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- My Life, Volume I - 6/107 -


represented the idea of emancipation from the yoke of school and family. The longing to become a student coincided unfortunately with my growing dislike for drier studies and with my ever- increasing fondness for cultivating romantic poetry. The results of this soon showed themselves in my resolute attempts to make a change.

At the time of my confirmation, at Easter, 1827, I had considerable doubt about this ceremony, and I already felt a serious falling off of my reverence for religious observances. The boy who, not many years before, had gazed with agonised sympathy on the altarpiece in the Kreuz Kirche (Church of the Holy Cross), and had yearned with ecstatic fervour to hang upon the Cross in place of the Saviour, had now so far lost his veneration for the clergyman, whose preparatory confirmation classes he attended, as to be quite ready to make fun of him, and even to join with his comrades in withholding part of his class fees, and spending the money in sweets. How matters stood with mo spiritually was revealed to me, almost to my horror, at the Communion service, when I walked in procession with my fellow- communicants to the altar to the sound of organ and choir. The shudder with which I received the Bread and Wine was so ineffaceably stamped on my memory, that I never again partook of the Communion, lest I should do so with levity. To avoid this was all the easier for me, seeing that among Protestants such participation is not compulsory.

I soon, however, seized, or rather created, an opportunity of forcing a breach with the Kreuz Grammar School, and thus compelled my family to let me go to Leipzig. In self-defence against what I considered an unjust punishment with which I was threatened by the assistant headmaster, Baumgarten-Crusius, for whom I otherwise had great respect, I asked to be discharged immediately from the school on the ground of sudden summons to join my family in Leipzig. I had already left the Bohme household three months before, and now lived alone in a small garret, where I was waited on by the widow of a court plate-washer, who at every meal served up the familiar thin Saxon coffee as almost my sole nourishment. In this attic I did little else but write verses. Here, too, I formed the first outlines of that stupendous tragedy which afterwards filled my family with such consternation. The irregular habits I acquired through this premature domestic independence induced my anxious mother to consent very readily to my removal to Leipzig, the more so as a part of our scattered family had already migrated there.

My longing for Leipzig, originally aroused by the fantastic impressions I had gained there, and later by my enthusiasm for a student's life, had recently been still further stimulated. I had seen scarcely anything of my sister Louisa, at that time a girl of about twenty-two, as she had gone to the theatre of Breslau shortly after our stepfather's death. Quite recently she had been in Dresden for a few days on her way to Leipzig, having accepted an engagement at the theatre there. This meeting with my almost unknown sister, her hearty manifestations of joy at seeing me again, as well as her sprightly, merry disposition, quite won my heart. To live with her seemed an alluring prospect, especially as my mother and Ottilie had joined her for a while. For the first time a sister had treated me with some tenderness. When at last I reached Leipzig at Christmas in the same year (1827), and there found my mother with Ottilie and Cecilia (my half-sister), I fancied myself in heaven. Great changes, however, had already taken place. Louisa was betrothed to a respected and well-to-do bookseller, Friedrich Brockhaus. This gathering together of the relatives of the penniless bride-elect did not seem to trouble her remarkably kind-hearted fiance. But my sister may have become uneasy on the subject, for she soon gave me to understand that she was not taking it quite in good part. Her desire to secure an entree into the higher social circles of bourgeois life naturally produced a marked change in her manner, at one time so full of fun, and of this I gradually became so keenly sensible that finally we were estranged for a time. Moreover, I unfortunately gave her good cause to reprove my conduct. After I got to Leipzig I quite gave up my studies and all regular school work, probably owing to the arbitrary and pedantic system in vogue at the school there.

In Leipzig there were two higher-class schools, one called St. Thomas's School, and the other, and the more modern, St. Nicholas's School. The latter at that time enjoyed a better reputation than the former; so there I had to go. But the council of teachers before whom I appeared for my entrance examination at the New Year (1828) thought fit to maintain the dignity of their school by placing me for a time in the upper third form, whereas at the Kreuz Grammar School in Dresden I had been in the second form. My disgust at having to lay aside my Homer--from which I had already made written translations of twelve songs--and take up the lighter Greek prose writers was indescribable. It hurt my feelings so deeply, and so influenced my behaviour, that I never made a friend of any teacher in the school. The unsympathetic treatment I met with made me all the more obstinate, and various other circumstances in my position only added to this feeling. While student life, as I saw it day by day, inspired me ever more and more with its rebellious spirit, I unexpectedly met with another cause for despising the dry monotony of school regime. I refer to the influence of my uncle, Adolph Wagner, which, though he was long unconscious of it, went a long way towards moulding the growing stripling that I then was.

