From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 5, pages 199-204


The young man informed me of the desired changes and then passed me pen and ink. He had to leave for a short time on business while I remained seated on a bench near the wall behind a large table figuring out how to make the changes. There was a huge slate board taking up almost the entire table. The slate pencil was placed at the window sill. People often used the board's surface to make calculations and even write notes in order to communicate with others who were arriving and leaving.

For some time I wrote various things down then crossed them out. I impatiently cried out, this will not work! * — "All the better," said the lovely girl in a serious tone. "I wish it hadn't started. You shouldn't have gotten involved in this business." — Then she got up from her spinning, walked over to the table, and delivered a reasonable and friendly reprimand. "The matter seems to be a harmless prank. It's a prank, but it's not harmless. I've witnessed many cases where our young people get into serious trouble because of such foolishness." — But what should I do? I replied. The letter is written and they've left it to me to change it. — "Have faith in me," she responded, "and don't change it. Take it back, hide it then go immediately and try to sort this matter out through your friend. I'll also have a word with him. You see, I'm a poor girl and dependent upon these relatives. They're certainly not bad people but I've seen them do many foolhardy things for fun and profit. They wanted me to copy the first letter but I refused, so they copied it themselves in a forged hand


and they'll probably do them same this time if it isn't changed. And you, you're a young man from a good house, wealthy, independent. Why would you allow yourself to become a tool in such a matter. Nothing good can come from it and perhaps it will bring about some unpleasant consequences for you." — I was glad to hear her talk as a result even though she only said a few words. My sympathy grew incredibly. I was not the master of my self and I responded: I am not as independent as you think; and what help is it to be wealthy when it can not bring me the most precious thing I desire!

She drew my poetic epistle towards her and read it half aloud in a sweet and charming fashion. "It's quite lovely," she said, pondering it in a way that seemed to exhibit naive aspect. "Too bad that it's not being put to a better and truer purpose." — That would have been worthwhile, I stated. How nice it would have been for him to receive such assurance of affection from a young lady whom he truly loved! — "That depends on many things," she replied, "and indeed there would be many possibilities." — For example, I continued, if someone, whom you knew, worshipped and respected you so much he wrote you such a letter offering you his heart and his friendship, what would you do? — She had pushed the letter back towards me. I now pushed it back towards her. She smiled, thought for a moment, then took up a feather and signed it. I couldn't suppress by joy. I jumped up in order to embrace her. — "Don't kiss me!" she said. "That's just too common. You can love me if that is possible." * I took up the letter and stuck it in my pocket. No one shall have this, I said, and the matter is settled! You have saved me.


— "Now complete the salvation process," she exclaimed, "and hurry away before the others come back and harry you in pain and disgrace." I couldn't tear myself away from her but she begged me in such an amicable manner, taking my right hand in both of hers and gently squeezing it. I was close to tears and I believe I saw moisture in her eyes. I pressed my face to her hands then rushed out. In my entire life I had never before witnessed such confusion.

The first signs of love in an inexperienced youth elicit a spiritual transformation. Nature seems to want one sex to perceive the good and the beautiful in the other.* And thus through the sight of this girl my emotions transported me into a new world of beauty and splendor. I read through my poetic epistle a hundred times, gazed at the signature and kissed it. I pressed it to my heart and rejoiced in its loving acknowledgement. However as my pleasure increased so did my pain in not being able to see her alone or talk to her. I feared the disapproval and reproach of her cousins. I didn't know how to approach good Pylades, who could have mediated the affair. The next Sunday I set out for Niederrad, where people usually went. I found my companions there. I was surprised because they approached me with happy expressions rather than being reproachful and strange. The youngest of them was particularly friendly, took me by the hand and said, "You recently played a pretty mean trick on us and we were quite angry with you. Your escape and theft of the letter gave us a good idea,


which we might not have had otherwise. To make up for this you may entertain us at the inn today and there you shall learn what it is we have in mind and what you will be happy to do for us." This announcement put me in a rather difficult position. I had only brought enough money to take care of myself and perhaps one friend. I was totally unprepared to host a party of companions who didn't always know their own limits. This proposal astonished me even more as they comported themselves honorably and each paid his own check. They laughed at my embarassment and the younger one said, "Let's go sit in the park. There you will learn more." We sat and he said, "The other day when you took the love letter back with you we talked the whole matter over and came to the conclusion that while attempting to pull a joke on someone and risking everything for the sake of having fun at his expense we were misusing your talent, which we could have put to our advantage. You see, I have here an order for a wedding commemorative poem and a funeral ode. The second poem needs to be completed quickly. There's eight days before we need the first. If you would do this, for it would certainly be easy for you, you'd be doing us two favors and we'd be in your debt for a long time." — This proposal pleased me from every angle. From the days of my youth I had seen occasional poetry circulating more and more with each week. * They were published by the dozen for upcoming weddings. I considered the notion with a certain pride because I believed I could produce the things as well or even better.


Now I had the opportunity to prove myself and even see myself in print. I indicated I was not disinclined to the task. They introduced me to the personalities and relationships within the families. I went my way, made an outline and wrote down a few stanzas. I went back to my companions and the wine was not spared. The poem had been started but I had reached a block and couldn't deliver it that evening. "We have until tomorrow evening," my companions said. "And we want you to know that the honorarium we get for the funeral ode will earn us an entertaining evening tomorow. Come back to us then. It's likely we'll bring Gretchen with us to the celebration." — My joy was unmeasurable. On the way home I came up with the lines to finish the poem. I wrote them down before going to bed and the next morning I made a fresh copy. The day seemed unendingly long and scarcely had it gotten dark when I went back to the small and narrow residence and found myself near the lovely girl.

These young people, with whom I came into closer association through this task, were not particularly common people but they were of the usual sort.* Their occupations were praiseworthy and I listened to them with great pleasure as they discussed the various ways and means by which one could earn a living. They especially liked talking about people, who started out with nothing and who had become very rich. Others had started as poor clerks in business who made themselves indispensible to their patrons and ended up as the patrons' sons-in-law. Others had small sulphur match shops or similar trades which had expanded and improved but they only appeared to have become rich merchants and businessmen.


Young people, who are quick on their feet, should be able to find livelihoods and even profit by starting out as errand boys and trade assistants taking care of various tasks for helpless rich people. We gladly listened to all of this and each thought of something when he took a moment for reflection. So many possibilities were at hand, not just to make one's way in the world but to achieve his outstanding fortune. No one seemed to conduct this discussion more seriously than Pylades, who finally admitted that he had fallen in love with a girl and had promised himself to her. His parents' finances would not permit him to go to an academy but he had beautiful handwriting and he could cipher. He diligently learned the newer language and now wanted to do everything possible in hopes of domestic bliss. His cousins praised him for this although they weren't pleased with his premature promise to the girl. Sitting down with him, they had to admit that he was a brave and good young man, however they also thought that he was neither active nor enterprising enough to achieve extraordinary success. In order to justify himself Pylades laid out details on what he hoped to achieve and how he intended to begin. This prompted the others and each began to recite what he was already doing, which path he had laid out, and what he saw as his next move. Then it was my turn. I was supposed to outline my plans and intentions. As I reflected Pylades said, "There's one condition I wish to add, and that is that he not bring into consideration the obvious advantages he has. Rather let him tell us a story of how he would begin


Go to pages 205-211


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