Chapter 5: Marriage, famine and death

59. What to do now?

I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed [Luke 16, v 3]. No! I was never anxious as to where my next meal should come from, and least of all at this time; for I thought: now you are again supported by your father and you will accustom yourself to work again. Yet I observed that my father was a little embarrassed on my account, and was perhaps applying the words of the above text to me, though he never spoke them. And indeed, the black and dangerous art of powder-making was utterly repugnant to me, for I had smelt enough of that confection. Now, too, I had need of new clothes, and father in his kindness did his utmost to procure them for me. During the winter I was able to haul timber and card cotton. In the spring of 1757, however, my father again set me to boiling saltpetre, it was dirty and at times exhausting work. But there was always time left over for me to let my fancy fly forth into the wide world. And then I would think: "You weren't so much of a fool, neither, when you were a soldier, and with all the fear and hardship you had some merry times!" Ah! how fickle is the heart of man. For now indeed I was taking counsel with myself by the hour together, whether I should not take to the road again; for France, Holland, Piedmont, the whole world - save Brandenburg - were open to me.

During this time I had an offer of service with the Johanniterhaus at Bubickheim


in the Zürich district. I went there to find out more about it, but I did not suit them, or maybe they did not suit me; and so I stayed on at the saltpetre-boiling, a poor penniless good-for-nothing who yet hankered to idle about with the other lads. From time to time, indeed, when a holiday or some other occasion demanded it, father would give me a few batzen pocket-money, but they were soon up and away. That good much-enduring man always had more outgoings than income, and care and grief turned his hair grey long before his time. For, to tell the honest truth, not one of all his ten children would truly put their shoulder to the wheel to help him. Each one cared only for himself, yet none wanted to do anything for himself. Some were too young. Of the two brothers who came next after me, the elder occupied himself in carding cotton and paid father for his board, and the other helped him at the powder-mill. [...]

60. Thoughts of marriage:

Already in the previous year, in my wanderings up and down, I had met here and there with one who was known as a beauty, and of these there were not a few who were sincerely fond of me, but most of them had no property. I with nothing, she with nothing, makes too little, I thought, for I was no longer as heedless as I was in my twentieth year. And father was always saying to us: "Boys, don't make yourselves cheap! Consider carefully what you're about. I won't go so far as to forbid you to do it, but throw your stick as high as you can, it will come down of its own accord; in this matter one may as well aim high". Now that was all very well, but one must cut one's coat according to one's cloth. Nevertheless I expected to do pretty well, and indeed thought myself destined for matrimony, otherwise I should surely at this time have gone off again into the wide world. Yet all the while, in spite of the prudence on which I have just been pluming myself, greed was not uppermost in my mind. Were she a girl after my own heart, I would have taken her in nothing but her skin. But in that respect none attracted me in quite the way that my Ännchen had done of old. With a certain Lieschen from K.


I was once or twice on the point of it. At first the little thing put forward objections, but later she herself offered to marry me. But my inclination towards her was too weak, and yet I do not believe that I should have been unhappy with her. But stubborn is stubborn.

Soon afterwards, and almost without my intending it, I struck up an acquaintance with the daughter of a Catholic widow, and this caused considerable alarm, although I had done nothing


A house of the Knights of St. John, founded in the 12th century. (Schiel).


Probably Kappel, a village not far from Wattwil.