Wandering Scholar

Wandering Scholar

Wandering Scholar

Wandering Scholar

Excerpt

MY FAMOUS fellow citizen Johann Wolfgang von Goethe depicted the glories of our native city, Frankfort on the Main, during the coronation of a Roman emperor of the German nation. When my day came, three quarters of a century had gone by since the last emperor laid down the Roman crown and exchanged it for that of Austria. Yet a kind of imperial fragrance still hovered over the ancient city. The city hall in which the emperors were elected, the balcony from which they showed themselves to the crowd in the market square, the banqueting hall from the walls of which their portraits looked down upon one had remained unchanged. For many centuries the empire had been a mere phantom, the symbol of a Europe yearning for unity and peace. It was a dream, no longer a power. A faint remembrance of that dream pervaded the atmosphere in the days of my youth. Somehow this smallish city--it had only eighty-seven thousand inhabitants when the Prussians annexed it in 1866--proudly recalled the days when it had been, so to speak, the hub of the universe from which the glory of the Roman name had radiated in all directions.

For half a century, 1815 to 1866, Frankfort was an independent republic. I doubt whether it was a model state; in fact I know it was not. It was narrow, self-sufficient, and arrogant. It looked down on those who were born abroad as beings of lesser status, and refused them citizenship. It was ruled by a caste of merchants who despised industry and manufactures as something beneath their dignity. It was certainly not progressive. Yet it had two great qualities. Its ruling class knew the value of independence. It possessed and practiced the art of self-government. There had been nothing above it in the days of the old empire but the Roman emperor, and in the half century of . . .

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