Preludes to Life: Early Memoirs

Preludes to Life: Early Memoirs

Preludes to Life: Early Memoirs

Preludes to Life: Early Memoirs

Excerpt

At the age of fourteen I came across Gustav Freytag's Ahnen (Ancestors) . I did not read every volume, but the work provided the incentive to my first literary enterprise on any scale: scenes from the history of my father's family. It was all rather nebulous. Tradition had it that the founder of the family had crossed into Germany from Sweden with Gustavus Adolphus and come to rest here in the south-west. Later I ceased to believe in this story entirely. But out of consideration for the romantic notions of my childhood I forbore to probe deeper into the facts. In my fourteenth year, therefore, I filled up the pages of a stiff, grey exercise book. The opening sections were all very Nordic. Alliterative Scaldic ballads carried the reader far back into an heroic antiquity -- not for nothing had I immersed myself in Felix Dahn's Valhalla . The Lutheran religious zeal of the students of Uppsala offered a rewarding theme, while the Swedish campaign, of course, received only summary mention. The narrative became somewhat more solid when it dealt with 1848. The conclusion consisted of a few pages taken from an imaginary diary of my mother's girlhood, in which she described the appearance and manner of her future spouse. The tone of benevolent irony which it pleased the young son to adopt in these passages, was not merely permitted, but even welcomed. My father could be very stern over some things, but there was no solemnity in the relationship between parents and children. This piece of writing, supplemented by a wealth of vigorous pen drawings, became the Christmas gift for 1898.

The carefully preserved exercise book later assumed an unexpected importance to me through its appendix, of which I myself was not the author. There was in the house of Aunt . . .

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