From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 3, pages 115-120


what the sound of the bullets should have already made clear, that things had gone well for the French and withdrawal was not being considered. Coming home in a disagreeable mood, he had the customary reaction to seeing wounded and captured fellow countrymen. He also extended donations, which only the Germans were supposed to receive, but this wasn't always possible since fate had brought friends and foes so close together.

Mother and we children, fortified by the Count's word and thus spending a peaceful day, were very happy. Mother was doubly comforted after having consulted her oracle in the jewel box by means of a pin prick and receiving a very favorable response concerning the present and the future. * We wanted our father to share the same trust and sentiments. We tried coaxing him. We tried to get him to take some food, which he had rejected all day. He cast off our affections and kept himself to his room. However our joy was not disrupted. The matter had been decided. The King's Lieutenant, who contrary to custom had ridden off on his horse that day, finally returned and his presence at home was more heartfelt than ever. We sprang upon him, kissed his hand and showed him our joy. This seemed to please him a great deal. "Well!" he said in a more friendly manner than before, "I'm very pleased to see you too, children!" He ordered that confections, sweet wine and all the best things be brought to us then went off to his room surrounded by a mass of people with urgent news, requests, and petitions.

We had a delicious feast and regretted


that our father would have none of it. We asked Mother to call him down. However she was smarter than us and knew how unwelcome these gifts would be to him. Instead she made a simple supper and would gladly have sent a portion up to him but even under such circumstances he would not tolerate the disruption of routine. The sweet gifts were put away and someone went to ask Father to come down to the dining room. He finally let himself be persuaded. We had no idea what unfortunate occurrence we were letting ourselves and him in for. The stairway runs through the entire house and it crosses all anterooms. In order to come downstairs Father had to pass the Count's room. His antechamber was so full of people the Count decided to step out the door in order to dispatch several visitors at once. Unfortunately this happened at the moment Father stepped past. The Count greeted him cheerfully and said, "You would offer congratulations to us all since this dangerous business has run to a fortunate end?" — By no means! my father responded angrily. I would rather they had chased you to the devil, even if I had to go with you. — The Count reflected for a moment then flew into a rage. "You shall regret this!" he exclaimed. "You should not have insulted the just cause and me for no reason!"

Father was quiet as he came down the stairs then sat with us. He seemed happier than he had been before and he began to eat. We were glad but puzzled by how he had cast the stone from his heart. Shortly thereafter Mother was called away and we took great pleasure in telling father about the confections the Count had bestowed upon us.


Mother did not return. Eventually the interpreter came in and at his behest we were sent to bed. It was late and we were happy to comply. After sleeping through a peaceful night we learned the powerful consequences of what had shaken the house the previous evening. The King's Lieutenant had ordered Father placed under the custody of the guards. The subalterns knew well it was unwise to ever contradict him, however they sometimes received thanks for delaying to execute his orders. The interpreter was aware of this and he always knew the temprament which prevailed at the moment. He worked vigorously to put things back in order. The tumult was so great that any delay would be hidden and thus excused. It was he who called away my mother. He gave her to the adjutants, telling her that pleas and petitions would only gain her a short delay. He then hurried to the Count, who had withdrawn to his inner rooms to regain control of himself. He preferred to set aside the most urgent business of the moment to taking his bad mood out on an innocent bystander and then having to apologize.

The plump interpreter repeated the conversation * he had with the Count so many times that I can still recite it from memory. This conversation had much to do with the fortunate outcome of events.

The interpreter dared to open the chamber door and enter, a practice strictly forbidden. "What do you want?" the Count angrily asked. "Get out of here! No one has the right to enter but Saint Jean [the Count's valet.]"


Then pretend for a moment that I'm Saint Jean, replied the interpreter.

"That would require a good imagination. Two of him would still only make one of you. Get out!"

Dear Count, you have received a great gift from heaven and I wish now to call upon it.

"You think you can flatter me? Don't believe it's going to work."

You have the great gift, dear Count, of hearing the anxieties of others as they express their anger.

"Well, so! I've listened to conversations about their feelings for too long now. I know only too well that we are not wanted here and the citizens would be happy to see us leave."

Not all of them!

"A great many! The citizens of this city, do they want to be citizens of an imperial city? They elect and see their emperor crowned but when they see him unjustly attacked, his lands confiscated and cast into peril by a usurper, and then if the emperor is fortunate enough to find loyal allies willing to risk their money and their blood for his defense, are they willing the tolerate the slightest burden and do their part so the enemy of the empire may be defeated?"

You have known their sentiments for a long time but as a wise man you have endured them; and it is only a small number. There are a few blinded by the shining character of the enemy, an extraordinary man whom you yourself admire; but it's only a few as you well know!

"Indeed, I have known and endured for too long now, otherwise this man would not


"have spoken these insults to my face at such a critical moment. As many as there may be, perhaps it is time for them to be punished through their bold representative so they may see what they can expect."

But just a delay, dear Count!

"In certain matters one cannot act too swiftly."

Only a short delay!

"Neighbor! You think you can lead me down a false path. You shall not succeed."

I do not want to lead you down a false path nor do I wish to hold you back on one. Your decision is fair. It is appropriate for a Frenchman, for the King's Lieutenant; but think, you are also Count Thorane.

"That has nothing to do with this."

One should also listen to the brave man.

"Now, what would he have to say?"

Lord King's Lieutenant! he would say. You have been tolerant for so long with so many dark, unwilling and inept men provided they did not make you too angry. Admittedly this man has made you very mad but try to control yourself, Lord King's Lieutenant, then everyone will praise and value you because of it.

"You know, sometimes I can endure your foolishness, but don't abuse my favor. These men, are they completely deluded? If we have lost the battle today, what would have been their fate? We fought right outside the gates, spared the city, held and defended ourselves in order to cover our retreat over the bridge. Do they believe the enemy is standing around with his hands folded? He launches grenades and anything else at hand. They set fires wherever they can. The owner of this house, what does he want? These rooms here could easily become


the target of a fireball, with another launched behind it. In these rooms where I have spared the numerous Peking tapestries by refusing to nail up my land maps. * They should have to stay on their knees all day!"

How many have done that!

"They should be praying for us, showing signs of respect and joy for the generals and officers, and greeting the exhausted enlisted men with refreshments. Instead this man spoils what should be the finest and happiest time of my life with the poison of his party spirit and provides me with grief and anxiety!"

It is party spirit, but you will only increase their numbers if you punish this man. Those of like sentiment will proclaim you a tyrant and a barbarian. They will view him as a martyr suffering for the good cause; and those, who do not share his opinions and up until now have considered him an opponent, will sympathize with him as a fellow citizen and even though you are justified they will believe you have acted too harshly.

"I have listened to you for too long. See to it that you leave."

But first hear me on this point! Consider this is the most unheard of thing to befall this man and his family. You have no reason to feel secure in the good will of the owner of this house, but his wife has conceded to all your wishes and the children think of you as an uncle. With a single blow you will destroy the peace and happiness of this household forever. Indeed I can say that if a bomb were to hit this house it could not cause greater devastation. I have often marveled at you composure,


Go to pages 121-126


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