The fact that my romantic tastes were not based solely on a tendency to superficial amusement was shown by my ardent attachment to this learned relative. In his manner and conversation he was certainly very attractive; the many-sidedness of his knowledge, which embraced not only philology but also philosophy and general poetic literature, rendered intercourse with him a most entertaining pastime, as all those who knew him used to admit. On the other hand, the fact that he was denied the gift of writing with equal charm, or clearness, was a singular defect which seriously lessened his influence upon the literary world, and, in fact, often made him appear ridiculous, as in a written argument he would perpetrate the most pompous and involved sentences. This weakness could not have alarmed me, because in the hazy period of my youth the more incomprehensible any literary extravagance was, the more I admired it; besides which, I had more experience of his conversation than of his writings. He also seemed to find pleasure in associating with the lad who could listen with so much heart and soul. Yet unfortunately, possibly in the fervour of his discourses, of which he was not a little proud, he forgot that their substance, as well as their form, was far above my youthful powers of comprehension. I called daily to accompany him on his constitutional walk beyond the city gates, and I shrewdly suspect that we often provoked the smiles of those passers-by who overheard the profound and often earnest discussions between us. The subjects generally ranged over everything serious or sublime throughout the whole realm of knowledge. I took the most enthusiastic interest in his copious library, and tasted eagerly of almost all branches of literature, without really grounding myself in any one of them.

My uncle was delighted to find in me a very willing listener to his recital of classic tragedies. He had made a translation of Oedipus, and, according to his intimate friend Tieck, justly flattered himself on being an excellent reader.

I remember once, when he was sitting at his desk reading out a Greek tragedy to me, it did not annoy him when I fell fast asleep, and he afterwards pretended he had not noticed it. I was also induced to spend my evenings with him, owing to the friendly and genial hospitality his wife showed me. A very great change had come over my uncle's life since my first acquaintance with him at Jeannette Thome's. The home which he, together with his sister Friederike, had found in his friend's house seemed, as time went on, to have brought in its train duties that were irksome. As his literary work assured him a modest income, he eventually deemed it more in accordance with his dignity to make a home of his own. A friend of his, of the same age as himself, the sister of the aesthete Wendt of Leipzig, who afterwards became famous, was chosen by him to keep house for him. Without saying a word to Jeannette, instead of going for his usual afternoon walk he went to the church with his chosen bride, and got through the marriage ceremonies as quickly as possible; and it was only on his return that he informed us he was leaving, and would have his things removed that very day. He managed to meet the consternation, perhaps also the reproaches, of his elderly friend with quiet composure; and to the end of his life he continued his regular daily visits to 'Mam'selle Thome,' who at times would coyly pretend to sulk. It was only poor Friederike who seemed obliged at times to atone for her brother's sudden unfaithfulness.

What attracted me in my uncle most strongly was his blunt contempt of the modern pedantry in State, Church, and School, to which he gave vent with some humour. Despite the great moderation of his usual views on life, he yet produced on me the effect of a thorough free-thinker. I was highly delighted by his contempt for the pedantry of the schools. Once, when I had come into serious conflict with all the teachers of the Nicolai School, and the rector of the school had approached my uncle, as the only male representative of my family, with a serious complaint about my behaviour, my uncle asked me during a stroll round the town, with a calm smile as though he were speaking to one of his own age, what I had been up to with the people at school. I explained the whole affair to him, and described the punishment to which I had been subjected, and which seemed to me unjust. He pacified me, and exhorted me to be patient, telling me to comfort myself with the Spanish proverb, un rey no puede morir, which he explained as meaning that the ruler of a school must of necessity always be in the right.

He could not, of course, help noticing, to his alarm, the effect upon me of this kind of conversation, which I was far too young to appreciate. Although it annoyed me one day, when I wanted to begin reading Goethe's Faust, to hear him say quietly that I was too young to understand it, yet, according to my thinking, his other conversations about our own great poets, and even about Shakespeare and Dante, had made me so familiar with these sublime figures that I had now for some time been secretly busy working out the great tragedy I had already conceived in Dresden. Since my trouble at school I had devoted all my energies, which ought by rights to have been exclusively directed to my school duties, to the accomplishment of this task. In this secret work I had only one confidante, my sister Ottilie, who now lived with me at my mother's. I can remember the misgivings and alarm which the first confidential communication of my great poetic enterprise aroused in my good sister; yet she affectionately suffered the tortures I sometimes inflicted on her by reciting to her in secret, but not without emotion, portions of my work as it progressed. Once, when I was reciting to her one of the most gruesome scenes, a heavy thunderstorm came on. When the lightning


My Life, Volume I - 6/107

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