The boy who wrote these essays passed away not long after he left school. I had some difficulty convincing his mother, a dear and honorable lady, to allow me to publish them. She was understandably very attached to these pages, which must have been a bittersweet reminder of her son. Only after I promised to have the essays published unchanged, just as her little Fritz had written them, did she finally agree. The essays may seem unboyish in many places, and all too boyish in others. But please keep in mind that my hand has not altered them anywhere. A boy can speak words of great wisdom and words of great stupidity at practically the same moment: that is how these essays are, too. I bade farewell to the boy’s mother as politely and gratefully as I could. She told me all sorts of qualities in the little fellow’s life that nicely overlap with the qualities of the schoolwork presented here. He was destined to die young, the jolly, serious laugher. It was not granted to his surely large and sparkling eyes to see anything of the wider world he so longed to reach. On the other hand, he was able to see clearly, in his way, as the reader will surely agree when he reads these essays. Farewell, my little friend! Farewell, reader!
Man is a sensitive creature. He has only two legs, but one heart, where an army of thoughts and feelings frolics. Man could be compared to a well-laid-out pleasure garden, if our teacher permitted such innuendos. Now and then Man writes poetry, and when he is in this highest and noblest condition he is called a Poet. If we were all the way we should be, namely the way God has told us to be, we would be infinitely happy. Alas we abandon ourselves to useless passions that undermine our well-being only too soon and put an end to our happiness. Man should stand above his fellow creature, the animal, in all things. But even a foolish schoolboy can see people acting like irrational animals every day. Drunkenness is as hideous as a picture: Why do people indulge in it? It must be because from time to time they feel the need to drown their reason in the dreams that swim in every kind of alcohol. Such cowardice is fitting for a thing as imperfect as Man. We are imperfect in everything. Our inadequacy extends to every task we undertake and which would be so splendid if it didn’t proceed from mere greed. Why must we be this way? I drank a glass of beer once, but I will never drink another one again. Where will it lead? To noble endeavors? Certainly not. I promise loud and clear: I want to be a steady, upright person. Let all great and beautiful things find in me as ardent an imitator as fierce a protector. Secretly, I love art. But it’s not a secret anymore, not since right now, because now I’ve been careless and blabbed it. Let me be punished for that and made an example of. What makes a noble way of thinking not want to freely admit itself? Nothing less than a whipping in view, that’s for sure. What is a whipping? A scarecrow to frighten slaves and dogs! Only one specter scares me: baseness. Oh, I want to climb as high as is granted to any man. I want to be famous. I want to meet beautiful women and love them and be loved and petted by them. Even so, I will not give up any of my elemental power (creative power), instead I want to and I will get stronger, freer, nobler, richer, more famous, braver, and more reckless every day. I’m sure I’ll get an F for writing like this. But I say this is the best essay I’ve ever written. Every word comes from the heart. How beautiful it is, after all, to have a quaking, sensitive, choosy heart. That is the best thing about a person. A person who does not know how to preserve his heart is unwise, because he is robbing himself of an endless source of sweet inexhaustible strength, a wealth in which he exceeds all the creatures on earth, a fullness, a warmth that, if he wants to remain human, he will never be able to do without. A person with a heart is not only the best person but also the most intelligent person, since he has something that no mere bustling cleverness can give him. I repeat once again: I never want to get drunk; I don’t want to look forward to meals, since that’s beastly; I want to pray and, even more, work, since it seems to me that work is already a prayer; I want to be industrious and obey whoever deserves to be obeyed. Parents and teachers deserve it automatically. That’s my essay.
When autumn comes, the leaves fall off of the trees onto the ground. Actually, I should say it like this: When the leaves fall, autumn is here. I have to work on improving my style. Last time the teacher wrote: Style, wretched. It’s upsetting but there’s nothing I can do about it. I like autumn. The air is fresher, the things on the earth look different all of a sudden, the mornings sparkle and are very beautiful and the nights are so wonderfully chilly. And still we take walks until very late. The mountain above the city is beautifully colored and it makes you sad when you think that these colors signal the general colorlessness to come. Soon the snow will be flying. I love snow, too, even if it’s not so nice to wade around in it too long with cold wet feet. But why else are there warm felt slippers and heated rooms for later? Only the poor children tug at my heartstrings—I know they have no warm rooms in their houses. How horrible it must be to sit around and freeze. I wouldn’t do any homework, I would die, yes, stubbornly die out of spite, if I were poor. How the trees look now! Their branches pierce the gray air like thin, sharply pointed daggers; you can see the ravens you never see at any other time. You don’t hear any birds singing anymore. Nature really is great. The way it shifts colors, changes robes, puts on masks and takes them off again! It’s very beautiful. If I was a painter, and it’s not out of the question that I’ll become one someday, since after all no one knows what their destiny may be, I would be most fervently an autumn painter. I’m only afraid that my colors wouldn’t be up to it. Maybe I still don’t understand it enough. And anyway, why should I worry at all about something that hasn’t even happened yet? Only the present moment should and must concern me deeply. Where did I hear that? I must have heard it somewhere, maybe from my older brother, who is in college. It will be winter soon, the snow will swirl, oh how I’m looking forward to that! When everything outside is so white, everything in class is so right. Colors fill up your mind too much with all sorts of muddled stuff. Colors are too sweet a muddle, nothing more. I love things in one color, monotonous things. Snow is such a monotonous song. Why shouldn’t a color be able to make the same impression as singing? White is like a murmuring, whispering, praying. Fiery colors, like for instance autumn colors, are a shriek. Green in midsummer is a many-voiced song with all the highest notes. Is that true? I don’t know if that’s right. Well, the teacher will surely be so kind as to correct it.— How everything in the world keeps going! Now it’s almost Christmas, then it’s just a short step to New Year’s, only a few more to spring, and everything keeps moving forward step-by-step like that. You’d have to be crazy to try to count all the steps. I don’t like math. I’m bad at it even though my grades are pretty good. I will never go into business, I can feel that. I only hope my parents don’t try to apprentice me to a businessman! I would run away, and then what would they have? But have I said enough here about autumn? I went on a lot about snow. That’ll get me a good grade on my report card this quarter. Grades are a stupid invention. In singing I get an A and I don’t make a single sound. How does that happen? It would be better if they gave us apples instead of grades. But then it’s true they would have to hand out way too many apples. Oh!
A lonely wanderer strides across the pitch-black field. The stars shining above him are his only companions. He walks sunk in thought, suddenly he notices overhead a dark red in the sky. He stops and stays still, thinks a moment, and turns back toward the city on the path he has just walked: he knows that a fire has broken out. He walks faster but is too far away from the city to get there one two three. We will leave him scurrying along and look to see how the inhabitants of the city are reacting to the fire that has so terrifyingly broken out in their midst. A man is hurrying through the quiet streets and waking up all the sleepers with numerous blows on his horn. Everyone recognizes the unique, ghastly sound of the fire horn. Everyone who is able to jump up jumps up, throws some clothes on, rubs his eyes, pulls himself together, takes to his feet, and rushes through the streets, which by now are full of people, to the site of the fire. It is to be found on the main street and is one of the most important buildings in the community. The fire is spreading wildly. It is as though it had a hundred slippery, volatile arms reaching out in all directions. The fire department has not yet arrived. Fire departments are slow everywhere, but especially in our city. But now it would really be better if it came, the situation is getting scary. This fire, which, like all savage elements, has no rational mind, is acting totally crazy. Why are the human hands to rein it in not yet near? Must people be at their laziest on just such a terrible night as this? There are a lot of people standing on the square. It’s true, I’m there and the teacher is there and everyone in our class. Everyone gawks in amazement.— Now, finally, the firemen, looking half asleep, arrive and start performing their duties. These consist for the time being of running back and forth and shouting back and forth in a totally useless way. Why all that screaming? A firm command and silent obedience—that would really be much better. The fire has turned into a raging fire. Why did they have to give it enough time to become a raging fire? It devours, it tears, it hisses, it rages, it is like a glowing red-colored drunkard smashing and destroying everything it can get its hands on. The house is ruined in any case. All the beautiful valuable things lying piled up inside it burn: just as long as no people perish. But it almost looks like the most terrible thing has come to pass. A girl’s voice cries out from the smoke and fiery blaze. You poor girl! Her mother, down in the street, faints. A traveling salesman catches her. Oh, if only I were big and strong! How I’d like to defy the flames and leap as a heroic savior to the aid of the girl! Are there no heroes anywhere in sight? Now would be the chance to reveal what a brave and courageous person you are. But wait, what’s that? A thin young man in shabby clothing has already mounted the rungs of a tall ladder and is climbing ever higher, into the smoke, into the blaze, now he’s terrifyingly visible again for a moment and now he disappears again and then he turns—oh, the sight!—with the girl in one arm and he comes back down the ladder carefully holding on with the other arm and he gives the mother, who has meanwhile recovered somewhat, back her daughter, who is practically smothered with hugs and kisses. What a moment! Oh, if only I could have been that good brave man! Oh, to be such a man, to become such a man! The house burns down to the ground. On the street, mother and daughter hold each other in their arms, and the man who saved her has vanished without a trace.