Money Talks

trainSnippets 174.  Which country is the most “free” for the people who live there, the USA or the UK?  I wouldn’t like to make a judgement on that, but in 1889 travel writer Max O’Rell expressed a very clear opinion on the subject in Jonathan and his Continent.  In his view, Americans were subject to the extremes of bureaucracy, and their only escape from it was a little gentle bribery:

I said also that I considered the people of England freer than the people of America. This demands an explanation. In advancing such an opinion, I mean to say that the English exercise more influence over the Government than do the Americans, and that they invest the agents of authority with much smaller powers. An American policeman, for instance, is endowed with an authority which he can with impunity use in tyrannous fashion. The English policeman is the servant of the public; is responsible before the public for his acts; may be given in charge on the spot if he insults or roughly handles you; and may be prosecuted for making a false accusation against you.

Bureaucracy is much more tyrannical in America than in England. You meet at every turn with a man who lets you know that he has “certain instructions to carry out.” You soon know what that means in a country where there are avec le ciel des accommodements. You get out of the difficulty by the aid of that irresistible argument, named “the dollar.” In the trains, for instance, I have known the conductor refuse me permission to occupy a vacant bed by the side of my own, and which pleased me better than the one that had been assigned to me. “Your ticket bears a certain number, and I can’t change it; I must carry out instructions.” Useless to try and make him understand that the bed, being disengaged, it matters little to the company whether you occupy it or not. Orders must be obeyed. You pull a half-dollar piece out of your pocket, and the difficulty is surmounted. Regulations only come into existence to be trampled on as occasion requires.

The English have the habit of making themselves at home everywhere, but, above all, in places where they pay. Nothing is so repugnant to them as those thousand and one little tyrannies that go by the names of regulations, restrictions, rules, by-laws, etc. If you would be unhampered by such, if you would enjoy perfect freedom, live in England.

How times have changed.

“Il est avec le ciel des accommodements” is a French proverb: “one can arrange things with heaven”.

train


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Travels on the Continent and in England (Part 3)

fashionJournals 14.3.  This is a continuation of my article about Travels on the Continent and in England, by August Hermann Niemeyer, which details the German writer’s 1819 visit to the country he had always wanted to experience: England. And he wanted to experience all aspects of the country, “to come into contact with persons of different and manifold dispositions and employments”. He visited the “poor miserable districts… where the lowest classes dwell” but also “the most sumptuous quarters, the abode of affluence”. So what differences did Niemeyer observe between the different classes of people? Certainly not clothing choices:

It is, however, certainly more difficult in England, than in other countries, to ascertain this difference from external appearances. This arises from the manner of dress. The men’s costume displays the greatest simplicity. The quality of the articles worn is, indeed, various; but, whatever meets the eye, whether in the street, or in company, whether worn by the minister of state, the opulent lord, the merchant, the wealthy mechanic, the clerk in the counting-house, is, throughout, the same; and, in the usual intercourse of social life, the court gala alone excepted, no exception is made therein. In the most populous streets I have never noticed any person who was to be distinguished by any external mark, particular uniform, the decoration of an order, or anything similar. What in Germany becomes a kind of duty to wear, would here create surprize (sic), and, probably, would expose the wearer only to the insults and ridicule of the populace.

So much for the men. But surely women’s clothing would clearly display their level of wealth?

It is in no respect different with regard to the dress of the women. The real worth and costliness of the articles, not the particular manner of dress, constitutes the difference. In certain parts of the town, I thought I perceived only persons of rank, however they may vary in situation of life and property, because, in ordinary life, the humblest chambermaid wears her hat and muslin dress, as well as the richest lady; and, upon occasions, only of court ceremony, sumptuous festivals, or upon her visits to the Italian Opera, does the latter display all the magnificence and expense of dress.

