From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 2, pages 91-96


his "Daniel in the Lion's Den", and his "Relics" thoroughly described the situations which tortured and trapped him. As a whole these works signify intolerance for those circumstances to which a man cannot reconcile himself and cannot yield. Thinking and feeling this way, he certainly had to find other forms of employment in which his skills would not fail him. I remember him as a pleasant, active and kind-hearted man.

From the past the name Klopstock [beating stick] also had a profound impact on us. At first one wonders how such an excellent man could have such a strange name, but one soon gets used to it and no longer thinks of the meaning of the two syllables. In my father's library I had only found the famous poets of his own day. They all produced rhyming verse and my father believed that rhyme was indispensible for poetic works. Canitz, Hagedorn, Drollinger, Gellert, Creuz, and Haller * stood in a row on the shelf in beautiful calf bindings. To these were added Neukirch's "Telemachus," Koppens "Jerusalem Freed," and other translations. During my childhood I had diligently read through these collected volumes and memorized portions of them. I often recited them to entertain our guests. An unpleasant epoch revealed itself for my father as Klopstock's Messiah verses, which seemed not to be poetry for him, became an object for open amazement. He had intentionally avoided purchasing this work, but a friend of the family, Counselor Schneider, had concealed a copy and given it to mother and her children.


He was a busy man who read little, yet at its publication "The Messiah" had made a great impression on him. The natural flow, noble piety, and appealing language, which might well be considered harmonic prose, had so won over the dry businessman that he deemed the first ten songs, the topic of discussion here, a marvelously edifying book. Each year during Holy Week, when he retired from all business activities, he quietly read the book and this refreshed him for the entire year. At first he thought he would share his feelings with his old friend, however he was distressed to learn that the friend had an unwholesome aversion to this work despite its precious content because it seemed to him one must observe proper poetic structure. As one can imagine, there were many discussions on the topic and the two friends drew farther apart as the result of heated debates. Eventually the compliant man decided he would say nothing about his favorite work rather than lose a friend from his youth and a good Sunday soup.

It is a natural proclivity in all men to proselytize. How meritorious it was for our friend to sit quietly amid our family and cover his true feelings concerning his holy book. For some time we followed his example of using one week each year. Mother read the book secretly and we siblings edified ourselves when we could in our free time, hidden in a corner, learning the most striking passages and committing the most tender and


moving parts to memory as quickly as possible.

In a contest we each recited Portia's dream. In the desperate dialog between Satan and Adramelech, who had been cast into the Red Sea *, we each took a part. I assumed the first role, the more forceful, while my sister took the second, more doleful part. The alternating and sometimes tormented enchantments flowed so melodiously from the tongue that we took every opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with its hellish phasology.

It was a Saturday evening in winter — father was shaved in the light so he could easily get dressed by himself for church early on Sunday morning — we sat on a bench behind the stove and mumbled our usual curses while the barber applied lather. Now Adramelech grasped Satan in an iron grip and my sister grabbed me. Her recitation was quiet enough but grew in passionate intensity:

Help me! I implore you. I will pray to you,
if that is what you demand, Abominible One!
Outcast, evil sinner, help me!
I suffer the pain of wretched eternal death!
Once I perceived you with hot and horror-filled hatred!
I no longer feel that way. There is only piercing misery!

Up until then everything went fine, but now she cried out the following words in a loud and distressing voice:

Oh, how I am crushed!

This frightened the barber and he poured the contents of his soapcup onto father's chest. This resulted in a great


tumult and an investigation whereby we were told of the disaster, which might have developed if father were still being shaved. In order to disspell all suspicion of mischief, we admitted our devil's role playing and acknowledged the misfortune, which the hexameters had caused. The verses were denounced and banned anew.

So it is that children and people in general take something which is great and sublime, turn it into a game, and transform it into a joke. How else would they be able to abide it and endure! *

_____

Third Book *

New Year's Day was always a particularly animated time in the city with people exchanging well-wishes. * Even individuals, who seldom left their homes, donned their best clothes to spend a few amicable and polite minutes with friends and acquaintances. For us children the festivities in our grandfather's house were a highly-anticipated pleasure. In the earliest morning hours the grandchildren were assembled so they could hear the drums, oboes and clarinets, trumpets and cornets of the military, the city musicians and others. The sealed and inscribed gifts were distributed by the children to the well-wishers and as the day progressed the number of dignitaries increased. First trusted friends and relatives appeared then lower eschalon city officials. The men of the Council did not fail to greet their chief magistrate and


in the evening a select number were offered rooms rarely used the rest of the year. Tortes, biscuitcakes, marzipan and sweet wine intensified the children's excitement. At this time the chief magistrate and the two burgermeisters received yearly gifts of silverware items from a few of institutes and foundations. The silver was distributed to grandchildren and godchildren in accordance to age and relationship. Suffice it to say in miniature the festivities lacked nothing when compare to those of grander scale.

New Years Day 1759 * arrived just as anticipated and pleasant for us children, but the older people were pensive and anxious. People were used to the passage of French troops, which occurred often and massively, but they came even more often during the last days of the previous year. In accordance with old imperial city tradition the watchman at the main tower sounded his trumpet whenever troops advanced. On this New Year's Day he would never stop, which was a sure sign that huge armies were in motion from many sides. On this day huge numbers also came through the city. People just watched them go by. In the past people were accustomed to seeing only small parties march along but now the number of troops kept growing and people could not or would not hinder them. On January 2nd a column marched through Sachsenhausen, over the bridge, through the Fahrgasse and to the Police Guard House where it stopped then overpowered the small force escorting it. They marched down the line, taking possession of the various watch towers and after some resistance the main tower guard yielded. Within moments the peaceful city was transformed into a theater of war. The troops stopped and bivouacked


until regular billeting could be arranged for their accommodation.

The unexpected and for many years unheard-of burden heavily oppressed the comfortable citizens and no one was more put out than my father, who had to accommodate alien military residents in his scarcely completed house, open up his well cleaned and mostly locked stateroom, and surrender those things which he used to keep ordered and regulated to the discretionary usage of foreigners. Filled with Prussian sentiments, he now had to endure the sight of Frenchmen in his chambers and to his way of thinking this was the most tragic circumstance he had ever encountered. It would have been easier for him to take the matter more lightly, seeing that he spoke good French. If he had been willing to bear what life had presented with dignity and good grace he might have spared himself and us many melancholy hours. They billeted a King's Lieutenant * with us and although he was a military man, he also served in civil cases where disputes broke out between soldiers and citizens and he arbitrated matters concerning debt and conduct.

He was Count Thorane, born in Grasse in the Provence region not far from Antibes. He was a tall, lank and serious figure. His face was heavily marked by smallpox. He had fiery, dark eyes and a regal bearing. His arrival was a boon for the residents of the house. People discussed which rooms would be assigned and which would remain for family use. The Count heard a picture gallery mentioned and, although it was night, he requested candles so he could see the pictures. He took great joy in the paintings, showed my father the greatest courtesy, and when he learned that most of the artists were still alive he decided to stay in Frankfurt and the


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