From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 2, pages 49-54


Once the sun rose above the house roofs, he took a magnifying glass and lit the incense, which had been placed on a beautiful china saucer at the top of the altar. Everything went according to plan and the devotional service was completed. The altar remained in the room as a decor element and room was made for it in the new house. Everyone thought of it as an ornamental arrangement of natural items. The boy knew better but kept quiet. He yearned for a repeat performance of the ritual. Unfortunately when the sun rose the porcelain cup was not at hand. He placed the incense directly on the upper shelf of the music table and lit it. His devotions were so great that the priest did not notice the damage his service was creating until it was too late to prevent it. The incense had burned into the red lacquer and the beautiful gilded flowers as if a vanishing evil spirit had left its black and indelible footprints all over it. The young priest was highly embarassed by the situation. He covered the damaged area with the largest ornamental pieces however the urge to perform another ceremony had left him. One may indeed take this incident as an indication and a warning of how dangerous it is to wish to approach God in a similar fashion.

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Second Book *

All of the situations and events referred to previously point to the happy and comfortable circumstances people experience during a long time of peace.


However nowhere are these beautiful times enjoyed with more pleasure than in the cities, which function in accordance with their own sets of laws. When sufficiently large enough to embrace a sizable citizen population and favorably located, these cities can offer their citizenry a rich life of business and commerce. Foreigners find there fortune here as they arrive and depart, bringing their best goods in order to acquire the best goods. Those cities having smaller geographic markets can have even cosier existences because they are not obliged to provide costly entertainments to entice trade partners.

During my early childhood years the people of Frankfurt experienced several years of peaceful prosperity. However I had scarcely reached the age of seven on August 28, 1756 when war broke out. * The next seven years had great influence on my life. Frederick II, King of Prussia, marched into Saxony with 60,000 men. Instead of a declaration of war he issued a manifest, which people say he wrote himself, stating the reasons and justifications for this action. The people of the world, who were not just spectators but also judges, divided into two parties and our family reflected those camps in microcosm.*

My grandfather, who as sheriff of Frankfurt had carried the coronation canopy over Francis I and had received from the Empress an impressive golden chain with her picture on it, sided with the Austrian cause along with his sons-in-law and daughters. My father, appointed royal counsellor by Charles VII and thus tied to the fate of this misfortunate monarch, was inclined to favor


Prussia along with a smaller portion of the family. As a result our family get-togethers, which had gone on every Sunday for years, were completely disrupted. The usual disagreements between in-laws now found forum for their expression. People quarreled, people got angry, people got quiet and left. My grandfather, usually a cheerful, peaceful and easy man to get along with, became intolerant. * The women of the family tried in vain to extinguish the fires but after a few unpleasant scenes my father was barred from their company. From then on we celebrated the Prussian victories, usually announced by a sympathetic aunt, privately in our house. All other interests were secondary and we spent most of the year in a constant state of agitation. The occupation of Dresden, the initially temperate measures of the King, the long but steady advances, the victory of Lowositz, the capture of the Saxons were triumphs for our group. Anything, which pointed to the advantage of the opposition, was denied or belittled. Family members on the other side did the same. Like a scene from "Romeo and Juliet," a member of one side couldn't meet a member of the other side on the street without a dispute breaking out.

And so I too was pro-Prussian, or perhaps more correctly put, "Fritzish," for what was Prussia to us? It was the personage of the great king, who impressed all minds. * I enjoyed the victories along with my father. I happily wrote songs of victory, and even better, songs of ridicule aimed at the opposition although the rhymes may have been quite lame.

As eldest grandchild and godchild I spent every Sunday of my childhood eating dinner with my grandparents. For me these were the happiest hours out of the entire week.


But now I could barely take a bite because I had to listen to my hero being slandered in the most awful way. A different wind blew here and a different bell chimed than at home. The preference, and indeed my respect for my grandparents, diminished. I could not say anything about it to my parents. I suppressed it because of certain feelings and because my mother had warned me not to. I withdrew into myself and, just as I had developed certain suspicions about the goodness of God during my sixth year after the earthquake in Lisbon, I now began to doubt the sound judgment of people because of Frederick II. * By nature I was inclined towards respectfulness and it was a great shock to that nature when my beliefs forced me to deviate. People had always told us to show good manners and behave ourselves not for the sake of decorum but for the sake of other people. What would people say, we were told. I had always thought that other people must be right and they knew what was important. Now I experienced the opposite. The greatest and most conspicuous merits were scorned and condemned; the most audacious deeds, when not denied, were distorted and minimalized. This nasty injustice was heaped upon an individual who was superior to his contemporaries and who proved on a daily basis what he was capable of. And it was not just by the rabble but by refined gentlemen, as I had always considered by grandfather and uncles to be. The boy had no idea that his grandfather belonged to a party and thus felt all the more justified in expressing his opinions. His opinion was shared by Maria Theresia, whose


beauty and other fine qualities lent credence to the cause, and by Emperor Francis, whose love of jewelry and money created no distraction. They even thought it was acceptable that Count Daun was at times a sleepy old dullard.

Thinking back on it now I discover the origin of the disregard, and indeed the scorn of the public, which affected my life for such a long time and which only later could be brought into perspective through education and culture. Suffice it to say the boy saw this partisan injustice as unwelcome and even shameful because it forced him to distance himself from people whom he loved and honored. The constant influx of war-related events and details deprived the parties of rest and relaxation. There were always new instances of dreadful behavior, intentional evil, and volitional maltreatment to cause us grief and we continued to quarrel among ourselves right up until the time when the French seized Frankfurt and brought true discomfort into our own homes.

Until now most of these significant yet remote events served only to provide regrettable vexation but there were also other events in these times which aroused fearful earnestness. If France were to participate the theater of warfare could enter our region. People kept us children closer to home and attempted to keep us busy and amuse us in various ways. Towards that end they reconstructed the puppet theater grandmother had left behind. * The audience could sit in my gable end room but the players and directors along with the proscenium itself


were placed in the adjoining room. At first I gained many new friends since the performances drew in many new boys for the audience, however the restlessness inherent in these children would not permit them to remain quiet spectators. They disrupted the performances and we had to seek out a younger audience, attended by nurses and maids who could help maintain order. We had learned by heart the main drama for which the puppet company had originally been assembled so we presented it exclusively at the beginning. However this soon bored us so we changed the costumes and the decor and attempted other works, which admittedly were too expansive for so tiny a stage. Once we saw how little we could really achieve, it spoiled and eventually destroyed the enjoyment we felt however this childish entertainment and activity had awakened abilities in invention and representation for me. I had exercised my imagination and learned certain techniques, which I probably could not have learned in any other way and in so short a time as on this narrow stage with so few resources.

I had learned at an early age how to use a compass and ruler and I was able to apply what people had taught me in my geometry lessons to other fields of activity. * I especially liked working with cardboard. However I did not limit myself to geometric figures such as little boxes, rather I designed happy little houses for myself decorated with pilasters, outdoor staircases and flat roofs. Few of them came into being.

I was even more persevering, with the help of our


Go to pages 55-60


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