Did this lack of ostentation in choice of clothing reflect something in the character of the English man or woman? Niemeyer was fully aware of the English stereotype at the time: “coldness, reserve, and even pride of the English”, but did not find it to be “generally so”, beyond the occasional acquaintance on his travels “which left not the slightest wish in my mind to continue them”. However, one stereotype he found to be exactly right, was the “taciturnity” and “love of silence” of the English, particularly noticeable in the taverns, where…

…persons who have been long and intimately acquainted with each other, can sit for hours by the side of the fire without uttering one word; nay, they seem to wonder if, according to our German social manner which inclines so much to discourse, you endeavour to address it to them. In the domestic circles I found, particularly the younger unmarried ladies, for the most part very still, and always purposely shy. Persons, who have long lived amongst the English, assert also, that in family circles and friendly meetings it is not rarely the case, that a long pause follows after a long conversation. It remains to be decided therefore by the feelings of each individual, whether this has not more charms for the man who knows how to employ himself within the resources of his own mind, than an endless chatter about nothings, and the tiresome endeavours of many companions, male or female, never to let the conversation drop, and who, that they may only speak, are continually making the most common-place questions.

Niemeyer was impressed with the “great politeness” he encountered. The difference between England and Germany was a stark contrast. In Germany he was accustomed to find “outward politeness” only in the “society of the better-informed classes”, but “true politeness reigns in England”.

The hand is given to the person of the highest rank, as well as to the equal, and you are certain of a friendly return. The lord, as well as your friend, is saluted with a good morning, and leave taken of them, with a good evening, or a good night. Embracing and kissing, amongst men, appear to the English as unnatural, and the man would be exposed to insult even, should he be seen following the German custom in the street. This, indeed, may be carried too far; but we must still allow, that the fine token of love and inward friendship, is sacrificed by us too much to unnecessary ceremony; and we must rejoice rather, that what had become a frequently burthensome, and wherewithal a repugnant custom, is disappearing more and more from the circles of the men; for example, that of offering, after any great social entertainment, 30 or 40 embraces, twice or three times as many kisses, and, as formerly was the custom, of kissing the hand of every lady. Amongst the English women, I have never noticed this latter custom at coming and going, but frequently in families, amongst affectionate parents, children, brothers and sisters.

England in the early 19th Century was obviously a very different country to the one we know today, and there were great strides still to be made in terms of democracy and equality, but in comparison to Germany and other European countries Niemeyer found England not to be a classist society. He found this so unusual that he described it as “one of the finest peculiarities of British life”.

Every one feels in that country, that he is free born, that, by the constitution of the country, as well as by his natural liberty, he is a protected man, and that all, in the eye of the law, have an equal right. He knows that, either personally, or by his representative, he has a voice in the great concerns of the nation; that, if he commits a crime, his equals will judge him, that he is secured from the oppressions of overbearance, whether of the nobles, the military, or the clergy, so long as he confines himself only within the bounds of the laws. Attempts are not wanting, even in England, of individual members of these classes, to elevate themselves above the others. But as every house proprietor thinks his house is his castle, so every citizen of state considers the principles of the constitution as he bulwark of his liberty. Much of this, indeed, may consist in imagination, but this, of itself, frequently makes us contented and happy. This spirit is cherished from early youth; it grows up with the boy and the young man. Parents themselves treat their sons, sacred as the paternal power is, in this spirit; and the domestic education is, in the highest degree, liberal.

Next time we will look at Niemeyer’s opinions of some specific locations: how Westminster Abbey, for example, “might be kept cleaner”.


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The Magic Record

dollygraySnippets 173.  In 1877 Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.  By 1903, use of phonographs to play music had become so popular that it became viable to publish a monthly title “for users and makers of talking machines”, The Talking Machine News.  Some early issues have recently been added to the British Newspaper Archive.  115 years ago, the following amusing article appeared in the November 1903 edition:

“What is the average duration of life of a record?” asks a correspondent. That is a question at which the heart of the stoutest actuary might quail. We would recommend our correspondent, having collected the necessary data, to occupy the coming winter evenings by calculating it out by the law of mathematical probabilities. We shall content ourselves by saying that it depends entirely upon circumstances. Naturally, discs and “wax destructibles” have a better chance of life than records. In the case of a wax record it all depends, bar accidents, upon the user and the use. If you use a record often, of course it won’t live as long. Equally, if you use it carelessly it won’t. A wax record may last a year, or even longer; it may last a week, or even shorter. We have a wax record which we have had in use for two years, and which is still in good order. But we do not use that record either for our own or anyone else’s entertainment. It is a magic record. For example, we had a caller at this office the other day, who had really nothing to say, and had already said it several times. We were very busy, but still he stayed on. At last we said gently, “We have a record we should very much like you to hear, it is a magic record.” He stared, and said he should much like to hear it. We put it on. And as the first bars of the melody floated through the ambient air of Tottenham Street, our troublesome visitor flew as though ten thousand tax collectors were at his heels. The spell had worked. The name of that magic record is “Dolly Gray.”

