,—I reflected, that from former years many poems were extant, which did not even now appear to me utterly despicable, and which, if written together in the same size with "Joseph," would make a very neat quarto, to which the title "Miscellaneous Poems" might be given. I was pleased with this, as it gave me an opportunity of quietly imitating well-known and celebrated authors. I had composed a good number of so- called Anacreontic poems, which, on account of the convenience of the metre, and the lightness of the subject, flowed forth readily enough. But these I could not well take, as they were not in rhyme; and my desire before all things was to show my father something that would please him. So much the more, therefore, did the spiritual odes seem suitable, which I had very zealously attempted in imitation of the "Last Judgment" of Elias Schlegel. One of these, written to celebrate the descent of Christ into hell, received much applause from my parents and friends, and had the good fortune to please myself for some years afterwards. The so-called texts of the Sunday church-music, which were always to be had printed, I studied with diligence. They were, indeed, very weak; and I could well believe that my verses, of which I had composed many in the prescribed manner, were equally worthy of being set to music, and performed for the edification of the congregation. These, and many like them, I had for more than a year before copied with my own hand; because through this private exercise I was released from the copies of the writing-master. Now all were corrected and put in order, and no great persuasion was needed to have them neatly copied by the young man who was so fond of writing. I hastened with them to the book- binder: and when, very soon after, I handed the nice-looking volume to my father, he encouraged me with peculiar satisfaction to furnish a similar quarto every year; which he did with the greater conviction, as I had produced the whole in my spare moments alone.

Another circumstance increased my tendency to these theological, or, rather, biblical, studies. The senior of the ministry, John Philip Fresenius, a mild man, of handsome, agreeable appearance, who was respected by his congregation and the whole city as an exemplary pastor and good preacher, but who, because he stood forth against the Herrnhueters, was not in the best odor with the peculiarly pious; while, on the other hand, he had made himself famous, and almost sacred, with the multitude, by the conversion of a free-thinking general who had been mortally wounded,—this man died; and his successor, Plitt, a tall, handsome, dignified man, who brought from his /chair/ (he had been a professor in Marburg) the gift of teaching rather than of edifying, immediately announced a sort of religious course, to which his sermons were to be devoted in a certain methodical connection. I had already, as I was compelled to go to church, remarked the distribution of the subject, and could now and then show myself off by a pretty complete recitation of a sermon. But now, as much was said in the congregation, both for and against the new senior, and many placed no great confidence in his announced didactic sermons, I undertook to write them out more carefully; and I succeeded the better from having made smaller attempts in a seat very convenient for hearing, but concealed from sight. I was extremely attentive and on the alert: the moment he said Amen, I hastened from church, and spent a couple of hours in rapidly dictating what I had fixed in my memory and on paper, so that I could hand in the written sermon before dinner. My father was very proud of this success; and the good friend of the family, who had just come in to dinner, also shared in the joy. Indeed, this friend was very well disposed towards me, because I had made his "Messiah" so much my own, that in my repeated visits, paid to him with a view of getting impressions of seals for my collection of coats-of-arms, I could recite long passages from it till the tears stood in his eyes.

The next Sunday I prosecuted the work with equal zeal; and, as the mechanical part of it mainly interested me, I did not reflect upon what I wrote and preserved. During the first quarter these efforts may have continued pretty much the same; but as I fancied at last, in my self- conceit, that I found no particular enlightenment as to the Bible, nor clearer insight into dogmas, the small vanity which was thus gratified seemed to me too dearly purchased for me to pursue the matter with the same zeal. The sermons, once so many-leaved, grew more and more lean: and before long I should have relinquished this labor altogether, if my father, who was a fast friend to completeness, had not, by words and promises, induced me to persevere till the last Sunday in Trinity; though, at the conclusion, scarcely more than the text, the statement, and the divisions were scribbled on little pieces of paper.

