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A Noblewoman from Schleswig-Holstein Reflects on her Idyllic Childhood in the Late 18th Century (Retrospective Account)

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If mother was not at home, her black-haired or her blond Schilling entertained me, two sisters that were in my mother’s services, often the valet Wald, whom I had got to know while he was doing my mother’s hair. By his versatile artistic skill, he created for me marvelous landscapes made of moss, teaching me all sorts of pretty things. My parents, however, did not rest until they had provided me with a female companion; they found such a one in the daughter of an old family friend, Charlotte Clausewitz, whose father had died, leaving his family very hard pressed. Thus, Charlotte, the same age as me and my playmate even earlier, was put together with me as a nursing sister, while her brother Gotthold was taken in by the grandparents Bernstorff and unfortunately got spoiled very much by grandmother.

Charlotte was a pretty girl, attractive to many because of her quiet, melancholy nature; but she was just not a particularly good match for me, her playmate, the continuously laughing Lilli (that is what I was called in my younger years, to my unspeakable annoyance). She had a very melancholic personality, and she took great pleasure in her melancholy. I remember my astonishment when, at the age of six or seven, she confessed to me with sentimental mien that she liked the dead tree in the garden better than the green one because it fit her mood better.

In the summer, my parents used to be either in Holstein with the grandparents Dernath on their estate of Hasselburg, or they used to rent a country house in the area surrounding Copenhagen, until my father subsequently bought the large estate of Antwortskow.

Riding in the side carriage with my attendant on one of our journeys to Holstein, I remember failing asleep and being knocked over. A big apple that I had been holding had slipped from my hand; woken by the bump, I saw the apple roll across the path and can still hear my hue and cry and recall the astonishment of the people around me that I was not missing a limb but only an apple.

Another memory I have of Hasselburg – the friendly-beautiful place with the wonderfully large and magnificent “central living room,” the boldly ascending stairs, and the dizzying gallery – is certainly a rather gloomy one, namely of my first, and I hope, probably my last lie and the ensuing terrible punishment. It was not one of the two Schillings but my grandmother’s lady-in-waiting who had enticed me to nibble on forbidden nuts and keep it a secret. I was subjected to extremely strict discipline, especially at the table, until my mother basically had to let loose the tight reins, which she had kept on me in terms of food, when I moved beyond her reach at the grand table in Emkendorf, and as unfavorable as these rich dinners that took place at incredibly late hours may have been to my health, I nevertheless ascribe to this greater freedom in the choice of meals my transition from a very fussy and picky child into a person who definitely enjoys eating anything. That is something worth noting for overly strict parents.

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