Goodbye Dolly Gray was a popular record from 1901, a recording of a Boer War anthem.  Presumably by 1903 people had had enough of it.  But was it all that irritating?  Judge for yourself:


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Travels on the Continent and in England (Part 2)

Journals 14.2.  This is a continuation of my article about Travels on the Continent and in England, by August Hermann Niemeyer, which details the German writer’s 1819 visit to the country he had always wanted to experience: England.

I have written about several other 19th Century travel journals, some of which have included opinions about Britain from the point of view of a foreign visitor. For an American visitor, as per most of the journals I have looked at previously, the first impressions of the country were created in Liverpool, but for a visitor from Europe the experience of arriving in the country was very different. On 15th June 1819, Niemeyer’s ship landed in Harwich in Essex. He was overwhelmed by what he saw on his arrival:

The joy at landing, the comfortable prospect before me of clean inns, and convenient stage coaches, the latter so great a novelty to all strangers unacquainted with the mechanical elegance and even refinement to which they have arrived in England, perfectly enraptured me, and I could not avoid giving rent to the grateful feelings excited, by praises as flattering as they were just. How grateful was the impression produced by contemplating this rich country teeming with the highest cultivation, and now in all the pride of magnificent bloom! Every where traces of agricultural industry meet the eye. I imagined I was arriving in beautiful and wealthy cities, while I was only in a village. I thought I was beholding the most magnificent country seats, and still they were only the habitations of the farmers or merchants. The houses in the cities or market towns are indeed usually small and narrow – but how friendly an appearance do they not afford by their windows as bright as looking glass, by the pretty hedges, and the small flower gardens through which a clean path conducts you to the house door. And how the mercantile life begins even in the country! I drove by from one shop to another. Behind the high windows of beautiful crown glass, which form the lower story, all kinds of wares are artfully laid out to view. And what cleanliness and neatness in the dress of most people we met with, who, full of curiosity, advanced to the door or window, when the coach passed by, expecting friends or relations, and helping them down from the roof of the carriage.

Arriving in London was a very different prospect indeed, but no less exciting for Niemeyer:

It was already dark, but the illumination, which begins very early, displayed every object to my view. The impression which the grandeur and extent of the town cannot fail to make upon every beholder is truly astonishing. The sumptuous buildings, the constantly moving scene, are striking peculiarities and features which far surpass those of Amsterdam, Paris, Copenhagen, Vienna, and Venice, and impress every person who for the first time steps into this little world, at present inhabited by at least 1,200,000 souls. It is indeed a mixture of astonishment and anxiety.

After a long stay in London, Niemeyer considered himself to be suitably qualified to “give a more exact description”, once the initial wonderment had worn off. He found himself unimpressed with the architecture in general:

All travellers have very properly observed that, whilst other capital cities create an impression by the magnificence of the style of architecture in which their houses and palaces are built, even when the towns are as quiet and depopulated as Potsdam, or even Berlin is in some quarters, this impression is far from being produced in London, Of palaces, properly so called, there is no trace, as in the above cities, in Prague, Vienna, Paris, or in the sumptuous, although smaller Italian capitals. Even the dwellings of royalty bear the name only of Houses, (the insignificant St. James’s Palace excepted) for example, Buckingham House, where George the Third and his Queen used to reside, Carlton House, where the present King resided when he was still Prince Regent, Somerset House, &c. &c. &c.

The point Niemeyer is making about “houses” rather than “palaces” is an interesting one, and represents a snapshot of the era during which he visited London. For example, Buckingham Palace was originally a townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham. The three additional wings to the townhouse were not added until 1837, so the impression the building made to Niemeyer in 1819 would have been very different to the palace today. Similarly, Somerset House was not extended with its east and west wings until 1831 and 1856. Niemeyer also managed to see Carlton House just in time. It was demolished in 1826 and replaced by terraces of houses, which were leased to help fund the extension to Buckingham Palace. So his experience of London “houses” rather than “palaces” was one that had ceased to exist within a couple of decades of his visit. Niemeyer also had to suffer a severely polluted city:

The whole of London is built of a reddish and white grey bricks, and these are very rarely covered over with stucco. Stone is met with only in a very few modern buildings. From the smoke of the sea coal, which, particularly at the end of autumn and winter, envelopes the whole of London, all the houses soon receive a black appearance, which is only somewhat compensated for by the shining looking glass of which the windows are composed. Most of the houses are perfectly like each other, generally very narrow.

