From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 4, pages 187-192


but dismal lower apartment, which hadn't seen a paint brush or even a maid's broom in several years. He tolerated me well and especially recommended me to his younger son. His oldest friends, who knew how to humor him, his business associates, and his attorney were sometimes invited to dinner and he never neglected to invite me. We ate well and drank even better. A huge furnace filled with cracks and exuding smoke was a source of severe discomfort for his guests. One of his closest associates dared to make mention of this when he asked the master of the house how he managed to endure this uncomfortable situation all winter long. He responded like a second Timon and Heautontimorumenos *: That it would please God that this were the greatest evil to plague me!" Only later was he convinced to see his daughter and grandson. He never wanted to see his son-in-law again.

My presence seemed to have a favorable influence on this brave yet unhappy man. He had a very good time with me and was particularly keen to instruct me on affairs of state and the world. Indeed he seemed to feel at ease and cheerful. The few old friends who gathered round him used me whenever they wanted to moderate his bad humor or create a distraction. On several occasions he even went out with us and reacquainted himself with the district he hadn't laid eyes on in many years. He remembered the old land owners and told about their character and attributes. He was always scathing in his descriptions but was also witty and intelligent. We tried to bring him back out into the world of people but this very nearly turned out badly.


Of similar age if not a few years older was a rich man named Mr. von Malapart. * He owned a very nice house on the Rossmart [the horse market] and made a goodly income from the salt works. He too lived in isolation. During the summer he spent much time in his garden in front of the Bockenheim Gate, where he tended his beautiful field of dianthus.

Von Reineck was also fond of dianthus. Blossoming time arrived and there were suggestions that the two visit each other from time to time. We initiated the suggestions and persisted until in the end von Reineck decided to go out with us one Sunday afternoon. The two gentlemen greeted each other very laconically, indeed quite as if in pantomine. Truly diplomatic steps were taken as we paced back and forth among the dianthus beds. The flowers were exceptionally beautiful; the shapes and colors of the various blossoms were arranged so as to showcase one and offset another's individual character. This eventually led to a form of conversation which seemed quite friendly. We became even happier as we saw in a neighboring field a table set with delectible old Rhine wine in polished glass, gorgeous fruit and other delicacies. Unfortunately we would not enjoy them. Von Reineck saw a very beautiful bloom before him but its head sank somewhat. He very gently propped it up between the calyx and stem with his index and middle finger and raised the blossom so he could look at it. However even this gentle motion vexed the owner. Von Malapart reminded us in a courtly yet rather stiff and self-pleased tone of the term oculis, non manibus [eyes, not hands.] Von Reineck had already released the flower


but each word singed like fire. He said in his usual dry and serious tone, it was quite appropriate for someone who knows and cultivates flowers to pick them up and observe them in this manner; whereupon he repeated the gesture and took the blossom between his fingers. Friends of both houses — for von Malapart also had one — were in greatest distress. They let one hare follow the other (that was our expression for breaking up a conversation and moving on to another topic,) however this manoeuvre did not work. The old men became silent and we feared that any minute von Reineck would repeat the performance, then it would be over for us all. The two housefriends kept their man between them, moving from one thing quickly to another. It was deemed wisest just to leave but unfortunately that meant turning our backs to the beautiful serving table.

Privy Councillor Hüsgen was not born in Frankfurt and was of the reformed religion, therefore he was not eligible to hold public office or practice law even though people entrusted many transactions to him because he was an excellent jurist and he knew how to conduct affairs in Frankfurt and in the imperial courts under a foreign signature.* He was already sixty years old when I attended writing classes with his son and entered their house. He was large and tall but not lean, broad yet not fat. His face was not just disfigured by small pox but robbed of one eye, thus people viewed him with apprehension on the first encounter. He always covered his bald head with a white, bell-shaped cap secured at the top with a ribbon. His dressing gowns


of calamanco * or damask were always very clean. He resided in a cheerful suite of rooms on the ground floor on the alley and the cleanliness of his surroundings corresponded to his cheerful nature. The orderliness of his papers, books and land maps left a favorable impression. His son, Heinrich Sebastian, who through several tracts on matters of art made himself well known, demonstrated in his youth little promise. Good natured but clumsy, not unrefined but certainly without any real inclination towards improving himself, he attempted to avoid his father's company since he received everything he ever wanted from his mother. I, on the other hand, grew ever closer to the old man the more I got to know him. Since he only accepted the more important law cases he had sufficient time to engage and entertain himself with other diversions. I hadn't been around him long and absorbed what he had to teach before I noticed that he was in opposition to god and the world. His favorite book was Agrippa's de vanitate scientiarum. * He recommended it to me and it cast my young mind into confusion for quite some time. In my youth I was inclined towards optimism and I had reconciled myself with the god or gods. Over the years I had come to the conclusion that there was a balancing element to evil and that the individual could recover, save himself from peril and not always break his neck. I passively watched how men acted and connived. I found many things praiseworthy with which my old gentleman would never have been pleased. Indeed, on one occasion when he described to me the grotesque side of the world I noticed that he intended to close the argument with an important trump card.


He tightly closed his blind left eye, as was his custom on such occasions, sharply focused the other and said in a nasal tone, "Even in God I find mistakes."

My Timon-like mentor was also a mathematician, however his practical nature drove him to mechanics although he did not work in that field. There was a clock, a wonder at least in its day, which he had commissioned be made in accordance with his own design. It not only showed the hours and the days but the movement of the sun and moon. Early on Sundays around ten he wound it up. He could do this because he never went to church. I never saw him with company or guests. In ten years I only remember him twice being dressed and out of the house.

The various forms of entertainment with these men was not insignificant and each influenced me in his own way. I was keenly aware of each and in many cases they paid more attention to me than their own children. Each sought to increase his goodwill towards me as if I were a favorite son, attempting to build me in his own moral image. Olenschlager wanted me to become a member of the court and Reineck taught me to be a diplomatic businessman. Each, especially the latter, tried to steer me away from poetry and writing. Hüsgen want to turn me into a Timon according to his own interpretation while at the same time teaching me to be a capable legal scholar, which in his opinion was a necessary trade against which an individual could adequately defend himself and his family from the riff-raff of humanity, assist the downtrodden, and above all else dispatch a scoundrel; this last one though was neither particularly feasible nor advisable. *

Just as I gladly kept company with these men in order to gain their advice and perspective, so too I required


younger men of about my own age though perhaps a bit older, in order to emulate them. I name here above all others the brothers Schlosser and Griesbach. Since I subsequently came into close contact with them for a period of many unbroken years, for the present suffice it to say that they were exceptional in languages and other academic studies. They were put forth as models and each held certain promise of high achievement in church and state.

As for me, I too intended to produce something remarkable. However where it would come from I was uncertain. It's like thinking of the reward before one considers the service which must be performed in order to achieve it. I cannot deny that whenever I think of that most desired reward it appears to me in the form of the laurel wreath, which is woven to decorate the poet.

_____

Fifth Book *

Every bird has its favorite morsel, and every man is guided and misled by his individual character. Nature, education, environment, and custom held me separate from the vulgar masses, and although I often came into contact with the lower classes, especially the tradesmen, no close relationship was established. I was certainly bold enough to attempt something unusual and perhaps dangerous and I sometimes felt inclined to do so, however


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