The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz/Volume One/02 School Days in Liblar
BEFORE I was six years old my father took me into the village school of which he was the teacher. I remember that I could read and write very early, but not how I acquired those arts. Much I owed to the instruction which my father gave me at home. I had frequented the village school hardly a year when my father resigned his position as schoolmaster. The salary, about $90 a year, was too pitiably small to support the family, to which in the meantime two little girls had been added.
My father, like all who feel within themselves a yearning for knowledge with few opportunities for satisfying it, had the earnest ambition to give to his children the education that fate had denied to him. With this object in view he made a start in a new direction, and opened a hardware-shop, for which he appropriated a part of the house which had once been a cow-stable, hoping that the business would gradually yield an income sufficient for the family needs. In me he believed that he had discovered an aptitude for study. He therefore decided that at the proper age I should go to the "gymnasium" and later to the university, to be fitted for one of the learned professions. For the time being I continued to attend the village school, but the instruction I received there was early supplemented in various directions. It was my father's especial wish that all his children should study music. To this end, when I was about six years old, a queer little piano was procured which had neither pedals nor damper, and possessed several peculiarities incident to old age. But it served well for my first finger exercises, and to me the instrument was very beautiful. Now we had to find a music teacher. The organist who played in our village church possessed an ear for harmony, but, devoid of training, he could hardly decipher the simplest composition on paper. The village folk had accustomed themselves to his performances, and when there occurred in his interludes some strange entanglements nobody was much disturbed. After the organist frankly admitted to my father, with entire preservation of his dignity, that his musical talents did not include an ability to impart knowledge to others, it was decided that I should go twice a week to Brühl, a town four miles distant, to receive lessons from the well-equipped organist living there. The broad turnpike leading to Brühl passed through a great forest. It was a mailcoach road; and whenever the postilion happened to see me trudging along he would invite me to a seat with him on the box, which was a great favor cheerfully accepted. After a while my younger brother Heribert joined me in taking music lessons, and this enabled me to enlarge the scope of my studies; for while Heribert was taking his lessons with the organist I had time to lay the foundation of a knowledge of Latin with the parish priest. Thus we wandered twice a week to Brühl and back, singing duets on the way, and as we were both blessed with a good ear, and were not wanting in voice, it may have sounded well enough. At least we attracted the attention of many passers-by. Once a pleasure party, stopping their traveling carriage, and dismounting, invited us to sit with them under the trees, where they made us go through our entire repertoire and rewarded us with good things from their provision hamper.
My brother Heribert, fifteen months younger than I, was a charming boy; blue-eyed, blond, of a most cheerful temperament and an exceedingly amiable disposition. He liked to occupy himself with animals and flowers more than to sit still and pore over books; so it was decided that he should become a florist gardener. We two clung fondly to one another, and my mother later in life often told me that she had no greater joy than to see us together when, clothed alike and in many ways recognizable as brothers, we were the most cordial comrades in work and play. Nor were wild pranks wanting, though there were none of a vicious nature. The worst adventure made at the time a profound impression upon me and has remained vivid in my memory. The old halfen of an estate near Liblar died, and as he belonged to our extensive kinship, we two brothers had to carry lighted tapers in his funeral procession. After the burial, according to Rhenish custom, the relatives and friends attending sat down to a funeral feast. Such repasts, however solemn at the start, were apt to degenerate into merry carousals. And, so it happened this time. The feasting lasted long and the excellent wines pleased the mourners mightily. A thoughtless uncle had the unfortunate idea that this would be a good opportunity for giving my brother Heribert and me a practical lesson in wine-drinking. He filled and refilled our glasses, constantly urging us to empty them. The result was that first we became very jolly and finally slipped from our chairs under the table in an unconscious state; whereupon, profoundly sleeping, we were put into a haycart and taken home. When we woke up the following morning and heard what had happened we were heartily ashamed. I do not know whether at that time I resolved never to allow the like to happen again; but certain it is that this occurrence gave me a profound loathing for drunkenness, which I have carried with me through life; and although I have always taken wine or beer whenever it pleased me, that excess at the funeral-feast has remained to the present hour my only one.
MOTHER OF SCHURZ
Of intellectual stimulus our village did not offer much, except that which I found within our home walls and in the larger family circle. My mother's opportunities for cultivation had never extended beyond the parish school and intercourse with relatives and friends. But she was a woman of excellent mental qualities — in a high degree sensible, of easy and clear perception and discernment, and apt to take a lively interest in everything deserving it. But the chief strength of her character lay in her moral nature. I know no virtue that my mother did not possess. Nothing, however, could have been farther from her than assumption of superiority, for she was almost too modest and self-effacing. Rectitude, which is as it is because it cannot be otherwise, was in her joined to the gentlest judgment of others. Her disinterestedness in every trial proved itself capable of truly heroic self-sacrifice. The sorrows of those around her she felt more deeply than her own, and her constant care was for the happiness of those she loved. No misfortune could break her courage, and the calm cheerfulness of her pure soul survived the cruelest blows of fortune. When she died, nearly eighty years old, she had even in the last moments of consciousness a bright smile for the children and grandchildren standing at her bedside. Her figure was slender and well-formed and her features somewhat resembled those of our grandfather. We children always admired her curly golden-brown hair. Whether in the blossom-time of her life she would have been called beautiful or not we never knew; but her countenance was to us all love and goodness and sunshine. The customs and forms of the great world were of course unknown to her, but she possessed the rare grace of noble naturalness which goes far to supply a deficiency in social training. Her handwriting was awkward and her spelling by no means faultless. Of literature she knew little, and with grammar and style she had never been troubled. But many of her letters, written to me at different times and in different situations of life, were not only filled with noble thought and sentiment, but possessed rare poetic beauty of expression; the unconscious greatness of her soul found its own language. Her very being exercised a constantly elevating and stimulating influence, although she could aid her children but little in the acquisition of what is commonly called knowledge.
