From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 4, pages 175-180


several councilmen were removed from office because of the chaos and lack of accountability. From the details I learned how it all progressed. I pitied the men who had been served up as offerings for the sake of a better constitution for the future. From this era the direction was set on how the old noble house of Limpurg, the house of Frauenstein which started as a club, and even jurors, merchants and tradesmen would participate in the government. The casting of ballots, complicated in the Venetian manner, was established. It was limited to the civilian college, which was called upon to do the right thing without being given the liberty to do wrong.

Among the ominous matters which impressed both boys and young men was the situation in the Jewish Quarter. It was called the Jewish Alley because it scarcely took up more than a few streets, which in earlier times was confined to the outer area between the city wall and the graveyard. The narrowness of the place, the dirt, the swarming about, the accent of displeasing language all left an unfavorable impression even when one passed by the city gate. It was a long time before I dared to go there alone and it was not easy for me to return there once I had encountered the obtrusive behavior of so many summoning salemen who never grew tired of haggling. The old tale we had heard from Gottfried's "Chronicle" about the atrocity committed by the Jews against christian children hovered within the young mind.* And although people thought better of the Jews in this later time,


the great Scorn and Infamy painting on the arched wall under the bridge tower could still be seen and it issued extraordinary insult to them for it was a work not put there by private mischief but by public authority.

None the less, they remained the chosen people of god and they stood as a memorial to the most ancient times. It must be said that they were also active and pleasant people and one could not deny the tenacity with which they adhered to their customs. Besides, the girls were pretty and they were friendly and attentive whenever they met a christian boy on the Sabbath in the Fischerfeld.* I was most curious to learn about their ceremonies. I did not let up until I had visited their school often, attended a circumcision and a wedding, and had an idea about the Feast of Tabernacles. Overall I was well received, warmly entertained and invited to return. There were people of influence who either introduced or recommended me.

Thus as a young resident of a large city I was cast from one situation into another and there was no lack of shocking events amid the civil peace and security. Fires nearby or far away disturbed our domestic peace. A great crime was discovered and its investigation and punishment set the city in an uproar for several weeks. We had to bear witness to several executions and it's worthy of mention that I was also present at a book burning. It was an edition of a French comic novel *,


which showed indulgence for the State but not religion and custom. It was really quite terrifying to see punishment handed down on an inanimate object. The bundled reams of paper were placed in the fire and torn apart with oven forks so they would burn more quickly. It wasn't long until singed pages took to the air and the curious crowd went racing after them. We too didn't rest until we had a copy and there were none too few who knew how to obtain forbidden satisfaction. Indeed, if the author had anything to do with the publicity he couldn't have done a better job.

Back then more pleasant pursuits also led me into the city. Early on my father had accustomed me to taking care of small chores for him. In particular he commissioned me to deal with tradesmen who did work for him because he wanted the work done satisfactorily and he wanted to assure a moderate price through prompt payment. I soon gained entry to all workplaces and it gave me the idea to find other situations whereby I could experience each specific variety of human existence and even participate with approval. I spend many happy hours due to these commissions, learning all sorts of new things and how the requisite conditions of this or that lifestyle carried with it certain joys and sorrows and particular difficulties and advantages. I nourished myself on these active people, who link the lower and upper classes. On the one side you have the group which extracts the raw material and on the other you have those who enjoy the finished products. Through mind and hand the tradesman mediates so both sides


receive something from the other and each can fulfill his desires in accordance with his nature. The familial essence of each handicraft, which retained the form and color of the activity, was the object of my quiet attention and as it evolved it intensified in me a sense of equality, if not among all men at least among all human situations. Naked existence was a primal condition while everything else seemed extraneous and accidental.*

My father did not easily part with money for items which had merely a momentary appeal — I scarcely remember our going out for a walk together and spending money at a place of amusement — however he was never stingy when it came to procuring certain items which had inner value along with a good external appearance. No one could have wished more for the peace declaration than he, even though during the latter part of the war he did not experience the slightest difficulty. In that frame of mind he promised my mother a gold box imbedded with diamonds, which she would receive as soon as the peace was proclaimed. In anticipation of this happy event people had already worked for a few years on this gift. The box itself, of respectable size, was finished in Hanau. The top was decorated with a basket of flowers over which hovered a dove with an olive branch. Places were left for the jewels which would be set on the dove, on the flowers and on the place where one opened the box. The jeweler, who was given the box to inlay the stones,


was called Lautensack and he was a capable and cheerful man, who like many smart artists, seldom did what was necessary but usually did whatever pleased him most. The jewels had been set in black wax in the shape they were supposed to form on the box top however they could not be dislodged so they could be placed on the gold. In the beginning my father let the matter rest however as the hope of peace came closer to reality especially with the acknowledgement of terms and the raising of Duke Joseph to Holy Roman Emperor, he grew impatient. Twice I went weekly and then daily to visit the tardy artist. Due to my ceaseless complaining and exhortation the work advanced, but slowly. Since the work was something one could pick up and then set down there was always some reason why the project was stalled or pushed aside.

The main reason for this behavior was a commission which the artist had undertaken on his own account. Everyone knew that Kaiser Franz had a great love of jewels, especially colorful stones. Lautensack had spend a considerable sum (and it was later discovered this sum was beyond his means) to purchase gems in order to begin work on a jeweled bouquet with gems representing flowers in accordance with their shape and color. This artwork was supposed to be worthy of being stored in the Kaiser's treasury. In his scattered fashion he had worked on it for years but now hurried to finish the project because as soon as the peace was instituted, the Kaiser


was expected in Frankfurt for the coronation of his son. The jeweler cleverly used my desire to learn about his trade in order to keep me from being a messenger of threats and to divert me from my commission. He attempted to give me information about these stones and make me aware of their individual qualities and value. Eventually I knew his entire bouquet as well as he did and could demonstrate its value to any customer. I still remember the work and I have seen more costly pieces but none more charming as show and luxury items. Besides this he had a beautiful collection of engravings and other artworks with which he happily entertained himself and I spent many purposeful hours with him. Finally when the Congress of Hubertsburg was finished, out of love for me he completed something extra and presented it along with the dove and flowers to my mother on the day of the peace festival.

I received a similar assignment to retrieve pictures ordered from an artist. My father was convinced, though few agreed with him, that a picture painted on wood was far superior to one painted only on linen. Thus my father took great care to procure good oak boards of every size because he knew frivolous artists would leave this task to a carpenter. The oldest planks were sought and the carpenter set to work with glue, planes and carpenter squares. The boards had to sit in an attic room for a year in order to dry out sufficiently. One of these costly boards was entrusted to painter Juncker


Go to pages 181-186


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