Chapter 3: Youth: Bräker in love

26. Exodus to Staig near Wattwil:

In the middle of March that year (1754) we departed from Dreyschlatt with bag and baggage, and bade that desolate spot goodnight forever! The snow was still lying many fathoms deep. There was no question of using ox or horse. So we ourselves pulled our household goods and the younger children on sledges. I pulled at mine like a horse, so that in the end I sank down almost breathless. Yet my eagerness to change our dwelling-place, and to live once more in the valley, in a village among other people, made the bitter toil pleasant to me. We arrived. This must indeed be the Promised Land, thought I, for blades of grass were already peeping out from under the snow. The little property we had rented was full of tall trees, and a pretty brook ran among them. In the garden I noticed a plum-tree. From the house we had a fine view up the valley.

But for the rest, what an ill-lit, black, worm-eaten, smoky, poky little hovel it was! All the floors and stairs rotten, an unbelievable filth and stench in all the rooms. But that was as nothing compared to the living part of the bargain, that we had to keep in the house with us: a repulsive beggar-woman


, who made herself drunk as soon as she had received alms from the church and so could procure some wine, then in her drunkenness she would strip herself mother-naked and caper and whistle all over the house, and when anyone made the least remonstrance she would curse and lament like one possessed. Which often earned her a beating, but this only made matters worse. And more: this hobgoblin had a great fancy for young people and tried - ugh, it makes me shudder even now - to lay hold upon me. This was an entirely new experience for me; I spoke to my father about it, but without explicitly mentioning this incident, and then he told me what I should know. After this I felt such disgust at this animal that my blood ran cold in all my veins every time I set eyes on her.

27. A divine affliction:

A few days after our arrival I was beset by a violent shivering and fever. I do not know whether it was the sudden change from the fresh mountain air to that of the valley, or the unwholesome dwelling, or something that I had already brought with me in my body, or even the disgust caused by that repellent creature that carried the evil to me. Before this, except for a few mild toothaches and headaches, every kind of sickness was unknown to me. The good Dr Müller was sent for, he prescribed me some bleedings, but himself doubted at first sight of me whether I should recover. On the third day I thought I was surely done for; my poor head was almost ready to split. I tossed to and fro whimpering, writhing like a worm and enduring hellish fear, death and eternity stood before me and I was terrified. In one such moment I confessed to my father, who seldom left my side and was often alone with me, all that lay on my bosom, particularly that occasioned by the persecutions of the monster I have mentioned, which troubled me greatly. My dear father was seized with horror, and asked me whether I and that animal had done something evil. "No, never, no, father", I answered, sobbing, "but she, the monster, she tried to persuade me to do it, and I did not tell you. That is what I fear was very wrong." "Be calm, my son!", replied my father, "trust in God, He is kind and will forgive your sins."

These few words of comfort revived me at once. O how zealously I vowed at that time to become a changed being, if I were to remain in this world. After this I suffered a few relapses, and once for twenty-four hours I lost consciousness, but that was the crisis. On awaking I could still feel the pains, but to a much lesser degree, and, what for me was much more important, the pangs of fear and anguish were quite gone. The doctor began to express hope, and I no less, and


In small villages where there was no workhouse or other institution for the care of the poor, individuals were obliged to lodge them for a small fee, sometimes even for nothing. (Füssli).