All the more zealous was my father in this direction. The low whitewashed walls of the small, modestly furnished livingroom of our house, in which we also took our meals, were hung with the portraits of Schiller, Goethe, Wieland, Körner, Tasso and Shakespeare; for poets, historians and scientists were my father's heroes, and he early told me of their creations and achievements. He read every book he could lay his hands upon and had collected a few of his own, among them Becker's "Universal History," some German classics and some translations from Voltaire and Rousseau. But these books were still beyond my childish comprehension; and so others were obtained for me from a circulating library at Brühl. There we found a series of folklore tales, pretty well-told old legends of Emperor Octavianus, and the four Haimons children, and the horned Siegfried, and strong Roland, etc., and some of the popular knight-stories, the contents of some of which I still could tell.
Then a new world opened itself to me. The old head gardener of the count, who had observed my love of reading, gave me one day that most magnificent of juvenile books, "Robinson Crusoe." It may be said without exaggeration that to "Robinson Crusoe" the youth of all civilized peoples have owed more happy hours than to any other one book. I can still see it before me, as I grasped it eagerly as soon as school hours were over; I can see the worn edges of the binding, the woodcuts, even the inkspot which to my extreme annoyance disfigured one of them; and I can still hear myself telling the schoolmaster about the wonderful contents of this book and begging him to read it aloud to the class, which he did on two afternoons in the week, his own interest increasing so much with every reading that the hours gradually lengthened, to the detriment of other studies. Next to "Robinson Crusoe" came the "Landwehrmann," a popular history of the war of liberation in 1813, for which my interest had been excited by my grandfather's and my father's reminiscences, and from the reading of which I emerged a fiery German patriot. And finally I was led up to higher literature by my father's reading aloud to me while I was ill with the measles some of Schiller's poems, and even the "Robbers."
There were still other stimulating family influences. My mother had four brothers. The oldest, "Ohm Peter," as we children called him, had served in a French regiment of grenadiers during the last years of Napoleon's reign, and was rich in recollections of that eventful period. The wars over, he married the daughter of a halfen and became himself the halfen of a large estate in Lind, near Cologne. In body and mind he resembled my grandfather, and we children loved him heartily. The second was "Ohm Ferdinand." He was the superintendent of extensive peatworks belonging to Count Metternich, and lived in Liblar in comfortable circumstances. He had risen in the Prussian military service to the dignity of a "Landwehrlieutenant," and when he turned out at the periodical musters in his fine uniform, a sword at his side and a "tschako" with a high bunch of feathers on his head, we children looked at him with awe and admiration. This uncle had read much and was the free-thinker, the Voltairian, of the family. He also belonged to a Freemasons' lodge in Cologne, of which it was whispered among the village-folk that the members had sold themselves body and soul to the devil, and that at their frequent night-meetings the devil appeared in the guise of a black goat and demanded homage of them. The fact that "Ohm Ferdinand" never went to church on Sunday seemed to confirm the worst rumors with regard to him. The third brother, "Ohm Jacob," lived at Jülich, a fortified town not far distant, where he married the daughter of a merchant and established himself in mercantile business. He was an extraordinarily handsome man in face and figure; of fine, amiable qualities, and of distinguished personality. His admirable character won for him the respect and liking of the community to such a degree that he was elected burgomaster, an office which he held for many years with great dignity and with popular approval. Once a year he visited the great fair at Frankfurt-on-the-Main, from which he returned by way of Liblar, bringing to us pretty little gifts and also interesting tales about the remarkable men and things he had seen and heard there.
The fourth and youngest brother was "Ohm Georg," who had served in a regiment of cuirassiers in Berlin and then had come home to aid my grandfather in his husbandry. He had lived three years in the capital of the kingdom, and therefore had looked far beyond the shadow of the church-steeple of his home. He, too, was a handsome man, and had the chivalrous trait of the family. Each one of the four brothers was over six feet in height, and together they formed a stately group. Not in stature only, but in intelligence and breadth of view they towered far above the ordinary people of their surroundings. In addition to them there were two brothers-in-law — my father and "Ohm Rey," the husband of a sister of my mother's, a wide-awake and jovial man, who owned a large farm about an hour's walk from Liblar. This circle met often in happy social intercourse. The conversation at such times was by no means restricted to local topics, nor to the transaction of every-day business. These men read newspapers, took an interest in all that happened in the outer world, and discussed, if not with thorough knowledge, at least with eager interest and sympathy, the events that moved humanity at large. Not seldom was I present at these talks, leaning against the arm of my father's chair or crouching unnoticed in the corner of the room, a silent and receptive listener. Here it was that I first heard of the struggles of Abdel-Kader in Algiers and of the hero Schamyl in the Caucasus; of the repeated attempts upon the life of Louis Philippe in France and the Carlist wars in Spain, with the generals of high-sounding, musical names, and — what especially excited me — of the imprisonment of the Archbishop of Cologne for Jesuitic conspiracies against the Prussian Government. And so on. Much of what I heard was at first to me little more than mere sound. Still I asked many questions, which were answered by my father and by my uncles as well as they could. And although perhaps the mind of the boy thereby acquired but little clear understanding of things, the feeling took early root in me that we in our little village were a part of a great world, the affairs of which concerned us, too, and demanded our attention and sympathy.
