THE STORY OF MY LIFE - VOLUME 2.
THE STORY OF MY LIFE - VOLUME 2.
THE STORY OF MY LIFE FROM CHILDHOOD TO MANHOOD
MY INTRODUCTION TO ART AND ACQUAINTANCES GREAT AND SMALL IN THE
The Drakes mentioned in my sister's journal are the family of the
sculptor to whom Berlin and many another German city owe such splendid
works of art.
He was also one of our neighbours and a warm friendship bound him and
his young wife to my mother. He was kind to us children too and had us
in his studio which was connected with the house like the other and
larger one in the Thiergarten. He even gave us a bit of clay to shape.
I have often watched him at work for hours chattering to him but
happier still to listen while he told us of his childhood when he was a
poor boy. He exhorted us to be thankful that we were better off but
generally added that he would not exchange for anything in the world
those days when he went barefoot. His bright clear artist's eyes
sparkled as he spoke and it must indeed have been a glorious
satisfaction to have conquered the greatest hindrances by his own might
and to have raised himself to the highest pinnacle of life--that of art.
I had a dim impression of this when he talked to us and now I consider
every one enviable who has only himself to thank for all he is like
Drake his friend in art Ritschl and my dear friend Josef Popf in Rome
all three laurel-crowned masters in the art of sculpture.
In Drake's studio I saw statues busts and reliefs grow out of the rude
mass of clay; I saw the plaster cast turned into marble and the master
with his sure hand evoking splendid forms from the primary limestone.
What I could not understand the calm kindly man explained with
unfailing patience and so I got an early insight into the sculptor's
It was these recollections of my childhood that suggested to me the
character of little Pennu in Uarda of Polykarp in Homo Sum of Pollux in
The Emperor and the cheery Alexander in Per Aspera.
I often visited also during my last years in Berlin the studio of
another sculptor. His name was Streichenberg and his workshop was in
our garden in the Linkstrasse.
If a thoughtful earnestness was the rule in Drake's studio in that of
Prof. Streichenberg artistic gaiety reigned. He often whistled or sang
at his work and his young Italian assistant played the guitar. But
while I still know exactly what Drake executed in our presence so that I
could draw the separate groups of the charming relief the Genii of the
Thiergarten I do not remember a single stroke of Streichenberg's work
though I can recall all the better the gay manner of the artist whom we
again met in 1848 as a demagogue.
At the Schmidt school Franz and Paul Meyerheim were among our comrades
and how full of admiration I was when one of them--Franz I think who
was then ten or eleven years old--showed us a hussar he had painted
himself in oil on a piece of canvas! The brothers took us to their home
and there I saw at his work their kindly father the creator of so many
charming pictures of country and child life.
There was also a member of the artist family of the Begas Adalbert who
was one of our contemporaries and playmates some of whose beautiful
portraits I saw afterward but whom to my regret I never met again.
Most memorable of all were our meetings with Peter Cornelius who also
lived in the Lennestrasse. When I think of him it always seems as if he
were looking me in the face. Whoever once gazed into his eyes could
never forget them. He was a little man with waxen-pale and almost
harsh though well-formed features and smooth long coal-black hair.
He might scarcely have been noticed save for his eyes which overpowered
all else as the sunlight puts out starlight. Those eyes would have
drawn attention to him anywhere. His peculiar seriousness and his
aristocratic reserve of manner were calculated to keep children at a
distance even to repel them and we avoided the stern little man whom we
had heard belonged to the greatest of the great. When he and his amiable
wife became acquainted with our mother however and he called us to him
it is indescribable how his harsh features softened in the intercourse
with us little ones till they assumed an expression of the utmost
benevolence and with what penetrating I might say fatherly kindness he
talked and even jested with us in his impressive way. I had the best of
it for my blond curly head struck him as usable in some work of his and
my mother readily consented to my being his model. So I had to keep
still several hours day after day though I confess to my shame that I
remember nothing about the sittings except having eaten some particularly
good candied fruit.