If Neimeyer wasn’t impressed by the architecture, the “moving stream of people” was another matter, with their “immovable piles of goods” and bustling work “directed to a thousand employments”. He was even more struck by the picture London presented by night:

The illumination of the streets of London has always been celebrated. It is at present greatly augmented by the use of Gas-lights. This pure light, which burns in the lanterns of the streets as well as in the shops, as soon as it becomes dusk, throws such a magic splendour over every thing, that we may imagine ourselves wandering amongst enchanted castles. As looking glasses are made use of in many extensive shops, every thing is reflected in a double and threefold degree. The costly silk stuffs of the most burning colours, laid in picturesque order by the side of and over each other; the East India shawls, the works in glass, the rarest fruits of all countries piled up pyramidically, the natural and artificial flowers appear as beautiful again as at day time. Between them the large round flasks and vases of the Chymists, as the Apothecaries are called, make a brilliant display. They are filled with clear red, blue, green, and yellow waters, and appear as if rubies, sapphires, topazes, and emeralds were shining in them. At a distance they raise an idea of a festive illumination, but these appearances are those of every day. It cannot be denied that the streets of London, in this respect, offer to the passenger every evening an extraordinary and singular sight.

Gas lighting in London was a very new phenomenon when Neimeyer visited. Although there had been experiments with gas lighting in London as early as 1807, the first gas company in the world did not come into existence until 1812. Just five years before Neimeyer’s visit to London, Westminster Bridge was lit by gas for the first time. The sight of most London streets being lit by gas lighting that Neimeyer saw in 1819 was a picture that had only existed for a couple of years. It would be many more years before gas lighting in private homes became widespread. The installation of the gas lighting had already allowed London to become a city that never sleeps.

A similar throng and mass of people is to be seen, indeed, at certain hours, in all large cities, and every where, where there is something to be gazed upon. The peculiarity of London, however, is, that it never leaves off. A foreigner, who arrived at night, and towards noon came out of his lodging, which was situated in a principal street, stood still at the street-door, when he saw this stream of people flowing in every direction around him, in order, as he himself afterwards related, to let the people first pass by! Hour passed after hour, till finally a friend met with him, and assured him, he might wait till the evening, and that it would only cease towards night-time. He had, in fact, seriously thought that some sight, or execution, had been the occasion of this immense throng and the motion of so vast a crowd. Certainly, when hanging-day arrives, which is frequent enough, the pressure is, indeed, indescribable.

Neimeyer noticed that the main streets without exception were thronged with people who gave the appearance of being “in easy circumstances”, with poverty confined to the smaller streets. London was therefore something of a segregated city, but next time we will find out more about Neimeyer’s opinions of the different classes, and the “manners” of the British people.


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“A Few Extra Glasses”… Fire!

“Nocturnal Fire in a Village” by Egbert van der Poel.

Snippets 172.  The following quote is taken from Memoirs of Joseph Shepherd Munden, a biography of a well-known actor during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, famed for his comedy performances.  His biography was written by his son Thomas.

Munden was ejected from his house in Frith Street in a more summary way than he anticipated. An individual who lodged next door, the other side from Bannister, being a friend to the “Rights of Man,” had indulged in a few extra glasses on the acquittal of the soi-disant patriots, Hardy, Horne Tooke, &c.  On returning home, and getting into bed, he took the precaution to put the candle under the bed. He soon became sensible of the inconvenience of such a practice. Starting up with the heavy insensibility of an intoxicated man he stumbled against the window, and making a dash at it, fell into the court behind. Luckily he carried part of the window frame with him, which, meeting with obstructions, broke his fall, so that, although he descended a considerable distance, and was much bruised, no bone was broken. That this gentleman was deeply implicated in the dangerous proceedings of the day there is little doubt. During his confinement from illness, he received innumerable communications by letter, which he would not entrust to others; but, tore them open with his teeth, his hands being much bruised. In later years, he made a large fortune, by editing an evening newspaper, and advocating, with ability, ultra tory principles. No lives were lost by this mishap, though Munden’s house also caught fire. The narrator of the tale, then an infant, was carried through the flames by his affectionate mother.

