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- The Story of My Life, Volume 3. - 2/7 -
Our bold excursion over the barricades was unpunished, so far as I remember. Perhaps it was not even noticed, for our mother, in spite of her violent headache, had to make preparations for the illumination of our tolerably long row of windows. Not to have lighted the house would have imperilled the window-panes. To my regret, we were not allowed to see the illumination. I have since thought it a peculiarly amusing trick of fate that the palace of the Russian embassy--the property of the autocrat Nicholas--was obliged to celebrate with a brilliant display of lights the movement for liberty in a sister country.
On Monday, the 20th, we were sent to school, but it was closed, and we took advantage of the circumstance to get into the heart of the city. The appearance of the town-hall peppered with balls I have never forgotten. Most of the barricades were cleared away; instead, there were singular inscriptions in chalk on the doors of various public buildings.
At the beginning of Leipzigstrasse, at the main entrance of the Ministry of War, we read the words, "National Property." Elsewhere, and particularly at the palace of the Prince of Prussia, was "Property of the Citizens" or "Property of the entire Nation."
An excited throng had gathered in front of the plain and simple palace to whose high ground-floor windows troops of loyal and grateful Germans have often looked up with love and admiration to see the beloved countenance of the grey-haired imperial hero. That day we stood among the crowd and listened to the speech of a student, who addressed us from the great balcony amid a storm of applause. Whether it was the same honest fellow who besought the people to desist from their design of burning the prince's palace because the library would be imperilled, I do not know, bat the answer, "Leave the poor boys their books," is authentic.
And it is also true, unhappily, that it was difficult to save from destruction the house of the man whose Hohenzollern blood asserted itself justly against the weakness of his royal brother. Through those days of terror he was what he always had been and would remain, an upright man and soldier, in the highest and noblest meaning of the words.
What we saw and heard in the palace and its courts, swarming with citizens and students, was so low and revolting that I dislike to think of it.
Some of the lifeless heroes were just being borne past on litters, greeted by the wine-flushed faces of armed students and citizens. The teachers who had overtaken us on the way recognized among them college friends who praised the delicious vintage supplied by the palace guards.
My brother and I were also fated to see Frederick William IV. ride down the Behrenstrasse and the Unter den Linden with a large black, red, and yellow band around his arm.
The burial of those who had fallen during the night of the revolution was one of the most imposing ceremonies ever witnessed in Berlin. We boys were permitted to look at it only for a short time, yet the whole impression of the procession, which we really ought not to have been allowed to see, has lingered in my memory.
It was wonderful weather, as warm as summer, and the vast escort which accompanied the two hundred coffins of the champions of freedom to their last resting-place seemed endless. We were forbidden to go on the platform in front of the Neuenkirche where they were placed, but the spectacle must have produced a strange yet deeply pathetic impression.
Pastor Sydow, who represented the Protestant clergy as the Prelate Roland did the Catholics, and the Rabbi Dr. Sachs the Jews, afterwards told me that the multitude of coffins, adorned with the rarest flowers and lavishly draped with black, presented an image of mournful splendour never to be forgotten, and I can easily believe it.
This funeral remains in my memory as an endless line of coffins and black-garbed men with banners and hats bound with crape, bearing flowers, emblems of guilds, and trade symbols. Mounted standard bearers, gentlemen in robes--the professors of the university--and students in holiday attire, mingled in the motley yet solemn train.
How many tears were shed over those coffins which contained the earthly remains of many a young life once rich in hopes and glowing with warm enthusiasm, many a quiet heart which had throbbed joyously for man's noblest possession! The interment in the Friedrichshain, where four hundred singers raised their voices, and a band of music composed of the hautboy players of many regiments poured mighty volumes of sound over the open graves of the dead, must have been alike dignified and majestic.
But the opposition between the contending parties was still too great, and the demand upon the king to salute the dead had aroused such anger in my mother's circle, that she kept aloof from these magnificent and in themselves perfectly justifiable funeral obsequies. It seemed almost unendurable that the king had constrained himself to stand on the balcony of the palace with his head bared, holding his helmet in his hand, while the procession passed.
The effect of this act upon the loyal citizens of Berlin can scarcely be described. I have seen men--even our humble Kurschner--weep during the account of it by eye-witnesses.
