From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 4, pages 181-186


who was supposed to depict an ornate flower pot filled with the most prominent flowers in their true nature and perform the task in his most artistic and decorative way. This was in the spring, and I did not hesitate to bring him the most beautiful flowers I could find on a weekly basis. He inserted each element and assembled the whole in his truest and most diligent fashion. On one occasion I captured a mouse, which I brought to him and he was happy to add an animal flourish to the work. He fully represented the mouse at the base of the flower pot gnawing on an ear of corn. More innocent creatures of nature were acquired and represented until at last a highly valuable picture, as far as imitation and execution, had been completed.

I was a little surprised when the good man admitted to me a few days before the picture was to be delivered that he was not pleased with the work. The individual details were well executed but the composition as a whole was not good because it had been assembled piece by piece. When he had begun he did not have an overall plan for light and shadow or for color by which the flowers should have been arranged. He went through all the details with me on how this somewhat pleasant painting had evolved over the past half a year before my eyes. To my disappointment he knew how to convince me. He also said the mouse was a mistake. Such creatures elicit fear in many people and should not be reproduced when one wishes to elicit pleasure.


As so often happens in these cases when one is released from a prejudgment and now considers himself smarter than he was before, I now developed a true dislike for the artwork and fully agreed with the artist. He procured another board of similar size and using his talent he created a composition of better form with more artistically arranged flowers in a bouquet. This time he knew which tiny living creatures to select for their ornamental and pleasant aspects and which to exclude. He painted this board with the greatest care, copying some things from the other painting and some things from memory, which came to his assistance after so many years of diligent practice. Both paintings were now finished and we took particular pleasure in the later work, which was truly more artistic and appealing to the eye. Father was surprised by two rather than one work and the choice was left to him. He appreciated our opinion and reasoning, especially the good will and the diligence, however after looking at both pictures for a couple days he decided on the first work giving little explanation for his choice. Vexed, the artist took back his second, well-intended picture but couldn't help remarking to me that the good oak board on which the first picture had been painted, certainly contributed to my father's decision.*

While I think back upon painting, a large facility also comes to mind. I spent much time there because it and its supervisor particularly attracted my attention. It was the large oilcloth factory which the painter Nothnagel established. He was a capable artist whose talent and way of thinking inclined him more towards fabric manufacture than art.


In a very large space filled with courtyards and gardens all kinds of oilcloth were prepared. Wax was troweled onto the coarsest grade of fabric, which would be used for supply wagons and similar functions. The finer and finest grades became tapestries with wax imprinted upon them to create forms, sometimes Chinese and mythical designs, other times flowers or figures. Talented artists even painted in landscapes. I was greatly pleased by the endless variety. Seeing so many men engaged in work ranging from the most common to the artistic held much attraction for me. I became acquainted with them all in their many workspaces, young and old working together and I often lent a hand. The sale of these items was extremely brisk. Whoever constructed a building or furnished it wanted it to last a lifetime and these oilcloths seemed pretty indestructable. Nothnagel himself had enough to do with supervising the operation and he sat at his counter surrounded by factory agents and sales clerks. In the spare time he had left he worked on his art collection, which consisted mostly of copperplate engravings. These along with the paintings he possessed were also available for sale. He was also fond of etchings. He etched a variety of plates, continuing this branch of art until his later years.

Since his residence was near the Eschenheimer Gate, whenever I visited him I usually made my way out of the city to the pieces of land my father owned just beyond the gates. One plot consisted of


a large orchard used as pasture land. My father personally supervised the transplanting of trees and any other activity used for the ground's maintenance although the land was leased out. With yet more effort he maintained a very sustainable wine grove outside the Friedenberg Gate. Between the rows of vines rows of asparagus were carefully planted and tended. During the fair seasons barely a day went by when my father didn't go out there and we frequently accompanied him, taking pleasure and joy from the first signs of spring to the last fine days of fall. We learned about horticulture and since the cycle was repeated yearly we eventually became fluent in the practices. After many summer and autumn harvests the vintage was at its peak and most desirable. There is no question that just as wine imparts a freer character to the region in which it is grown and consumed, so too the the wine harvest spreads an incredible joy to the days in which summer ends and winter begins.* Happiness and celebration extend across the entire region. On the day of the wine tasting one hears hunting activities and shooting from every corner and expanse; that night there are sounds of celebration and bonfires keeping people awake and happy, trying to make the festival last for as long as possible. The work at the wine press and the process of fermentation in the cellar gave our home cheerful activity so that even as winter approached we scarcely noticed it.

We enjoyed our regional assets all the more in the Spring of 1763 as we


celebrated on February 15th the signing of the Hubertsburg Treaty under whose fortunate consequences I spent the greater portion of my life. Before I go any further I consider it my duty to reflect on a few men who exerted a significant influence on my adolescence.*

Von Olenschlager, member of the House of Frauenstein, juror and son-in-law of the previously mentioned Doctor Orth, was a handsome, pleasant and sanguine man.* In his mayoral festival garb he could have passed for the most distinguished French prelate. After his academic studies he became involved in court and state affairs and his travels were undertaken in this capacity. He held me in high regard and often spoke to me of matters of vital interest to him. I spent time with him while he was writing his "Commentary on the Golden Bulls." He knew well how to impress upon me the value and worth of this text. With it he drew my imagination back to those wild and chaotic times and I couldn't help but envision and even mimic the stories he told me as ever present due to the colorfulness of the characters and the details. This pleased him a great deal and I was incited to repetition by his approbation.

In childhood I had developed the wonderful habit of learning the beginning and certain portions of books by heart, starting with the five books of Moses, then the "Aeneid" and "Metamorphosis." I also did this with the Golden Bulls and often provoked my patron to laughter whenever I unselfconsciously recited: Omne regnum in se divisum desolabitur: nam principes ejus facti sunt socii furum. [Every kingdom divided against itself shall disintegrate, for its princes have become companions of thieves.]


The clever man shook his head in laughter and stated thoughtfully: "What that must have meant back in the days in which the emperor stood before the great imperial assembly and had such published words thrown in the faces of his princes."

Von Olenschlager possessed much social charm. People seldom saw him amid society but he had a strong inclination towards intellectual entertainment and from time to time he had us young people perform a play. Such training of youth was deemed especially useful. We performed "Kanut" by Schlegel with me in the role of the king, my sister as Estrithe and Ulfo, younger son of the house, playing another part.* Then we attempted to perform "Britannicus" so we could exercise our diction along with our acting talent. I played Nero, my sister Agrippine and the younger son Britannicus. We received more praise than we deserved and we believed we had to make it much better than the praise we received. Thus I stood in the best relationship with this family and I am obliged to them for much satisfaction and rapid development.

Von Reineck, of an old noble house, was a capable and honest yet stubborn, lean and dark-brown man, whom I never saw smile. He had the misfortune of having his only daughter abducted by a friend of the family. * He served his son-in-law with a hefty lawsuit and, because the court by its formal function did not prosecute quickly or stringently enough to satisfy his lust for revenge, lawsuit after lawsuit and trial after trial ensued.* He completely withdrew to his house and adjoining gardens, lived in a spacious,


Go to pages 187-192


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