The Story Of My Life From Childhood To Manhood by Georg Ebers
Chapter XI. In Keilhau
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.
The next morning my mother was well again. The railroad connecting Weimar and Rudolstadt, near which Keilhau is located, was built long after, so we continued our journey in an open carriage and reached Rudolstadt about noon.
After we had rested a short time, the carriage which was to take us to Keilhau drove up.
As we were getting in, an old gentleman approached, who instantly made a strong impression upon me. In outward appearance he bore a marked resemblance to Wilhelm Grimm. I should have noticed him among hundreds; for long grey locks, parted in the middle, floated around a nobly formed head, his massive yet refined features bore the stamp of a most kindly nature, and his eyes were the mirror of a pure, childlike soul. The rare charm of their sunny sparkle, when his warm heart expanded to pleasure or his keen intellect had succeeded in solving any problem, comes back vividly to my memory as I write, and they beamed brightly enough when he perceived our companion. They were old acquaintances, for my mother had been to Keilhau several times on Martin's account. She addressed him by the name of Middendorf, and we recognized him as one of the heads of the institute, of whom we had heard many pleasant things.
He had driven to Rudolstadt with the "old bay," but he willingly accepted a seat in our carriage.
We had scarcely left the street with the hotel behind us, when he began to speak of Schiller, and pointed out the mountain which bore his name and to which in his "Walk" he had cried:
"Hail! oh my Mount, with radiant crimson peak."
Then he told us of the Lengefeld sisters, whom the poet had so often met here, and one of whom, Charlotte, afterward became his wife. All this was done in a way which had no touch of pedagogy or of anything specially prepared for children, yet every word was easily understood and interested us. Besides, his voice had a deep, musical tone, to which my ear was susceptible at an early age. He understood children of our disposition and knew what pleased them.
In Schaale, the first village through which we passed, he said, pointing to the stream which flowed into the Saale close by: "Look, boys, now we are coming into our own neighbourhood, the valley of the Schaal. It owes its name to this brook, which rises in our own meadows, and I suppose you would like to know why our village is called Keilhau?"
While speaking, he pointed up the stream and briefly described its course.
We had passed the village of Schaale. The one before us, with the church, was called Eichfeld, and at our right was another which we could not see, Lichtstadt. In ancient times, he told us, the mountain sides and the bottom of the whole valley had been clothed with dense oak forests. Then people came who wanted to till the ground. They began to clear (lichten) these woods at Lichtstadt. This was a difficult task, and they had used axes (Keile) for the purpose. At Eichfeld they felled the oaks (Fiche), and carried the trunks to Schaale, where the bark (Schale) was stripped off to make tan for the tanners on the Saale. So the name of Lichtstadt came from the clearing of the forests, Eichfeld from the felling of the oaks, Schaale from stripping off the bark, and Keilhau from the hewing with axes.
This simple tale of ancient times had sprung from the Thuringian soil, so rich in legends, and, little as it might satisfy the etymologist, it delighted me. I believed it, and when afterward I looked down from a height into the valley and saw the Saale, my imagination clothed the bare or pineclad mountain slopes with huge oak forests, and beheld the giant forms of the ancient Thuringians felling the trees with their heavy axes.
The idea of violence which seemed to be connected with the name of Keilhau had suddenly disappeared. It had gained meaning to me, and Herr Middendorf had given us an excellent proof of a fundamental requirement of Friedrich Froebel, the founder of the institution: "The external must be spiritualized and given an inner significance."
The same talented pedagogue had said, "Our education associates instruction with the external world which surrounds the human being as child and youth"; and Middendorf carried out this precept when, at the first meeting, he questioned us about the trees and bushes by the wayside, and when we were obliged to confess our ignorance of most of them, he mentioned their names and described their peculiarities.
At last we reached the Keilhau plain, a bowl whose walls formed tolerably high mountains which surrounded it on all sides except toward Rudolstadt, where an opening permitted the Schaalbach to wind through meadows and fields. So the village lies like an egg in a nest open in one direction, like the beetle in the calyx of a flower which has lost one of its leaves. Nature has girded it on three sides with protecting walls which keep the wind from entering the valley, and to this, and the delicious, crystal-clear water which flows from the mountains into the pumps, its surprising healthfulness is doubtless due. During my residence there of four and a half years there was no epidemic disease among the boys, and on the fiftieth jubilee of the institute, in 1867, which I attended, the statement was made that during the half century of its existence only one pupil had died, and he had had heart disease when his parents sent him to the school.
We must have arrived on Sunday, for we met on the road several peasants in long blue coats, and peasant women in dark cloth cloaks with gold-embroidered borders, and little black caps from which ribbons three or four feet long hung down the wearers' backs. The cloaks descended from mother to daughter. They were very heavy, yet I afterward saw peasant women wear them to church in summer.
At last we drove into the broad village street. At the right, opposite to the first houses, lay a small pond called the village pool, on which ducks and geese floated, and whose dark surface, glittering with many hues, reflected the shepherd's hut. After we had passed some very fine farmhouses, we reached the "Plan," where bright waters plashed into a stone trough, a linden tree shaded the dancing-ground, and a pretty house was pointed out as the schoolhouse of the village children.
A short distance farther away the church rose in the background. But we had no time to look at it, for we were already driving up to the institute itself, which was at the end of the village, and consisted of two rows of houses with an open space closed at the rear by the wide front of a large building.
The bakery, a small dwelling, and the large gymnasium were at our left; on the right, the so-called Lower House, with the residences of the head-masters' families, and the school and sleeping-rooms of the smaller pupils, whom we dubbed the "Panzen," and among whom were boys only eight and nine years old.
The large house before whose central door--to which a flight of stone steps led--we stopped, was the Upper House, our future home.
Almost at the same moment we heard a loud noise inside, and an army of boys came rushing down the steps. These were the "pupils," and my heart began to throb faster.
They gathered around the Rudolstadt carriage boldly enough and stared at us. I noticed that almost all were bareheaded. Many wore their hair falling in long locks down their backs. The few who had any coverings used black velvet caps, such as in Berlin would be seen only at the theatre or in an artist's studio.
Middendorf had stepped quickly among the lads, and as they came running up to take his hand or hang on his arm we saw how they loved him.
But we had little time for observation. Barop, the head-master, was already hastening down the steps, welcoming my mother and ourselves with his deep, musical tones, in a pure Westphalian dialect.
ENTERING THE INSTITUTE.
Barop's voice sounded so sincere and cordial that it banished every thought of fear, otherwise his appearance might have inspired boys of our age with a certain degree of timidity, for he was a broad-shouldered man of gigantic stature, who, like Middendorf, wore his grey hair parted in the middle, though it was cut somewhat shorter. A pair of dark eyes sparkled under heavy, bushy brows, which gave them the aspect of clear springs shaded by dense thickets. They now gazed kindly at us, but later we were to learn their irresistible power. I have said, and I still think, that the eyes of the artist, Peter Cornelius, are the most forceful I have ever seen, for the very genius of art gazed from them. Those of our Barop produced no weaker influence in their way, for they revealed scarcely less impressively the character of a man. To them, especially, was clue the implicit obedience that every one rendered him. When they flashed with indignation the defiance of the boldest and most refractory quailed. But they could sparkle cheerily, too, and whoever met his frank, kindly gaze felt honoured and uplifted.
Earnest, thoroughly natural, able, strong, reliable, rigidly just, free from any touch of caprice, he lacked no quality demanded by his arduous profession, and hence he whom even the youngest addressed as "Barop" never failed for an instant to receive the respect which was his due, and, moreover, had from us all the voluntary gift of affection, nay, of love. He was, I repeat, every inch a man.
When very young, the conviction that the education of German boys was his real calling obtained so firm a hold upon his mind that he could not be dissuaded from giving up the study of the law, in which he had made considerable progress at Halle, and devoting himself to pedagogy.
His father, a busy lawyer, had threatened him with disinheritance if he did not relinquish his intention of accepting the by no means brilliant position of a teacher at Keilhau; but he remained loyal to his choice, though his father executed his threat and cast him off. After the old gentleman's death his brothers and sisters voluntarily restored his portion of the property, but, as he himself told me long after, the quarrel with one so dear to him saddened his life for years. For the sake of the "fidelity to one's self" which he required from others he had lost his father's love, but he had obeyed a resistless inner voice, and the genuineness of his vocation was to be brilliantly proved.
Success followed his efforts, though he assumed the management of the Keilhau Institute under the most difficult circumstances.
Beneath its roof he had found in the niece of Friedrich Froebel a beloved wife, peculiarly suited both to him and to her future position. She was as little as he was big, but what energy, what tireless activity this dainty, delicate woman possessed! To each one of us she showed a mother's sympathy, managed the whole great household down to the smallest details, and certainly neglected nothing in the care of her own sons and daughters.
A third master, the archdeacon Langethal, was one of the founders of the institution, but had left it several years before.
As I mention him with the same warmth that I speak of Middendorf and Barop, many readers will suspect that this portion of my reminiscences contains a receipt for favours, and that reverence and gratitude, nay, perhaps the fear of injuring an institution still existing, induces me to show only the lights and cover the shadows with the mantle of love.
I will not deny that a boy from eleven to fifteen years readily overlooks in those who occupy an almost paternal relation to him faults which would be immediately noted by the unclouded eyes of a critical observer; but I consider myself justified in describing what I saw in my youth exactly as it impressed itself on my memory. I have never perceived the smallest flaw or even a trait or act worthy of censure in either Barop, Middendorf, or Langethal. Finally, I may say that, after having learned in later years from abundant data willingly placed at my disposal by Johannes Barop, our teacher's son and the present master of the institute, the most minute details concerning their character and work, none of these images have sustained any material injury.
In Friedrich Froebel, the real founder of the institute, who repeatedly lived among us for months, I have learned to know from his own works and the comprehensive amount of literature devoted to him, a really talented idealist, who on the one hand cannot be absolved from an amazing contempt for or indifference to the material demands of life, and on the other possessed a certain artless selfishness which gave him courage, whenever he wished to promote objects undoubtedly pure and noble, to deal arbitrarily with other lives, even where it could hardly redound to their advantage. I shall have more to say of him later.
The source of Middendorf's greatness in the sphere where life and his own choice had placed him may even be imputed to him as a fault. He, the most enthusiastic of all Froebel's disciples, remained to his life's end a lovable child, in whom the powers of a rich poetic soul surpassed those of the thoughtful, well-trained mind. He would have been ill-adapted for any practical position, but no one could be better suited to enter into the soul-life of young human beings, cherish and ennoble them.
A deeper insight into the lives of Barop and Langethal taught me to prize these men more and more.
They have all rested under the sod for decades, and though their institute, to which I owe so much, has remained dear and precious, and the years I spent in the pleasant Thuringian mountain valley are numbered among the fairest in my life, I must renounce making proselytes for the Keilhau Institute, because, when I saw its present head for the last time, as a very young man, I heard from him, to my sincere regret, that, since the introduction of the law of military service, he found himself compelled to make the course of study at Rudolstadt conform to the system of teaching in a Realschule.--[School in which the arts and sciences as well as the languages are taught.-TR.]--He was forced to do so in order to give his graduates the certificate for the one year's military service.
The classics, formerly held in such high esteem beneath its roof, must now rank below the sciences and modern languages, which are regarded as most important. But love for Germany and the development of German character, which Froebel made the foundation of his method of education, are too deeply rooted there ever to be extirpated. Both are as zealously fostered in Keilhau now as in former years.
After a cordial greeting from Barop, we had desks assigned us in the schoolroom, which were supplied with piles of books, writing materials, and other necessaries. Ludo's bed stood in the same dormitory with mine. Both were hard enough, but this had not damped our gay spirits, and when we were taken to the other boys we were soon playing merrily with the rest.
The first difficulty occurred after supper, and proved to be one of the most serious I encountered during my stay in the school.
My mother had unpacked our trunks and arranged everything in order. Among the articles were some which were new to the boys, and special notice was attracted by several pairs of kid gloves and a box of pomade which belonged in our pretty leather dressing-case, a gift from my grandmother.
Dandified, or, as we should now term them, "dudish" affairs, were not allowed at Keilhau; so various witticisms were made which culminated when a pupil of about our own age from a city on the Weser called us Berlin pomade-pots. This vexed me, but a Berlin boy always has an answer ready, and mine was defiant enough. The matter might have ended here had not the same lad stroked my hair to see how Berlin pomade smelt. From a child nothing has been more unendurable than to feel a stranger's hand touch me, especially on the head, and, before I was aware of it, I had dealt my enemy a resounding slap. Of course, he instantly rushed at me, and there would have been a violent scuffle had not the older pupils interfered. If we wanted to do anything, we must wrestle. This suited my antagonist, and I, too, was not averse to the contest, for I had unusually strong arms, a well-developed chest, and had practised wrestling in the Berlin gymnasium.
The struggle began under the direction of the older pupils, and the grip on which I had relied did not fail. It consisted in clutching the antagonist just above the hips. If the latter were not greatly my superior, and I could exert my whole strength to clasp him to me, he was lost. This time the clever trick did its duty, and my adversary was speedily stretched on the ground. I turned my back on him, but he rose, panting breathlessly. "It's like a bear squeezing one." In reply to every question from the older boys who stood around us laughing, he always made the same answer, "Like a bear."
I had reason to remember this very common incident in boy life, for it gave me the nickname used by old and young till after my departure. Henceforward I was always called "the bear." Last year I had the pleasure of receiving a visit from Dr. Bareuther, a member of the Austrian Senate and a pupil of Keilhau. We had not met for forty years, and his first words were: "Look at me, Bear. Who am I?"
My brother had brought his nickname with him, and everybody called him Ludo instead of Ludwig. The pretty, bright, agile lad, who also never flinched, soon became especially popular, and my companions were also fond of me, as I learned, when, during the last years of my stay at the institute, they elected me captain of the first Bergwart--that is, commander-in-chief of the whole body of pupils.
My first fight secured my position forever. We doubtless owed our initiation on the second day into everything which was done by the pupils, both openly and secretly, to the good impression made by Martin. There was nothing wrong, and even where mischief was concerned I can term it to-day "harmless." The new boys or "foxes" were not neglected or "hazed," as in many other schools. Only every one, even the newly arrived younger teachers, was obliged to submit to the "initiation." This took place in winter, and consisted in being buried in the snow and having pockets, clothing, nay, even shirts, filled with the clean but wet mass. Yet I remember no cold caused by this rude baptism. My mother remained several days with us, and as the weather was fine she accompanied us to the neighbouring heights--the Kirschberg, to which, after the peaceful cemetery of the institute was left behind, a zigzag path led; the Kohn, at whose foot rose the Upper House; and the Steiger, from whose base flowed the Schaalbach, and whose summit afforded a view of a great portion of the Thuringian mountains.
We older pupils afterwards had a tall tower erected there as a monument to Barop, and the prospect from its lofty summit, which is more that a thousand feet high, is magnificent.
Even before the completion of this lookout, the view was one of the most beautiful and widest far or near, and we were treated like most new-comers. During the ascent our eyes were bandaged, and when the handkerchief was removed a marvellous picture appeared before our astonished gaze. In the foreground, toward the left, rose the wooded height crowned by the stately ruins of the Blankenburg. Beyond opened the beautiful leafy bed of the Saale, proudly dominated by the Leuchtenburg. Before us there was scarcely any barrier to the vision; for behind the nearer ranges of hills one chain of the wooded Thuringian Mountains towered beyond another, and where the horizon seemed to close the grand picture, peak after peak blended with the sky and the clouds, and the light veil of mist floating about them seemed to merge all into an indivisible whole.
I have gazed from this spot into the distance at every hour of the day and season of the year. But the fairest time of all on the Steiger was at sunset, on clear autumn days, when the scene close at hand, where the threads of gossamer were floating, was steeped in golden light, the distance in such exquisite tints-from crimson to the deepest violet blue, edged with a line of light-the Saale glimmered with a silvery lustre amid its fringe of alders, and the sun flashed on the glittering panes of the Leuchtenburg.
We were now old enough to enjoy the magnificence of this prospect. My young heart swelled at the sight; and if in after years my eyes could grasp the charm of a beautiful landscape and my pen successfully describe it, I learned the art here.
It was pleasant, too, that my mother saw all this with us, though she must often have gone to rest very much wearied from her rambles. But teachers and pupils vied with each other in attentions to her. She had won all hearts. We noticed and rejoiced in it till the day came when she left us.
She was obliged to start very early in the morning, in order to reach Berlin the same evening. The other boys were not up, but Barop, Middendorf, and several other teachers had risen to take leave of her. A few more kisses, a wave of her handkerchief, and the carriage vanished in the village. Ludo and I were alone, and I vividly remember the moment when we suddenly began to weep and sob as bitterly as if it had been an eternal farewell. How often one human being becomes the sun of another's life! And it is most frequently the mother who plays this beautiful part.
Yet the anguish of parting did not last very long, and whoever had watched the boys playing ball an hour later would have heard our voices among the merriest. Afterwards we rarely had attacks of homesickness, there were so many new things in Keilhau, and even familiar objects seemed changed in form and purpose.
From the city we were in every sense transferred to the woods.
True, we had grown up in the beautiful park of the Thiergarten, but only on its edge; to live in and with Nature, "become one with her," as Middendorf said, we had not learned.
I once read in a novel by Jensen, as a well-attested fact, that during an inquiry made in a charity school in the capital a considerable number of the pupils had never seen a butterfly or a sunset. We were certainly not to be classed among such children. But our intercourse with Nature had been limited to formal visits which we were permitted to pay the august lady at stated intervals. In Keilhau she became a familiar friend, and we therefore were soon initiated into many of her secrets; for none seemed to be withheld from our Middendorf and Barop, whom duty and inclination alike prompted to sharpen our ears also for her language.
The Keilhau games and walks usually led up the mountains or into the forest, and here the older pupils acted as teachers, but not in any pedagogical way. Their own interest in whatever was worthy of note in Nature was so keen that they could not help pointing it out to their less experienced companions.
On our "picnics" from Berlin we had taken dainty mugs in order to drink from the wells; now we learned to seek and find the springs themselves, and how delicious the crystal fluid tastes from the hollow of the hand, Diogenes's drinking-cup!
Old Councillor Wellmer, in the Crede House, in Berlin, a zealous entomologist, owned a large collection of beetles, and had carefully impaled his pets on long slender pins in neat boxes, which filled numerous glass cases. They lacked nothing but life. In Keilhau we found every variety of insect in central Germany, on the bushes and in the moss, the turf, the bark of trees, or on the flowers and blades of grass, and they were alive and allowed us to watch them. Instead of neatly written labels, living lips told us their names.
We had listened to the notes of the birds in the Thiergarten; but our mother, the tutor, the placards, our nice clothing, prohibited our following the feathered songsters into the thickets. But in Keilhau we were allowed to pursue them to their nests. The woods were open to every one, and nothing could injure our plain jackets and stout boots. Even in my second year at Keilhau I could distinguish all the notes of the numerous birds in the Thuringian forests, and, with Ludo, began the collection of eggs whose increase afforded us so much pleasure. Our teachers' love for all animate creation had made them impose bounds on the zeal of the egg-hunters, who were required always to leave one egg in the nest, and if it contained but one not to molest it. How many trees we climbed, what steep cliffs we scaled, through what crevices we squeezed to add a rare egg to our collection; nay, we even risked our limbs and necks! Life is valued so much less by the young, to whom it is brightest, and before whom it still stretches in a long vista, than by the old, for whom its charms are already beginning to fade, and who are near its end.
I shall never forget the afternoon when, supplied with ropes and poles, we went to the Owl Mountain, which originally owed its name to Middendorf, because when he came to Keilhau he noticed that its rocky slope served as a home for several pairs of horned owls. Since then their numbers had increased, and for some time larger night birds had been flying in and out of a certain crevice.
It was still the laying season, and their nests must be there. Climbing the steep precipice was no easy task, but we succeeded, and were then lowered from above into the crevice. At that time we set to work with the delight of discoverers, but now I frown when I consider that those who let first the daring Albrecht von Calm, of Brunswick, and then me into the chasm by ropes were boys of thirteen or fourteen at the utmost. Marbod, my companion's brother, was one of the strongest of our number, and we were obliged to force our way like chimney sweeps by pressing our hands and feet against the walls of the narrow rough crevice. Yet it now seems a miracle that the adventure resulted in no injury. Unfortunately, we found the young birds already hatched, and were compelled to return with our errand unperformed. But we afterward obtained such eggs, and their form is more nearly ball-shape than that seen in those of most other birds. We knew how the eggs of all the feathered guests of Germany were coloured and marked, and the chest of drawers containing our collection stood for years in my mother's attic. When I inquired about it a few years ago, it could not be found, and Ludo, who had helped in gathering it, lamented its loss with me.