In this family circle I also heard for the first time about America. A peasant family of our village, by the name of Trimborn, emigrated to the United States. I still have before my eyes the picture of their departure. One afternoon a wagon loaded with trunks, boxes and household utensils started from a neighboring cottage; the village-folk wished good luck to the emigrants, and a large crowd followed them until the wagon disappeared in the forest on the road to Cologne. Another family, by the name of Kribben, who were particular friends of ours, soon followed the Trimborns to settle in Missouri, where I saw them many years later. Meanwhile, things American were eagerly discussed by my father and my uncles. Then I heard for the first time of that immeasurable country on the other side of the ocean, its great forests, its magnificent rivers and lakes — of that young republic where the people were free, without kings, without counts, without military service, and, as was believed in Liblar, without taxes. Everything about America that could be got hold of was eagerly read, and I saw for the first time in a penny magazine the picture of George Washington, whom my father called the noblest of men in all history, because he had commanded large armies in the war for the liberation of his people and, instead of making himself a king, had voluntarily divested himself of his power and returned to the plow as a simple farmer. By this example my father explained to me what it was to be a true patriot.
The men in our family circle fairly reveled in that log-cabin romance, which is so full of charm to the European unacquainted with the true conditions of American life; and it wanted but little to induce the men of the family to try their fortune in the new world at once. Although the resolution was not taken in a hurry, America always remained a favorite topic of conversation with them; and in the course of time every member of my family did emigrate, some to remain in America, others to return to Germany.
Among grown-up people outside of the family, too, I found a friend who stands out in my memory in bold relief. He was a singular character. His name was George van Burk, and as he had been a master shoemaker, he generally went by the name of "Master George." Feeble sight obliging him to renounce his trade, he made a living as an errand man, and was so frequently employed by my father in that capacity that he almost seemed to belong to our house. He was then a man in middle life, tall and thin, with a haggard and sallow but pleasant face, to which, however, a whitish spot in one of his eyes gave a peculiar expression. He was one of that class of persons who with good natural endowments have had but little education, but whom that little has served to lift out of the rut of the commonplace. He had read all the books that had come in his way, and although many of them went beyond his comprehension, they had helped shape his thoughts and notions. He had all sorts of droll conceits, which he gave forth with facility of expression and sometimes in piquant terms of speech, and as he was, withal, an amiable soul, everybody liked him.
The whole population of the village and surrounding Rhine country, my own family included, was Roman Catholic. So was Master George; but upon many points he could not agree with the church. "Why," he argued, "if we are to believe blindly and never think for ourselves, why did the all-wise Creator give us our reason?" This view he applied with especial acuteness to the sermons of the parish priest. Also with the Apostle Paul he had various differences of opinion. I was still a mere child, but he confided his religious scruples and philosophical contemplations to me, thinking that as I was to become a learned man, the sooner I formed opinions of my own on serious subjects the better. With especial earnestness he warned me against studying theology with the intention of entering the priesthood — for "these divines are obliged to say too many things which they do not themselves believe." And then he attacked with great eloquence the miracles of which the Bible tells us, and which he confessed he could not understand.
Sometimes, however, he seemed to remember that after all I was only a child. He would then take me upon his knee and tell me fairy-stories, such as one tells to children, but he never omitted to add that the stories were not true and that I must promise not to believe them. This I did promise, but always asked for more. The child's mind has a craving for the supernatural, and although terror taken by itself is an uncomfortable sensation, still the shudders produced by the thought of the monstrous and awful have for it a strange fascination. The village people among whom I lived were for the most part superstitious to a degree. They firmly believed in the personal devil with horns and tail, and in witches who were in intimate league with him; and there were even two or three old women in our village to whom the finger of suspicion pointed as being "not quite right." I also heard some of our neighbors tell of "men of fire" whom they had seen with their eyes walking about the fields at night. These were said to be lost souls condemned for their misdeeds in the flesh to wander about forever in fiery torment. Although I knew perfectly well from my talks with my parents and uncles and Master George that there were no such creatures as witches, and that the "men of fire" were only will-of-the-wisps arising from the vapors of the moorland, nevertheless I found it delightfully gruesome to stare at these old women and cautiously to visit the morass where these terrible "men of fire" were said to hover.
To my friend, Master George, I am also indebted for my first understanding of the word philosopher. There stood in our village street an old deserted house which must once have been a more aristocratic dwelling than its neighbors. It was larger, the beams of its framework were more artistically fashioned and ornamented, and the entrance had a porte cochère, jutting out into the street. At the time of which I write the house was empty and dilapidated, and we village children tore up and down its rickety stairs and passageways and found its vacant rooms, with their dark corners, well adapted for hide-and-seek and robber plays.
This uncanny place interested me deeply, and from Master George I learned that its last owners and occupants had been two old bachelors by the name of Krupp, then long dead. The older of the two, so Master George told me, was a very peculiar gentleman. He wore his hair braided in a cue and on his head an old-fashioned three-cornered hat. He had but one eye and he wore spectacles with only one glass. These were sewed to the front corner of his hat so that the one glass should drop into place over the one eye the instant that he put his hat upon his head. He possessed a large library and was a very learned man. He would often wander through the village street, absorbed in thought, his hands behind his back, not noticing anyone. He never went to church, and before he died refused to receive extreme unction. Krupp, so Master George always wound up his talk about him, was "a true philosopher." I asked my father whether this queer man had really been a philosopher. My father thought so beyond a doubt. This, then, was my first conception of a philosopher, and frequently in late life, when I heard philosophy and philosophers spoken of, has the picture of the three-cornered hat with the one-eyed spectacle attached to it risen up in my mind.
