From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 4, pages 133-138


minor princes, counts and lords. I never saw him when he was not cheerful, accommodating, and diligent in the execution of his duties. His wife and children were gentle, quiet and generous people who definitely did not increase the sociability of the household because they kept to themselves. However peace and quiet returned and we had not experienced that for a long time. I once again occupied the mansard room in which the ghosts of many paintings floated before my mind for quite some time but through hard work and study I was eventually able to exorcise them.

Legation Counselor Moritz, brother of the Chancellory Director, visited our house often. He was very much a man of the world, a pleasing figure with easy, pleasant manners. He also tended the legal affairs of various prestigious personnages and he came into contact with my father on several occasions during bankruptcy hearings and imperial commissions.* Both held the other in high regard and usually represented creditors. To their mutual annoyance each had to accustom himself to seeing judges decide the majority of their cases in favor of the debtors. The Legation Counselor was happy to share his knowledge.* He loved mathematics but in his current path of life had little chance to enjoy it, so he contented himself by helping me to further my knowledge of the subject. His help enabled me to work on my architectural drafting exercises more effectively than before and to make better use of the instruction I received from the drawing master, who was now employed to give us daily lessons.

This fine old man was merely a half-artist.* We had to sketch lines and bring them together in order to form eyes and noses, lips and ears until eventually an entire face or head would appear.


This would not be considered natural nor artistic style. We were tortured for quite some time by this quid pro quo type of human figure yet people believed we had made considerable progress since we had achieved in imitating the so-called Le Brun affect in drawing.* These caricatures were of no benefit to us. From there we moved on to landscapes, to foliage and to all things which were practiced in ordinary sessions without consequence or method. Eventually we attained sufficient degrees of imitation and line definition so that we no longer troubled ourselves over correlations to the original subjects.

In this new endeavor father behaved in an ideal fashion. He had never drawn but he did not wish to be left behind as his children learned this art. As an adult he wanted to give his children a fine example of how they should act in their youth. He copied a few heads from Piazzetta * taken from known pages in a small octavo with English pencil on the finest paper from Holland. He not only paid close attention to the great precision in the outline but imitated the hatching in the engraving with a very light hand. Indeed, wanting to avoid harsh lines, his drawings did not even leave impressions on his papers. They were thoroughly light and uniform. His sustained diligence was so great that he copied the entire collection from number to number while we children skipped one head or another, chosing the ones that pleased us.

Around this time after long, drawn-out discussion it was finally decided we would receive instruction in music.*


This latest initiative deserves to be mentioned. Plans were made for us to study the harpsichord, however the choice of teacher became a disputed topic. Quite by accident one day I entered the room of one of my friends, who had just had a harpsichord instruction session. I found his teacher to be a most likeable man. He had nicknames for each finger on his right and left hands and he enthusiastically referred to them as he used them. Likewise the black and white harpsichord keys had pictureque names as did the notes. Such a colorful assembly works well among itself. Fingering and tempo seemed quite easy and obvious since the student was incited to the best humor. Everything went beautifully from the start.

As soon as I got home I went to my parents, asked them to seriously consider the matter and make this incomparable man our harpsichord instructor. They hesitated at first and then made some inquiries. Nothing bad was reported about the teacher, but then again nothing particularly good was reported either. In the meantime I told my sister about all the funny names. We could hardly wait for instruction to begin. It filtered down to us that the man had been appointed.

First came learning the notes but when there were no jokes we comforted ourselves in the hope that once we got to the harpsichord and the fingering the fun stuff would begin. Unfortunately lessons in keyboarding and finger position seemed to present no opportunity. Notation was just as dry with barred notes on or between the five lines with black


and white centers. There wasn't a word about thumbling or pointerling or ring-fingering. The man's facial expression changed little during the bland instruction whereas before it was animated by dry humor. My sister reproached me bitterly for disappointing her, believing I had made it all up. I was confused and learned little although the man approached his task in an orderly fashion. I was still waiting for the jokes and consoled my sister from one day to the next. Things remained a mystery and I never would have figured them out had it not been for one particular incident.

One of my playmates entered the room during an instructional session. All of a sudden the waves of humor started to gush forth - thumbling and pointerling, grabber and stealer, he called out each finger as he used it. Little fak, little gak, he named F and G while little fiek and giek were F and G Sharp. Jokes were everywhere and he made the most wonderful little manniken figures. My young friend couldn't stop laughing. He was so happy to see that one could learn in such a marvelous way. He swore he would not give his parents a minute's peace until they hired this excellent man to be his teacher.

And so it was, based on the latest educational theory, that the path to two art forms was opened to me, more out of luck than conviction, and innate talent further developed in me. Everyone must learn drawing, my father maintained. It was for this reason he especially honored Emperor Maximilian, who had expressly issued a decree.* For me Father


placed more serious emphasis on drawing than music whereas he thought music better suited for my sister, who was kept at the piano for extended periods each day when she was not at her instructional sessions.

The more I was left to press on this way the more I wanted to proceed until I was even spending my free time in all kinds of wonderful activities. From my earliest days I felt compelled to investigate natural objects. People consider it an instance of cruelty when children take an object with which they have played then take it apart and destroy it. However this displays curiosity, the desire to learn how things are put together, turn them inside out and then dismiss them. I remember as a child picking flowers in order to see how the leaves were attached to the calyx and plucking birds to see how the feathers were attached to the wings. Children should not be reproached for this, for even the nature investigator believes we learn more through dissection and extraction than through unified construction, indeed more through death than life. *

A magnetic lodestone, turned into a weapon by sewing it into scarlet cloth, became the stimulus for another day's lust for experimentation. The stone's magnetic quality fascinated me not just because of its mysterious power of attraction, picking up any iron filings it passed by, but because it intensified in power and grew in weight with each day.* The process astonished me for quite some time. Eventually I believed I would better understand the process


if I ripped away the cover. I did this but I gained no further insight. The naked armature * taught me nothing. I got rid of it and held the stone itself in my hands. For some time I did not tire of passing it over iron filings and sewing needles, but except for the experience of the various phenomena my young intellect gleened no further advantage. I didn't know how to reassemble it and the pieces scattered. I forgot the phenomena and the apparatus.

I had no greater luck with the assembly of an electrical machine. A friend of the family, whose youth happened to coincide at a time when all minds were fascinated by electricity, often told us how he wanted to own such a machine when he was a boy. He acquired the necessary parts and with the help of a spinning wheel and some medicine phials he constructed a working model. He often repeated the story and thus instructed us about electricity. We children found the idea quite plausible and went to the trouble of procuring an old spinning wheel and some medicine bottles, however we were not able to get the machine to work. Nevertheless we held fast to our belief and were pleased when there was an electrical machine among the city fair's other rare items, magical and conjuring tricks including displays on magnetism, for which there was much interest.

Mistrust in public education increased from day to day. People employed private tutors and because individual families could not cover the cost they joined together


Go to pages 139-144


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