My father was particularly pertinacious on this point of completeness. What was once undertaken had to be finished, even if the inconvenience, tedium, vexation, nay, uselessness, of the thing begun were plainly manifested in the mean time. It seemed as if he regarded completeness as the only end, and perseverance as the only virtue. If in our family circle, in the long winter evenings, we had begun to read a book aloud, we were compelled to finish, though we were all in despair about it, and my father himself was the first to yawn. I still remember such a winter, when we had thus to work our way through Bower's "History of the Popes." It was a terrible time, as little or nothing that occurs in ecclesiastical affairs can interest children and young people. Still, with all my inattention and repugnance, so much of that reading remained in my mind that I was able, in after times, to take up many threads of the narrative.

Amid all these heterogeneous occupations and labors, which followed each other so rapidly that one could hardly reflect whether they were permissible and useful, my father did not lose sight of the main object. He endeavored to direct my memory and my talent for apprehending and combining to objects of jurisprudence, and therefore gave me a small book by Hopp, in the shape of a catechism, and worked up according to the form and substance of the institutions. I soon learned questions and answers by heart, and could represent the catechist as well as the catechumen; and, as in religious instruction at that time, one of the chief exercises was to find passages in the Bible as readily as possible; so here a similar acquaintance with the "Corpus Juris" was found necessary, in which, also, I soon became completely versed. My father wished me to go on, and the little "Struve" was taken in hand; but here affairs did not proceed so rapidly. The form of the work was not so favorable for beginners, that they could help themselves on; nor was my father's method of illustration so liberal as greatly to interest me.

Not only by the warlike state in which we lived for some years, but also by civil life itself, and the perusal of history and romances, was it made clear to me that there were many cases in which the laws are silent, and give no help to the individual, who must then see how to get out of the difficulty by himself. We had now reached the period when, according to the old routine, we were to learn, besides other things, fencing and riding, that we might guard our skins upon occasion, and present no pedantic appearance on horseback. As to the first, the practice was very agreeable to us; for we had already, long ago, contrived to make broad-swords out of hazel-sticks, with basket-hilts neatly woven of willow, to protect the hands. Now we might get real steel blades, and the clash we made with them was very merry.

There were two fencing-masters in the city: an old, earnest German, who went to work in a severe and solid style; and a Frenchman, who sought to gain his advantage by advancing and retreating, and by light, fugitive thrusts, which he always accompanied by cries. Opinions varied as to whose manner was the best. The little company with which I was to take lessons sided with the Frenchman; and we speedily accustomed ourselves to move backwards and forwards, make passes and recover, always breaking out into the usual exclamations. But several of our acquaintance had gone to the German teacher, and practised precisely the opposite. These distinct modes of treating so important an exercise, the conviction of each that his master was the best, really caused a dissension among the young people, who were of about the same age: and the fencing-schools occasioned serious battles, for there was almost as much fighting with words as with swords; and, to decide the matter in the end, a trial of skill between the two teachers was arranged, the consequences of which I need not circumstantially describe. The German stood in his position like a wall, watched his opportunity, and contrived to disarm his opponent over and over again with his cut and thrust. The latter maintained that this mattered not, and proceeded to exhaust the other's wind by his agility. He fetched the German several lunges too, which, however, if they had been in earnest, would have sent him into the next world.

On the whole, nothing was decided or improved, except that some went over to our countryman, of whom I was one. But I had already acquired too much from the first master; and hence a considerable time elapsed before the new one could break me of it, who was altogether less satisfied with us renegades than with his original pupils.