Master George had strange peculiarities. One day, while he was entertaining a company with amusing talk, which kept his hearers in the merriest mood, he suddenly heard a clock strike. Master George stopped abruptly in the middle of the sentence, jumped to his feet, exclaiming in a solemn tone: "One hour nearer death." The next moment he sat down and after a short silence continued his talk as merrily as before. My father, to whom I described this scene, said that he had often seen Master George do the same; that his mind was filled with a presentiment of impending death, and with all kinds of thoughts about the hereafter which sometimes came suddenly to the surface in this strange way. My friend never spoke to me about his dark premonitions. To me he disclosed only the cheerful side of his nature and of his "philosophy of life," although he never used so pompous an expression as this. He frequently endeavored to show me how little one requires to be happy in this world, and made his own life serve as an example. He was a very poor man, according to the usual understanding of the term. Fate had not only refused him favors, but had in a certain sense persecuted him. He did not deny that he had within himself the making of something better than a mere cobbler, but his parents thought they could make nothing else of him. And yet the weakness of his eyes had robbed him even of the fitness for cobbler's work and he had been obliged to become an errand runner in order to earn the daily bread for his wife and children. But what would it avail to torment himself with dark broodings over that which he might have been and was not? The world was a beautiful world even for him, the poor errand runner. He had enjoyed the good fortune of associating with people who knew much more and were much cleverer than himself. And every new idea thus opened to him was a new delight. If he thought only of the pleasures that life had given, instead of the sufferings that it had inflicted upon him, he saw reason to be content. In fact, all that was required for earthly happiness was few wants and a good conscience.
"If," he would say with emphasis, "you are ever overtaken by misfortune, or oppressed by poverty, you must think of your friend Master George."
And so I have very often done. The counsel that he gave me upon every occasion was always mixed with jests and droll descriptions of men and things which never permitted the admonitions to become dull sermons. He also endeavored to stimulate my ambition by painting to me in glowing colors the good fortune of the liberal education which was in store for me; and when he spoke of my future career he gave full rein to his ardent imagination.
His presentiment of an early death proved true. My good friend did not long survive those days. While I was at the gymnasium he died of consumption. I have always kept him in warm remembrance.
The impression of what Master George had said to me about religious things was deepened by an occurrence of a different nature.
I fully resolved, so far as a child could make such a resolution, that when I studied it would not be for the ministry. True, among the Roman Catholic population of the lower Rhine country, a family that counted a priest among its members was proud of the distinction. But this was mainly the case with the women of our home circle; the men were more or less affected by the free-thinking spirit of the age, and my uncle Ferdinand, the Voltairian, even went so far as to indulge in bold jests and scoffings upon religious subjects. This jarred upon me painfully. It seemed to me audaciously wicked to speak in flippant words about things which I had been taught in church, and at my mother's knee, were high and holy. My father, who, as already mentioned, had read his Voltaire and Rousseau and been influenced by them, never fell in with that tone of talk. On the other hand, he made no effort to hold me by means of counteracting influences to strict adherence to the faith. From the pulpit as well as in private religious instruction I had repeatedly heard the priest say that the Catholic religion was the only saving one, and that all of different belief — Protestants, Jews and heathen — were hopelessly doomed to everlasting hell-fire. There was not a single Protestant in Liblar; in fact, we children could hardly imagine what a "Calvinist," as the Protestants were called, was like; and when one day a stranger, a Prussian official, passed through our village and we heard that he was a Protestant, we looked at him with a mixture of pity and fear, and were much surprised to find him a man of dignity and agreeable presence. How could he be cheerful? we wondered; for, of course, he too must know of his doom. There was one Jew in the village, a butcher who supplied the neighborhood with meat. In no other way did we come into contact with him. But I saw sometimes in our house another Jew by the name of Aaron, who lived in a neighboring village, and I observed that my father always talked with him in a friendly and interested way upon various subjects. This astonished me. But my father told me that old Aaron, whose face had always appeared to me very serious and of great dignity, was not only a very good and honest, but also a very enlightened, even a wise, man — more honest and virtuous and wise than many a Christian. The question whether so good a man as old Aaron must necessarily be doomed to eternal hell-fire troubled me very much. I could not make this agree with my idea of the all-just God. Soon my father read to me Lessing's "Nathan der Weise," setting before me the lesson of tolerance which this dramatic poem so attractively teaches, and which I most heartily enjoyed, without being conscious how dangerously those teachings shook the pillars and undermined the fundamental dogmas of the only true church.
Another event brought further shock. The schoolmaster who had succeeded my father had taken some liberties with one of the pupils, a relative of ours, and was called to account for it. He denied the accusations, and the community soon split into two parties: on the one side the schoolmaster defended by the parish priest, and supported by the count's family and a large part of the population; on the other our family and friends. The quarrel waxed very bitter, as is always the case with such village warfare, and led to violent disputes, once even to a bloody riot, which the one constable of the place was unable to suppress. "There is revolution in the village," people said. This was the first time that I had heard this fateful word. The priest made himself especially conspicuous by repeating slanderous tales about members of our family. This went so far that even my mother, the gentlest of women, became greatly excited, and one day I overheard her tell the priest to his face that he was a wicked man and a reckless defamer of character — whereupon the clerical gentleman tamely slunk away. To my mind the priest, as the vicar of God and the mouthpiece of His word, had been a holy man. And now to hear my mother, the very embodiment of truthfulness and piety, tell the priest that he was wicked, could not but be to me a dangerous revelation. It tormented me greatly after this not to be able to listen to his Sunday sermons with unshaken faith, and it distressed me beyond measure when I stood near him as a choir-boy to see him perform the holy office of the mass. But my religious observances went on as before.
