From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 3, pages 97-102


neighborhood and gave assurance that he would like nothing more than to meet them as soon as possible and offer them employment.

However even this proclivity towards art could not change my father's mind or bend his character. He let happen what could not be hindered, kept himself at a distance and the extraordinary events, which occurred around him, and the smallest incidents became unbearable.

Count Thorane's conduct was exemplary. Not once did he have his maps nailed to the walls because he did not want to spoil the new wallpaper. His people were tactful, quiet and orderly. Admittedly he was busy all day and part of the night with one plaintiff following the other, people under arrest being brought forth then escorted away, officers and adjutants being interviewed. The Count held open sessions in his chambers daily and this gave a house built large enough for a single family where all floors were connect by only one set of stairs the commotion and buzzing of a beehive albeit business being conducted in measured, serious and strict order.

Fortunately they found a suitable translator, a handsome, stout and cheerful man, who was a citizen of Frankfurt and spoke good French, to act as arbitrator between the peevish, vexed master of the house, who became more of a hypochondriac each day, and the well-intended yet serious and totally military guest. This arbitrator knew how to take care of everything and handled the many small unpleasant duties as though they were sources of amusement. With his help my mother managed to explain her situation to the Count with regard to the temprament of her husband.


He painted the situation so tactfully — the new, not quite completely renovated house, the natural proclivity towards solitude of the owner, his involvement in the education of the family and all other things, which needed to be said — that the Count, who took great pride in conducting his office with the highest integrity, propriety and honesty, understood that he should also conduct himself in an exemplary manner here as a billeted officer and indeed for the few years of his residence amid many situations his behavior was impeccable.

My mother possessed a knowledge of Italian, a language familiar to all in the family. She immediately decided to learn French and to that end she enlisted the assistance of the translator. During these stormy times she became godmother to one of his children and as a friend of his family (for he lived just across the street) the translator felt doubly inclined to spend every spare moment teaching her key phrases so she could converse directly with the Count. The Count was flattered by the effort the housewife had taken at this time in her life and because he possessed a cheerful and witty nature combined with a certain formal galantry, a fine relationship developed between them. In consequence the allied residents of the house could get from each other whatever they required.

As I had said earlier, if it had been possible to make my father happy, then these changed circumstances would have been less oppressive. The Count exercised stringent altruism, even to refusing the gifts usually inherent to his office. Anything, which could be construed as bribery, was rejected with scorn and punished. His people were strictly


ordered not to create the slightest expense for the house owner. On the contrary, we children received rich bounty from the supper table. At this time I must relate, in order to give an idea of the innocence of the age, that my mother was very distressed one day when they sent us a frozen dessert. She threw it away because it seemed to her that the stomach could not digest real ice full of sugar.

Besides these tasty treats, which we gradually learned to tolerate and quite enjoy, we children considered our lives comfortable since we were released to a certain extent from many hours of study and strict discipline. Father's bad mood grew. He couldn't surrender to the inevitable. * He constantly complained to mother, to the household, to the councilors, and to all his friends, that he just wanted to be rid of the Count! * People tried to tell him that under the current set of circumstances to have such a man in his house was a true asset, that if he left there would be an endless string of officers or enlisted soldiers. Neither of these arguments convinced him. The present situation seemed so unbearable to him that his ill humour would not let him perceive what might follow to be any worse.

For this reason the attention, which he usually turned upon us, was crippled. And what time he had for us no longer possessed the same degree of stringency. It now seemed possible for us to satisfy our curiosity concerning military and public matters both at home and on the streets, made much easier now since day and night unlocked doorways were guarded by sentries,


who were not bothered by the comings and goings of noisy children.

The many cases, which came before the judgment bench of the King's Lieutenant, had a particular charm because the Count accompanied each decision with witty, intelligent and cheerful wording for added emphasis. What he commanded was strictly carried out. The manner in which he expressed himself was humorous and picant. He seemed to have taken the Duke of Ossuna for his role model. * Rarely a day went by when the translator didn't have one or another anecdote to amuse us and our mother. This cheerful man created a small collection of these Solomon-like judgments. I do not remember any one in particular; I only have a vague recollection of their impact upon me.

People became increasingly aware of the Count's wonderous character. The man was clearly conscious of his own peculiarities. There were times when he suffered from his own forms of ill temper, hypochondria, or what people called their personal demons. * On such occasions he sequestered himself in his rooms, saw no one but his manservant and while in the most oppressed state refused to hold audience, sometimes for several days. However as soon as he had shaken the evil spirit from himself he reappeared as temperate, cheerful and active as ever. According to his manservant, Saint Jean, a small, lean man of pleasant disposition, one could conclude that in his earlier years while overcome by bad temper the Count had caused great unhappiness and had thus decided that, being in an important position,


it was better to withdraw himself from the sight of the world until the mood had passed.

In the first days of the Count's arrival all the Frankfurt painters *, such as Hirt, Schütz, Trautmann, Nothnagel, and Juncker, were called to him. They showed their completed works and he purchased the ones, which were for sale. My pretty and bright gable room in the Mansard was transformed into a private room and studio for the Count. He intended to set all the artists to work there, especially Seekatz of Darmstadt whose pencil drawings with their natural and innocent representations pleased him the most. He sent word to Grasse, where his older brother must have had a beautiful manor, to obtain the dimensions of all the rooms and galleries, after which he assigned the artists wall-sections and specific measurements for oil paintings, which were not to be framed but rather adhered to the walls as murals. Now work began in earnest. Seekatz delivered landscape scenes containing old men and children painted in natural aspect. These were quite splendid. He did not succeed as well with the youths, who were too skinny, or the women, who displeased for the opposite reason. He had a small, fat, goodly but unpleasant wife, who would allow her husband to have no other model than herself, thus nothing pleasing came of it. It was necessary for him to exceed the usual proportions of his figures. His trees looked real but the leaves were too small. He was a student of Brinckmann, whose pencilwork in easel paintings was not without merit.


It may have been Schütz, the landscape painter, who was best suited to the task. Representing the Rhein region with the sunny tones it possessed in the fair seasons was well within his power. He was not unaccustomed to working in such a large scale and his execution and content did not fail. He delivered very cheerful pictures.

Trautmann painted a few resurrection scenes from the New Testament in the style of Rembrandt and he set fire to nearby villages and mills. * From the outlines of the rooms I noticed that he received his own gallery. Hirt painted good oak and beech trees. His cattle were praiseworthy. Juncker, accustomed to imitating the Dutch masters, was least able to adjust to mural stylings. He comforted himself by painting some sections with flowers and fruit for a handsome price.

Since I had known all these men from the earliest days of my childhood and had visited them often in their studios, the Count was happy for my company. I was present at the times of the proposals, the conferences and the ordering as well as the delivery. When sketches and designs were tended I even offered my opinions. Earlier I had gained a good reputation at the homes of art collectors and especially at auctions, which I attended regularly. I knew how to describe what a historical painting represented; I knew if the subject had been taken from the Bible, from secular events or mythology. On those occasions when I did not understand the allegorical nature of the work there was seldom anyone else who understood the work better than I. I often helped the artists with their attempts to represent this or that subject


Go to pages 103-108


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