Even now I smile at the recollection of his making an angel or a spirit
of peace out of the wild boy who perhaps just before had been scuffling
with the enemy from the flower-cellar.
There was another celebrated inhabitant of the Lennestrasse whose
connection with us was still closer than that of Peter Cornelius.
It was the councillor of consistory and court chaplain Strauss
who lived at No. 3.
Two men more unlike than he and his great artist-neighbour can hardly be
imagined though their cradles were not far apart for the painter was
born in Dusseldorf and the clergyman at Iserlohn in Westphalia.
Cornelius appears to me like a peculiarly delicate type of the Latin
race while Strauss might be called a prototype of the sturdy Lower
Saxons. Broad-shouldered stout ruddy with small but kindly blue eyes
and a resonant bass voice suited to fill great spaces he was always at
his ease and made others easy. He had a touch of the assured yet fine
dignity of a well-placed and well-educated Catholic prelate though
combined with the warlike spirit of a Protestant.
Looking more closely at his healthy face it revealed not only benevolent
amiability but superior sense and plain traces of that cheery elasticity
of soul which gave him such power over the hearts of the listening
congregation and the disposition and mind of the king.
His religious views I do not accept but I believe his strictly orthodox
belief was based upon conviction and cannot be charged to any odious
display of piety to ingratiate himself with the king. It was in the time
of our boyhood that Alexander von Humboldt going once with the king to
church in Potsdam in answer to the sneering question how he who passed
for a freethinker at court could go to the house of God made the apt
reply "In order to get on your Excellency."
When Strauss met us in the street and called to us with a certain unction
in his melodious voice "Good-morning my dear children in Christ!" our
hearts went out to him and it seemed as if we had received a blessing.
He and his son Otto used to call me "Marcus Aurelius" on account of my
curly blond head; and how often did he put his strong hand into my thick
locks to draw me toward him!
Strauss was in the counsels of the king Frederick William IV and at
important moments exercised an influence on his political decisions. Yet
that somewhat eccentric prince could not resist his inclination to make
cheap jokes at Strauss's expense. After creating him court-chaplain he
said to Alexander von Humboldt: "A trick in natural history which you
cannot copy! I have turned an ostrich (Strauss) into a bullfinch
(Dompfaffer)"--in allusion to Strauss's being a preacher at the cathedral
Fritz the worthy man's eldest son came to see me in Leipsic. Our
studies in the department of biblical geography had led us to different
conclusions but our scientific views were constantly intermingled with
recollections of the Lennestrasse.
But better than he who was much older do I remember his brother Otto
then a bright amiable young man and his mother who was from the Rhine
country a warm-hearted kindly woman of aristocratic bearing.
Our mother had a very high opinion of the court chaplain who had
christened us all and afterward confirmed my sisters and officiated at
Martha's marriage. But much as she appreciated him as a friend and
counsellor she could not accept his strict theology. Though she
received the communion at his hands with my sisters she preferred the
sermons of the regimental chaplain Bollert and later those of the
excellent Sydow. I well remember her grief when Bollert whose free
interpretation of Scripture had aroused displeasure at court was sent to
I find an amusing echo of the effect of this measure in Paula's journal
and it would have been almost impossible for a growing girl of active
mind to take no note of opinions which she heard everywhere expressed.
Our entire circle was loyal; especially Privy-Councillor Seiffart one
of our most intimate friends a sarcastic Conservative who was credited
with the expresssion "The limited intellect of subjects" which
however belonged to his superior Minister von Rochow. Still almost
all my mother's acquaintances and the younger ones without exception
felt a desire for better political conditions and a constitution for the
brave loyal reflecting and well-educated Prussian people. In the same
house with us lived two men who had suffered for their political
convictions--the brothers Grimm. They had been ejected from their chairs
among the seven professors of Gottingen who were sacrificed to the
arbitrary humour of King Ernst August of Hanover.
