From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 1, pages 37-42


would hear our verses. I was well-received and garnered much praise.

At the time there were no libraries for children, but elders still possessed childlike sentiments and they found it easy to communicate their own thoughts to their offspring. Except for the book Orbis pictus by Amos Comenius there were no other books of this type within our reach. However we often paged through the large folio bible with engravings by Merian. Gottfried's Chronicle with engravings by the same master gave us instruction on the wondrous events of world history. The Acerra philologica * was filled with fables, mythologies and oddities. From there I was introduced to Ovid's Metamorphoses and I diligently studied the first few books in particular. My young brain was quickly filled with images and facts concerning significant and wondrous personages and events. I was never bored because I was forever busy memorizing and repeating these new acquisitions so I could easily recalled them.

Fenlon's Telemachus had a much greater civilizing influence on me than the usually crude and perilous adventures of the ancient times. I only had a copy of it in the New Church translation, which was imperfect, however it still had a pleasing and beneficial effect on my mind. It was only natural that Robinson Crusoe soon followed and Insel Felsenburg. * Lord Anson's Journey around the World combined the worthiness of truth with the fanciful richness of legend and as we followed this excellent sailor in our thoughts we travelled throughout the world attempting to


follow him with our fingers on the globe. A rich harvest now stood before me as I came upon a mass of writings, which in their present forms could not be considered excellent works but whose content served to bring me closer to past times in an innocent way.

The publication or fabrication of these books, which became known and somewhat famous under the title folk writings or folktales, took place in Frankfurt itself. Due to their high sales they were printed with stationary type on the most dreadful blotter paper and thus practically unreadable. We children had the good fortune to find these precious surpluses of the Middle Ages on a small table outside the door of a book peddler's house. They were ours for a couple Kreutzers. Eulenspiegel [The Practical Joker], the Four Children of Haimon, the beautiful Melusine, the Emperor Octavian, the beautiful Magelone, Fortunatus, with the entire tribe right down to the Wandering Jew — all these books stood at our service ready to please us. We could grab these works rather than a snack. The greatest advantage was if we tore a page or somehow damaged them, we could throw them away and get new ones. *

Just like a family stroll disrupted in a most unpleasant way by a sudden summer storm or a happy event transformed to vexation, so it is that childhood illness unexpectedly arrives in the beautiful years of early life. It was no different for me. I had just purchased Fortunatus with his bag and wishing cap when I was overcome by discomfort and fever, signaling smallpox. Inoculation against the disease had always been viewed as problematic,


and although popular writers urgently recommended it, German physicians were loathe to perform an operation which seemed to encroach upon the course of nature. Speculative Englishmen came to Germany and for a hefty fee inoculated those children with parents, who were financially well-off and free of bias. The majority remained infested by the disease. Illness devastated families, killed or deformed many children, and few parents dared to seek assistance from the remedy, even thought its effectiveness had been confirmed in a great many cases. The disease entered our house and overcame me with particular virulence. My entire body was covered with pustules; my face was covered and for days I laid in my bed blind and in great pain. People tried evey possible remedy and they promised me great rewards if I would remain quiet and not make the illness worse by trashing and scratching. I overcame myself even though people considered it best to keep the individual as warm as possible, which actually intensified the illness. After a dismal period of time I felt as though a mask had been lifted from my face. The pustules had left no mark upon my skin however my visage was significantly altered. I was just happy to see the light of day again and little by little to lose the flecks from my skin. There were others who weren't as kind and who had to remind me often of my previous state. In particular there was one lively aunt who idolized me earlier in life but who, years later, could not look at me without saying, By the devil, cousin. How ugly you have become! Then she would describe in great detail how she had idolized me,


and what a fuss she had made whenever she had carried me around. Thus I discovered at an early age that people make us pay for the pleasure we once gave them. *

I was spared neither measles nor chicken pox, the so-called childhood torments. However people assured me it was fortunate that the diseases, once endured, were gone forever. Unfortunately another torment threatened in the background. All these things increased my propensity for reflective thought. I practiced persistently in order to distance myself from the pain of impatience. It seemed to me that patience was a highly sought-after virtue. I had heard that the Stoics were famous for it and it was even more highly recommended in Christian teachings. *

In recalling family tragedies I think back on a brother, about three years younger than I, similarly stricken with infection and in pain. He had a gentle nature, quiet and headstrong. We never had the opportunity to develop a relationship. He barely survived beyond his childhood years. Among the many siblings born after me, who did not live long in this world, I remember one beautiful and sweet little girl. She was lost to us after only a few years. My sister and I witnessed all these things and it brought us closely together in a tighter and more loving bond. *

In consequence any illness or other unwelcome disruption became doubly burdensome. My father, who seemed to have made a syllabus for educational instruction, wanted to compensate for the delays immediately so


he gave those still recovering double lessons. These certainly were not difficult for me but they were bothersome because they held up and to a certain extent repressed my own internal development, which had taken a different direction.

We usually fled from these didactic and pedagogical excesses to the home of our grandparents, located in the Friedberg Alley. At times the house seemed to be a fortress. As one arrived he saw a huge, crenelated gate which extended on both sides to the neighbors' houses. One entered through a small portal and eventually came to a seemingly broad courtyard surrounded by dissimilar buildings, which in more recent times had been connected into one residence. We usually paused in the garden, which extended in a long, broad path behind the buildings and which was well-maintained. The pathways were flanked in vine trellises, which also cordoned off sections for vegetable and flower gardens. From spring until fall there was alternating abundance in the borders and the beds. Against a long wall, which gained the afternoon sunlight, there were espaliered peach trees bearing ripening fruit all the more appetizing because it was forbidden to us. Indeed, we avoided this side because we were not permitted to satisfy our love of snacking here. Instead we wandered over to the other side where there was a limitless row of red currant and gooseberry bushes we eagerly harvested right up until fall. No less important to us was an old, tall, expansive mulberry tree not just for its fruit but because people had told us that its leaves nourished the silkworm. In this peaceful quarter


one would find grandfather every evening happily tending to finer aspects of fruit and flower cultivation. There was a gardener to take care of the heavy work. He spared no effort in performing the many steps necessary to maintain and increase the yield of carnations. He skillfully tied the peach tree branches to the trellises in order to produce rich fruit that was easily accessible. He left to no one the sorting and storage of tulip, hyacinth, and other bulbs. I have pleasant memories of how diligently he tended to the grafting of various rose species. To protect his hands from the thorns he wore one of the three pairs of leather gloves he had received at Piper's Court. * He never lacked for gloves. He always donned a dressing gown like that of a clergyman and a pleated black velvet cap on his head and one could imagine that he was a character somewhere between Alcinous and Laertes. *

He carried out his garden work with the same regularity and efficiency he applied to the duties of his office. Before he came down he always put the register of proposals for the next day in order and read the documents. In the morning he went to the Council Hall, ate upon his return, and took a nap in his large chair. One day proceeded the same as the next. He spoke little and showed no sign of impetuousness. I do not remember ever seeing him angry. Everything about him was antiquarian. I never saw any renovations in his panelled chamber. Except for works on jurisprudence there were only early books on travel,


Go to pages 43-48


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