The unhappy conflict caused by the schoolmaster episode had unforeseen consequences. The schoolmaster indeed had to quit Liblar, but he left the quarrel behind, and it affected the relations between my grandfather and the count, which down to this time had been most friendly. Count Wolf Metternich was older than my grandfather — a stately and stalwart figure over six feet high and unbent by the burden of his years; his hair and whiskers silver white and his countenance most benignant. He was a nobleman of the old school, proud to have old servants and old well-to-do and contented tenants. The farm-rents were low, and when the crops failed the count was always willing to make reductions. On the other hand, when the crops were plentiful, he did not at once seize the opportunity to advance rents, but rejoiced in the prosperity of his people. His old business manager, the rent-master, as he was called, looked grim and exacting, but he conducted affairs in the spirit of his lord. Thus the relation between the count and my grandfather had been one of easy-going contentment on both sides, cemented by the common remembrance of the hard times of the "French War," during which the count had often been obliged, under the most trying circumstances, to entrust to my grandfather the care of his ancestral home. Of course, the difference in the worldly position between the count and the halfen was never overlooked. My grandfather, according to the ideas of those days, was a well-to-do man and could allow himself some comforts and luxuries. But I remember hearing it spoken of in the family circle that this or that could not be had or done, because the castle people might consider it presumptuous and take offense. For instance, my grandfather could go to town or pay visits in a two-wheeled chaise, but not in a four-wheeled carriage; and his wife and daughters might wear as pretty caps or hoods as they pleased, trimmed with lace ever so costly and even adorned with precious stones, but they could not wear bonnets such as were worn in Cologne. The count when he gave his great annual hunt always invited the men of our family. I vividly remember the stately old nobleman as he went on foot with his company into the forest — he himself in a gray hunting coat armed with an out-of-date flintlock gun — for such new-fangled things as percussion-caps he would not trust. Upon such occasions he treated his guests, whether noble or not, as friends. But when my grandfather leased for himself a hunting preserve in the neighborhood, to shoot his own hares and partridges, it was considered doubtful at the castle whether the Burghalfen had not gone a little too far. However, the matter was fortunately allowed to remain in doubt. The old countess was generally regarded as a very proud lady, but in her intercourse with my grandfather's family she always showed the friendliest spirit. We children were invariably invited on Christmas eve to the Christmas tree at the castle and presented with gifts, and whenever there was illness in our household practical helpfulness as well as genuine concern was shown by the count and his family. The count's sons were on a friendly footing with the sons of the Burghalfen, and on festive occasions they danced right merrily with the daughters.
In this long-established happy relation the quarrel about the schoolmaster, in which, I do not know why, the count's family took a lively part, sounded like a discordant note. As so often happens, when irritated feelings are at play, one cause after another bred mutual misunderstanding and discontent. Then the old count died, and soon after the old rent-master. The estate passed into the possession of the eldest son, and with him began a new régime. The young count was a man of a good and kindly character, but the time-honored principles in regard to old servants and old tenants were not a part of his nature, as they had been of his father's. The highbred patriarchal simplicity, so characteristic heretofore of the house, seemed to him antiquated and not a little dull. He found more pleasure in his English racehorses and his smart jockeys than in the fat, heavy bays that had formerly drawn the family coach, with a sleepy gray-headed coachman on the box. He was not bound to the Burghalfen by any memories of the hard French times, and thus their relations gradually became merely those of business interest. He appointed a new rent-master, a young man with brusk manners and entirely unsentimental views of life, and when he explained to the count that the income from the estate could be considerably increased, the information was by no means unwelcome in view of growing expenditures. Under these circumstances the breach between the young count and the Burghalfen rapidly widened, and finally — the precise particulars I no longer remember — the rupture came, the lease of the estate was cancelled and my grandfather, a year or two later, left the Burg. There was a public auction of the house and farm-belongings lasting several days, which I once attended for a few hours. The jokes of the auctioneer sounded harshly offensive to my ears and there was a deep resentment in my young heart as though a great wrong were being done. My grandparents then took a house in the village, but they did not long survive the change from the castle. My grandmother died first and my grandfather twelve days later. Many tears of heart-felt sorrow were shed for them both.
Meanwhile a great change had taken place with me, too. When I was in my ninth year my father thought I had outgrown the village school in Liblar. He therefore sent me to a school of a somewhat higher order in Brühl, which was connected with the teacher's seminary there, and was regarded as a model institution. The schoolrooms were in an old Franciscan monastery, and I remember with a shudder the tortures to my sensitive musical ear when my father, in order to present me to the principal, led me through a long corridor, in each window-recess of which stood a young man practising finger-exercises on the violin, so that at least a dozen instruments giving out discordant sounds were to be heard at the same time. The instruction I received from the well-equipped master was excellent, and at the same time I continued my lessons in Latin and my musical studies. I also began to live among strangers, boarding during the winter in the modest home of a butcher's widow. In the summer I walked to school from Liblar to Brühl and back every day of the week — a walk of about eight miles.
And then came a heavy blow. One gloomy winter's day, returning from school to my lodging, I found my father awaiting me with tears in his eyes. Several times his voice failed in attempting to tell me that my brother Heribert, after an illness of only a few days, had died. Only the Monday before I had left him a picture of health. This was a dreadful shock. My father and I wandered home through the forest holding one another by the hand and weeping silently as we walked. For a long time I could not console myself over this loss. Whenever I was alone in the woods I would call my brother loudly by name and pray God, if He would not give him back, at least to allow his spirit to appear to me.
