From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 5, pages 205-210


if he were in the same position as we are."

Gretchen, who until this moment had been spinning, stood up and sat at her usual place at the end of the table. We had already emptied a few bottles and I began to tell my hypothetical life story in the best humor. First and foremost I would ask you, I said, to continue bringing me the commissions, which have helped me to make a start. If I apply myself to the task of producing a collection of occasional poetry and we don't just eat up all profit I will be on the way to making something of myself. And you must not take it badly if I involve myself in your handiwork. I'm going to tell you beforehand what I have noticed about your activities and which ones I consider myself capable of performing. Each of you has started to earn money and I ask you to be helpful to me so I too may solidify my position. Up to this point Gretchen had listened attentively from the place which suited her so well for listening or speaking. She folded her arms and placed them on the edge of the table. She could sit for a long period of time moving nothing but her head, which never occurred without cause or motive. Sometimes she interjected a word or two on this or that topic and lended assistance whenever we hesitated in our plans. Then she would return to her usual quiet demeanor. My eyes never left her and it was obvious to anyone that when I spoke of my plan my thoughts always had her in mind. My inclination towards her imparted to my words the appearance of truth and possibility to such an extent that for a moment I even fooled myself.


I felt as alienated and helpless as my story made me out to be and I felt great happiness in the intention to possess her. Pylades had ended his confession with the marriage and for us others the question arose as to whether our plans had gone as far. I harbored no doubts and said, each of us needed a wife to keep our houses and allow us to enjoy life in general as we piece together a marvelous existence in the outside world. I described the wife I would want and it must have seemed strange that she would have been the perfect reflection of Gretchen.

The funeral poem was complete and the wedding poem was almost finished. * I overcame all fear and concern and knew, because I had many acquaintenances, how to hide my evening's entertainment from my family. To see and be near the lovely girl was the unconditional reason for my existence. My companions became so close to me that we were together nearly every day as if it could never be any different. Pylades had also brought his beauty to the house and this pair spent many evenings with us. As a bridal couple, though not long in that state, they did not hide their tenderness for each other. Gretchen's behavior towards me was appropriate. She merely gazed at me from afar. She gave her hand to no one, not even me. She permitted no direct contact, merely seating herself close to me on occasion especially when I wrote or read something. Then she laid her arm on my shoulder to peer at the book or paper, however when I wanted to take similar liberty with her she pulled back and


did not return. She repeated this gesture several times. All her gestures and movements were uniform while at the same time being proper, beautiful and charming. I did not see her exercise such intimacy with anyone else.

One of the most innocent yet entertaining pleasure excursions I undertook with various young compaions was when we boarded the Höchst marketship and observed the crowd of passengers, poking fun and teasing with one person and then another, creating mirth and mischief.* At Höchst we disembarked while the market ship sailed on to Mainz. At an inn they provided a good table where the better classes of arrivers and departers ate together then continued on their journeys. There were two ships going back and forth. We went back to Frankfurt after lunch, making the cheapest water excursion possible with a very large group of people. One time I took this cruise with Gretchen's cousins. While at table in Höchst a young man, who may have been a little older than us, joined us at table. Everyone knew him and he allowed himself to be introduced to me. There was something very pleasing in his character without being distinguished. Coming from Mainz, he now traveled with us back to Frankfurt discussing with me all sorts of things concerning the life of the inner city, the offices and positions. He seemed well informed to me. As we parted he said goodbye and added he hoped I thought well of him because he occasionally would like to have my recommendation. I didn't know what he meant by this but the cousins


explained it to me a few days later. They said good things about him and wanted me to have a word with my grandfather, who at the moment had an open mid-level position, which this friend would like to gain. At first I excused myself because I never allowed myself to get mixed up in such affairs. However they kept after me for a long time until I finally decided to do it. I had already noticed that with the bestowing of a public office, unfortunately often considered a matter of patronage, the recommendation of a grandmother or aunt was not without influence. I had matured to the point where I too had a certain amount of influence. I overcame my reluctance for the sake of my friends, who declared they were forever obliged to me for such a favor, overcame the timidity of a grandchild, prepared to take the written request and deliver it in person.

One Sunday after dinner my grandfather was busy in the garden, more so than usual because fall was approaching. I tried to be particularly helpful to him. After a few moments of hesitation I made my request and handed him the letter. He looked at it and asked me if I knew the young man. I told him about what was said and he agreed. "If he wishes to serve and he has good recommendations I will put in a good word for him for his sake and yours." He said nothing more and I learned nothing else about the matter.

Some time later I noticed that Gretchen no longer spun. Instead she was busy with sewing and it was very fine work indeed, which amazed me all the more because the days were growing shorter as winter approached. I ceased to think about it, however I became alarmed when I did not find her at home


as usual for a few mornings. Without being pushy I could not find out where she had gone. One day I would receive a wonderful surprise. My sister, who was preparing for a ball, asked me to get her some so-called Italian blooms from a woman vendor who sold fancy goods. They were made in the cloister, small and dainty, mainly of myrtle, miniature roses and similar items which looked very beautiful and natural. I did her this favor and went to the store, which I had often went to with her before. Scarcely had I entered and greeted the proprietess when I saw sitting in the window a woman. She looked young and pretty under a peaked bonnet and silk mantilla. I imagined she was an assistant since she was busy placing band and feathers on a small hat. The milliner showed me a long case filled with many and various corsages. I inspected them and as I was about to chose, I looked back up at the woman in the window. How great was my astonishment as I perceived the incredible likeness this woman had to Gretchen. Eventually I became convinced it was Gretchen herself. I was left with no doubts as she winked at me and gave a sign that I should not reveal our acquaintanceship. Now I harried the milliner to despair with choosing and rejecting items as much as any female. I couldn't make a choice because I was so confused and at the same time I enjoyed the delay because it kept me close to the child, whose mask annoyed me while making her seem more charming than ever. Just as the milliner was about to lose all patience I scooped up in one hand


an entire carton full of blossoms, which I would present to my sister and let her choose. Thus I was escorted from the shop as the milliner sent her girl out with the carton.

Scarcely had I arrived back home when my father had me called to him and revealed that Archduke Joseph was to be chosen and crowned as Holy Roman Emperor. * One must not be unprepared for such a highly significant event and allow anything to pass while he gawks or stares. My father wished to go through the election and coronation diaries of the last two crownings with me and no less important the last election rosters * and take notes in case any new stipulations would be added. The diaries were cracked open and we busied ourselves the entire day deep into the night. The beautiful girl, sometimes in her old house clothes and sometimes in her new costume, floated back and forth among the most significant events of the Holy Roman Empire. That evening it was impossible to see her and I had a very sleepless night. The studies of the day before continued ardently into the next day and it was only in the evening that it was possible for me to visit my beauty, whom I once again found in her usual outfit. She smiled when she saw me however I knew better than to mention it to anyone. When the entire company sat quietly together Gretchen began to talk. "It is unfair of you not to confide in our friend what you decided about us today." As had become our latest form of entertainment, she continued on to discuss how each would make his or her way in the world and


Go to pages 211-216


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