“Soi-disant” is French for “self-styled” or “so-called”.  Rights of Man was a 1791 book by Thomas Paine, which advocated reformation of the English government and political revolution if necessary.  Paine was a supporter of the French Revolution.  He was convinced of seditious libel and remained in France for the rest of his life to avoid being hanged in England.  His work and ideas attracted followers, who were arrested for giving pro Rights of Man speeches and put on trial.  Their acquittal was the event that inspired the excessive drinking described in the quote above.


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Travels on the Continent and in England (Part 1)

An 1836 illustration of the University of Halle-Wittenberg.

Journals 14.1.  August Hermann Niemeyer (1754-1828) was a German theologian, author of Charakteristik der Bibel (Characteristics of the Bible), who became vice-chancellor of the University of Halle-Wittenberg. In 1807 the city of Halle fell to Napoleon’s forces, Niemeyer was deported to Paris, and the university was closed. A year later, Jérôme-Napoléon Bonaparte re-opened the university and Niemeyer was able to return and take up the position of chancellor. In 1819 he went on a journey to England, and wrote about his experiences there in Travels in Germany, the Netherlands and England. An English translation was published in 1823 under the title Travels on the Continent and in England. The translator says little about Niemeyer other than to make a comparison with other travel writers (some of whom I have covered on this website), and give the following endorsement:

The veteran traveller, Dr. Niemeyer, will neither be found to play the critic or eulogist. He describes honestly what he saw, and, as a book of facts, his work merits respect and attention.

Niemeyer himself paints a picture of a book written by popular demand:

An Opportunity of furnishing this first Volume of my general Travels was afforded me by my Journey to England in the year 1819. The public anxiety evinced for the work, and the participation taken in my feelings, were alike pleasing and affecting to me. Still, the request made to me, that I would furnish the world with something to read upon this Country, gave rise to very serious reflection, and greatly encouraged my own inclinations; for it is far easier to expect, than it is possible to furnish, much matter, at least during the short stay I made in so remarkable a country; and the observations and reflections which strike every one, even during the shortest sojourn, are already known to most people.

He is then keen to stress that his work is unbiased, in the face of claims “in various places, that these Travels had been undertaken by high appointment, for particular purposes, and even at the public expense”, claims that he strongly denies, with a little dig at those who have gone before him, for good measure:

I am just as far from giving my unconditional disapprobation of every thing to be found in those places, as to agree with the eulogiums upon them, made by some of my own countrymen, who were certainly influenced rather by the deception which the appearance of perfect order and morality occasions, than by a profound acquaintance with the whole regulations of the interior.

So why England as a destination?

From early youth no foreign country possessed so high an interest in my mind as England. Many circumstances conspired to awaken and to cherish this favourable predilection.

Niemeyer’s early education was enriched by German translations of English poetry and prose, and at school he had access to a large collection, as wide ranging as the works of Shakespeare, Milton and the English Spectator. He was fascinated by it all, in contrast with the “tasteless” French literature, and longed to be able to read the original texts rather than German translations.

I found every opportunity of speaking and writing the English language in the society of Mr. Samuel Thornton, at that time a young Englishman who was studying with me at the school, and whom, exactly 50 years after our first school acquaintance, I again met with as the first Bank Director of London. Whenever I wrote small notes to him, he gave himself the trouble to correct them, and supplied me occasionally with the lecture of those periodical works, &c. which he was in the habit of receiving from England. Thus my inclination towards every thing which came across the channel found much food in the years I passed at the University from 1771 to 1776, added to which two young people from Calcutta, who were to return to their native country, were given over to my care, in order that I might freshen their memory with the remembrance of their native language, which they had entirely forgotten. Moreover, a young Gentleman of the name of Meyer, from London, who studied at the University, and was frequently my companion, contributed no little to my improvement in the English language; as in his frequent walks with me, it was his delight to speak of his native country, of the life he had led in England, and the friend his heart had left behind, in preference to study and sciences: and this conversation took place in English.