Their dignified figures are among the noblest and most memorable
recollections of the Lennestrasse. They were it might be said one
person for they were seldom seen apart; yet each had preserved his own
If ever the external appearance of distinguished men corresponded with
the idea formed of them from their deeds and works it was so in their
case. One did not need to know them to perceive at the first glance that
they were labourers in the department of intellectual life though
whether as scientists or poets even a practised observer would have found
it difficult to determine. Their long flowing wavy hair and an
atmosphere of ideality which enveloped them both might have inclined one
to the latter supposition; while the form of their brows indicating deep
thought and severe mental labor and their slightly stooping shoulders
would have suggested the former. Wilhelm's milder features were really
those of a poet while Jakob's sterner cast of countenance and his
piercing eyes indicated more naturally a searcher after knowledge.
But just as certainly as that they both belonged to the strongest
champions of German science the Muse had kissed them in their cradle.
Not only their manner of restoring our German legends but almost all
their writings give evidence of a poetical mode of viewing things and
of an intuition peculiar to the spirit of poetry. Many of their
writings too are full of poetical beauties.
That both were men in the fullest meaning of the word was revealed at the
first glance. They proved it when to stand by their convictions they
put themselves and their families at the mercy of a problematical future;
and when in advanced years they undertook the gigantic work of
compiling so large and profound a German dictionary. Jakob looked as if
nothing could bend him;
Wilhelm as if though equally strong he might yield out of love.
And what a fascinating I might almost say childlike amiability was
united to manliness in both characters! Yes theirs was indeed that
sublime simplicity which genius has in common with the children whom the
Saviour called to him. It spoke from the eyes whose gaze was so
searching and echoed in their language which so easily mastered
difficult things though when they condescended to play with their
children and with us and jested so naively we were half tempted to
think ourselves the wiser.
But we knew with what intellectual giants we had to do; no one had needed
to tell us that at least; and when they called me to them I felt as if
the king himself had honoured me.
Only Wilhelm was married and his wife had hardly her equal for sunny and
simple kindness of heart. A pleasanter more motherly sweeter matron I
Hermann who won good rank as a poet and was one of the very foremost of
our aesthetics was much older than we. The tall young man who often
walked as if he were absorbed in thought seemed to us a peculiar and
unapproachable person. His younger brother Rudolf on the other hand
was a cheery fellow whose beauty and brightness charmed me unspeakably.
When he came along with elastic tread as if he were challenging life to a
conflict and I saw him spring up the stairs three steps at a time I was
delighted and I knew that my mother was very fond of him. It was just
the same with "Gustel" his sister who was as amiable and kindly as her
I can still see the torchlight procession with which the Berlin students
honoured the beloved and respected brothers and which we watched from
the Grimms' windows because they were higher than ours. But there is a
yet brighter light of fire in my memory. It was shed by the burning
opera house. Our mother who liked to have us participate in anything
remarkable which might be a recollection for life took us out of our
beds to the next house where the Seiffarts lived and which had a little
tower on it. Thence we gazed in admiration at the ever-deepening glow of
the sky toward which great tongues of flame kept streaming up while
across the dusk shot formless masses like radiant spark-showering birds.
Pillars of smoke mingled with the clouds and the metallic note of the
fire-bells calling for help accompanied the grand spectacle. I was only
six years old but I remember distinctly that when Ludo and I were taken
to the Lutz swimming-baths next day we found first on the drill-ground
then on the bank of the Spree and in the water charred pieces large
and small of the side-scenes of the theatre. They were the glowing
birds whose flight I had watched from the tower of the Crede house.
This remark reminds me how early our mother provided for our physical
development for I clearly remember that the tutor who took us little
fellows to the bath called our attention to these bits of decoration
while we were swimming. When I went to Keilhau at eleven years old
I had mastered the art completely.
I did in fact many things at an earlier age than is customary because
I was always associated with my brother who was a year and a half older.