Then I felt a want of mental occupation on my lonely way between Brühl and Liblar and so I accustomed myself to reading while I walked. My father, whose literary judgment was somewhat determined by current tradition, counted Klopstock among the great German poets, whom one "must have read," and so he gave me the "Messiah" as appropriate reading. To read the whole of Klopstock's "Messiah" is considered to-day an almost impossible test of human perseverance, and there are probably few Germans now living who can boast of having accomplished the feat. I am one of the few. On the long walks between Brühl and Liblar I studied the whole twenty cantos, not only with steadfastness, but in great part with profound interest. It is true that among the pompous hexameters I hit upon many that sounded very mysterious to me. I consoled myself with the thought that probably I was too young fully to understand this grand creation. Other parts really impressed me as transcendentally beautiful. I must confess that in the literary studies of my later life I have never been able to rise again to this appreciation of Klopstock's greatness. After having finished the "Messiah," I was told by my father to learn by heart Tiedge's "Urania" and a series of poems by Gellert, Herder, Bürger, Langbein, Körner and others. Thus I became acquainted with a good many products of German literature, and was in point of reading well prepared to enter the lowest class of the gymnasium.
Here I must mention an occurrence which in a truthful narrative of my life should not be suppressed. My father, who loved me dearly and took pride in me, was extremely exacting in the performance of duty. He examined carefully the weekly reports of my teachers and was never satisfied with anything short of the best. These reports were always good. Only once, tempted by a robber play with my school-fellows, I had omitted the learning of the Latin lesson, which crime the priest, my teacher, duly recorded. Whether shame or fear prevented me from telling my father I do not remember, but returning home on Saturday afternoon, I tried to make him believe that accidentally the report had not been written. My hesitating manner at once convinced him that something was amiss, and a few direct questions brought me to full confession. Then the following conversation took place:
"You failed to do your duty and you tried to conceal the truth from me; don't you think that you deserve a whipping?"
"Yes, but do please let us go into the cow-stable, so that nobody can see or hear it."
The request was granted. In the solitude of the cow-stable I received my punishment, and nobody knew anything about it; but for many a day I carried with me a bitter consciousness of well-deserved humiliation, and for a long time I would not put foot into the cow-stable, the theater of my disgrace.
But my childhood was on the whole sunny and happy, and if my memory fondly dwells upon it and I am a little diffuse in describing it, I must be pardoned. I consider myself fortunate to have spent my early life in the country, where one feels himself not only nearer to nature, but nearer to his kind than in the confinements and jostling crowds of the city. I also consider myself fortunate in having grown up in simple and modest circumstances which knew neither want nor excessive affluence, and which did not permit any sort of luxury to become a necessity; which made it natural to me to be frugal and to appreciate the smallest pleasures; which preserved my capacity of enjoyment from the misfortune of being blunted and blasé; which kept alive and warm the sympathy, that feeling of belonging together, with the poor and lowly among the people, without discouraging the striving for higher aims.
Our village was so small that only a few steps led into field or forest, and every inhabitant was a near neighbor. Although, after I could read, my books consumed much of my time, I had my full part of the games with the peasant and tradesmen's children in the village, and their faces and names are still quite familiar to me. My most intimate friend was the youngest of the three sons of a well-to-do merchant — a boy of amiable disposition and good parts. We were exactly of the same age and pursued the same studies. So we believed ourselves destined to walk through life side by side. We separated in early boyhood and did not meet again until late in life. He had studied law, had served his country with honor in the wars of 1866 against Austria and of 1870 against France, had risen to the dignity of a major of Uhlans and been decorated with the Iron Cross, an order bestowed only for personal bravery. After the French war he had been appointed a judge in Alsace, and later he retired from that place to his native village, an old bachelor in very comfortable circumstances. He inhabited a fine house on the very spot where many years before the queer old philosopher Krupp had lived. Here, in 1889, the dear comrade of my boyhood, now a portly man of years, welcomed me and my children who accompanied me with radiant heartiness and hospitality. A repast was quickly improvised, and when the dear old friend pressed his arm around my neck and in his best wine proposed my health, our eyes, like our glasses, were full to the brim.
My father interested himself greatly in the care of animals and flowers. Plants and song birds were in every room of our house. He taught me how to set snares for the field-fares which passed over our country in the autumn, and were regarded as a great table delicacy. Those snares were distributed along the hunters' trails in the forest, and I used to go before sunrise and again at twilight in the evening into the depth of the woods and secure the birds that had been caught — a form of sport which I confess I no longer approve. In these lonely walks, when roe, fox, rabbit and now and then a wild boar rustled past me, I learned to love the woods and to feel the fascination of the forest-solitude, with its mysterious silence under the great leaf-roof and the whisper of the winds in the treetops. Soon I cared less for the bird-trapping than for the enjoyment of that woodland charm, and even on the way to and from school I learned to avoid the highroad and to strike into the shade on the right or left, wherever I could find a path. This love for the woods has never left me, and often in later life, at the aspect of a beautiful spreading landscape or of the open sea, I have asked myself whether what I had seen and felt in the forest did not surpass all else.
Summer was for us a period of festivities. Already in May occurred the kirmess in Lind, Ohm Peter's home, and late in the autumn the kirmess in Herrig, where Ohm Rey lived; and between those there were still a great many more kirmesses on farms of uncles and cousins. To most of them the whole family went, including the children. For such occasions a two-wheeled chaise was not sufficient. So the kirmess-car, an ordinary two-wheeled cart, covered with tent cloth and furnished with seats that consisted of wooden boards or bundles of straw, was put into requisition, and the number of human beings which the kirmess-car could take seemed beyond calculation. The horse, or when the roads were bad, the horses, shone in their most resplendent brass-ornaments, and the vehicle was decorated with green boughs and flowers. We found at the kirmess a crowd of boys and girls of our kin, who, like ourselves, during these festive days, enjoyed full freedom. At the midday-meals, at which the older guests usually spent from four to six hours, we children did not sit very long. Only when for the entertainment of the company a juggler appeared, as for example the great "Janchen of Amsterdam," who on the farms of that region enjoyed the reputation of being a true sorcerer, we would stand transfixed until he was gone. Then we ran to the booths on the village street with their honey-cakes, cheap toys and little roulettes, and in the evening we went "to the music." From the dance the older people as well as the children usually retired early — the older people to begin their game of cards, which frequently lasted until sunrise next day — and the children to go to bed. Even this going to bed was a festivity. As the house on such occasions always had many more guests than beds, a room for the boys was fitted out with straw, blankets, linen sheets and pillows laid on the floor. When such a sleeping apartment was offered to a dozen or more boys as their domain for the night, the main frolic of the day began, which was continued with boisterous hilarity until one boy after another sank down utterly overcome by fatigue.