Niemeyer developed such a fascination with Britain that he longed to visit but, as I have mentioned before when looking at other travel writing from the early 19th Century, foreign travel was not something to be taken lightly. This was long before the days of widespread tourism, and travel was expensive and potentially dangerous if not undertaken with considerable planning. In addition, foreign visitors could be looked upon with great suspicion.  It didn’t help that the problems tended to get exaggerated when Niemeyer spoke to others about his desire to travel to Britain:

Every other plan of Travels appeared to me more easily to be carried into execution, than a flight over the sea. No inducement offered from companions who were equally inclined; exaggerated representations of the indispensable expenditure of time and money; even the idea which had easily influenced me, that, in order not to be received coolly, it was necessary to be a perfect master of the language – all this moderated my wishes, and weakened my expectations.

What Niemeyer really needed was an experienced traveller to accompany him to Britain, and eventually an opportunity presented itself:

A year later the long wished for company offered itself quite unexpectedly in the person of a gentleman who had been long established in the Bookselling business in London, Mr. Bohte, who was returning to England from the Eastern Fair of Leipsic. What could have been more welcome to me, to whose companionship could my anxious friends have better entrusted me, than to one who had experienced so much in his Travels, both by sea and land, who was moreover in full possession of the language, and who united the most pleasing, the most urbane, and social disposition, with a thorough knowledge of the country and its manners?

They set off together on 26th May, 1819, travelling via Halberstadt, Brunswick, Hanover, Bremen, Oldenburg and East Friesland. On 5th June they reached Holland, arriving in Rotterdam on 11th. The sea crossing to England lasted from 12th to 15th June. Although Niemeyer describes his journey across Europe in some detail, I will be focussing on his time in England for the purposes of this series of articles. We will pick things up next time with his first impressions of England, that wonderful moment where he finally arrives in the country he had always wanted to visit, and his arrival in London.


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A Childhood Injustice

A painting of a church and Franciscan monastery in Brazil.

Snippets 171.  Childhood can be a tough time, but it is made exponentially worse by a teacher who abuses his position.  In the days of corporal punishment, this problem could be magnified hugely for children.  In the following quote from Christian Johann Heinrich Heine’s memoirs, published posthumously in 1884, the author gives an example of the kind of suffering a teacher could inflict, from his own experiences.

My father was a very taciturn man, who disliked talking; and once, when, as a little boy — at the time I used to spend my work-days in the gloomy school of the Franciscan monastery, while on Sundays I remained at home — I happened to ask my father who my grandfather was, he answered half-laughingly and half-crossly: ”Your grandfather was a little Jew with a big beard.”

The next day, when I entered the school-room where my little comrades had already assembled, I hastened to tell them the important news, that my grandfather was a little Jew with a big beard.

Scarcely had I made this communication when it went from mouth to mouth, was repeated in all tones, and accompanied by imitations of the voices of animals. The little fellows jumped upon tables and benches, tore from the walls the blackboards, which, together with the inkstands, tumbled down upon the floor; and at the same time they kept laughing, bleating, grunting, barking, crowing — making an infernal noise, with the ever-repeated refrain that my grandfather was a little Jew and had a big beard.

The teacher of our class heard the hubbub, and entered the hall, his face red with anger, and asked immediately who had been the cause of the misdemeanor. As it always happens in such cases, everyone tried meekly to exculpate himself, and at the end of the investigation, I, poor fellow, turned out to be the person who by his communication in regard to his grandfather had originated the whole mischief, and I had to pay for it by being soundly whipped.

It was the first whipping which I ever received upon this earth, and on that occasion, for the first time, I made the philosophical observation that our Lord, who ordained the whipping, by his kind providence had also made the arrangement that the person who administers it finally gets tired, as otherwise the punishment might become unendurable.

The stick with which I was whipped was of a yellowish color, but the stripes which it produced upon my back were deep blue. I have never forgotten them.

The name of the teacher who so cruelly beat me has also been remembered by me — it was Father Dickerscheit; he was soon removed from the school for reasons which I have not forgotten either, but which I will not mention.

Sadly, I’m sure we can all read between the lines there.

Heinrich Heine was a German lyric poet, whose words were set to music by composers including Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann.  This will be the final quote from his memoirs.  Previous ones can be found by following the links below:


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