We were early taught to skate too and how many happy hours we passed
frequently with our sisters on the ice by the Louisa and Rousseau
Islands in the Thiergarten! The first ladies who at that time
distinguished themselves as skaters were the wife and daughter of the
celebrated surgeon Dieffenbach--two fine supple figures who moved
gracefully over the ice and in their fur-bordered jackets and Polish
caps trimmed with sable excited universal admiration.
On the whole we had time enough for such things though we lost many a
free hour in music lessons. Ludo was learning to play on the piano but
I had chosen another instrument. Among our best friends the three fine
sons of Privy-Councillor Oesterreich and others there was a pleasant boy
named Victor Rubens whose parents were likewise friends of my mother.
In the hospitable house of this agreeable family I had heard the composer
Vieuxtemps play the violin when I was nine years old. I went home fairly
enraptured and begged my mother to let me take lessons. My wish was
fulfilled and for many years I exerted myself zealously without any
result to accomplish something on the violin. I did indeed attain to
a certain degree of skill but I was so little satisfied with my own
performances that I one day renounced the hope of becoming a practical
musician and presented my handsome violin--a gift from my grandmother--
to a talented young virtuoso the son of my sisters' French teacher.
The actress Crelinger when she came to see my mother made a great
impression on me at this time by her majestic appearance and her deep
musical voice. She and her daughter Clara Stich afterward Frau
Liedtcke the splendid singer Frau Jachmann-Wagner and the charming
Frau Schlegel-Koster were the only members of the theatrical profession
who were included among the Gepperts' friends and whose acquaintance we
made in consequence.
Frau Crelinger's husband was a highly respected jurist and councillor of
justice but among all the councillors' wives by whom she was surrounded
I never heard her make use of her husband's title. She was simply "Frau"
in society and for the public Crelinger. She knew her name had an
importance of its own. Even though posterity twines no wreaths for
actors it is done in the grateful memory of survivors. I shall never
forget the ennobling and elevating hours I afterward owed to that great
and noble interpreter of character.
I am also indebted to Frau Jachmann-Wagner for much enjoyment both in
opera and the drama. She now renders meritorious service by fitting on
the soundest artistic principles--younger singers for the stage.
Among my mother's papers was a humorous note announcing the arrival of a
friend from Oranienburg and signed:
"Your faithful old dog Runge
Who was born in a quiet way
At Neustadt I've heard say."
He came not once but several times. He bore the title of professor was
a chemist and I learned from friends versed in that science that it was
indebted to him for interesting discoveries.
He had been an acquaintance of my father and no one who met him
bubbling over with animation and lively wit could easily forget him. He
had a full face and long straight dark hair hanging on his short neck
while intellect and kindness beamed from his twinkling eyes. When he
tossed me up and laughed I laughed too and it seemed as if all Nature
must laugh with us.
I have not met so strong and original a character for many a long year
and I was very glad to read in the autobiography of Wackernagel that when
it went ill with him in Berlin Hoffman von Fallersleben and this same
Runge invited him to Breslau to share their poverty which was so great
that they often did not know at night where they should get the next
How many other names with and without the title of privy-councillor occur
to me but I must not allow myself to think of them.
Fraulein Lamperi however must have a place here. She used to dine with
us at least once a week and was among the most faithful adherents of our
family. She had been governess to my father and his only sister and
later was in the service of the Princess of Prussia afterward the
Empress Augusta as waiting-woman.
She too was one of those original characters whom we never find now.
She was so clever that incredible as it sounds she made herself a wig
and some false teeth and yet she came of a race whose women were not
accustomed to serve themselves with their own hands; for the blood of the
venerable and aristocratic Altoviti family of Florence flowed in her
veins. Her father came into the world as a marquis of that name but was
disinherited when against the will of his family he married the
dancer Lamperi. With her he went first to Warsaw and then to Berlin
where he supported himself and his children by giving lessons in the
languages. One daughter was a prominent member of the Berlin ballet the
other was prepared by a most careful education to be a governess. She
gave various lessons to my sisters and criticised our proceedings
sharply as she did those of her fellow-creatures in general. "I can't
help it--I Must say what I think" was the palliating remark which
followed every severe censure; and I owe to her the conviction that it
is much easier to express disapproval when it can be done with impunity
than to keep it to one's self as I am also indebted to her for the
subject of my fairy tale The Elixir.
