From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 4, pages 139-144


to achieve their goal. However the children seldom got along and the young man had little authority, thus after repeated confrontations there were unpleasant departures. No wonder that people began to think of other establishments which would be more appropriate and beneficial.

By necessity people came up with the idea of boarding schools since it had been recommended that the French language be taught and used in communication. My father had employed a young man who served in all capacities as footman, valet and secretary. His name was Pfeil.* He spoke good French and understood it well. After he was married and his patrons had to find a suitable position for him it occurred to them to establish a boarding house for him, which could be expanded to include a small school teaching all the necessary subjects along with Latin and Greek. Broad based contacts beyond Frankfurt provided the opportunity to gain young French and English students who wanted to learn German and receive a German education from this facility. Pfeil, a man in the prime of life with remarkable energy and vitality, did a praiseworthy job on the whole. He was never busy enough, so when he suggested that he should engage a music teacher for his students, he decided to study music himself. He practiced the harpsichord with such zeal that although he had never touched a keyboard before, he soon played quite proficiently and soundly. He seemed to have adopted my father's maxim that nothing encourages and excites young people as much as seeing others in their adulthood become


students again and, at an age when learning new things can be difficult, achieving through enthusiasm and discipline what comes to young people more easily by nature.

From his inclination towards playing the harpsichord Pfeil became interested in the instrument itself. He wanted to procure the best. This led him to acquaintance with Friederici of Gera, whose instruments were famous. He purchased several grand pianos and had the good fortune of having not just one but several in his own residence so he could practice on them and hear them all.

Even in our house this man's enthusiasm led to greater musical activities. Up to certain debatable points my father remained on good terms with him. A large Friederici grand piano was made for us too, which preferring my harpsichord I barely touched. However it became a greater torment for my sister because in order to do justice to it she had to spend more time in daily practice with my father as supervisor alternating with Pfeil as role model and friend of the house.

One particular hobby of my father's made us children very uncomfortable. This was raising silkworms and he had a grand idea of the benefits of this hobby if it were expanded. A few acquaintances from Hanau, where the worm culture was carefully practiced, gave him the opportunity. In the right season someone sent him some eggs. Once the mulberry trees had some leaves one would allow the eggs to hatch and then tend the barely visible creatures with great care. In the mansard room a table and


racks were constructed with boards to provide more room and ease of maintenance. The hatchlings grew quickly and by the time of their last molting they were so ravenously hungry that one could scarcely procure enough leaves to feed them. Indeed, they had to be fed day and night because everything depended upon it. If they did not have sufficient nourishment the great and wonderous transformation would not take place. If the weather was favorable then one could successfully carry out this business as a happy entertainment but if it were cold and the mulberry trees suffered there was great difficulty. Things became even more desperate if there was rain in the last stage of development. The tiny creatures could not tolerate moisture so the mulberry leaves would have to be carefully wiped off and dried. Often it was not possible to do this sufficiently and for this reason or some other cause various infections would spread among the herd, killing off the poor creatures by the thousands. The resultant decay created a pestulant odor and people had to separate out the dead and dying worms in order to save the few remaining. It was a difficult and repulsive business which caused us children many unpleasant hours.

After the first year's beautiful spring and summer of waiting upon the silkworms we had to attend father in another business, easier but no less difficult for us. The Roman scenes hung up in the old house and suspended by black rods at the top and bottom, had become yellowed by light, dust and smoke plus the flies


had made them quite unsightly. Such lack of cleanliness could not be permitted in the new house but the pictures had increased in value for my father as the time he spent in the region grew more remote. In the beginning such representational art serves to refresh and reanimate previous experiences, however they seem somewhat foreign and poor substitutes. Gradually memory loses more and more of the original images and the representations take their place, becoming just as dear to us as the originals and what was disregarded at first gains great value in our estimation. So it is with all representational art, especially portraits. One is not easily satisfied with the picture of one still present but oh, how each silhouette is treasured for one who has departed or died. *

Suffice it to say in a return to his former extravagance my father wished to see each engraving restored as much as possible. It was known they could be blanched by the sun but with such large sheets this was a serious operation conducted under not so favorable local conditions. The smoke stained copperplate prints were placed on racks, moisted and set out in the sun outside the mansard window in the gutter, where they could have encountered any variety of mishap. It was necessary that the paper not be allowed to dry. It had to be kept moist and this duty fell to me and my sister. Boredom, impatience and the need to pay constant attention turned our highly desirable idle time into the greatest of torments. The process was eventually


completed and the bookbinder, who placed each plate on strong paper, did his best to repair the torn margins caused by our negligence. The pages were assembled into one volume and were saved for the interim.

So we children would not miss out on any of the facets of life and learning, an English language teacher was appointed around this time. This man promised that he could teach English to anyone, who was not totally inept in languages, in four weeks and that with diligence he could help them go further. He received a modest honorarium and the number of students at a lesson was a matter of indifference for him. My father decided then and there to make the effort and he attended lessons with my sister and me. Sessions were held regularly and there was no lack of repetition. During the four weeks certain other exercises were omitted. The teacher left us and we left him with satisfaction. He stayed longer in the city and had several clients, but he visited us from time to time to check on our progress and lend assistance in order to show his gratitude for our having been among the first people to place confidence in him. He proudly used us as an example to others.

As a result of this my father developed a new concern that English be added to the list of regular language studies. I do admit it was becoming rather troublesome for me to take some of this or that grammar or exercise, a little of this or that author, and incorporate it into my work. It began to dissipate my interest in the various subjects during my lessons.


I decided to settle the matter by creating a novel about six or seven siblings * far away from each other and scattered all over the world. Each would send the others reports of their various circumstances and sentiments. The eldest brother gives a fine report in good German concerning the sights and events of his trip. One sister, in a feminine style writing with lots of periods and short sentences somewhat in the manner of "Siegwart," * would answer his letters and those of the other siblings and relate household relationships and matters of the heart. One brother studies theology and writes in very formal Latin, adding postscripts in Greek. Another brother, working as a business merchant in Hamburg, naturally writes some of his correspondence in English while a younger brother, living in Marseille, writes French. Italian is written by the musician on his first tour of the world and the youngest brother, kind of a wise guy baby of the family who's cut off from the other languages, uses Yiddish * with its illegible ciphers and creates distress for everyone. This made my parents laugh.

For this marvelous work I wanted realistic details so I studied the geography of the areas where my characters lived and created regionally-specific individuals to interact with each character in his particular field of endeavor. My exercise books grew massively. My father was pleased and I soon learned what I needed to know in order to complete the task.

As with many things you start,


Go to pages 145-150


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