With riding I fared still worse. It happened that they sent me to the course in the autumn, so that I commenced in the cool and damp season. The pedantic treatment of this noble art was highly repugnant to me. From first to last, the whole talk was about sitting the horse: and yet no one could say in what a proper sitting consisted, though all depended on that; for they went to and fro on the horse without stirrups. Moreover, the instruction seemed contrived only for cheating and degrading the scholars. If one forgot to hook or loosen the curb-chain, or let his switch fall down, or even his hat,—every delay, every misfortune, had to be atoned for by money; and one was laughed at into the bargain. This put me in the worst of humors, particularly as I found the place of exercise itself quite intolerable. The wide, nasty space, either wet or dusty, the cold, the mouldy smell, all together was in the highest degree repugnant to me; and since the stable-master always gave the others the best and me the worst horses to ride,—perhaps because they bribed him by breakfasts and other gifts, or even by their own cleverness; since he kept me waiting, and, as it seemed, slighted me,—I spent the most disagreeable hours in an employment that ought to have been the most pleasant in the world. Nay, the impression of that time and of these circumstances has remained with me so vividly, that although I afterwards became a passionate and daring rider, and for days and weeks together scarcely got off my horse, I carefully shunned covered riding-courses, and at least passed only a few moments in them. The case often happens, that, when the elements of an exclusive art are taught us, this is done in a painful and revolting manner. The conviction that this is both wearisome and injurious has given rise, in later times, to the educational maxim, that the young must be taught every thing in an easy, cheerful, and agreeable way: from which, however, other evils and disadvantages have proceeded.

With the approach of spring, times became again more quiet with us; and if in earlier days I had endeavored to obtain a sight of the city, its ecclesiastical, civil, public, and private structures, and especially found great delight in the still prevailing antiquities, I afterwards endeavored, by means of "Lersner's Chronicle," and other Frankfortian books and pamphlets belonging to my father, to revive the persons of past times. This seemed to me to be well attained by great attention to the peculiarities of times and manners and of distinguished individuals.

Among the ancient remains, that which, from my childhood, had been remarkable to me, was the skull of a State criminal, fastened up on the tower of the bridge, who, out of three or four, as the naked iron spikes showed, had, since 1616, been preserved in spite of the encroachments of time and weather. Whenever one returned from Sachsenhausen to Frankfort, one had this tower before one; and the skull was directly in view. As a boy, I liked to hear related the history of these rebels,—Fettmilch and his confederates,—how they had become dissatisfied with the government of the city, had risen up against it, plotted a mutiny, plundered the Jews' quarter, and excited a fearful riot, but were at last captured, and condemned to death by a deputy of the emperor. Afterwards I felt anxious to know the most minute circumstance, and to hear what sort of people they were. When from an old contemporary book, ornamented with wood-cuts, I learned, that, while these men had indeed been condemned to death, many councillors had at the same time been deposed, because various kinds of disorder and very much that was unwarrantable was then going on; when I heard the nearer particulars how all took place,—I pitied the unfortunate persons who might be regarded as sacrifices made for a future better constitution. For from that time was dated the regulation which allows the noble old house of Limpurg, the Frauenstein- house, sprung from a club, besides lawyers, trades-people, and artisans, to take part in a government, which, completed by a system of ballot, complicated in the Venetian fashion, and restricted by the civil colleges, was called to do right, without acquiring any special privilege to do wrong.

Among the things which excited the misgivings of the boy, and even of the youth, was especially the state of the Jewish quarter of the city (/Judenstadt/), properly called the Jew Street (/Judengasse/); as it consisted of little more than a single street, which in early times may have been hemmed in between the walls and trenches of the town, as in a prison (/Zwinger/). The closeness, the filth, the crowd, the accent of an unpleasant language, altogether made a most disagreeable impression, even if one only looked in as one passed the gate. It was long before I ventured in alone; and I did not return there readily, when I had once escaped the importunities of so many men unwearied in demanding and offering to traffic. At the same time, the old legends of the cruelty of the Jews towards Christian children, which we had seen hideously illustrated in "Gottfried's Chronicle," hovered gloomily before my young mind. And although they were thought better of in modern times, the large caricature, still to be seen, to their disgrace, on an arched wall under the bridge-tower, bore extraordinary witness against them; for it had been made, not through private ill- will, but by public order.

However, they still remained the chosen people of God, and passed, no matter how it came about, as a memorial of the most ancient times. Besides, they also were men, active and obliging; and, even to the tenacity with which they clung to their peculiar customs, one could not refuse one's respect. The girls, moreover, were pretty, and were far from displeased when a Christian lad, meeting them on the sabbath in the Fischerfeld, showed himself kindly and attentive. I was consequently extremely curious to become acquainted with their ceremonies. I did not desist until I had frequently visited their school, had assisted at a circumcision and a wedding, and formed a notion of the Feast of the Tabernacles. Everywhere I was well received, pleasantly entertained, and invited to come again; for it was through persons of influence that I had been either introduced or recommended.