Whoever knew Frederick William IV. also knew that neither genuine reconciliation nor respect for the fallen champions of liberty induced him to show this outward token of respect, which was to him the deepest humiliation.
The insincerity of the sovereign's agreement with the ideas, events, and men of his day was evident in the reaction which appeared only too soon. His conviction showed itself under different forms, but remained unchanged, both in political and religious affairs.
During the interval life had assumed a new aspect. The minority had become the majority, and many a son of a strictly conservative man was forbidden to oppose the "red." Only no one needed to conceal his loyalty to the king, for at that time the democrats still shared it. A good word for the Prince of Prussia, on the contrary, inevitably led to a brawl, but we did not shrink from it, and, thank Heaven, we were among the strongest boys.
This intrusion of politics into the school-room and the whole tense life of the capital was extremely undesirable, and, if continued, could not fail to have an injurious influence upon immature lads; so my mother hastily decided that, instead of waiting until the next year, we should go to Keilhau at once.
She has often said that this was the most difficult resolve of her life, but it was also one of the best, since it removed us from the motley, confusing impressions of the city, and the petting we received at home, and transferred us to the surroundings most suitable for boys of our age.
The first of the greater divisions of my life closes with the Easter which follows the Berlin revolution of March, 1848.
Not until I attained years of maturity did I perceive that these conflicts, which, long after, I heard execrated in certain quarters as a blot upon Prussian history, rather deserved the warmest gratitude of the nation. During those beautiful spring days, no matter by what hands-- among them were the noblest and purest--were sown the seeds of the dignity and freedom of public life which we now enjoy.
The words "March conquests" have been uttered by jeering lips, but I think at the present time there are few among the more far-sighted conservatives who would like to dispense with them. To me and, thank Heaven, to the majority of Germans, life deprived of them would seem unendurable. My mother afterward learned to share this opinion, though, like ourselves, in whose hearts she early implanted it, she retained to her last hour her loyalty to the king.
Keilhau! How much is comprised in that one short word!
It recalls to my memory the pure happiness of the fairest period of boyhood, a throng of honoured, beloved, and merry figures, and hundreds of stirring, bright, and amusing scenes in a period of life rich in instruction and amusement, as well as the stage so lavishly endowed by Nature on which they were performed. Jean Paul has termed melancholy the blending of joy and pain, and it was doubtless a kindred feeling which filled my heart in the days before my departure, and induced me to be particularly good and obliging to every body in the house. My mother took us once more to my father's grave in the Dreifaltigkeits cemetery, where I made many good resolutions. Only the best reports should reach home from Keilhau, and I had already obtained excellent ones in Berlin.
On the evening of our departure there were numerous kisses and farewell glances at all that was left behind; but when we were seated in the car with my mother, rushing through the landscape adorned with the most luxuriant spring foliage, my heart suddenly expanded, and the pleasure of travel and delight in the many new scenes before me destroyed every other feeling.
The first vineyard I saw at Naumburg--I had long forgotten those on the Rhine--interested me deeply; the Rudelsburg at Kosen, the ruins of a real ancient castle, pleased me no less because I had never heard Franz Kugler's song:
"Beside the Saale's verdant strand Once stood full many a castle grand, But roofless ruins are they all; The wind sweeps through from hall to hall; Slow drift the clouds above,"
which refers to this charming part of the Thuringian hill country. We were soon to learn to sing it at Keilhau. Weimar was the first goal of this journey. We had heard much of our classic poets; nay, I knew Schiller's Bell and some of Goethe's poems by heart, and we had heard them mentioned with deep reverence. Now we were to see their home, and a strange emotion took possession of me when we entered it.
Every detail of this first journey has remained stamped on my memory. I even know what we ordered for supper at the hotel where we spent the night. But my mother had a severe headache, so we saw none of the sights of Weimar except the Goethe house in the city and the other one in the park. I cannot tell what my feelings were, they are too strongly blended with later impressions. I only know that the latter especially seemed to me very small. I had imagined the "Goethe House" like the palace of the Prince of Prussia or Prince Radziwill in Wilhelmstrasse. The Grand Duke's palace, on the contrary, appeared aristocratic and stately. We looked at it very closely, because it was the birthplace of the Princess of Prussia, of whom Fraulein Lamperi had told us so much.
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