From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 5, pages 217-222


We young people, who could witness these things from afar, were not always pleased with what passed before our eyes and stimulated our imaginations. The Spanish cloaks, the great feathered hats of the delegates, and other apparel had true archaic character. On the other hand there were those whose clothing was so new and modern that it gave the impression of colorful yet unpleasant and often tasteless existence. Thus we were very glad to hear that preparations were under way for the arrival of the emperor and future king, that the proceedings of the royal college, on which the final tally of votes is based, was moving forward, and that election day was set for March 27th. Now thoughts turned to bringing the imperial insignia from Nuremberg and Aachen as people awaited the entourage of the Elector from Mainz. Confusion over quartering of his emissaries ever continued.

In the meanwhile I enthusiastically assembled my Chancery list at home and became aware of the varied minutia delivered from all sides which would affect this election. Each person of rank wanted to preserve his privileges and increase his status. Many considerations and desires were pushed aside; others remained as they had been. The monied classes received most honest assurances that their omission from the proceedings would in no way be to their detriment.

The Imperial Marshall had to undertake many difficult tasks. The crowd of foreigners grew and it became ever harder to keep them under control. Beyond the borders of the various


electoral districts people were not in agreement. The magistrate wanted the citizenry to bear the burden, which they did not see as their duty, thus by day and by night there were hourly complaints, appeals, disputes, and disagreements.

The procession of the elector from Mainz occurred on March 21st. Now the canonade began and for a long time it was as if we were deaf. This festivity was important in the line of ceremonies. Up until now we had seen men of high standing yet still subordinates. Now we had a sovereign ruler, an independent prince next in line to the king, tended and accompanied by his large and noble entourage. I would have much to tell about the pomp of this procession were it not for the fact that I will return to it later on an occasion no one would readily expect.

Lavater arrived on this same day. On his way back home from Berlin he decided to stop in Frankfurt and see the festivities. Although such worldly trappings would not have had the least value for him, his imagination might have been impressed by its splendor and deeper meaning. Many years after I had met this excellent yet singular man, I believe he represented in poetic paraphrase step by step, figure for figure, and detail by detail the Elector of Mainz' procession in Frankfurt through his procession scene of the Antichrist in the Revelation of St. John.* Not even the tassels on the heads of the Isabell horses were missing. More will be said about this when I reach the epoch of wondrous poetic art


whereby people believed they approached the true vista and feeling of the old and new testment myths, when they fully transvested them into the modern era and clothed them, for common or extraordinary purpose, in the garments of present day life. Whether this treatment endeared them to the public must be a topic for future discussion. I can only say here that they were never done better than by Lavater and his imitators, one of whom described the three kings on their ride to Bethlehem in such modern terms that the princes and lords, whom Lavater used to visit, no one could fail to recognize.

For now let us leave the Elector Emmerich Joseph so to speak incognito at the entry to the Compostello and return to Gretchen, whom I saw as the crowds dispersed accompanied by Pylades and his beautiful lady (indeed the three seemed to be inseparable.)* We had scarcely met and exchanged greetings when plans were made to meet this evening and I found myself there in a timely fashion. The usual company was in attendance and everyone had something to tell, to comment and to remark. Each would tell something and others would add details they had noted. "Your discussions," Gretchen said at last, "make me more confused that the actual events of the day. I cannot make sense of what I saw and I would like some of you to tell me what it means." I responded it would be easy for me to do her this service. All she need do is tell me what in particular interested her. She told me and after asking for some clarification I found it was better to approach things in order. It was not amiss for me to compare these festivities


and events to a drama whereby the curtain was drawn down at will while the actors kept playing. Then it was brought up again and the audience could again participate in various negotiations. Because I was very talkative whenever people would let me go on, I explained everything from the beginning on to today's events in the best order and did not hestitate to make my lecture clearer by using the slateboard and chalk. Interrupted by only a few questions and minor disagreements, I happily brought my lecture to its conclusion as Gretchen greatly encouraged me by her continuing attention. In the end she thanked me and by her own admission said she coveted everything there was to learn and know about this world, how things happened and what they meant. She wished she was a boy and wished to acknowledge with amicability her debt to me for so much instruction. "If I were a boy," she said, "we could go off to university together and learn something about law." The conversation continued in this manner and she said she was resolved to take lessons in French because it would have been indispensible to her in her work at the milliner's shop. I asked her why she no longer went there. In recent days I hadn't had much time to go out at night and I had gone to the shop several times during the day just to see her for a few minutes. She told me that in these chaotic times she didn't want to go over there. Once the city returned to its normal pace she thought she would return.

Now all talk was about the coming election.


How and what would happen I could tell in great detail and my demonstrations through use of extraneous markings on the slateboard assisted in giving a perfect picture of the room of the conclave with its altar, throne, chairs and pews. * — We departed at the right time in particular contentment.

For a young couple designed by nature in perfect harmony, nothing can be more beautiful than a union where the girl is eager to learn and the boy is able to provide instruction. It is the basis for a wonderful relationship. She sees in him the creator of her spiritual existence and he sees in her a creation not made by nature, by accident, or by her own design but owing her existence to their mutual volition. Such a working exchange is sweet and we need not wonder when, since the days of the old and the new Abelard, powerful passions and as much happiness as unhappiness have arisen from such unions of two beings.*

On the next day there was great commotion in the city as visits and counter-visits occurred in conjunction with the largest ceremony. * What particularly interested me as a citizen of Franfurt was the administration of security oaths upon the Counsel, the military, and the citizenry not just through representatives but in person and en masse - first in the huge Römer Hall the magistrates and staff officers, then in the large plaza, the Römerberg, the assembled citizenry in accordance to their various ranks, grades and quarters, and finally the military. Here one could see at the glance the entire community


assembled for an honorable purpose, vowing assurance to the head and members of the empire and promising steadfast peace during the current proceedings. The Electors of Trier and Cologne now arrived in person. * The evening before election day all foreigners were barred from the city, the gates were closed, the Jews were segregated in their alley, and the Frankfurt citizen pondered not infrequently that he alone was allowed to stay as witness to the great festivities.

Up until then everything had seemed quite modern. The most noble and high personages transported back and forth in coaches. But now we were to see them in accordance with age-old tradition on horses. The traffic and the overcrowding was extraordinary. I knew how to make my way around the Römer like a mouse on his way to the corn crib as I arrived at the main entry before which the Electors and emissaries assembled, previously arriving in carriages but now dismounting from horseback. The stately, well-trained mounts were draped in rich woodland wrappings decorated in various fashion. Elector Emmerich Joseph, a handsome and content man, took well to a horse. I remember less about the two other men, mainly that their red, ermine trimmed prince's cloaks, which we were used to seeing only in paintings, seemed quite romantic under the open sky. Even the messengers of the absent temporal electors in their rich Spanish costumes of gold brocade and gold lace were pleasant sights for our eyes. The large feathers in the old-style rolled-brim hats fluttered most wonderfully in the breeze.


Go to pages 223-228


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