Thus, as a young resident in a large city, I was thrown about from one object to another; and horrible scenes were not wanting in the midst of the municipal quiet and security. Sometimes a more or less remote fire aroused us from our domestic peace: sometimes the discovery of a great crime, with its investigation and punishment, set the whole city in an uproar for many weeks. We were forced to be witnesses of different executions; and it is worth remembering, that I was also once present at the burning of a book. The publication was a French comic romance, which indeed spared the State, but not religion and manners. There was really something dreadful in seeing punishment inflicted on a lifeless thing. The packages burst asunder in the fire, and were raked apart by an oven- fork, to be brought in closer contact with the flames. It was not long before the kindled sheets were wafted about in the air, and the crowd caught at them with eagerness. Nor could we rest until we had hunted up a copy, while not a few managed likewise to procure the forbidden pleasure. Nay, if it had been done to give the author publicity, he could not himself have made a more effectual provision.

But there were also more peaceable inducements which took me about in every part of the city. My father had early accustomed me to manage for him his little affairs of business. He charged me particularly to stir up the laborers whom he set to work, as they commonly kept him waiting longer than was proper; because he wished every thing done accurately, and was used in the end to lower the price for a prompt payment. In this way, I gained access to all the workshops: and as it was natural to me to enter into the condition of others, to feel every species of human existence, and sympathize in it with pleasure, these commissions were to me the occasion of many most delightful hours; and I learned to know every one's method of proceeding, and what joy and sorrow, what advantages and hardships, were incident to the indispensable conditions of this or that mode of life. I was thus brought nearer to that active class which connects the lower and upper classes. For if on the one side stand those who are employed in the simple and rude products, and on the other those who desire to enjoy something that has been already worked up, the manufacturer, with his skill and hand, is the mediator through whom the other two receive something from each other: each is enabled to gratify his wishes in his own way. The household economy of many crafts, which took its form and color from the occupation, was likewise an object of my quiet attention; and thus was developed and strengthened in me the feeling of the equality, if not of all men, yet of all human conditions,—the mere fact of existence seeming to me the main point, and all the rest indifferent and accidental.

As my father did not readily permit himself an expense which would be consumed at once in some momentary enjoyment,—as I can scarcely call to mind that we ever took a walk together, and spent any thing in a place of amusement,—he was, on the other hand, not niggardly in procuring such things as had a good external appearance in addition to inward value. No one could desire peace more than he, although he had not felt the smallest inconvenience during the last days of the war. With this feeling, he had promised my mother a gold snuff-box, set with diamonds, which she was to receive as soon as peace should be publicly declared. In the expectation of the happy event, they had labored now for some years on this present. The box, which was tolerably large, had been executed in Hanau; for my father was on good terms with the gold-workers there, as well as with the heads of the silk establishments. Many designs were made for it: the cover was adorned by a basket of flowers, over which hovered a dove with the olive-branch. A vacant space was left for the jewels, which were to be set partly in the dove and partly on the spot where the box is usually opened. The jeweller, to whom the execution and the requisite stones were intrusted, was named Lautensak, and was a brisk, skilful man, who, like many artists, seldom did what was necessary, but usually works of caprice, which gave him pleasure. The jewels were very soon set, in the shape in which they were to be put upon the box, on some black wax, and looked very well; but they would not come off to be transferred to the gold. In the outset, my father let the matter rest: but as the hope of peace became livelier, and finally when the stipulations,—particularly the elevation of the Archduke Joseph to the Roman throne,—seemed more precisely known, he grew more and more impatient; and I had to go several times a week, nay, at last, almost daily, to visit the tardy artist. Owing to my unremitted teasing and exhortation, the work went on, though slowly enough; for, as it was of that kind which can be taken in hand or laid aside at will, there was always something by which it was thrust out of the way, and put aside.