To us children in Liblar the greatest day of the year was Whitsun Monday, when the annual bird-shooting, "the Schützenfest," took place. How grand appeared to me this "Fest," which in truth could hardly have been more modest! Such excitement! On the Saturday afternoon before Whitsuntide five or six men were seen striding through the village, bearing upon their shoulders a pole forty or fifty feet long, at the point of which a wooden bird was fastened. The village youth joined the procession, which slowly moved up the street to a meadow shaded by elms and linden-trees. The wooden bird was decorated by the children with flowering broom-twigs, and then the pole was hoisted upon one of the trees and lashed to the branches with ropes and chains. As this was done by hand, it was hard work not without danger. We children always watched it with no little trepidation. I came very near losing my life on one such occasion. The pole, having been hoisted up the tree, slipped the rope and knocked one of the men from the branch on which he sat. Standing just under the tree, I suddenly heard above me the crash of a branch and the cry "Jesus Maria!" I sprang away to see the body of a man fall exactly upon the spot on which I had stood. The poor fellow broke his spine and died shortly after he had been carried into the village. Usually, however, the raising of the pole passed without accident, and we children marched back with bouquets of blooming broom in our hands, conscious of having helped in accomplishing a great work, and with the anticipation of still greater things to come.
How slow Whitsunday was in passing! But the fun began all the earlier on Monday morning. Already at daybreak the drummer — an old bow-legged little man — had marched through the village, beating the reveille; but it was afternoon before the head men of the San Sebastian society — that was the name of the sharpshooters-corps, to which belonged almost all the grown-up inhabitants of the village, male and female — came to our house, where at that time the flag and the other treasures of the society were kept, to take them from there to the dwelling of the last year's "king." Finally, the procession started: first the old drummer with a bouquet of flowers and many colored ribbons on his breast and hat; next, bearing the flag, Master Schäfer, a tailor, white-haired and spindle-legged. He was called the "young ensign," because his father had before him carried the banner, upon which was painted in loud colors St. Sebastianus, the patron-saint, pierced with an incredible number of arrows; then the captains, carrying ancient spears, also decorated with flowers and ribbons, accompanied by all the solemn-visaged directors of the society, and then the "Schützenkönig" of the previous year. The king wore upon his hat a crown of gold tinsel and artificial flowers, and around his neck a silver chain, from which were suspended silver shields, the size of a hand, with the engraved names of the kings of at least a hundred years back. The shields covered the king's shoulders and breast and back, giving him a gorgeous appearance. His Majesty was followed by the marksmen, with their rifles on their shoulders, the remainder of the population, old and young, bringing up the rear. Arrived at the green, the procession marched three times around the tree upon which the pole was fastened, halted, knelt down and repeated the Lord's Prayer. Then the drummer beat the roll, the ex-king hung his crown and chain upon the branch of a tree, and after the old men and the women members of the society, who could not themselves fire rifles, had chosen among the sharpshooters present those who were to represent them, the shooting began. The drummer watched each shot with close attention, for it was his duty to beat a roll every time that the bird was hit. When that roll was particularly vigorous the rifleman who had fired the shot rewarded the drummer with a glass of wine, and it must be confessed that with every glass the good man's face grew redder and his drumbeats wilder. The multitude, which meanwhile had scattered among the booths where sweetmeats, wine and beer were sold, crowded again around the marksmen as soon as the wooden bird began to splinter. From minute to minute the excitement rose; ancient-looking telescopes were raised to discover the weak spots on the bird, and the suspense became breathless when, as often happened, only a small ragged bit of wood remained on the top of the pole and the next well-aimed shot might decide the day. Finally, when the last bit fell, the drummer beat the most terrible of his rolls, the crowd, with deafening cheers, pressed around the victor, who now, as the new king, was adorned with the crown and chain of shields. Then the moment had come for the "young ensign" to show what he could do. He swung the flag so violently around himself that those standing nearest stepped back in alarm; he waved it over his head and around his breast like a wheel, then around his legs, then up and down, back and forward, until the veins in his forehead threatened to burst, and all this to the accompaniment of the drummer's most passionate beats. I always watched him with admiration, convinced that nothing greater in this line was possible, until, alas! one day I overheard an old peasant, shaking his head, remark: "He is nothing to what the old man was!" Again the procession marched three times around the tree and back to the village, the drummer at the head, making remarkable zigzags with his bowlegs, the gray-headed "young ensign" still waving his colors furiously and the marksmen punctuating the triumphal march with occasional blind shots. Happy was the boy to whom one of the men was willing to entrust the carrying of his rifle, thus allowing him to take part in the great event!
Then came the royal feast at the tavern, at which the new king entertained his predecessors in office, and the directors of the society, with ham, white bread and wine. Finally, in the evening followed a dance, the music for which was originally furnished by the drum, which in my time, however, had been superseded by an orchestra consisting of a violin, clarionette and double bass. The reason why this festival remained so vivid in my memory, even to the minutest detail, is that it excited in me for the first time something like a real ambition. It was the great public contest of skill in the arena of the world in which I lived; and when I saw the victor with the crown on his head and the resplendent chain of shields upon his shoulders and breast, surrounded by a cheering multitude, it seemed to me something very great, to which I too some day might aspire. And this honor was indeed to come to me in later days when I no longer appreciated it so highly.
