From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 2, pages 79-84


My father was the son of an eminent man, who was willing to take on the extraneous duties of fatherhood. They had the shamelessness to bring forth several arguments, for example that our wealth came only from the grandmother while other relatives settled in Friedberg and elsewhere had no wealth. There were other such arguments, which only gained weight due to their maliciousness. I listened to them more quietly than they had expected. They had been poised to flee as soon as I made any move to grab them by the hair. However I responded calmly because this seemed right to me: Life was so beautiful that one may regard with complete indifference the person to whom he owes gratitude. It is written that ultimately all comes from God, before whom we are all equal. They dropped the matter because they could make nothing of my response. Things returned to normal as once more children played together, always a proven means of reconciliation.

I was inoculated with a kind of moral sickness by these spiteful words and they secretly infected me. It did not displease me to think I was the grandson of an eminent man, even if it had not occurred in a legitmate fashion. My powers for detection followed the trail, imagination was piqued and my sharp senses were engaged. I began by examining all the aspects, finding and establishing new parameters of probability. I had heard little spoken about my grandfather and saw even less other than a portrait of him along with one of my grandmother which hung in the visitor's parlor in the old house. After the renovation both pictures were stored in an upper chamber. My grandmother must have been a


a very beautiful woman and about the same age as her husband. * I also remembered seeing in her bedroom a miniature portrait of a handsome man in a uniform decorated with stars and ribbons. After her death this miniature along with other small items disappeared amid the confusion of renovation. I brought facts such as these together in my childish head and practiced a modern form of poetic talent whereby liberal application of the significant circumstances of human existence found its counterpart in the cultivated world.

In a case such as this I knew I could entrust the facts to no one and I could only conduct a secret investigation if I wanted to get close to the truth of the matter. I had heard it said that sons usually looked like their fathers or their grandfathers. Many of our friends, especially Counselor Schneider, had business ties to all the princes and noblemen of the region. As rulers and ancestral gentry a large number of them owned property on the Rhein and the Main Rivers and on the land in between. Many of them had graced their loyal business agents with portraits of themselves. From my earliest days I had seen these portraits on the walls but now I looked at them with doubled attention to investigate whether I could discern any resemblance with my father or with me. However I was struck too often with similarities for it to bring me to any certain conclusion. The eyes of this person or the nose of that individual seemed to point to familial relationship.


These similarities deceptively pushed me back and forth. In consequence I scolded myself for looking like an empty fairytale, however I was still left with the impression and I could not stop investigating and looking for similiarities between this assembly of gentlemen, whose portrait remained a fascination for me, and myself during my quiet hours. So it is that a man desires most those things, which bolster his conceit and pander to his vanity, and he never asks if those things will be to his honor or to his disgrace.

In order to avoid interspersing serious and indeed reproving commentary, it's better that I now divert my gaze from that beautiful time - who is really in a position to speak of the plenum of childhood! We may only look at these small creatures, who flitter about us, in satisfaction and even awe. Most have more promise than they actually manifest. It's as if nature is playing yet another trick just to get the better of us. The first organs *, which nature gives to children as they enter the world, are adapted to fit the immediate circumstance in which these creatures find themselves. The child uses them in artless and unassuming fashion in the most clever way to fit the situation. The child, considered in and for himself amid his peers and in relationship to those of equal resources, seems so intelligent and rational. Nothing surpasses his ease, cheerfulness and agility. One might wish to see no further educatonal development for the child and if children grew up maintaining this same potential they would all be geniuses. However growth is


not just development. The various organic systems, which make up the human being, originate one from the other, following each other, changing together and pressing on one another, in some cases one consuming the other until after a certain period of time there is no trace of certain abilities or aptitudes. Even if human talents follow a particular course it is difficult for the greatest and most experienced minds to predict the outcome and foresee what the future holds.

It is no way my intention to completely cover the story of my youth in these first books. Instead I will take up certain threads later, which would have remained unnoticed as they wove their way through the early years. However I must mention the strong influence the events of the war had both during and after on our minds and our way of life. *

The peaceful citizen stands in a remarkable relationship to world events at large. Even from a distance these events act up him and cause discomfort and since he can't help but form an opinion, he reacts by taking a side. He quickly becomes a member of a party, which reflects his opinions or agrees with his perception of external factors. As great destiny looms and significant changes approach the citizen experiences the external uneasiness and becomes discontent. The evil around him doubles and intensifies until it destroys all possible good. He suffers at the hands of his friends and his enemies, sometimes more from the former than the later. He no longer knows how to preserve or maintain his place in the world.


The year 1757, in which we still lived in complete civil tranquility, nonetheless was a time of great emotional excitement. Perhaps there was no time richer in events. Sieges, great deeds, disasters, times of restoration each followed the other, intertwining with one seeming to bring about the other. Friedrich's personage, his name and his fame forever loomed above. The enthusiasm of his admirers grew larger and brighter; the hatred of his enemies grew more bitter. The range of opinions, which split up families, contributed even more to isolate citizens already separated from one another. In a city such as Frankfurt where three religions * divided the residents into three unequal groups and only a few men from the dominant religion could make their way into government, there were a great many wealthy and scholarly men who withdrew into themselves and their fields of study or dilittantism in order to create their own isolated existences. Present and future conversation will speak of these characteristics if people wish to remember the Frankfurt citizen of this time.

As soon as he had returned from his travels my father decided that to make himself capable of service to the State he would take over one of the subaltern offices and conduct the office without compensation, provided someone would hand over the office without calling for an election. By his way of thinking and based on his own perception of his character, he believed he was deserving of this distinction even if it was neither legal nor customary procedure. When his offer of service was refused he became angry and discontent.


He swore he would never accept any office and then made it impossible for himself to do so by procuring the position of counselor to the Kaiser, an honorary title shared only by the chief magistrate and the eldest sheriffs. * He had elevated himself to the level of the highest officials and could no longer mix in with the lower ranks. It was for this reason that he also courted the daughter of the chief magistrate, thus further cutting himself off from the lower ranks of the Council. He now belonged to the retired class, wherin no one ever associated with the others. They stand as isolated from one another as from the world at large and in their seclusion the idiosyncasies of their characters grow more pronounced. Due to his travels and what he had seen in the freer world, this may have given my father a notion of a more elegant and liberal lifestyle than was customary for his fellow citizens. He certainly found predecessors and associates within the city.

The name Uffenbach is well known. Sheriff von Uffenbach lived a distinguished life at that time. He had been to Italy. He was especially inclined towards music. He had a good tenor voice and he assembled a beautiful group of musicians. He hosted concerts and oratorios in his home. Because he sang and patronized musicians, which people considered inappropriate to his station, both invited guests and other countrymen made various humorous remarks about him.

I further remember Baron von Häckel, a rich nobleman who was married but childless. He lived in a beautiful house with all the furnishings of a respectable life on St. Anthony Alley. He owned fine paintings, engravings, antiques and


Go to pages 85-90


Text provided by the Lockwood Library, State University of New York at Buffalo.
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks