If we wish to become familiar with a man, we must know the history of his childhood and youth. Man is born with certain aptitudes and characteristics, the development of which depends essentially upon the conditions surrounding him. Aptitudes and qualities of character may be promoted or retarded, or even largely suppressed, by education and by the example of the environing people. Then it depends upon the conditions of later life, and more or less upon the energy of the man, to what extent, and in what manner a wrong education, or formerly suppressed qualities, will asset themselves. This often enough costs a hard struggle with one’s self, for man’s feelings and ideas are most deeply influenced by the impressions received during the years of his childhood and youth. Whatever the conditions of later life may make of a man, the impressions of his younger years influence him in a good or a bad way, and frequently they determine his actions.
For my own part, I must confess that the impressions and experiences of my childhood and adolescence often took hold of me in a way that I could not escape, and I have never rid myself of them entirely.
A man is born in a certain place.
I had this good fortune on February 22, 1840. On that day I saw the light of this world in the casemate of Deutz-Cologne. My father was the petty-officer, Johann Gottlob Bebel, of Company 3, Infantry Regiment No. 25; my mother was Wilhelmine Johanne and her maiden name was Simon. My certificate of baptism does not mention Deutz as my birthplace, altho it still was an independent commune at that time, but Cologne, probably because the garrison of Deutz belonged to that of the fortress of Cologne and to the same church congregation.
The “Light of the world,” which I saw after my birth, was the dim light of a tin-lamp burning oil, which barely illumined the grey walls of a casemate-room that served as bedroom, living room, parlor, kitchen and working room. According to my mother’s statement, it was nine o’clock pm when I entered the world, and the moment was “historical,” inasmuch as the bugler outside was sounding the retreat, the age-long signal for the men to go to bed.
Prophetically endowed natures might conclude from this fact that even then I was announcing my opposition to the prevailing order of government. For strictly speaking, it was contrary to the military order that I, the child of a Prussian petty-officer, should cry out against the walls of a royal casemate at the very moment when the order to be quiet was being sounded. And it is reported that my voice was pretty strong, even at my birth.
But these prophets would be mistaken. It took a long while before I escaped from the bonds of the prejudices which life in the casemate, and the later impressions of my youth had woven around me.
It is not superfluous, but rather necessary for a better estimate of myself, to say a little about my father and my mother. My father was born in Ostrowo, province of Posen, as the son of the master-cooper, Johann Bebel. I believe I am right in assuming that the Bebels emigrated from the Southwest of Germany (Württemberg) to the East, perhaps at the time of the Reformation. I have been able to ascertain that a Bebel lived in Kreuzburg, Silesia, about 1625. A greater number of them live today in southwestern Germany. The name Bebel is also found among public officials since the time of the Reformation. I recall the author of “Facetiae,” the humanist, Heinrich Bebel, who was a professor in Tubingen, and died in 1518. A printer, Johann Bebel, lived in Basle and published “Utopia,” by Thomas More, in 1518. A professor, Balthasar Bebel, lived in Strasburg, in Alsatia, in 1669, and a doctor of medicine, Friedrich Wilhelm Bebel, in Nagold, Württemberg, in 1792. The name Bebel is also found in the garbled form of Bobel, in southern Germany. My father’s straying from East to West was due to the fact that he and his twin brother, August, entered a regiment of Infantry in Posen, I think the 19th regiment, in the year 1828. When the Polish insurrection broke out in the year 1830, the Prussian government considered it best to remove the Posen regiment from that province. The regiment in which my father served was transferred to the federal fortress of Mayence as a part of the Prussian federal garrison. This led to the acquaintance of my father and mother.
My mother was descended from a small bourgeois family of some means, that had long been settled in the town of Wetzlar, which was at that time one of the free cities of the realm. Her father was a baker and a farmer. His family was numerous, and so my mother, following the example of the daughters of other Wetzlar families, wandered to Frankfort-on-Main, and took service there as a maid. From Frankfort, she went to the neighboring Mayence, and there she became acquainted with my father. Later, when my father’s regiment was retransferred to the province of Posen, he resigned from it and enlisted in the 25th infantry regiment, which garrisoned in Deutz-Cologne, partly because he wanted to stay with his sweetheart, and partly, perhaps, because the Rhineland suited him better than his nature province. His twin-brother, August, my godfather, followed his example by transferring to the 40th infantry regiment (the 8th Rhenish regiment of fusileers), which was then stationed in Mayence.
The family of a Prussian petty-officer in those days lived in very penurious circumstances. The salary was more than scanty, and altogether the military and official world of Prussia lived poorly at that time. Most of them had to pull in their belts and starve for God, King and Country. My mother obtained permission to keep a sort of a canteen, in other words, she had license to sell sundry articles of daily use to the garrison. This was done in the only room at our disposal. I can still see mother before me as she stood in the light of a lamp fed by rape-oil and filled the earthen bowls of the soldiers with steaming potatoes in their jackets, at the rate of 6 Prussian pennies per bowl. For us children - my first brother came in April, 1841, and a second followed to the summer of 1842 - life in the casemate was full of delights. We rambled thru the rooms, petted or teased by the petty-officers and soldiers. When the rooms were vacant, while the men were out for drill, I would go to one of the rooms and get the guitar of petty-officer Wintermann, who was also my god-father, and I would carry on my musical exercises till there was not a whole string left on the instrument. In order to sidetrack me from these destructive musical exercises and escape their dire results, he whittled a guitar-like contrivance from a piece of board for me, and stretched some gut-strings across it. From then on, I would sit for hours on the doorstep facing a yard on the main street of Deutz, with this “instrument,” and with my brother, maltreating these strings so much that I “charmed” the two daughters of a captain of dragoons, who lived opposite us. They often regaled me for my musical accomplishments with cake or candy. Of course, the military exercises did not suffer from these musical practices. The incentive for the military exercises came from the entire environment; it was literally in the air. So as soon as I put on my first coat and my first trousers, which, of course, had been manufactured from an old military overcoat of father’s, I took a position by the side of the soldiers, drilling on the open square to front of the casemate, or behind them, and imitated their movements. My mother often told me humorously later on, that I was a master in the art of swinging into front, right and left. This exercise gave the men much trouble, and it is said that the commanding officer, or petty-officer, used to point me out as an example to the men.
However, my father’s eyes gradually looked upon the military life differently from those of his son. It is true, as mother used to tell us, that father, like his brother, was an exceedingly conscientious, punctual and clean soldier, an exemplary soldier, as the term goes, but at that time he had more than twelve years of service to his credit, and he was heartily sick of the whole business. No doubt this service was even more petty and narrow in those days than it is to-day. At that time the drillmaster celebrated his orgies. Evidently my father did not lack a spirit of independence and opposition, and the Rhine province was the right soil for it just then, so that often father came into the dingy casemate-room from the drill ground in a high state of anger and with execrations on his lips. When, in 1840, a war threatened to break out between Prussia and France, under the rule of Louis Philippe and his minister, Thiers, it is reported that my father, highly provoked by some very young officer, stepped into our room and exclaimed, to my mother’s hearing: “Mother, if this war starts, the first bullet that I’ll fire will hit a Prussian officer!” The term, “Prussian officer,” in the mouth of a Prussian petty-officer, may sound strange, but is easily explained. In those days, once even later, every officer and official in the Prussian Rhineland, was simply dubbed a “Prussian” by the population. The people of the Rhineland did not yet feel themselves as Prussians. If a young man had to enlist in the army, it was briefly said that he had to be a “Prussian.” People even used a harder name in connection with this As late as the spring of 1869, when I visited Elberfeld with Liebknecht on some political mission, I heard, in the barroom of the hotel in which we stayed how one guest, seeing an officer pass by on the street, said to another guest: “What does the Prussian officer want here?” Elberfeld did not have any garrison in days, any more than it has to-day.
This view had evidently become familiar even to my father. When he was compelled, in 1843 and 1844, after fifteen years of service, to spend a twelve-month and more in a military hospital, having fallen very ill, and when he saw only death and the poverty of his family before him, he begged mother several times very urgently not to send us boys to a military orphanage after his death, because that would involve the obligation to serve in the army for nine years. The mere thought that mother, under the sting of poverty, might disregard his warning, stirred his diseased frame to such a pitch fiat he exclaimed several times: “If you do that, I’ll stab the boys in front of the company!” He overlooked, in his excitement, that he would no longer be living if that eventuality should present itself.
Relief came to my father in the shape of an offer of a position as railway guard in the spring of 1843, a position which he had long applied for. He accepted the offer, and so his family moved to Herzogenrath, on the Belgian frontier, partly on foot, partly seated on the freight-wagon that carried our furniture, for there were no railroads in that country at that time. But we did not stay there long. Father’s trial term of three months was not ended when the exhausting night service brought on a serious illness. My mother called it inflammation of the muscles. I suppose it was inflammatory rheumatism, complicated by consumption. Since his failure to complete his trial term still left him under military control, the sick man had to return to Cologne as he had come. This was very hard on my mother. After his arrival in Cologne, father was sent to the military hospital, and we were once more given a room in the casemate of Deutz. This time the room fronted the wall-ditch. After thirteen months of suffering, my father died at the age of 35, without having acquired the privilege of a pension for my mother. Shortly after his death, we had to leave the casemate, and mother would have been compelled, even then, to move to her home town of Wetzlar, had not my father’s twin-brother, August Bebel, taken charge of my mother and of us. In order to be able to fulfill this duty in the best way, he decided, in the fall of 1844, to marry my mother.
This stepfather of mine had been discharged from the 40th infantry regiment in September of 1841 on account of total invalidism, with a pension of two Prussian dollars per month. He became an invalid, because he lost his voice thru an inflammation of the larynx, which later also ran into consumption. After resigning from his position in the regiment, he had served for nearly two years as a police sergeant in the military hospital of Mayence, and then he had temporarily accepted a position as section-guard in the provincial house of correction at Brauweiler, near Cologne. His real intention was to enter the postal service. But at that time the postal system was still in a bad way. If any one wanted a position in it, he had to wait till a vacancy occurred thru the death or the pensioning of some one. It was typical of the character of the postal service of the time that my stepfather, when writing in the summer of 1844, to his brother in Ostrowo, in order to get an official authorization for his marriage, penned the following remark on the letter, which I happened to hold in my hand: “The sender begs to deliver this soon.” Evidently the delivery of letters was then rare and slow. My stepfather at last received an offer of the position of letter-carrier, which he had so long desired, in October of 1846, after waiting for three years. But when he received this offer, he lay dead on his pall. Late in the summer of 1844 we moved to Brauweiler. My stepfather certainly had the hardest job in the great provincial institution. Among his duties was that of prison guard for the work-house prisoners, who had been sentenced to imprisonment for misdemeanors in the institution. The institution formed a large group of buildings and courts, and also included some garden land. All this was surrounded by a high wall. Men, women and young prisoners were separated from each other. In order to get to the prison-house, in which our home was, we had to cross several courts, which were separated by heavily barred gates. The prison-house was secluded from all human intercourse. Every evening, as soon as dusk fell, dozens of owls of all sizes flew around the building, hooting and screeching, and scared us children. The hiding place of these owls was the tower of the nearby church. In other respects, likewise, life in this place was disagreeable for us children and presumably for our parents. The service of my stepfather, which began at five o’clock in the morning and lasted until late in the evening, was very exhausting, coupled with much aggravation. The treatment of the prisoners in those days was cruel. I saw several times young and old men, who were sentenced to extra heavy punishment, subjected to the hideous procedure of being locked in a distorted position. This procedure was as follows: the delinquent had to lie down in his cell on his belly. Then irons were snapped on his wrists and ankles. Then his right hand was locked across his hack to his left foot, and his left hand in the same way to his right foot. As if this were not enough, a linen cloth was wrapped tightly, like a rope, around his body and fastened across his chest and arms on his back. Thus tied into a human bundle, the delinquent had to lie on his belly for two hours. Then he was untied, but after a few hours the same procedure began once more.
The howls and groans of the maltreated filled the entire building, and naturally this made a shocking impression upon us children.
In Brauweiler, I began to visit the village school, in the fall of 1844, when I was only four and a half years old. I was admitted at this age as a “volunteer.” When we children returned from school, we had to pass thru one of the gates of the prison, which had to be opened by a guard. One day we were rigid with surprise when the guard, opening the door, wore a shining helmet of vast proportions on his head instead of the ordinary tchaco. These first helmets were veritable monsters compared to their successors, and comparatively heavy. We recovered from our surprise and astonishment when the guard growled: “Boys, hurry up and come in, or I’ll shut the gate in your faces!"
Life in this institution was not very entertaining for us children. In the main it was spent between a part of the walls of the prison. .Also my stepfather, who was a very severe man, and had plenty to irritate him, became more and more irritable, and this irritability was further augmented by the incipient consumption which seized him. Mother and we children had a good deal to suffer from this. More than once mother had to stop his arm when he maltreated us severely in his unbridled excitement. If beatings are the highest expression of pedagogic wisdom, then I must have become a veritable model man. But I rather think that I became what I am in spite of those beatings.
On the other hand, stepfather was much concerned in our welfare, for in spite of all he was a good-hearted man. For instance, if he could give us some pleasure on Christmas, New Year’s Day or Easter, he did so to the extent that his small means permitted. But these means were very small. Aside from free lodging (two rooms), fuel and light, my stepfather received about eight Prussian dollars in wages per month. This had to meet the requirements of five, later of four, human beings, after my youngest brother, a very handsome child and my stepfather’s pet, died in the summer of 1845.
Meanwhile my stepfather’s disease made rapid advances. After being married only two years, he died on Oct. 19th, 1846. So my mother was a widow for the second time within three years, and we were orphans. This marriage, likewise, did not result in any claims upon the assistance of the state for my mother. Nothing was left to her now but to move to her home town of Wetzlar. In the beginning of November our belongings were once more loaded on a wagon - there were no modern furniture wagons in those days, I suppose - and we started on our journey to Cologne. The weather was nasty. It was cold and rainy. In Cologne our furniture was dumped on the bank of the Rhine, under the open sky, in order to he transported per vessel to Coblenz, and thence once more per wagon up the valley of the Lahn to Weztlar. When we entered the ship’s cabin, about ten o’clock, for our passage to Coblenz, it was overcrowded with people, and filled with a stifling tobacco smoke. As nobody made room for us, we two boys, dead tired as we were, laid down close to the door on the floor and slept as only tired children can sleep. On the fifth or, sixth day at last we arrived in Wetzlar, where my grandmother and four married relatives of my mother - three sisters and one brother - were still living at that time.
Here we passed our real youth. Wetzlar, a small and romantically situated town, possessed an excellent public school at that time. At first we two boys were sent to the paupers’ school, which was situated in a large building, the German House, belonging then to the Knights of the German Order. In the large ante-room of this building, to the left, stands the one-story building in which Charlotte Buff, the heroine of Goethe’s “Werther,” lived. As accident would have it, I stayed over night several times in this house, when one of my cousins became guide for the Charlotte-Buff-room. I still remember the celebration of the hundredth birthday of Goethe in 1849, which took place on the Wildbach Well, where Goethe’s linden tree is standing. The well has been called the Goethe-Well since that time. Ten years later I attended the celebration of Schiller’s hundredth birthday in the city theater of Salzburg.
After several years the paupers’ school was amalgamated with the public school, and we were then called “free pupils": the girls were then assigned to the German House as a school house.
I got along fairly well with the school and with my teachers, but I could not get along with the organist, who did not like me. I belonged to the best pupils, and this induced our geometry teacher, a nice little man, to initiate me and two comrades into the secrets of mathematics. We learned to calculate with logarithms. Aside from arithmetic and geometry, my favorite studies were history and geography. Religion, for which I had no liking - my mother, who was an enlightened and freethinking woman, did not bother us with this at home - I learned only because I had to do so. I was in the lead also in this study, but this did not prevent me from sometimes giving answers, especially in the rehearsal of the catechism by the superior pastor, which did not fit into his theology, and brought me many a scolding sermon.
For the rest our superior pastor was a very honorable man, and by no means over-pious. But, nevertheless, he became the victim of a practical joke one night. At that time a custom prevailed in Wetzlar, which may still prevail there, to expose the geese killed late in the fall or in the winter to a night of frost. This is said to improve the taste of the roast. So the goose is hung up at a respectful height, as a rule, in front of a window. This was also done at the house of the superior pastor. But next morning the goose had disappeared. In its stead was found, hung up on the door bell, the clean-picked skeleton of the goose. Attached to it was a note, with the following inscription: “Good morning, brother-in-law! Yesterday I was fat, to-day I am lean.” All Wetzlar laughed, for such incidents are quickly circulated in a small town. I assume that even the superior pastor laughed. Altho studious and always among those at the head in achievements, I was also the instigator of most of the pranks, which are inevitable and a matter of fact among boys who have a good deal of freedom of action. This gave me a bad “moral” reputation. Our organist especially credited me with such a character. He was in charge of the Department of the Exterior, that is, he had to punish the boys for all the pranks which were reported at school. How it was that he performed this function instead of the rector, I don’t know. Perhaps his long service, or his big body, or a custom, predestined him for this. He understood the art of wielding the rod with inimitable grace and with great effect. It did not hurt so much when he struck us in the face right and left with his fat little hands, making the room ring. Even in such a moment I could not help admiring those hands. Our principal places of amusement were the immediate environment of the cathedral, the old building of the Chamber of Justice, whose large rooms served for years as a storage vault for some saloon-keeper, the large ruin of the castle of Kalsmut, outside of the city, the rocky hills on the road to Garbenheim, which place likewise has memories of Goethe. We used to build our “fortress” on the rocky ledges. Then there was the old town-wall, and above all, the Lookout of Garbenheim, situated upon a high plateau, from which we undertook our roving expeditions into the potato-fields in the fall, in order to fetch potatoes for roasting. One day we had to sustain a siege of several hours by some farmer’s family, but finally we repulsed them victoriously. Our ramblings thru forest and field, especially during vacation time, were innumerable. One of our favorite pastimes in summer and fall was the “picking” of fruit, as we called it for the environment of Wetzlar was rich in fruit. The Lahn, quite a respectable little river, gave us the desired opportunity for bathing in summer and for skating in winter. On one such occasion it happened that my brother broke thru a hole covered by thin ice, close by my side, and he would undoubtedly have gotten under the ice and drowned, if he had not involuntarily extended his arms and held himself above water. A comrade and myself pulled him out of the water and carried him to a slab of rock on the road to Garbenheim. Here he had to take off his clothes, which we dried in the unusually warm February sun. It was not until after some months that mother learned of this accident to her second son. We managed to conceal it by cleaning his clothes ourselves, and also patching them as well as possible in order to hide the torn portions from mother’s eyes. The following year I helped to save the life of one of my cousins, who was a few years older than I, under similar circumstances. Being an excellent skater, he came down the Lahn one day at a great speed, and made straight for a weir. On account of the shining mirror of ice he did not see that a broad strip of open water stretched out in front of the weir. In a great fright I called out to him to turn back. He obeyed instantly. But it was already too late. When he described a circle, in order to be torn aside, he broke thru. Convulsively he clutched the ice, but as soon as he made an attempt to lift one leg up on to the ice, it broke off in a new place. Quickly I tore off my long woolen worsted shawl, such as were worn everywhere at that time, took another shawl from some comrade, tied them both together and threw one end to my cousin. He was fortunate enough to grasp it. Gradually we pulled him up on the solid ice. He was saved.
My reputation gradually became so well established in the opinion of our organist, that he took it for granted that I was involved in every deviltry that took place. If I tried to intercede in favor of some comrade, and protect him against unjust punishment, I was mercilessly considered as a participant in his alleged crime, and included in the punishment, even tho I had not been concerned in the matter at all. In later years, in my party activity, my tendency to be just at any price has been dubbed my “justice fad.” It is true that my organist frequently had good cause to pass sentence upon me. For instance, one day, obeying the dark impulse to be “famous,” I engraved into the red sandstone steps in front of the cathedral my full name, place and date of birth, in lapidary letters. A large nail served me as a chisel and a stone as a hammer. Of course, the evil deed was discovered by everybody going to church on the following Sunday. My organist also noticed it. Final result: several clouts on the ear and stay in school three times after closing. This meant that I had to spend the time between the closing of school in the forenoon until its re-opening in the afternoon in the “carcer,” so that I could not go home until the second closing, and thus lost my dinner. Fortunately the organist had a soft-hearted daughter. She observed me while she was out walking with her lover, as I stood at the window of the carcer on the second afternoon, engaged in philosophical reflections about the freedom of the sparrows that were noisily disporting themselves in a crowd all over the school-yard. Touched by my fate, she at once obtained a full pardon for me from her father, and came herself to announce my freedom and dismiss me from my prison. This was the first and only pardon which I ever received in my life. If the Eternal Feminine had more frequently had my fate to decide, I should have been better off many a time.
However, the day of awakening at last came also for me, when I said to myself that it was time to begin being a decent fellow. This process came about in the following manner. The son of the major of the battalion of scouts garrisoned in Wetzlar, Moritz von G. had been my chum in many a prank.
Now the school examination came along. The only man who attended it as a listener was Major von G., a giant in stature. The examination was over, and the promotion cards were read. Strange to say, the credits were apportioned exclusively on the ground of moral conduct. All the pupils of our class had already received their marks, only Moritz von G. and myself were left. We were the only ones to receive the mark “five,” the lowest of all. Father Major did not move a muscle of his face, but I have reason to assume that Moritz had an interesting time at home. I never saw him again after that day, for he was sent to the military academy immediately afterwards. I learned, during the nineties, that he held a high military position in K. So his “bad boy” nature had not hurt him any more than it had me. From that hour I became “decent,” that is, I never did any more things that required punishment. As a consequence, I received mark “three” at the following examination, and at the next and last of my examination, I received a “one.” If the sentiment of the class had been consulted at that time, I would also have received one of the prizes. When the rector was about to mention the name of the second winner, the whole class shouted my name. But the rector was of the opinion that, while I had really improved wonderfully, I had not risen to the dignity of a prize winner. So I entered life without a prize.
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Our material conditions could not be ameliorated in Wetzlar. My mother could not claim any pension. The only assistance which she managed to collect later on from the state, consisted of 15 silver “groshen” (15 cents) per month and head for us two boys. This money had been granted to her because she had applied for our admission to the military orphanage at Potsdam, in spite of the advice of her first husband. It was penury that compelled her to do so. She had meanwhile inherited from her late mother five or six lots of land, which were scattered in various sections around Wetzlar. Under the pressure of want she had sold several of them, in order to live. But these sales cost her a good deal of struggle. All her efforts were directed toward the end of preserving the remaining property for us, in order that we might not be altogether without means in this world. What a mother can sacrifice for her child, I have experienced in my own case. For several years my mother had sewed white military leather gloves for her brother-in-law, a glove maker, at the rate of 20 pennies per pair. But she could not finish more than one pair per day. This was too little to live on and too much to starve on. But she had to give up even this work after several years of toil, for meanwhile consumption had seized her also, and made it impossible for her to work during the last years of her life. I, being the oldest boy, had to take care of our little household. I had to boil coffee, clean our living room and bedroom, and scrub every Saturday. I had to scour the tin and sheet iron ware, make up our beds, and so forth. This experience stood me in good stead later on, when I was a traveling journeyman and a political prisoner. But later it became also impossible for mother to do any cooking, and so each one of us boys went to an aunt for dinner, who had volunteered for this service of love. Then we took turns fetching something to eat for mother from several better situated families. In order to improve our condition somewhat, I decided to take a job in a bowling alley. After the closing of school, I went to set the bowling pins in a beer garden. As a rule, I came home about ten o’clock pm. from this work, and on Saturdays still later. But the continual bending forward gave me sharp pains in my back, so that I came home groaning every night. I had to give up this work. Another occupation, which both of us boys took up in the fall, was the picking up of potatoes at harvest tune in the fields of one of our aunts. It was not a pleasant job, when it was misty, wet and cold, and we had to work in the potato fields from seven in the morning until dark. Our reward was a large sack of potatoes for winter. Besides we received every morning, before starting out for the fields, a large piece of prune-cake, which both of us loved passionately.
When I was thirteen and my brother twelve years old, we received word from the military orphanage that my brother could enter the Institute. I had been declared too weak, after having been examined by a physician. But now my mother lost her courage. She felt her end approaching, and so she did not care to take the responsibility of delivering my brother over to nine years of military service in exchange for two years of military education. “If you want to be soldiers, you may go voluntarily later on; I am not going to take the responsibility,” she said to us. So my brother did not enter the military orphanage, which house at that time did not care to consider me at all, to my regret.
My vivid interest as a child was awakened by the movement of the years 1848 and 1849. The majority of the inhabitants of Wetzlar were in favor of a republic, in conformity with the traditions of the town. This sentiment was also transmitted to the school children. In our disputations concerning our political views, it was discovered that only one of my comrades and myself were monarchists. For this we were soundly thrashed. So, if my political opponents resent my “anti-patriotic” sentiments, because, in their opinion, a monarchy is identical with the fatherland, they may see from the above fact, to their undoubted satisfaction, that I already suffered for the fatherland at a time when their fathers and grandfathers, in the Mayday of their innocence, belonged to the anti-patriots. In the Rhineland, at least, the greater portion of the people had republican sentiments at that time.
For my mother, that period carried a little entertainment into the monotony of her daily life, inasmuch as the battalion of the 25th infantry regiment, to which my father had belonged, remained for a short time in Wetzlar, on its return march, I think, from the campaign in Baden. In it still served some petty-officers who had been acquainted with my mother. These men now visited us. At their request my mother consented to run a lunch room for them. But I doubt that she profited much by it. One day I overheard two of her guests conversing while walking downstairs. They praised her cooking, but wondered how she managed to supply it so cheaply.
We boys found much amusement in the peasants’ revolts that took place in the Wetzlar district during those years. The peasants then still had to comply with sundry obligations handed down from feudalism. Since everybody was now raving about Liberty and Equality, they, too, wanted to rid themselves of their burdens. They gathered by the thousands, and marched to Braunfels, in front of the castle of the prince of Solms-Braunfels. As a rule, a large black and white flag was carried at the head of the parade, in token of the fact that people might agree to be Prussian, but by no means Braunfelsian. A part of the crowd carried shotguns of various calibers, but the large majority had scythes, pitchforks, axes, etc. Behind the paraders, who marched several times, and who always managed things without bloodshed, marched, as a rule, the garrison of Wetzlar, for the purpose of protecting the prince, or they anticipated the paraders by marching out ahead of them. Very amusing anecdotes circulated in Wetzlar concerning the meeting of the leading peasants with the prince. For a long time the people of Wetzlar remained in the opposition. When, in 1849 or 1850, the prince of Prussia, who later became Emperor William the First, came to Wetzlar in the company of General von Hirschfeld, who was then commanding the 8th Rhenish army corps, for the purpose of inspecting the garrison, his wagon was pelted with mud in front of the town gate. One of my relatives, who permitted himself to be carried away to such an extent on a certain occasion that he rang the town bell in token of revolt, was sentenced to three years in the penitentiary. For the burgher’s militia, which held forth also in Wetzlar during those years of unrest, I had only contempt, although several of my relatives belonged to it. I found fault with their lack of military bearing during their exercises. When the reaction gained headway, this militia disappeared.
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The year 1853 made orphans of my brother and myself. In the beginning of June, my mother died. She awaited her death heroically. When she felt her last hour approaching in the afternoon of her dying day, she asked us to call her sisters. She did not give us any reasons for this. When her sisters came, we were sent out of the room. For hours we sat sadly on the stairway and waited for developments. Finally her sisters came out of the room, at about seven o’clock in the evening, and informed us that mother had just died. On the same evening we had to pack our belongings and follow our aunts, without being allowed to take a last look at our dead mother. The poor woman had seen but few good days in her married and widowed life. Nevertheless she had always been bright and hopeful. Within three years she had lost two husbands, two children - my youngest brother, and a sister who was born before me, and whom I had never known. With us two boys mother had to pass thru several severe spells of sickness. In 1848 I was seized by a nervous fever, and for weeks I hung between life and death. A few years later I suffered from a spell of hip disease, but escaped with straight limbs. My brother, at the age of nine, while playing in a barn, fell from the top rung of a ladder to the thrashing floor and sustained a severe scalp wound and a concussion of the brain. He, too, barely escaped with his life. My mother herself suffered nearly seven years from consumption. More tribulation and sorrow can hardly be the lot of a mother.
I now came into the care of an aunt, who was hereditary tenant of a water mill in Wetzlar. My brother was taken in charge by another aunt, whose husband was a baker. I had to give a hand in the work of the mill. I took a particular pleasure in carrying flour to the farmers in the country or getting grain from them with the two donkeys belonging to my aunt. I preferred to have only a little grain as a return freight, because then I could ride to town on one of the donkeys. Our black donkey, a patient animal, used to permit this, but our grey donkey was young and fiery and had different ideas about this. Evidently he had some sort of caste-consciousness, for he would not carry anything but his accustomed burden. But when I, nevertheless, took a seat on his back one day, he at once started out on a trot, stuck his head between his forelegs and kicked his hindlegs vigorously into the air. Before I expected it, I flew in a graceful curve into the street ditch. Luckily I did not get hurt. He had accomplished his purpose, and from that time on I left him alone.
Aside from the two donkeys, my aunt also had a horse, several cows, a number of hogs and several dozens of chickens. And since she also carried on farming, we did not lack work, altho she employed a miller’s helper and a servant girl, in addition to her son. If the helper did not have the time, I had to curry the donkeys and the horse, and sometimes I had to take the horse to the swimming pond. The care of the chicken yard was wholly in my hands. I had to feed the chickens, gather the eggs from the nests or wherever they might have been laid, and clean the stable. With such occupations I passed my time until Easter of 1854. Then I graduated from school, an event which I did not anticipate with much pleasure. I should have preferred to stay in school.
Next: Years of Apprenticeship and Wandering