Although the summer was thus rich in joy, our winter was no less so. It not only brought skating on the castle moat and battles with snowballs, but to me the first enjoyment of the stage; and of all the joyous excitements of my childhood none surpassed that into which we were thrown by the arrival of the puppet theater in Liblar. With eagerness we boys regularly accompanied the crier through the village, who by means of a drum brought the people to their doors and announced to the honored public the coming of the drama. Oh, the fear that I might not be allowed to visit the theater, and the impatience until the final moment came! The stage was erected in a small dance-hall. The price for front seats ranged from one cent for children to five cents for adults. The lighting of the hall consisted of a few tallow candles. But the center of the dark curtain was decorated with a rosette of transparent paper in different bright colors, and was lighted from behind by a lamp giving a suggestion of marvel and mystery. A shiver of expectation crept over me when at last a bell rang three times, sudden silence fell upon the hall, and the curtain lifted. The stage scenery was arranged in perspective and the puppets were moved from above by wires.
The first play that I saw was "Die Schöne Genovefa." It was a splendid piece. The fair Genovefa is the wife of Count Siegfried. The count rides to the Holy Land to wrest the Holy Sepulchre from the infidels. He entrusts the countess and the castle to the care of his castellan Golo, in whom he reposes absolute confidence. Hardly has the count ridden away, when Golo conceives the plan of making himself master of the castle and of marrying the fair Genovefa. She repels him with disgust. The wicked Golo then locks her into a dark dungeon and orders his man-at-arms to kill her. This the servant promises to do, but moved by pity he leads her out of the dungeon into a great lonely forest after telling Golo that the murder has been accomplished. The fair Genovefa lives upon herbs and berries and finds shelter in a cave. Here she gives birth to a child, a boy, the son of Count Siegfried, whom she calls "Schmerzenreich" — dolorosus. Fearing that both she and the boy will starve to death, the poor mother fervently prays to God for help, and behold! a doe appears and provides them both with milk. Every day the doe returns and Schmerzenreich grows up to be a strong boy. Suddenly Count Siegfried arrives from the Holy Land to the dismay of the wicked Golo, who had been hoping that his master would be killed in the far-away country.
The castle folk at once recognize the count; Golo turns over the castle to him, and tells him that Genovefa is dead. The count is very sad. He goes into the forest to hunt, and happens to see a doe, which leads him to the cave. Husband and wife are reunited and the whole truth comes to light. Mother and child are taken back in triumph to the castle, and the horrid Golo is condemned to die of hunger in the same dungeon into which he had cast the fair Genovefa.
The puppet show had other plays, one — the great warrior-prince "Eugene" — a heroic drama in which great battles were fought and whole rows of paper Turks were shot down. And then a fairy play with every kind of marvelous transformation and other surprises. All these things were very pretty, but to my mind they could not be compared to the fair Genovefa. The impression that this play made upon me was simply overpowering. I wept hot tears at the leave-taking of Count Siegfried from his wife and even more over their reunion, and could hardly restrain a cry of delight when husband and wife returned to the castle and the wicked Golo met his well-deserved fate. I do not believe that ever in my life at a play was my imagination so active and the effect on my mind and emotions so direct and overwhelming. This doll with a plume on its hat was to me the real Count Siegfried; that one there with the red face and black beard the real treacherous Golo; this one with the white gown and the yellow hair the beautiful Genovefa, and the little red thing with the wriggling legs a real live doe. The impression was the same when I saw the play a second time. I knew the whole story and how it was to end; but when the count took leave of his wife and departed for the Holy Land I could hardly refrain from calling out to him not to go, for if he did, something terrible was sure to happen. How happy that naïve condition of childhood in which the imagination surrenders itself so unresistingly, without being in the least disturbed by the critical impulse!
But this faculty of naïve enjoyment received with me an early and a vicious shock. When I was about nine years old I saw for the first time live human beings on the stage in a play called "Hedwig, the Bandit Bride," by Körner. It was played in Brühl by a traveling company. The chief character, that of the villain Rudolph, was acted with all the teeth-gnashing grimaces customary on a little provincial stage. But as I still took this to be the genuine thing, it did not fail to make a strong impression, although not nearly as strong as that at the puppet-show when the fair Genovefa was played. I began to criticise, and this inclination received a tremendous impulse when in the company of my father I saw this "Bandit Bride" for the second time. In the last act, according to the text, Hedwig, the heroine, has to kill the villain by hitting him a vigorous blow on the head with the butt of a gun while he is crouching over a trapdoor. On the Brühl stage this, however, was changed: Hedwig was to shoot the villain instead of striking him. When the actress who played this part pointed her weapon and tried to fire, it refused to go off and gave only a faint click. The villain remained in his bent posture over the trapdoor, hoping every moment to be killed. Hedwig again pulled the trigger, but in vain. The poor woman looked around utterly helpless. In the audience there was the deepest silence of expectation. Then from behind the side-scene came the order, in that loud stage-whisper which can fill an entire house: "Bang him on the head with the butt; bang him quick!" Whereupon Hedwig with slow deliberation reversed the gun and struck the man who had been so patiently awaiting death a leisurely blow upon the head. He rolled over, the audience burst into uncontrollable shrieking laughter, in which the dead villain, lying upon the stage, could not refrain from joining. In the audience the merriment would not cease. But as for me, I would far rather have cried; the occurrence fairly stunned me. With it ended that complete surrender to illusion which had given me so much joy. It failed me, at least until I was fortunate enough to behold artistic performances of a higher order; and this happily came soon during my schooltime at the gymnasium in Cologne.