The chief cause of this conduct, however, was a task which the artist had undertaken on his own account. Everybody knew that the Emperor Francis cherished a strong liking for jewels, and especially for colored stones. Lautensak had expended a considerable sum, and, as it afterwards turned out, larger than his means, on such gems, out of which he had begun to shape a nosegay, in which every stone was to be tastefully disposed, according to its shape and color, and the whole form a work of art worthy to stand in the treasure-vaults of an emperor. He had, in his desultory way, labored at it for many years, and now hastened—because after the hoped-for peace the arrival of the emperor, for the coronation of his son, was expected in Frankfort—to complete it and finally to put it together. My desire to become acquainted with such things he used very dexterously to divert my attention by sending me forth as his dun, and to turn me away from my intention. He strove to impart a knowledge of these stones to me, and made me attentive to their properties and value; so that in the end I knew his whole bouquet by heart, and quite as well as he could have demonstrated its virtues to a customer. It is even now present to my mind; and I have since seen more costly, but not more graceful, specimens of show and magnificence in this sort. He possessed, moreover, a pretty collection of engravings, and other works of art, with which he liked to amuse himself; and I passed many hours with him, not without profit. Finally, when the Congress of Hubertsburg was finally fixed, he did for my sake more than was due; and the dove and flowers actually reached my mother's hands on the festival in celebration of the peace.

I then received also many similar commissions to urge on painters with respect to pictures which had been ordered. My father had confirmed himself in the notion—and few men were free from it—that a picture painted on wood was greatly to be preferred to one that was merely put on canvas. It was therefore his great care to possess good oak boards, of every shape; because he well knew that just on this important point the more careless artists trusted to the joiners. The oldest planks were hunted up, the joiners were obliged to go accurately to work with gluing, painting, and arranging; and they were then kept for years in an upper room, where they could be sufficiently dried. A precious board of this kind was intrusted to the painter Junker, who was to represent on it an ornamental flower-pot, with the most important flowers drawn after nature in his artistic and elegant manner. It was just about the spring- time; and I did not fail to take him several times a week the most beautiful flowers that fell in my way, which he immediately put in, and by degrees composed the whole out of these elements with the utmost care and fidelity. On one occasion I had caught a mouse, which I took to him, and which he desired to copy as a very pretty animal; nay, really represented it, as accurately as possible, gnawing an ear of corn at the foot of the flower-pot. Many such inoffensive natural objects, such as butterflies and chafers, were brought in and represented; so that finally, as far as imitation and execution were concerned, a highly valuable picture was put together.

Hence I was not a little astonished when the good man formally declared one day, when the work was just about to be delivered, that the picture no longer pleased him,—since, while it had turned out quite well in its details, it was not well composed as a whole, because it had been produced in this gradual manner; and he had committed a blunder at the outset, in not at least devising a general plan for light and shade, as well as for color, according to which the single flowers might have been arranged. He scrutinized, in my presence, the minutest parts of the picture, which had arisen before my eyes during six months, and had pleased me in many respects, and, much to my regret, managed to thoroughly convince me. Even the copy of the mouse he regarded as a mistake; for many persons, he said, have a sort of horror of such animals: and they should not be introduced where the object is to excite pleasure. As it commonly happens with those who are cured of a prejudice, and think themselves much more knowing than they were before, I now had a real contempt for this work of art, and agreed perfectly with the artist when he caused to be prepared another tablet of the same size, on which, according to his taste, he painted a better-formed vessel and a more artistically arranged nosegay, and also managed to select and distribute the little living accessories in an ornamental and agreeable way. This tablet also he painted with the greatest care, though altogether after the former copied one, or from memory, which, through a very long and assiduous practice, came to his aid. Both paintings were now ready; and we were thoroughly delighted with the last, which was certainly the more artistic and striking of the two. My father was surprised with two pictures instead of one, and to him the choice was left. He approved of our opinion, and of the reasons for it, and especially of our good will and activity; but, after considering both pictures some days, decided in favor of the first, without saying much about the motives of his choice. The artist, in an ill humor, took back his second well-meant picture, and could not refrain from the remark that the good oaken tablet on which the first was painted had certainly had its effect on my father's decision.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse