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rural scenery, and the images for it were ransacked from all the poets with which I was then acquainted. I well remember the two following lines, since they particularly delighted me because they skipped so prettily.
Es singet die steigende Lerche,
The sheep skip upon the mountains. I was not at all aware, however, that they were dactyls ; and, indeed, they were the only lines of that measure in the whole poem. For many days together did I puzzle my brains to make all the other lines dance with equal agility, but in vain. The remainder of the poem was composed of heavy spondees, which I could not alter ; neither could I comprehend how it was possible to make verses either creep on at a foot's pace, or gallop at pleasure.
Soon after I ventured on a first essay at dramatic writing. The fable of the Milk-maid and the Two Huntsmen had accidentally fallen into my hands: the favourite little opera on that story was not then in existence, or at least was unknown to me. On this subject I wrote a comedy, which filled a whole octavo page. I was indeed sensible, that to bear any resemblance to a real comedy, it ought to have been immeasurably longer ; but where was I to learn the art of spinning my thread to a proper length?
My passion for poetry soon produced its usual effect of rendering my infant heart extremely susceptible of tender impressions. My affections were now ardently fixed upon a very amiable young woman, even then grown up, and who afterwards became my aunt. On my seventh birth-day, the 30th May 1768, I wrote a very passionate letter addressed to this lady, upon the blank leaf of a drawing-book. I made her many tender reproaches for her cruelty, in pre
ferring the uncle to the nephew, vowed an unalterable fidelity to her, and concluded with requesting permission, as the greatest of all favours, to kiss her little delicate white hand.
This circumstance I own to be in itself extremely insignificant; I only mention it on account of the consequences. My mother discovering the letter, and finding the expressions and turn of sentiment far above my years, was extremely delighted, nor could her maternal vanity forbear reading it in my presence to some visitors who were at the house. They very naturally, though to my utter confusion, laughed at it most heartily, and this gave me the first really, and deeply tormenting sensation that I ever remember to have experienced. Nor were these feelings transitory. A lasting impression was made upon my soul; and every time the letter was read again, for my mother's vanity stopped not at a single reading—this torment was renewed with ever-increasing bitterness. I used to retire to an out-house, where we kept wood, and there shed the most poignant tears of shame and disappointed ambition, till at length I secretly got the detested drawing-book out of a little green corner cupboard_in which it was kept, and threw it into the fire. From this period I lost for a long time all confidence in my mother, with regard to concerns of the heart ; and I mention the circumstance as a warning to parents and others engaged in education, to be extremely cautious how they conduct themselves in this respect towards children of acute feelings. Nothing can be more hazardous than to expose them, even though only in sport, to the mortification of being put to the blush.
Those who make the human heart their study, cannot but have observed how often a propensity to religious enthusiasm is the companion of such an early susceptibility to love. It was not therefore surprising, with a heart formed like mine, that excess of piety should in infancy be one of its prominent features. In truth, so strong was this passion within me, at the time of which I speak, that had it continued as I advanced in years, my mother must long ago have experienced the same happiness that fell to the lot of the mother of St Borromeo.
No sooner had I left my bed in the morning, than i astening down into the garden, I locked myself into a place which delicacy forbids me to mention, that I might be perfectly retired and undisturbed in my dovotions. There kneeling down, I poured out the effusions of my heart to my Creator, not in any regular form, but in such ejaculations as occurred at the moment, which issued from the very bottom of my soul, and were generally accompanied with tears of awe and contrition. Well do I remember how much trouble it occasioned me, to make what I thought sufficient variations in my pious orisons, as I was apprehensive lest God should be offended if there were too much similarity in them, and think that I put him off with the same things every day. It was always my opinion, that a set form of prayer from a book could not be acceptable to the Deity, because he must know already everything that the book con
and for this reason I had an insupportable aversion to Benjamin Schmolken’s morning and evening devotions, in which I used to read every day to my mother. With true ecclesiastical self-sufficiency, therefore, did I reflect upon my hours of private prayer, in which, according to my ideas, the Almighty learned something new.
Shall I confess by what means it happened, that this early propensity to piety was extinguished in my mind? It may perhaps hardly appear credible, but it was by attendance at church. Twice every Sunday did the tutors at Weimar regularly carry their pupils thither, where they were not allowed to speak, to move a limb, or even to ogle with the painted angels upon the ceiling. The strictest silence and attention to what was going forwards was required ; nay, more,
we were expected to write down, or retain in our memories at least, the text and heads of the discourse, which, in truth, was usually a most vapid composition. In winter, this task was performed with perishing fingers' ends; and in summer, when the weather was bright and serene, with an anxious longing to be out in the open air.
How many hours of weariness and languor have I endured in the Castle Church at Weimar, till at length I fell upon an expedient for rendering them somewhat less irksome! No sooner had I caught from the preacher as much as was necessary to relate ạt my return home, than I stole into a retired corner of the seat with the Weimar hymn book, and there studied a ‘History of the Siege of Jerusalem'annexed to it by way of appendix. In this I found a luxuriant repast for my imagination. The cry of the lunatic, in particular, who uttered the dreadful sounds of ‘Woe! woe !' from the walls of Jerusalem, seemed every Sunday as I read, to echo in my ears, and made my heart trill with horror. It will easily be conceived, that since this was the only book to be had at church, I read the history over so often, that at last I could nearly repeat it by heart.
Ye parents and tutors ! if ye seek to educate your children to real piety and good morals, be careful how you weary their young minds with going to church. I could cite many fearful examples of the ill effects produced in children by the lassitude and want of employment they experience there. The siege of Jerusalem is not always at hand to relieve their languor, and the imagination being left wholly to its own devices, schemes have thus been formed which have occasioned the sounds of 'woe! woe!' to be uttered by other mouths than the man above alluded to.
For myself, my exemplary piety was not only extinguished, but I soon became an absolute infidel. I might be about nine or ten years old, when one day
I accidentally asked my tutor whether God could create another being greater and more powerful than himself? To this enquiry, made in the simplicity of my heart, I received a high-toned and peremptory negative, whence I immediately drew the conclusion that God could not be omnipotent. This, indeed, the more I revolved it in my mind, seemed to me so much the more clear and incontrovertible, that I could by no means comprehend how the world had remained for so many centuries blind to so palpable a truth, and I valued myself not a little upon my own acuteness in having now made the discovery. Many weeks did I cherish this self-important feeling, and even endeavoured to make proselytes among my young companions, to my ingenious hypothesis. But it carried not the same force of conviction to their minds as to mine. Some laughed at me; others would not listen to my arguments; till at length I grew weary of preaching to no effect. The fame that burned at first with so much ardour, wanting nourishment from vanity, was extinguished by degrees, and after a while nothing remained of the meteor that had so transported my senses but the pleasing impression inspired by the idea of having first learned to think for myself.
About that time, a lovely girl, between fifteen and sixteen years of age, the only child of two disconsolate parents, died at Weimar of the small-pox. She was beloved, though in silence, since he never made known his passion even to its object, by a boy who was then advancing towards the age of manhood. He was some years older than myself; but as we lived in the same house, and as I always lent a willing ear to his enamoured transports, I became, notwithstanding the difference of our ages, his confidant and constant companion. Sometimes I accompanied him in the evening under the window of his suffering mistress's apartment, where we have stood patiently waitirig for hours together in the rain or snow,