Chapter 8: Face to face with the great scholars

1781 aged 45

Bräker began to write his autobiography this year, thus taking the first step to becoming recognised as an author. His explicit motives for writing it are given in his preface: praise of God, instruction of his children, pleasure in reliving the past. He never admits openly to wishing to become an author, though he admits that writing has always been a pleasure, even a necessity.

Voellmy quotes Bräker's diary for 1782 (no exact date): "Continuation of the life story or diary of U.B., a poor man that likes to write and paint. Supplement [Anhang] to the life story from his birth onwards, which is in press, 1782." On the next page: "Have begun a little book. Entitled the life story of a poor man written in the year 1781, U.B. Could be another year or two till it is finished, but whether it is this year or next, the story goes up to the end of 1781. The rest, whether it be fantasies, caprices or history, or whatever stuff it likes is for this year 1782. In writing I keep to neither rules, moderation nor bounds. I hope my posterity or readers will take a kindly view of it, and find for themselves that not all days are the same to them." [Voellmy, v 1 pp 25-26]

Voellmy goes on to say that "in press" meant for Bräker "in process of writing", not "in print", but the use of that expression does suggest that Bräker hoped to publish his story eventually. The diary has some pages with coloured letters rather like illuminated Mss. Bräker had a taste for elaborate calligraphy, as can be seen from the reproductions in the Chronik of his titles to the volumes of his diary.

There is a noticeable change in the style of the autobiography when Bräker's writing catches up with the events that he recounts. At the beginning of chapter 76, he changes his narrative to the present tense, showing that he was writing at least as late as 1785, when publication was becoming a real possibility. In chapter 77 onwards, moreover, the autobiography shows a more clearly defined structure, a more literary style and a general increase in conscious self-presentation of the author as he wished to be known.


Bräker is still dissatisfied about his diary-writing and introduces 1781 with the words "For only a few thoughts these leaves are appointed - because I have taken such a dislike to writing much; for only the least part of my scribbles can I read over again with pleasure". [Chronik, p 194]

Autobiography 75 (continued):

"In the year 1781 things went on the whole at least passably well, and in my-end-of-year accounts I found a fair profit. Not seldom I jumped for joy in my storeroom because of this, considered my fate as right extraordinary, and my recovery as a near-miracle at least. And yet from that time to this all things were going, and still go on today, on their regular and natural course, good fortune and bad presented themselves now partly according to my own conduct, as to what lay within my power, and partly according to circumstances which I could not alter."

For the rest of January and most of February he notes only the weather. On 25th February, looking back over the month, he reports constant changes of mood and becoming vexed through too much work. But he feels edified by reading a magazine called "Der Kinderfreund" ["The children's friend"], edited by Christian Felix Wolpe, Leipzig 1775-1782. [Chronik pp 195-6]

1st Mar. Bräker's stomach is out of order. He takes a medicine called "Fire of Schaffhausen"

[probably a strong cordial]
but this does not prevent an attack of a recurrent problem,
[which the Chronik [p 196] attributes to an allergic reaction to something in his diet, it produced swelling of the lips and throat, a swollen face and difficulty in breathing.]
On the 16th he feels better.