From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 3, pages 109-114


thought quite remarkable. As a good German boy I regarded anything opposed to art unendurable. The theater was the greatest of holy places and any occasional disturbance was deemed a terrible crime against the majesty of the public. Two grenadiers with weapons at their feet stood quite openly during comedy performances on either side of the rear curtains and were witnesses to all which passed in the inner sanctum of the acting family. As I said, between acts the curtain never fell and as the music filled the interludes two replacement grenadiers would march out from the wings onto the stage. With similar formality the first grenadiers would exit the stage. Whenever this occurred it certainly shattered what people called the theater's illusion, plus this was happening at a time when Diderot's principles and ideal model of the naturalistic stage were being promoted and total immersion in the illusion was the ultimate goal of the theatrical art. Tragedies were free of obvious military police presence and the heroes of antiquity had the right to watch over themselves. At these performances the grenadiers stood sufficiently tucked in the wings.

I will also admit here that I saw Diderot's "Housefather" and Palissot's "The Philosophers." * In the latter piece I still remember the philosopher, who walked on all fours and bit into a raw head of lettuce.

However the diversity of the theater could not always keep us children inside its halls. In good weather we played in front or in the vicinity. We committed all manner of foolishness, which


especially on Sundays and holidays did not correspond to our outward appearance. My friends and I dressed in outfits such as the ones described in my fairytales *, with hats under arms and small swords, the sheaths of which were adorned with large silk knots. One time when we were together and Derones was among us he was struck by the idea of accusing me of insulting him and he demanded satisfaction. I wasn't sure what had happened but I went along with his request just to see what would follow. He told me that in such cases it was customary to find a quiet quarter, which would make the matter easier to settle. * We arranged to meet behind some barns and placed ourselves in the requisite positions. The duel proceeded in a theatrical manner; swords clanged and parried. In the heat of battle the point of his sword got caught in my sheath's silk knot. He ran it through and then assured me that he now had complete satisfaction as he embraced me in an equally theatrical manner. We went to the nearest coffeehouse * for a glass of almond milk to refresh ourselves after our excitement and we bonded even closer in our old friendship.

At this point I will tell about another adventure I had in the theater, although this happened much later. * I sat with one of my playmates quietly in the parterre and we witnessed with satisfaction a solo dance executed with dexterity and grace by a handsome boy roughly our age, who was the son of a visiting French dance instructor. He was dressed


in the manner of dancers with a close-fitted red silk jacket and crinoline swaying down over his knees like a runner's apron. We accorded this agile artist with our applause along with the rest of the audience as it occurred to me, I don't know why, to pause in moral reflection. I commented to my companion on how beautifully he was groomed and how nice he looked but who knew what kind of tattered jacket he might sleep in tonight! Everyone had gotten up but the crowd prevented us from moving forward. A woman, who had sat near me and was now standing close by, happened to be the mother of the young artist and she was quite put out by my comments. To my misfortune she understood German well enough to know what I had said and she spoke it well enough to issue a rebuke. She scolded me vehemently: who was I and what right did I have to cast doubts on her family and its financial circumstances. In all ways she might consider him as good as I and his talent would prepare him for a happy life, about which I could only dream. She delivered this rebuking sermon amid the crowd and left those around us wondering what bad behavior I had committed. I could neither excuse myself nor distance myself from her so I felt quite embarrassed. When she paused for a moment I spoke without thinking: Now, why all the noise? Today red, tomorrow dead! —At these words the woman seemed to go dumbstruck. She looked at me then moved away as soon as it was possible. I didn't think any more about what I had said, however some time later those words came back to me when the boy had stopped performing.


He was sick, dangerously so. Whether or not he died I cannot say.

Similar foretellings * uttered in untimely and unfortunate words have been respected through the ages and it is indeed remarkable that forms of belief and superstition remain the same for all people and all times.

From the first days of the takeover of our city onward there was no end to the distractions available to children and young people. Theater performances and balls, parades and marches through the city scattered our attention. The latter two occurences were forever taking place and it seemed that the lives of soldiers must be quite happy and satisfying.

Quartering the King's Lieutenant in our home gave us the advantage of observing all the important personalities of the French Army at close range, especially the leaders whose names had come to us already by reputation. Peering from steps and landings as if in a gallery, we comfortably saw the Generals pass by. Most of all I remember Prince Soubise * as a handsome and personable man and most clearly Marshall von Broglio as a younger man, not large but well-built, lively, with an intelligent gaze.

He came many times to the King's Lieutenant and people knew they discussed important matters. He had scarcely been living with us a quarter of a year when news came portending dark times: the allied forces were on the march and Duke Ferdinand von Braunschweig was coming to drive the French from the Main River.


People had few expectations for these troops, who could boast of no great fortune in war, and since the Battle of Rossbach it was believed people despised them. People placed great faith in Duke Ferdinand and those with Prussian sympathies waited in hope of their liberation from the burden of occupation. My father was somewhat more cheerful and my mother worried. She was smart enough to see that the current minor evil could easily be exchanged for a major catastrophe. It became all too apparent that the French did not want to advance on the Duke, rather they anticipated an offensive near the city. The defeat of the French, their flight, a defense of the city, if only to cover their retreat and retain the bridge, the bombardment, the plundering, stimulated the imagination of all and created concern for both parties. My mother, who could bear everything but the worry, brought her fears to the Count through the interpreter. She received the customary reply for all such occasions: she should relax, there was nothing to fear; she should remain quiet and speak of the matter to no one.

More troops pushed through the city. People discovered they were stopping in Bergen. Comings and goings, riders on horses and runners increased, and our house was in upheaval day and night. At this time I often saw Marshall Broglio. He was always cheerful; his mannerisms and conduct were completely the same from one occasion to the next. Years later I was pleased to see the name of this man, whose bearing made such a favorable and enduring impression, praised in the history books.

So finally after a disturbed Holy Week


1759, Good Friday came. A mightly quiet presaged an approaching storm. We children were forbidden to leave the house. Father had no peace so he went out. The battle began. * I climbed to the top floor where my view to the surrounding area was hindered but I could hear the thunder of the cannons and the mass firings of the small guns. After a few hours we saw the first signs of battle as a row of wagons filled with wounded men in sad poses of shock and mutilation drove by us on their way to the Convent of Our Lady, which had been transformed into a hospital. This elicited the sympathy of the citizenry, which gave beer, wine, bread, and money to any of those still able to reach for these offerings. Once the wounded had passed and captured German soldiers arrived the citizenry's sympathy knew no bounds and it seemed they were willing to part with anything they owned, which wasn't immovable, in order to show their support for their oppressed fellow countrymen.

These prisoners indicated that the Allies had been unlucky in battle. My father was so certain the allies would win that he audaciously went out to greet the victors, not thinking that as a defeated army they would flee. First he went from his garden to the Friedberg Gate, where all was quiet and peaceful. From there he ventured to the Bornheim Meadow where he encountered scattered camp followers and baggage handlers, who amused themselves by shooting at the stone boundry markers with riccocheting lead flying all around the head of the curious wanderer. He figured it was wiser to go back and found out after some investigation


Go to pages 115-120


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