I shall return to Fraulein Lamperi for her connection with our family
did not cease until her death and she lived to be ninety. Her
aristocratic connections in Florence--be it said to their honour--
never repudiated her but visited her when they came to Berlin and the
equipage of the Italian ambassador followed at her funeral for he too
belonged to her father's kindred. The extreme kindness extended to her
by Emperor William I and his sovereign spouse solaced her old age in
One of the dearest friends of my sister Paula and of our family knew more
of me unfortunately at this time than I of her. Her name was Babette
Meyer now Countess Palckreuth. She lived in our neighbourhood and was
a charming graceful child but not one of our acquaintances.
When she was grown up--we were good friends then--she told me she was
coming from school one winter day and some boys threw snowballs at her.
Then Ludo and I appeared--"the Ebers boys" and she thought that would be
the end of her; but instead of attacking her we fell upon the boys who
turned upon us and drove them away she escaping betwixt Scylla and
Before this praiseworthy deed we had however thrown snow at a young
lady in wanton mischief. I forgive our heedlessness as we were forgiven
but it is really a painful thought to me that we should have snowballed
a poor insane man well known in the Thiergarten and Lennestrasse and
who seriously imagined that he was made of glass.
I began to relate this thinking of our uproarious laughter when the poor
fellow cried out: "Let me alone! I shall break! Don't you hear me
clink?" Then I stopped for my heart aches when I reflect what terrible
distress our thoughtlessness caused the unfortunate creature. We were
not bad-hearted children and yet it occurred to none of us to put
ourselves in the place of the whimpering man and think what he suffered.
But we could not do it. A child is naturally egotistical and unable in
such a case to distinguish between what is amusing and what is sad. Had
the cry "It hurts me!" once fallen from the trembling lips of the
"glass man" I think we should have thrown nothing more at him.
But our young hearts did not under all circumstances allow what amused
us to cast kinder feelings into the shade. The "man of glass" had a
feminine 'pendant' in the "crazy Frau Councillor with the velvet
envelope." This was a name she herself had given to a threadbare little
velvet cloak when some naughty boys--were we among them?--were
snowballing her and she besought us not to injure her velvet envelope.
But when there was ice on the ground and one of the boys was trying
to get her on to a slide Ludo and I interfered and prevented it.
Naturally there was a good fight in consequence but I am glad
of it to this day.
WHAT A BERLIN CHILD ENJOYED ON THE SPREE AND AT HIS GRANDMOTHER'S
In the summer we were all frequently taken to the new Zoological Garden
where we were especially delighted with the drollery of the monkeys.
Even then I felt a certain pity for the deer and does in confinement
and for the wild beasts in their cages and this so grew upon me that
many a visit to a zoological garden has been spoiled by it. Once in
Keilhau I caught a fawn in the wood and was delighted with my beautiful
prize. I meant to bring it up with our rabbits and had already carried
it quite a distance when suddenly I began to be sorry for it and
thought how its mother would grieve upon which I took it back to the
spot where I had found it and returned to the institution as fast as I
could but said nothing at first about my "stupidity" for I was ashamed
Excursions into the country were the most delightful pleasures of the
summer. The shorter ones took us to the suburbs of the capital and
sometimes to Charlottenburg where several of our acquaintances lived
and our guardian Alexander Mendelssohn had a country house with a
beautiful garden where there was never any lack of the owner's children
and grandchildren for playmates. Sometimes we were allowed to go there
with other boys. We then had a few Groschen to get something at a
restaurant and were generally brought home in a Kremser carriage. These