From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 1, pages 25-30


An open court day was proclaimed for the day before the Virgin Mary's Nativity. The sheriffs and chief magistrate sat in a raised and railed off section in the middle. The chief magistrate sat one step higher than the sheriffs. Various appointed officials sat below them on the right-hand side. The actuary began the session by reading aloud an abbreviated version of important decrees. The officials asked for transcripts, made appeals or did whatever they found necessary to do.

Wonderful music beckoned back to past centuries. There were three pipers. One played a shawm, the second a basson, and the third an oboe. They wore blue coats edged in gold with the music attached to their sleeves. Their heads were covered. The pipers escorted the envoys and their entourages from their inns promptly at ten, scrutinized by residents and foreigners alike as they entered the hall. Court proceedings were conducted inside; the pipers and the entourages remained outside. An envoy would enter and stand opposite the chief magistrate. According to tradition the symbolic gifts * usually consisted of whatever wares each city dealt with most profitably. Pepper also represented the wares, therefore each envoy brought an elaborately hand-turned wooden goblet filled with pepper. Over the goblet lay a pair of gloves, finely-fitted, beautifully sewn and tasseled with silk, which served as a symbol of a sufficent and well-received favor. The Kaiser often wore these gloves himself. A white staff also accompanied the gifts. On legal and royal occasions this staff was indespensible.


A few silver coins were added and the city of Worms brought an old felt hat, which was always retrieved, thus it became a perpetual symbol of these ceremonies.

After the envoy made his speech, presented his gifts and received assurances from the chief magistrate of continued royal favor, he left the enclosed circle. The pipers played their instruments and the entourage left the way it came. The court continued its business until the second then finally the third envoy was shown in. They came one after the other partly to extend the pleasure of the public and partly because these were always the same virtuosi which Nuremberg maintained for itself and its sister cities and brought back each year.

We children were particularly interested in this festival because it flattered us to see that our grandfather held such a prominent position. We used to receive instructions from him on the same day to visit and it tickled us to see our grandmother stash the pepper away in her own spice cabinet or lay hold of a goblet and staff, a pair of gloves or a few old coins. One could not explain the symbolic nature of these ancient and magical ceremonies without tracing back to the centuries past and relating the manners, customs and sensibilities of our ancestors, which were brought back to life in such a marvelous way by the pipers and the envoys with their handful of gifts, which later became ours.

In good weather we children followed such time-honored festivities with many pleasurable trips


beyond the city out in the open air. On the right shore of the Main about half an hour's walk downstream of the city gate there was a sulphur spring, neatly edged and surrounded by linden trees. Not far beyond stood the Good People's courtyard where a hospital had been built because of the spring. On a certain day of the year people gathered together all the neighborhood cattle in the communal meadow; the herdsman and the maidens of the village held a country festival with dancing and song, fervor and wild behavior *. On the other side of the city there was a similar communal pasture, only bigger, which also had a spring surrounded by more beautiful linden trees. At Pentacost people gathered the sheep herds and at the same time they let the poor, pale orphan children out of the asylum and into the open. It wasn't until later times that people struck upon the notion that they should bring these poor, abandoned creatures into closer contact with the world in which they were destined to work rather than confine them to dismal seclusion. Better that they become accustomed to servitude and persistence early in life and be given all the physical and moral resources necessary to sustain themselves. The nurses and maids, who were always happy to take a stoll, never failed to take us from our earliest years onward to this same area. Thus the country festival became one of the earliest impressions on my memory.

In the meanwhile the house had been completed *. It had all happened in a relatively short period of time because everything had been planned for and money had been set aside in advance. Once again we were all together and we felt content. Well thought-out plans, once completed, allowed one to forget


any discomfort one had to endure before achieving the final results.The house was sufficiently roomy for a private residence. It was bright and cheerful throughout, the staircase was wide the hallways were pleasant and one could comfortably enjoy the views of the garden from the many windows. The inner construction, the furnishings and decor had been thoroughly revamped and they served occupational and entertainment needs.

The first item to put in order was my father's book collection, the best of which, in full or half calf skin, were supposed to go on the wall of his combination office and study. He owned beautiful Dutch editions of Latin writers, which he attempted to purchase all in quarto so there would be uniformity of size. There were also many volumes dealing with Roman antiquities and jurisprudence. The most prominent Italian poets were not lacking. Father had a preference for Tasso. The best and most recent travel descriptions were also at hand. Father took great pleasure in correcting and augmenting the volumes by Keyssler and Nemeiz. He made sure he had the necessary supply of reference materials such as dictionaries in various languages and encyclopedias so one could research information as he pleased. There were various other volumes for reference and entertainment.

The other half of this book collection, in clean vellum bindings with beautifully inscribed titles, was placed in a certain Mansard-style room. Father had given much deliberation to the procurement of these new books along with decisions on their binding and their arrangement. There were critical reviews of this or that book


and these volumes had great influence on him. His collection of jurisprudence treatises increased each year by several volumes. *

Next came the paintings, which had been scattered throughout the old house, but were now brought together to hang symmetrically in one cheerful room near the study. All were hung in black frames decorated with gold molding. My father was of the opinion, and he voiced it vehemently on numerous occasions, that people should occupy themselves with the new masters more and turn to the old masters less because estimations of old works were frought with many preconceived notions. Paintings were like Rhine wines; age might impart a special flavor to them but over the course of time new wines at the same price might develop even more complex flavors. He supported his argument by stating that many old paintings seemed to have greater value for their owners because of their darker and browner appearance; indeed it was the harmonic tones which evoked praise. My father was certain that with time the new paintings would become darker and he did not doubt that they would become more valuable because of this.

Based on this guiding principle my father spent many years dealing with the artists of Frankfurt — the painter Hirt, who knew how to populate his oak and beech forests and other so-called rural landscapes with plenty of cattle; Trautman, who had taken Rembrandt as his model in techniques of


light and reflection as well as the effects of firelight illumination. He was so accomplished at the technique that he received a commission to paint a companion piece to one of Rembrandt's works. There was Schütz, who in the manner of Sachtleben diligently represented the Rhein region, and Juncker, who painted flower and fruit pieces, other still lifes and quiet, occupied people in the fashion of the Dutch artists. Now our sense of art appreciation was renewed and fortified by the new arrangement in a more comfortable setting and by our acquaintanceship with a gifted artist. This man was Seekatz, a student of Brinckmann who was the court painter of Darmstadt. His talent and character developed substantially right before our eyes as the years passed. *

People continued to complete the various rooms in accordance with their individual tastes. Cleanliness and order reigned throughout. Large panes of plateglass brought in the beautiful light so lacking in the old house due to many factors including the number of round windows. Father showed his pleasure in having succeeded with all these plans. If on occasion his good humor failed, it was because the precision of a handiman's work did not correspond to his requirements. Otherwise one could not imagine a happier existence than ours. Many good things originated within the family itself; other things came to us from beyond.

For the first time the boy's peace of mind was shattered by an exceptional world event. On November 1, 1755 there was an earthquake in Lisbon and terror spread throughout the usually quiet world.


Go to pages 31-36


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