From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 5, pages 211-216


the discussion turned to how a female might make the best use of her talent and work and bring her time to the greatest advantage. One cousin had suggested she visit a milliner, who needed an assistant. An agreement had been reached with the woman and she should go there for several hours each day. She would be well paid. However for the sake of decorum she must wear a particular fancy outfit, which she could take off before she came home because it would not be appropriate to her everyday life and existence. I kept quiet during this discussion, however it didn't please me to know that this beautiful child would be placed in a public shop and an open place where the galant world could gain access to her. I let nothing slip and attempted to conceal the jealous concern mounting in me. I wasn't long in this state when the younger cousin presented a commission for an occasional poem, told me about the personalities and requested I apply myself to the proper inventions and dispositions. He had already spoken to me a few times about the handling of such assignments, and since I was usually quite receptive to such conversations, it required little of me to discuss with him what details could be placed in poetic form, give him an idea of how to treat the matter and use a few examples from my own work and that of others. The young man had a good head, though without a trace of poetic talent, and now he wanted to go through details and have an account of everything. I remarked loudly, it looks as though you want to rob me of my trade and take away my clients. — "I will not lie," he said with a smile. "And I will do you no discourtesy.


"It won't be long before you go to the academy. Until then let me enjoy a profit from you." — My pleasure, I responded and encouraged him to make a composition of his own, choose a meter suitable to the character of the subject and other elements deemed necessary. He approached the matter seriously but he did not succeed. I constantly had to add many things to make it flow better. This teaching and learning, this communication and exchange of work provided us with good entertainment. Gretchen took part and had many good ideas. We were all satisfied. Indeed, one might say we were happy. She worked days with the milliner. We gathered in the evenings in our usual place and our contentment was not disturbed when the commissions for occasional poems stopped. We found it painful and we protested one time when we came together because a patron did not like our poem. We comforted ourselves in the thought that this had been our best work and the patron must have been a poor judge of poetry. One cousin, the one who consistently wanted to learn things, now suggested problematic assignments. The solutions to these problems kept us sufficiently entertained however it must be admitted they provided nothing to supplement our meagre table.

There is always an air of increased seriousness whenever a great state affair, such as the election and coronation of a Roman emperor, is in the making. The process begun in Augsburg in October 1763 with the scheduling of a collegial diet, beginning at the end of the year and lasting into the beginning of the next, now moved to Frankfurt. A great deal of preparation went into this business.


None of us had ever seen such pomp. One of our chancery officials came on horse, attended by four horsemen with trumpets and surrounded by a foot guard, read the proclamation in a loud and clear voice from every corner of the city, reported on the proceedings and enjoined the citizenry to moderate and appropriate behavior. There were many deliberations taking place in Council chambers and it wasn't long before the Imperial Quarter Master was sent from the Estate Marshall in order to select and assign housing for the emissaries and their retainers in accordance with ancient custom. Our house lay in the Palatine district and we had to provide for a newer although more amicable lodger. The middle story, earlier used by Count Thorane, would now house a Palatine cavalier and since Baron von Königsthal, a representative from Nuremberg, had taken the upper story we were once again packed together as in the days with the French. This served to give me a reason to stay out of the house and spend most of my days on the streets to cast my eye upon anything public there was to see. *

After the rooms at the Council House were altered and decorated to make them presentable, the emissaries arrived one after the other and their first solemn joint session was held on February 6th. We were amazed by the arrival of the Prussian Kaiser's commissars and their entourages at the Römer. This happened with great pomp. The worthy personage of the Prince from Liechenstein made a favorable impression. People well informed maintained that the magnificent liveries


had already been used on a different occasion and this election and coronation would never live up to that of Charles VII. We young people were pleased by what we saw. It all seemed very fine and many things put us in awe.

The election convention was finally held on the 3rd of March. The city moved to a new formality and the ceremonial visit exchanges by the emissaries kept us forever on our toes. We had to pay close attention and not just gape. Everything was to be noted in order to give a proper accounting for the house plus short paragraphs in description had to written. This was something discussed by my father and Mr. von Königsthal to be used partly as an exercise and partly as a specific journal. This was of particular advantage for me because I could present extraneous details as a lively election and coronation diary.

Among the personal qualities of the delegates, which made the longest lasting impression on me, were those of the first ambassador from Mainz, Baron von Erthal, who later became an electoral prince. Without having any specifically attractive feature to his form, he pleased me greatly with his black robe trimmed in lace. The second ambassador, Baron von Groschlag, was a well-built man of the world, easy yet highly respectable in his demeanor. He made a very favorable impression. Prince Esterhazy, the Bohemian delegate, was not large but well built, lively while at the same time formal without being proud or cold. I particularly liked him because he reminded me of Marshal von Broglio. To a certain extent the stature and


worth of this excellent man disappeared due to the preference people had for the Brandenburg delegate, Baron von Plotho. This man, distinguished by his frugality in clothing, livery and equipment, was famous as a diplomatic hero of the Seven Years War. In Regensburg when the Notary Aprill, along with some witnesses, dared to accuse his king of outlawry, he's reported to have said laconically, "What? You wish to accuse?" and then he threw him down the stairs or had him thrown down. We preferred to believe the first especially as we looked into his small, intense, fiery black eyes which darted back and forth. All eyes were upon him, especially when he rose. Each time that happened there was an undertow of gentle whispers and it never failed that people applauded him and shouted Bivat or Bravo. The king's standing and everything eminating as a result of his physical and spiritual presence stood in high regard among the crowd made up of Germans from all regions as well as those from Frankfurt.

On the one hand these events amused me a great deal because everything which happened, no matter its form, hid a certain significance, demonstrated an inner relationship, and brought back to life for a few moments the symbolic ceremonies represented in so many documents, papers and books on the past glory of the German empire. On the other hand I could not hide my displeasure at having to go home and write down the intimate negotiations at the behest of my father and had to note that there were many forces here standing in opposition to one another, who held themselves in check and only came together with the intention of limiting the new regent


much more now than in days of old. Each exercised his influence only to the extent necessary to secure his own privileges and to expand his independence. Indeed, people had begun to fear Joseph II, his strength and his secret plans.

Times were not good with my grandfather and his counsel brothers, whose houses I visited. They had many obligations to perform for their distinguished guests, many compliments to pay and many gifts to deliver. In general as well as inspecific situations the magistrate had to defend, resist and protest because on such occasions everyone wanted to draw him off or burden him and few with whom he spoke were willing to stand by him or come to his aid. Suffice it to say everything I read in Lersner's Chronicle came to life before my eyes through similar situations on similar occasions and it strained the patience and endurance of each good counsel member.

Much discontent erupted as the city filled with necessary and unnecessary people. Having the city officials remind the courts of the prescripts of the now obsolete Golden Bull were useless. Delegates and retainers, here on business, as well as many noble and common individuals, here out of curiosity or personal motive, stood under protection and it was not always easy to determine who should be given quarters and who should rent housing on his own. Turmoil grew and even those, who had nothing to achieve and no responsibility, began to feel ill at ease.


Go to pages 217-222


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