From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 3, pages 127-132


Nero.) However Racine could not come to terms with either amateurs or critics.* All this made me more confused than ever, so after considering the pros and con and torturing myself with the theoretical balderdash of the previous century, I decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater and rid myself of old rubbish. I was becoming convinced that the authors who had produced such excellent products did not always hit the nail on the head when it came to discussing their content, giving reasons for their particular treatment of a subject, defending, excusing or mitigating them. I hastened back to the living examples, visited the theater more zealously, read continually with greater concentration until I had gotten through everything written by Racine and Molière and a larger portion of Corneille.

The King's Lieutenant continued to live in our house. He had not altered his conduct especially towards us. However it became noticeable, and the neighborhood interpreter certainly made it clear to us, that the Lieutenant did not carry out his office as cheerfully as in the beginning and he did not command as zealously although he still continued with the same integrity and loyalty. His prior attitudes and behavior seemed more Spanish than French. His temprament, which influenced the way he carried out his business, his rigidity in all situations, his sensitivity towards everything which disquieted his mind or person, all these things brought him into conflict with his superiors. Add to this the fact that he had been wounded in a duel which had arisen from an incident at the theater, people began to think badly of him


figuring that the Chief of Police should not have participated in a forbidden action. All these things may have contributed to his retreat from life and decreased vigor.

During this time a sizable portion of the ordered paintings arrived. Count Thorane spend his free time examining them. He had them placed in the appointed gable room, in row upon row of wheeled crates * arranged next to each other wider and smaller. Because there wasn't enough space one painting was nailed up above the other, taken down and rolled back up. The works were examined after each arrangement to see if they were in the best possible position, but there was no lack of expressed desire to see this or that one in another location.

From this arose a new and entirely wondrous activity. One painter worked best on primary figures, another on middle fields and distances while a third painted the best trees and the fourth flowers. * The Count came upon the idea of using each talent combined in the paintings and so in this manner to create the most perfect work. The work commenced with, for example, one man putting beautiful livestock in a finished landscape. However there wasn't always enough space in the painting and the animal painter had to omit a sheep or two because the widest landscape was still too narrow. Then the figure painter was supposed to put in some shepherds and wanderers but again, they were packed so tightly together it was a wonder they didn't suffocate each other even in this broad expanse of landscape. No one could anticipate the outcome and when all was finished they were not happy with the result. The painters were


annoyed. They had made handsome profits with the first assignment but now they were losing money even though the Count generously compensated them. Taking a painting and having others add their work to it produced no good effect, so in the end each artist believed that his work had been spoiled by the other painters. Invariably the artists fell out because of it and became irreconcilable enemies. Similar changes and additions were made in the studio, where I had been left alone with the artists. I entertained myself by studying the works, especially the animals, and making suggestions on whether this or that one or groups would work well in the foreground or background. Often the artists went along with the suggestions either out of conviction or kindness.*

The participants in the endeavor were quite discouraged, especially Seekatz who was a withdrawn man and a hypochondriac. Among friends he had a unique and cheerful temprament and he was a boon companion, however when he worked he became intraspective and preferred to be left free and alone. No matter how difficult the assignment, he always completed his work with the greatest diligence and love. Between assignments he traveled between Darmstadt and Frankfurt either to make alterations to his own work, embellish other people's works or supervise some third party incorporating his work into a colorful collage. His ill temper increased, his resistance grew and it required much effort on our part to get this friend of the house — for he had truly become this — to accommodate the Count's wishes. I still remember


that when the crates stood ready to pack the paintings in such an order so the paperhangers would not need further instructions on their placement, Seekatz could not be moved to return in order to make some small but essential touch-ups. He had done the best he could right up until the end portraying the four elements in the lifelike forms of children and boys on the door pieces, working diligently not just on the figures but the details. These pieces had been delivered, paid for and he believed he would be forever parted from them, but now he was supposed to come back. The proportions on a few paintings were too small so he should make a few pencil stokes to broaden them. Another, the Count believed, could do with the same. Seekatz had already accepted a new commission and would not return. It was time to send off the paintings and they still needed time to dry. Each postponement was a problem. The Count, in confusion, wanted to have Seekatz brought back by military force. We all wanted to see the paintings on their way but received no information until finally the neighborhood interpreter sat outside in a carriage with the artist's wife and child while the artist himself went up to the Count, was cordially received, well-utilized, handsomely paid and dismissed.

After the paintings were sent off there was greater peace in the house. The gable room in the mansard was cleaned and handed over to me. Once he saw the crates leave my father could not resist expressing the wish to send the Count packing after them. The Count's wishes seemed to run the same. Father should have been pleased to see his guiding principle, the care of living masters,


carried out so fruitfully by a rich man. He could have felt flattered that the assembly under his roof gave rise to several brave artists making substantial sums in pressing times. Instead he felt such aversion towards the foreigner who had invaded his house that he couldn't think straight about these things. One should commission artists but not reduce them to wallpaper painters. One should happily accept each for his knowledge and abilities and not just limit and find fault with them even if one is not thoroughly pleased with their work. Despite his interest, the Count never had a relationship with the artists. My father visited each man's studio when the Count was at table. I remember on one occasion Seekatz had outdone himself and the entire household wanted to see the painting. My father and the Count came together and shared a similar pleasure for this artwork even though they had never found such pleasure in each other's company.

Once the chests and crates had been removed from the house, the previous but interrupted attempt to remove the Count was reinstigated. Appeals to reason and calls for fairness had no influence and eventually the billet masters came to this decision: the Count would vacate and since our house had endured heavy traffic both day and night for a couple years it would be spared future billeting. However there was a proviso that lodgers should be put in the second floor rooms once occupied by the King's Lieutenant,


thus making the house unavailable for future billeting. The Count, who was now parted from his beloved paintings and no longer had any interest in the house, hoped he would soon be recalled and replaced, so he did not object to finding other quarters. He left us in peace and on good terms.* Soon after he left the city and received various promotions and new assignments, none of which we heard were to his liking. At least he had the satisfaction of seeing the paintings he procured suitably arranged in his brother's chateau. He wrote a few times, sent measurements, and commissioned some works from the better-known artists. Eventually we heard nothing from him except that he had died as governor of a French colony in the West Indies.

_____

Fourth Book

French billeting may have caused us a certain amount of inconvenience but we had become so accustomed to it that if we didn't exactly miss them, at least now the house seemed dead to us children. However it had not been determined that we would live again as a single family unit. New tenants had already received a promise and after some changes and cleaning, sanding and scrubbing, painting and touch-up, the house was put back in order. Chancellory Director Moritz* and his family, worthy friends of my parents, moved in. This man was not a native of Frankfurt but he was a capable jurist and businessman who tended the legal affairs of many


Go to pages 133-138


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